The best of our writing from 2019

Clinking beer glasses.

We’ve turned out some stuff of which we’re quite proud this year, from Guinness history to reflections on Belgium.

We’ve been pulling together these self-celebratory round-ups for a few years now, as companion pieces to our selections of the best beer writing by other people.

They offer a chance to pat ourselves on the back, tamp down some of the self-doubt that probably afflicts anyone who ‘puts stuff out there’ and to think about which direction things might head in the year to come.

If you’ve enjoyed some of our work this year, do consider:


Fuller's Traditional Draught Beers (1970s beermat).

Feelings about Fuller’s, January 2019

“On Friday it was announced that Asahi had acquired the brewing wing of Fuller’s, subject to rubber-stamping, and we felt, frankly, gutted… With a few days to absorb and reflect we’re still feeling disappointed, despite commentary from those who argue that Asahi aren’t the worst, that it’s a vote of confidence of cask, and so on. It still feels as if someone you thought was a pal has betrayed you.”

Simon Guineau

The distributed brewery: Simon G. and Zero Degrees

“Simon Gueneau is a Parisian trained in Belgium, based in Bristol, and brewing Continental-style beer on Italian kit – how could we fail to be intrigued? We’ve long been fascinated by Zero Degrees, the brewpub chain that predates the craft beer craze of the mid-2000s, with bars that never quite click for our taste. Since moving to Bristol, though, we’ve come to really appreciate the beer, which, if you can ignore the context, is clean, classical and balanced across the board.”


Soon after opening.

Soon after opening, March 2019

“Soon after opening I came down to the public bar in the plain old pub in the plain old part of Exeter that traffic flew through, dusting everything black and shaking crumbs from the cracks, following Mum for no special reason other than that following Mum was my default course, and knowing soon that I would be sent upstairs, away from the optics and the enticing piano, away from the plastic sign advertising hot pies and pasties, away from the plastic Babycham Bambis and unbelievably, unthievably massive porcelain ashtrays.”


Ikeja, 1962

Snapshot: Guinness in Nigeria, April 2019

“We had a huge house. We lived in a big compound with about half an acre of land around it, maybe more, with a houseboy, a cook and a nanny, who lived in shacks in the back garden. They thought they were nice quarters but even as a small child I thought they were shacks. We were very well looked after… We had mosquito nets, but we also had air conditioning. We only dropped the mosquito nets if the air con broke and the windows had to be opened. Every night before we went to bed the houseboy would come in and spray God knows what, DDT probably, and kill everything that was in the bedroom.”


Illustration: a round of drinks.

The unwritten rules of buying rounds, June 2019

“There are few things as odd as reading an observed description of your own culture’s unconscious habits, such as the buying of rounds of drinks. When we arrived in Glasgow last weekend we browsed the guidebooks supplied in our flat and stopped short when we found a note, aimed at visitors to Scotland, on how to buy rounds…”


Glasgow.

Glimpses of Glasgow, June 2019

“We went to the Babbity Bowster because it’s in the Good Beer Guide and our friend recommended it and someone on Twitter told us to go. We loved it, though plain it was, with its Jarl, tourist-baiting fiddle music and eyepatch-wearing cowboys… The Black Friar is in the Good Beer Guide. We didn’t love it, plain as it was, with its long silences and so-so cask ale… The Pot Still, late at night, had a buzz and humidity we enjoyed, and a certain everyday ceremony around the serving of whisky. But everybody seemed to be Swedish or Spanish or, ugh, English, which is fine, of course, but, well…”


The Drapers Arms.

Two years, two hundred pubs, July 2019

“We’ve now been in Bristol for two years and have logged every single official Pub Visit since arriving…. We have logged 516 pub visits in total. Almost 30% of these were to our local, The Drapers Arms. We have visited 216 different pubs. Our pace of visiting new pubs has slowed: we went to our first 100 in six months; our second 100 took a year; and we’ve only added 16 in the last six months.”


Leeds town hall

In their own words: the development of the Leeds beer scene, August 2019

“Leeds is still Leeds – there’s still a pub for all tastes within walking distance and the majority of the classic places are still there, doing well. There’s even more choice and it’s hard to not encounter ‘craft’ in most places now, like in any major city. At the risk of sounding like an old man, it’s getting increasingly expensive to drink in the city centre, but the scene itself is thriving – beer is mainstream, there’s no need to guide people anymore.”


Ceci n’est pas un travelogue.

Ceci n’est pas un travelogue, September 2019

“There is a man with a piece of pencil lead under his fingernail drawing nudes in a notebook while drinking a milky coffee. Two bar staff are dancing and miming along to ‘Dolce Vita’ by Ryan Paris as they wash glasses. A man with a shopping trolley, dressed head to toe in custom embroidered denim, lumbers in and raises a hand at which, without hesitation, he is brought a small glass of water; he downs it, waves, and leaves. On the terrace, two skinny boys in artfully tatty clothes eat a kilo of pistachios and sip at glasses of Pils. A group of Englishmen in real ale T-shirts arrive: ‘Triples all round is it, lads? Aye, four triples, pal.’”


The Meaning of Pub

Running the numbers, October 2019

“One of the most frequently asked questions about #EveryPubInBristol is how we define a pub. This is hard to answer beyond ‘We know one when we see one’. But we thought we might try to be a bit more scientific and come up with a scoring system.”


Swan With Two Necks interior.

The Swan with Two Necks and the gentrification problem, November 2019

“‘I’ve been called a cultural terrorist,’ said Jamie Ashley, the new landlord of The Swan With Two Necks, seeming offended, amused and confused in equal measure. In the past few months, he’s found himself at the centre of one of Bristol’s many small dramas of gentrification, as either a pioneer or an intruder depending on your point of view.”


Those are, for us, the real highlights, but with about 150 posts in total this year there’s plenty more to explore – do have a nose around using categories and tags. And if there’s a piece you liked we haven’t included above, feel free to mention it in the comments. We absolutely will not object to a bit of flattery.