No need for an early start. My rehearsal is at 12:30. I just need to register before then. I stumble into the breakfast room a little after eight.
“Ron!” someone calls as soon as I enter. It’s Craig Gravina. The Albany Ale man. When did we last meet? I think it was when I went to Albany. Whan was that? (March 2016.)
I grab some food and join him. It’s a continental breakfast. No scrambled eggs. No bacon. Just boiled eggs. Though there is fruit. I revert to Brazilian mode. Plus two boiled eggs.
Martyn Cornell rolls up and joins us. Not been as long since our paths last crossed. Just eight months ago in Blumenau.
After a while fiddling with the internet in my room – no problem getting it to work this time – I wander down to the visitor centre to get the shuttle bus.
It’s full of pensioners and schoolkids. With very little inbetween. At least I fit part of the demographic.
I can remember almost nothing about Colonial Williamsburg. Looking on Google Maps I recognised nothing. (It turns out there was a reason for that.) I get off at the Museums stop. The auditorium, where the rehearsal takes place, is tucked behind the museum bit.
The conference registration desk is on the way to the auditorium. Where I meet Whitney Thornberry, who has done much of the organising. I can only envy her energy. Especially as she has the thankless task of herding beer writers.
I’m able to get my rehearsal in early. It’s a useful process, as some of the slides are incorrectly formatted. That fixed, I’m free to go.
What to do now? Maybe I could catch the end of Andrea Stanley’s malting demonstration? On my way out to do just that, I bump into a very wet Stan Hieronymous and his wife Daria. It’s pissing it down outside, evidently.
After they’ve registered for the conference, we head off in search of lunch. There’s supposedly a small break in the weather. It’s raining, but not too badly. Our destination is one of the taverns on Duke of Gloucester Street.
We haven’t got very far when it really starts pissing it down. We shelter under a porch for a while. Of a private house, which isn’t open to the public. Must be a weird place to live. With the constant threat of random strangers just wandering into your house.
When the rain relents enough for us to venture further, we discover it’s a 40-minute wait at the tavern. OK. Let’s give the places in Merchant Square a shot.
At the DoG Street Pub there’s a 30-minute wait for food. But we can have a beer inside while we’re waiting. I call that a win.
I get an IPA of some sort. As I usually do nowadays in the US. The old-fashioned type.
Our table is ready more quickly than expected. I stick with just a starter of calamari rings. Don’t want to stuff myself too much. They’re pretty nice. The others have something much more substantial.
It’s around 2 PM when we’re done noshing. Three hours until Pete Brown’s Keynote Speech. Time enough to return to the hotel for some serious lazing around. Brazil taught me to rest whenever I get the chance. I’m turning into such an old git.
Pete's talk is excellent and sets up the conference. Some of his themes are returned to by other speakers. Like how history is constantly changing as we learn more. And just how old beer is - at least 13,000 years. A date which keeps getting pushed further back into the past.
When the talking is done, we’re ferried over to Shields Tavern for food.
It’s in buffet form throughout the building. A bunch of us sit upstairs next to the dessert table: old friends Paul and Jamie Langlie, plus Andrea Stanley of Valley Malt in Massachusetts.
There are bottles of the Colonial Williamsburg beers. I go for Old Stitch, a Brown Ale. Though, at just 5% ABV, it’s well short of an 18th-century Stitch. It should be more like 8% ABV. A little too much knowledge can suck all the fun out of just about any topic.
As I get stuck into a chocolate I say: ”Until recently, I hadn’t eaten chocolate for over 50 years.”
“Why didn’t you eat it for so long?” Andrea asks.
“I cut all sugar out of my diet. That’s why I’m so svelte.”
“Why did you start eating chocolate again?”
“I’ve no idea how many more chances I might have to. Oldie person that I am. Best give it another try while I still can.”
We’re shuttled back to the hotel. Where a very special event is planned: a bottle share of old beers.
We had one at the last Williamsburg conference, way back in 2016. Dolores is a big fan as it means getting rid of some of the dusty bottles hanging around our house that she hates so much. I suspect possibly even a little bit pathologically.
Martyn Cornell has brought ten bottles, while I have just seven. Coincidentally, I have the last Gales bottling of Prize Old Ale, while he has the most recent version. A good chance to compare and contrast.
Others contribute bottles, too. Paul and Jamie have some Old Dominion from the 1990s, when John Mallet still brewed there.
The Rochefort 10 I brought with a 1998 sellby date is pretty impressive. Perhaps not quite as good as at ten years old. But by far the best beer is a Rosé de Gambrinus that I think I bought in 1996. It’s amazing. By no means spoilt and incredibly complex. Just wow. You’d never guess the beer was pushing 30 years old.
I don’t stay until the end. Too tired for that. I retire just after 11 PM.
I tiptoe with Tomintin to sleepland.
DoG Street Pub
401 W Duke of Gloucester St,
422 E Duke of Gloucester St,