Some Beer Library Acquisitions

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We’ve picked up a few new (old) books and magazines relating to pubs and beer and, as with this batch a few months ago, we think each is worth a few words.

First, Pearly Kingdom by Geoffrey Fletcher, which we got through Amazon for £8.80 delivered. Published by Hutchinson in 1965, it is a coffee table book of just over 100 pages, alternating short descriptive texts with full-page illustrations of typical ‘cockney’ scenes.

There are portraits of several pubs at an interesting time when the original hipsters were invading the East End. Fletcher laments the ‘self-consciously provided’ musical hall entertainment at the Waterman’s Arms, and misses the ‘spontaneous public-house sing-song by a bunch of locals grouped around a piano topped with glasses’. Of the City Arms, Millwall, he says:

The dress (expensive and flashy) of the younger clients and their taste in booze is something to speculate upon in these East End pubs — to those who knew them in the dark ages.

At the time of his writing, the Grapes, Limehouse, was ‘unspoiled’, and Fletcher’s illustration, in typically sketchy style, shows it surrounded by derelict Victorian buildings, and threatened by a precariously leaning gas-lamp.

His introductory essay recalls the Victorian era when

…pubs blazed their gaslit invitations from engraved windows… cheap beer, cheap gin, free clay pipes and a dazzle of light, and Impressionistic blur of faces, billycocks and barmaids, all reflected back kaleidoscopically from the rococo lettered mirrors on the walls.

Which reminds us of the William IV (we covet its mirrors) and of the fashionable young man, perhaps 19-years-old, we spotted strutting through Shoreditch in a jauntily-angled brown bowler hat. The 19th century never lurks far beneath the surface in London.

Covering similar ground with less flair is London Pride, a 1978 collection of etchings by Nancy Lui-Fyson, with text by Aubrey Noakes. We paid £3.50 for this 125 page A4+ hardback in a charity shop.

Printed on what seems to be a higher quality version of brown wrapping paper, it features many more illustrations of pubs than Fletcher’s book. This of Ye Olde Watling (formerly the City HQ of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood) is typical:

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We’re not art critics but it seems fair to say Ms Fyson drew buildings better than people. For our purposes, Noakes’s notes are where it is at, recording in some cases details of the atmosphere and clientèle of particular pubs, which might come in handy at some point.

Finally, there’s Country Life magazine for 20 September 1973, which includes an article entitled ‘The Vanishing Small Brewery’ by Rex Wailes, for which we paid £7.75.

country_lifeWhen we spoke to Patrick Fitzpatrick, who founded Godson’s, the original Hackney hipster brewery, in 1977, he told us that he had been inspired by an article on this subject while travelling in India. He thought it might have been in the Illustrated London News, but the only piece that fit the bill in that publication appeared too late to make sense in the chronology. Too late for the book, we think this essay is a much more likely candidate, but await Mr Fitzpatrick’s confirmation.

It’s hardly an essential read — a puff-piece, really — but there are some nice photographs, including one of Arkell’s in its idyllic countryside setting, and another of the coppers at Ind Coope in Burton-upon-Trent. It it also the only instance we’ve come across of nostalgia for vinegar breweries.

A Brief Bashing of the Bunny

Brodie's Brewery window sign.

We can’t claim to have really ‘done’ the Brodie’s Brewery ‘Bunny Basher’ festival, but here are a few observations based on popping in twice over the weekend.

The beer was never less than interesting, and the atmosphere was brilliant. Like the Blue Anchor in Helston, the pub is both a tourist attraction and a local boozer. People are there to drink and have a good time; some do it with Foster’s lager and football, while others sit alone with their third of kegged Belgian-style sour and write code on a laptop. No-one cares what anyone else is doing.

Brodie’s seem to be better at pale beers than dark. Apart from one dry-hopped with Motueka which smelled just a tiny bit too much like freshly-expressed urine, the yellow’n’hoppy ales were all at least good, and most were excellent. (But regular brew Citra at 3.1% is still our favourite.)

Cinnamon still doesn’t work in beer. Is there a market for a patented Beer Ruiner? If so, here’s the recipe: some cinnamon. (Coffee optional.)

We found the much-vaunted Elizabethan Ale (22% ABV) undrinkable. HP Sauce? We didn’t persevere past a couple of sips each, to be fair, and perhaps we need to get in training, c.12% being really the upper limit of our experience with strong beer.

We will certainly try to be in town if/when the Bunny Basher is on next year.

Matt ‘Total Ales’ Curtis’s take on the festival is also worth a read.

