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

Text: MAY 2017.

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

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

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