News, nuggets and longreads 26 September 2020: curfews, critical theory, conservatism

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from curfews to critical theory.

First, the big news in the UK has been the rather sudden introduction of a 10 pm closing time for pubs, as part of a tightening of restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. There must be a belief that this will help but the scientists say it wasn’t their idea.

From where we’re sitting, it seems as if it’s not enough to make a difference and, at the same time, perhaps too much for pubs to bear.

And it might have been good to see the Chancellor announce additional support for pubs in his not-a-Budget speech on Thursday; as it is, an extension of the VAT cut, which doesn’t apply to booze, was about it.

Unfortunately, the latest data (PDF) does seem to indicate that eating out is a problem:

Since 10 August, people who test positive are also asked about places they have been and activities they have done in the days before becoming unwell; eating out was the most commonly reported activity in the 2-7 days prior to symptom onset.

Still, at least the contact tracing app that was due in May has finally arrived. It seems pretty slick, the privacy setup is sound and when we used it to check into The Drapers Arms last night, it worked like a dream.

A brain.

For Good Beer Hunting Lily Waite has generated a lot of excitement with a piece applying critical theory to beer. Now, frankly, we struggled to follow some of the arguments, but the sense of bewilderment was enjoyable in its own right. And it was certainly fun watching Beer Twitter enthuse about something, rather than grumbling. Anyway, here’s a taster:

Broadly, postmodernism is characterized by skepticism toward reason. It’s seen as a reaction to the thoughts and values of modernism, which was a late-19th-century and early-20th-century philosophical, intellectual, and artistic movement… Postmodernism manifests differently in different fields, but broadly, it’s a school of thought that wields irony, distrust, and even anarchy against the authoritative “truths” of modernism… And that’s where Lucky Charms IPA comes in.


Source: Pim Myten at Unsplash.

Proof that Lily’s piece is thought-provoking can be found in the fact that it provoked thoughts from Dave S at Brewing in a Bedsitter. He wonders if the Sarah Thornton’s concept of subcultural capital might apply to beer as well as clubbing:

This is inspired by the idea of cultural capital, which the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu introduced in the 70s to describe the accumulation of knowledge, cultural artifacts, behaviour and social contacts that can help “the right sort of chaps” to smooth their way through life, particularly in the public and professional spheres, even without needing to be particularly rich in cash. Thornton’s subcultural relocation of the idea refers to tangible and intangible stuff that makes a clubber “hip” – the clothes, the dance moves, the hairstyle, the collection of white-label vinyl, and the stock of stories about legendary clubs and raves they’ve been to and scene insiders that they’ve hung out with.


Source: Ruvani/Fuggled.

Veteran beer blogger Al Reece has decided to invite guest posts from beer writers whose voices need raising up. First up it’s Ruvani on her experience as a second-generation South Asian immigrant discovering the British beer scene in the 2000s:

Back in 2005 I liked beer, but was honestly a bit more of a wine gal. Walking into Earl’s Court that day, something began to change. That huge cavernous space, not a pretty events arena by anybody’s estimation, but so alive and buzzing with the hubbub of beer nerds poised over their programmes, clamouring at each of the endless progression of bars, full of questions, specifications, speaking – or so it felt – their own language. I was fascinated. I wanted to be on the inside, to learn how to navigate this enormous room full of more beer, more types of beer, more breweries than I could ever have imagined could exist in the geographical confines of Great Britain.

US magazine Craft Beer & Brewing magazine has polled its readers to find out how their buying habits have changed during the pandemic. It turns out they’ve become more conservative in their tastes.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this sign of the times:

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

20th Century Pub pubs

Comus Elliott’s 10,000 pubs

You don’t forget a name like Comus Elliott so when we came across it in an article from 1971, we remembered the story at once: he was arguably post-war Britain’s most famous pub crawler.

From that article, which appeared in brewing industry publication A Monthly Bulletin for May 1971, here’s his own account of how his quest began:

I first set foot inside a pub in August 1954. I have now been inside 4,250 different inns, pubs and hotels, the majority of them since 1957, when I started my hobby of visiting a new and different pub every day… Not long ago I visited once more my first pub, The White Lion at Aston Clinton, in Buckinghamshire. Over my pint, I recalled the midday break when inside a pub for the first time, I self-consciously drank ginger beer, in what, until then, had been forbidden territory… I do not often have time for second visits to pubs on my list so I doubt that a similar incident will occur again, if only because pubs everywhere in the country have changed so drastically during the past few years.

