The other day in conversation on Twitter with Nathaniel Southwood (@NateDawg27) we were prompted to think about beer blogs and bloggers again.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut following the same few people you’ve always engaged with since year dot and thus get the idea that Beer Blogging is Dead when some or all of them give up the game. Meanwhile, whole new waves of blogs have come, and maybe gone, and probably been replaced by yet more.
We share round-ups of interesting stuff every Saturday, trying to cast the net as far and wide as possible, which hopefully helps highlight interesting writers but we sometimes end up featuring the same names time and again for various reasons.
So, by way of a bit of extra sauce, what we’re going to do here is provide a list (if not’s rude to say so) of less well-known bloggers we’re following via RSS (we use Feedly) with brief notes on what they’re about.
You might not like the look of all of them, and inclusion doesn’t necessarily equate to endorsement, but hopefully you’ll find at least one or two new things to spice up your feeds.
Meeting up with friends at the weekend we decided that, instead of trawling round the usual haunts from our post-student days, we’d take the opportunity to test out another section of Green & White’s Guide to London Pubs from 1968.
With a plan to catch the last train out of London back to Bristol we didn’t want to stray too far from Paddington and so picked the section entitled ‘Chelsea’ which includes The Victoria not far from the West Country terminus. Based on a review of the pubs’ own websites, and previous experiences with this kind of exercise, our expectations were fairly low.
We went first to a pub we did know, The Star Tavern in Belgravia, where we used to drink occasionally even before we started blogging, when we both worked in Westminster. Green & White say:
The Star Tavern… is one of the handsomest pubs in London, both outside and in, contemporary with its surroundings. It is a fine Georgian mews pub (a rare Fuller’s house in this part of London) built on generous lines and — being away from the hurly-burly of the main roads or business areas — free from that maddening tidal crowd which packs more central pubs at lunchtime and evening opening…. The Star is the kind of place you might expect to run into James Bond, and if he is not familiar with the pub, he should be.
Approaching The Star is still magical, through a stuccoed arch and over cobbles, and into the pub’s warm tractor beam glow. Inside it felt approximately (runs calculations) 32 per cent less ‘authentic’ than we recall it, having apparently had a visit from Fuller’s corporate style police. But there were still plenty of normal people knocking back pints (“They get a lot of butlers and doormen in,” someone said at one point) and the overall feel was of a secret refuge, especially in the implied snug by the counter. Fuller’s ESB tasted as good as we’ve ever had it, with the quality of the London Pride not far behind.
Next, we made a brief detour to The Antelope — not in the 1968 book but also in a mews and with similar ‘classic’ status — to pick up another of our mates. This pub, too, was stunningly cute. In this part of town, in 2017, it ought to have gone full grey-paint-gastro but, no, it was dark, well-worn, sparkling and intimate, all corners, cubbyholes, ale and gin. The beer (more Fuller’s) was great there, too.
Back on track we pushed on to The Nag’s Head which upped the ante considerably. How is this pub real? With its Adnams ale and creaking floorboards it feels as if it’s been transplanted from Southwold or perhaps more specifically the Southwold of 1985. Or maybe it’s a film set? It is tatty in the best sense with an eccentric layout which means you can find yourself sitting below the level of the bar staring at a rack of knives under a sagging union jack, or next to a vintage end-of-pier penny slot machine by a roaring Victorian range. NO MOBILE PHONES say the signs but nobody — not the couple snogging intensely at the bar or the moustachioed bloke in mulberry-coloured waistcoat and bow-tie doing a crossword — looked as if they particularly wanted to.
The Wilton Arms a few doors along was a comparative let-down being too bright and too Shepherd Neame, with Spitfire at its nail-polish-remover worst. Even so it was rammed and rowdy with more genuine pub character than many others in London — a miracle considering the sterile acres of pristine mansions for absentee millionaires that surround it.
Sadly The Grenadier, the classic of classics, was closed for public order reasons (there is a Christmas fair in the park nearby and the authorities are apparently concerned that people will stagger to the pub from there and cause trouble for the well-to-do mews dwellers) so we finished with one more in the Star. There the whole party sat in quiet amazement.“I can’t believe I’ve never been to any of these pubs before,” said our mate, a born-and-bred Londoner who has been to Italy more times than he’s been to Belgravia.
It is odd, given that these pubs are recommended in the 1968 guide, the 1973 edition, many editions of the Good Beer Guide, Roger Protz’s 1981 rarity Capital Ale, and so many others. Perhaps it’s because we’ve all been trained to assume the worst — that what was good 30 years ago must almost inevitably be either gone or gone to rot today, and that London in particular Ain’t Wot it Used to Be. But here, in these mews pubs at least, protected from the real world by the sheer weirdness of West London, there’s some kind of persistence.
