News, Nuggets & Longreads for 4 June 2016

Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Here are all the blog posts and articles from the past week that have captured our attention in one way or another, from ponderings on the pint to the state of Orval.

Whether you like to drink your beer by the pint or in smaller measures is another of those fault lines between Them and Us in British beer. Chris Hall (who works for London brewery Brew by Numbers) considers whether the fact that the pint is the default UK beer serving is distorting the market:

Even in the most wide-ranging, smaller-serving-focused craft beer bars in the country, we remain interested in filling a pint-shaped hole, and if it remains an unchangeable line in our programming, our industry will remain defined by the beers that fit this space, and not by what we could, or perhaps should, be brewing.


The brewhouse at Orval.
SOURCE: Belgian Smaak.

2015 Beer Writer of the Year Breandán Kearney considers the state and history of the brewery at Orval in a luxuriously long post at Belgian Smaak, which also has lots of juicy detail for home brewers and the generally inquisitive:

The malt bill is an evolving one, barley varieties such as ‘Aleksi’ and ‘Prisma’ used previously having been replaced for example with the ‘Sebastian’ variety. ‘It is difficult to speak about varieties of barley malt because a lot of them disappear for new ones,’ says Anne-Françoise [Pypaert]. ‘Brewers don’t have much control on that because farmers value varieties with a good yield. What I can say is that we use two pale malt varieties, one caramel malt and a little bit of black barley.’

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Comfort Beers: Fuller’s, Young’s, Sam Smith’s

We were in London last week to pick up an award, see friends, work in the library, and look at pub architecture. That didn’t leave much time to drink beer.

When we passed the Red Lion on Duke of York Street at 6 pm it had burst its seams, spilling suited drinkers all over the pavement and road. We returned at 9 by which time it was quieter and we slipped into the coveted back room. It’s an amazing pub, the Red Lion — really beautiful, full of cut glass and mirrors and warm light. There’s a reason Ian Nairn gives it a whole page of soupy swooning in Nairn’s London. The woman behind the bar pulled the first pint, paused, and said, ‘I’m not serving you that. It doesn’t look right.’ She turned the clip round and suggested something else. Impressive. Oliver’s Island, pale and brewed with orange peel, continues to be decent enough without igniting any great passion on our part. ESB, on the other hand, seems to get better every time we have it — richer, more bitter, ever juicier. Same again, please. It gave us hangovers but it was 100 per cent worth it.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 March 2016

Here’s the best of what we’ve read about beer and pubs around the internet in the last week, from London to Lisbon.

→ Des de Moor has published a free update to his book The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars accompanied by some state-of-the-nation commentary on London’s beer scene:

London breweries continue to expand whatever their size, with Moncada and Redemption among those in the midst of long-needed upgrades. The startup rate has definitely slowed, though, and the brewery total in my latest update is down to 75 from 78 last July: a handful of closures include the last remnant of the 1970s Big Seven in London at the Stag, Mortlake, and a number of would-be brewpubs that evidently found it easier to sell other people’s beer.

→ For the Midlands Beer Blog Collective Bob Maxfield and Dave Hopkins interviewed the people behind Birmingham’s craft beer and pinball bar, Tilt, eliciting a great case study of what’s been going on in British beer in the last decade or so:

I fell out of love with CAMRA when, some years later, while following a Ramstein tour, we decided to visit the Brewdog Bars we had been reading about. I then found Stirchley Wines who did a half decent selection at the time and had a bit of Great Divide and some Mikeller. They had all the Brewdog stuff and it was at that point that I started to get really excited, and begun to get more involved with Beer Advocate again, and started trading beers with others.

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A Brief History of Beer Weeks

It’s Sheffield Beer Week this week (14-22 March) which got us thinking about beer weeks in general — where did they come from, what are they for, and where are they going?

In the UK arguably the original beer week is Norwich City of Ale, which first took place in May 2011. It involves mini-festivals in pubs across the city featuring breweries from the region, and special events designed to create a buzz such as tasters of beer being given out in the street. It was the brain-child of lecturer Dawn Leeder and publican Phil Cutter, AKA ‘Murderers Phil’. As Dawn Leeder recalls there was no particular inspiration except perhaps, obliquely, Munich’s Oktoberfest. Its launch was covered by an enthusiastic Roger Protz in this article for Beer Pages which concludes with a call to action:

It’s an initiative that could and should be taken up other towns and cities in Britain with a good range of pubs, craft breweries and a public transport network. Nottingham and Sheffield, with their tram systems, spring to mind.