A new pub every single day! This made for a good story and was covered in various American newspapers during 1971.

Jeff Morgan’s ‘Dining with wine’ column in the Oakland Tribune from 6 January that year, for example, included more detail on Elliott’s approach to ticking:

Comus Elliott, a 30-year-old bank clerk who lives in Braintree, England… carries a notebook with him on his pub crawls and carefully notes the name and address of each, and the time of day the pint was consumed.

And it turns out this was a family business. The same article says he inherited this hobby from his father, Charles Elliott, who, in 1971, had visited more than 8,000 pubs. A brief entry in the 1971 edition of the London Spy reveals that Charles Elliott generally confined his pub crawling to London and, as of that year, had visited 4,500 pubs in the city – that is, more or less all of them.

Another American newspaper column from 7 January 1971, mining the same United Press wire, introduces us to yet another member of this pub crawling family:

Life for Rosemary Elliott, 25, has become one long pub crawl since she married Comus Elliott, 30, three years ago. “My husband is determined to drink a pint of beer in each one of Britain’s 70,000 pubs,” she explained. “It’s a fun hobby, you know.” So far Mrs. Elliott has been to 1,657 pubs and gets an autograph from each proprietor. “Comus has passed the 5,000 mark in 14 years,” she reported. “It will take us forever to do them all, but it’s nice to have a lifetime ambition.”

On 22 July 1983, Mr Elliott (or Elliot – we’ve seen it spelled both ways) held a party at the Leather Exchange, a Fuller’s pub in Bermondsey, to celebrate his 10,000th pub visit. (Liverpool Echo, 19.07.83.)

The 1971 article from A Monthly Bulletin that nudged us to look into this story is interesting because it reflects Elliott’s observations of how pubs had changed during the 1960s. In it, he expresses his delight at the emergence of pub grub – well, you would, wouldn’t you, if you’re visiting a new one every day? – and dismay at the loss of local beers in favour of national brands.

This is our favourite bit, which captures the voice of a pub ticking bank clerk perfectly:

To attract and hold the new young trade, brewers have started to offer something more than a pint or a ‘short’ in arid surroundings. To become part of the new swinging scene, many pubs are run almost as mini-music halls where young musical ‘groups’ have ousted ancient pianists. We can now see ‘go-go’ girls dancing, and, if we know where to go, can even see ‘drag’ or strip-tease shows. Some pubs have been restyled as Birds Nests which have, among other things, real life Disc Jockeys, dancing girls, soft lights and numbered tables with telephones so that in the good old Continental fashion you can order your beer, request a song or ‘chat up’ a blonde sitting at a distant table without having to get up… In saying this, one cannot always sound as enthusiastic as one would wish.

Birds Nest pubs are interesting – we’re going to write something about that brief craze another time.

Now, here’s a final interesting point. Until recently, Mr and Mrs Elliot were based in the North East of England and still contributing to the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. So, if anyone happens to be in touch with them, do drop us a line.


News, nuggets and longreads 19 September 2020: aerosols, Anspach & Hobday, Out and About

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the past week, from unmalted grain to boozers on film.

First, something about the Dreaded Plague that helps understand exactly why we need to be clear-headed about pub-going, and especially sitting indoors surrounded by others. In this piece, Dana G. Smith summarises what we know about how the virus is transmitted, several months in. Good news: you probably don’t need to be terrified by passing close to someone in the street, or disinfect your bananas. Bad news:

Being outdoors is the ultimate ventilation, and for months public health officials have recommended that people socialize outside rather than in. However, with winter and colder temperatures coming, indoor air filtration and adherence to masks will become even more important… “The important thing on the public side is air handling, reducing the number of people in enclosed indoor spaces, and wearing a mask,” says Bhadelia. “[Aerosol transmission] explains why indoor settings are so much more important and contribute so much more to new infections than outdoor settings do.”

Related: there’s been a change in the rules around contact tracing that we missed and, it seems, many pubs may have also have overlooked. Venues now need to take details for every individual in a party, not just one contact per group.

