The Best of Us in 2017

Illustration: typewriter and "2017"

The idea behind this round-up of the best of our own writing from 2017 is, as much as anything, to remind ourselves of what we’ve pulled off.

We for­got we’d writ­ten some of this stuff at all, while oth­er bits we had in mind were were from last year, or maybe the year before.

It’s been a hec­tic time what with mov­ing from Pen­zance to Bris­tol and the pub­li­ca­tion of a sec­ond book but, despite all that, we kept up a fair­ly steady flow of posts – about 240 in all. Of course that includes plen­ty of throw­aways, week­ly links round-ups, and our Month That Was sum­maries. Still, we reck­on it amount to about 160,000 words of orig­i­nal writ­ing – enough for anoth­er two books.

This is prob­a­bly a good point to say that if you appre­ci­ate our out­put and want to encour­age us to keep doing it, ad-free, and most­ly out­side any kind of pay­wall, please do con­sid­er sub­scrib­ing to our Patre­on. It’s dead easy, and for as lit­tle as $2 per month you can help pay for all this, and also get some bonus stuff there. (We’ve unlocked a few posts over the course of the year so you can see for your­self.) That peo­ple have signed up has been a major source of encour­age­ment but, you know, there’s always room for a bit more.

Now, down to busi­ness. We’ve decid­ed to lim­it our­selves to ten that we espe­cial­ly like but have also includ­ed by way of a foot­note a sec­ond list of the stuff that actu­al­ly got all the traf­fic, which is not always the stuff that’s most fun or inter­est­ing to write. First up, its…

ILLUSTRATION: "Kill the Bill".

1. Panic on the Streets of Woking: Rise of the Lager Lout

This is one we’re proud of and that one of our read­ers told us was the best thing we wrote this year. It tells the sto­ry of how lager went from a respectable to despi­ca­ble in lit­tle more than 20 years, and digs up details of spe­cif­ic inci­dents that led to the Lager Lout pan­ic of the late 1980s. If we do write anoth­er book (no plans at present) the his­to­ry of lager in Britain might well be the top­ic, and this would prob­a­bly the basis for one of the chap­ters.


1957 header image: A Brighter Boggleton.

2. The Pubs of Boggleton

Intend­ed as a kind of TL;DR pre­cis of, and adver­tise­ment for, 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, this piece was inspired by an essay by Sir John Bet­je­man. It cap­tures the main points in the devel­op­ment of the Eng­lish pub with ref­er­ence to an imag­i­nary town and its imag­i­nary pubs. We’re par­tic­u­lar­ly proud of The Venezuela which we think is espe­cial­ly con­vinc­ing. It’s fun­ny in places, too.


Reg Norkett and the staff of the Architect's Department

3. The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s

We saw a pho­to of young Reg Nor­kett in a 1957 edi­tion of the Simonds Brew­ery in-house mag­a­zine and won­dered if he might still be around. He is, and this post was the prod­uct of our cor­re­spon­dence with him.


Interior of the Buffs club, Penzance.

4. Clubs: Shadow Pubs

Before we left Pen­zance we made an effort to get round all the social clubs in town, pure­ly for the sake of tick­ing. As it hap­pened, we also gained some insight into the strug­gles these non-pubs are going through, and had some thoughts about how they fit into British cul­ture: “even if clubs aren’t pubs in lots of impor­tant ways, they cer­tain­ly do a good job of pre­serv­ing mid-20th-cen­tu­ry pub cul­ture”. We also took a lot of pho­tos.


5. Tetley’s Post-War Estate Pubs in the North

We’ve put togeth­er a few of these gal­leries of old pub­lic­i­ty pho­tos of post-war pubs but this was the first and arguably the most inter­est­ing for var­i­ous rea­sons. For one thing, Tet­ley’s in-house mag­a­zine tend­ed to focus a bit more on the licensees and the cus­tomers than those from Wat­ney’s or Whit­bread.


Illustration: egg + pint of beer.

6. The Strange Case of the Pondicherry Pearl

We would­n’t usu­al­ly include sil­ly spoof posts writ­ten for April Fool’s Day here but (a) we did get a bit car­ried away this year and put in a lot of effort; and (b) we have since heard from mul­ti­ple peo­ple who did­n’t realise it was a joke and actu­al­ly put pick­led eggs in their beer because we told them to. This, of course, makes us feel ter­ri­ble. (Chor­tle.)


BrewDog bottles in a supermarket.

7. The Craft Beer Life on a Budget

This was an inter­est­ing exer­cise: an attempt to come up with a shop­ping list cov­er­ing the major trends and beer styles for less than £13, or about the price of a slab of stan­dard lager. It made us think hard about val­ue and to look at British brew­eries through that lens, prompt­ing some inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion along the way. And it’s prob­a­bly still rel­e­vant in the run up to Christ­mas.


The bottle (brewed in 1970) and the beer.

