The perfect amount of foam on a pint of beer

Of course there is no correct amount – it will vary from beer to beer, from region to region and from person to person – but it looks as if a beer we were served on Friday night was pretty close to perfect.

When we Tweet­ed this with the mes­sage ‘One for the Foam Police’ we were being delib­er­ate­ly vague.

What we meant was ‘This looks pret­ty good’ but want­ed to test a the­o­ry: we reck­on it is pos­si­ble for a spe­cif­ic indi­vid­ual pint to have both (a) too much head and (b) too lit­tle.

When we Tweet pic­tures of the beers we’re drink­ing, it’s quite com­mon for peo­ple to reply with either some­thing like ‘Stick a Flake in that?’ or ‘That looks in poor con­di­tion’.

In this case, though about 90% of poll respon­dents thought it looked fair­ly spot on, the remain­ing votes were split between too much and not enough, with a slight bias towards too much.

It would be inter­est­ing to have the abil­i­ty to drill down into the results a bit more. We sus­pect those who vot­ed ‘too much’ will be in Lon­don and the Home Coun­ties, while those who vot­ed ‘not enough’ will skew younger. But those are just guess­es, for now.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing thing was that some peo­ple want­ed to know more about the beer before form­ing a judge­ment:

Of course there’s a lot of cer­e­mo­ny and debate around lager, espe­cial­ly in the Czech Repub­lic, but we hadn’t con­sid­ered before that keg beer might be expect­ed to have more head than cask. Now it’s been raised, though, it does feel right.

Alto­geth­er, though, what this proves is that it’s a mat­ter of taste, as sub­jec­tive as any­thing else.

Is the the­atri­cal cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Fel­low­ship of the Ring too long, too short or about right? Would you like more tracks on Sgt Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band, few­er, or about the same num­ber?

Well, sub­jec­tive except for in the (sort of) legal sense. There’s a gen­er­al accep­tance, rein­forced by mes­sages from indus­try bod­ies and Trad­ing Stan­dards, that says a pint should be at least 95% liq­uid, and no more than 5% foam.

We sus­pect our ‘about right’ pint on Fri­day might have failed this test, by a per­cent­age point or two, but in the moment, we real­ly did­n’t care.

News, nuggets and longreads 12 October 2019: silly stout, Somerset cider, sad stories

Here’s everything on the subject of beer, pubs and (this month only) cider, that caught our attention in the past few days, from lost friends to last beers.

Between us we’ve encoun­tered Roger Wilkins of Wilkins Cider a few times over the decades. When Ray was young, his Dad used to buy cider from the farm every now and then. And until a year or so ago, Wilkins used to sup­ply the Drap­ers Arms so the sight of Mr W him­self steam­ing through a crowd­ed pub, sweat­ing and huff­ing, with a jar of pick­led eggs under each arm was­n’t uncom­mon. Now, for Pel­li­cleNic­ci Peet has giv­en him the full pro­file treat­ment:

I hear Roger before I see him, his laugh bel­low­ing from inside his barn. It’s as big and as bold as his rep­u­ta­tion. Local­ly, and to some inter­na­tion­al­ly, he is known as the “cider king,” mak­ing prop­er, tra­di­tion­al farm­house cider… Roger offers two ciders: dry and sweet. Both sit in big wood­en bar­rels with taps ready for you to serve your­self and there’s no fixed price—you pay as you feel. If you’re after a medi­um sim­ply mix the two. Then sip your cider in the barn or in the orchard, the way Som­er­set cider has been enjoyed for cen­turies. Even how he sells his cider is old school, as you have to ring him direct­ly if you want to make an order.

Drawing: a pub bar.

