Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting in the past seven days, from Egypt to European beer styles.
We usually put some news at the top here but, frankly, the news around beer and pubs has been variations on the same few themes for weeks now. Further restrictions on opening are either here or imminent, depending on where you live, and everyone is struggling. Even so, we reckon the industry is making a mistake by lobbying against lockdown – it’ll just damage trust. Ah, well. Let’s have some distractions.
Jordan St. John has written about a confusion of sense and memory that we haven’t experienced and don’t quite understand, which makes it all the more fascinating:
Since about April, I’ve been getting periodic involuntary flashes of autobiographical memory; awfully specific granular moments of sensory memory brought on by some random set of variables in my environment. It’s the kind of thing Proust wrote about, essentially a limited kind of Hyperthymesia, which in my case seems to be focused specifically around moments with food and drink… I’ve had a pint of Otley 01 (no longer exists) at The Rake in Borough Market with black pudding and mustard flavoured crisps. I’ve had a pint of Fuller’s Steam Effort (a 2018 one off with Redemption) at The Harp Covent Garden triggered by the consideration of whether to put Anchor Steam in the online version of the George Brown course. I’ve had a mixed grill at the Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich, and had to consult with my dining companion from February of 2008 on which kind of mustard he thought might have been on the table (we think Keen’s).
Researchers at Kyushu University found that the olfactory sensory neurons can exhibit suppression or enhancement of response when odors are mixed, meaning that perception is not the simple sum of the odors… “It has been previously considered that each odor ‘activates’ a specific set of receptors, and that the response of neurons in the nose to odor mixtures is a simple sum of the responses to each component, but now we have evidence in mice that this is not the case,” said Shigenori Inagaki, the lead author of a paper published in Cell Reports.
Erik Carl Kettner had a dilemma. The Dutch employee – appointed by Heineken to head up the recently acquired Pyramid Brewery in Cairo – wanted to teach his charges about the Ten Commandments of Management. It was necessary to convey the importance of efficiency, organization, and training; to prioritize communications, supervision, and discipline… So he held a competition among the department heads to see who could reproduce them best. After collecting the answers, he announced the winners to the whole company: the ‘Awad brothers, who were in charge of the brewery’s cellars… This contest was well-meaning, but, in general, the moves Kettner and Heineken would make in response to the ground shifting underneath them would only inflame relationships within the company. The working environment would quickly turn toxic.
“No one, surely, would contend that pasteurised, carbonated beer is better than unpasteurised, naturally-conditioned beer, and it is therefore perhaps not untrue to say that the quality of beer, as at present retailed, is just as good as bacteria and yeast will allow it to be, since pasteurisation is enforced at the dictation of yeasts and bacteria.”
Did you know renowned beer writer Tim Webb had produced a comprehensive guide to European beer styles, available online via the European Beer Consumers’ Union? No, neither did we until @thebeernut pointed it out to us. It’s a work in progress, we gather, and will no doubt keep the pedantic busy for a few hours.
Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that’s caught our attention in the past week, from looming Lockdown 2 to the philosophy of yeast.
Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the same grim news cycle, fretting over restrictions on pub opening hours and the possibility of their total closure for another stretch, as the UK Government struggles to keep COVID-19 under control. If the capricious paywall will let you read it, this summary of the debate from Chris Giles and Alice Hancock at the Financial Times is helpful:
Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said that in the UK, the “concrete evidence was a little bit thin”, but that was more because everyone was understandably “panicking in a pandemic” rather than setting up studies that would provide proof… “Trying to tease out evidence from noise is not an exact science,” he said, “but based on pragmatic thinking and given what we know about superspreading events . . . pubs and restaurants are where some outbreaks are seeded”.
With tighter restrictions due to be rolled out on Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced yet another package of support for business, this time focused on those legally obliged to close, or to switch to a takeaway collection or delivery model.
It includes payment of a proportion of wages for furloughed staff and an increase in the size of cash grants available. So, somewhat helpful for pubs but, as others have pointed out, not much to use breweries or other industries reliant on pubs.
