News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 March 2018: London Drinkers & Bristol Dockers

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week in the world of beer and pubs, from beer festivals to Friday skiving.

From Roger Protz comes a reflection on the London Drinker beer festival which has been organised by north London Campaign for Real Ale activists annually since 1985, but which this year is sadly winding up:

It’s not because the festival lacks success. On the contrary, it’s one of CAMRA’s longest running and most successful events. But the Camden Centre is due to be knocked down and redeveloped and finding – and affording – a replacement venue is difficult if not impossible….

As interesting as the news itself, though, is Roger’s account of pioneering the very concept of tasting notes in the 1980s, and being jeered at for daring to suggest that there might be chocolate notes in a dark beer.

Illustration: fanzine style picture of a pint and a packet of crisps.

Phil at Oh Good Ale seems to have found an interesting voice lately — a sort of stream of consciousness that coalesces into commentary if you let it. This week he wrote with some panache about the passing culture of Friday lunchtime pints:

1983, Chester

I knew we were on when I saw Tom going back for a pudding. Most days, we’d clock out at lunchtime, go to the canteen for something to eat – a hot meal served with plates and cutlery, none of your rubbish – and then it’d be down the Cestrian for a pint or two, or three…. On this particular Friday Tom went back to get some apple crumble and custard, which he ate with great relish and without any appearance of watching the time, heartily recommending it to the rest of us; a couple of people actually followed his lead. Then he looked at his watch with some ostentation and led the way out of the canteen…. It wasn’t a 15-minute weekday session or a standard 45-minute Friday session; that Friday, we were on.

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The Mystery of the Rock House Tavern

We spotted the above post one one of our favourite Instagram accounts the other day and thought it ought to be a doddle to track down the history of the Rock House Tavern. Well, it wasn’t, but we think we’ve got there, and the solution offers an intriguing glimpse into the past.

First, yes, Liz is right– there is no useful information online, or in our copy of the 1975 pub guide, or in newspapers archives. Searching for mention of pubs around that location in more general terms, though, did point us to a 1986 book called City Pit: Memoirs of a Speedwell Miner by Fred Moss. It might surprise some people to discover that Bristol had coal mines but it did. Fred Moss was born in 1906 and started work as a miner in 1921. Here’s what he has to say about drinking, on p.37:

[Let] me tell you about “The Long Bar”. This consisted of a lane running from Deep Pit Road to Holly Lodge Road. There were just a few houses in Holly Lodge, only a couple of miners lived there. Now about half way up this lane there was a pond called the “Lilly Pond”. It was a pool consisting of water pumped from the nearby pit. In this lane there was also a single railway track, which was used to carry trucks of coal from Speedwell Pit to the main Great Western Railway line and of course the Midland Railway line. The track was also used to take trucks of small coal to the coke ovens and washing plant.

Now, near this lane there was an off-licence beer house. The afternoon shift miners would buy beer at this off-licence and on a nice sunny day would to to this lane and have a chat and a drink before descending the pit…. There would be twenty or thirty men either sitting on a grass bank of leaning against a wooden fence drinking and chatting before working and when the morning shift came up from work, some of them would buy a drink and stand or sit in the lane before going home. Yes! I would say that was the longest bar in the world.

We find this fascinating — another reminder that people enjoyed beer in all kinds of ways in the past, not only in what we would now recognise as pubs, and following all kinds of patterns dictated by their work.

Fred’s memoir gives us some hard information to work with and we are blessed in 2018 with easy access to historic maps, satellite imagery and Google Street View which means it’s quite easy to pin all this down.

Here’s the lane we think Fred is describing as pictured in an OS map from the immediate post-WWII period, via Know Your Place:

Map showing the lane, 'Brook Road'.

The Rock House is at the very bottom left corner, marked “BH” for beerhouse; the lane is Brook Road which runs off immediately opposite passing a reservoir (the pond Fred mentions?) and crossing a small railway line on the way to Holly Lodge Road, which also fits with Fred’s description. One small wrinkle: there is another beerhouse marked on the map, also near the point where the lane spits out, so maybe he didn’t have The Rock House in mind. But we still reckon all this, especially the BH designation on the map, explains why The Rock House is so obscure: though it may have started as a proper drink-in beerhouse c.1830, it probably became a purely take-out premises in the wake of the 1869 Licensing Act.

