Some Beer Writing Not By Beer Writers

We don’t often write book reviews these days but two newly published volumes from outside the bubble grabbed our attention.

The first is One for the Road: an anthology of pubs and poetry edited by Helen Mort and Stuart Maconie, and published by smith|doorstop at £10. It’s a large format paperback with about 130 pages of real content, author bios and indexing aside, and the bulk of that is poetry. Once upon a time we might have been able to provide some meaningful critical commentary but those muscles have all seized so we’ll just say that, in general, most are closer to pop ballads than T.S. Eliot. Which is to say, they make obvious sense, often rhyme, and are on the whole fairly unpretentious.

Book cover: One for the Road

They’re organised into four categories by theme although the majority seem to share a certain nostalgic, lamenting poignancy. One poem by Carole Bromley is called ‘All the Pubs Where We Used to Drink are Sinking’; another, by Alicia Stubbersfield, is entitled ‘Calling Time at the Bull’s Head’:

The Bull’s Head has gone. Now offices to let,
a bleak image on a ‘lost pubs’ website.
No mark on its old walls to say — here
my grandfather died his very Scottish death:
a whisky chaser undrunk before the heart attack.

The prose pieces close each section and include, for example, an extract from Mark Hailwood’s 2014 academic book on alehouses and Stuart Maconie’s portrait of the famous Buffet Bar at Stalybridge Station:

‘Now then, sir, the barman begins apologetically, if you’ve come for our infamous black peas’ — this is a northern delicacy, often enjoyed around bonfire night and delicious in a Dickensian sort of way — ‘then I have to tell you that they haven’t really been soaking for long enough yet. I can offer you a hot pork pie from Saddleworth and mushy peas though, and after that perhaps some home-made pudding.’

What this book is made for — where it would be perfect — is the kind of distracted dipping in and out you might do while sitting on your own in the corner of a pub, where there’s usually too much going on to concentrate on a novel, but where you might find yourself in a state of sufficient dreaminess to appreciate a poem even if you usually don’t. Especially if it’s about crisps and ale and merry departed drunks.

* * *

The second book is Know Your Place: essays on working class culture by the working class, a crowdfunded collection from Dead Ink books edited by Nathan Connolly, RRP £15.99. (Disclosure, we guess: we backed this one on Kickstarter, so the opposite of a freebie.)

Book cover: Know Your Place.

It’s a hardback with about 200 pages of real substance, its cover designed to resemble a beer label. There’s actually only one essay expressly on the subject of pubs, ‘The Death of a Pub’ by Dominic Grace, a playwright from Leeds. As you might guess from the title, which deliberately or otherwise echoes Christopher Hutt, it tends to the same kind of bitter nostalgia as the poems discussed above:

We’re losing living, breathing, vibrant cells in the body of our country… Government has done little to reverse this loss, perhaps seeing no merits in a working class that is in touch with itself and can feel not just its muscles but sense the power that resides within itself. Meanwhile, heritage and preservation industries in the UK are worth millions and employ thousands, but the heritage they wish to preserve has nothing to do with the cultural endowment resting in the reservoir of working class communities. Instead, it concerns itself mainly with the houses of the aristocracy…

Grace argues for the pub as the anti-safe-space where you might get ‘called names’ and revels in the ribaldry and naughtiness of working class pubs at full throttle. He recalls, too, the first moment he realised middle class people also went to pubs on an expedition to north Leeds: ‘Everyone else in the pub, bar none, was better looking than us.’

It’s very much a piece about feelings and experience rather than cautious, evidenced analysis (ahem, hello) but there is room for both types of writing, taken on their own terms, and anyone with an interest in pubs and society will want to read it. Whether it justifies the purchase of an entire book will depend on whether your engagement in the politics of working class life goes beyond the boozer.

* * *

Perhaps there’s something significant in the fact that these two books have arrived now, without any of the usual Beer Writing names or faces attached, and from people who see beer and pubs not as the be-all-and-end-all, but as part of a bigger picture. After all, pubs barely feature in any of the other essays in Know Your Place — a reminder that, despite Dominic Grace’s observation that pubs are a literary and filmic signifier of working classness, they’re not necessarily as integral as we monomaniacs might imagine.