Mark John­son paints a pic­ture of pub life with an emo­tion­al twist in a post about the acci­den­tal Thurs­day Club, dry roast­ed peanuts and a man called Col­in:

Most­ly we just meet at the bar. First by chance. Then increas­ing­ly “by chance.” Then it became Thurs­day club. Then Wednes­day was added into the mix too. And of course we are always here Fri­day. And the odd quick pint on a Mon­day has been known to turn into five hours of putting the world to rights – or at least his beloved City’s back four… I’m not sure I’ve ever socialised with Col­in out­side of the pub… And he is too bloomin’ gen­er­ous. Annoy­ing­ly so. I have to fight to even pay for a drink. I’m sure I’m about 20 pints behind now. I don’t think I’ve ever bought the bags of dry roast­ed.

Chelsie's last beer.
SOURCE: Chelsie Markel.

Chelsie Markel did­n’t know she was drink­ing what might be her last beer when she checked it in on Untap­pd dur­ing the sum­mer:

While I was drink­ing my very last full pour of beer while vis­it­ing Tree House Brew­ing Co. in July, I had no idea I had the dis­ease. I had no idea that ‘Hur­ri­cane (with Peach)’ would be my last beer self­ie that I ever took. That the beer I rat­ed a 4.5 in Untap­pd and every­thing I had hoped for as a tast­ing expe­ri­ence would be the begin­ning of the finale… Even though a few years back a friend of mine had been diag­nosed with Sjo­grens and I thought “Wow! I have a lot of these med­ical con­di­tions and symp­toms though­out my life. But stop being sil­ly! Your doc­tors would have con­nect­ed the dots and test­ed you if they thought this was a real con­cern. Stop self-diag­nos­ing.”

Various books and magazine from the last 40+ years of CAMRA.

The Cam­paign for Real Ale keeps doing inter­est­ing things. The lat­est eye­brow-rais­ing move is to ten­der for a not-the-usu­al-sus­pects writer to tack­le an offi­cial 50th anniver­sary biog­ra­phy of the cam­paign group:

We would like this per­spec­tive to come from some­one who is not per­ceived as hav­ing a close asso­ci­a­tion with CAMRA. The brief is for a c.50,000 word autho­rised biog­ra­phy of CAMRA, to be researched and writ­ten in 2020, with the text due at the end of the year, ready for pub­li­ca­tion in March 2021 in time for the Campaign’s birth­day cel­e­bra­tions. Exact out­line, terms and fees to be nego­ti­at­ed.

Cult Czech brew­ery Kout na Šumavě is in trou­ble, it turns out:

Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake (label).

Steve Body, AKA The Pour Fool, has put togeth­er a typ­i­cal­ly impas­sioned defence of ‘crazy’ beers:

We have to have this sort of “crazi­ness” for craft beer – noth­ing says we have to like every dick­head idea or style that sham­bles onto the brew­ing scene – to con­tin­ue to evolve and progress as the par­a­digm-chang­er it has become. There is NO oth­er path. The surest way to mur­der inno­va­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty is to slap blind­ers on those doing the work. There is an old say­ing, “Out of exper­i­men­ta­tion comes syn­the­sis.” Nev­er heard that? Appar­ent­ly, I just made it up. Google gives me no hits on that axiom. But it’s the truth: we try crazy shit, watch some or even most of it fail, and pluck the nuggets, the pearls, out of the chick­en­shit.

Sam Smith logo from beer bottle.

We can’t resist these Humphrey Smith sto­ries: the head of Samuel Smith’s brew­ery in Tad­cast­er has reached a new high this week by shut­ting down a new­ly opened pub because he heard a cus­tomer swear­ing. Here’s the sto­ry as report­ed by the Inde­pen­dent:

[Smith] was vis­it­ing the Fox and Goose in Droitwich Spa, Worces­ter­shire, sev­en weeks after it opened… But when the 74-year-old heard anoth­er drinker drop­ping the F‑word while telling his wife a joke, he decid­ed to imme­di­ate­ly close the place… [leav­ing] land­lord Eric Low­ery, who lives in a flat above the pub with wife Tracey, look­ing for both a new job and some­where to live.

Final­ly, from Twit­ter:


Six new-to-us Bristol pubs in one day

Our #EveryPubInBristol mission had begun to stagnate a little with hardly any new ticks in weeks. Then, the Saturday before last, we managed six new pubs in one go. As ever, this concerted attack was eye-opening.