To echo points we made in our monthly newsletter a few weeks ago, we agree that it’s unfair to “blame pubs” – the Government needs to own this. At the same time, we do feel fairly sure that the biggest risk is people mixing indoors; pubs aren’t the only place that happens but, sorry, they’re simply not as important as schools; and closing or restricting pubs is justified based on the evidence we have. But that ought to come with the necessary support, both from Government and from drinkers who are able to buy takeaway.
[Over] the past four weeks since the further tightening of restrictions… we have seen the following reduction in the year on year trade at our Tap Room:
Sept week 1 minus 36%
Sept week 2 minus 55% – Rule of 6 announced
Sept week 3 minus 79% – 10pm curfew announced
Sept week 4 minus 84% – Illegal to drink with anyone outside your household [in the North East of England]
At Appellation BeerStan Hieronymus has, as always, been connecting dots and asking thought-provoking questions. This time, inspired by a piece by Clare Bullen, he’s got us reflecting on yeast culture or, rather, the culture around yeast:
Until 1980, a guard at the Carlsberg brewery gate in Copenhagen handed out small quantities from a “yeast tower” to locals who asked… “The old founder of Carlsberg knew that this sharing of yeast was a fundamental ‘law’ and security for any brewhouse. Imagine that your yeast went wrong and you did not have the possibility to get I from another brewery. In other words, there is a strong relationship between cultivating yeast, keeping the culture healthy and distributing the risk,” [Per] Kølster wrote.
Taste in design is subjective, of course, but it seems what people see as ugly in Belgium is its violently extreme patchwork of architecture, a kind of chaotic diversity that is challenging for the human mind to process and which it happens is not unlike the idiosyncratic nature of its beers… In fact, some of the words used by visitors to Belgium to describe its architecture—quirky, characterful, complex, and intense—are the exact same words used by many beer enthusiasts to describe the country’s beer.
For Good Beer HuntingEvan Rail wonders what will happen when we run out of historic beer styles to revive, and whether the concept of history even makes sense:
If we keep resuscitating these previously extinct historic beer styles, we will run out of them—unless, of course, some contemporary beer styles also disappear along the way. It’s not hard to foresee the extinction of Amber Ale, Brown Ale or even Black IPA. Some of us can even imagine the complete and total disappearance of Milkshake IPAs… Some of us think about the extirpation of Milkshake IPAs a lot.
Finally, from Twitter, there’s this reminder that all sorts of stuff goes on in pubs:
#savethearts Bernard Wrigley (front) and Bob Hoskins (right) in the Wheatsheaf, Bolton, 1970. They were part of The Ken Campbell Roadshow and performed in pubs. "Bob Hoskins is a lorry driver. I’m sat on the floor being an engine and gearstick." (Pic from Bernard, Barmcake 10) pic.twitter.com/Sj0ts2aOqi
“The Cook’s Ferry Inn? Why do I know The Cook’s Ferry Inn? Oh, yeah – because there’s a roundabout named after it.”
Variations on this statement are fairly common. Baker’s Arms, Green Man, Charlie Brown’s Roundabout – they’re all over London, certainly.
We came across the mention of The Cook’s Ferry Inn in The House of Whitbread magazine for April 1928, a new acquisition for our little library.
It has an eleven-and-a-half page photo feature on the launch of an ‘improved’ incarnation of this old pub at Edmonton, North London, on the way to Chingford. That’s the source of the images in this post.
“The Cook’s Ferry, Edmonton, reproduced from an old print of uncertain date.”
The old pub seems to have been built in the 18th century as a waterside pub and was a local landmark throughout the 19th century. It was also popular with anglers.
In the inter-war years, it was decided to build a great north circular road to connect newly populous outer London neighbourhoods, open up space for industry and provide jobs. In 1927, the stretch between Angel Road, Edmonton, and Billet Road, Chingford was opened.
“The old Cook’s Ferry… showing its position as the new arterial road was being constructed.” Photo by E.A. Beckett of Loughton.
The rebuilding of the Cook’s Ferry Inn was made necessary by the fact that the new road was higher than the narrow old lane it replaced.
In 1928, this was a grand, well-appointed pub – part of Whitbread’s commitment to make pubs bigger, smarter and more respectable.
