News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 October 2017: Lost & Grounded, Guinness, Heisler

Here’s all the writing that’s entertained, educated or amused us in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from marketing disasters to beer nerds in the wild.

For Good Beer Hunting Matt Curtis profiles Bristol brewery Lost & Grounded, putting them into context in terms of both the beer scene and their place in this particular city:

Keller Pils is one of two Lagers in Lost and Grounded’s core range, which, unusually—and perhaps bravely, giving to their current popularity—for a modern British brewery, doesn’t include a single Pale Ale or IPA… [The] German-leaning styles that lead Lost and Grounded’s portfolio are joined by beers including Hop-Hand Fallacy, a Belgian-influenced Farmhouse Ale, and No Rest for Dancers, a Dubbel masquerading on tap lists as a Red Ale. Although the influences in Lost and Grounded’s beers are clear, they also each have a point of difference that sets them apart.

(We probably latched on to this piece especially because, despite having been in Bristol ourselves for several months, we’ve still only just scratched the surface of what’s going on with its beer.)


Guinness Light

This next piece was published on 3 October but we noticed it too late for last week’s round-up. It’s an extract from a memoir by marketing consultant David Gluckman who in 1974 worked with Guinness to work out why nobody wanted to drink a new product called Guinness Light that market research had promised would be a huge hit:

Everything was perhaps best explained by a single young man we interviewed in one of our focus groups in Galway. He described his first encounter with Guinness Light: “I walked into my local bar and it was decked out with Guinness Light material. It was everywhere: posters, and beer mats. There were even special Guinness Light pint glasses. It all struck a chord. I remembered seeing a TV advert for it and I decided to order a pint. It appeared in its special glass and looked pretty tasty. But as I put it to my lips a hand tapped me gently on the shoulder and a man said ‘You’re cheating. You’re drinking ladies’ Guinness.’”


A Vermont tap room.
One of Sarah Priestap’s photographs accompanying the Washington Post article.

And while we’re at it, here’s another piece from just the wrong side of last weekend: for the Washington Post Jason Wilson gives an account of a tour of Vermont breweries undertaken in the company of his beer geek brother where the obnoxiousness of the culture overwhelmed them:

We wander outside to the deck, and as we sip, a short guy in a long coat with a trimmed beard stands next to us holding forth to his significantly taller girlfriend and another couple, all of them in their 20s. “So she had a 10 percent sour double bock, and I ordered a barley wine. And I was, like, so surprised. I mean, does anyone still make a barley wine?” Ha-ha-ha-ha, they all laugh. I hear plenty of wine snobs and cocktail snobs hold forth all the time. But rarely do I get a chance to hear a beer snob in his natural habitat, peacocking in full roar. Tyler and I edge closer to eavesdrop.

“So how long have you guys been into beer?” asks the beer snob’s friend.

“Oh, at least since 2013, 2014. I mean, my dad was a beer drinker, but never anything good.” Yuengling is his dad’s favorite beer. “I mean, Yuengling is okayyy … if there’s nothing else in the fridge.” Chuckles all around. “I mean, they use caramel malt, but at least you can drink it and not be repulsed.” More chuckles.

We’re including this piece beacause it’s nicely written, not because we agree with it, by the way. So often, these articles about the ‘winefication of beer’ are written remotely — hacked together listicles or Hot Takes — and this piece benefits from field reporting and the personal angle. Having said that, it still reads to us like two judgemental beer nerds being judgemental about other beer nerds. But perhaps that’s the joke.


1950s TV.

We first spotted the fictional Heisler beer in an episode of My Name is Earl about a decade ago and have been fascinated by it. For Draft magazine Zach Fowle investigates the Hollywood prop house that makes not only Heisler but also Cerveza Clare, Pensburg and the classic Premium Light:

Real-world breweries pay big bucks to have their brands represented on-screen—it cost Heineken a reported $45 million to get James Bond to forego his trademark vodka martini for one of the brewery’s stubby green bottles in the 2012 movie Skyfall. But even if the money behind product placement is substantial, it’s often more trouble than it’s worth. That’s because beer—which has been known, on occasion, to get people drunk and do silly things—is often used as a plot device that breweries might not approve of…


A nice little story: a few months ago we watched a conversation unfold on Twitter about the beer being pulled in an archive photo of the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh — what was Leith Heavy, and how might someone go about reviving it? Last week author Ian Rankin pulled the first pint of a version of the beer brewed by Steven Hope with the blessing of the original brewer’s daughter.