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1950s Beer Mats

We picked up these among a bundle of 16 for £4.99 inc. delivery on Ebay.

Failing at the Beer Mile

The Anchor Tap, Tower Bridge.

We headed for London’s Tower Bridge fully intending to tackle the now famous Bermondsey Beer Mile but got distracted by pubs on the way.

Boak had previously visited the Draft House on Tower Bridge Road on her own a few weeks ago and, despite lacklustre cask ale, appreciated an atmosphere where she didn’t feel uncomfortable or get bothered by circling creeps. This time, visiting together, we winced at the prices (anything interesting seemed to start at a fiver a pint) and scratched our heads at the selection – why have both Stiegl and Budvar lagers on offer? To cater to both Austrian and Czech tourists?The house lager at a tempting £3.95 a pint caught our eye and we asked who brews it: ‘Shepherd Neame. It’s Oranjeboom.’ At that, as they say, ‘we made our excuses and left’.

But then we noticed, a few doors up, an enticing sight – an Adnams’ pub. Because we don’t drive, Southwold might as well be on Mars, and we certainly don’t see much of their beer in Cornwall, so we couldn’t resist. The Bridge House Bar is clearly designed for tourists, though we stop short of calling it a ‘trap’. It has a pleasingly nautical atmosphere only enhanced by the aroma of lemon squeezed over hot fried fish. The range of beer was temptingly comprehensive and we got our ticking hats on. A pint of Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale (cask) cost the wrong side of £4 and, though it tasted fine, was rather lifeless. Ghost Ship, however, was on stunning form — a poster boy for both cask ale and the ‘pale and hoppy’ style in particular. Quite comfortable, we considered making a session of it, but tasters of Dry Hopped Lager and Fat Sprat did their job, i.e. prevented us wasting the best part of a tenner. Ticking hats came off and on we went.

Eager for a round that wouldn’t sting too much, we decided to visit the Anchor Tap, a Sam Smith’s pub in the shadow of the former Courage brewery at Horselydown. Stepping inside was like entering a cathedral — dust motes on the air, beams of light, and plenty of polished wood. In the end, though, we just didn’t fancy Old Brewery Bitter and so, taking bottled India Ale (£5.50) and Pure Brewed Lager (£4+ a pint), ended up with another expensive round. The former was excellent, once an initial flavour of 2p coins had passed, though PBL seemed distinctly bog-standard. We didn’t care — we were in love with the pub which seemed right out of Mass Observation, with piano, status symbol pot plants in the saloon, and a lounge that seemed too good for the likes of us. That and the discovery of Imperial Stout (£5.75 a bottle) served in branded snifter glasses convinced us to stay a little longer.

Finally, feeling distinctly rosy-cheeked, and with the sense that the issues of the day had yet to be quite fully explored, we left the gloom of the Anchor for the bright whitewash of the nearby Dean Swift. The stand-out beer here was Redwell Indian Pale Ale (keg, 6% ABV), which we found juicy, fresh-tasting and clean. The cask ale was in good condition (though our notes and memories fail us on the specifics), and the expensive scotch egg that accompanied it was so good (well-seasoned, slightly runny) that it almost seemed worth the money. Bar staff who smiled and made conversation rather than offering teenage shrugs and grunts were the icing on the cake.

The Beer Mile will have to wait until another time, when we’ll try to approach it from an angle which takes us past fewer invitingly ajar pub doors.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 19/04/2014

Detail from Watney's Brown Ale advertisement c.1960.

Here are a few things we’ve spotted around the blogoshire and beyond for you to enjoy with your hangover.

→ There’s a real sense of place evoked through small details in this piece on a Sam Smith’s pub in Cardiff from Craig Heap, and it made us want to drink their beer.

→ Is it time for breweries to indicate a recommend retail price for their beer?

→ Old wooden brewery crates are practical and attractive, but they go at a premium on Ebay, but Bob Arnott has a solution.

→ Saved to Pocket this week: a piece on the new Oregon Hops & Brewing archive at Oregon State University. (Via @brewingarchives)

→ We wrote a not entirely serious piece explaining why you should order a copy of Brew Britannia. (If you don’t like Amazon or Waterstones, you could ask your local independent bookshop to get a copy on order.)

→ We’re fascinated by the question of whether ‘golden ale’ is really a 1980s invention so this example of a notably pale beer with the brand name Golden Ale from the 1930s has us intrigued.

→ Here’s a piece we were asked to write for the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog section, on big brewery mergers. (Annoyingly, we got the brewery number statistic wrong – we’ve asked for it to be corrected.)

Writing about beer and pubs since 2007