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

A plain pub with chequered floor and a pint of ale.

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

  1. 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

  2. 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 …)

  3. 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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