Categories
pubs

The door is open a crack

A dark street, an open door and a carpet of light rolled out in welcome… Come on in, hang your coat, find a spot. Pint?

It’s been an emotional year and it doesn’t take much right now to trigger a lump in the throat. The latest thing to catch us out was an episode of Hazell, a 1970s ITV series about a private detective in London.

In ‘Hazell works for nothing’ our hero, played by Nicholas Ball, is given the job of finding a man on the run in London’s docklands. Summoning his sidekick, his cousin Tel, he sets out the plan: “The London, and The Dickens, The Moorings, The Old House at Home, The Grapes, Chequers, Prospect and The Four Colts.”

The montage that follows is all wet Wapping cobbles and frosted windows as Hazell and Tel fall in and out of one pub after another. What got us specifically was the sight of a pub door from afar; its opening; and the surge of music, light and laughter.

It made us think of approaching The Royal Oak on Tabard Street on a winter’s evening, The Marble Arch in Manchester or The Merchant’s Arms here in Bristol. Lively pubs in quiet neighbourhoods, home fires burning.

In the finale of the TV series Ashes to Ashes light spilling from a pub door onto an otherwise deserted city street is an image of heaven – yeah, go one, just one more pint, for the rest of eternity.

In reality, that open door is a promise. A tease. An invitation.

Categories
opinion

Craft beer – ‘ripe for parody’?

Every now and then someone decides that “craft beer is ripe for parody” – is it really?

Earlier this week the comedian Alistair Green posted a short video in which he played both the part of Matt, CEO of Punk Squirrel brewery, and Matt, Matt’s business partner and head of marketing.

Mr Green is one of those people who can make merely passable material seem good through the strength of his performance and his commitment to the bit. It’s part Vic & Bob outsider awkwardness, part Victoria Wood observation.

His piece from last year about Adam and Eve discovering the concept of death was particularly brilliant, we thought, somehow conjuring three characters and the Garden of Eden into being with a single talking head and a blank white room.

So when we saw Punk Squirrel pop up on our non-beer Twitter feeds, we watched it, and sure enough, it made us laugh out loud a couple of times. The line “I’m 43!” seemed particularly funny, perhaps because Ray is, indeed, 43 and recognised the look of despair in poor Matt’s eyes.

The punchline also rang true. We know people who weren’t remotely interested in beer until they hit 40, moved to the suburbs and had kids. Now they’re all over Cloudwater and Camden and definitely will order “a two-thirds of that, please” at the local craft beer festival, yeah, yeah, yeah, cool, cool, cool.

We’re also always fascinated to see commentary on beer from outside the ‘beer community’ and the response to this video was interesting, too, with hundreds of people replying with variants on, “Ugh, craft beer wankers… I swear I know these guys.”

So, without overthinking it, we gave it a Retweet from the Boak & Bailey account.

We were then surprised later in the day to find that other people were less amused.

Some were even, it seemed, a bit angry and upset. We won’t embed those Tweets here but they were impassioned: “Fuck that guy” said one.

This made us pause and reflect. For one thing, we think we understand where this pushback is coming from.

We’ve lost count of the number of times some godawful Twitter account called, e.g. ‘The Craft Beer nobhead’ has popped up, managing twelve weak Tweets about checked shirts and IPA before running out of steam.

And Matt Curtis in particular has been the victim of some limp, mean-spirited ‘parody’ over the years for reasons that aren’t exactly clear to us – “He’s just zis guy, you know?”

It also made us think about how this latest two minute swipe fits into a long history of taking the piss.

We could go digging into the far past – Falstaff, Pickwick, all those mid-20th century books which caricature the kinds of people you find in pubs and so on.

But the recent example that’s probably most useful is the ‘Real Ale Twats’ from Viz, whose creator, Davey Jones, told us the full story a few years ago.

What’s interesting there, with The Beer Nut’s comment in mind, is that the RATs debuted in 2001 – about 20 years after the bearded real ale bore stereotype first evolved.

People are often surprised by that, assuming the strip dates from the 1980s, but it does take a while for these things to breach the bubble.

