The Best of Us in 2018

The wall of a Belgian pub.

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.”

* * *

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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