Breaking out of the Rut

Illustration: moody London pub.

It’s easy to end up drinking the same beers, and going to the same pubs and bars, and feel miserable about it. But there are ways to break free.

1. Walk down a new street or visit a new town and go into the first pub you walk past after a certain hour. (Don’t cheat.)

2. Or go to every single pub in a neighbourhood, town or village, however weird or unpromising.

3. Buy an old guide book and visit the pubs it recommends, or take on a famous historic crawl.

4. Drink your way through a list of beers from a book or listicle.

5. Get someone else to choose beers for you.

6. Drink every beer you can find in a particular style, from a particular region, or that meet some other criteria – ABV, colour, Christmas themed…

7. Critically revisit beers you know you don’t like but haven’t tried in years. After all, they change, and you change too.

8. Spend a month drinking things other than beer, but with beer in mind.

There are lots of other ways to go about this kind of thing. The point is, like writing poetry using restrictive rules, or cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats, it should be sort of pointless… But not really.

You might hate all the new pubs you go in and beers you taste, or you might find new favourites you kick yourself for having missed out on for so long. Even the duds will teach you something.

Everything We Wrote in July 2017: Bristol, Wetherspoons, Music

A game of cards in a pub: 'July 2017'.

It’s a relatively sparse round-up this month what with moving house in the middle so we’ll use the spare space to include a bit more from social media.

We started the month with a brief account of a conversation between bar staff about dreams and nightmares: ‘She wakes her partner up in the middle of the night shouting out loud, “Who’s next then, please?”’


We were prompted by Chris Clough to think a bit about Old School IPA and what it means to us:

What makes an IPA Old School in our view is and emphasis on hop bitterness as well as, and perhaps more than, aroma/flavour; a preference for English hop varieties; mellow orange character rather than pine or grapefruit; and a certain stoical pintability, despite relatively high ABVs by late 20th century cask ale standards.


Having planned to give it a miss we suddenly felt inspired to take part in Mark Lindner’s Session #125 on the topic of Single Malt and Single Hop (SMaSH) beers. (You can read his round-up of all the contributions here.)


Cranes on the waterside in Bristol.

We gave our first tentative, deliberately vague field report from our new neighbourhood in Bristol. A couple of weeks on we can report that the micropub is currently where we find ourselves drawn most often, on which more later, but we’ve also tried a few more local pubs and found them decent in different ways, too.


Young people might not be going to Proper Pubs but we can’t help but notice they seem to love Wetherspoon’s:

The younger drinkers we’ve noticed are often on hot chocolate, frothy coffee or pounding cans of energy drink. A typical party, sat near us about a fortnight ago, between them had one pint of bitter, two of lager, a can of Monster, and a pint of Coke. They were all eating, too, treating it almost like a diner.

(Phil Edwards contributed some field observations of his own from Manchester, as did Tandleman.)


If you think your region is being overlooked as a beer destination (i.e. not written about by the Usual Suspects) the answer is simple, we reckon: write about it yourself. The comments on this ended up focusing on Birmingham and the West Midlands even though we tried to keep it general, but they’re interesting nonetheless.


How do pubs smell? That’s something we were prompted to think about by the tenth anniversary of the institution of the ban on smoking in pubs, the debate around which often ends up wallowing in foul aromas of one kind or another.


Fuller's vinyl-record beer mat, 1956.
This is by far our favourite — Fuller’s jumping on the pop music bandwagon in 1956. Needs to be resurrected!

Here’s a real labour of love: we made a Spotify playlist to accompany our new book, 20th Century Pub. Give it a listen, or at least a skim — some of the tracks are really interesting in their own right.


Wetherspoon’s pubs now have an app you can use to order food and drink from your seat. Boak gave it a spin with a specific thought in mind: how well does it work for beer geeks? TL;DR? Not very.

(The Pub Curmudgeon referenced this post in a piece on queuing at Spoons.)


There were also five weekly round-ups of links and news:


Screenshot from Patreon

We posted a few Patron-only things on our Patreon feed — behind the scenes notes mostly, including stuff on how our book cover got designed and some thoughts on the upcoming British Guild of Beer Writers awards.

We’re approaching our (fairly modest) second target of $100 a month, by the way — thanks, everyone!


Our newsletter was a little more curt than usual because we typed it on a smartphone in a packed-up house with no chairs to sit on but what we did write seemed to get people talking:

In the wake of our Michael Jackson article for Beer Advocate, and reflecting on the blogosphere with our weekly news round-ups in mind, we reached a conclusion: free beer and hospitality don’t guarantee positive coverage but, when you’re just starting out as a writer or blogger, they aren’t half flattering…

If you’re interested in c.1,300 words of this kind of stuff every month sign up!