We start­ed at The Assem­bly in Bed­min­ster, a huge pub with the foot­ball on at ear-burst­ing vol­ume and a sense that it was drows­ing, just wait­ing for Sat­ur­day night to kick off. The kind of place where the wood­work has teeth-marks. Jess’s half of Doom Bar came in a dain­ty stem glass, though, and did­n’t taste bad.

The Windmill

The con­trast between this and the next pub, up Wind­mill Hill on the oth­er side of the rail­way line, was pow­er­ful. The Wind­mill feels like the kind of place you might find in a mid­dle class out­er Lon­don sub­urb, all scrubbed wood, burg­ers and jazz. The cou­ple on the table next to us seemed to be on hol­i­day in Bris­tol and had appar­ent­ly come out of their way to get to this par­tic­u­lar pub – is it in a for­eign trav­el guide, maybe? It’s for sale, we hear, which might explain the faint­ly gloomy mood. Over­all, we liked it, even if it did seem to be look­ing at us down its nose, just a touch.

The Rising Sun

At the top of the hill, The Ris­ing Sun appealed to us imme­di­ate­ly: a Vic­to­ri­an orphan along­side a mod­ernist tow­er block, windswept by default, it brought to mind the Cum­ber­land at Byk­er. Inside, we found a lamp­shade pub with plush seat­ing and kitsch details. Blue­grass music played on the stereo and the young pub­li­can told us he was a musi­cian. Bohemi­an might be a good word for this pub and we can imag­ine detour­ing to get to it again.

The Brunel

Things went down­hill after this, lit­er­al­ly, as we tot­tered down a tat­ty alley­way between ter­raced hous­es to The Brunel, AKA The Engi­neers Arms – a huge pub extend­ed or rebuilt in the 1920s, despite its sup­posed 1897 found­ing date. It’s a Greene King joint so you can prob­a­bly pic­ture it with 80% accu­ra­cy if you’ve ever been in anoth­er any­where else in the coun­try. But we liked the cheer­ful staff, the stained glass win­dows and the remains of the old mul­ti-room struc­ture: the real drinkers were in what was obvi­ous­ly the Pub­lic. It’s not our kind of place but there was cer­tain­ly a buzz.

The Victoria Park

Next stop was The Vic­to­ria Park, a some­what famous gas­trop­ub in 1990s style, with Miche­lin stick­ers and more. We did­n’t expect to like it but the hill­side beer gar­den and Edwar­dian exte­ri­or were hard to resist, and inside we had no trou­ble find­ing a cor­ner to drink in. The oth­er cus­tomers were most­ly exhaust­ed par­ents rock­ing pushchairs or bounc­ing babies on their chests. This one, we thought, would fit an upmar­ket resort in Devon or Corn­wall, and the beer was most­ly Devon­ian, as it hap­pened.

The Star & Dove on the edge of Vic­to­ria Park has a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry. Ray’s been before, with his broth­er, when it was a full-on gas­trop­ub with slow-cooked pork bel­ly and so on. That ven­ture fold­ed, though, and in the space of a year or two, it’s revert­ed to being a nor­mal, down-to-earth drink­ing pub with some­what harsh light­ing and the down­stairs din­ing room locked. The inter­net seems gen­er­al­ly con­fused about whether it is still trad­ing (it def­i­nite­ly is) and whether it still has food at all – some­times, we think? Still, not often you encounter de-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion these days.

There’s some­thing about this par­tic­u­lar approach, every pub, that real­ly makes sense of the scene as a whole and how things fit togeth­er. Posh pubs are uphill, less fan­cy ones at the bot­tom; chains are some­times where the action is; and there’s almost no pub that’s not OK for at least one round on a Sat­ur­day after­noon.

News, nuggets and longreads 5 October 2019: sessionability, Spam, the seventies

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading we’ve found especially illuminating or enjoyable in the past week, from Monty Python to pensions.

