What is it about trains? A couple of years ago through some very random circumstances I found myself having to travel up to the Isle of Skye at a days notice. Now a journey of that magnitude needs careful consideration! I looked at all sorts of options to cover the ground, but in the end decided the best option was to get a train to Edinburgh, another train to Inverness and a final train all the way to the lovely little village of Kyle of Lockalsh which is a gateway to the Isle of Skye.
Now the whole journey took well over 8 hours, but any of you who’ve travelled north or Newcastle on the train, you’ll know that its one of the prettiest train routes you’ll ever see. First part was motoring past the Northumberland coastline taking in Lindisfarne, the colourful houses in Alnmouth, Bamburgh castle and the many stunning golden beaches in between. Granted it was February when I made the journey so it was bloomin’ cold outside, but on a nice warm train, on a crisp sunny winters day, believe me, this journey was a delight.
I left Newcastle at about 8 o’clock in the morning, reached Edinburgh by half nine, was in Inverness at lunchtime and finally reached Kyle of Lochalsh by mid afternoon.
I find train travel very relaxing. OK so it’s not always relaxing. If you have to rely on it and the service lets you down then I can well understand that stress levels rocket! But in the main my train journeys are pretty dependable and sporadic enough to not be consistently expecting them to be on time!
But on this particular journey, I had a 20 minute change between trains in Inverness, and given the time I figured I’d nip out and grab some lunch to eat on the remainder of the journey. Train stations being train stations, there was an M&S very handy. So I grabbed a few edibles to pick at, and scooped up a couple of bottles of M&S beer. This was in the days when they only sold their own stuff, so I got two from the single hop range, including their derivative of Oakham Citra.
That final stretch of the journey was the very epitome of what a train beer is all about. As the almost empty two carriage train meandered through the highland countryside, along the edge of lochs, passing stunning heather patches and rolling moorland, we came upon a section with an open hillside no more than 500m away, the train slowed to stop at a small simple station platform and in the distance a stunningly regal stag stood up, looked at the train, sniffed the air and then got back to eating the foliage.
Throughout all this, I sat with my train picnic, a pork pie, scotch egg, some cheese, crackers, chutney and a packet of crisps, and I supped my way through a few beers. Loving the moments, loving the view and loving the enjoyment that the beer brought to enhance that journey. Now I know there are better beers, and I’m pretty sure there are better trains, but for me that journey was majestic! I imagine it was those wonderful citra hops that the stag was sniffing out!
And that’s what I seek in a train beer. The good thing with train travel is that you don’t have actions to take, you simply climb aboard and relax. And I think that aim to relax for many people is enhanced by a good train beer. It can’t be any coincidence (ok maybe it is) that Marks & Spencer have become a train beer provider of choice, if it was a deliberate business plan (I know the food supply was and maybe the beer supply has piggy backed on that, but hey ho, indulge me a little), but having a broader range of beers available in train stations has been a real boost to the train beer community!
The availability of cans helps. I was always conscious that the image of cracking open a bottle when sat alone on the train looks like you mean business with your drinking. Cans nit so much, mainly because a can appears more suited to travelling, it opens with its own mechanism for starters, you don’t need an additional opener. Obviously there’s a weight issue too, no not what the calories will add to your waistline, I mean carrying cans is far lighter than carrying bottles ergo much more suited to travel with.
But above all else, I often feel a tinge of guilty pleasure to a train beer. For me it still feels like a recent phenomenon and I always imagine those around me would be surprised if they knew what I was drinking. I say that because I am happy to carry any beer as a train beer. One of my favourite was after a stressful 24 hours working in Edinburgh, I found a bottle of Brewdog Born to Die which was delicious, but swigging from a big bomber on a busy train felt abit odd! Another example was when I had Cloudwater DIPA’s (believe it was versions 6&7), on a train so packed that I had my case on the floor between my legs and literally had no space what so ever. It didn’t stop me cracking them open, I even took a tulip glass to make the most of them. Again, the traveller in the seat beside me was abit taken aback by it but for me, it was a tremendous use of my time!
I would encourage you to welcome train beers. However, I have been on the early train to Leeds on a workday, full of suited commuters and had a suited man sit next to me with an accompanying aged sweat aroma (*shudders*), who proceeded to crack open a can of Carling for the journey, at 7 o’clock in the morning. Obviously this kind of train beer is associated with bigger problems and I quote it as an extreme, but I did imagine that some people’s judgement of me swigging from a big bomber bottle of Born to Die, will be tainted in a similar way to how I felt about seeing this gentleman and his Carling.
Maybe its that acting against convention that adds to the appeal. I often wonder how many people in the carriage around me recognise the beers that I’m drinking. My instinct is none of them, which makes it feel all the more like it’s my little secret. If they only knew how good this beer was, but all they will see is a man drinking beer and assume the same level as that man with his can of Carling.
That said, I think if you acted based on the potential judgement of others you’d barely do a thing. Life’s not about doing the things people won’t react to, it’s about the experiences you give yourself. And that Citra in the highlands with that regal stag is one of the greatest beers I’ve ever had.