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The Month That Was: October 2016

Here’s everything we wrote in the last month, from pondering on unfined beer to deathtrap breweries.

We started off with an attempt to decipher what the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was trying to achieve by including an essay on unfined beer in the latest edition of the Good Beer Guide:

The real point was intended to be, we think, that (a) CAMRA knows about this stuff on the outer fringes of ‘craft beer’; (b) it acknowledges that good beer can be made this made way; and (c) it is watching with keen interest and an open attitude.

People used to enjoy spitting in pubs, and the pubs were fine with it. The young barmaids charged with cleaning up after them? Not so much.

Interior of 1960s pub with colour palette at bottom.

Tandleman shared some glorious images of 1960s pub makeovers which prompted us to conjur up some colour swatches — what colour should a pub be?

We kicked off a new round of Magical Mystery Pour with beers chosen by David ‘Broadford Brewer’ Bishop. The first post this month was about Magic Rock Inhaler and Rooster’s Fort Smith; the second was Durham Brewery Bombay 106:

A couple of years ago Durham Brewery was all the rage thanks in part, it seemed to us, to a certain generosity with samples for bloggers, Tweeters and raters. We had a few of their beers here and there and found that they ranged from decent (White Stout) to shoddy. So we were pleased at the opportunity to give them another go although our hopes weren’t high.

For Session #116 we argued in defence of attempts to brew Gose with ‘silly’ twists and additives:

As with IPA, getting people excited and engaged about the idea — letting them have fun — is step one. Getting the history right, at least at the sharp-end, in the brewhouse, can come later.

Detail from a chart: 'Public House'.

We stumbled upon a Mass Observation book from 1947 with a chunk about pubs, this time in the rural West Country:

Ten men are present now, and conversation round the bar is about a stony field. ‘Ay, that’s the stoniest one you got, George, bain’t it?’ … ‘Big stones’ … ‘One along of Dunkery be stonier’ …

Bailey read and picked the bones out of The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky:

That word ‘awesome’ also gets a bit of personal attention: I now know that the process of taking a word originally intended to describe something HUGE and IMPORTANT (the awesome power of the ocean) and applying it to something small and trivial (this lager is awesome!) is called ‘semantic bleaching’. Worth knowing if you want your fings-ain’t-wot-they-used-to-be grumbling to sound more intelligent.

Good King Henry Special Reserve (bottle).

We wrote a big piece for All About Beer on the strange phenomenon of Good King Henry Special Reserve which may or may not be the best beer in Britain; here on the blog, we added a few bonus thoughts.

Robbie Pickering wondered what would have happened if Germans, not Americans, had led the ‘craft beer revolution’ of the last couple of decades. Intrigued, we gave that idea some thought over the course of 1,500 words or so:

What actually happened: one of the founders of the Campaign for Real Ale, Graham Lees, spent a chunk of the 1980s living in Munich where he developed his interest in German beer. He lobbied for CAMRA to recognise and respect good lager throughout the 1980s and later wrote CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide to Munich and Bavaria. But what if he had done more than lobby and had instead chaired the Campaign for a year or two?

We sometimes say a beer is ‘fine’ by which we actually mean fine, not terrible. Here’s 100 words on that.

Accessible’ is another interesting word — what makes some beers accessible and others not? And why do some people insist, to the bewilderment of beer geeks, that they just don’t like beer?

Brewery Yard beer bottle by candlelight.

We finally got round to trying Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale, a studious historical recreation brewed with input from Ron Pattinson:

In the glass, it looks like an extremely pretty bitter, at the burnished end of brown, topped of with a thick but loose head of white. The taste was remarkably interesting with, once again, Orval as the only real reference point: Brewery Yard is thinner, drier and lighter-bodied despite a higher ABV (8.4%). There was something wine-like about it — a suggestion of acidity, perhaps, or of fruit skins? There was also a strong brown sugar tang, as if a cube or two had been dissolved and stirred in.

In the last year Cornwall got on trend with its first two micropubs and we visited the one in St Ives for a few afternoon pints:

At various points there were: a young couple in matching anoraks (tourists, we assumed); a solo artistic type with a beard and a book about esoteric spirituality; a pair of young blokes in muddy boots who’d just knocked off work for the weekend; a party of grey-haired ladies-that-lunch bewildered by the beer selection; a few older men, acquaintances rather than close pals, talking about town politics; a family with teenage daughter playing Shut-the-Box; and a couple in late middle age who seemed to be on a date perched on stools next to the shove ha’penny board.

Illustration: Men silhouetted in steam.

This was a big one: 2,000+ words on the various and horrible ways a brewery can kill someone, from scalding with steam to kick by ’oss:

William Shepherd, a young man also in the employ of Mr Knight, deposed that about a quarter before 3 o’clock on Tuesday, in consequence of hearing screams, he went to the place whence the noise proceeded and found the deceased struggling in a vessel called the ‘hop back’, containing hot liquid to the depth of about 18 inches, and at a temperature of 190 degrees.

(Warning: this is far from the grimmest extract.)

Why, in general, is cask-and-hand-pump a thing in the UK but not on the Continent? We had a ponder, picked the brains of some experts, and then threw it open to the comments. (Updated just today with input from pub historian Geoff Brandwood.)

It seems to us that we’re entering, or have entered, a new phase in which craft breweries are no longer in it together battling a common enemy — big beer — but are beginning to compete more obviously between themselves. What do you reckon?

There were also the usual Saturday morning links round-ups featuring all sorts of great stuff from hypothetical pub crawls to Black Country dialect — lots of fodder for Pocket and your Feedly subscriptions!

Our newsletter, 1000+ words of original stuff, went out in the middle of the month and (so feedback would suggest) was a good ‘un. Subscribers — check your inboxes! And if you don’t subscribe sign up here.

The Mayor of West Bromwich opens The Archers, 1955.

On Facebook we scored a surprise hit with some photos of a Midlands estate pub as it looked in 1955 and on Twitter (@boakandbailey) we dished out some photography advice:

And, finally, you can find us on paper too, in the latest edition of CAMRA’s BEER magazine where we explore the history of the debate around hazy/cloudy/murky beer, and also share a toilet-visit’s-worth of info on Batsford pub guides. It’ll be through your letterbox about now if you’re a member; otherwise, look out for it at your local real ale pub.

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