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

Guinness sign on the wall at O'Neill's.

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

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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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