The longest beer-themed story I've ever written
And also a bit of a rant. Sorry about that
We all have that one friend that says "we can walk there". I'm that friend. Anything under 5-6 miles is walking distance to me and I always walk everywhere and anywhere. Partly because I hate public transport but mostly because I actually enjoy walking. A few days ago I decided I wanted to check out Dogma Brewery, arguably the most popular beer producer in Belgrade, and when I looked at the map it calculated a walking distance of 2.8 miles. "Pah," I thought. "That's nothing". The problem is I didn't double check and as it turns out, it's actually 2.8 miles as the crow flies and so when I got there, 4 miles and 2 hours later, I was thirsty. Which is a good thing because Dogma beer(s) are phenomenal.
I know what I like and I know what I don't so I immediately went looking for the hoppiest IPA they had. I'd already tried Hoptopod (IPA, 6.5%), Svetionik (pale ale, 5.5%), Miss Quince (pale ale with quince, 5.5%) and New Pils On The Block (german Pilsner, 4.7%) and I'm not a fan of fruity beers so Mangoa (with mango), Pinman (with pineapple and mango) were out. I was just about ready to use my newly-acquired Serbian-speaking skills and I wanted to use the words I'd learnt, ALL THREE OF THEM, but then the guy behind the counter said "Ciao" (for reasons that I don't fully understand Serbia is one of many countries *that aren't Italy* where "ciao" is a standard way of saying "hi") followed by "what can I get you?". In English.
Gah. He ruined it for me. "I'll have some Hope". Which is the name of a "Hazy IPA", bottled at a rather juicy 6.4% ABV. "Hvala," I said - that's 'thank you' - and walked outside, picked a random table and that's when a giraffe appeared. And when I say 'giraffe', what I mean is 'an extremely tall, slim and long-limbed Serbian girl'. She was just as tall as Jeremy. And I know because *clears throat* I've met him. We shall call her Tall Serb.
Tall Serb was alone, and she was sitting on a bar stool, near an oak cask - or perhaps I should say barrel - that was being used as a makeshift table. I said nothing. Minutes later, Tall Serb was joined by Geordie Serb, because she looked like she came straight from an episode of Geordie Shore; Silent Serb, Silent Serb's boyfriend and Stylish Serb. They said nothing and I said nothing but it was pretty straightforward. They were sitting near the barrel, I was occupying a table for six on my own. I guess you can see where this is going.
"Zdravo (hi)," I said. "We can swap seats if you want, I mean this is a big table and I'm here on my own, so I can just sit there, you can sit here".
"No no," Tall Serb said. "We don't wanna take your seat. You were here first". Her English was fluent and she sounded like she knew all the words and how to use them. We then engaged in a British-style stand-off, "please Sir" "no Ma'am I insist" for a few minutes until she said "why don't we just join you at your table." Silent Serb and Silent Serb's boyfriend remained stoic, displaying no visible emotions. Geordie Serb was feeding her ferrets. Yeah, I forgot to mention she had a pair of ferrets. Stylish Serb didn't seem too happy. Possibly because for the first time - maybe ever - he wasn't the best-dressed guy in the room. But hey, I'm Italian, and that's my superpower.
"What are you drinking?" Tall Serb asked.
"Hope" I said.
"Ah, that's my favourite."
'Course it is. Hope is fabulous beer indeed. It felt dense and intense, which is what I want from IPAs in general. I took one last sip and the pint was empty. I got up and Geordie Serb said, "you can stay if you want, we don't mind". *I'm pretty sure Stylish Serb minds*, I thought. But I didn't say that, instead I just said "I just need another beer". Tall Serb got up, towering over me and everybody else around us. "I'll buy this round," she said. "As a Thank You for letting us sit at your table." "I feel like it should be the other way around," I replied.
After another British-style stand-off, "No, really. I insist" "Come on, it's the least I can do", we eventually reached an agreement and bought some much needed Hope. I desperately wanted to ask the guy behind the counter if they had some "Dreams to go with that?" but I didn't. Anyway, there's only so much Hope you can have and that's why I thought I should Juice things Up, with some Juice It Up DDH IPA (Double Dry-Hopped) and I was also eager to try some Cossack's Whip, a 'Russian Imperial Stout with Cardamon and Cocoa Nibs' but then I decided against it, mostly because of the 9% ABV.
Tall Serb ordered a pint of Albino (White IPA) and I had some Plutonium (Orange Milkshake Double IPA, 7.5%). After a beer-infused 2-hour conversation with Tall Serb, Silent Serb and Silent Serb's boyfriend (he's into cryptocurrencies, as it turns out), Stylish Serb smiled and spoke to me for the first time. "Let's take a selfie. Let's use my phone". His English was not as fluent as Tall Serb's English but still pretty good.
Most of my childhood friends left Italy a long time ago. One of the guys, an accomplished chef, moved to Singapore, another friend of mine moved to Paris, then there's another guy I know who works as an engineer in Sweden. And then a bunch of people I know moved to London and never came back. I never left because I didn't really see the point, I've been working remotely for longer than I can remember so it doesn't really matter where I am, but when Covid hit the decision was made for me - I'm not gonna get into that but I guess it's easy to see why - and I didn't just close my eyes and picked a random spot on the map. I moved to Belgrade for a variety of reasons.
Tall Serb, like all Serbs over the age of 20, has lived in at least three different countries without ever leaving the country. But that was then, this is now, and now Belgrade is a cosmopolitan, global city with fast wifi, a thriving economy, good infrastructure(s) and excellent beer. And it blows my mind that I can come here, in former Yugoslavia, and I can have meaningful conversations in English with just about anyone I meet. I can tell you with absolute certainty that, with a few exceptions, you couldn't do that in Italy. Nobody really speaks English, even the younger generations, because they don't think they need it. I'm resentful and disenchanted with my country and I'm not trying to hide it so I'll just stop right here before this turns into a rant. But who knows, maybe there's still Hope. Cheers.