Blogging and writing

Our favourite bits of beer writing from 2020

These are individual pieces of beer writing that stood out to us, and stuck in our memories, because they were powerfully written, especially illuminating or simply spoke to a moment.

This isn’t a record of every good bit of writing from the year – we managed to find between five and eight notable posts or articles most Saturday mornings.

If there’s a favourite piece of yours we’ve omitted, feel free to give it a shout out in the comments.

My Journey to Scotland’s Most Remote Pub

By Oliver Smith, Outside, January 2020

“In the beginning, there was the pub. And the people saw that the pub was good… The pub was the Old Forge, and the Guinness Book of World Records declared it “the most remote pub on mainland Britain.” It was set in the village of Inverie, the only major settlement on Scotland’s Knoydart peninsula, a wild finger of land with a population of 100. To get there, you had two choices: catch a six-mile ferry from the little port of Mallaig, or set out on a two-to-three-day hike across some of the most isolated mountains in Western Europe—an attempt referred to by the British outdoor community as a “walk-in.” The trek from the hamlet of Glenfinnan is some 27 miles, crossing swollen rivers and lonely mountains along vague and vanishing trails. With every mile walked, every sprain of ankle, every squelch of bog, the beer tasted sweeter… But then the trouble started.”

East of the mountains: gong

By Lars Marius Garshol, April 2020

“While the wort boiled, we headed into the house where Ågot, Sverre’s mother, was preparing the yeast. Sverre said that even when his father brewed, his mother was the one that handled the yeast. Entering the kitchen I was astonished to see pieces of cloth with a thin, dry crust of darkish-brown yeast on them. I’d read about people storing yeast by drying it on cloth, but never actually seen it… This is the “gong”, the yeast that Sverre inherited from his father. Exactly where it came from before that he’s not quite sure. He also shares it with Bjarne Halvorsgard, another local brewer. So the exact origin of the yeast is difficult to pinpoint, but it’s definitely been in the village for a long time. Beyond that it was not at all clear what it was, except that it could ferment beer… It turns out Ågot takes the harvested yeast and smears it on cloth, where it is dried. She has a box full of these cloth pieces with dried yeast on them. After they’re dried she cuts them into suitable sizes for the next brews.”

Wouldn’t we all prefer a nice quart of Dorchester ale or beer?

By Alan McLeod, April 2020

“In the 1797 essay ‘Experiments and Observations on Fermentation and Distillation of Ardent Spirit’ by Joseph Collier the pre- and post-fermentation densities of four type of beer are described: Porter, Ringwood Ale, Dorchester Ale and Table Beer. It is interesting. Of course it is. If it was not interesting why would I have mentioned. it? The author uses a ‘saccharometer’ like this. Without knowing the details of the calibration or the scale, the relative ratio is enough to tell us that Dorchester is sweet and a bit strong, a bit more than double that of Table beer. Dorchester drops 39 degrees of the ‘whatever scale’ where Table beer drops 18. Ringwood drops 44 degrees but has a final gravity that is two-thirds of Dorchester.  Notice too that these are “the most celebrated malt liquors” – which is interesting.”

A Lifetime Spent Weathering the Storm

By Adrian Tierney-Jones, Good Beer Hunting, April 2020

“Starry, starry night: in the seaside town of Southwold on the eastern coast of England towards winter’s end. Beyond the silent line of beach huts, where the ghosts of last summer chatter as if the sun still shone, the dark expanse of the North Sea engulfs the horizon, its curtained-off gloominess pinpricked with the lights of passing ships… On a night like this, when the wind is needle-sharp and the tang of salt spray quickens the appetite, the only place to go is the pub. So I head to the Lord Nelson, down a side street just off the promenade… Inside, it’s bright and cheerful, humming with the voices of drinkers as they clasp their glasses of Southwold Bitter, Ghost Ship, or Mosaic, all of which are produced only a couple hundred meters away at Adnams Brewery.”

Closed sign
When and how do we reopen pubs?

By Mark Johnson, April 2020

“In my pub, I’d space out groups on consecutive entry. Therefore if you do get Bob and his self entitled hiking group hoping to pull a ‘group of lads trying to get into a club in Dublin’ manoeuvre and arrive in separate numbers then they would be put in different corners of the pub with no movement of furniture allowed. This is the sort of restriction we mocked prior to COVID-19 but now would be necessary. Bring back Britannia Inn Phil who barred half of Mossley for daring to move a chair.”

Virtual reality.
How I recreated my local pub in VR

By Tristan Cross, Wired, May 2020

“There have been a lot of valiant attempts to circumvent our coronavirus restrictions, with people ‘sharing’ virtual pints with the aid of Zoom, but I can’t help but feel like there’s something fundamentally lacking… The space where this experience takes place is a crucial part of the experience itself. Without it, I’m just getting battered on my own in a room I wish I wasn’t confined to. But what if there was a way to bypass all of this? What if there was a way to bring the pub into my living room without having to smash a hole in the wall? What if I could bring my nearest and dearest to me, without them having to break lockdown? What if I could transcend the limitations of the physical world? What if I could make my local pub in VR?”

To covet counterfeit Cantillon

By Aaron Goldfarb, Punch, May 2020

“On the day after Christmas 2019, 10 friends gathered for a bottle share in the private lounge of a luxury high-rise near Times Square. There were rare imperial stouts like Side Project’s Beer : Barrel : Time, obscure bottlings from cult brewer Bokkereyder, and plenty of vintage lambics like a 2012 Grote Dorst Angel Foam. But the day’s two most-anticipated beers appeared identical—green Champagne-style bottles with red labels that read Cantillon Jean Chris Nomad. One bottle, however, was a counterfeit.”