Rewatching Mr Green’s sketch, we find ourselves reaching a few conclusions.

First, this is not an attack on craft beer drinkers or brewers, if you can call it an attack at all. It’s about the privileged founders of a certain type of big money, brand-led operation – specifically Camden, Beavertown and BrewDog. It’s punching up, not punching down.

Secondly, when a professional comedian notices your hobby, it means it has broken into the collective consciousness. That’s potentially pretty exciting.

And, debate aside, it did make us laugh – that’s a fact. Comedy is one of the few areas of creativity whose effectiveness on an individual can be measured with any degree of objectivity. Did they crack a smile? No? Then they probably didn’t find it funny. If they did, however, it worked and was therefore, kind of, in some way, good.

Finally, we don’t, as it happens, think craft beer is particularly “ripe for parody”.

What is there to say about hipsterism that wasn’t covered in Nathan Barley 20 years ago, or more recently by Portlandia?

And most of the people involved in the business of brewing seem to us to be earnest Heriot-Watt types trying to make a living.

Of course if people think there’s an angle, we’ll certainly always be interested to see what they come up with. We just can’t promise to laugh.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 10 April 2021: Abbeydale, Argentina and the Pale of Settlement

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially amusing, entertaining or educational in the past week, from real ale to Russian imperialism.

First, the main story: pubs (some of them) open (kind of) from Monday and people are understandably very excited about it. A quick recap of the state of play, then:

  • up to six people, or two households, can meet;
  • it’s exclusively outdoor drinking for now;
  • those sheds obviously don’t count as outdoors;
  • it’ll be table service only;
  • you need to mask up when you go to the bog;
  • and every member of the party will have to register with track and trace;
  • but you won’t have to eat a ‘substantial meal’;
  • and most pubs are taking bookings rather than walk-ins.

On that last point, our local CAMRA branch has helpfully reminded us that it will be annoying to turn up at a place that’s booking-only demanding to be squeezed in when pubs will already have plenty of challenges to deal with.


An Abbeydale Brewery glass.

It’s always good to see a detailed profile of one of those fixture breweries – the type whose beers you see everywhere but who otherwise keep a low profile. For Pellicle Martin Flynn has written about Abbeydale, a Sheffield staple:

Pat Morton’s home address has always been within the same Sheffield postcode, and his links to the Steel City’s heritage extend to his former job in his family’s scissor-making business. But when he launched Abbeydale in 1996, he and Sue were fans of beer from further afield, particularly Belgium and the USA. They also shared a dislike of the flavour of crystal malt, which was utilised in many “brown beers” then popular in the UK from established brands like Tetley’s and John Smith’s. Pat and Sue’s intention for their new brewery was simple: “Make pale beers which were very highly hopped for the time.”

Categories
Beer history bristol

William Herapath – Bristol’s crimefighting brewer-chemist

It’s amazing how often an innocent question leads to a brewery. In this case, it was wondering about the origins of the name of Herapath Street, not far from our new house.

It’s from ancient Greek, surely; Hera was the wife of Zeus, queen of heaven; and the suffix ‘path’ we know from telepath, sociopath, psychopath… Whatever it means, why on earth would a backstreet in a Bristol suburb have a name like this?

It turns out to have been named after one William Herapath, a local boy who made a big name for himself as a chemist. But he commenced his career in the family trade – as maltster, brewer and publican.

Before Herapath’s birth in 1796 his father, also called William, was the proprietor of the Horse & Jockey on Marybush Lane in central Bristol.1 In 1800 he took over the Packhorse Inn and its attached brewery. When he died in 1816, young William, at the age of 20, inherited the business.2

The Packhorse, Lawrence Hill.

Though The Packhorse has a fairly modest footprint today, maps from the 19th century show it taking up most of the block with a substantial brewery and/or malthouse behind. (We’ve known to look out for ‘P.H.’ to spot pubs on old maps for a while; we now know that ‘M.H.’ is ‘malthouse’, too.)

This might have provided quite a living for a young man but, according to an obituary notice from 18683, having been encouraged to study chemistry as part of his training as a maltster, he discovered a taste for it and decided to pursue it as a career.

