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Secret Drinker reviews virtual pubs including the BrewDog Open Arms

The Secret Drinker home brew was all polished off before I knew it, so this week I thought I should give virtual drinking a try.

But, being straight out of the Ark with my head and heart firmly fixed in a beamed old boozer that dates even further back than me, I wasn’t sure exactly where to start?

Our pubs may be deserted but there's plenty of virtual pubs online offering banter and beer
Our pubs may be deserted but there's plenty of virtual pubs online offering banter and beer

I was fairly sure the actual drinking isn’t supposed to be virtual so I made a start by ordering what I hoped would be some decent beer from BrewDog. Fortunately this arrived in a timely fashion so the next thing to do was investigate how to begin drinking virtually.

But, before I was able to pull up an online stool or meet any virtual new drinking buddies I found my mind wandering back quite a few decades to when I first started drinking in pubs, that’s proper drinking you understand?

Nothing was virtual then.

Remember when you took your school tie off, so you could get served in the pub?

There was no such thing as an ID check then. Now you’re likely to be asked to scan your passport.

There was once a time when your phone didn't dictate the conversation in your local
There was once a time when your phone didn't dictate the conversation in your local

Ah, the good old days. Slade following Gary Glitter on the jukebox, takeouts in cardboard containers and mobile phones hadn’t even been thought of.

Pubs were almost the only entertainment on offer and even dreadful dives not only survived but managed to make decent money.

But by the time the aforementioned Mr Gadd deserted his gang for Thailand, supermarkets were selling booze as a loss leader and even dippy Dave got himself a Motorola, pubs faced a good deal more competition.

In recent times the great British pub has had to adapt to survive
In recent times the great British pub has had to adapt to survive

All of a sudden, boozers which didn’t cut the mustard, or at least offer some with a decent gammon, egg and chips, were going under at an alarming rate.

If pubs didn’t shape up they went out of business, it was as simple as that – and, as punters started to demand more from their local boozer, they needed to know which ones offered the best service. So, many years ago, yours truly began his humble mission to seek out all the best and worst pubs and to report back on what he found.

From Glasgow to Birmingham and from England’s brewing capital to the darker parts of London, I’ve been reviewing pubs for four decades.

A sign of the times: Today's pubs have to offer so much more than a half a mild and a pickled egg
A sign of the times: Today's pubs have to offer so much more than a half a mild and a pickled egg

When the call came to put retirement on hold and head to the Garden of England, the opportunity was too good to turn down. And, having completed the best part of a year visiting pubs right around Kent, I can honestly say we’re blessed with some of the best boozers anywhere.

But, our current circumstances mean I must forget the real thing for now and discover the delights of a virtual pub.

As I’d already taken delivery of several Dogs The BrewDog Open Arms seemed a good place to start my virtual crawl.

As you can probably tell, I'm pretty partial to the odd drop of BrewDog
As you can probably tell, I'm pretty partial to the odd drop of BrewDog

The top of the site, as you’d expect, offered every opportunity to buy as many beers as you want and even take advantage of free delivery. It also advertised the location of hotels, breweries, pubs all around the world (currently not open of course), bookings, parties and bar experiences you might like to sample. Alongside these delights and away from the other ‘community’ business was the online pub.

This week there were four options open to me: A chance to join artist Fisher from his Aberdeen studio for a live painting session and tutorial on how to create an iconic whale character – I immediately looked for my coloured pencils; Two open sessions including the second instalment of the BrewDog Distilling Company takeover and a cocktail tasting – not quite me, not midweek anyway; the following day Hawkes Cidery offered a tour and a tasting with Simon – I don’t think so.

But tonight (Friday, April 24) there is a weekend warm-up Punk O’Clock session with a quiz and live music from a special guest – this sounded far more up my street. I’ll report back on my experience next week.

I quickly decided to give the online cocktail session a miss
I quickly decided to give the online cocktail session a miss

In the meantime, if you fancy reliving the time we all enjoyed in the pub until a few weeks ago try visiting thestayinginn.co.uk.

It’s basically a video on a 12-minute loop with the highlight being the barmaid coming into shot to pour a pint, though she does at least smile coyly. If you look carefully in the background you will see a woman with a glass of wine in her hand eating nuts – mind you I don’t need to go virtual to see this, there’s a live show of the same feature at home with Mrs SD.

There are plenty of virtual brewery tours available, like this one at Yellowhead but they’re very dry affairs (pun intended), so unless you are at the ‘watching paint dry’ stage I wouldn’t recommend these.

Get your pint and pull up a bar stool at the Stay Inn
Get your pint and pull up a bar stool at the Stay Inn

The Campaign For Real Ale, CAMRA, has launched The Red (On) Lion.

At this virtual pub you can book a table to play pub games, attend one-off events or just pull up a virtual stool to chat with complete strangers. On its opening weekend the site welcomed more than 8,000 punters with a peak of 1,400 in the bar at the same time.

Another site that looks interesting is a cyber beer festival at Beer52. The last one, organised by Beer52 last week, sold out but there are more planned. A number of brewers took part and ticket holders all received a case of 12 craft beers in advance. They then sampled these during a four-hour live-streamed festival with back-to-back tastings and Q&A sessions.

There's no reason you can't still enjoy a pint in lockdown - just down your local
There's no reason you can't still enjoy a pint in lockdown - just down your local

Cyber Fest, the world’s first online beer festival, costs £29.99 but with 12 beers thrown in I think I might well give this one a go next time it runs. It is also doing whatever it can to support breweries at this very challenging time.

Then, just as I was thought I might have warmed to the idea of getting along to a virtual pub an old college mate invited me to join a virtual pub crawl – brilliant.

Then I remembered I can’t go as my nephew’s having an e-wedding this weekend that I need to attend…

Read all Secret Drinker's reviews here

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