“A view of the Cook’s Ferry showing the new arterial road looking towards Walthamstow.” Photo by Larkin Bros.
Saloon Bar. Photo by Larkin Bros.
Public bar. Photo by E.A. Beckett.
Dining room. Photo by Larkin Bros.
The kitchen, with Whitbread branded rubbish bin. We’re not sure we’ve seen a photo of an inter-war pub kitchen before. Photo by E.A. Beckett.
After World War II, like many of these hard-to-fill inter-war pubs, it had become ‘scruffy’ and morphed into a music venue.
First, it was a jazz club, founded by musician Freddy Randall and his brother Harry in the 1940s.
Then, in the 1960s, it became associated with ‘beat music’, mods and pop music, with performances by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and The Who.
Finally, in the 1970s, the North Circular was widened and the pub was demolished. Now, the spot where it stood is all concrete flyover and brambles.
Even the channel of water it once stood beside has gone.
Still, the name lives on, just about, on bus stops, road signs and maps.
Here’s all the best reading about beer and pubs from the past, including pieces on racial equity and robot waiters.
First, a bit of what looks suspiciously like good news: people are still opening interesting pubs and bars.
The bit of Bristol where we live (for the moment…) has just got its first proper, full-on craft beer bar. Sidney & Eden is a spin-off from local specialist beer shop Bottles & Books and opened a few weeks ago. Every time we’ve walked past, it’s been as close to rammed as current circumstances permit.
For Vittles, Paul Crowther provides a neat summary of what went wrong with the 1989 anti-monopoly Beer Orders, focusing on how it all but destroyed three beloved regional beers:
You might think the disconnection of Newcastle Brown, Boddingtons and Bass from their birthplaces was a justified casualty in the breaking up of the Big Six because it would surely lead to smaller, local breweries taking their place, de-monopolising the market? Well, that’s not what happened; in fact, the opposite happened… Allied Breweries merged with the Danish company Carlsberg, the fourth largest brewer in the world responsible for 6% of all beer sold worldwide. Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form drinks giant Diageo, which now focuses on its spirit brands and is the world’s second largest distiller.
An award-winning sahti brewer. SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.
Several people claimed that out in the countryside some of the sahti brewers sell their beer illegally, and that this trade is of considerable proportions. Some of the illegal brewers sell as much as 50,000 litres a year, they claimed. Even though it’s illegal the locals tend to quietly accept it, and usually there is a code of honour involved. No selling to under-age drinkers, for example.
For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Katie Mather reflects on what we can learn from the suggestion that robot waiters should have been deployed during lockdown:
What a great idea, if all you credit serving staff with is the physical act of bringing your food and drinks to the table without major incident… Do bar staff enjoy their work? I can’t speak for everyone, but I do. But can it also be the worst? Absolutely. And does it pay well? Hahahaha.
Prof. Sir Geoff Palmer — Professor emeritus in the school of life sciences at Heriot-Watt University and human rights activist: A black person is sometimes not even aware of the options. I wasn’t. I got my A-levels and I took a degree—I took botany because I thought it was easy! The most dangerous place for racism is in the interview room. Somebody could look at that [Edward Colston] statue and say they defaced my statue, I’m not going to have them in my place. That’s how racism works, it’s as simple as that. The fact is all the prejudices of the person who is interviewing will influence that decision.
Tandleman provides an honest account of the fretting and excitement that surrounds every pub trip these days, especially if there’s any travel involved:
I was the only one that had been to Bridgnorth before, but my tales of Black Country beer, cheese and onion cobs the size of a baby’s head and pork pies convinced them that this fine market town in Shropshire was the place to be. To sweeten the deal we stayed at the Golden Lion, run by Holden’s Brewery, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing actually. This is a tale of more or less unfettered joy. Of ale supped and food scoffed.
Finally, from Twitter, an extremely tickling image:
Just realised it's 25 years to the day since I became a resident of Dublin. That calls for a tiny celebration. pic.twitter.com/gqh2jYw4N3
In 1968, the giant brewing firm Watney Mann attempted to lure young people back to pubs with a brand new concept, the ‘Birds Nest’, which turned ordinary boozers into swinging discotheques. And for a while, it worked.