A thought-provoking nugget: on the one hand, we have bigger breweries aping the look and feel of ‘craft’; on the other, there are small American breweries trying to evoke the everyman appeal of ‘macro’. The lines are grow ever more blurred.


Brewery takeover news: Western Australian brewery Feral has been acquired by Coca-Cola Amatil, a major soft drinks manufacturer which bottles Coke in Asia and the region. (Via The Crafty Pint.)


And finally, via Twitter, a new craft brewing manifesto from Denmark:

Dead Fox

From the Western Daily Press, 8 October 1975:

The Old Fox, Bristol’s newest old pub or oldest new pub, will be officially opened this afternoon, but the trouble is no one knows exactly how old it is… The people from CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, whose laudable ambition is to keep alive the taste for beer from the wood, bought The Old Fox in Fox Road, Eastville, when it was due for demolition… And so far they have traced it back to 1758 when it was mentioned as being up for sale.

Landlord Peter Bull… with his wife Sylvia will be serving devotees with pints of strange sounding brews like Six X, Brakspears beers and South Wales United… Architect Edward Potter has created a pleasantly archaic black and white interior, a world away from rustic brick and plastic horse brasses and workmen put the final touches to his £25,000 renovation scheme yesterday.

Peter Bull.

From ‘All Things to All Men’, Financial Times, 7 April 1976:

The Old Fox, overlooking a dual-carriageway cut and a scrap-yard, may not be everyone’s idea of smart pub decor, but at least it is worth it for the quality of some of the beer it sells. It also reflects some of the tolerance traditionally shown in this most tolerant of cities.



From What’s Brewing, February 1982:

[The] Old Fox Inn in Bristol, one of [CAMRA Investments] smaller and less profitable houses, has been sold to Burton brewers Marstons for £120,000. It was felt to be badly sited in a city had many free houses… Investments managing director, Christopher Hutt, denied suggestions that the company was deliberately drawing back from being a national chain of free houses into a South East/East Anglia/East Midlands firm.


You can read more about the story of CAMRA Real Ale Investments in Brew Britannia and about the history of the Old Fox in this blog post by pub historian Andrew Swift.

Blue Boy Down

From the Brewers’ Journal, 17 June 1959:

The choice of name in this new House, built by the Bristol Brewery Georges & Co. Ltd., is of interest as it was chosen in an attempt to establish some sort of cultural connexion in an otherwise rather featureless housing estate.

Boarded up front bay window of the Blue Boy pub. Barbed wire around the perimeter of the pub.

Many of the roads in the neighbourhood bear the names of great English writers and it is intended that “The Blue Boy” should be a central pivot of this motive. Above the door to the large bar is a pleasing and colourful wall plaque. Elliptical in shape it is in fact a hand-painted reproduction on glazed frost-proof tiles of Gainsborough’s painting of the Master Buttall better as “The Blue Boy”. It is framed in painted hardboard that accentuates it and effectively separates it from the surrounding brickwork.

Continue reading “Blue Boy Down”

Bottle & Jug

One night last week, guided by The Buildings of England, we made our way to the Shakespeare in Redland, Bristol, and gazed upon the ghost of its Bottle & Jug.

Bottle & Jug was a phrase we didn’t know six years ago which is why we found this oddly arranged historic sign on the side door of The Crown in Penzance so baffling — ‘Bottle Bar & Jug? Eh?’

Jug & Bottle sign at the Crown, Penzance.
Sorry this photo is so crap. It’s only from 2011.

We were being dim, of course — it’s Bottle & Jug, and then Bar. Here’s how Francis W.B. Yorke explains it in his manual for pub designers from 1949:

The out-door department, sometimes called ‘off licence’ or ‘off sales’, and formerly known as ‘jug and bottle’ department, is set aside for the sale of intoxicating drinks ‘to be consumed off the premises’, and by law may not be used (as formerly) for the consumption of drink. It may be planned off the general servery, or as a separate unit. It must be in direct communication with the street, quite shut off from drinking areas, and contain no seating. It is the only public room a child under the age of fourteen may enter.

The Shakespeare has a fairly well-preserved Edwardian exterior but much of the interior has been remodelled in 21st century style with every surface either grey paint or bare wood, and partitions removed to make one long bar room.

