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2017’s Best Words on Beer and Pubs, Sez Us

These are the posts and articles from 2017 that have stuck with us throughout the year.

They cover everything from pubs to the business of beer and what links them, if anything, is that they all make a point, or tell us something we didn’t know.

A baby in the pub.

1. Children in Pubs

By The Bearded Housewife (@Cuichulain)

TBH, AKA Rob G, is a pub-loving home-brewer with two young daughters. In this epic post from January he applied much thought to the question of children in pubs:

Overall, the debate never seems to go anywhere because most people worth listening to state their position as something adjacent to “I don’t have any problem with children in pubs, if they’re well-behaved”. This position is so unarguably reasonable that it’s never really questioned, and everyone leaves with their own vastly divergent, and unchallenged, mental picture of what ‘well-behaved’ actually constitutes. I shall address this in greater depth further down, but first I’d like to pick out and exclude certain arguments that don’t have merit.

Cuneiform tablet.

2. Babylonian Cuneiform

By Alan McLeod (@agoodbeerblog)

Back in February Alan at A Good Beer Blog did what all beer nerds do when a new online archive becomes available: he searched it for the word BEER. What he found was a time tunnel connecting us, now, with them, then:

How is it that I can read a Mesopotamian clay tablet and pretty much immediately understand what is going on? If it was about religion, governance or astronomy I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brewing are not strange. They are, in a very meaningful way, constant. You can see that if we go back to column 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the relationship of grain input to beer output. If you scroll down to page 238 of the 2005 Spar and Lambert text you see there are footnotes and in the footnotes an explanation of Mesopotamian methodology.

People watching TV in a pub.

3. The Always on Pub TV

By Pints & Pubs (@pintsandpubs)

This is really an excuse to flag Adam’s ‘Every pub in Cambridge’ blog project as a whole but this particular post from February, about The Pickerel, struck a resounding chord:

Something’s not quite right. There are plenty of people in but most seem to be speaking suspiciously quietly, if at all. Then I notice the TV in the corner blaring out Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera. It’s obviously been left on after the rugby finished, and is now killing conversation for the tables within sight or earshot of it. People seem unwilling to break its spell. I look around and everyone’s either staring at the TV or at their phones. One couple finish their drinks and get their coats on to leave, then stand there for 5 minutes transfixed by some wingsuit wearing stuntman landing in a pile of cardboard boxes. Another couple come in and go straight for the two chairs directly under the TV, then sit in silence, arching their necks to watch it. At one point, loud screams attract everyone’s attention – not the shriek from a customer laying eyes on one of the pub’s ghosts, but from a woman caught in a tornado in Alabama.

Illustration: Turn on, Tune In, Dry Hop

4. The Science of Hops

By Emma (@femtobrewster)

A scientist by day and home brewer by night Emma’s big post from April on how hops do what they do, how they interact with yeast, how they are affected by oxygen, and everything else you could wish to know, deserves to be in everyone’s bookmark folder:

Well, the thing is, the science of hop aroma is not just chemistry; biological variation is involved too. Hop harvests vary on an annual basis and the quality of hops reaching your beer will vary based on how they are processed after harvesting (see also, oxidation). Plus there are at least two organisms playing a role in the perception of hop aroma – one is the yeast which ferments the beer, the other is the person who is smelling (and hopefully drinking) the beer. I’ll return to yeast shortly, but just to touch very briefly on human aroma perception: it’s incredibly complicated. The ability to recognise different odours, at different levels, in the presence of other masking odours varies enormously person to person at a genetic level. In a solution containing 20 different compounds most people can pick out three or, if they’re lucky, four of them. There is also a subjective element to aroma – both memory and emotion have an effect on it, as I am sure you have experienced for yourself.

"UK's first roundabout"

5. A Ramble Around Arid Letchworth

By Alec Latham (@LathamAlec)

Our favourite blogger of 2016 has continued down his route of psychogeographical wandering and pondering during 2017. Back in April he visited the pioneering Garden City of Letchworth:

Letchworth Garden City didn’t have an actual beer pub until the early 1970s when the Black Squirrel (no longer there) was included in a new town centre redevelopment… There was a public house instituted by the First Garden City L.t.d called the Skittles Inn that served food, had a skittles alley, a library and sold absolutely no alcohol. Instead, the staples were Cadbury’s drinking chocolate and Cydrax – a non-alcoholic apple wine. Lover of beer though I am, I can appreciate a public house that kept men sober – especially with the high rate of what we’d now deem violent alcoholism in many working families.

