News, nuggets and longreads 19 June 2021: Jalebi, Rhubarb, Pink Boots

From Cork pubs to Pink Boots, here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially noteworthy in the past week.

First, the proper newsy news:

  1. The end of coronavirus restrictions in England had been scheduled for Monday 21 June. As everyone expected, that has now been postponed until at last 19 July. You can still go to the pub, you can still sit inside a pub, but you still also have to follow a few rules.
  1. The fallout of the open letter from former BrewDog staff continues – the brewery, and James Watt in particular, have set out a plan for fixing the company culture (LinkedIn). If you can get through the paywall (it’s a roll of the dice) then, for context, check out this commentary by Melissa Cole for the Telegraph.
  1. And, closer to home, there’s a planning application in for The Rhubarb, the only pub left in Barton Hill, Bristol, and guess what? They want to turn it into flats. Our thanks to Garvan, landlord of The Drapers Arms, for letting us know about this. Is there anything to be done? Is it too late to object? Bloody hell, we hope not. More to follow in a separate post, probably.

Sumerian tablet.
Not a Gregg’s Steak Bake. SOURCE: Braciatrix/Cuneiform Digital Library.

At Braciatrix Dr Christina Wade reports on her findings from studying 155 cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia looking for references to beer:

The royal tablets, including one from Girsu in the Lagash II (2200- 2100 BCE) period, talks about Gudea and the building of the temple Eninnu, which included a brewery. It discussed the importance of cleanliness in a brewery particularly with regard to those who serve it (‘let hands always be washed’); and stated ‘that in Eninnu’s brewery, the “house with the clean arms”, emmer beer like the waters (of) Papsir might bubble.’ So the importance of cleanliness in brewing and serving is an ancient tradition. You can keep this in mind when you are scrubbing your mash tun for the millionth time.

SOURCE: Great Western Malt/Beervana.

At Beervana, Teri Fahrendorf shares an account of how the Pink Boots Society was founded in 2007, as part of a three-part oral history of her life and career in beer facilitated by Jeff Alworth. This section, on the nature of professionalism, is pretty inspiring:

Pink Boots made the difficult decision to limit membership and focus on professional development. They decided against including non-professions—like women homebrewers or consumers. It was an important decision, because it began to create the expectation that women weren’t marginal: they were professionals and deserved to be paid… “One woman came to me and said, ‘I do all the tweets and all the social media for the brewpub my boyfriend works at, but I do it for free.’ So I said, ‘A buck a tweet until you hit fifty and then after that they’re free. You have to make some income.’ Another woman said, ‘My husband is a beer writer and I edit all his stuff, can I join?’ I said, ‘He’s got to pay you for the editing work—and it’s worth it!’ And I made him pay her five bucks on the spot in front of me and told him he had to pay it every month. A woman emailed me they were really upset they couldn’t join. She wrote, ‘I’m the president of our homebrew club; I teach homebrew classes; I’ve taken the Cicerone. Why can’t I join?’ And I wrote, ‘That’s all great, but you gotta be charging at least ten bucks for your homebrew classes. You’re wasting that Cicerone degree if you’re not using it, so I recommend you go to three different restaurants and tell them you’ll write a beer menu for them for free in exchange for a good recommendation. Then you write beer menus for money.’ They were all like, ‘Thank you so much! I had no idea I could make money at this.’”

SOURCE: Sanju M. Gurung on Unsplash.

For Porch Drinking, Ruvani de Silva writes about a new frontier in dessert beers: Jalabae, a double IPA brewed with the Indian sweet jalebi. You know jalebi, even if you’ve never eaten it, from the window displays of shops like Jeevans in East Bristol:

When Ravi Patel launched Other Desi Beer Co. in [Connecticut in] 2019, one of his primary aims was to share the tastes and flavors of the Indian food that he grew up with through the medium of high-quality craft beer. With several Indian-cuisine-inspired brews already under his belt, including the delightfully bright and zingy 3 Ranis Pink Guava Hibiscus Sour and the deep, layered High Chai Stout featuring cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon, Patel has now pulled off the coup of brewing what may be the first beer to feature India’s national sweet, the jalebi… Jalebi is ultra-sweet curlicues of corn or chickpea flour flavored with saffron and lemon juice, then soaked in sugar syrup so that the sticky liquid oozes into your mouth as you bite into it. With a history dating back to the 15th century CE, jalebi is popular all over India, with each region favoring its own of the main seven varieties.

SOURCE: Tempest in a Tankard.

Franz D. Hofer continues to provide a great public service via Tempest in a Tankard with notes on travelling and drinking in Germany. This week, he shared an account of a visit to Traunstein in the Bavarian Alps:

Traunstein has been known since the Second World War as the “cultural capital of the Chiemgau.” On any warm day, the main market square is thronged with people relaxing with a coffee, an ice cream, or a beer. Today, it’s still enough of a beer town to support three breweries for its 22,000 residents — a ratio of breweries to citizens that’s higher even than that of Bamberg… From the train station it’s a mere 10 minutes to your first beer at Wochingerbräu. Wochinger’s claim to fame is that it’s “the finest beer from Traunstein’s smallest brewery.” And the beer is, indeed, fine enough to make Wochinger worth a journey… Not only is the beer fine. Wochinger’s tranquil beer garden, set in a small grove of oak and horse chestnut trees, is one of the most pleasant in the region. It radiates that intangible atmosphere that makes it more than just a collection of tables strewn about under leafy trees: shade ranging from dappled light to deep woods; a “sunniness” emanating from the yellow Gasthaus fronting the brewery; a calmness surrounding the rustic architecture of the former stables.