He co-founded the Bristol Medical School, where he was appointed professor of chemistry and toxicology from 1828, and, in 1841, was one of the founders of the Chemical Society of London.

To normal people not obsessed with beer and brewing, the most interesting thing about Herapath’s career is his involvement as an expert witness in criminal cases. His particular speciality was identifying the victims of arsenic poisoning and finding traces of arsenic in foodstuffs and on kitchen implements.4

SOURCE: Know Your Place.

Despite Herapath’s illustrious career in chemistry he seems to have maintained an interest in malting and brewing. He gave lectures on the science of brewing, among other subjects and, in 1829, was a delegate of the Committee for the Protection of the Malt Trade, challenging the terms of an act designed to regulate the industry.5

He also ran a sideline in the chemical analysis of alcoholic drinks and as late as 1874, several years after his death, his name was invoked in a posthumous testimonial for a brewery in Devon.

SOURCE: Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 January 1874, via the British Newspaper Archive.

It’s fascinating that someone routinely described as “the most eminent chemical analyst in this country” should be so little known. Barring a plaque on The Packhorse, installed by the local civic society in 2017 and, of course, obscure, unremarkable Herapath Street, there’s very little to remember him by in his own city.

We’re not even sure that street is named after him. His son William Bird Herapath was also a chemist and discovered Herapathite; he also died in 1868. And their cousin, John Herapath, was a noted physicist who – this is getting weird now – died in 1868, too.

When the street came into being (it’s not on maps from the 1870s, but is there by the 1890s) who knows which of them it was named for. That it was across the road from a giant chemical works must surely be a clue, though.

You know what would be a good tribute? If someone were to brew a beer in his honour and get it served at The Packhorse.

UPDATE 10.04.2021: Maybe don’t rush that tribute beer into production just yet… Pete Forster was kind enough to email us with some of the material he found when researching William Herapath – specifically notes of his 1853 court case. He was accused of forcing a kiss on a young woman, Mrs Wildgoose, who came to his office to discuss the sale of some property on behalf of her husband. You can read more in the Bristol Mercury for 2 July 1853, on page 8, if you’re keen to know more.

Main image: we think this is William Herapath – it’s reproduced all over the internet without source information, with his name attached. But it might well be William Bird Herapath, his son. Further information welcome.

  1. Matthews’ New History of Bristol or Complete Guide and Bristol Directory, 1793, via ancestry.co.uk
  2. ‘The Lives of Two Pioneering Medical-Chemists in Bristol’, Brian Vincent, The West of England Medical Journal, Vol. 116 No. 4, 2016.
  3. Western Daily Press, 15 February 1868.
  4. Numerous newspaper reports but notably a piece on the murder of Clara Ann Smith by Mary Ann Burdock, Bristol Mirror, 11 April 1835 – apparently his first criminal case.
  5. Various newspapers from June 1829, via The British Newspaper Archive. It feels as if we should know more about what was going on with malting in 1829 – reading suggestions welcome.
Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 3 April 2021: käsityöläisolut

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from track and trace to the wonders of the Finnish language.

As the reopening of UK pubs grows ever nearer, with all the trendlines currently pointing in the right direction, everyone is watching anxiously for details of how it might work in practice. This week’s big story was the news that everyone will be expected to sign in when they go for a pint, probably until as late as September:

All customers will have to sign in on entry, not just one member of the group like before. It is also unclear whether payment at the bar will be permitted… UK Hospitality said it would burden struggling pubs and staff and risk customers deciding not to go out… The government said it was providing as much flexibility as possible to venues… It also said it had removed other unpopular requirements such as drinking curfews.

Perhaps because we’re not in the habit of going to the pub in groups larger than, say, six, this doesn’t seem outrageous to us. And by autumn last year, signing into pubs had become really quick and easy anyway – a 20-second job.