When you’ve been at this game for a while, you start to see the same con­ver­sa­tions cycle round. This week, it’s time to talk about what ‘ses­sion­able’ means again. First, for Vine­PairLily Waite argues that it’s impos­si­ble to pin down

The most com­mon use of ‘ses­sion” in beer con­texts is as a qual­i­fi­er. It means the beer in ques­tion con­tains low enough amounts of alco­hol that sev­er­al, or even many, can be con­sumed in one drink­ing ‘ses­sion.’ The term ‘ses­sion­able’ is com­mon­ly used to sug­gest some­thing is eas­i­ly drink­able, light, refresh­ing, or any com­bi­na­tion of the three… But even those airy def­i­n­i­tions leave a lot open to inter­pre­ta­tion. As all beer drinkers are dif­fer­ent, with indi­vid­ual sizes, appetites, tol­er­ances, and pref­er­ences, how can we say what ‘ses­sion” or ‘ses­sion­able’ even means?

In response, Mar­tyn Cor­nell, who Waite cites in her arti­cle, says, no, actu­al­ly – it’s not dif­fi­cult at all:

I saw a tweet yes­ter­day from some­one talk­ing about “a ses­sion­able 5.5 per cent smoked oat­meal stout”, and the world swam and dis­solved before me as I plunged scream­ing and twist­ing into a hell­ish, tor­ment­ed pit of dark despair… Let me make this as clear as I can. This is an egre­gious and unfor­giv­able total fail­ure to under­stand what the expres­sion ‘ses­sion­able’ means, is meant to mean, and was coined for. A 5.5 per cent alco­hol beer is not, and can­not be, ‘ses­sion­able’. A smoked oat­meal stout, while I am sure it can be love­ly, is not and can­not be ‘ses­sion­able’. Nobody ever spent all evening drink­ing four or five, or six, pints of smoked oat­meal stout.

Stella Artois
SOURCE: Brus­sels Beer City.

One of our favourite blog posts of last year was Eoghan Wal­sh’s lit­er­ary pub crawl around Brus­sels. Now he’s back with Part Two:

Nobody exem­pli­fied the writer liv­ing unhap­pi­ly in Brus­sels bet­ter than French­man and ser­i­al flâneur Charles Baude­laire… Leav­ing behind Vic­tor Hugo and the Chaloupe D’Or café on Brus­sels’ Grand Place, my walk fol­lows the well-worn tourist path out of the square and into the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. These glass-ceil­ing shop­ping arcades were a first in Europe when they were built in 1847 and imme­di­ate­ly they became a meet­ing place not only for the city’s bour­geoisie but also for its writ­ers and artists. It was here that the Lumière broth­ers showed off their ciné­matographe for the first time out­side of Paris, in March 1896. Vic­tor Hugo’s mis­tress, Juli­ette Drou­et – Juju – has an apart­ment above what is now the fran­coph­o­ne Tro­pismes book­shop. French poet Paul Ver­laine once pur­chased a revolver here with his moth­er. And, liv­ing a cou­ple of streets away while escap­ing debts and debtors back in Paris, Charles Baude­laire was a fre­quent vis­i­tor.

Bass logo.

Roger Protz has writ­ten a por­trait of a Lon­don pub famous for its Bass, as it has been since 1921:

The Express Tav­ern on Kew Bridge Road is that rar­i­ty – a Lon­don pub that reg­u­lar­ly serves Draught Bass. The Bass red tri­an­gle trade­mark adorns the exte­ri­or and the famous tri­an­gle also declares itself on a pump clip on the bar… Two reg­u­lars seat­ed at the bar nod­ded in salu­ta­tion when I asked for a pint. “You’ve come to the right place for Bass,” they said. “That’s what we’re drink­ing.”


Dave at Brew­ing in a Bed­sit­ter offers a brief rein­ven­tion of a famous moment from Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus:

Wait­ress: Evening!

Man: Well, what’ve you got?