Calvert’s brewery c.1830. SOURCE: Zythophile.

At Zythophile, Martyn Cornell continues to drip-feed tantalising details from the research for his upcoming epic on the history of porter and stout, such as this account of a visit to London by a Canadian brewery in 1832:

William next went through the stables, where he saw “about 20 Hosses like elephants” (spelling was not one of his strengths), and was told that the brewery owned some 70 horses in total. After that he was taken to see Calvert’s new ale brewery, built “on the most improoved plan & verey extensive.” This was not yet two years after the passing of the Beer House Act in England, which had led to more than 30,000 new beerhouses openings, and most of the big London porter brewers, of which Calvert’s was one, had started brewing ale as well as porter to supply these new outlets. Ale brewing looks to have been conducted with considerably more attention paid to hygiene: William commented that “I could not help remarking the vast differance which appeared in these two conserns with regard to cleenleness in the Porter brewery they appeared to pay no attention to it at all but in the Ale Brewery everey thing was as cleen as Parlors.”

Benny McCabe. SOURCE: J.J. O’Donoghue/Tripe & Disheen.

The last piece is a few months old, now, but only came to our attention this week when someone kindly messaged us to suggest we might enjoy reading it. It’s a profile of Cork publican Benny McCabe by J.J. O’Donoghue for Tripe & Disheen which overflows with optimism and enthusiasm despite, you know, everything:

Benny says he has never gone looking for a pub to take on or take over; the owners come to him, as he is a safe pair of hands, and as most punters will know well by now, Benny loves an old pub, the older and more storied it is, the better… “My father being a publican, on his day off he went to his buddy’s pubs.” Young Benny soaked it all up, “and I just have the memories of all these old pubs that are now ghosts.”… “You never really own a pub,” Benny says. What he means is that while it’s yours on the deeds, you are in fact ever only a guardian. “It’s a spiritual thing.”… “You’re a custodian of the four walls and the four walls are only the sum of the people that drink in them.”… From the Sin É, Benny came south of the river to The Mutton Lane and then west a little, over to The Oval. His recipe for restoration is minimalist: “Those progressions, sometimes it’s a bit like cooking fish, just add a bit of salt man. Don’t ruin it, don’t fucking ruin it.”

Finally, from Twitter…

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

4 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 19 June 2021: Jalebi, Rhubarb, Pink Boots”

That’s all great, but you gotta be charging at least ten bucks for your homebrew classes.

There’s a lot of stuff in that extract about sexism, and status and respect & how they’re bound up with economic independence, and that line of argument makes perfect sense – in a lot of contexts you are going to be respected more for charging for your expertise than for offering it free, especially if you’re a woman.

But insofar as it’s talking about professionalism, I’m really not sure about this – is being able to hustle a few quid out of friends and acquaintances really definitive of being professional? (I can think of other words for it.) As an academic, I’ve done an awful lot of speaking engagements in my area of professional [sic] expertise and never made a penny out of them, and in fact tend to view those academics who do make money on the side with suspicion or worse.

Then again, I am making a living out of being an academic (with the qualifications and everything), so maybe there is something in it after all – maybe “professional” equals “recognised qualifications” plus “somebody somewhere being willing to pay money for what you do”. Hmmm.

(Haven’t had a good Definition War in ages…)

Who doesn’t love a good Definition War? (On second thoughts, don’t answer that…)

There’s the everyday definition (1) of ‘professional’, which contrasts it with ‘amateur’, and basically comes down to ‘is someone paying you to do this?’. On this basis I might in the past have described myself as a ‘semi-professional’ singer; not the day job by any means, and most of my singing was amateur in the sense that I did it for free and the love of the music, but I was proficient enough to be paid for occasional gigs as a soloist or in a chamber choir.

And then there’s definition (2): ‘member of a recognised profession’, which as you note leaves open the possibility for unpaid work. The key point is surely that membership professions set external standards for expected knowledge, expertise, and behaviour. Some senses of definition (1) also head in this direction, meaning ‘meets expected standards of quality’, even for jobs that aren’t professions in the narrow technical sense. If an actor is described admiringly as ‘a real pro’, it means they turn up on time, remember their lines, hit their marks, take the director’s notes, and go home. (Call this definition 1(a)?)

It’s that ideal of a body of expertise that Cicerone is aiming for in describing itself as a ‘Professional Certification for Beer’. I don’t know the Cicerone setup well enough to know how successful they’ve been in making themselves a professional body, but I’ve got mates who have done stuff like WSET and Master of Wine, and those qualifications do seem to carry weight in the field. The really interesting bit comes around the socio-political manoeuvring and boundary work around creating a stable profession (and I suspect you know the sociological literature on professional formation etc. better than me).

All this then gets complicated by the arguments about crafts* vs professions; we don’t normally talk about professional carpenters or electricians, even in sense (1). (But we probably would make the distinction between professional brewer and homebrewer? Would a Heriot-Watt degree immediately make them a definition (2) professional?) (Some bits of) marketing and PR are professions with the various trappings thereof, and I suppose social media manager is a role that could meet the requirements of definition (2)?

I think charging for services (definition (1)) is ideally a step along the way to definition-(2) professionalism, and should at least lead to (1a); the point about valuing services more that are charged for holds I think for both client and provider.

*I guess I should get round to reading Pete Brown’s thoughts on this…

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