8. Barclay’s Russian Imperial Stout, 1970

At a car boot sale, Ray acquired a bot­tle of this icon­ic beer brewed almost 50 years ago for £1.50, and we ded­i­cat­ed some time to drink­ing it and think­ing about it. (This is the only tast­ing note we’re going to include in this list.)


Sighing bar staff.

9. Q&A: How Do You Drop Knowledge Nicely?

Bren­dan from Leeds asked how to go about cor­rect­ing per­sis­tent­ly incor­rect bar staff. We asked around, got some inter­est­ing answers, and came up with a list of prin­ci­ples: “#4: Don’t go on, and don’t lec­ture. Make your point but if you’ve been talk­ing for more than, say, 30 sec­onds, wrap it up.”

(For the record, we are always delight­ed to be asked ques­tions, per­haps because, er, it gives us a chance to drop some knowl­edge…)


Cover of the 1971 edition of The London Spy. (Bright red, peering eye.)

10. Bits We Underlined In… The London Spy, 1971

These ‘bits we under­line in’ posts might seem like some­thing and noth­ing but they’re a big part of what we’re about. We use them to high­light books we’ve dis­cov­ered in the hope that they’ll (a) lurk in Google results and help some­one else with their research; (b) point peo­ple down inter­est­ing avenues for fur­ther enquiry; and © that they’ll be enter­tain­ing in their own right, pulling out the odd­est, most amus­ing nuggets from what is often 300 pages of oth­er­wise pure snooze-fod­der. This par­tic­u­lar book deserves to be more wide­ly known and fil­let­ing it was espe­cial­ly good fun.

* * *

What The Stats Tell Us

The above are our picks, but what fol­lows are the posts that actu­al­ly got the most clicks in 2017. The list per­haps skews a bit towards the start of the year because, we sup­pose, those posts con­tin­ued to pick up traf­fic as the months wore on.

We’ve long said that any beer blog­ger cyn­i­cal­ly obsessed with traf­fic – i.e. because they’re sell­ing ads based on page-views – should make sure to sched­ule reg­u­lar posts on CAMRA, Brew­Dog, Wether­spoon, and the price of beer. You’ll see that those top­ics along with men­tions of hot brew­eries (Cloud­wa­ter) and styles (NEIPA) make up the bulk of this list with fair­ly lit­tle over­lap with our actu­al favourite posts as list­ed above.

1. The Sev­en Ages of Beer Geek – are you a one, a five, or have you achieved the seren­i­ty of seven­ness?
2. Break­fast Debate – in which we dis­cussed the impor­tance of Cloud­wa­ter drop­ping cask, as we pol­ished off our por­ridge.
3. The Most Impor­tant British Craft Beers? – which beers ‘either changed con­sumer tastes or how brew­eries approach mak­ing beer’?
4. A Not So Hot Take on the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val – we pon­dered for a month before mak­ing some ten­ta­tive judge­ments about why GBBF does­n’t quite work.
5. Hather­wood: Prob­lems and Ideas – in which we report on drink­ing our way through a box set of LIDL’s in-house ‘craft  beers’.
6. Are Thorn­bridge’s 330ml Bot­tles a Con? – a vari­a­tion, real­ly, on the price-of-a-pint ques­tion, prompt­ed by Mark Dex­ter.
7. Craft Beer Life on a Bud­get – see our own list of favourites, above.
8. Con­fes­sion Time – which beers are you embar­rassed to like? – lots of com­ments on this one and some inter­est­ing answers.
9. They Have Beards Don’t They – thoughts on gener­ic hip­ster brand­ing for old school brew­ers’ craft sub-ranges. (Which prompt­ed some annoy­ance.)
10. Pan­ic on the Streets of Wok­ing: Rise of the Lager Lout – the sec­ond over­lap with the big list above.

Other Bits

Just in case any­one is inter­est­ed, this was our most pop­u­lar Tweet of 2017 accord­ing to Twit­ter’s own ana­lyt­ics tools:

3 thoughts on “The Best of Us in 2017”

  1. You’ve prob­a­bly thought of this already, but you could make the third book an anthol­o­gy of pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished blog mate­r­i­al, topped, tailed and tweaked as nec­es­sary.

    1. We have con­sid­ered this. The free­bie ebook we give away to $5+ Patre­on sub­scribers is a kind of a test of the idea. Prob­lem is, it would prob­a­bly have lim­it­ed appeal out­side the bub­ble, and also we are aware of our lim­i­ta­tions: Jef­frey Stein­gartens we are not. (Have you read his books? God, they’re great.)

      It does seem puz­zling that you can’t buy The Best of Michael Jack­son, or Roger Protz, or Pete Brown, col­lect­ing the var­i­ous arti­cles they’ve writ­ten (or wrote) over the years. Seems as if it would be a quick win for some­one.

  2. Maybe a down­load­able e‑book then?
    Would keep costs down and could be self-pub­lished.

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