Category Archives: Blogging and writing

Blogging About Blogging: Speak Your Brains!

Pipe, hat and pint.

Bad news: this is a blog post about blog posting. There’ll be a post that’s actually about beer later today. If you choose to read on, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

We’ve been reflecting lately on our tendency to self-censor. We used to shelve posts quite frequently, finished and illustrated, because, at the last minute, we found ourselves anticipating a bad-tempered response and couldn’t be bothered to face it.

Click to enter the navel…

News, Nuggets & Longreads 16/08/2014

"The Wall Worker" by John Thomson, c.1877.

Cock-a-doodle-doo! Good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning-aaaah! Nothing to do but read these links, eat some bacon.

→ The picture at the top of this post comes from Street Life in London, a collection of photographs from 1877-78, with accompanying essays, which is available online through the the London School of Economics digital library. There are a couple of other pictures of pubs in the set.

→ Notoriously aromatic and bitter, Ballantine was arguably the single most influential beer in the aromatic IPA-mania of the last 30-odd years, and now it’s back. This is one American beer we will be making serious efforts to get our hands on.

→ In the week when the Campaign for Real Ale launches a drive to change the law to make it hard to convert pubs into shops or homes, Martyn ‘Zythophile’ Cornell argues vehemently that they’re on the wrong track:

Pubs are not sacred. The rights of pubgoers do not trump the rights of property owners. The disappearance of any pub is not the same as, eg, the disappearance of a Saxon church… If a pub is making less money for its owner than it would under another use, the owner must have the right to maximise their income.

→ On a somewhat related note, prolific epistolarian, committed Marxist, and beer-loving celebrity beard-sporter Keith Flett writes about ‘The Moral Economy of the Great British Beer Festival‘:

The concept of the moral economy, developed by the late historian EP Thompson in 1971, is to posit a customary and traditional way of looking at things in relation to a market economy. The moral economy does not aim to replace a market economy but to temper with a framework of laws and obligations… I think there is an interesting case for understanding the Great British Beer Festival as an annual gathering of those who take a moral economic view of the beer world.

→ Saved to Pocket this week: a piece from the Washington City Paper about cult beers, customer entitlement, and the competitive urge which is making beer less sociable. (Via Stan Hieronymus.)

→ We like this picture because (a) hops and (b) London E17:

And, finally, there are a couple of beer stories that went sufficiently mainstream ‘viral’ that we’d surprised if anyone missed them, but, just in case…

The Daily Beast wrote a profile of Kent ‘Battle’ Martin, the civil servant who approves US beer labelsHe rejected an “Adnams Broadside” beer, which touted itself as a “heart-warming ale,” because this supposedly involved a medical claim.’.

Tony Naylor wrote a substantial piece on the current UK ‘craft beer’ boom for the the Guardian. (If you must read the ranting comments, note the unjustified confidence with which many people issue downright rude ‘corrections’.)

News, Nuggets & Longreads 09/08/2014

Bloke drinking beer.

Don’t have much time. Must go out in sun before storm comes. Links below!

Lynn Pearson on churches with links to beer, for English Heritage. The first picture, of a stained glass window, is especially wonderful. (Via Tim Holt.)

Tandleman had a chance encounter with the head brewer at Paulaner’s ‘craft’ offshoot in Munich: ‘“We could maybe taste some of the products?” he suggested.’

→ The ever-provocative ‘Hardknott’ Dave Bailey has concluded that ‘handpulls suck’ as a method of serving beer.

→ Saved to Pocket for reading later: a long piece (5000 words) by Phil on the social benefits, or not, of enforcing abstinence from alcohol.

→ Also saved to Pocket, this 1940 portrait of the legendary ale house McSorley’s from the New Yorker archive. (Via someone called BB, via Jeff Alworth, who adds commentary.)

Blogging about blogging

Session #91 has been announced by the hosts, Belgian Smaak. The pleasingly wide-open topic is ‘Your first Belgian’.

Chris Hall has reminded us all about his Golden Posts project:

Each tired sigh from the crypt of “is beer blogging dead?” (accompanied by the rattling of chains, creaking of doors and so on) suggests to me a suffocating, numbing ignorance of just how many great beer blogs are out there, so I hope The Golden Posts could help people find new, great blogs.

→ And speaking of mass-blogging circle-jerking love-ins, don’t forget that we’re ‘going long’ on 30 August — we’d love you to join in!

Social Realist Tasting Notes


Tasting notes can sound pretentious because much of the traditional language is borrowed from the world of wine, and refers to a lifestyle with which few of us can connect.