Anspach and Hobday

It’s always a good week when there’s new Will Hawkes to read and this time, we got two pieces together:

  1. A profile of London brewery Anspach & Hobday for Pellicle which made us think we ought to give them another look, having filed them away as fine based on previous experiences.
  2. Notes on the persistence of cask ale in pubs in South East London and Kent at a time when you might expect them to be quietly dropped.

Barley & Malt.

Apparently having run out of other people to fact-check, Martyn Cornell has turned inward, questioning a claim he has made himself:

It’s an excellent idea for a historian never to make a claim that cannot be backed up with actual evidence. In particular, it’s a terrible crime to assume, without verifying. Forgive me, therefore, Clio, muse of history, I have sinned: for many years I have been asserting that British brewers were banned from using unmalted grain when Parliament introduced a malt tax in 1697 to fund William III’s wars against the French. Alas: when I finally got round to doing what I should have done at the start, checking the actual statute, there was no such clause.

Out and about logo.

Burum Collective continues to do great work giving a platform to fresh voices, this week sharing an interview with Heather and Michael who run Out and About, a non-profit in Sheffield dedicated to making beer more friendly and inclusive LGBTQIA+ people:

Michael: We realised that we weren’t really getting anywhere by just going to the same places that we already knew like places that were already inviting and friendly. So we have to get start going to different pubs and make sure that there’s not just four pubs in Sheffield that you can go to if you’re queer.

Heather: I wouldn’t put somewhere on that list that neither of us had been to or had no experience with because I wouldn’t want to take the risk and have people going to an event there. If something did happen, it would be on our backs. But even by getting to different parts of the city and stuff and having the pubs that might be a risk seeing what we’re doing in other pubs… it might help perpetuate a culture.

Michael: What we’re really keen to do at some point is have a bar at Pride in Sheffield, that serves proper beer, not just corporate lager and Guinness.

An industrial brewery.

Here’s an amusing snippet from Barm/@robsterowski, adding to the evidence for the argument that the craft v. industrial argument has been going on in beer since long before CAMRA turned up:

The steam-powered breweries increase constantly in number and it seems they shall quite soon squeeze out the other breweries, or force them into imitating them. As in so many other [trades], the machine seems to make manual labour almost redundant in the brewery. The question must be asked: which beer is preferable, that produced by steam or by hand? Experienced beer conners prefer the latter.

Beer cans in a supermarket.

Jeff Alworth has been thinking about the language used to market beer and reached an interesting if unsurprising conclusion: the names breweries give to beers matter, and people are drawn to ‘cool’ words more than dorkily technical terminology. For example, even ‘hoppy’ may be a turn-off:

Very simple terms like “ale” and “lager” exist at the outer edges of most drinkers’ knowledge. Hop and malt varieties, unusual style names, foreign beer terms—most of these fly over the aver drinker’s head. Ingredients and process, used routinely on labels, are murky even among avid drinkers. Beer is incredibly complex. Hops offer bitterness—but so does roast malt. They are fruity, sweet, and aromatic, but so are fermentation compounds, and sometimes malt, too. Put “hoppy” on a label and you invite confusion. The result, of course, is that the beer doesn’t sell. Some adventurers seek the unknown, but most drinkers will opt for something familiar.

And finally, from Twitter, a quick run through the portrayal of pubs on film – a favourite topic of ours.

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


Micropubs of Broadstairs

Yes, here we are again with the hottest takes on the latest developments in beer: not only are there craft beer bars in Hackney, but it turns out there also micropubs on the Isle of Thanet in Kent.

One of our own little rules for coping with the weirdness of the present situation has been NO PUB CRAWLS. In Broadstairs last weekend, though, we made an exception because we figured we could visit every micropub in town without going within a mile of anyone else, and sticking to outside seating for the most part.

We started off with a visit to The Magnet on a hot, golden Saturday evening with the smell of garlic on the air. Sitting in the alleyway outside on wobbly chairs, we could have been in Marseilles or Malaga.

The Magnet.

The game in 2020 is all about confidence and reassurance and there was plenty of that at The Magnet. There were enough staff on to intercept every guest and cheerfully direct them to the sanitiser and guestbook, along with table service that felt as if they were doing you a favour rather subjecting you to a restrictive regime. Personality goes a long way, doesn’t it?