But that’s just somewhat informed guesswork. If you know otherwise, drop us a line or comment below. We’ll keep an eye out in books and archives as we go and, as Google Maps satellite imagery suggests the lane is still there and now a public footpath, we’ll also go exploring and see what we can see.

Main image, top: Bristol miners c.1906 via City Pit.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 March 2018: Lemondrop, Brewdog, Hardknott

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, covering everything from Pink IPA to Gothenburgs.

First, a blast of pure raving enthusiasm to cheer everyone up as Steve The Pour Fool Body waxes lyrical about the “new rock-star flower-bomb” hop variety that “makes your beer taste like LemonHeads candy”. It sounds good; we want to try it.

Illustration: "No! Bad dog."

Now on to the problem story of the week, BrewDog’s Pink IPA. We considered providing a round-up of all the ‘hot takes’ but decided instead to point to one really substantial, thoughtful post by Oli (@CraftBeerCommie) guest posting at Craft Queer. It expresses a counter view to ours (“the idea itself doesn’t seem so dreadful even if the execution is terribly clumsy”) and puts this specific incident into a broader context of BrewDog’s behaviour over the years:

Brewdog as a company has a long history of misunderstanding (some might be so bold as to say abusing) social commentary as a marketing tool…. [In] the company’s earlier years, the bad humoured, unapologetically offensive tone and actions of the company’s founder-owners was able to shelter beneath the veil of an appropriated revolutionary language and DIY punk ideology…. After this, however, it seems that, as with so many other companies, Brewdog intentionally courts controversy as a means of marketing itself. The search for an initial, perhaps viral reaction of offence before the secondary “A-ha! Here’s the punchline” is yet again delivered in a manner that relies as much on customer enragement as it does engagement.

For more on this subject check out Alcohol by Volume where the opinions of women in and adjacent to the beer industry have been collated.

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BOOKS: A Scrapbook of Inns, 1949

The cover of A Scrapbook of Inns.

A Scrapbook of Inns by Rowland Watson, published in 1949, is a cut above the usual ‘quaint old inns’ hack job, its snippets of old books and articles acting as an effective index to beer and pub writing from public domain sources.

It’s not rare. We picked our copy up for £3.99 in a charity shop, still in its dust jacket, and with a dedication to ‘Sydney, with best wishes from Rhode & all at Bedford, Christmas 1954’. There are plenty of copies for sale online at around the same price and we’ve seen multiple copies in secondhand bookshops in the past year.

We think — assume — the author is the same Rowland Watson best known as a literary editor, born in 1890, and who died in 1968. He doesn’t have much to say about himself in the foreword, using those two brief paragraphs to hammer an important point: this anthology is not a collection of the usual quotations from Pepys, Dr Johnson and Dickens, but rather of obscurities bookmarked during decades of reading, mostly from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

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Pub Life: Pork Pie

Illustration: pork pie.

At 5:45 the crowd is getting restless — where is the pork pie? Where are the cubes of cheese? The nibbles and snacks?

Of course they’re a courtesy, not a right, so nobody can complain, even if they do it jokingly. But, still, when you’ve come to expect it and it isn’t there, you get restless, and start thinking about buying a bag of crisps or, worse, going home for tea.

There is a stir. The herald first, mustard and serviettes, then the thing itself, golden and stout, cut into eighths on a plate.

It has to go down in front of somebody and the somebodies it goes down in front of feign disinterest. A regular heckles, “Alright for some.” Temptation is too much: after about five seconds, someone shrugs and, takes a slice, might as well, then a second to pass to a friend.

The pie is already looking ravaged, crust crumbling and jelly spilling.

Panic sets in and chairs scrape, everyone rushing but trying to look as if they’re not.

Taking three slices, one regular offers a narration to explain his motives: “Best get in before it’s all gone, one for each of us.”

The entire pie has disappeared before the first bowl of cheese has appeared.

The pub itself seems to sigh with contentment. No need to rush away, stay for another, maybe two. Sunday night saved.