News, nuggets and longreads 10 April 2021: Abbeydale, Argentina and the Pale of Settlement

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially amusing, entertaining or educational in the past week, from real ale to Russian imperialism.

First, the main story: pubs (some of them) open (kind of) from Monday and people are understandably very excited about it. A quick recap of the state of play, then:

  • up to six people, or two households, can meet;
  • it’s exclusively outdoor drinking for now;
  • those sheds obviously don’t count as outdoors;
  • it’ll be table service only;
  • you need to mask up when you go to the bog;
  • and every member of the party will have to register with track and trace;
  • but you won’t have to eat a ‘substantial meal’;
  • and most pubs are taking bookings rather than walk-ins.

On that last point, our local CAMRA branch has helpfully reminded us that it will be annoying to turn up at a place that’s booking-only demanding to be squeezed in when pubs will already have plenty of challenges to deal with.

An Abbeydale Brewery glass.

It’s always good to see a detailed profile of one of those fixture breweries – the type whose beers you see everywhere but who otherwise keep a low profile. For Pellicle Martin Flynn has written about Abbeydale, a Sheffield staple:

Pat Morton’s home address has always been within the same Sheffield postcode, and his links to the Steel City’s heritage extend to his former job in his family’s scissor-making business. But when he launched Abbeydale in 1996, he and Sue were fans of beer from further afield, particularly Belgium and the USA. They also shared a dislike of the flavour of crystal malt, which was utilised in many “brown beers” then popular in the UK from established brands like Tetley’s and John Smith’s. Pat and Sue’s intention for their new brewery was simple: “Make pale beers which were very highly hopped for the time.”

@WorstBeerBlog – this account doesn't exist.

There’s general dismay at the news Worst Beer Blog has shut up shop and Dave Infante has written something of an obituary for VinePair. Now, we must confess, we didn’t really know much about WBB and weren’t followers, though we occasionally saw them pop up in the timeline. That’s partly because we are old and don’t speak meme. It’s also at least in part because their stirring of the pot wasn’t massively helpful when we were trying to keep our heads down during the Beavertown hoo-ha a few years ago leading us to file them mentally as one of the more complicated species of troll. But, it turns out…

It was from a screenshot that WBB posted, for example, that I first learned about the union drive at Surly Brewing Co.’s Beer Hall last August. The same goes for the open letter Boulevard Brewing Co. employees posted criticizing that company’s handling of a sexual harassment scandal earlier this year. The hard seltzer shooting videos he found yielded this full-blown investigation into a heavily armed, boogaloo-oriented subreddit. And so on, and so forth… In that way… WBB acted as something of an unofficial arbitrator for the national craft beer discourse. “I think that [WBB] provided a very critical platform for the examination of things that are unacceptable in the beer industry,” Alex Kidd, the creator behind Don’t Drink Beer, another popular account in the craft beer space, told me in a recent phone interview. “He gave people a platform to sound off against everything from racism, to sexism, to homophobia … without heavy-handedly becoming a pulpit or taking up arms, you know, in a way that would, could be seen as preachy.”

A label for the Pupko brewery.

This week we’ve been treated to a truly excellent series of posts from Gary Gillman at Beer et seq. in which he unravels the history of Jewish breweries in Belarus:

The Pale of Settlement was the western fringe of the Russian Empire where Jews had the right to reside, unlike the rest of Russia with some exceptions. The Pale emerged at the beginning of the 19th century with Polish partition, but vanished with the end of WWI… Grodno (Hrodna), at the western end of Belarus, near Poland, is name of both district and town. The Grodno district includes the town of Lida, which birthed the Pupko Brewery in 1876… In 1910 Russia had 381 breweries, of which 110 were Jewish-owned, hence almost 30%.

Part One | Two | Three | Four

A sign for La Cerveza del Capitan
SOURCE: Damian Liviciche/Good Beer Hunting

Sorrel Moseley-Williams’s piece for Good Beer Hunting is more interesting than it has any right to be: a man from wealthy background gets into homebrewing and then pioneers American-style craft beer in a nation previously in thrall to mass-produced lager? That feels very 2009. So far, so Craftonia. And yet…

Five years on, his thesis handed in, and with just three exams left to sit, he gave up on college. Frustration and doomed projects were routine in the following years. Substantial investments from a colorful array of business partners looking to hit the big time flopped, as they had seemed destined to, but Castellani was always learning something, anything, from these small ventures. That, paired with his uncommon determination and a falling-out with his wealthy father, forced him to stand on his own two feet. (Argentina saw 53.5% inflation in 2019 and 36.1% in 2020; it isn’t a friendly place for the average entrepreneur.)

A drawing of a busy pub.
One of Kenneth Browne’s illustrations for Nairn’s essay. SOURCE: AR.

A few weeks ago we shared a Tweet which included scans of an article about pubs by Ian Nairn from 1962. It turns out that piece is available online, in full, via the Architectural Review website:

Your bar is the rest of the audience, the bar counter is the stage. Stages 1, 2 and 3 are all telescoped into a Beyond. Bright lights on dark woodwork, joviality, the legs of the girl at the other end. Yet space is not mocked. Look upwards – to reflect, to strike a contemplative attitude, to throw your head back in laughter – and whole thing short-circuits to the outside like a tape-recorder being played back… The lincrusta ceiling wriggles away above all the bars, the top-lighting frames the Wren reredos which has here unaccountably become a bar counter, and cruelly bright chimney pots are balanced by the pub clock. Conscious and subconscious meet and melt: but only if the eyes will let them. And, also, only if pub designers begin to recognise what drinking is about.

From Twitter, there’s this artifact of a cult brewery, now deceased:

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

3 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 10 April 2021: Abbeydale, Argentina and the Pale of Settlement”

Well I, for one, will not mourn the passing of Worst blog. He has in the past conducted a vicious trolling hate campaign against firstly Stonch, then me.

I will simply say it was deeply troubling for both of us.

A nasty piece of work.

I admired the play on my blog’s title but have to admit it was odd that there wasn’t a blog behind WBB. Displayed a certain lack of commitment. But, again and as you so perfectly put it, I also don’t speak meme.

Sorry to hear you had a rough time of it. We’ve had similar from various people at one time or another. (Uh, awkward… Won’t go into it here.)

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