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 (c) 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.

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