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News, nuggets and longreads 4 July 2020: table service, jug and bottle, colonialism

Here’s everything on beer and pubs we spotted and took note of in the past week, from government guidance to the appeal of the universal stout.

At the time of writing, some pubs will have been open for a couple of hours – or at least could have been, legally. Today is the day (some) pubs will be returning (in a limited way) for people to drink in. For reference and interest, here are some of the key bits of guidance and legislation published (worryingly close) to the deadline for re-opening:

The main thrust is, keep it simple; and it all assumes (rightly, in our view) that both pubs and citizens have a strong interest in making this work, so not everything needs to be nailed down in law. And existing laws around licensing and data protection provide options for sanctions anyway.


An Elizabethan inn.
SOURCE: The Conversation/English Broadside Ballad Archive.

The academics have been busy during lockdown. At The ConversationJames Brown from the University of Sheffield has written about the historic tradition of table service in English pubs:

Standing at the bar is one of the most cherished rituals of the British pub experience – and many people are worried that the new rules could be the beginning of the end of a tradition that dates back centuries. Except, it doesn’t – the bar as we now know it is of relatively recent vintage and, in many respects, the new regulations are returning us to the practices of a much earlier era…The bar as we know it [emerged] from the introduction of a new commodity in the 18th century: gin.


Stained glass in a pub: Jug & Bottle.

On a similar note, at the blog of the Drinking Studies Network Magnus Copps writes about how the provision of takeaway beer by pubs under lockdown is a revival of the old jug-and-bottle model:

To most of us living through the Coronavirus crisis the socially distanced retail experience has become ubiquitous. We have developed new social rules to manage the shuffle-dance of maintaining distance on the pavement or in the supermarket aisle, and such things are also played out in pubs making off-licence sales. Either limited numbers of customers are allowed in at any one time, or drinks are sold from the door directly onto the forecourt or the street. Two metre (and soon-to-be 1m) queuing guidelines are taped onto pub forecourts. Furniture (unused whilst internal and external drinking spaces remain closed) is used to partition off sections of space and offer a much diversified range of products for sale.


Detail from a vintage India Pale Ale beer label.

Sam Goodman specialises in writing about the history of food and drink in the context of the British Empire. This article on ‘Spaces of intemperance in the British Raj 1860-1920’ was published in April but was locked behind a paywall but is now freely available for all to read. It is about, not to put too fine a point on it, where people got pissed in colonial India:

As with the voyage out, a significant aspect of barracks life and routine was the administering of the soldier’s ration. Records vary as to how much alcohol was issued in differing presidencies of Madras, Bombay, and Bengal and amounts fluctuate further in relation to availability of supply, type of beverage, and the kind of service engaged in, but it appears that between 1800 and the late 1840s a standard issue of between 1/3rd -2/3rds of a pint of raw spirits per man per day was common, and typically provided at two points in the course of a day under the instructions that it was diluted with ‘two waters’ and consumed immediately. Later records indicate that 1–2 pints of beer was still a common ration until its abolition in 1889, and, in exceptional circumstances, until after the First World War.


1930s style picture of a pint of beer.

Adrian Tierney-Jones has been thinking about stout – not any particular stout but the Universal Stout:

It looks like a gentle sleep, beautiful in its shadowless sleekness, a mirror held to the soul, a soothing, soft and yielding shade that you immediately want to be friends with. If this is a stout, this is a stout, it is a stout, a stout that looks like a masterpiece in the glass. Let us now pass onto to the array of aromatics that emerge from the glass: the luxury of vanilla, the softness of childhood, the remembered laughter of a young child; the caressive nature of chocolate and coffee, the bittersweet memory of a long-lost espresso in a sweet-smelling cafe hidden away beneath the streets of Milan; the heft and weight of roastiness, the bracing bitterness of roasted malt that crackles with the intensity of a bonfire smelt several fields away on a still day.


If you fancy a break from all that reading, why not check out this episode of The Bowery Boys podcast about the Yorkville district of New York, once known as Kleindeutschland. The discussion of George Ehret’s Hell Gate brewery is the highlight, of course.


Finally, from Twitter…

For more good reading, have a look at Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

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