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News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 July 2017: Crowdfunding & Flat Roofed Pubs

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the last seven days from crowdfunding to flat-roofed pubs.

First, with his industry analyst hat on, Martyn Cornell has given some thought to the question of crowd-funding in British brewing, asking bluntly: ‘Is that money down the drain?’

A total of £50m has been raised in the UK over the past four years in crowdfunding efforts by more than 40 different craft breweries, and half a dozen craft beer retail operators who have tapped tens of thousands of – overwhelmingly male – investors… But how many of those investors will ever see a decent return on their money, other than the warm glow of owning a small slice of the maker of their favourite beers? With three quarters – 18 out of 25 – of the companies involved for which financial records have been published reporting losses for their last financial year, the answer is likely to be: “Not many, and even then, not for quite a while”.

'Women Drinking Bocks', 1878.
‘Women Drinking Bocks’, 1878.

We’re not sure these days that daft attempts to market beer at women don’t particularly need to be Taken Down — they’re usually so inept they crash themselves — but Suzy Aldridge’s rant on the subject, prompted by the latest effort in the genre, is great fun:

I don’t want some bloody pilsner in champagne bottle that looks like a bottle of bubble bath that you got from your great aunt for Christmas. I don’t want “a representation of a woman’s strength and a girl’s tenderness”, I want a pint. A girl shouldn’t be fucking drinking beer anyway, give her a J20 and introduce her to a nice porter on her 18th birthday.

Lounge bar: carpets, leather banquettes.

Restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin is one of the headline acts for the launch of Eater London (of mince on toast fame) and she has confession to make: ‘I don’t like pubs.’

I don’t like beer. I particularly don’t like warm beer. It was a suffocatingly hot day, and the idea of lurking inside a dark, whiffy-carpeted room — or worse still, outside on grimy, fume-clogged London pavement with the smoking fraternity, zero by way of shady umbrellas, on cheap metal furniture searing scorch marks onto my thighs — did not appeal. They don’t do decent wines (well, hello, mass-produced pinot grigio) or cocktails properly. Even an acceptable gin and tonic (quality ingredients, big glass, generous wedge of lemon or lime, plenty of good ice — yes, there’s bad ice out there) seems beyond most of them. And don’t speak to me about the food: the miasma of elderly fish ‘n’ chips that seeps out of that carpet, the pies, the bloody roast dinners.

It’s a reminder (like Victoria Coren’s similar piece from earlier this year) that the pub isn’t beyond criticism, or universally appealing, and, as O’Loughlin concludes, that’s fine.

The Willow, a flat-roofed pub in Harlow.

Grumble moan mutter… In an excellent article for the Guardian Karl Whitney reflects on the disappearance of the post-war flat-roofed estate pub. We’re grumbling, of course, because this is the subject of one of the chapters of our new book and his piece not only makes some of the same points but also quotes some of the same people:

In his blog Manchester Estate Pubs, [Stephen] Marland photographs pubs just like the Gamecock. He thinks pubs “are almost a barometer of community and how a community is doing. If a pub’s doing well, then the community’s doing well.”… He feels the demise of estate pubs is due to factors including changes in patterns of leisure activity, the rise of supermarkets as a source of cheap alcohol, and the increasing real estate value of their sites – it’s more economically viable to build apartments on a pub site than to keep it going as a business, or even a community resource. He believes councils in Greater Manchester are buying up pub sites for future redevelopment, leaving “whole deserts of publessness” in certain neighbourhoods.

A Gibbs Mew pub.
‘Gibbs Mew: The Albion Hotel’ by 70023venus2009 from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Benjamin Nunn‘s ongoing project to record his memories of only relatively recently lost breweries continues with this entry on Gibbs Mew of Salisbury:

It’s hard to believe, given the relative ease with which we can enjoy 8-10%+ DIPAs and Imperial Stouts these days, but there was a time, specifically the time when I started drinking, when almost all beer was in the 3.7-4.6% ABV range… And that’s one of the reasons Gibbs Mew… stood out among the regional breweries of their day. Their flagship beer, Bishop’s Tipple, weighed in at 6.5%. And that, in them days, was a fairly big deal.

Sierra Nevada have disappointed the Beer Nut by giving into the 21st century fad for bunging fruit in IPAs:

I honestly don’t know why anyone thought beery perfection like Torpedo needed tweaked but here we are… Sierra Nevada would be better sticking to humulus lupulus as the centre of their pale ales. Nobody will remember these beers when the fruit IPA craze has come to a merciful conclusion.

And finally, some odd bits of news, for the record as much as anything:

5 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 July 2017: Crowdfunding & Flat Roofed Pubs”

If she accepts that pubs are not for her, then why not just say nothing rather than having a good old sneer that they “don’t do decent wines”, which comes across as totally missing the point?

As she sets out in the article, there’s a constant pressure to support pubs and recognise their cultural importance; what she’s written seems like a provocative but otherwise entirely reasonable response to that. As I think you’ve said yourself (if I can paraphrase) if everyone who went on about how important pubs are actually drank in them more regularly, they wouldn’t feel so endangered. She’s getting to something important which is that, actually, not everyone *does* like them, but (political correctness gone mad etc.) it’s a bit shocking to say so. If better wine would get more people drinking in pubs, wouldn’t that be a good thing, assuming it didn’t dominate or fundamentally change the atmosphere? What happens too often, we reckon, is that pubs adopt the look and attitude of a place that might have nice wine… but still have shit wine. Worst of both worlds!

Also (can’t resist, sorry) won’t your new philosophy of ‘if you’ve nothing nice to say, say nothing at all’ rather do for your blog…?

“there’s a constant pressure to support pubs and recognise their cultural importance”

Outside the beery world, I’m not sure how true that is, especially with regard to the more traditional, wet-led kind of pub. In fact, over the years I’ve read quite a few articles from bien-pensant journalists saying that “actually, well, pubs are a bit shit, aren’t they?”

I replied to someone on Twitter that complaining that pubs don’t serve good wine is rather like complaining about the lack of guitar solos in opera.

On your final point, what I’m saying is more that people shouldn’t write about things that are of no interest to them. Hence why I don’t write about wine, good or otherwise. If I’m critical of things, it’s because I care about them.

What irritated me the most about that article wasn’t that she doesn’t like pubs but that she dresses the whole thing up in a protective shield of detachment. She gets as far as calling pubs ‘Brexit-y’ (and yes, she says that like it’s a bad thing), then spends most of the rest of the article saying “I don’t like pubs, pubs aren’t for me, everyone likes different things and that’s perfectly fine”. If she does think pubs are ‘Brexit’ I’d much rather read that column, and to hell with everyone having different opinions (we did pretty much know that). But I guess if she did write that column, she’d have to write the “everyone likes different things and that’s fine” column next week anyway.

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