News, nuggets and longreads 20 November 2021: Tangled timelines

In the past week, we came across lots of good writing about beer and pubs. Here’s the best of it, from portraits of pubs to experiments in fiction.

First, a recipe. If you’ve ever wanted to try making historical ‘cock ale’ but worried that you’d be lumbered with a lot of work to end up with a large batch of rank-tasting chicken beer, Dr Christina Wade has the answer:

I am making only a small portion of this recipe, one beer bottle worth, for reasons. So if one bottle of beer is 500ml and this recipe is based on 8 gallons of ale which is 30,280ml, then one bottle of beer is around 1/60th of the recipe. I bet you didn’t think you would have to do math on a beer blog, but here we are… I used those stock pots cause they seemed a bit fancier and just dropped them into some boiling ale… My ratios are one chicken stock pot per bottle of ale (500ml).

We are promised an update on how it tasted sometime soon.

Sahti producer next to his brewing vessels.
Pekka Kääriäinen. SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

Lars Marius Garshol continues his exploration of Sahti with an account of a visit to a major Finnish producer, Lammin Sahti. As always, it’s packed with interesting details, both technical and human:

I asked Pekka how he started and he told me he started brewing in 1970, when he was 14. He picked up brewing from a friend, simply because he thought it was interesting, he said. “But my mother didn’t like it. She said: ‘In this house no sahti will be made.'”

“So what did you do,” we asked, inevitably.

Pekka looked at us in his usual expressionless, determined way, then shrugged. He just kept brewing and his mother simply had to accept it.

A brain.

Mark Johnson has returned for another pass at a theme that’s important to him: attitudes to drink, drinking and alcohol addiction. This time, he’s asking us to think about how we talk about controlling our intake:

As a fan of the 90s American sitcom Friends I can’t help but notice the casual attitude to beer drinking in it. Whilst the situations are unrealistic – and I am not suggesting otherwise – the nonchalant approach to alcohol is actually healthy. People walk into rooms and grab a beer from the fridge, as if they are putting the kettle on for a brew. Beer isn’t an event. Beer isn’t a binge. Beer isn’t something that only exists on social media… What beer is in this universe is a casual drink that you can grab if you fancy one, assuming that you don’t need to drive later in the day. Nobody frowns upon it. Nobody questions the time of day or situation. Therefore nobody is a problematic binge drinker or hiding their desire for a beer. If we could remove the guilt surrounding drink then our relationship with it would be much healthier.

19th century brewing equipment.
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh takes us another step on the journey through the history of Brussels beer in 50 objects with #19 – the De La Vergne Compressor:

Only the best would do for brothers Prosper, Edouard, and André Wielemans… but as they shifted in the 1880s from spontaneous fermentation to bottom-fermented Lager, they found their new brewery was not up to the job… New York’s De La Vergne Engineering Company built for the Wielemans a steam-powered, wrought iron compressor. Four metres tall, it comprised two three metre-wide wheels and two vertical pistons. It was a unique piece of industrial engineering, absorbing fully half the brewery’s budget for their brewery upgrade… Collectively, the De La Vergne and the other machines produced 750,000 frigories an hour. Enough frigories to keep the Wielemans’ beers sufficiently chilled.

Stools at the bar in a pub.

It’s always exciting – to us, anyway – when someone lets loose and does something really creative. This week, Liam at BeerFoodTravel took a break from his usual painstaking Irish beer history to give us a piece of fiction centred around a pub:

A freezing easterly wind blew through the village as the old man limped to the doorway of the public house. He turned the cold handle and opened the door with a sharp creak, closing it quickly behind him and resting his palm for a moment on the brass push-plate, staring at the fading condensation marks from his fingers when he pulled his hand away. He turned and glanced at the others in the establishment as he rolled up his worn cap and shoved it into the deep pockets of his overcoat. Four men were lined out along the counter, their elbows on the dark mahogany countertop and their hands held in front of their mouths as if in prayer. They stared straight ahead, even when they took a sip from the small glasses sitting in front of each of them. Two well-dressed men were sitting at a table on low stools, one talking in whispered tones as the other nodded along, tipping the ash from his cigarette onto the floor at his feet.

The Lorne Arms in the 1920s.
SOURCE: National Brewery Heritage Trust/Flickr.

For the (unfortunately almost unreadable website of) the East London & West Essex Guardian Karen Averby provides notes on a pub we must have walked past a million times but never noticed – The Lorne Arms in Walthamstow:

[The] Lorne Arms, sometimes referred to as Ye Lorne Arms, was granted a licence and it operated as a fully fledged pub from the 1880s. It was initially supplied by the Savill Brothers Brewery, based in Stratford, although later became a Charringtons pub. As well as being used by the regular local crowd, it was also a local meeting place for the Ancient Order of Britons, and also served as a venue for inquests, presided over by the coroner; inquests into the deaths of several local residents were heard here, including murder and suicides… The pub was home to a succession of landlords and their families over the years. One of the early licensees was Jesse Sawyer, who in 1893 was one of many landlords deceived by serial swindler George Augustus Sydenham, who visited many pubs in East London and surrounding areas posing as an insurance broker to obtain funds.

Finally, from Twitter, a neat encapsulation of a historic trend…

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