When it got cold, we moved inside and, suddenly, it felt more like Belgium than the Mediterranean: brown wood, enamel signs, mirrors, warm light and conspiratorial conversation.

The cask ale selection reminded us of The Draper’s Arms, covering a range of tastes but tending towards the trad and with an emphasis on local. The standouts were a strong, vaguely Victorian IPA from Gadd’s which suggested strawberry jam and orange marmalade, and Bexley Brewery Bursted Bitter: “This is how Shepherd Neame wants its beers to taste.”

Or maybe it just feels like a… pub? Bar, hand-pumps, not especially micro. We liked it a lot and came back for another go on our final night in town.

‘It’s been manic,’ the landlady told us. ‘It usually goes quiet when the schools go back but not this year. All the hotel owners say they’re booked up for weeks. But who knows. You’ve got to keep putting money away in case there’s a second lockdown.’

Let’s hope that one upside of this strange year is a slow, steady trade for pubs in tourist areas right through the off-season.

Four Candles.

On a burning hot Sunday, we walked past The Four Candles on the way out of town and noticed three little tables in the shade across the road. On our way back, dusty and dry, we knew we’d have to stop for at least one Ice Cold in Alex.

It’s one of those barless micropubs, the pure Hillier model, with casks in the back room and regulars who look as if they never go home.

A perennial problem for micropub owners is that people confuse them with microbreweries. This micropub is, of course, a microbrewery. One of the beers we tried, a pale ale with Amarillo hops, was outstanding; another, with Centennial, was rough and hard to finish. We’ll let others who know the pub better than us chime in below to suggest which is more typical.

A table at The Pub.

Knowing that the other micropubs in town would be closed on Monday, this is when we decided we had to crawl, small C, and set off for The Pub. Slightly out of town, beyond the railway line, it would probably be classified as a craft beer bar in any other part of the world: vintage record player, smart graphic design and keg beer from breweries such as The Kernel.

Desperate for shade, we sat inside, looking out on a sun-blasted shopping street with ‘Fruits de Mer’ and a Free Church of England. A couple a little older than us sat on a bench outside smiling into the sky.

Mind the Gap

Finally, we nabbed a seat outside Mind the Gap, where we had a brief, intense emotional affair with Gadd’s hoppy pale ale (HPA).

We’ve known about Gadd’s for a long time, known it was a respected and well-liked brewery, but rarely had chance to drink the beer ourselves. When we have, we’ve been reasonably impressed but, of course, there’s something about consuming cask ale close to source. This beer could not have tasted better, or fresher, more subtle or more vivid.

The phrase ‘Another pint and a half of HPA, please!’ slips off the tongue easily, it turns out.

You can read more about the development of micropubs in our book 20th Century Pub and in this companion piece for Beer Advocate from 2018.


News, nuggets and longreads 12 September 2020: cats, culture wars, craft beer w**kers

Here’s all the reading about pubs and beer from the past week that struck us as especially fun, thought-provoking or important, from gruit to wood-ageing.

We found plenty to think about in Zoe Williams’s piece on pubs for the Guardian which rightly observes that whether you do or don’t feel like going to pub during a global pandemic has become yet another facet of the supposed culture war:

Meanwhile, the pub-goer-as-patriot brigade has been out in force, embodied, as so often with a culture war, in the person of Nigel Farage, back in the boozer from noon on 4 July, the first day they were allowed to open in England, uttering out loud that a pint was a “patriotic duty”, as unaware of his own absurdity as a dog with its head stuck in a bucket… The debate travelled along the same faultlines as the bizarro fights before it – vegan sausage rolls, moderately tasty or an insult to real men? Blue passports, a waste of energy or the peak of true Britishness? Pubs-as-identities collided in the person of Tim Martin, the combative founder and chairman of Wetherspoons, ardent Brexiter, believer in herd-immunity, defender of the boozer. His pubs became a muster point for an economy-first, libertarian, anti-mask, it’s-just-the-flu worldview.

From our point of view, it’s frustrating to hear people arguing that if you don’t feel like going to the pub right now, you must be a closet temperance campaigner, a snob, or both. There are lots of good reasons you might choose not to go; and lots of reasons you might personally decide it’s a risk worth taking. But the idea that’s it’s somehow a political decision, rather than one based on the objective facts of a rampant and dangerous disease, is baffling.

