The Best Beer Writing of 2018, Sez Us

A typewriter.

Beer magazines are in trouble and the Session is dead but, still, most weekends for the past year we’ve found between five and fifteen interesting things worth linking to.

From personal reflections to historical analysis, from portraits of pubs to profiles of people, the depth, breadth and quality of beer writing only seems to increase.

The following list is our personal selection of the very best, with a bias towards ‘proper’ blogs over paid outlets, and also towards voices we think deserve a signal boost.

We’ve omitted some great stuff that rather lost its power when it ceased to be topical, and there are some blogs which are best approached as bodies of work rather than through individual posts, so this is by no means everything we liked in the past year.


Jam sandwiches.

Purity, Truth and Love

Katie Taylor | thesnapandthehiss.co.uk | @Shinybiscuit

Let’s start with the absence of beer in this account of a visit to a surviving temperance bar in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, where jam butties are served at the bar and real mavericks drink shots of neat cordial:

The collective cultural memory of Rawtenstall and all the towns exactly like it in this, my area of the country, is one of damp cobbles, leaking drainpipes, hardware shops, old ladies in long tweed coats, steep lines of terraced houses, endless bus journeys and limited hours of sunlight.


Illustration: "Odd One Out".

From Both Sides

Lily Waite | goodbeerhunting.com | @QueerBeerBrewCo

This long feature article simmers with anger as it sets out the experience of being a trans woman in the UK beer industry, as part of a wider conversation challenging the idea that Craft Beer is by definition welcoming and inclusive:

Since living ‘as a woman,’ the difference in how I’ve been treated has been hugely noticeable. When I was read as male, my opinions were worth more than those of my female colleagues. I was trusted more, I was given more respect, and I was rarely spoken over.


Speech bubble: the call out.

From Dreamsicle to Shelf Turds

Melissa Cole | goodbeerhunting.com | @MelissaCole

Despite being the most prominent female voice in beer writing, and especially on questions of sexism and discrimination against women in the world of beer, Melissa Cole rarely writes at length in places where we can easily link to it. This year, though, she let it all pour out in a substantial article for Good Beer Hunting prompted by some specific incidents:

Of course, people don’t deserve sympathy for putting sexist branding out there. All I’m actually saying here is that perhaps we need to stop and think about what led these men, and sometimes women, to not being able to see how this artwork is unacceptable. Are these instances a chance to move the conversation on from merely calling out, and calling names, to a more genuine discourse about why sexist branding is damaging on so many levels? I hope so.


Friday Lunch

Phil Edwards | ohgoodale.wordpress.com | @flandyke

Old-fashioned blogging – a stream of words on a page, plucked straight from the brain, with not even a photo nicked from Google Images to liven it up – but no less enjoyable for that, and one that lodged in our memories: what happened to the Friday lunchtime workday pint?

1983, Chester

I knew we were on when I saw Tom going back for a pudding. Most days, we’d clock out at lunchtime, go to the canteen for something to eat – a hot meal served with plates and cutlery, none of your rubbish – and then it’d be down the Cestrian for a pint or two, or three… If we timed it right and got them down without too much hanging about (the Greenall Whitley bitter in the Ces wasn’t anything to linger over), we could be clocking back in after not much more than the regulation 30 minutes. Fridays were a bit different – lunchbreaks stretched to an hour; if you usually had two pints you’d stay for three, and so on – but the canteen part of the routine didn’t change.


Madeleine McCarthy (L) and Lee Hedgmon holding glasses of glitter beer.

Glitter Beer: the full report

Jeff Alworth | beervanablog.com | @Beervana

This kind of thing is why Jeff won our Golden Pints award: resisting reflexive snark, he actually went out of his way to try early-2018’s trend of the week, glitter beer; to talk to those who were producing it; and to reflect on its appeal.

What you can’t appreciate from still photos is that glitter exposes how dynamic a beer is. The tiny flecks ride the currents in bands and whorls, following the convection of released carbon dioxide or the motion of the drinker’s hand. As you look down into the glass, you see it roil and churn. It’s riveting.


Illustration: lambic blending.

