The Tap Room was, traditionally, a sort of Sacred Preserve of the Head Brewer, an inner sanctum, a place of silence and contemplation, and entrance was specifically by his invitation. Once a week or more, accolytes,- or brewing staff as they are correctly known!- gathered there to taste and analyse the latest brew, and the progress of others still in fermentation. It was also an informal social room for meeting other professionals – Brewers get on well with other Brewers – and hence as a mini pub but entry to which was strictly by invitation.
Times change. The Sample Room took over; much more neutral, and when space is as tight as it currently is, sampling becomes a matter for staff standing in the HB’s office Much analysis is now done in the lab, but nonetheless, the final judgement is the Head Brewer’s.
Nonetheless, the Spirit of the Tap Room lingers on – it’s a place for rumination, meditation, contemplation, all frequently resulting in well-considered decision. And a fine glass of Ale in your hand at the same time helps all those activities!
“Ah, yes” says the Head brewer, “those open tanks at The Bridge Street Brewery in Reading. They were huge; possibly 25 yards long, by 15 wide, and all covered by an invisible and lethal layer of Carbon Dioxide. The dangers were incremental. If one person were to be overcome by the gas and fell in, then the automatic reaction of his colleague was to jump in and save him. And so they would both go. There were cases of multiple deaths like this” He took a thoughtful sip of Prospect, was quiet for a moment, then cheered and added “mercifully not on my watch.” Another small, appreciative but analytical sip of Prospect, and he continued: “ I mentioned the two life- saving boats recently, which were “moored” at the side of the tanks as a gesture to Health and Safety, then, in the late 70’s rather an arbitrary process. As we had these boats we had to go through a weekly training exercise; it was, perhaps a forlorn activity because anyone who had succumbed to asphyxia and then disappeared through the 18 inch “head” of beer froth would not easily be recoverable. But still, we had to try. As the young “whelp” I was easily conned into being the boatman on one particular training day. I had to wear a gasmask which was connected to the “shore” by a pipe to supply air, but somehow I had entangled the pipe around my neck and as the skiff was roped around the “search area” I was becoming rather agitated and waved my hands wildly to indicate distress. ‘Great’, thought the rope-men, ‘Andy’s entering into the spirit of this!’” Another sip. “ I survived, but it added an extra dimension to Plath’s “not waving but drowning”; more “not waving but being strangled by my supposed colleagues!”
“Shortly afterwards” he goes on,” these tanks, originally copper lined had to be re-lined, this time with plastic. We tested them with fresh water for water tight-ness, and a fair few were tempted in for a quick swim – one old fellow in full bib and brace overalls. The guy with the hot water bottle paddled his feet rather cautiously, too. I played water polo then – and, in fact still do- and during this swim session I was able to use a few tackling moves to revenge myself on the rope-men who had so cheerfully nearly killed me!” Another sip. “Strange days” he summarised and headed back to the office.