First, some context: in the post-war period, brewers were struggling to make money from pubs and were desperate to make them relevant to a new generation of drinkers.
In the 1950s, they started with smart new buildings with modern decor; then they moved on to novelty theme pubs; and finally, in the late 1960s, along came concepts like the Chelsea Drugstore.
You can read more about the Drugstore in 20th Century Pub (copies available from us) but, in brief, it was Bass Charrington’s imaginative bid to reinvent the pub at what was then the heart of trendy London, the King’s Road.
With space age fixtures and fittings in gleaming metal, it combined shops, cafes and bars in one place and is perhaps best-known as one of the locations for Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 sci-fi film A Clockwork Orange.
The Drugstore opened in July 1968; Watney Mann launched its first Birds Nest in Twickenham in February that year, a low-risk location for an experiment.
They renamed The King’s Head, an almost brutalist post-war booze bunker at 2 King Street, installing a state-of-the-art steel dance-floor, light-show projectors and a high-end sound system.
They also installed an in-pub telephone network so that if you saw someone you liked the look of, you could dial their table and have a chat across the room.
It was an immediate success, at least according to contemporary press, such as this report from the Kensington Post from 17 January 1969:
[The] Twickenham Birds Nest has become the “in” inn for young people from all over southern England, would you believe? And packed every night, would you also believe? This came about largely through the ‘rave’ buzz getting around among 18-25 year-olds – inspired by the fun experienced there by early young customers – that ‘The Birds Nest’ scene was really different. Guys and dollies were even making the trip from Chelsea to Twickenham, would you believe, so loud was the buzz of approval.
This pilot inspired Watney to launch an early example of a chain, with the second Birds Nest opening a short distance from the Chelsea Drugstore and the similarly trendy Markham Arms, taking over The Six Bells.
If Twickenham was an experiment, with a soft launch, the Chelsea branch got the full works when it came to PR with an extensive press campaign and advertising.
As part of that, we find a frank admission of one of the key points behind the concept and its name: if you went to a Birds Nest pub, there would be women to chat up. Dolly birds. Right sorts. Goers. And so on.
In fact, a headline in the Kensington Post boiled the concept right down: A PUB WITH GOOD COFFEE AND BIRDS ON THEIR OWN.
The argument was that with no cover charge, the provision of soft drinks and coffee, and the offer of simple ‘continental-style’ meals, the Birds Nest would be more appealing to young, single women – and thus, of course, to young men.
This second Birds Nest was done out to a higher spec, too. An internationally renowned interior designer, Thomas Gehrig, was imported from Munich:
His work in The Birds Nest could be said to have shades of a German Beer Garden. Here again, the perimeter of the room provides fixed seating arranged in bays to contain 6-8 people with tables and this perimeter seating is raised about 1 ft. 2 ins. above general room level. Over this fixed seating is a pitched roof supported on carved timber posts and the roof covering is cedar shingles. The bar counter is unusual in that it has no back cabinet as in a traditional pub. Use has been made of cherry wood wall panelling above the fixed seating. The dance floor (the only part of the room not carpeted) is surrounded by small tables seating two people at each. There is a supervised cloak room. (Ibid.)
Birds Nests were soon opened in old pub buildings all over London and the South East of England, from Paddington to Basingstoke, and each was launched with a press blitz.
Typically, a famous DJ or two would cut the ribbon and make an appearance in the first week – Simon Dee, Tony Blackburn, Dave Lee Travis and other names associated with the then brand new pop station BBC Radio 1.
Publicity photos from Watney Mann also bigged up the presence of “gorgeous go-go girls”, loading the clubs with models and dancers on those opening nights. When the Basingstoke branch opened, male model and choreographer Leroy Washington danced to “the latest 45s” in what amounted to a pair of Speedos. The message being, of course, that sexy times awaited you at the Birds Nest.
Not everyone welcomed this new development.