There are still odd bits to enjoy, though, such as the stained glass signs for LADIES and GENTLEMEN on the toilet doors, for example. Very helpfully for roving pub nerds there are also framed plans of the pub before and after its early 20th century rebuild.

A plan of the Shakespeare, Redland.

That’s how we spotted another lingering relic of the old layout: a narrow corridor of blue and white tiles running from the front door up to the bar. Assuming they are original (they look it) are all that remains of the old Bottle & Jug. They interrupt the floorboards, insisting upon the distinction between rooms that no longer exist, across the distance of a century.

Back before World War I, take-away customers (often kids sent by their parents — the cause of much worry for social campaigners) would come through what is now the main door and, between panels protecting their privacy, and that of sit-in drinkers, and order beer to go at the long counter which serviced all three parts of the pub.

It would be nice if those partitions were still there but in their absence it’s pleasing that the old layout can at least be discerned with some imagination, like the outlines of an Iron Age settlement visible in the bumps and ditches of an English field system.

Bristol Lambic?

Beer maturing in vats.
George’s vats as pictured in the Illustrated London News in 1909.

Here’s a new question for us to chew on: was the ‘Old Beer’ for which George’s Bristol Brewery was famous up until World War II an early example of a wilfully sour British beer?

We’ve been reading bits and pieces about George’s here and there for the last few months, fascinated by the long-gone local giant which built so many of the most interesting pubs in Bristol. It was founded in around 1730, and acquired by Courage in 1961 after which, to all intents and purposes, the brand ceased to exist. For a large chunk of its existence, though, its flagship product was a notable vatted ale:

Georges’ Old Beer, famous throughout the West, is matured in huge vats, some of the largest in the Kingdom, with a total capacity of one million gallons. The beer remains in the vats for at least 12 months before it is allowed to go to the consumer. (One Hundred and Fifty Years of Brewing, 1938)

Other Bristol breweries, notably Rogers’ of Jacob Street, also produced vatted Bristol Old Beer. Martyn Cornell has written about West Country vatted ales on his blog and in his essential 2010 book Amber, Gold and Black (disclosure: he sent us a freebie PDF at the time) and gives a useful summary of the tech spec:

Brewing of these West Country vatted ales always began in the autumn, using a mixture of old and new malts, often a ‘high-dried’ English malt with plenty of colour mixed with a mild ale malt. The Brewers’ Journal in 1936 was advising that such strong stock ales ‘of 30lb gravity and upwards’ (that is, OGs of around 1085 or more) should go through two or three secondary fermentations in cask before being bottled after nine or twelve months not fully worked out, but still ‘in slight “creamy” condition’.

What really grabbed our attention, though, was a description of George’s Old Beer in a 1943 article about the brewery in a technical journal (PDF):

The brewery was famed in early days for Porter, hence its early title ‘The Bristol Porter Brewery’. Afterwards ‘Old beer’ became one of the main products, and many vats of considerably over 1,600 barrels’ capacity were in use for storing the heavy beer for at least 18 months, the competition with cider no doubt influenced the character of this old beer.

This blew our minds a little.

We’ve long been fascinated by the similarity between the wilder Somerset ciders and Belgian lambic beers but this is the first time we’ve seen it suggested that the cider-friendly West Country palate might have influence how the local beer tasted. It’s certainly plausible, though, that drinkers used to the intensity of scrumpy might find fresh, bright, clean-tasting ales just a bit bland.

Now, at this stage, of course we still have a lot of questions to answer:

  1. Did cider in 1943 taste like cider does now? (We can’t see that it tasted less sour or funky.)
  2. When this writer implies Old Beer was equivalent to cider, does he mean that it tasted like cider (actually acidic and wild) or only that it was similar in some other way? E.g. relatively strong, or differently complex as a result of Brettanomyces, or merely very dry. A 1909 article in the London Illustrated News describes it as having ‘depth and mellowness’ which doesn’t sound much like cider.
  3. What happened to the vats; when did Old Beer go out of production; and did drinkers in Bristol suddenly acquire the taste for ‘normal’ beer? (Guess: the Blitz; the war; no. But we’ll see.)

In the meantime, there’s an idea for some more sacrilegious beer mixing here: three parts old ale, one part scrumpy anyone?

Psst! Don’t forget to enter our competition if you want to win copies of 20th Century Pub and Brew Britannia.