Last Friday, in the wake of this post, we pondered aloud on Twitter about whether ‘piney’ is really a useful tasting note.

What we meant, of course, is that, although we’ve used it from time to time, it isn’t especially meaningful to us, and apparently refers to a set of aromas (and flavours?) that we find better evoked by references to vegetation (weediness) or fruit.

Many people stepped up to defend ‘piney’, but what struck a particular chord were those responses which were variations on this statement:

Now, the nearest we’ve ever been to a Californian redwood forest is watching Return of the Jedi, but everybody’s cleaned the bog, so Harpic, to us, is far more resonant.

This got us thinking about how, without really having made a point of it, we’ve been drawn towards using ‘social realist‘ beer tasting notes for some time.

The standardised language gives us ‘tinned corn’ and ‘baby sick’ to work with, of course, but we’ve also found ourselves referring at various points to:

  • Pub carpets.
  • Hairspray.
  • Tinned peaches.
  • Sweets — rhubarb and custard,  Opal Fruits (aka Starburst), Fruit Salad, Black Jacks, Parma Violets.
  • Roll-up cigarettes.
  • 2p coins.
  • Soreen.
  • Juice from the bottom of the wheelie bin.
  • Bingo markers.
  • Gripe water.

The problem is, those are just as meaningless as ‘horse blanket’ to anyone who doesn’t share our cultural or class background. (Hell, we don’t even share quite the same cultural or class background as each other — Bailey’s never had gripe water, and Boak grew up in a cigarette- and bingo-free household.)

And, however sincerely dragged from the sense memory, we suppose they might sound pretentious in their own way, too.

Perhaps it depends what you hope to achieve with your tasting notes: if it’s universal understanding, and you’re not bothered about rhetorical flourish, then get scientific; if you want to speak fluent ‘Jacksonese’ to other beer geeks, then stick to horse blankets and sherry; but if the notes are really for your own benefit, with the hope that they might occasionally resonate all the more deeply with at least one other reader, then you have to find your own language.

At any rate, we think a good rule of thumb is probably to avoid describing flavour or aroma by referring to things you’ve never tasted or smelled — “This beer’s aroma is reminiscent of the aroma of a different beer that Michael Jackson once described as piney” is a bit naff, isn’t it?

The Month That Was July 2014

The Posada, Wolverhampton, which has a nice frontage. That is all.

We came up with 16 proper blog posts in a busy July. First, the highlights:

→ At the very beginning of the month, we looked into the history of a single remarkable pub — the Samuel Whitbread on Leicester Square, London, which went from flagship to dump in a little over a decade.

→ Taking part in the judging at a home brewing competition gave us just the slightest inkling of the difficulties inherent in the process.

→ And two related posts generated plenty of discussion. The first was a plea for greater tolerance of other people’s preferences; and the second set out what we can actually be bothered to drink these days. (Alan McLeod responded, as did his occasional writing partner Max Bahnson.)

And the rest:

→ It’s the time of year when we usually list our favourite Cornish beers and pubs, but, this time, we decided just to focus on Falmouth’s emerging beer ‘scene’.

→ We tasted some black beers, and also Siren White IPA.

→ For last month’s Session we turned up a note of Napoleon’s desire to grow hops in Egypt to keep his armies supplied with beer as they marched.

We pondered on comments from a distributor about the price of craft beer: “Everyone, including me, is begging them for a few bottles here, a keg there, so they’ve got absolutely no incentive to offer discounts.

→ There were many books we relied up on when writing Brew Britannia this reading list highlights some of the most important.

→ Observing friends, we noted that, for some people, ‘localness’ is enough to sell a beer.

→ Drifting off our own turf, we wondered if the Utopian tendency in mid-20th century architecture was part of the same urge that drove Watney’s et al – “Knock down those old hovels!”

→ Turning our attention to lager, for a project which we’re tentatively calling The Gambrinus Waltz, we considered some modern-incarnations of Vienna beer.

→ Then, a few days later, we compared the spread of German beer in the 19th century with the spread of American craft beer (namely Stone’s move into Germany) in the last decade.

→ After a couple of years of yearning, we finally got to try Batham’s Best Bitter as a side benefit of our trip to Birmingham.

Brian Jackson’s 1968 book Working Class Community has some great commentary on northern working social clubs, we discovered.

→ Having used it as a symbol of the growth of ‘craft beer’ in the UK, we popped back to Bristol to check on progress at Small Bar.

→ There were also several round-ups of things to read (July 5 | 12 | 19 | 26), a couple of nice quotations, a gallery, and two videos. (The last in that video series is due this week — honest!)