A Month Off

We’re taking a month off and will be back in August.

As per our own advice, we need to recharge our beer blogging batteries and concentrate on some non-beer-related projects for a few weeks so we’re not going to post anything here at all.

The 11,000+ word essay we’ve just put up is about equivalent to a month’s-worth of blogging at any rate. You might notice that comments on that post are disabled — that’s because we won’t be around to moderate them. If you’ve got an important correction to make, or it prompts any burning questions, email us at boakandbailey@gmail.com.

This is probably also a good time to remind you to download Gambrinus Waltz (cheap) and Back of a Beer Mat (free) for your Kindle, if you haven’t already.

We’ll still be Tweeting, though a bit less than usual, and Facebooking as and when we feel the urge.

The Good, the Bad & the Murky — Brew Britannia: One Year On

This piece is 11,000 words long so you might want to consider downloading it to read on your tablet or smartphone via Pocket, Instapaper or another offline reader. It is also available as a free e-book in various formats via Smashwords.

Contents

  • Introduction
  • A London Particular – why everyone is talking about ‘murky’ beer
  • I Can I Can’t? – the reinvention of the tinny
  • Crowds & Community – crowdfunding: exploitation or fan service?
  • On the Turn – signs of tension
  • Vertical Integration – breweries with bars, bars with breweries
  • Almost Too Wee – the rise of the micropub
  • Sorry, Ronnie! – craft beer on the high street
  • Breaking Away from the Peloton – United Craft Brewers
  • Perestroika & Glasnost – CAMRA hints at change
  • Poochie is One Outrageous Dude! – the big boys do craft beer
  • Approaching Total Beer – an afterword
  • Appendix – Where Are They Now?
  • Acknowledgements

New section.

Introduction

We submitted the text of our book, Brew Britannia: the strange rebirth of British beer, in October 2013 and it was published in June the following year. Because the ‘strange rebirth’ it described was still underway, it wasn’t possible to provide a satisfying full stop to our attempt to tell the story of how British beer got from Big Six monopoly of the early 1970s to the vibrant scene we currently enjoy. The purpose of this update is to summarise developments in the past 18 months, to explain how (if at all) they fit into the ongoing narrative, and perhaps also to see if a punchline might be in sight.

In doing so, we have considered the ongoing creep of ‘craft beer’ into the mainstream – or is it the mainstream annexing and absorbing ‘craft’? We have also identified points of stress and increasing tension in an industry in which there is a decreasing amount of elbow room.

Like the last couple of chapters of Brew Britannia, this is commentary rather than history. It is in many ways a greater challenge to squeeze the truth out of people who are running active businesses than it was to get 40-year-old gossip out of CAMRA veterans of pensionable age. Nonetheless, as with the book, we have tried where possible to track stories back to their sources, to pin down dates on the timeline, and to avoid making assumptions – ‘Sez who?’ has been our constant challenge to each other. In a handful of instances, however, the only answer has been, ‘Sez us’.

Continue reading The Good, the Bad & the Murky — Brew Britannia: One Year On

The Month That Was: June 2015

Here’s everything we posted in the last month — not a bad run, considering we spent a week on holiday in the middle.

Proposed Public House — As ‘new towns’ and Corbusier-inspired estates were built in the rubble and green field of post-War Britain, pubs were a focus of debate.

→ Notable Pubs #2: The Crooked House — In Himley, just over the Staffordshire border near Dudley, is one of the weirdest pubs in Britain.

→ Sarah Warman: Influencer — Is there anyone talking or writing about beer with anything like the ability of Jamie Oliver or Delia Smith to mention a product and immediately cause it to sell out across the country? We reckon Sarah Warman might be the one to watch. (Literally.)

Brewery Numbers and Employment — The boom in the number of breweries in the UK has caused a buzz but isn’t the only important number: how many people are actually employed in making beer?

Session #100: The Return of Porter — Because the 100th Session is a special occasion, and with the kind permission of our publishers, Aurum Press, we’ve decided to share a slightly edited extract from chapter four of our book Brew Britannia. (And Reuben Gray’s round-up of all the session posts is here.)

Continue reading The Month That Was: June 2015

Beer Clarity, Ornamental Glass & Mirrors in the 1890s

In her essay ‘Presenting the Perfect Pint: Drink and Visual Pleasure in Late Nineteenth-Century London’ Fiona Fisher argues that judging beer by its appearance was a product of a period when public houses were smartened up and glasses replaced tankards.

It is a fairly short essay which first appeared in Visual References: An International Journal of Documentation in November 2012 and is readily available to anyone with access to an academic library. (We managed to see a copy through a more roundabout route.)

There are lots of fascinating details pointing off towards original sources. For example, Fisher quotes a few words from this passage from George August Sala’s 1859 book Gaslight and Daylight which prompted us to seek out the surrounding text:

The inside of the [public] house was as much transmogrified as the outside… It was all mahogany — at least, what wasn’t mahogany, was gilt carving and ground glass, with flourishing patterns on it. The bar was cut up into little compartments like pawnbrokers’ boxes ; and there was the wholesale entrance, and the jug and bottle department, the retail bar, the snuggery, the private bar, the ladies’ bar, the wine and liqueur entrance, and the lunch bar. The handles of the taps were painted porcelain, and green, and yellow glass. There were mysterious glass columns, in which the bitter ale, instead of being drawn lip comfortably from the cask in the cellar below, remained always on view above ground to show its clearness, and was drawn out into glasses by a mysterious engine like an air-pump with something wrong in its inside.

That is just one example she provides of evidence that people were judging beer on its clarity from at least the middle of the 19th century but, she argues, it was only in the 1890s that the image of the connoisseur holding his glass up to the light really became common in advertising and depictions of beer drinking — ‘seeing is knowing’. An account from a Licensed Victuallers’ magazine of a landlord who ‘knows a good beer when he sees it (in a glass)’ (emphasis in original) is particularly compelling.

The pursuit of clarity in beer, she suggests, was tied up with expectations of transparency around weights and measures, ongoing anxiety over adulteration, and with efforts by the trade to elevate the status of pubs:

Within the modernized public house setting, the beer that was clear, bright, and sparkled in the glass symbolized its improved status to late nineteenth-century customers, whose participation in the visual pleasures of consumption asserted their status as discerning consumers and incorporated them within a fashionable public modernity.

We have found isolated nuggets of evidence to suggest that, historically, some people actually liked hazy or cloudy beer, in the same way haziness in scrumpy cider is valued by some as a sign of authenticity, but we are increasingly convinced that was an outlying preference and that people have long preferred clear beer, given the choice. Fisher’s argument that it is only in the last 125 years that they have had the means to be able to judge it — adequate lighting and glassware in pubs — makes sense in that context.

Comment thread challenge: if you respond to this post, can you do so without using the phrase ‘London murky’?

Saisons Pt 8: The Last Two

As we draw near the end of this series of posts reporting our experiences of tasting British-brewed saisons, we’ve abandoned any attempt at theming: the only thing these last two have in common is that we bought them both from Beer Ritz.

Before we get down to our brief tasting notes, here’s a reminder of what this is all about: we want to have a short list of three we can wholeheartedly recommend. So, while ‘Do we like it?’ is a good starting point, whether other people might like it is also important and, in practice, that means we’re not after madly left-field interpretations.

  • Durham Brewery Raspbeery [sic] Saison, 5.6% ABV, 500ml @ £4.20.
  • Weird Beard Saison 14, 6%, 500ml @ £3.52.

Continue reading Saisons Pt 8: The Last Two

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Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007