“Most of these houses are ill-lit, are painted black, have walls of black felt, and look like Wild West bunkhouses or brothels,” said one Watney’s tenant aggrieved at the move to managed houses. “They have been opened just to grab a quick fisftul of dollars from the permissive society.” (The Times, 30 January 1971.) Amazingly, he seems to have thought this description would put people off.
The other thing that made Birds Nest pubs different, and appealing, was the constant background of pop music, and especially soul – perhaps part of what prompted the antipathy towards ‘piped music’ within and around the Campaign for Real Ale? Again, from the Kensington Post for January 1969:
A super programme of recorded music is put out every evening from 7.30 until last orders. Every type of popular music will be presented including jazz and folk. On Saturdays and Sundays there will be special record programmes during lunch-time opening hours. At all times, when The Birds Nest Show programmes are not being presented, specially recorded background music will be played. The DJs, both male and female, form part of a team being trained specially for this and future Birds Nests.
And those at-table phones weren’t just designed for chatting up your fellow drinkers – you could also use them to call the DJ with requests, or to order a risotto from the kitchen. (Please use your phone to order from your table, via the app…)
In 1975, Watney’s went as far as launching their own Birds Nest record label. The first releases were ‘Give Yourself a Chance’ by Agnes Strange and ‘You Can Sing With the Band’ by Taragon.
Another part of the formula was the deliberate choice of young managers.
For example, Eric Robey, who ran the Basingstoke branch, was 20 and his wife, according to a report in The Stage for 18 February 1971, was “rather younger”.
SOURCE: Coventry Evening Telegraph, 28 August 1970, via The British Newspaper Archive.
We asked an old friend, Adrian, if he remembered drinking in any of these pubs and he did, specifically the branch at 17 York Road, Waterloo, in around 1970:
The main attraction was, all the tables had phones on them, and all the tables were numbered, so if you saw somebody you fancied, you could bell them. Lots of fun. Must have made hundreds of calls but can’t remember receiving any! Saturday nights could be [rowdy] in the football season. Normal clientele, Chelsea and Millwall boot boys, could be lively when Portsmouth or Southampton fans were about. Bar and toilets downstairs, that was where the music was – mix of skinheads and rude boys; upstairs, the genesis of suedeheads.
Other accounts associate the Birds Nests with skinheads, too – a long way from the image Watney’s seemed keen to put across.
In 1972, a bouncer at the Basingstoke branch, 26-year-old Frank Stanley, was charged with assaulting Keith Baker with a truncheon, splitting open his skull. In court, he said he’d been issued with the truncheon by the management and that in his six months working the door, he’d been involved in around 150 fights: “I have been beaten up on two occasions and once we had a fight involving 20 men.” (Reading Evening Post, 6 April 1972.)
Behaviour at the Harrow branch, at a pub formerly called The Shaftesbury, prompted residents to petition to have the disco’s licence revoked in 1975. They said crowds were piling out after midnight, racing cars around Shaftesbury Circus and generally making a nuisance of themselves – especially on Monday nights. (Harrow Observer, 30 May 1975.)
In a 2012 post online, Denis Cook recalled his time DJing at the Harrow Birds Nest: “I played a variety of stuff, but it became that I started playing more Funk & Reggae, and within a short time you couldn’t get in… One day, the manager took me to one side and said he wanted me to change my music, as too many black guys were coming in. I refused and quit.”
With a growing image problem, with more ‘proper’ discos and nightclubs emerging, this corporate chain version began to feel like a relic of the swinging sixties.
So, inevitably, the Birds Nests began to pop out of existence.
The Birds Nest in Chelsea, one of the chain’s pioneers, had its disco identity toned down in a refit as early as 1971, in a bid to draw mature drinkers back. It closed in 1983 and became a ‘Henry J Beans’ bar and grill. That’s probably as good a full stop as you can ask for on a story like this.
What’s fascinating to us is that an institution can have been so prominent in the press, so ubiquitous in the culture, and then completely disappear from the collective consciousness.
But that’s pop culture for you.
This post was made possible with the support of Patreon subscribers like Mark Landells and Jason B. Standing, whose generosity helps us pay for our subscription to the British Newspaper Archive and, of course, gives us the nudge we need to spend the equivalent of a full day researching and writing.