News, nuggets and longreads 4 December 2021: new blogs in town

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs we especially enjoyed reading in the past week, from Lambic to Lewisham.

First, news from Brussels: the city now has a second Lambic brewery, as reported by Eoghan Walsh. Why is this a big deal?

Lambic, together with its offshoots Faro, Geuze, and Kriek, are ur-Brussels beers. In fact, until the arrival of industrial brewing in the 1860s, they were virtually the only beers brewed in the city and came to be closely intertwined with its folklore and culture. But where it once had dozens of Lambic breweries, since the mid-1990s Brussels has been home to only one – Brasserie Cantillon… The artisanal traditions that Cantillon have steadfastly kept alive were obliterated in the decades after WWII by the arrival of industrialised Lambic brewing championed by the Belle-Vue brewery in Molenbeek. It has been even longer since anyone started a new Lambic brewery, as far back as Belle-Vue in 1943, or even Cantillon in the late 1930s.

And while you’re there, check out this week’s related entry in the history of Brussels beer in 50 objects – ‘Les Mémoires de Jef Lambic’.

A show of hands

For Burum Collective Sarah Sinclair has looked into the steps some breweries have taken in the wake of allegations of bullying and harassment across the industry. It’s an interesting piece for several reasons, not least that the editor has added their own disclaimer: “I cannot pretend either myself or Rachel, my co-editor, are fully comfortable publishing something positive about companies… after a heavy year of feeling unsafe and let down”. The bit that especially struck us, though, was this dose of heavy reality:

My new bosses at Moonwake Beer Co. did not just take my word for it, they sat and read every post and took it as a serious learning opportunity for their business… These inherent discrimination issues within the industry, which really should not have been a surprise for anyone in our small microcosm, led to them working with our investors on 28 business practice policies… This measurable action impressed me as I’d simply not heard of brand new breweries having these things in place. It wasn’t until I spoke to our non-executive directors who previously run their own, now employee-owned business, that I realised without their prior experience and contacts this would have cost us upwards of £50,000 with third-party lawyers… This makes some sense as to why small, independent craft breweries may not have these.

Doing the right thing ain’t always cheap.

The Bartons Arms, Birmingham. SOURCE: Dermot Kennedy/Pub Gallery.

At Pub Gallery, a blog that’s new to us, Dermot Kennedy has written about stained glass in pubs, illustrated – as you might expect from the name of the website – with some wonderful photos:

Stained glass is almost as common in pubs as it is in churches. Examples from medieval churches are well known but stained glass had a revival in the early 19th century… In the 1860s, the founder of the Arts & Crafts movement William Morris was using the same technique but beginning to create stained glass for domestic buildings. Before too long designers began to realise its potential for pubs. At this time, and indeed until fairly recently, it was traditional for pub windows to be translucent to prevent people from peering through the glass. Most were frosted glass, often with designs created by etching, but stained glass did the job just as well and was a good deal more colourful… Stained glass began to appear in pubs from the 1880s but it became especially popular during the great pub building boom of 1895 – 1905.

Sorry to point from one round-up to another but Stan Hieronymus has done a great job of collating and summarising one of the big debates of the past week: are beer styles helpful or should everyone just shup up and ‘enjoy the beer’? Rather pleasingly, in an age where the death of beer blogging is much discussed, it’s an old-fashioned comment on Stan’s post, by someone called James, that sums it up best:

What a frustrating discourse! It is pretty obvious that it is helpful and sometimes demystifying to categorize beers by style. It is also obvious that some people police the style taxonomy in a way that is off-putting and hostile to outsiders.

Two men at the bar

It’s been a good week for finding new blogs. We don’t know much about the anonymous author of A Drinker’s History of London other than what’s conveyed by passing details in their autobiographical posts. This week’s piece, on the patience of bar staff, feels pinched between celebration and confession:

Fiction offers some well-observed examples. In Evelyn Waugh’s novella Work Suspended (published in 1943 and set in the period just before WW2) the narrator, Plant, is taken to a seedy club off Wimpole Street by ‘Atwater’… Another personal favourite of mine is Ambrose, the hotel barman who features in Alan Ayckbourn’s Private Fears In Public Places, and who has been co-opted as ‘best friend’ by the alcoholic Dan… I think that the reason these two examples resonate with me is down to the uneasy feeling that I am that man: the man on the ‘civilian’ side of the bar, boring the likes of the exemplary, impassive Bernard (of ‘Le Tartin’ and ‘Manouche’) and others of his trade. I do not know – and do not want to know – what Bernard really thought of me, my friends, my dates. But, for all his good manners, I think I can guess.

At Running Past there’s a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the life of a single pub, The Swan on Lee High Road, South East London. From the 1830s to today, it presents a catalogue of violence, death, drunkenness, Bohemian concerts and disco dancing, until we get to…

The current incarnation, which has straddled COVID-19 and the lockdowns that killed off the Dirty South (Rose of Lee), is known as Elements Bar. It offers food and cocktails, but much reduced hours to the traditional pub that was previously there. There seem to be similar issues of large parties but few drinkers on other nights… The struggles of the Swan (and it’s successors) are almost certainly related to changes in the area – much of the social housing in what was once Lee New Town (the area bounded by Lee High Road, Dacre Park and Boone Street) has been sold under right to buy. The neighbouring streets on the south side of Lee High Road had been home to skilled manual workers and public sector workers before and after World War Two. However, wealthier professionals have moved in, house prices have risen and drinking patterns changed.

Finally, from Twitter…

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