News pubs

News, nuggets and longreads 14 December 2019: Vintage ale, Christmas beer, winter walks

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that struck us as worth bookmarking in this past week, from pub numbers to Christmas traditions.

First, a rather pleasing news story: for the first time in a decade, the total number of pubs in the UK has risen rather than falling, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics:

The UK ended March 2019 with 39,135 pubs, 320 more than a year earlier, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It is the first net increase since 2010… The rise marked a dramatic turnaround compared with the previous nine years, during which the UK pub network declined by an average of 732 each year, comparable data showed… While the ONS figures showed an increase, industry trade body the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) warned that its own statistics, which capture a higher number of pubs, showed a turning point was yet to be reached.

As ever, it’s worth remembering that there are pubs, and there are pubs – it still seems that suburban backstreet pubs are more at risk than big ones in city centres and on high streets, and that certain neighbourhoods are at greater risk of becoming publess.


Gary Gillman at Beer et seq. has provided details of a replica 1840s brewery built in Ontario, Canada, in the 1960s, and still standing:

In 1967, following two years of research, Labatt Breweries of Canada Ltd. built a replica, called The London Brewery, of the 1847 brewery of John Kinder Labatt and Samuel Eccles in London, Ontario. Their brewery had its origins in a brewery built by George Balkwill in 1828 on Simcoe Street… The replica was a centennial project, a popular pastime in sunny 1960s Canada: celebrating in one’s unique way the 100th anniversary of Confederation (1867-1967). Many companies had such projects as a way to boost employee morale, and this was Labatt’s.

Cath and Dick
SOURCE: Matt Curtis/Pellicle

For Pellicle, Katie Mather has been exploring the pubs of Manchester and in particular the increasing availability of proper cider in a part of the country not especially associated with apples or the booze made from them:

Dick Withecombe arrived in Manchester during the politically-turbulent 70s. A farmer’s son from Devon, a former scholar, postman (“I loved that job,” he tells me) and then a teacher, Dick was immediately enamoured with the kindness of his new neighbours and the activism he quickly included himself within. But at what cost? He’d left his beloved cider behind.

Casks in a pub yard.

For Good Beer HuntingJonny Garrett reports on the legal trouble Marston’s has got itself into with some slyness over the amount of saleable beer actually in each cask:

The UK government has ruled that Marston’s PLC, one of the UK’s largest breweries and pub landlords, has been lying to its tenants about the amount of beer in the brewery’s barrels, potentially voiding its tenancy contracts and opening it up to thousands of lawsuits for loss of earnings… According to the official regulator’s ruling, Marston’s has been selling casks to its pubs claiming there were 72 pints of beer inside, despite knowing that around 5% of the contents was unsaleable yeast sediment. Marston’s also calculates its rent according to how much beer a pub should sell, which means it is charging publicans twice over for ‘pints’ that will never exist.

Vintage ale
SOURCE: Rach Smith/Look at Brew

Rach Smith at Look at Brew has a new winter tradition involving a classic British beer:

My preparations for winter are fairly simple… I don’t have to bring in a late harvest or bottle and preserve what I can and hope for the best. What I can do is make sure the boy has jumpers that fit, and a winter coat too. I make sure my boots don’t have too many holes in them, the car might get a winter service and, if it’s lucky, the gutter will have it’s downpipe cleared (ooh-er). The birds will always have their feeders topped up more than they do in the summer and the straggly patch of weeds, moss and grass lawn will have it’s final cut. But that lack of need for following a cyclic calendar entwined with the seasons for hopes of a good harvest, abundance and a good word put in to Mother Nature leaves a lack of tradition. Or does it? In my pre-Christmas lull, I’ve realised, it’s Vintage Ale season.

A social club.
Conservative Club, Bath.

For the BBC, a week before the election, David Pittam wrote about social clubs with historic political affiliations and how they’re no longer especially connected with the political parties around which they were founded:

There’s an intense silence among the members of Arnold’s Balfour Conservative Club as the president calls out numbers. That’s because Wednesday night is bingo night – and bingo night is taken seriously. Certainly more seriously than politics.

In the lull between the rounds, 82-year-old Shirley Wilmot, who has always voted Labour, says she’s never really thought about the club’s Conservative connections.

“I’m a member of the Liberal club and the Labour club as well,” she says. “But this is my favourite because it’s so friendly.

Bergen, Norway
SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol

Lars Marius Garshol has come up with another bit of fascinating Norwegian beer history, this time with a seasonal twist:

There really was a time when not brewing Christmas beer in Norway was not just illegal, but even punished harshly. I realize this sounds like a tall tale, but it is documented far beyond any reasonable doubt. Which is of course quite confusing… It seems likely that the law was introduced not to force people to brew beer (which they did anyway), but to make them bless it in the name of the new gods. Snorri elsewhere writes that a high point of the ancient pagan yule feast was toasting in beer to the old gods, and it’s probably this custom the king wanted to change.

A forest in winter.

Hollie at Globe Hops is already looking forward to Christmas Day and the ritual pub trip:

Somehow, the reduced opening hours of pubs on Christmas Day mean that there is all the more to savour. I can already anticipate the warmth that will greet me as the door swings open, spilling the heat from the fire onto the chilly street as I step inside. My glasses will mist up, obscuring my view of the smiling faces and colourful festive jumpers… It will be noisy and crowded, but undeniably cheerful. Locals will be sat on bar stools as their dogs sit at their feet, lapping at large bowls of water. The barman will be wearing a brightly coloured waistcoat and a matching tie, the same as always.

And finally, from Twitter:


If you want more reading, check out Carey’s weekly round-up ‘The Fizz’ or Alan McLeod’s every

One reply on “News, nuggets and longreads 14 December 2019: Vintage ale, Christmas beer, winter walks”

The behatted gents in the Talbot photograph appear to be constables wearing stovepipe hats. The one on the right is wearing what looks like a new-fangled Custodian helmet. The transition was 1863.

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