The wash
All directions at the same time

By Lily Waite, Good Beer Hunting, May 2020

“The old port town of King’s Lynn lies at the base of The Wash, the bay at the junction of the Norfolk coastline and the blocky mass of central England. The Wash is fed by the River Great Ouse, in turn fed by the narrow and winding River Nar. That river runs through a series of villages clustered around the ruins of a 12th-century castle and an even older priory… In West Acre, two miles from the priory—though still on its protected grounds—a huddle of farm buildings sit behind the hamlet’s church. And in one, a recently restored stone barn, an ambitious new brewery has just thrown open its doors.”

Military vehicles
Military and intelligence personnel can be tracked with the Untappd beer app

By Foeke Postma, Bellingcat, May 2020

“Surprise! The beer-rating app Untappd can be used to track the location history of military personnel. The social network has over eight million mostly European and North American users, and its features allow researchers to uncover sensitive information about said users at military and intelligence locations around the world… Examples of users that can be tracked this way include a U.S. drone pilot, along with a list of both domestic and overseas military bases he has visited, a naval officer, who checked in at the beach next to Guantanamo’s bay detention center as well as several times at the Pentagon, and a senior intelligence officer with over seven thousand check-ins, domestic and abroad. Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force are included as well.”

A show of hands
In craft beer, a commitment to drive change

By Dr. J Nikol Jackson-Beckham, June 2020

“Craft Beer For All is a modest effort centered on a thoroughly ordinary object–beer. However, it is in the banality of beer that I see its greatest potential to affect positive social change. Systemic anti-black racism is not born of malicious intents, spectacular violence, or complex conspiracies. Rather, it is continuously reproduced in everyday acts of carelessness and comfort, quiet omissions and revisions, and unthinking webs of justification that are woven into the fabric of our daily lives–webs so well made that when malicious and spectacular acts of racist violence are set before us, we swaddle them–excuses drifting from our lips like lullabies. I can think of no better tool, no better place, no better community than craft beer to do the everyday work of unraveling American racism.”

Mild cask
Embrace your mild side

By Katie Mather, Ferment, June 2020

“‘You don’t get many milds nowadays, do you?’ says a fellow drinker, after I tell him I’m drinking a mild. ‘Never see them around anymore.’ I found the comment curious, because there was one in my hand, and I was drinking it. A strange sensation crept over me, as though he had looked at me, and at my beer, and found us both transparent; as though despite appearances, we did not really exist… I didn’t choose it because of its rarity – the pub down the road from my house has Coach House Brewing’s Gunpowder Mild on permanently – but because I like it. That’s why most people around my way drink a mild. I had no idea it was an endangered species until I spent more time drinking outside of the boundaries of East Lancashire.”

Zinnebir – a beer for living in

By Eoghan Walsh, Pellicle, July 2020

“Brussels is depicted on Zinnebir’s label as a placid, if abstract skyline by the green river Senne, an optimistic sun shining in the background, But Brussels isn’t placid. It’s chaotic. The cars, the people, the politics, the jumbled up streetscape forcing flamboyant baroque and neo-gothic architecture to cohabit with brutalism’s worst excesses; all of it designed to discombobulate.. It’s no wonder then that locals steer away from the ornate excesses of the Trappist breweries that beguile tourists as much as Brussels’ overwhelming Grand Place square, in favour of something altogether calmer… Taras is straight lines and sharp edges, unabashedly confronting your assumptions about Belgian beer.”

Whisky bottles in a pub.
I’ll hauf what they’re haufing – exploring the curious history of the scottish half and half

By Jemma Beedie, Pellicle, August 2020

“The hauf an a hauf (half and a half) is a Scottish cultural institution, and one worth a little bit of interrogation. When ordered this way it usually refers to Tennent’s Lager alongside a Bell’s or Famous Grouse whisky. The first “hauf”—half, for my non-Scots speakers—is easy enough: it refers to a half-pint of beer. The second hauf refers to a dram… The hauf an a hauf is not a boilermaker, which is a similar order with a different intent.”

Bristol in the abstract
A party in a plague year

By Nicci Peet, Good Beer Hunting, October 2020

“Everything feels muted: quieter, more relaxed. There is still laughter and chatter but it’s somehow softer, maybe because the music has been turned down. That’s not to say the mood is subdued—everywhere I turn, there are smiling faces, and people talking to their friends across designated tables. Single-use cups start stacking up after being decanted, a visual record of how many beers everyone has tried. And there are still so many yet to drink…I don’t know what I’d been expecting from a beer festival in late 2020, but the reality is both stranger and more laidback than I’d imagined. COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, and all we can do is adapt to it.”

Social distancing in the pub.
Tiering up

By Rowan Molyneux, October 2020

“There’s a regular who’s been particularly resistant to booking, and he’s just walked through the door. We’re full, all tables occupied, apart from a couple of stools which are reserved for ten minutes time. As my colleague is politely apologising, the guy is looking around at the tables where there are plenty of seats free, but are already occupied by our other regulars. One household per table here generally means one person per table. The majority live alone and pop in here to see their mates… He makes a gesture of frustration and walks out to try his luck down the road. My colleague shrugs at me. Should have booked, we agree… We both know that you shouldn’t have to book to come to the pub.”

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