Wait­ress: Well, there’s IPA with mosa­ic and sim­coe; IPA with mosa­ic and cen­ten­ni­al; IPA with mosa­ic and cit­ra; IPA with mosa­ic, sim­coe and cit­ra; IPA with mosa­ic, sim­coe, cen­ten­ni­al and cit­ra; IPA with cit­ra, sim­coe, cen­ten­ni­al and cit­ra; IPA with cit­ra, mosa­ic, cit­ra, cit­ra, sim­coe and cit­ra, IPA with cit­ra, vic secret, cit­ra, cit­ra, mosa­ic, cit­ra, cen­ten­ni­al and cit­ra;

Hip­sters (start­ing to chant): Cit­ra cit­ra cit­ra cit­ra…

Homebrew beer mat.

John Har­ry has been intern­ing at the Nation­al  Muse­um of Amer­i­can His­to­ry and as part of an ini­tia­tive to record US brew­ing his­to­ry has researched and writ­ten about the birth of the mod­ern home-brew­ing move­ment:

After grad­u­at­ing from col­lege in 1972, [Char­lie] Papaz­ian moved to Boul­der, Col­orado, to try to fig­ure out his life plans. Some peo­ple there dis­cov­ered that he knew how to brew beer and asked him to teach a class on home­brew­ing at the local com­mu­ni­ty free school. The class­es were incred­i­bly pop­u­lar and attract­ed many curi­ous local res­i­dents… As word spread through news­pa­per arti­cles, admin­is­tra­tors grew con­cerned that the class­es might be attract­ing the wrong type of atten­tion. “After about the third year…those class­es became noto­ri­ous,” Papaz­ian recount­ed. “One time at reg­is­tra­tion for the class, the admin­is­tra­tion con­tact­ed me, and said, ‘You know… there’s a guy, who’s reg­is­ter­ing for this class. He may be from the ATF.’” The ATF is the Bureau of Alco­hol, Tobac­co, and Firearms—the law enforce­ment agency in charge of reg­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties such as home­brew­ing. As Papaz­ian start­ed the class, a man walked in wear­ing a dark pair of slacks, a white shirt, and a skin­ny black tie. Papaz­ian sus­pect­ed he was the ATF agent right away.

The Cask Report.

The lat­est edi­tion of Cask Mar­que’s Cask Report is out, edit­ed by Matt Eley and with con­tri­bu­tions from peo­ple like Pete Brown and Adri­an Tier­ney-Jones. We haven’t had chance to digest yet but the key mes­sage is that cask ale could be about to have a moment if it can rein­vent itself as a spe­cial­ist, pre­mi­um prod­uct:

The whole indus­try has to work togeth­er to improve the con­sis­ten­cy and qual­i­ty of cask. This will enable it to be posi­tioned in a more pre­mi­um man­ner on the bar, reignite wider inter­est and ulti­mate­ly bring cask back to growth. It might not quite be cask’s moment yet, but it feels like it’s com­ing and pubs should be ful­ly pre­pared by embrac­ing it now.

The cast of We Anchor in Hope.
SOURCE: The Bunker The­atre.

We Anchor in Hope, a play set in a pub – a ful­ly-func­tion­al pub recon­struct­ed in a the­atre – sounds inter­est­ing:

The two have thought a lot about the pub that the Bunker is becom­ing: a quiz every Tues­day, karaoke on Thurs­days and a dis­co on the week­end. The space will be open an hour before the show for peo­ple to get a drink, with Son­nex him­self pulling pints along­side his gen­er­al man­ag­er, Lee. In the world of the play, the pints in the Anchor pub will be pulled by Pearl, the play’s only woman. “In the cur­rent cli­mate, and right­ful­ly so, you should be look­ing at the ratio of men to women and mak­ing sure there are real­ly good oppor­tu­ni­ties for female actors,” Jor­dan tells me. But in order to stay true to the pubs she spent time in, which were “over­whelm­ing­ly male spaces”, We Anchor in Hope has “one female char­ac­ter and four male char­ac­ters – which is some­thing we both thought about and talked about”.