Sir Roger Moore.

6. The Name’s Bitter, Banks’s Bitter

By Theo Delaney

Sir Roger Moore, who died earlier this year, starred in a commercial for Banks’s Bitter in the mid-1990s, as recalled by its director in this fascinating article for Campaign magazine:

The script required Sir Roger to walk into the crowded saloon – in tuxedo and dickie bow naturally – causing everyone in the place to gawp at him in silence as he approached the bar. “The trouble with being a world-famous celebrity,” he explains straight to camera, “is you simply can’t go for a quiet pint of Banks Bitter”.

When he arrives at the bar an awestruck local stutters “you’re him, aren’t you?” to which Roger silkily replies “yes”. Then the fella buys him a pint of the delicious beer. “See what I mean?” smirks Roger.

Nervously I went to see our star in make up and he received me with good grace. I explained the scene to him and walked him though it again on set. “I think I can manage that,” he drawled. Buoyed by his relaxed confidence, I decided to shoot the rehearsal.

In walks Roger delivering his lines to total perfection before arriving at the bar. “You’re him, aren’t you?” says the fella. “Fuck off!” deadpans Roger.

South African hops.

7. Another Angle on South African Hops

By Lucy Corne (@LucyCorne)

Early in the year there was a big hoo-ha over AB-InBev’s supposed monopolising of coveted South African hops. Lucy Corne, who literally wrote the book on South African beer, broke the spell of American and European commentators, reporting from the ground for All About Beer:

What every article has overlooked is that while American brewers, for now at least, can’t get their hands on South African hops, there are microbreweries that can—in South Africa. The country now boasts almost 200 microbreweries, a number that has increased from just 50 in 2013… While some brewers utilize imported ingredients, many rely heavily on SAB—and now A-B InBev—for both malt and hops.

Red Devil Lager
SOURCE: Latas Futebol Clube
8. Forgotten Football Lagers

By Ryan Herman (@ryanherman15)

Here’s another beer article from an unexpected source (Vice Sports) and from a writer who was new to us when we spotted this was pointed out to us back in June. It concerns the brief craze in the 1980s for British football clubs to launch their own lagers:

The brains behind the beers was Essex entrepreneur and wheeler dealer Kenny Willmott. In 1987, he teamed up with David Gillian from Cornish Breweries and arranged deals with four of England’s so-called ‘Big Five’ clubs – Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton. The only exception was Spurs who, at that time, had a sponsorship deal with Holsten… In the wake of the Heysel disaster, which led to English clubs being banned from European competition, the Big Five were desperate to find new ways of replacing that loss in revenue.

The Shakespeare pub, London EC1.

9. Pubs as Londoners’ Third Place

By Jessica Brown (@Jessica_E_Brown)

This reflection from July on the role of pubs in the lives of Londoners appeared in an unexpected place (the Longreads website) and comes from a voice that’s new to us.

I wondered if the Britons’ third place could be pubs. According to Oldenburg, it must be a neutral space. He writes, “The neutral ground (space upon which one is not burdened by the role of host or guest) of third places offers the great ease of association so important to community life. People may come and go just when they please and are beholden to no one.”

It’s also, he writes, where you’ll find “public characters” known by locals. “In the third place, entertainment is provided by the people themselves. The sustaining activity is conversation which is variously passionate and light-hearted, serious and witty, informative and silly. And in the course of it, acquaintances become personalities and personalities become true characters — unique in the whole world and each adding richness to our lives.”

The pub seems to be a perfect fit; at least, it does when you’re looking through the lens of nostalgia, as one can easily do when under the alien skyscrapers and mystical spell of the city.

Fry: "Shut up and take my money!"

10. Crowdfunding = Fanboys?

By Martyn Cornell (@zythophiliac)

Best known for his writing on British beer history, Mr Cornell is also a dedicated industry commentator, and this sharp piece on crowdfunding from July remains relevant:

Fanboy investing can be fun, but is not necessarily lucrative: and, like all gambling ventures, you should only risk money you can afford to lose. Indeed, given the general lack of form available on those asking you to fund their dreams, fanboy investing is actually worse than most forms of gambling. At least when it comes to the 2:30 at Haydock Park you can see how the horses performed in the past. Few start-up brewers have ever begun a company before to let you gather some idea of their business savvy.