Eight Myths about Lambic Debunked

Roel Mulder | lostbeers.com

Mr Mulder has spent much of the past year crashing through the established story of Belgian beer, stirring up debate, and pushing people to defend arguments and cite sources. This piece from March is typical:

Apart from its unique taste and production process, there is also a certain mythology that adds to the appeal: lambic as a primordial beer from an ancient past. Lately however, beer connoisseurs are wisening up: not every aspect of the conventional lambic story stands up to scrutiny. In their enthusiasm for lambic, some writers have spread the weirdest tales.


On the Lash With Baudelaire: a literary pub crawl through Brussels (Act 1)

Eoghan Walsh | beercity.brussels | @BruBeerCity

An Irishman based in Brussels, Mr Walsh writes thoughtfully about his adopted home, consistently finding new angles and interesting perspectives. This pub crawl with the shades of long-deceased writers is a great example:

Charles Baudelaire hated Brussels. From his arrival in the city in 1862, indebted and unloved, until he left two years later a paralysed syphilitic, he did not mince his words about Brussels: “a ghost town, a mummy of a town, it smells of death, the Middle Ages, and tombs”. Its people: “An amazing quantity of hunchbacks”. Or its women: “Monstrous bosoms typically developing quite precociously, swelling like swamps owing to the humidity of the climate and the gluttony of the women”. Worst of all, he despised the beer drunk in Brussels, cursing faro as a “synonym for urine!”.


A perfect pint of Bass in Plymouth.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Where Can I Drink Draught Bass?

Ian Thurman | thewickingman.wordpress.com | @thewickingman

You know it’s a good post when you bookmark the link and keep Tweeting it at people. Mr Thurman is a Burton upon Trent boy and a Bass loyalist, and got anxious at the thought that this legendary beer might one day just be a name that survives on pub mirrors:

Elsewhere there are swathes of Draught Bass deserts with only the occasional oasis to quench the thirst. In Manchester, the Unicorn holds sway as a unique city centre Bass boozer (see Tandleman’s reports below), Birmingham city centre is empty of Bass pubs, with Liverpool, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow also short-changed.

That’s why he took the time to crowdsource a directory of every pub in the UK known to sell cask Bass on a permanent basis. What a resource!


A moose head at The Grove

Those Were the Days My Friend

Mark Johnson | beercompurgation.co.uk | @MarkNJohnson

This reflection on Huddersfield Town FC, fathers, and pubs, is really about the precariousness of important relationships:

For many fans, football is about the matchday rituals and experience as much as it about the 3pm Saturday kick-off. For my father and I the routine became embedded – the Grove at 1pm. It stopped requiring organisation with others coming from elsewhere. The texts about attendance weren’t necessary. We were in the Grove at 1pm.


German troops sharing beer during World War I.

Beer in the Shadow of War

Christopher Barnes | allaboutbeer.com | @cbarneswrites

To mark the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I the almost defunct All About Beer commissioned this wonderful piece on how the war affected the breweries across Western Europe, and especially in Belgium:

“Brouwerij Sas was destroyed by retreating French and Belgian troops,” says [Karel] Leroy. “It was on the wrong side of the canal so it was burned down before the German troops could arrive.”… The other side of the family, however, had much better fortune. Van Eecke was located in Watou, which was several kilometers west of Ypres and the front lines. Most of the brewery’s beer was sold in Poperinge, which was a popular place for British troops to rest and relax in between stints at the front.


Oakwood, 1938.

The Oakwood and Me

Leigh Linley | goodfoodgoodbeer.wordpress.com | @leighgoodstuff

We called another round of #BeeryLongreads this year and approached Leigh directly: would he consider firing up his retired blog one last time? He did not disappoint, turning in this fantastic piece about the history of the Beefeater chain, and one branch in particular:

As in most summer childhood memories of the early 1990’s, it’s hot. Really, really hot. Hard, powder-blue sky, short shorts and sweaty polyester replica football shirts. Ice pops dribbling neon sugar-water down your wrist. Leeds United are playing – or have played, actually – and have won. I know this even though we’re playing in the car park of The Oakwood pub with a rapidly-deflating ball.


Plastic footballs.

The Drinker’ World Cup Survival Guide

Kirsty Walker | ladysinksthebooze.wordpress.com | @doubleshiny

It seems a long time since It was Coming Home and Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat got its own book deal, but this typically witty post from the best-named blog in the world took us right back to the summer:

An hour before kick-off is never enough time to secure a seat and you damn well know it. Some people will have been there since opening to make sure they had a spot, and if you’re not willing to do that, or fear that you’ll be hammered and gibbering by the time a ball is kicked, it’s time to go poaching. Here are some ways to spot who might be hoarding a plum seat but will dart off like a frightened rabbit as soon as football comes on. Check for two or more of the following;

Spectacles

A cotton bag for life advertising a book festival


The John Hewitt pub in Belfast.

Not Guinness

Mac Siúrtáin | anseisiun.blogspot.com | @SeisiunBelfast

This is part Belfast pub-crawl, part frontline beer reviewing, and part ponder on the nature of Guinness’s dominance in Ireland:

Honestly, I’d flip-flopped on which beer was which  and had actually settled on Beer 1 being Guinness at first. However in hindsight it should have been pretty easy to peg them. Beer 1 had more aroma and flavour but didn’t quite gel together as well. Beer 2 presented better, smelled and tasted of very little but was technically flawless, more harmonious and easier to drink. I did however manage to get them wrong as Beer 1 turned out to be Yardsman and Beer 2 was Guinness. I think this was largely down to my prejudice – I assumed the better beer was the craft-brewed one. This highlights the importance of the ‘blind’ part of blind tasting.


What Ails Cask Ale?

Pete Brown | petebrown.net | @PeteBrownBeer

Having undertaken research and consultancy behind the scenes on the latest Cask Report Pete Brown here unpacks some of that detail, across three blog posts, with graphs, stats and insight galore:

Cask is an ‘old man’s drink’, traditional,  but widely perceived as good quality. In groups, people said that cask ale should be served in big, dimpled mugs. It should be poured from wooden handpulls. It should look old-fashioned. There should be a group of old codgers standing around the pumps drinking it. None of these attributes make my respondents any more likely to drink cask more often, but that’s not the point – to them, this is all part of the background ambience of what a proper pub should be.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three


A man crouched over his brewing apparatus.
Dmitriy Zhezlov with his unusual brewing kit.
Oven Beer in Central Russia

Lars Marius Garshol | garshol.priv.no/blog | @larsga

LMG’s reports of his explorations of farmhouse brewing traditions continued throughout 2018, including this account of Dmitriy Zhezlov’s setup 800km east of Moscow:

Once the malts had been ground Dmitriy brought out the korchaga, a ceramic vessel that’s really the key to Dmitriy’s beer, since it is both the mash tun and the lauter tun. The korchaga is heated in the oven, and then the wort is lautered directly out of it through a small hole near the bottom, which is closed with a wooden plug. To make the mash filter Dmitriy soaked rye straw in water to soften it, and then covered the bottom with carefully cut lengths of straw. The straw has to go above the hole, and the higher layers need to be longer.


Beer pump for Young's Ordinary bitter.

A Love Letter to Cask Ale

Rowan Molyneux | rowanmolyneux.com | @RowanMolyneux

Having worked in and around the beer and pub industry for years, Rowan Molyneux’s thoughts on cask ale and where it sits in the scene, have a sharper edge than much of the pondering on this topic:

Eighteen keg lines, two taps dedicated to cocktails, and four cask on… It was a tough decision, but in the end a half of Origin on keg was exactly what I needed after the train journey; zingy, refreshing, and chilled. As my companion and I gazed up at the rest of the extensive beer range, sorely tempted by the BA Toffee Strannik… we spotted something we didn’t expect. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord… It was in perfect condition and tasted great… The happiness this brought me actually took me aback a little. Since when am I somebody who is excited about cask beer? And then I asked myself, wait – when did I stop being somebody who is excited about cask beer?


For more, check out our weekly round-ups and our Twitter feed where we share all sorts of stuff that has grabbed our attention.