Drinking with Jarmo

It's not every day that I get an email from a Finnish stranger asking if I'd like to meet up for a beer. But that's what can happen when you're a member of ratebeer.com. The London crew have a fine tradition of looking after visitors to their city - I've been on the receiving end of their epic hospitality. To be honest, they would attend the opening of an envelope if there was a beer involved and a chance to meet up with someone passing through. Fewer ratebeerian tourists escape up to the shires, though, so it was a pleasure to welcome someone and show them around the town.

And Jarmo Makkonen wasn't mucking around. He'd already been in the UK for six days and covered Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, York and Leeds. After days in Derby, Birmingham and Sheffield he was off to Liverpool, Chester, Manchester and the Trans-Pennine Rail Ale Trail. I'm sometimes nervy when I meet ratebeer bods that I don't know; some can be hardcore geek, one hand welded to a smartphone and the other dispatching sips of beer before spouting forth on all manner of arcane tasting gobbledegook. I knew Jarmo and I were going to get along when he bought a half, took a photo of the pumpclip so he knew later what he bought and then started drinking.

His emphasis for the trip was as much about people and place as it was cask beer. The latter was crucially important - he's a cask fan and is madly disappointed with the general standard of real ale in his hometown of Tampere. But his trip was also about finding good pubs and meeting people. I showed him the beery sights of Derby and Sheffield and we talked almost non-stop; why Sheffield has so many pale and hoppy beers, how legal restrictions stifle beer in Finland, how placenames in England sometimes seem to have too many syllables. He educated me on the finer points of how written and spoken Finnish differ. I explained how Henderson's Relish makes fried onions even tastier.

Two things really impressed me about Jarmo. He's undertaking a trip that most British beer fans would never contemplate taking - two weeks, eleven cities, dozens of pubs, a wide range of cask beer. He's going to see some of the finest pubs and bars and drink some of the finest beer in the UK. Would you think of taking that Round Britain trip?

And it wasn't all beer, beer, beer. Food was important - though he said he was getting a bit sick of fish & chips. He made time for sightseeing. He drank soda water or Red Bull when he went out late-night drinking - he wanted to party as well, not just drink geek beer. And when we were in Sheffield, he wanted to take the time to visit Hillsborough. Not the Hotel, as I first thought, but the ground. As a Liverpool supporter, he wanted to visit the memorial at Sheffield Wednesday's ground to the Hillsborough disaster and pay his respects.

Most of my beery days out in the UK revolve around a tight schedule of George-Best-best-session-rate drinking. If I were planning two weeks away in a foreign country, I would barely rota in time to sleep. Drinking with Jarmo has made me think differently.