The dreaded words ‘new normal’: how London’s pubs are Turning the Tide

After months of drinking solo in your bedroom while doing pub quizzes on Zoom, socially distant drinks in your front garden and overflowing parks, it’s finally time to set foot in our favourite pubs again. But to make sure you feel comfortable going to your local, the people on the other side of the bar have carefully considered how to keep you safe. Turning the Tide is a new documentary series focusing on how the ‘new normal’ has shaped 2020’s experience of something that seemed so simple in the past: getting a drink.

Gabriele ‘Gabs’ Bertucci is a London based beer sommelier and active in the craft beer scene in both the UK and Italy. “I’m passionate about all things beer, and especially the community full of really great people.” He left his job in hospitality on the Tuscan seaside in 2012, and continued working his way up in London. The love for one specific element, beer, kept growing and he entered the community by working for companies such as Mother Kelly’s, Clapton Craft, ORA Brewing and most recently London Fields Brewery. Next to that, he’s a music maniac, a lover of visual arts, and continued being creative and writing.

Furlough energy

While some of us have been able to return to work, Gabs is still on furlough. “With my current job on hold because of the pandemic, I couldn’t go out, visit pubs and meet my friends.” An unnatural thing for him, since he visits pubs both for work and for pleasure. “Throughout lockdown, I have realised how much I was missing the boozers, my social life and the pub atmosphere. Meeting people in the pub is a crucial part of being a Londoner. During the lockdown, we all had periods where we struggled. Self isolation and later social distancing were challenging. While we couldn’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions, we needed to be flexible and think creatively in these circumstances.

Luckily, he’s incapable of sitting still and decided to use his time, currently five months and counting, to not only develop new skills, but to also help out those in need in his much loved industry. To stay connected in the craft beer scene, Gabs launched a digital community called What’s in the Glass. “It’s a platform where I tell stories about hospitality and the beer industry, and the people working in it. Digital Beer Streams, the first project I curated, was a collection of 48 interviews with beer personalities in the UK and Europe.”

It included rotating daily topics such as beer education, shout outs to certain bottle shops and venues, conversations with industry legends and exploring different beer styles. “We had incredible guests. Beer writers such as Claire Bullen and Mark Dredge, breweries like Solvay Society and Northern Monk, bottle shops like All Good Beer and Hop Burns and Black, distribution companies like Euroboozer and Honest Brew”. These discussions took place on IGTV and are still available on his YouTube channel, and will continue. But most importantly, they warmed him up for something even bigger.

Turning the Tide

When Boris announced what phase two of the lockdown would look like on that Sunday afternoon, we all watched in collective confusion and could only speculate with this meant for our jobs, our health and our social lives. “There was a lot of confusion around the reopening of hospitality businesses, especially pubs. Nobody knew what was going to happen and there were lots of people suffering from anxiety as well as lots of businesses in real financial difficulties.”

“When London and the rest of the world were approaching ‘phase two’ and slowly started easing the lockdown, I wanted to put all my energy behind helping the industry by trying something I have never done before.” The result is the documentary ‘Turning the Tide’. Armed with a camera and two friends, he visited his favourite London pubs and sat down with staff to discuss everything from being shut for weeks, slowly reopening, community vibes and providing you with a safe environment to drink in.

With Turning the Tide, Gabs is trying to raise awareness for the struggles pubs and bars are facing, beyond those who pour your pints, cook your food and serve you. By making you, as a customer, more aware of what these people do for you, he wants to create a tighter community and get more appreciation for what pub culture means to people’s day to day lives. “We don’t just want to give you the rules and the guidelines, we want to tell people’s stories. The general vibe will be fresh and modern, something you wouldn’t necessarily associate with pubs. It’s time for the industry’s most essential, but also most vulnerable players – the bartenders and managers – to be listened to and get appreciation for the work they’re doing.”

With this documentary, I hope to show the real face of the hospitality industry, which isn’t the story of multi-billionaire corporations or the story of the exploitation of low-qualified European workers. The real story is the struggle of a multi-generational workforce that works around the idea that we can build a better world with passion, mutual respect and co-operation.”

New challenges

“When I had the idea of documenting the historic and unprecedented event of hospitality’s forced closure, I decided to work with some experienced film professionals within the beverages industry. One of the best things about the craft beer world is the possibility to find people in bars and pubs that are also experts in other sectors. I phoned Carla Martins, a good friend of mine and well known in the craft beer world, asking her to help me with the filming. She introduced me to Stefan Belov, another professional filmmaker. The two of us went around interviewing and filming almost every day for weeks.”

“Since then, I’ve managed to create a network of volunteers to realise, edit and post-produce this documentary. I’ve personally been in touch with every pub and every guest, proposing the interviews and organising the setup. The most challenging part of creating a documentary is to nail the right storytelling, especially if you want to engage with people beyond the beer and pub industry.”

“London is a great place, but you get sucked into a vortex of poisonous habits. It’s all about working five days a week, it’s all about fun the other two days and then again and again. People don’t ask themselves what makes them happy, or satisfied with their life. We all keep going over into our circle – the famous London’s ‘rat race’ which is simply unsustainable in the longer term. I know people that started new projects and unprecedented explorations during these hard times, but most of us preferred to don’t do much and stay just within themselves, waiting for better times. I always dreamt of being an author and curator, and this documentary finally gave me the opportunity.”

“When you have a project in mind, you have to figure out how to make it relevant for others, how to find collaborators and have a clear idea of all the related processes linked to it. Get inspiration from what you like and ask people with more experience what would be the best way to do it.”

Keep your eyes peeled

At the moment Gabs is looking for a home for his documentary. “We are in the process of finding partners and sponsors. We are looking within beer and pub industry-related media, but not just that. It’s never easy to approach someone with not just an idea, but an almost final project. Our aim is to give visibility to the industry and the challenges it is facing. This would potentially be the first part of a more significant project that could extend to a crowdfunding project to help independent pubs facing financial difficulties.”

To stay in the loop about Turning the Tide and join the conversation within the craft beer and hospitality industry, keep an eye on his newly launched community What’s in the Glass and its Instagram.

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