When we wrote about our perception that some breweries had experienced a better 2020/21 than others, Ed Wray promised to investigate and provide further data. He’s now done that, offering notes on the four breweries based at the site where he works:

All of the breweries have done badly financially. For the two that are parts of larger companies I’m sure it’s a drop in the ocean compared to their overall financial performance (which will also be down lots for both). I don’t know any details about their money situation but both breweries are or will be soon increasing beer production, so don’t look like they’re having the plug pulled on them. The brewery that exports to the states definitely lost a chunk of cash but I believe now has a new importer so hopefully will be able to continue as before in the future. And as to my employer, it’s had to defer payment on some things (which will of course still become due for payment later) and take out a loan. Expansion plans have slowed, but not stopped entirely. One of the things put back is getting a canning line. Cans have done well during lockdown so there’s now a shortage of them and it doesn’t make sense to install a canning line if you can’t get cans.


For VinePair Evan Rail has written about the different meanings of ‘craft beer’ around the world, according to those in the trade:

It’s not easy to find the right equivalent for “craft beer” in Finnish, according to Suvi Sekkula, a journalist, service designer, beer lover, and the chair of Kieliasiantuntijat ry, a Finnish trade union for language and communications experts… “The question is a tricky one in Finnish, as there is no strong consensus,” Sekkula says. Currently, she says, three competing terms are being used in her country: pienpanimo-olut, meaning “beer from a small brewery,” käsityöläisolut, or “beer made by a craftsperson,” and erikoisolut, which means “speciality beer.”


At Oh Good Ale Phil has been blending Orval with Harvey’s Imperial Stout – a great, if terrifying idea. He seems to have enjoyed the experience:

That word ‘blending’ is the key: it seemed to combine three quite distinct flavours (none of them very ‘beery’), but in a way that seemed perfectly natural and without any incongruity. Full-bodied – almost but not quite to the point of drinking its strength – and smooth; really very smooth… Was it worth it? A cautious Yes, I think: the 3:1 and 1:3 mixes were terrific, even if the 1:1 left something to be desired. At least, it was worth it as far as the IEDS was concerned. The stout was very much in charge throughout: even at 3:1 Orval to IEDS, you’d never mistake what you were drinking for a pale beer. The ‘black and tan’ effect – where two very different beers effectively shave off each other’s sharp edges – took the roughness out of the IEDS, making it drink smoother and sweeter; but the Orval wasn’t smoothed so much as muted, losing the Brett and some of the bitterness.


For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Siobhan Hewison offers a handy summary of trends around nitro beers – something, we admit, we know relatively little about, though we do have one on the fridge waiting to be drunk right now. She says:

[Many] brewers have been attempting to ‘hack’ the chemistry of getting nitrogen into their beer without using widgets, by dosing the beer and/or the packaging with liquid nitrogen. This does however rely on drinkers using the ‘hard pour’ method in order to get the best drinking experience. This is a very specific way of pouring a nitro beer, which asks you to forget everything you’ve been taught about gently pouring your beer at an angle into your glass – you must first invert the can or bottle a few times (but don’t shake it!) to get the bubbles flowing, let it sit for a few seconds, then crack it open and angle at 180 degrees so the beer pours aggressively into your glass. Let the beer rest and the velvety, luscious head form, and voila! The perfect nitro beer, right in your hands. 


Last week, Kelly from Good Chemistry highlighted a post we’d missed, from (we think) Chris Rigg, landlord of The Bay Hop micropub in Colwyn Bay. It’s a detailed account of the ups and downs of the past year, including some really interesting details:

At the beginning of 2020 we had come up with a vague plan to expand the number of keg lines from three to five. While lockdown seemed like a strange time to expand the range of products, it made sense to bring those plans forward. Keg doesn’t have the same short shelf life of cask, and it would allow us to continue to provide a varied selection of beers throughout without worrying about wastage. So, with the first of the Government grants in our pocket we took the leap. Looking at what we needed to provide the same styles punters were used to on cask, we decided to go for seven lines rather than the original planned five. Mike Cornish of Beer Care was called in and the job was completed in just a couple of days… It is fair to say that increasing the keg lines was the best decision we have made in the past year. There is no doubt that it has made the takeaway service worth doing, and that without it we would have not operated at all or – in the worst case scenario – not been here at all now.


Finally, from Twitter, news of a podcast about pubs that might be worth a listen, with the first episode due in a week or so:

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.