News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 December 2017: Portman, Golden Pints, Pretzel Pieces

Here’s everything that’s grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last seven days, from Tiny Rebel’s labelling woes to pairing beer with chocolate.

(Note: because we’re on the road we put this together on Thursday so any exciting developments from Friday might be missing, depending on whether we could be bothered to fiddle with editing the post on a phone screen.)

First, undoubtedly the biggest story of the week was the Portman Group’s ruling against Tiny Rebel over the design of the Cwtch can. This has generated commentary to reinforce each and every set of prejudices:

The most essential items of reading, though, are the Portman Group’s own report on the decision, and Tiny Rebel’s response which comes with (perhaps questionable) figures for the final cost of the exercise.


Here’s one we added from a smartphone sitting in a pub on Friday: Emma Inch asks if we might apply a version of the Bechdel test to beer. We don’t do much Women in Beer stuff these days, even though one of us is, of course, a Woman in Beer, so this very much resonates.


Detail from the cover of the menu.

We always enjoy dissections of artefacts from recent beer history which is why this piece  by Josh Noel about an early-to-mid-1990s menu from Goose Island’s original Chicago brewpub caught our eye. He discovered it while researching his upcoming book about Goose Island, an extract from which is quoted in this post, and it tells us a lot about where American beer was at just 25 years ago:

The menu features three core year-round beers: Golden Goose Pilsner, which had been a brewpub mainstay since opening in 1988; Honker’s Ale, the only 1988 original that has endured throughout Goose Island’s 30-year history (though the fading popularity of the easy drinking, malt forward style leaves it at the periphery these days); and Tanzen Gans Kolsch, likely one of the earliest examples of the kolsch style made by an American craft brewer… The Brewmaster’s Specials included another 19 beers that rotated seasonally, including a heretofore rarity in Chicago called IPA (“very strong, very bitter, very pale”).


Katie Wiles and Christine Cryne.

Having corresponded with her on and off for some years we finally met Christine Cryne completely coincidentally in our local pub earlier in the year. Now Katie Wiles gives us a profile of one of the quiet stars of British beer based on a lunchtime chocolate-and-beer pairing session at London’s Wenlock Arms:

I’m eager to see what it’s like to drink beer with a Master Beer Trainer, so we decide to break open the Oddfellow’s Chocolate, a favourite for Christine’s pairings. “It’s best to pair chocolate with a beer that is over 4% ABV,” Christine explains. “You want to make sure that the chocolate either amplifies the flavours or tones them down – you can try the same type of beer with two different chocolates and bring out completely different tastes.”


Illustration: blue Whitbread beer crate.

Concealed within this bit of PR fluff, an oddity: Black Sheep has brewed a Costa coffee infused beer for hospitality company Whitbread. Whitbread. Hospitality company Whitbread. Hospitality. There is something very sad about this story.

(Disclosure, we guess: Whitbread allowed us to use archive images from their collection in 20th Century Pub.)


Illustration: a glowing pint of beer.

The first batch of Golden Pints posts are in. We won’t be sharing every one that pops up but this is by way of a reminder that this is still A Thing, in case you were in two minds about whether to bother. Ours will be up sometime next week, we hope.

  • Tim Sheahan — Northern Monk, Siren, Edge
  • Phil Lowry — Adnams, Fullers, Harvey’s, Tiny Rebel, Cloudwater
  • James Beeson — Cloudwater, Deya, Verdant, Five Points

We’ll finish with this work of art:

Pub Life: the Irresistible Appeal of Pork Scratchings

Pork scratchings on a pub table.

The garden of a Cornish pub on a sunny afternoon in May.

Two men, probably father and son, buy pints of lager and take a table. They sit waiting for someone, checking their messages, peering up and down the street.

After 15 minutes or so their friend arrives. Everyone shakes hands and express their delight at seeing each other. The newcomer dishes out gifts one at a time — cans of Mythos lager, ouzo, olive oil, and more. He is, of course, Greek.

His hosts offer him something in return: a pork scratching from the open packet on the table. He looks disgusted and prods with his finger, peering at the text on the packaging.

