The beer diary

"I've tried nearly 12,000 beers, and you want me to recommend one? No! That's impossible!" That is the answer you can get from a man who’s spent decades documenting his drinking when you ask him for beverage advice.

The compact crowd of 9-to-5ers was slowly emptying the pub, and it was finally possible to sit at a table. The volume of the conversations was lowering, and the ambiance was suddenly more peaceful. Peter was sitting at the last table, and even if he was facing the room, he wasn't speaking to anyone.

He was putting his glasses on and off, sipping his half-pint, and writing in a very thick binder.

What he was writing, that was what intrigued me. He explained very eloquently that these hundreds of sheets were in fact precise records of his thousands of pints of beer consumption.

"This is a list of the beers I've had throughout the years. When I try a beer, I log it. And this is everything I've had. Yes, I am serious."

Asking him to recommend a beer was surely a stupid question. "There are pale ales, there are porters, there are bitters... And among them, there are good ones, and there are bad ones. So, I'd recommend nothing to you, just because I can't! It's impossible!"

"It's impossible. There are good beers, I could say to you one of the best ones I've had. I've got a list of beers which spans over the years, but in the end, if you wanna know a beer, you see a beer there... you try it. You like it? You've got your answer. It's that simple."

‘Peter works on the railway, and stops in pubs all around the country. His binder is a hobby for him, and he explains that it could never be more than that.

"If I worked in the beer industry, it would be like working in a chocolate factory: the last thing you do when you get home, as you see chocolate every day, is eat chocolate."

He’s not interested in publishing his gigantic log of beers either. It’s the process that he enjoys, not the result.

“All I want to do is to drink beer, record it. And I keep it that simple; that way when I'm interrupted by you, I can talk to you, without being like ‘go away!’”

“Pubs are social places, we talk to each other. If you come to a stage where you do a lot of work, a guy comes here, "excuse, what are you doing", and you can only say "come on, go away" (laughs). It's a social place, we're interested in talking to people.”

The beers Peter tastes are precisely recorded on paper sheets. He seemed to know what he was looking for when he browsed through his binder, though it was impossible for my stranger's eye to distinguish any organisation.

All he writes down though, is the date, the name of the beer, and its alcohol by volume. "It's that simple. I don't write if I like it or not, because it can be bad in one pub, and good in another."

As the bell rang for last orders, we went to the bar to order a final drink. Two Late Knights' Hop of the Morning Stout, despite the late hour. "It's the first one for me, so don't trust me," he said. "In the end, there's always still plenty to try."

Reporting by Basile Simon

Behind the Story : I remember very distinctively the night I met Peter. I was at the pub with a friend from uni and his visiting sister from overseas. We were supposed to look for stories but got caught in our discussions. Then, half an hour before the bell rang, I spotted this man at the back with his binder – and we knew he was our story. It was just a matter of who would get up to talk to him, so I took my chance.

I couldn't hear very well, and I was afraid that my audio recording would be useless. It turned out fine, despite the noisy talks over our shoulders.

Peter was apparently used to being asked questions about this hobby of his, and did not appear surprised nor reluctant to the questions. He even posed for the photo, with his thick binder as a trophy. I would even say he was expecting from me to share a pint with him.