In Which We Fall into a Brown Study

This month’s Session hosted by Joe Tindall at The Fatal Glass of Beer is wonderfully opened ended: write about brown beer.

Some people will tell you brown isn’t a flavour, but it is. It’s why you sear meat, and about 50 per cent of the meaning of toast.  (N.B. black is also a flavour.)

Brown beer isn’t necessarily boring but a hell of a lot of boring beers seem to be brown. Adrian Tierney-Jones has, on more than one occasion, referred to beers as being the same brown as an old sideboard and it’s true: brown is the colour of corduroy trousers, garden fences, Austin Ambassadors, sensible shoes and your grandma’s coffee table. It’s a kind of camouflage.

You know what else is often brown? Pubs. We like brown pubs, too, but in a brown town drinking brown beer in a brown pub with a brown dog on the brown lino, browned off, until you drop down brown bread from a total eclipse of the heart. You can see why some people might be down on brown.

Back in the 1990s Sean Franklin of Rooster’s ditched brown in favour of pale because he wanted a blank canvas on which hops could shine. If pale is blank, is brown noise? Or texture? Texture can be good. Noise too. There’s a reason people put dirty old Polaroid filters on their iPhone photos.

Let’s do some word association. Is there someone else in the room with you right now? Ask them to tell you, without over-thinking, what colour beer is. We knew it — you owe us 50p!

We’ll be surprised if there isn’t at least one Session post this time round with the title Fifty Shades of Brown. St Austell HSD is a sort of burnt umber, in the language of Crayola crayons. The same brewery’s Cornish Best is what Crayola would call ‘beaver’. (Stop sniggering.) And their Tribute, which we have heard described as a ‘boring brown bitter’ by people who have clearly been spoiled, is a similar shade of amber to Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. And that’s just one brewery. Stare into the brown abyss long enough and you’ll begin to see stars.

Lager used to be brown, and some of it still is. Do you reckon Britain would have gone crazy for it like it has in the last 40 years if it wasn’t sunny, bubbly yellow? Gold is a much easier sell: ‘I hold here, in my mortal hand, a nugget of purest brown!’

Black + gold = brown. Last week at BrewDog Bristol, where brown is frowned upon, we ended up with a free half of Born to Die (a big IPA) which, on its own, was too harsh and boozy. So, we mixed it, 3 parts to 1, with BrewDog’s Guinness-challenging stout. The end result was like a stronger, shoutier cousin of Fuller’s ESB. You need never be without a brown beer if you’ve got a half of stout at hand. (Sadly for all you brownophobes there is no similar trick for turning ESB into double IPA.)

We probably won’t want to say or type the word brown for a week or two after this. But we don’t half want a pint of bitter.

Everything We Wrote in January 2017

From Golden Pints to Victorian faux-lager, here’s a summary of our blog posts from the last month with updates and links out to other people’s follow-ups where we spotted them.

We kicked off 2017 by reviewing every Golden Pints post we could get our hands on and using them to put together a To Do list of breweries whose beers we wanted to look out for in the coming months. We’ve added a few new items and links since originally posting.


'Beer Cooperage' -- vintage illustration of beer casks.

When Cloudwater announced its intention to cease producing cask ale it got us talking between ourselves and we wrote that up as a breakfast debate: is it the end of the world, or nothing to worry about? Peter McKerry rounded up every post and article on this much-discussed topic.


Something moved us to write a couple of hundred words about the pleasure of tending the fire in a pub:

We didn’t mind when it cracked like a whip and spat sparks our way — that was all part of the pleasure. Fires and the sea are two things we can stare at for hours, and if an open fire in a pub on a cold day is a joy, one you’ve had a hand in lighting is ten times better again.

Rather to our surprise, people seemed to like it so we will try to be less shy about indulging such observational whimsy in future.

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Michael Jackson’s Writing for CAMRA 1977-1988

Like 80 per cent of those who write about beer in anything like a professional capacity, we’ve been commissioned to write a substantial piece about Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson as the tenth anniversary of his death approaches.

As part of that, we’ve been exchanging emails with Alan ‘A Good Beer Blog’ McLeod who is a noted Jackson sceptic. He habitually questions whether Mr Jackson’s influence was as great as the consensus would have it, and whether other influential writers (Richard Boston, Dave Line) aren’t being short-changed by Jackson’s elevation.

One specific question he put to us was this: what exactly was Jackson writing between the World Guide to Beer in 1977 and the next item on his Wikipedia bibliography, a 1986 pocket guide to beer? How could he be so influential with one book every ten years?

One answer is that that really is only a selected bibliography — we have a copy, for example, of the 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer, which is the one veteran brewers we have spoken to carried with them as they explored Europe and the US in the 1980s, and there were paperback reprints/revisions of the World Guide too.

But, as is often the case, Alan’s niggling has highlighted a real issue: the lack of a comprehensive list of Michael Jackson’s writing for magazines and newspapers which, of course, is ephemeral by nature.

For the sake of the collective brain, and also because it’s useful for our article, we agreed to make a start on a list of material published in the UK. We’ve started with the monthly column he wrote for CAMRA, a filleting of which is reproduced below with notes on the content of each article.

If you see anything there that might help with your research drop us an email (contact@boakandbailey.com) and we’ll be happy to provide more information.

The harder job, now, is tracking down the material he wrote for the national press in the same period. We have searched The Times and Guardian archives but if you have clippings, or perhaps have access to the Sunday Times archive online through your local library service, we’d welcome any tips.

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Photography in the Pub

In some ways we’re in a golden age for pub photography as almost everyone now has a relatively powerful camera on their phone, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s simple.

Historically, photos of pubs tend to be of the exteriors. That’s partly because of the availability of lights, partly because the exteriors were highly decorated, and also perhaps because drinking has been, and maybe still is, a somewhat furtive activity.

There is the odd historic interior shot, more often than not taken by brewery photographers to document the decor, and thus usually eerily empty. But this one from c.1915, a favourite of ours, is an exception:

Interior of a London pub c.1915.Even there, though, it’s obvious they’ve been told to sit very still and not to smile so it hardly looks natural. Things start to get really good with Humphrey Spender’s photographs of Bolton pubs for Mass Observation, taken in the late 1930s. We’ve used a few on the blog before but here’s a particularly dynamic example, where you can almost taste the mild, smell the smoke and hear the clack of the dominoes on the table:

Men playing dominoes.
Image ref. 1993.83.17.07

Spender snapped quickly without necessarily asking permission and occasionally got thrown out by irritated landlords. Eighty years on, the results are totally worth it — moments in time, faces, relationships, all captured without varnish.

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The Month That Was: December 2016 — Dinner Parties, Wheat Beer, Penzance Pubs

Guise dancers in a Penzance pub at Christmas.

Despite a flipping great big gap where Christmas fell we still managed a decent number of posts in December, covering all sorts of topics from wheat beer to Penzance pubs.

Sir Sydney Nevil's autobiography (page spread).

Our first duty was responding to the Session topic set by Stan Hieronymus: who, living or dead, would we like to invite to a beer dinner party? Stan’s round-up is here and we were rather honoured to be nominated as guests in Mark Lindner’s contribution.


After a trip to a wintry St Austell we wondered what if anything it means when a pub starts selling tinned lager, reaching a somewhat optimistic conclusion. (We have since worried that we got the wrong end of the stick or might have dobbed the pub into the pub company, which wasn’t our intention.)

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