It is possible to be fascinated by the past while at the same time welcoming change.
You might get the impression from some of what we write, and the images that we share here and on Twitter, that we are hopeless nostalgists, but it’s not quite that.
There is sometimes a yearning there – a desire to step into that photograph from 1938, or to know what a particular beer from 1912 might have tasted like – and because we’ve ended up specialising to a degree in recent beer history we do dwell in the past.
But what’s missing is the sense of melancholy. We don’t, as it happens, believe in the Good Old Days. Slops in the mild, buckets of sawdust and phlegm, and ladies only in the lounge, if at all? Fascinating, but hardly desirable.
We’d love to taste Boddington’s as it was in 1970 – it sounds delicious – and we’d be pleased to see more decent mild around in pubs. Historic recipes intrigue us, and can be revelatory.
At the same time, we wouldn’t expect anyone to start a brewery in 2018 with mild and bitter as the core of its business if all the indicators are that the money is in hoppy pale ales and lager. Tastes change, and so beer changes, and styles, brands and individual beers come and go. That’s as it should be. It’s healthy.
The same goes for pubs. One of the arguments of 20th Century Pub is that pubs have changed a lot more over the course of the last couple of hundred years than is sometimes acknowledged: they are not a fixed point around which the world moves, but part of the world, reflecting its trends and tendencies. (“Pubs aren’t what they used to be” was probably first uttered about ten years after the first pub came into existence.)
We are not appalled by gastropubs, craft beer bars, micropubs, industrial-style taprooms or any of the other new mutations. Adaptability and reinvention is evidence that the pub lives, and has a will to keep living.
It’s exciting to find a well-preserved pub, and we would certainly rather people didn’t mindlessly trash historic interiors, or knock down pubs without permission.
That doesn’t mean we believe there’s any point in scrambling to fix pub culture as it was in 1882, or 1958, or 1983, or at whichever arbitrary point someone might decide is when perfection was achieved.