If you haven’t been, and especially in the run up to Christmas when twinkly and twee is in order, do treat yourself.
Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from pastry stout to cask quality.
First up, Canadian beer historian Gary Gillman has done something that, for some reason, nobody in the UK seems to have thought worthwhile, and looked into the history of that most controversial of widgets, the sparkler:
The sparkler was invented and patented in the early 1880s by George Barker. He advertised the device for sale in 1885 and identified himself as from the “Crown Hotel, Ince, near Wigan”.
(As always the mention of a sparkler summons Tandleman to the comments which are worth reading for additional context.)
Dave S, a regular commenter here, lives in Cambridge and has been pondering The Psychogeography of Fenland Mild. As well as some rather lovely prose evoking the landscape of East Anglia he offers this incisive suggestion:
My advice to a brewer wanting to make beer with a ‘sense of place’ is that they should stop worrying about where their ingredients come from and look at where their end product goes to. They should sell locally, and drink locally themselves. They should see what people respond to – what makes sense for their local drinkers, in their surroundings, with their climate – and adapt and evolve to the place where they’re based.
This week, after much deliberation, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish government can set a 50p minimum price-per-unit for alcohol.
This is a discussion of which we’ve tended to steer clear because following the arguments is a full time job and other people are more invested in it; and because it tends to get a bit frothy as libertarians with complicated connections to think tanks and the booze industry yell at researchers and policy-makers with complicated connections to the historic temperance movement and government, and vice versa.
With that in mind, we can’t say with any confidence whether MUP is a good policy or not, and we’ve heard convincing arguments for and against from both sides.
For example, we do worry that it will make it harder for ‘responsible drinkers’ on low incomes to get tiddly while middle- and upper-class drinkers can continue to get as wasted as they like on whatever they like. (A few years ago we wondered about setting up a Christmas Booze Bank dishing out bottles of whisky or slabs of beer to people who might otherwise have to choose between having fun or having the heating on.) It seems clear that MUP is intended to target very strong white ciders and super-strength lagers — the kinds of thing few people actually choose to drink if they can afford otherwise — but will catch lots of other types of less sinister booze in its net.
Equally, it seems daft to ignore the reality of the problems alcohol causes for some of the most vulnerable in society, especially when it’s wilful ignorance in support of absolutist anti-regulation dogma. Some people drink too much — we’ve all seen the evidence of this, or known family members who demonstrates it — but their lives, and those of their loved ones, might be prolonged and made happier in the long run if they drank at least a little bit less. This is reality, people’s actual lives, not a philosophical parlour game.
We certainly don’t think all alcohol policy campaigners and researchers are cynics and killjoys attempting to introduce prohibition via the thin ends of various wedges. (Even if some of their fellow travellers might be that way inclined.) In general, the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument winds us up — we’d never do anything if point B inevitably leads to point Z. No, we tend to think they are motivated by genuine concern for their brother man, even if that sometimes reads as condescension or meddling; and, in the case of researchers, we’ve no reason to doubt that they are striving for scientific objectivity.
(If you believe otherwise we’d be genuinely interested to know what you reckon motivates them – surely not religion, in 2017? Chronic dourness? Insanity?)
Politicians, government PR people and newspapers on the other hand… Well, they’re prone to over-simplifying, over-dramatising, grand gestures. If there’s a problem, it might be there.
So, again, we don’t know if MUP is a good idea. What we do know is that Scotland won’t be taking this step without due process having been followed. Much research has been undertaken; hours have been spent labouring over every detail and footnote; the final judgement from the Supreme Court seems balanced and cautious (PDF); and there’s going to be a substantial evaluation project to judge its impact.
Good policy or not, this is how it ought to work – small steps, cautiously implemented, challenged in court where appropriate, followed by a serious assessment of whether it has achieved what was intended, and whether they have been any undesirable side-effects.
There is, after all, no way to really test policy without trying it in the real world, and there’s never been any policy, however well-intentioned, that didn’t wing a few bystanders along the way.
Ultimately we have to accept that pubs and the alcohol industry aren’t the only things that matter, even if they’re very important to us, and if the collective judgement is that they have to take a hit for the greater good then, well, that’s part of the give and take of living in a democracy.
- The Sheffield Alcohol Research Group whose work informs much of the thinking around MUP has an FAQ explaining its work here.
- John Holmes, who works on the ARG at Sheffield, is worth following on Twitter for what strikes us a sensible pro-MUP running commentary. His timeline this week has lots of interesting stuff.
- Christopher Snowdon is vigorously sceptical of MUP and expressed his dismay at the Scottish decision in an article for the Spectator earlier this week.
- The Pub Curmudgeon is also a sceptic and sets out his concerns in a concise set of bullet points here.