Red Routemaster bus with Norwich City of Ale livery.
Norwich City of Ale promotional bus, 2013. SOURCE: Norwich City of Ale website.

Glasgow’s beer week first ran in 2011. It was inspired equally by US beer weeks and by the Glasgow Beer and Pub Project organised by Eric Steen in 2010, a six-week arts and culture event which culminated with a home-brewing event in a pop-up pub. Glasgow Beer Week co-organiser Robbie Pickering recalls some of the difficulties faced by amateur volunteers:

We had our disasters, like the time we managed to schedule a meet-the-brewer in a pub where a live band was playing on the same night. I am very lucky that brewer still speaks to me. I am still proud of some of the events we put on even if hardly anyone came to them. We did the first beer and cheese tasting in Glasgow and the first UK screening of the US Michael Jackson documentary, and got Ron Pattinson over to speak about British lager together with people from the Scottish Brewing Archive Association. And I have a lifetime’s supply of beautiful letterpress beer mats with a spelling error.

It ran for three years the last being in 2013:

I think GBW collapsed in the end because of lack of interest. After the first year most of the other people involved had moved away and I was left running around on my own… I announced the dates for 2014 before deciding not to go ahead with it. Nobody ever asked what had happened to it which kind of suggests it was the right decision.

From our distant vantage point it also seemed to bring to a head tensions in Glasgow’s beer community with expressions of ill-feeling still being expressed via social media three years later.

Robbie Pickering sees some positives in it, however: the kinds of events that the Beer Week was built around now occur organically and frequently in Glasgow negating the need for a special event.

In 2012, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) ran a London City of Beer celebration piggybacking on the surge in visitors to the capital during the Olympic Games. But it was two months long, not a week, and didn’t turn into an annual event.

The next British city to get a beer week proper was Bristol. It launched in October 2013 when, having bubbled under as a beer destination for a few years beforehand, the city was just on the cusp of a boom in specialist bars and breweries. The initial idea came from Lee Williams who was born in Bristol but lived in the US for ten years where he ran a blog, Hoptopia, and wrote a guidebook called Beer Lover’s Colorado. When he returned to Bristol to work in the beer industry he brought with him experience of several US beer weeks and suggested the idea of running something similar to a friend and fellow beer blogger, Stephen Powell.

Bristol Beer Week featured more mini-festivals, talks, tastings and special one-off beers brewed in collaboration with beer writers who duly plugged the event.

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HELP US: Irish Theme Pubs

We’re keen to hear from people who drank at, worked in or were otherwise involved with Irish theme pubs in England between the 1980s and the early 2000s.

Here’s a list of specific pubs and chains we’re interested in:

  1. Flanagan’s Apple, Liverpool — converted from a warehouse by local entrepreneur Bob Burns it opened in 1984 and is still trading.
  2. Minogues, London N1 (Islington) — formerly the Islington Tup/Tap it was converted into an Irish pub in 1986; it became the Pig & Butcher in 2012.
  3. Mulligan’s, London W1 (Mayfair) — an Irish pub from c.1991.
  4. Waxy O’Connor’s, London W1 (Covent Garden) — opened in 1995; still there, still massive.
  5. Mid-1990s chains: Scruffy Murphy’s (Allied-Domecq), Rosy O’Grady’s (Greene King), J.J. Murphy (Whitbread) and O’Neill’s (Bass). We’re really interested in what they were like in their prime which ran from about 1994-1998.

Guinness promotional clock, South London.

And, going back a bit further, because it can’t hurt to ask…

  1. Any of the Murphy’s pubs that operated in London between the 1930s and 1980s, e.g. The White Hart on Mile End Road. (More info.)
  2. Ward’s Irish House, London W1 (Piccadilly Circus) — in the basement of the London Pavilion where you will now find Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.
  3. Any branch of Mooney’s, found across London up until the 1970s, e.g. at 395 The Strand.

Comment below or, even better, email us at contact@boakandbailey.com if you can help.

PS. We’re also still after reminiscences of theme pubs (especially the Nag’s Head, Covent Garden) and prefabs.

Main image adapted from ‘Flanagan’s Apple’ by Adam Bruderer via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.