You’re here to support Pilsner Urquell. Does good beer mean a lot to you?
When you travel around the world, one of the big things that everybody shares, is a beer. No matter where you go, a beer is always something that breaks the ice.
I was recently staying in one of the townships just outside of Cape Town for the night. I brought a six-pack along to say thank you to the guy and we sat down and had a beer.
That happens all over the world. That’s one of the reasons I joined up with Pilsner Urquell, because of that bond.
You recently visited the historic brewery in Pilsen. Did you learn anything new?
It almost ruins you for life, because you have this most incredible unpasteurised, unfiltered beer. And almost any beer after that is not quite the same.
It’s the good stuff. It started 170 years ago when the residents of the city didn’t like the beer. A mini revolution went on and they got a master brewer to come up with this beer. It’s never been changed since. When you peel back a couple of layers, you forget that all these beers that have come to market have come from this incredible passion.
Do you miss the Great British pub when you’re away?
I do, yes. It’s always the little things that you miss. I live in Barnes, southwest London. There’s a lovely little pub round the corner called the Sun Inn. That’s one of those pubs where they have 10 or 12 different ciders and loads of different beers. It’s next to Barnes Common where people go out and sit by the pond. I’ve been going to that pub since I was sort of 18. You get attached to places like that.
You’re known for your unconventional travel trips and for travelling by quite unconventional methods. Some of them sound like they’ve been thought up over a pint in the pub. Have they?
Most of them, yeah! One that I did with Ewan, Long Way Round where we went from London to New York, going east through Mongolia and all those places, that was over a couple of beers in a pub somewhere in London. And we thought “That would be a good idea”.
My tip if you’re planning a very long trip and you’re convincing someone to go with you, or someone that you should go, is always to bring a very small map, because it doesn’t look so far.
Who is best at standing their round? You or Ewan?
Ewan is always the first to pull his wallet out. He is one of the nicest, friendliest, gentlest, generous people I know. A lovely man.
Obviously, you’ve seen a lot of the world. Where’s been your favourite pub?
Apart from my local? My gosh. Probably a pub in Magadan, in Far East Russia. It’s probably the last place that you can go before you get to the Bering Strait and it’s a slightly forgotten town now. There used to be a lot of gulag camps there and ships would come in and send people off to build the Road of Bones that we travelled on, to build a gold mine.
The road is falling apart, there are no bridges any more and the camps have all been knocked down, but the rubble is still there. We ended up in this tiny, bizarre little bar where there was a guy playing on a guitar, and a lot of vodka. We sat while he played these old, melancholy songs. He’d been in the war. It was a really fascinating place. People were saying “you won’t make it to Magadan, the roads are too difficult”. Against all adversity, we had arrived there, and had this lovely night with all these locals. It was brilliant. It was the oddest place.
Have you found anything to rival the hospitality of the British pub when you’ve been away?
I think every country is proud of their pubs and bars. It’s always about that social thing; it’s a gathering place for everybody. You see that all over the world. Even in the townships in South Africa, they have those little things called shebeens and you have a few beers in there and it’s all about sharing. That is what it comes back to, this thing about beer. It’s a universal language. If you’re sitting there and it’s all a bit awkward, you know, let’s have a beer and instantly it breaks the ice and changes the atmosphere.
You’re a huge motorcycling fan. Do you discover lots of new pubs when you’re out on the bike?
Yeah. If you go into Motorcycle News or something, there’s lots of people talking about their favourite routes round Britain and it usually ends up in their favourite pub. Pub culture is definitely part of the motorcycle scene in Britain.
Do you have itchy feet to get travelling again?
I set off tomorrow to South Africa. I arrived back yesterday and I head back tomorrow, so it’s just a little quick whistle-stop tour. I’m back in October when we have “A Pilsner Evening with Charley”, in a theatre in Sloane Square. It will be a sort of evening of chatting about stupid things I have got up to over the past few years. Over a beer. Ewan and I have always talked about it, but it’s a matter of timing and time. I’m sure it would be Long Way Up and South America if we did it, but who knows? There’s no rush.
Pilsner Urquell unpasteurised
The world’s first golden beer is offering UK beer-lovers the chance to experience unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell, just 24 hours after leaving its Czech brewery in Pilsen.
As part of a unique, and, it has to be said, rather ambitious project to excite drinkers, Pilsner will bring brewery-fresh beer directly from traditional hand-made 25-litre oak barrels to selected pubs until the end of the year. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of trying it – and believe us, it is a pleasure – the slightly cloudy, yeast-heavy beer is sweeter and more full-bodied.