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Everything We Wrote in May 2017: Wetherspoons, Straw Men and Reg Norkett

May was a busy month with around 20 proper blog posts covering everything from flying saucers to ham rolls.

We started the month with a rare guest post from John Robinson, a North West of England CAMRA veteran who has been digging into what went wrong with Boddington’s Bitter and when. (He is in the process of revising this post based on the feedback in the comments.)

Having raided a bookshop in Truro we came across a mention of a post-war pub called The Flying Saucer in a book on Kent pubs and did a little digging into its history, the origins of its name, and the design of its sign.

Martin's Free House, North London.
SOURCE: The London Drinker online archive.

Someone asked a question that intrigued us: which was the first Wetherspoon pub to get into the CAMRA Good Beer Guide? After several days we tracked it back earlier than expected, to 1983.

We continued our exploration of bottled beers from Essex chosen for us by Justin Mason (who we amazingly managed to avoid calling Jason Mason throughout) with Wibbler’s Apprentice and Round Tower Avena Stout.

This month’s topic for the Session was the internet itself which prompted us to look into when beer geeks started talking online. The answer? Probably in 1991, before the first website even existed. (Alan McLeod fleshed out that detail here; and host Josh Weikert has posted a round-up of all the responses.)

The Feathers public house, Waterloo, London, in an 1870s engraving.

An article in Fortean Times directed us to a 19th Century book which led us to look into the history of a long-gone but once important London pub, The Feathers in Waterloo. (There’s some great research in the comments, too — our guess at the date of demolition was wrong.)

Perhaps clumsily we prodded at a straw man: the bitter-hating beer geek. We got told off for writing it, others informed us that this straw man definitely exists if you know where to look, while Katie and Dave were inspired to write posts off their own off the back of it.

There were more brewery takeovers prompting us to state something plainly: ‘If you insist independence is important when it benefits you but then decide people who care about it are silly and immature when your situation changes, expect them to be annoyed.’

Having had the book for years, and underlined this passage not long after acquiring it, we finally got round to sharing an illuminating observation from H.A. Monkcton’s 1966 History of English Ale & Beer: ‘Recently the strong preferences of certain districts have begun to weaken, not because of a change in the customer’s palate but rather because brewery amalgamations are bringing about the closure of many local breweries, which has meant the discontinuation of many local beers…

Reg Norkett and the staff of the Architect's Department

Probably the highlight of the month for us was this account of life in the architects’ department of an English family brewery in the 1950s from Reg Norkett, now in his eighties, who we tracked down via an old brewery magazine. If you read nothing else, take a look at this one.

Our most shared post of the month was this Bailey solo effort pondering on the success of an out-of-the-way Cornish pub with no food and no pretensions.

Not for the first time we gave some though to Belgianness as an idea:

But what about this: a Belgian brewer operating in Belgium uses US hops, British malt, and lager yeast shipped from a lab in Germany, to make a 4.5% ABV beer with no spicy or fruity notes; at the same time, a British brewer ships in Belgian malt, Belgian hops and a bucket of Westmalle yeast to make a 9% Trappist-style tripel in Barnsley. Which is more Belgian?

We reached a tentative conclusion about those cloudy New England (Vermont) IPAs: we don’t care that they’re cloudy, but we don’t like that they’re so lacking in bitterness. Again, the comments on this one are great and worth reading in their own right.

Ham roll on a pub table.

Are the kind of pubs where you get ham rolls wrapped in clingfilm the best kind of pubs? For several days after this we were being Tweeted pictures of rolls, cobs and barms in pubs around the country which was no hardship at all. It also prompted Jeff Alworth to think about American bar snacks including something called Lil’ Smokies.

Talking to Bailey’s parents got us thinking about a small thing publicans could do turn casuals into regulars: say hello, and introduce themselves. (The Pub Curmudgeon did not like this idea.)

The public bar at the Schooner.

After hours slaving over a hot scanner we presented a gallery of pictures of Truman’s modern pubs from 1967, with notes and updates on how each has fared since. (You can see some bonus bits and pieces on Twitter and Facebook.)

We also updated our Supermarket Beer Guide — a page rather than a post that just sits there quietly being the most read thing on the blog. It’s almost impossible for us to keep up with what’s going on in every UK supermarket but we try and, more to the point, aim to give people who find that page by Googling some general advice to help them navigate the shelves.

There were also the usual round-ups of news and links every Saturday:

  • 6 May 2017 — drunk monkeys, malt-making mayors and Wicked Weed
  • 13 May 2017 — buttery beer, libertarianism, South African hops
  • 20 May 2017 — Greater Manchester micropubs, Charles Wells sells up
  • 27 May 2017 — More on Marston’s and Charles Wells, and the Bass Stink

And we also posted the usual bits and pieces on Twitter (follow us!), Facebook (give us a like!) and Instagram, e.g.:

Irresistible. #bristol #beer

A post shared by Boak & Bailey (@boakandbailey) on

If you liked that lot and look forward to more than please consider supporting us via our new Patreon page where, by the way, we’ve also been posting a bit of new stuff — some open access, some for patrons only. We’ve made our first (very modest) target and would love to make the second.

One reply on “Everything We Wrote in May 2017: Wetherspoons, Straw Men and Reg Norkett”

If only that sign under the mention of The Flying Saucer had read “Martians Free House”. So close.

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