‘What is this? Oh, God, no! No!’

The locals shrug and keep picking at the pile of hairy curls in the cellophane wrapper. Eventually, perhaps absentmindedly, the Greek guest does the same. A look passes over his face. His hand dips back into the bag.

After a few minutes he goes to buy a round of drinks. When he returns, performing the traditional three-pint grip, there are two fresh packets of pork scratchings snared between his teeth.

Resistance is futile.

Guinness Pub Snack Ideas, 1961: Sild, Tongue and Fish Titbits

The Guinness Guide to Profitable Snacks (cover)

The other day we told you about Guinness’s drive to get more publicans serving food in the 1960s. Now, as promised, here’s some info on the recipes they were pushing.

The book, more-or-less A5 sized and in hard-covers, has a mix of black-and-white and colour photos, the latter with that particular gaudiness that makes food look faintly obscene in any book published before about, say, 1990. If you follow @70s_party on Twitter you’ll know what we mean although it must be said nothing in the Guinness book is as fundamentally horrifying as most of the excessively ‘creative’ recipes presented there.

It begins with a few double-page spreads like this one:

'Why snacks?' (spread with man drinking beer and bullet point list)

That’s interesting because it summarises where things were at in 1961: food definitely wasn’t the norm and people needed convincing, ideally with a bit of what we assume passed for female-friendly eye candy back then.

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Public Service Announcement: Barley Wine for Stir-Up Sunday

Every year, a week or so before Stir-Up Sunday, we start getting visits to the website from people searching for barley wine to put in their Christmas pudding.

It is a main part of Delia Smith’s recipe which, let’s face it, is therefore the official national recipe. I’d guess from this line…

If you can’t get barley wine (pubs usually have it), use extra stout instead.

…that the recipe was written in the 1970s when Gold Label was a national brand. You probably won’t find barley wine in most ‘normal’ pubs these days, though most supermarkets do carry Gold Label.

There are also plenty of other options.

Barley wine is a term used to describe strong British ales — sometime they’re dark, other times not, but they’re usually at least (these days, for tax reasons) 7.4% ABV.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale is one and this year’s version has just hit supermarkets. Most larger regional breweries (Adnams, Lees, Robinson’s, etc.) make a strong old ale which will do the job. Not many have ‘barley wine’ actually written on the label so just look for anything called ‘Old This’ or ‘Vintage That’.

Most trendy new breweries also make strong ales of one sort or another, although often very hoppy and bitter rather than sweet. If you have a specialist shop near you, and want to use a special beer for some particular reason, ask them for advice.

However, back to the puddings. With several years’ experience in making a family recipe, which just calls for ‘half a pint of strong beer’, I would make the following points:

  • You’re going to be adding spices, sherry and steaming the hell out of it for many hours so you’re not going to taste any beer at all in the final product.
  • The cheapest beer I’ve ever used was a bottle of leftover home brew, and the most expensive was some of the aforementioned Vintage ale — there was no difference in the end taste.
  • If you’re going to follow Delia’s recipe precisely you will end up with two half bottles of different beers. This might be a good opportunity to drink something nice on the side so pick beers that are good in their own right, e.g. Fuller’s Vintage and something like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
  • However, if you don’t particularly like beer, just chuck in the required volume of whatever beer you have to hand — it doesn’t really matter all that much.

HubBox, Truro: Better Beef than Beer

The small Cornish beer’n’burger chain Hub took over trendy bar The One Eyed Cat in Truro last year, having previously traded as a ‘pop up’ on Lemon Quay.

We’ve been to the St Ives branch a couple of times but never quite cottoned to it but, as we were in Truro running some errands, and had recently heard good things about the beer on offer, we dropped in for a look on Saturday.

They’ve certainly gone all in on the makeover, covering the walls in colourful murals and friezes by David Shillinglaw, and paying homage to the previous temporary premises by using chunks of shipping container to form the back wall. Those bits of warehouse chic, along with stripped wood, exposed girders and the ubiquitous Edison bulbs, makes it feel rather like a misplaced BrewDog bar.

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