On Facebook there’s been some of this sort of thing…

…while on Twitter, it’s been more like this:

And we’re still persevering with Instagram even if we’re finding it faintly baffling — why can’t we just see what people we follow post in chronological order? Grr.

The correct colours for a pub: beer below, nicotine above.

A post shared by Boak & Bailey (@boakandbailey) on

QUICK ONE: Overlooked

Here’s an interesting question, in the form of a Twitter poll, from @ThaBeardedOne who works at Twisted Barrel, a brewery in Coventry:

He is no doubt going to write or do something interesting himself based on the responses so we won’t get too involved in the specifics of this particular case but what he’s expressing does seem to be a common anxiety: that the next city over, or London specifically, is getting more than its share of attention in the national press or on prominent beer blogs.

We’ve written pieces relating to this on a few occasions, most notably here where we said…

…if writing about beer is London-centric, and it might be a bit, it’s partly because London is bothering to write about beer.

More recently we suggested that in 2017 what people mean specifically when they make this kind of point is, ‘Wah! Why hasn’t Matt Curtis written about it/us/here!?

We say, once again, that if you think your region is overlooked, you should make the case. Write a blog post or ebook, or put together a Google Map, showing where a visitor to your region can find local beer, the beer-geekiest bars and pubs, and give some suggestions for how they can get from one to another. Your target audience here is people on weekend breaks — why should they visit your city rather than, say, Sheffield, or Manchester, where there is so much interesting beer that it’s hard to know where to start? But also, by extension, bloggers and journos looking for advice on where to start.

‘But we’re not like those obnoxious Londoners/Mancunians/Leodensians — we don’t like to shout about ourselves because we’re so humble and unassuming,’ feels like a response we’ve heard several times in this kind of conversation, and that’s a bit… pathetic. It’s probably better to boast than to grumble, and wait for someone else to do the shouting for you.

And, of course, writing critically is good too — it’s a sign of maturity in a scene and can add credibility to your guidance. If a visitor follows your advice and ends up in pubs that are merely ‘meh’, drinking bad beer, they’ll think less of your scene overall.

We used to have a page here collecting links to town, city and region guides and pub crawls written by beer bloggers, but had to scrap it because they weren’t being kept up to date and too few new ones were appearing. It would be nice to revive that, or at least to know that there’s a guide out there to Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, or wherever, that we can point people to when they ask us, which they do from time to time.

Note: if you’re interested here’s what we wrote about Birmingham and the Black Country last summer.

Service Update: Moving House

Stingo delivery van.
From 1951.

Right, we’ve done pretty well at keeping things ticking over up to this point but, to paraphrase Hildegard Knef, from here on it gets rough.

We’re in the process of moving from Penzance to Bristol which means several long train journeys, lots of disruption, computers in places without internet, and internet in places without computers. And who knows where all the books and yellowing pamphlets will be.

This disruption shouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks and we’ll still hopefully manage to get the odd blog post out — we’ve got some half-written that just need polishing up when we can catch our breath, and others we can probably just about manage to type with crabbed fingers on phone screens.

In the meantime we’ll definitely keep up the Tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming, and of course there’s a ten year backlog of stuff here you can check out if you need something more substantial. Top tip: the ‘Related Posts’ widget (to the right on desktop browsers and down below on mobile) is a good way to discover stuff you might have missed.

Related posts widget.

And also, here’s something to think about: once we’re settled at the other end we’re hoping to put together a follow-up to ‘The Good, the Bad and the Murky’, which was itself a follow-up to Brew Britannia. If you’ve got thoughts on the kind of things we ought to include — major trends and developments in British beer since 2015 — drop us a line (contact@boakandbailey.com) or leave a comment below.

Everything We Wrote in June 2017: Crackling, Craftification, Clubs

Retro pub illustration: "June 2017".

We didn’t post quite as much this month what with going on holiday and making arrangements to leave Cornwall but there was some good stuff in there.

We started the month with a moan about the 21st century version of ‘Smile, love — it might never happen!’ That is, telling off strangers for looking at their smartphones in the pub. (Phil Cook at Beer Diary includes a passing thought on this here.)


Cask of St Austell 1913 Original Stout

For the 124th edition of the Session we reflected on Late, Lamented Loves:

The first beer that came to mind was local brewery St Austell’s short-lived 1913 stout. Strong by cask ale standards and historically-inspired it unfortunately didn’t sell and slowly morphed into Mena Dhu — still great but a much tamer product. We’d go out of our way for a pint of 1913 which isn’t something we can say of many beers.

Host David Bardallis rounded up all the entries at All The Brews Fit To Print.


The numbered caps of the Hatherwood beer box.

A friend bought us a box set of LIDL’s Hatherwood beers and, ever gracious, we subjected this kind gift to a brutal dissection, concluding that the beers were pretty good but that the presentation amounted to a big fat fib.

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