A sea of wooden casks.

We enjoyed Roger Protz’s notes on wood-aged beers, which made us want to track down some of the mixed-fermentation beers from one of our local breweries:

Wiper and True, founded in 2012 in Bristol, has built a Barrel Store close to the brewery. The store enables the brewery to produce oak-aged beers and this summer it launched two beers made by mixed fermentation. Wort – the sugary extract produced during the mashing stage – is produced in the brewery then transferred to the Barrel Store where fermentation takes place in oak, using Brettanomyces and Cerberus yeast cultures – Cerberus is a strain widely used, in the U.S. in particular, to make sour beers, a modern interpretation of Belgian Lambic… The two beers are Narrow Sea, based on the Belgian Saison style, and Hinterland, a 7.3 per cent IPA brewed with Citra, Ekuanot, Loral and Simcoe hops. Could this be akin to the IPAs sent to the Raj in India in the Victorian period?

Bog myrtle.

For Good Beer Hunting, Eoghan Walsh reports on new interest in gruit, a mix of herbs used to flavour and preserve beer in the days before hops became ubiquitous. His article is built around a report of gruit beer festival in Münster, in northern Germany:

Münster seems an unlikely home for a new generation of German brewing radicals. It has none of the historical brewing cachet of its neighbors Cologne and Düsseldorf to the west, nor the urban edge of Berlin’s new wave craft beer scene to the east, nevermind the internationally celebrated traditions of Bavaria to the south. But once upon a time, Münster was home to a thriving brewing center, plugged into a pre-modern, northern European gruit-making culture where the people in control of the gruit demurred only to bishops and mayors… What went into a particular gruit mixture was determined by geography and climate, but the basic components were largely the same: bog myrtle as a primary ingredient in addition to yarrow, wild rosemary, caraway, juniper, wormwood and whatever other herbs and spices were indigenous or available to a gruit maker.

Elland 1872 porter pump-clip.

We continue to enjoy the single-beer personal essay as a form and Pellicle keeps commissioning them. The latest is Neil Walker’s piece on Elland 1872 Porter:

It was 2006 and we were in Headingley, undergraduates at Leeds University, and unbeknown to us enjoying one of our last gatherings in this pub when smoking was permitted… Thin white ribbons of smoke rising from ashtrays on a busy bar, dotted with pints and short wine glasses, a gentle haze across the room as shafts of light hit the fog in the air… The setting of our meeting—one last beer before what felt like an unnecessarily long hibernation away from this newfound family—moved me to look towards the darker, stronger end of the beer list, finally settling on a pint of Elland Brewery’s 1872 Porter. I was only meant to be staying for one, but even before the intensely smoky, port-decanter aroma hit me, I knew I was in for something special.

Keg taps.

For Ferment, the promo mag for beer subscription service Beer52, Anthony Gladman writes about the bad habits of ‘beer wankers’ and how they limit the growth of the craft beer market:

“The majority of people I know don’t go into craft beer places,” says Sanj [Deveraj]. He tells me attitudes of those inside are just too off-putting. “The term craft beer wanker exists for a reason.”

“I’ve seen it so many times. I used to work in The Rake and someone would come in and go ‘what lagers do you do?’ and they would get laughed at.” When I ask who was laughing, Sanj tells me it was the bar staff. Let’s consider that for a moment. A customer being belittled by a member of staff in the hospitality industry. Hospitality. You see what’s wrong here, don’t you?


Ron Pattinson continues to explore the footnotes and dead-ends of beer history, this time providing detailed notes on a beer style that doesn’t really count as beer, and that you never hear anybody raving about:

“If sweetener-sweetened beer owes its origin to the war, sugar-sweetened Malzbier (Karamelbier) appeared around 16 years earlier. The original method of production, which is still used, consists, if it is bottled beer, of adding sugar to the beer after fermentation (vat fermentation), then it is filled into bottles and, after sufficient sediment has formed, further fermentation is prevented by pasteurisation… The formation of sediment can be accelerated by the application of heat, which is often done, and can easily be carried out in such a way that the bottles are either brought into warm rooms or straight into the pasteurisers, which have been appropriately warmed up.” – Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung by Dr. Franz Schönfeld

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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