Final­ly, here’s a nugget from Twit­ter:

For more links and news, check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­days and Alan McLeod on Thurs­days.

Supplementing the 2020 Good Beer Guide: some Bristol tips

It’s new CAMRA Good Beer Guide season and across the land can be heard the familiar cries of “I can’t believe X is/isn’t in!”

Most peo­ple who are into beer know that the Good Beer Guide is not the be all and end all – it doesn’t claim to be.

It’s an assess­ment on the qual­i­ty and con­sis­ten­cy of cask beer, so pubs with­out cask beer will not get in, no mat­ter how stun­ning the keg selec­tion.

Selec­tion process­es vary from dis­trict to dis­trict, as we under­stand it, but the Bris­tol branch has clear­ly doc­u­ment­ed process­es which seem to be about as thor­ough and demo­c­ra­t­ic as is pos­si­ble to be, but obvi­ous­ly will still favour pubs that are pop­u­lar with active CAMRA mem­bers.

We’re not real­ly socia­ble enough to con­tribute to this sort of thing so of course we don’t get to com­plain if we don’t like the entries. And actu­al­ly, in Bris­tol, there isn’t much to grum­ble about from our per­spec­tive.

(Unlike in Pen­zance where to our eter­nal baf­fle­ment The Cor­nish Crown got in year after year, some­times as the only entry; it’s fine but we could think of three or four con­sis­tent­ly bet­ter cask ale pubs in town.)

In the two and a bit years we’ve been here, the Bris­tol selec­tions are gen­er­al­ly a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of qual­i­ty beer and also reflect a range of dif­fer­ent pubs and oth­er drink­ing estab­lish­ments to suit all tastes.

There are a cou­ple whose inclu­sion we might ques­tion based on our vis­its but the main issue is the omis­sion of some par­tic­u­lar favourite pubs, prob­a­bly down to the space allo­cat­ed to some degree.

With that in mind, we’d like to sug­gest a cou­ple of sup­ple­men­tary entries for 2020.

The High­bury Vaults
This is a vet­er­an GBG entry but not includ­ed this year. It has a mul­ti-room lay­out, includ­ing a snug and a toy train, and can’t help but be cosy. The gar­den, or yard rather, has an odd­ly good atmos­phere. There are Young’s beers, includ­ing Win­ter Warmer in sea­son, and a selec­tion of bot­tles. It has good old-fash­ioned pub snacks (pork pies, baps) as well as home­ly home­made food.

The Good Mea­sure
We assume this didn’t make the GBG as it only opened in Decem­ber 2018. The team at Good Chem­istry are behind this so their beers obvi­ous­ly fea­ture but also sev­er­al guests, usu­al­ly from the north, which makes a refresh­ing change in Bris­tol. Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord is often on, for exam­ple. There are keg beers, too. We par­tic­u­lar­ly love the con­tem­po­rary yet clas­sic feel of the inte­ri­or.

The Can­teen (AKA Hamil­ton House)
This was in the guide in 2019 but isn’t any­more. It’s not real­ly a pub, more a com­mu­ni­ty cafe with an empha­sis on all things local, which is per­haps why it’s not in our main Bris­tol pub guide, but reg­u­lar­ly has four or five cask ales from Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry, New Bris­tol and oth­ers. Being round the cor­ner from Jess’s most recent job, it’s also some­where she got to know well and found the beer to be in con­sis­tent­ly good con­di­tion.

In com­ing up with the above list, we’ve kept to GBG cri­te­ria and haven’t includ­ed keg bars, cider hous­es and so on.

We’ve also left out a cou­ple of pubs we real­ly like but we haven’t vis­it­ed enough to judge the con­sis­ten­cy of the ale – maybe we’ll sug­gest them for 2021.

For more on our over­all rec­om­men­da­tions see our Bris­tol pub guide and also our analy­sis of our vis­its in the first two years of liv­ing here.

It would be inter­est­ing to read sim­i­lar sup­ple­men­tary guides to oth­er cities and regions from oth­er blog­gers. How well does the GBG rep­re­sent your town, city or region?