Detail from the cover of a German brewing textbook.

11. Our Man in Germany

By Ben Palmer (@Johnzee7)

From Sheffield but working at a German brewery, Ben has a unique perspective on the world of beer, which he explored in this post back in July:

The reason I make the generalisation about ‘German brewers’ in the first place is because they must all jump through the same educational hoops in order to become recognised as a brewer in the first place. The three-year apprenticeship programme (in which I am also currently enrolled) provides the apprentices with a base knowledge of the daily operational tasks performed in a brewery. I estimate that 99% of people in production based brewery roles have at some point completed this apprenticeship, sat the exams and, most importantly, received the certificate to prove this. Germans really like certificates. And official stamps too.

Closed sign on shop.

12. Why Breweries Close Down

By Zach Fowle (@ZachFowle)

It’s hard to get people to talk about why their breweries failed because, well, it hurts, but for the now defunct Draft magazine (grab this article while you can) Mr Fowle managed to get a few people to offer some insight:

“For us, it was really a production restraint. It’s simple math. Overhead was too high for the amount of beer we could produce in the space we had. There were all kinds of things that were always limiting: pump space, floor space, combined with the big cost of the space, the people we work with, and we were also a shared facility hosting several other breweries. That was something we were really passionate about, but these breweries are taking 20 percent of the space but not paying 20 percent of the overhead. We were basically landlocked in a very expensive building… I learned in this process that whatever money you’re raising, double it. Maybe triple it.”

Ladies sign in a pub.

13. Why Ladies Drink Beer

By Kirst Walker (@doubleshiny)

We didn’t need reminding of this piece when time came to put this round-up together — it has stuck with us since September, partly because it’s so funny. In it Ms Walker, whose blog Lady Sinks the Booze has the best name in the business, attempts in her delicate way to explain how women might go about drinking beer without compromising their femininity:

What type of styles do you prefer?

In all honesty, I have never been tempted to try any beer which strays past the golden and into the brown. I feel that a beer in one of the more masculine shades, for example a coal black stout or a cigarillo coloured bitter, would really be a step too far for a lady. I find that many hostelries now supply a tiny mason jar in front of the pump which displays the colour of the beer, which has been a tremendous help to me. I carry with me in my handbag a Dulux paint chart, which I hold against these tiny jars to make my selection. Once a beer passes Lemon Punch and heads towards Hazelnut Truffle, it’s off the menu!

Cranes on the waterside in Bristol.

14. Lost & Grounded in Profile

By Matt Curtis (@totalcurtis)

This profile of both a brewery (Lost & Grounded) and the city where it operates (Bristol) was, of course, especially interesting to us because we’ve just moved here:

“Bristol is a very open-minded, multicultural, progressive city, so consequently the people are really interested in things that are new, interesting, and high quality,” [Justin] Hawke says. “It’s also a very socially conscious city, so things like localism are important. The geography of the city is perfect—it’s very compact, so you can walk nearly everywhere, and there are a variety of neighborhoods, all with different vibes.”

15. Provoking Pub Lovers

By Des de Moor (@desdemoor)

In November veteran beer writer Des de Moor decided to speak his mind about pubs, with reference to his own 40 year experience drinking in them:

I reached pub-going age in the second half of the 1970s. I wasn’t yet out as a gay man, but I was mildly unconventional and decidedly non-macho. Most pubs in the small Home Counties town where I lived, far from being welcoming and inclusive places, were off-limits to me and anyone like me, on pain of anything from tacit hostility to actual violence… And I was at least white and male. There were very few pubs where women could go on their own and expect to be treated decently, and I can’t think what it must have been like for the small minority of non-white people who formed part of the community at that time. Pubs openly displaying ‘No travellers’ signs could be seen in England into the 1990s. In the days when large scale industry dominated the economy, when social conformity was seen as essential to efficient capitalist production, pubs were one of the spaces where the working class policed itself.

And that’s it for this year. There were lots of other posts and articles we read and enjoyed, of course — check out the News, Nuggets & Longreads archive for a full catalogue — and some blogs are important as a whole without having any one stand-out post we could point to.

But if there’s anything you think it’s criminal we omitted (that you didn’t write yourself, or edit, or commission…) stick a link in the comments below.

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