Us on Estate Pubs

Detail from an unused book cover: a pub in black-and-white.

When we started work on 20th Century Pub a few years ago the intention was to write a 20,000 word e-book about post-war pubs in particular. We even got as far as mocking up a cover, above.

The book we eventually wrote takes a much wider view but has a substantial chapter on ‘mod pubs’ and by way of a supplement, we’ve written two original pieces on the same topic.

The first is in the latest edition of The Modernist subtitled ‘Gone’ which launched late last week and is available can be ordered from their website or picked up in specialist design bookshops such as Magma in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. We gather it’s a very small print-run, though, so if you want a copy, get a bend on. (We’ll also make this article available to Patreon subscribers at some point soon.)

The second was published today at Municipal Dreams, one of our favourite blogs, and includes some quotations we didn’t get to use in the book, such as this by Geoffrey Moorhouse from 1964:

At the moment, whereas Shotton has five pubs, five working men’s clubs, and a cinema, Peterlee hasn’t even got a cinema. The ones who do come, so they say in Peterlee, very often stay for only a year or two, until a cottage becomes available in their old village, and then they’re back off to it with without any apparent regrets of the exchange of a modern semi for a period piece straight out of the industrial revolution.

We can’t say any of this — all the research, thousands of words — has got the obsession with this type of pub out of our system. If anything, it’s intensified it. No doubt there’ll be more on the subject here from time to time.

Everything We Wrote in September 2017: Listicles, GBBF, Post-War Pubs

September 2017: Pelican style photo illustration of a pub.

The last month was one of our busiest for some time with house moving issues and book business settling down to manageable levels.

In fact, we posted 23 times here and 11 times on our (mostly) subscriber-only Patreon feed, along with a ton of bits and pieces on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Proper pub with an accent on cider. #pubs

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

Two of our posts here were among the most read and commented on for a while, too, so we’ll give those a bit of special attention first.

The Great British Beer Festival

Having ruminated for a month we finally expressed some ideas about ways to improve GBBF. Our pre-emptive whining about how hard it is to discuss CAMRA and GBBF without people getting narky seems to have worked and a generally civil, stimulating conversation ensued. There was also quite a bit of chat on Twitter, across various Facebook groups and pages, on the Hopinions (Beer O’Clock Show) podcast, and behind the closed doors of the CAMRA discussion forum.

Illustration: SEVEN.
Seven Ages of Beer Geek

We think this attempt to break down the trajectory of a typical beer geek’s obsession was a bit more than just a listicle but there’s no denying the ‘click appeal’ of a post in the format ‘X types of Y’: it got something like three times as much traffic as anything else we wrote in September or, indeed, for months. It also prompted some substantial responses from other bloggers.

Jeff Alworth didn’t agree with our conclusions (‘The stages are conceptually familiar, but not emotionally so’) but, actually, we think he misunderstood our point, i.e. that if you go deeper than stage one, two or three, this is where it might lead, rather than that everyone will always end up at seven, or that they will always pass through every stop on the way. But his own reflections on the subject are as thoughtful as ever and worth a read.

Ed thought we’d missed something: that loving something often means hating something else, and ‘the most hated enemy can well be someone that to outsiders seems politically close’.

Uffe Karlström (new to us) effectively translated the post into (we think) Swedish adding some commentary of his own along the way, which we discovered via a pingback and were able to read via Google Translate — ain’t 2017 amazing? ‘Since spring 2005 I have terrorized brewers, salesmen, owners, distributors, etc. with questions, questions and more questions’, he says.

J. Wilson was moved out of blogging semi-retirement to write about how he has grown to appreciate ordinary bars and mainstream beer: ‘These days I’m a seven… There were no fives in sight.’

Continue reading “Everything We Wrote in September 2017: Listicles, GBBF, Post-War Pubs”

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