Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Victorian pub culture to brine drinking.
First, here’s a very long read: Thora Hands’ book Drinking in Victorian and Edwardian Britain: beyond the spectre of the drunkard is available as a free download (PDF) under a Creative Commons licence via the publisher. It’s a serious academic work but, from what we’ve enjoyed so far, worth dipping into if you have any interest in the history of pubs and drink:
By the turn of the century, Bass was one of many companies competing in the growing domestic market for alcoholic ‘health’ drinks and many of the adverts from the 1890–1910 period drew upon concepts of beer as a nutritious medicinal drink that could be used in a variety of situations for an array of health complaints. One advertising campaign used the miseries of the daily grind to convince consumers that Bass ale could help cure their ills. These adverts posed questions such as: ‘Can’t eat? Can’t sleep?’ and ‘Too tired to sleep?’ or ‘Tired or run down?’—and in every case the answer to the problem was to be found in a ‘nutritious’ glass of Bass ale.
Not about beer but definitely a reminder that you can’t make any assumptions about what people will and won’t enjoy drinking: pickle juice – the liquid from jars of gherkins, in British English – turns out to have considerably more appeal as a beverage than might previously have been suspected, according to Julie Jargon for the Washington Post:
Devotees say they like pickles but like the juice even more because it satisfies a salt craving they can’t quite explain. Some gulp with pickles still in the jar, irking nondrinkers.
Here’s a provocative piece from Matt Curtis for Good Beer Hunting: are American beer fans doing British beer an injustice through their single-minded fascination with our brewing traditions?
Too often do I see Americans coming to London excited about drinking lots of “cask ale.” Nothing specific, just “cask ale.” Of course, the UK has a wealth of amazing places to drink cask beer—it’s the differentiator that, for many years, has ensured British beer culture is one worth celebrating. You should know that most great cask beer is not within easy reach of Heathrow Airport, however. And, unfortunately, this misconception can often lead to bad experiences with sub-par beer in Central London tourist traps. They’re the kind of places that have given us an unrelentingly annoying reputation for serving warm beer. Here’s a little secret: we don’t like warm beer. No one likes warm beer.
(No. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to drink the thing that is unique to, or at least identified with, the place you’re visiting; it also reasonable if you are from a particular place to be interested in beer that isn’t.)
If you’ve got Beavertown-Heineken fatigue, as have many, then skip this bit. Various people have used the news of the sale of a stake in the London brewery to the multi-national as an opportunity to reflect at length on what this kind of thing means for the beer industry, and for consumers. We’d particularly recommend this piece by Anthony Gladman…
If you take all the thought out of beer, soon enough the enjoyment will leave it too. If you take all the thought out of beer, soon enough you end up in a world where pretty much all beer tastes the same. A world where there’s nothing to like, and nothing to get excited about. This is not hyperbole. I’ve lived it. This is what beer was like before craft beer came along. It could be like that again if we’re not careful.
…and this Medium essay by Oli, a postgraduate student and beer industry veteran, combining analysis with personal anecdote:
When the news broke last year that Wicked Weed had been bought by AB InBev, I myself was in a rather unique situation here in the UK. I was at work when a couple from Asheville, North Carolina happened to walk into the shop… I asked them if they had heard about Wicked Weed selling out. They hadn’t. At this point, I didn’t know they were semi-regulars at Wicked Weed, nor that it was their local brewery… The look of disappointment on their faces spoke a thousand words.
It’s always good to have official data when reflecting on pub closures rather than relying on gut feelings and guesswork. In London we now know that:
- There are 3,350 pubs in operation.
- The number of “small pub units” (nine employees or fewer) has halved in the past two decades;
- while the number of large pubs has more than doubled.
- And the number of people employed in pubs has gone up, despite declining pub numbers.
And finally, Fuller’s has some new retro merchandise – not quite the 1970s branded T-shirt we were hoping for but not bad, being based on vintage advertising from the 1950s: