Beer history Blogging and writing

The Best of Us in 2018

As the year winds to a close, it’s time to reflect on where we’ve been and the stops we made along the way.

In the real world, we’ve had a hectic year, with beer blogging as a grounding mechanism – something absorbing and challenging that isn’t (quite) work.

Though it’s felt at time as if we’ve been less productive than in previous years, looking back over our ‘month that was’ round-ups, we realise just how much we wrote this year, and how much of it is bloody decent.

What follows are some of our personal highlights. If you’ve appreciated our work during the year, do consider signing-up for Patreon (extra exclusive stuff) or just buying us a pint via Ko-Fi.


Don’t worry, be (mostly) happy
This 6,000-word essay taking stock of where things stand four years on from our book Brew Britannia was our flagship piece for the entire year. TL;DR – people have been declaring doom for years, decades even, but beer is still fizzing with energy and activity.

How come nobody criticises Cantillon’s Rosé de Gambrinus label?
“The bar has clearly moved and the boundaries are continuing to change. Things that seemed fine a decade ago, or even a couple of years back, have acquired an unpleasant stink.”

Two Jacksonian scholars debate NEIPA
“In the imposing Inner Temple of Beer Writers’ Hall in the City of London two scholars sit beneath a vast portrait of the Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson, who died in 2007. They wear Guild robes and are surrounded by leather-bound volumes. A small group of acolytes sits nearby, waiting for the debate to begin. On her throne the Grand Imbiber, who everybody had thought asleep, clears her throat: ‘What might the Master–’ She salutes the portrait of MBHJ, dipping her eyes respectfully. ‘–have made of this NEIPA, one wonders?’ The scholars reflect for a moment and then open their books, scanning the pages with their fingers.”

That’s not a drink, this is a Drink
“You can dump warmish beer into the first scratched, half-clean glass you lay your hands on. That’s certainly a beer. Or you can spend a few seconds choosing just the right vessel, cleaning it until it sings, and filling it to achieve the correct degree of clarity, with the perfect head of foam. That is a Beer.”

Davey Jones, the man behind the Real Ale Twats
“I enjoy doing ones that are vaguely autobiographical, or at least are exaggerations of thoughts that I’ve had myself. For instance, I’ve caught myself inwardly grumbling about all the people who only go to the pub over Christmas, crowding the place out and not knowing the correct rules of behaviour at the bar. So I got a couple of strips out of that, with the Twats pontificating about “amateur drinkers” and so on. It can be quite satisfying to make fun of yourself, especially if you’re the only one who knows that you’re making fun of yourself.”

Great myths of our time: beer geeks don’t like lager
“Unlike all those other IPA-obsessed beer geeks I, an open-minded world traveller with a sophisticated palate, am able to truly appreciate the subtlety of lager.”

Lederhosen in LIDL, beer for breakfast – some reflections on Munich
“Occasionally, swans and geese would emerge from the pond to terrorise drinkers, stretching to their full, terrifying height, snatching pretzels from tables with snapping beaks. Nobody intervened — if you don’t like being attacked by birds, don’t sit by the water, right? There are plenty of other beer gardens… But when night fell and the lights came on in the trees, while children hunted for conkers under the tables, and the ducks bickered across the water, it seemed pretty well perfect.”

It’s easy to be intrepid when you’re a white bloke
“Wandering into strange pubs in strange towns, perhaps even in distant countries, isn’t as fun for some people as it is for others… This is something we’ve been brooding on for years, triggered by a passing conversation with a friend. We suggested meeting in the William IV in Leyton and she winced and shook her head. ‘I don’t feel comfortable in there,’ she said. ‘I feel like people are staring at me because, you know… I’m a bit brown.’”

Getting in shape for takeover
We have to mention our most-read and most-criticised post of the year: we took a hard look at Beavertown and thought we could see signs that they were preparing themselves to be taken over. Which, it turns out, they were.

A glossary of terms
Do you know when the phrase ‘real ale’ first emerged? Or ‘craft keg’? Or ‘bottle-conditioned beer’? This glossary is as much about the development of ideas around beer culture as it is a reference.

Reflecting on Devon beer
After more than a year writing for Devon Life we pulled our thoughts together to offer a final view on the beer scene in the county: “Full-bore, full-on craft beer peters out beyond Bristol. In Devon, you’ll find individual outposts in Plymouth (Vessel), Exeter (Hops + Craft) and Newton Abbot (Teign Cellars, The Maltings) but you need to be mobile to manage anything like a crawl. If you think brown bitter is endangered, spend more time in Devon.”

Section header: pubs.

Beers of the 20th century pub, part 1: 1900-1959 – the rise of mild
“This piece generalises by necessity: of course there were regional variations, and individual pubs which didn’t follow the pattern, and breweries that bucked trends. Having said that, by the turn of the century, regional differences were in the process of being smoothed out with the rise of standard-setting national brands such as Bass and Guinness, Terry Gourvish and Richard Wilson have argued, so generalising about this period isn’t entirely inappropriate.”

The reality of the village inn
“We’re still thinking this through but gut instinct tells us that if there is a problem with the English village inn it’s really a problem with the English village. It worked when people were born, lived and worked in the same place their whole lives, but how often does that happen now? Villages that are anything approaching cute are increasingly colonised by second-homers, townie retirees and the holiday cottage industry, while many of the rest seem frankly forlorn.”

Complete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs, 1975
“The Bank Tavern, a current cult favourite in Bristol, offered chicken pie, two veg and chips for 50p; the Bridge Inn had German sausages dangling from the ceiling; you could get sausage and mash for 20p at the Greyhound on Broadmead; steak for 80p a The Bear; and The Seven Stars on Thomas Lane had a microwave oven. There were jellied eels and cockles at the Air Balloon in Two Mile Hill — some sort of cockney ghetto?”

Our advice on beer and pubs in Bristol
We’ll be updating this again soon with another 100 Bristol pubs under our belts and more intelligence to go on but, for now, this is our best guidance on where you ought to go drinking in the Capital of the West Country, from craft beer bars to old-skool boozers.

Notable pubs: the Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford
“The Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford is a mock Tudor behemoth deformed by fire and forced to live out its old age bedecked with Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre branding… When Jess told her Mum that we were staying there her reaction betrayed her memories of The Royal Forest’s reputation in the 1960s: ‘Ooh, get you!’”

Notable pubs: the Rhubarb Tavern, Barton Hill, Bristol
“A strangely normal pub. Uniquely typical. A different arrangement of the same old pieces to create something that is all itself.”

The distant gleam of a backstreet pub
“There’s something Narnia-magical about looking along a silent terraced street at night and seeing a corner pub throwing its light out over wet asphalt… You know the feeling – walking up the centre of the road because there’s no traffic, TV light flickering behind curtains here and there, and the sound of your boots crunching and echoing in the quiet.”

These are a few of our favourite pubs
“Over a few beers the other week we found ourselves making a list of pubs we love and find ourselves longing to be in… It’s not The Best Pubs, it’s not a Top Ten, it’s just some pubs we like enough to feel wistful for. We’ve been tinkering with it since and decided to share it.”

Section header: history.Purl, bumboats and the Pool of London
“Imagine working on a ship or boat on the Thames in the days before Thermos flasks or vending machines, unable to get to any of the pubs you might see on the shore. Wouldn’t you welcome a booze delivery? Well, that’s where the purl-men came in.”

Charabanc fever
“The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote a story about a charabanc trip for the BBC in 1953, now known under the title ‘The Outing’… It is a reminiscence of his childhood and primarily concerns Thomas’s ‘steaming hulk of an uncle’ who, along with his friends from the local pub, hires a charabanc for a trip to Porthcawl. Despite the protest of Thomas’s aunt – ‘It’s me or the outing, Mr Thomas.’; ‘Well, then, Sarah, it’s the outing, my love.’ – the charabanc is loaded up with twenty cases of pale ale and hits the road.”

GALLERY: Women working in pubs and breweries, from the archives
This was our contribution to International Women’s Day, and a reminder that beer isn’t just a game for boys.

Motel #1, 1953
“This isn’t about pubs, or maybe it is: in June 1953 Britain gained its first American-style motel, The Royal Oak, at Newingreen outside Dover, Kent… The Royal Oak was, as the name suggests, an old inn, apparently established in 1560 and rebuilt in the 18th century. It was around this core that the new motel was constructed by entrepreneur Graham Lyon.”

Bristol and the Berni Inns
“Knowing a bit about the Bernification of Bristol helps makes sense of the 21st century pub scene in the city. Many of those famous, historic, potentially brilliant pubs are apparently still recovering from their long stretches as part of a food-focused chain. We don’t think we’ve ever heard anyone recommend The Rummer or The Hole in the Wall, and the Llandoger Trow, though it has its charms, is essentially the bar and breakfast lounge for a Premier Inn.”

Ted Ray on pubs: wet bars, sodden jackets, dry throats
“My Turn Next, published in 1963, is an unreliable memoir of the life of a variety comedian viewed through the bottom of a beer glass… For a throwaway book, perhaps designed to give Dad for Christmas, the writing about booze is startlingly evocative, almost intoxicating in its own right. He has a particular talent for conveying the physical aspect of beer — it spills, it gets you wet, it stains your clothes, infuses your kisses.”

The secrets of Doom Bar’s success
A recent post exploring recent history: how did a cask ale first launched in 1995 rise to national dominance in a little over 20 years?

The magic Guinness blend 1939
“This comes from a typed document in a plain brown wrapper written in 1939 and updated to take account of wartime brewing restrictions. The copy we have seems to come from around 1943 but was in apparently still in circulation in the 1950s… The first page bears the title ‘The Process of Brewing Guinness’ and the 46 pages that follow offer detailed notes on the basics of beer making (how hops are dried, for example) as well as specifics about Guinness.”

The mother lode: attitudes to beer, 1963
“In 1963 Guinness hired Public Attitude Surveys Ltd to compiled research into the attitudes of drinkers towards stout, and the state of the beer market more generally… The resulting report feels to us like an important document, recording statistics on different types of beer, and different types of drinker, based on gender, social class and attitudes to alcohol.”

Further reading #1: understanding lager
“A few times now we’ve been asked, or seen others being asked, to recommend a single great book that tells the story of lager. Unfortunately, as far as we know, no such book yet exists… Last time our answer amounted to a short reading list — this article, that book, this blog post — which made us think that it might be useful to put this together in a single place. That is, here. Partly because it’s fun, and partly to add a bit of weight to the idea, we’ve decided to think of it as a virtual anthology.”

Further reading #2: understanding IPA
“We’d love to be able to buy a reference anthology of great writing on the subject of IPA. This post, a manifestation of wishful thinking, is the next best thing… There is also an idea that when people ask for advice on where to read about the history and culture of IPA, which happens from time to time, we can just point them here.”

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And that’s probably us done for 2018. We’ll see you in 2019, after a bit of a break which will, of course, include plenty of pubs, and the consumption of a volume of beer towards the upper end of sensible.

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