Here’s our selection of the best writing about beer and pubs from the past week, including apartheid in pubs and a defence of cancellation.
First, some news: for the Guardian Rob Davies reports that James Watt, CEO of BrewDog, hired private investigators to look into former employees involved in the Punks With Purpose campaign:
One subject of their inquiries, Rob MacKay, an ex-BrewDog employee, had appeared in a BBC documentary, The Truth About BrewDog, which made claims about the company’s workplace culture and Watt’s personal behaviour as an employer, including towards women… Integritas investigators also approached a friend of a female former acquaintance of Watt asking for details of their discussions, evidence reviewed by the Guardian indicates, after Watt became convinced that she was involved in online allegations about him that appeared on social media.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of it this is yet more terrible PR for BrewDog, after a long run of the same. It might also be considered an example of the Streisand Effect: in trying to suppress or counter negative stories Watt has succeeded in drawing further attention to them.
If you follow David Jesudason on Twitter you’ll know he’s been working with great passion on something big. Now, it’s arrived: the definitive piece to date on the ‘colour bar’ that kept black and Asian people out of many UK pubs during the 20th century. Its focus is one man, Avtar Singh Jouhl, who experienced prejudice in the pubs of Birmingham in the 1960s:
The colour bar may be Britain’s most shameful secret. While many people in the U.K. now see apartheid and segregation as part of other countries’ histories, few are aware that up until very recently, non-whites were barred from certain jobs, shops, pubs, and even toilets… Publicans somehow justified their actions by denying their policies were a colour bar, and claiming they were following a “squalor” ban, as a doctor of Indian origins who worked in Smethwick at the time noted. “Several doctors and teachers have tried to gain admission,” wrote Dr. Dhani Prem in The Parliamentary Leper: A History of Colour Prejudice in Britain. “But they were refused. No one can accuse the doctors and teachers of squalor. As a matter of fact, many of them live a better and cleaner life than do many of the white visitors to these pubs.”
There’s lots to digest here but most important is perhaps the challenge to the idea that the British pub is always welcoming, cosy and non-judgemental. It can be a battleground, too, and certainly unwelcoming (whether bluntly or subtly) if your face doesn’t fit.
At Beer is For Everyone Ruvani de Silva makes the case for ‘cancelling’ breweries whose business or employment practices are unethical. She talks about the history of the concept of ‘cancellation’, the backlash against it from the political right, and why she believes it is still an important tool for consumers:
Yes, it’s not easy. Yes, there are a lot of pushbacks. But there’s a reason the form of collective action now known as ‘cancelling’ started and it’s important not to lose sight of that. If a business or individual behaves unethically or illegally, choosing to cancel them is pretty much the only power consumers have to show their displeasure. We are voting with our voices and our cash. It might make us unpopular, and it might be hard work and tiring, but there are several good reasons to keep at it.
For Pellicle Will Hawkes has written about Bundobust, the craft beer and Indian street food chain, and how it emerged from the unique culture of Bradford, West Yorkshire:
After a long day on his feet, Marko Husak has found what he’s looking for… “That’s the taste of Bradford,” Marko says, emphatically, gesturing at the round metal bowl in which the last dish, sprinkled with coriander, has been served… Well, maybe… It’s impossible, surely, for a single dish to sum up a city where waves of incomers, beginning in the 19th century, have made an impact… Marko, 38, and Bundobust co-creator Mayur Patel, 35, are part of this tradition. Born and bred in Bradford, their family roots are distant; Marko’s in Ukraine, Mayur’s in Gujarat, India. This rich blend of shared history and culture is why Bundobust – which now has restaurants in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, as well as its own brewery – is among the most distinctive businesses to have emerged from Britain’s recent brewing renaissance.
Dr Christina Wade has fired up her historic brewing kit again, this time to recreate a medieval braggot – “ale backsweetened with honey and spices”:
Take 14 gallons of good fine ale that the wort thereof be twice used, & put it into a stone vessel. & let it stand 3 days or 4, until it is stale. Afterwards take a quart of fine wort, half a quart of live honey; &set it over the fire, & let it simmer, & skim well until it is clear. & put thereto a pennyworth of powder of pepper, & 1 pennyworth of powder of cloves, & simmer it well together until it boils. Take it down,& let it cool, & pour out the clear [liquid] thereof [decant] into the previously mentioned vessel [stone vessel], & the settlement thereof into a bag, into the mentioned pot [stone vessel], & close it well with a linen cloth that no air comes out; & put thereto new berm, & close it 3 days or 4 before you drink of it. Add aqua ardente to it.
Stephanie Shuttleworth continues her investigations into attitudes to the price of mild (which sounds like a sentence from 1963) in her Taste Psychology newsletter:
Each group comes with its own set of social norms; injunctive norms: how we expect our peers to think and behave, and descriptive norms: how they really think and behave. It’s largely through these norms that we self-stereotype ourselves into a group… When a new issue comes up; we first look to our group, or more specifically our group leaders for what to do – for an indication of which norms to follow or which ones we’re about to adapt. That may be the lady who runs your favourite bottle shop, a trusted pub landlord or increasingly, a beer writer you see online… Looking to them doesn’t mean being a lemming, nor does it mean idolising them for being special — they are simply the people who best embody what we have in common and what makes us different from outsiders.
At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh continues his exploration of the history of his adopted city with the story of a brewing museum founded in the 1990s:
March 1994 seems… like an inauspicious moment for the arrival in the city of the Musée de la Bière Schaerbeekois. The beer enthusiasts and collectors behind the project could have been forgiven for thinking that, rather than a museum celebrating Brussels’ (and Belgium’s) beer heritage, they were about to open a mausoleum to a recently-deceased culture. Schaarbeek would have been a good choice for either endeavour. Home in the early 1900s to 13 breweries and cherry orchards producing fruit for Brussels’ Kriekenlambiek, by the 1990s all that was left of this tradition was L’Ordre de la Griotte, a society honouring the neighbourhood’s cherry harvesters founded by local alderman Claude Paulet.
Finally, from Twitter, a beautiful booze rotunda: