News, nuggets and longreads 2 November 2019: table beer, table skittles

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from rare birds to pig’s ears.

The detailed love letter to a specific beer is one of our favourite types of beer writing, even if the beer itself isn’t one we’re enthusiastic about. Lily Waite’s piece on Kernel Table Beer for Pellicle is an excellent example:

“Table Beer is our attempt to do a cask beer,” Evin [O’Riordain] tells me. “Its specific inspiration is those cask beers… I think that cask gives a lot of body to a beer, especially low-alcohol beer; that’s one of the magical things that cask does… It’s also because it’s served slightly warmer and because there’s slightly lower carbonation it becomes fuller [bodied]. We took that inspiration from [Phil Lowry’s] ABC and [Redemption] Trinity, asking ‘can we put that into a keg and a bottle?’”

Brand design from the Thornbridge website.
SOURCE: Thornbridge.

In his usual beer review format, the Beer Nut asks a good question: has Thornbridge, a brewery that made it’s name with imperial stout and strong IPA, lost its way? He writes:

First up is Bliss Point, strongest of the lot at a whopping 5% ABV. The can claims it’s a “hazy American pale ale” then backpedals on the details saying it’s only a “slight haziness”, and indeed it is — a pale misty yellow. The texture is unforgivably thin for the strength, while the flavour is a mix of dry chalky minerals, herbal bathsalts and old-fashioned lemonade. While there’s no malt character to speak of, the hops are muted too, lacking the platform they need to do their job. I kept thinking of diluted lemon barley water, where it needs topping up with a bit more concentrate from the bottle. This is inoffensive fare but verges a little too much on vapid and bland. Lift the finishing gravity, raise the IBUs, do something, please!

Northamptonshire skittles table.
SOURCE: Mark Shirley.

Mark Shirley maintains a blog about traditional pub games and this week wrote about The Stirrup Cup, a post-war pub notable for its Northamptonshire table skittles:

Skittles is still popular in and around Kettering, and none more so than at estate pubs like the Stirrup Cup which remain the bedrock of so many pub games leagues. The home team recently ‘chucked-off’ in Division Four of the Kettering, Burton Latimer & District Skittles League, and will I imagine be hoping for a slightly better finish than the lowly 7th place they achieved in Division D of the recently finished Summer League… They’ve certainly got the table for it, a very fine Pepper’s Skittles Table, only recently refurbished by the local expert in the field, Colin Swinfen of Kilworth.

Detail from the cover of the Pigs Ear programme for 1990.

Ed Wray has unearthed an interesting recent historical nugget in the form of a programme from a 1990 beer festival:

King and Barnes were still going, as were Mitchells and Maclays. The latter might explain why the St Austell range looks rather different to how it is now. I did drink some St Austell beers down in Croyde back in those pre-Roger Ryman days and I have to say they weren’t very good… For those too young to know the ancient art of working out the alcohol content from the original gravity you subtract 1000 from the mysterious four figure number after the beer name and divide the remainder by ten to get the approximate ABV.

Blitzed brewery.
A detail from Rowland Hilder’s illustration for the cover of the House of Whitbread, winter 1952.

We get a lot of historical notes and historic beer recipes from Ron Pattinson but some leap out as being particularly significant. This week, it’s the final brew of Whitbread Porter from 1940, after 200 years of continuous production:

Why did Whitbread drop their Porter at this exact point? There’s a note in the brewing record which gives a clue: “Air Raid Warnings: 5:15 pm to 6:25 pm And 8:40 pm to 5:45 am.” The date was September 1940, when the London blitz was just starting in earnest. The war was taking a bad turn and Britain was effectively under siege… This batch was 16 barrels, from a total of over 600 barrels for the whole parti-gyle. There must have only been a handful of Whitbread pubs still selling Porter by the time it was dropped.

A bar in the 1970s.
A pub in the 1970s. SOURCE: CAMRA/What’s Brewing.

Some of our favourite posts from Tandleman are when he gets nostalgic. This time, he recalls his career as a barman in the 1970s, leading up to some pleasingly positive comments on recent experiences in Liverpool:

The Boss, an old school landlord and stickler for such stuff, was very keen that things should be “done right”. First lesson. Rule number one. When a customer comes in and approaches the bar, no matter what you are going, you look up and say “Hello” or “I’ll be right with you” or some such other nicety. He explained it as putting the customer at his ease; setting the tone. That kind of thing. The second was to let people waiting at the bar know they had been seen. You would preferably say “you’re next”, or second or whatever. And yes, you were expected to know whose turn it was and if you ever said “Who’s next?” you’d be rewarded by a growl in your ear and the Boss saying “It’s your job to know who’s next”.

A goldfinch.

A few months ago, we had an offline conversation with a fellow beer geek about a rumour they’d heard of a pub in Leytonstone which was supposedly home to a distinctly Victorian-sounding underground market in rare birds. Well, it turns out the rumour was true:

A raid by the RSPCA and police… discovered 40 bird cages, including eight captive Goldfinches, at The Bell pub, while also caught several members of the group red-handed… Eight men, aged between 26 and 68, some of whom deny that they knew the practice involved illegally caught wild birds, have been handed fines after admitting possession of various species at the pub on 2 February 2019.

Finally, from Twitter…

For more selected links see Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

3 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 2 November 2019: table beer, table skittles”

Regarding the Sam Smith’s rule at the end of the post, it seems like the Company is trying to ensure that nobody under the age of about 60 will ever set foot in one of their pubs?

Such a policy is of course entirely their prerogative, but it doesn’t sound like a good way to ensure that their business thrives even in the medium-term, never mind longer….

I am not personally concerned with any policy that they might introduce anyway, as Sam Smiths beer is awful and I wouldn’t dream of setting foot in one of their pubs these days.

They do own some interesting premises though, especially in the centre of London. I am looking forward to the day when the Cheshire Cheese and the Citie of York have been turned into craft beer bars, so I can enjoy a decent drink in these historic buildings.

I think you’ll be waiting long after the craft craze has moved on. Sam Smiths owns the freehold on those pubs and they never sell property. Their beer is awful? Merely a matter of taste – after all, it’s been selling well for a couple of centuries.

Agreed that the beer is a matter of taste, but I am fairly confident that the old fool of an owner is well on his way to driving the Company into the ground!

What with the report a couple of weeks back that he canceled the opening of a new pub because he heard someone swearing, followed by this absurd anti-tech policy, I remain optimistic that the buildings will someday fall into more enlightened hands…

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