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News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 November 2017: Fenlands, FOBAB, Froth

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from pastry stout to cask quality.

First up, Canadian beer historian Gary Gillman has done something that, for some reason, nobody in the UK seems to have thought worthwhile, and looked into the history of that most controversial of widgets, the sparkler:

The sparkler was invented and patented in the early 1880s by George Barker. He advertised the device for sale in 1885 and identified himself as from the “Crown Hotel, Ince, near Wigan”.

(As always the mention of a sparkler summons Tandleman to the comments which are worth reading for additional context.)

Dunwich sign.

Dave S, a regular commenter here, lives in Cambridge and has been pondering  The Psychogeography of Fenland Mild. As well as some rather lovely prose evoking the landscape of East Anglia he offers this incisive suggestion:

My advice to a brewer wanting to make beer with a ‘sense of place’ is that they should stop worrying about where their ingredients come from and look at where their end product goes to. They should sell locally, and drink locally themselves. They should see what people respond to – what makes sense for their local drinkers, in their surroundings, with their climate – and adapt and evolve to the place where they’re based.

Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake (label).

For the Chicago Tribune Josh Noel reflects (in curmudgeonly mode) on the popularity of so-called ‘pastry stouts’ — that is, imperial stouts designed to evoke cakes, pies and other sweet treats:

At this year’s [Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer], there was beer named for cake (Barrel-Aged German Chocolate Cake), beer named for milkshakes (Bourbon Barrel Aged Supershake), beer named for cookies (Bourbon Barrel Aged Gingerbread Imperial Stout) and beer that didn’t bother specifying its form of sugary decadence (Beer Geek Mid-Day Dessert)… There’s no finer example than More Brewing’s BA Karma, the unequivocal darling of this year’s FOBAB… My few ounces of BA Karma were unmistakable: chocolate syrup. It had fantastic body — or, as the current nomenclature goes, ‘mouthfeel’ — but you know what else has fantastic, silky mouth feel? Chocolate syrup.

(For a more upbeat counterpoint try M.C. Johnsen’s account of her fourth visit to FOBAB, pausing to raise an eyebrow at her notes on a ‘Rauch Flanders’.)

Handpumps at a Bristol pub.

Ed Wray has had just about enough of people demanding that the Campaign for Real Ale do more to support cask ale quality:

Perhaps there could be an industry body to assess and accredit cask beer quality in pubs.

Oh, hang on.

However, perhaps CAMRA members could give scores for the quality of beer in pubs and maybe register it online.

Oh, hang on.

CAMRA members could then select pubs that sell the best beer, and the national organisation could then publish some sort of guide to where you can drink the best beer.

Oh, hang on…


For the Caterer an anonymous hotel manager has shared her experiences of sexual assault and harassment in the hospitality industry:

Countless times, I’ve had chefs from the safety of the other side of the pass asking and insinuating hideously inappropriate things to myself and my other young female colleagues. The notion of ownership, lewd comments and even more inappropriate behaviour was rife until I became a manager and put on a suit. I was no longer bait, but the protector of my female members of staff. Numerous times 16-year-old waitresses told me of being harassed by chefs on Twitter out of hours, and the questions they were being asked in the kitchen.

This doesn’t relate specifically to pubs or the beer industry, of course, but we’ve seen enough tentative Tweets to know that something along those lines can’t be far away.

The carpet at the Imperial, Exeter.

For the Financial Times ‘Alphaville’ section Bryce Elder has written about an analysis of pricing across the entire Wetherspoon pub chain laying bare something that any roaming Spoonsgoer has already noticed in passing:

Though all Wetherspoon pubs use the same base menu, no two Wetherspoons charge the same prices. This is no secret, but neither is it made obvious… But what does “prices may vary per pub” mean in practice? To find out, we scraped data from Wetherspoon’s smartphone app, which can be gamed into placing food and drink orders to any bar in the country… [We found] a £10.96 swing between the cheapest (suburban Birmingham) and the most expensive (urban Manchester).

(We can never quite work out the FT paywall arrangement; this one seems to be freely viewable for now but might disappear, or might not be viewable from where you’re sitting.)

And finally this made us LLOL (literally laugh out loud):

3 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 November 2017: Fenlands, FOBAB, Froth”

I first encountered the sparkler in York in 1974. I believe that in Leeds, Tetley Bitter was brewed to a higher hop spec because the Sparklers would knock some of the bitterness out. In those days, proper pints in London were “flat” while in Scotland the head on beer was somewhere between the Yorkshire head and the London flat top. Allan McLean

Excellent work by Gary: one of those pieces of basic research that make me think: “Blow me, why did I never try to do that?” (Actually, I know the answer – I really don’t like spsaklers, being a Southern Jessie. Even so …)

There’s rather more to sparklers than that article assumes – a good pub will use different size sparklers depending on the condition of the beer and its style, even oop north they will serve without a sparkler if it’s particularly lively or it’s something like mild. And as mentioned above, breweries will also adjust their practices to allow for the means of dispense.

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