News, nuggets and longreads 11 July 2020: Neverspoons, Sunak, Windsock

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from pub chains to Betjeman.

It’s always interesting to us when we hear about a development in our field from friends who are less geeky about beer and pubs than us. In this case, our pals were all abuzz about Neverspoons, a new app designed to help drinkers find independent pubs and avoid chains. It’s made the front page of the BBC, too:

The Android app Neverspoons has been downloaded nearly 18,000 times in its first week – more than Shane Jones expected from the first six months. It is currently top of the free app chart on Google Play. The name is a pun on the pub chain Wetherspoons but Mr Jones said he just wanted to give smaller pubs a boost. Mr Jones admitted that “a handful” of other chain pub venues had already crept on to the app and he said he planned to “weed out” those people had complained to him about – including one from the Slug and Lettuce chain and a few Greene King and Firkin franchises.

(Firkins? In 2020? Intriguing.)

Also this week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered something he insisted wasn’t a mini-Budget, but which smelled a lot like one. It included several measures intended to support jobs and stimulate British consumers to get out and about, from discounts on restaurant meals in August to a VAT reduction for hospitality and leisure. What it didn’t included, however  – in fact, almost pointedly excluded – was anything to help the brewing or pub industries. For example, the VAT cut doesn’t apply to alcoholic drinks. From where we’re sitting, we see people trying to stay chipper, but struggling. What can be done? Other, that is, than force yourself to go to the pub even if, like around 60% of Britons, you don’t feel quite ready to do so.

Detail from a Whitbread Tankard beer mat.

For Ferment, the magazine that accompanies beer subscription boxes from Beer52, Hollie Stephens has produced a fascinating piece on the history of beer tankards:

One winter day in 2007, in a field in near Newport, Wales, a local man was searching the ground with a metal detector. Among his findings that day were two bronze bowls and a bronze wine strainer dating to the Iron Age, which were pronounced treasure. Other objects were buried alongside these, in what is assumed to have been a religious offering, including a wooden tankard deemed to be 2000 years old, making it the oldest tankard ever found… The artefacts are thought to have been placed in the ground around the time that the Roman army was launching a campaign against the Silures tribe of the Iron Age, sometime around AD 50.

The Windsock, Dunstable.

Geoff Quincy is obsessed with one particular pub – the architecturally remarkable Windsock in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. He’s embarked on a full and complete history of its conception, construction, life and demolition with part one appearing this week:

Picture the scene: it’s a cold dark February evening in 1969 and a planning application meeting is about to commence in the chambers of the Bedfordshire County Council… [The] committee are asked to review an application from Watney Schooner, the newish bar/restaurant division of the omnipresent brewery Watneys… The drawings within the application show Watney Schooners proposal to redevelop a plot of land on the corner of Whipsnade Road and West Street in Dunstable. This plot is currently occupied by a rather worn out looking pub at the tattier end of Watneys portfolio. Its fair to say that the committee have never seen a building like the one proposed in these drawings before.



Brussels roadworks.

For PellicleEoghan Walsh has written an argument for considering Brasserie de la Senne’s Zinnebir as the single best expression of modern Brussels in beer:

Zinnebir never quite goes full Le Corbusier, opting instead to be a more sensuous, more humane, more playful beer. If Zinnebir echoes something of Brussels’ skyline, then it’s the work of the city’s home-grown high priest of art nouveau, visionary architect Victor Horta. Unesco described Horta’s buildings—famed for their sinewy ironwork and evocation of the forms and patterns of nature—as “the brilliant joining of… curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building.” You could almost say the same about Zinnebir.

Turnpike, Manchester.

There’s been a bit of grumbling online in the past week about post-lockdown price rises at both Wetherspoon pubs and those owned by Samuel Smith of Tadcaster – both businesses built on offering startlingly good value for money. Tandleman, who has become our go-to commentator on the strange motions of Humphrey Smith, has thoughts:

Given the odd way Humphrey operates, like an East German holiday camp, he attracts a certain kind of customer… Now if you are paying bottom dollar for your ale, you may well be minded to put up with all this, but if a price rise take your pint to broadly in line with elsewhere and you realise that five pints cost you a fiver more, I dare say many won’t. After all, why pay £3 a pint to put up with Humphrey’s lopsided world, when you can go elsewhere and won’t have to? Whichever way you look at it, this is a gamble and it signposts, the end of a unique business model, but if it backfires, it may also be the last blast of Humph’s reign.

The Criterion, St Pauls, as photographed by Colin Moody.

It’s great to have an update from Use it or Lose ItColin Moody’s project photographing pubs in Bristol, with text by Annie McGann, via The Bristol Cable:

Together they have begun to chart the pubs that are real, amazing community hubs, some struggling, some with long traditions in diverse communities. At the heart of the story are people, and here are some of the people they have found so far… Some are finding inventive ways to keep their locals open, like the drinkers in the Windmill in Bedminster, who recently started up a fundraiser to do a community buy-out of the pub. “We say that the community spaces are there already if they are not pushed out by property speculation,” says Colin. “Venues need protective status, investment and stability. Use it, and please don’t take it away so we lose it.”

The bar at the Royal Oak pub.

Veteran trade journalist and licensing historian Phil Mellows has written about the value and meaning of pubs as “a cultural space where you can just be”:

The state must recognise that pubs are not just businesses but cultural, social spaces essential to our well-being. Their survival cannot come down to a matter of profitability any more than the life of human beings should depend on the profit they contribute to the economy… Pubs are units of capital that at the same time provide a space where the pressures of neoliberal subjectivity, that nagging push to be useful and profitable the whole time, is suspended.

Finally, from Twitter, here’s Betjeman on beer bores:

For more good reading around our favourite barley-based booze (#SecondMentions) check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

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