Category Archives: Blogging and writing

How to Trace a UK Brewery’s History

As we’ve had two requests in the last fortnight, not to mention lots of little queries through Twitter for the last few years, we thought this qualified as a frequently asked question: ‘How can I find out more about [BREWERY X]?

CenturyPlusPlus21. In the first instance, take a look at the late Norman Barber’s marvellous Century of British Brewers. Published by the equally marvellous Brewery History Society it includes pocket biographies of hundreds of UK breweries in existence between 1890 and 2012, giving details of when and exactly where they operated. Crucially, it can also tell you what happened to them in the end which can provide vital clues as to the current whereabouts of archive materials. For example, they may eventually have ended up as part of…

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That Isn’t a Story

People say they want beer writers to tell stories, but what counts as a story?

Some time ago, we spoke to someone at one of Britain’s biggest regional breweries who told us, off the record, about the personal reasons behind the company’s resurgence, which was pure drama, with something of the Thomas Hardy novel about it. We might yet cover it in a blog post or article but, in the meantime, we were struck by how little it is reflected in the official line which is all pride and tradition and shire horses and smiling blokes in blazers.

Then, last week, we got a PR email from a significant and interesting brewery. We replied and asked to be put in touch with the owner of the company, to whom we then addressed a few questions: Which other breweries inspired you? Has the new wave of breweries doing similar things to you been a challenge? There was nothing too probing — ‘How has your relationship with your mother influenced the company?’ — The replies we got, regardless of the question, all read like this (not an actual quote):

We believe in our company! It’s a great time for beer. We are very happy with our great quality beers and the delicious premium food, available at fair prices across all our outlets! We were inspired by our passion for beer.

Maybe it was all true — maybe this particular company is shiny and happy and no-one ever worries about a thing — but, if so, there’s not really much of a tale to tell.

A story is when something happens, for better or worse, that disrupts the equilibrium. It needs highs and lows. EVERYTHING CONTINUES TO BE LOVELY is not a narrative that would get you far in Hollywood.

Our advice to business people and their PRs is this: if you want to get written or talked about, overcome the instinct to whitewash. You don’t have to admit to a 20-year-feud with the head brewer down the road (although that would definitely be a story) — just drop the false smile, and share a little more.

And writers, of course, should resist the urge to jot down the tale as told — be a bit cheeky, ask a few impertinent questions, and look out for tell-tale twitches of the eyelids or balling of the fists.

April 2015: The Month That Was

Better late than never, here’s a round-up of everything we posted in April.

(Well, we say ‘everything’ but, by our standards, it wasn’t a hugely productive month, what with family business, holidays and paying work getting in the way.)

→ We found a perfectly English pub in Devon:

Though it was in need of a tidy and a lick of paint, this back yard came closer to the feel of a Bavarian beer garden than anywhere else we’ve been in Britain and yet, at the same time, could not be anywhere but in England: above the purple-grey slate rubble tower of St George’s church to our left fluttered the red cross of the national flag, while downhill was the high thatched roof of a cottage around which newly-arrived swallows were swooping.

→ Also in Devon, we stumbled across bottles of Goose Island IPA with an apparent Brettanomyces infection, the results of which were utterly delightful.

Continue reading April 2015: The Month That Was

‘Back of a Beer Mat': a Free e-Book

We’ve taken some of our favourite, more substantial posts from the last few years, tidied them up, and put them together as a free e-book, Back of a Beer Mat: Bits from the Blogavailable via Smashwords.

'Back of a Beer Mat' cover design.If you’re a regular reader of this blog, there won’t be much that’s new to you, although the introduction is exclusive, and there are a couple of ‘bonus tracks’ — that is, articles which have appeared elsewhere.

It contains 18,500 words in total which makes it about  a quarter of the length of Brew Britannia, and the two formats available (‘mobi’ and ‘epub’) should work with most readers and apps.

We hope it might be of interest to people who don’t cotton to reading on computer screens and so might not otherwise have discovered us but, as it’s free, you’d be daft not to download a copy in case you find yourself stuck for something to read on a train journey or while waiting for someone in the pub.

(And of course we’d really appreciate it if you can tell your friends, share the link via Twitter and Facebook, and so on.)

Gambrinus Waltz: First Review

Our short e-book about the rise of lager beer in Victorian and Edwardian London, Gambrinus Waltz, has been reviewed in the latest edition of the journal of the Brewery History Society.

The editor, Tim Holt, very kindly describes it as ‘well written and superbly researched’ and suggests that we ought to continue the story at book-length. Perhaps it’s time to dust off that draft proposal for a history of lager in Britain and have another go at touting it round?

In the same issue (Winter 2014, No. 160) there is a complementary article about the lager brewery in Tottenham, North London, in which Mr Holt has compiled various pieces from 1880s editions of the Brewers’ Guardian. They confirm what we found to be suggested in census records — that the entire staff of the brewery was of German origin — and add much more detail besides, such as the fact that the brewery was kitted out by Noback Bros. & Fritze of Prague.

And here’s a comment on the beer from 1882 which goes some way to explaining the appeal of lager in Britain:

A bottle of lager beer has been confidentially shown to us, and we must admit that its brightness and clearness really surpasses everything we have hitherto seen about beers.

Any brewers wanting to produce an authentic historic 19th century London lager could do worse than start by mining these pieces for details of, e.g., mashing procedures.

You can get Gambrinus Waltz from the Amazon Kindle store.