There’s been a lot of writing about beer and pubs in the past week. Here’s our pick, from brewing history to reflections on being drunk.
Of course it feels like a strange time to be thinking about beer with the Russian invasion of Ukraine still underway. The most helpful thing to do, as far as we can tell, is to donate to charities working in the warzone and with refugees, such as the British Red Cross. There is also an organised campaign, Drinkers for Ukraine, which is mobilising the beer industry behind the cause:
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is increasingly grave, and a lot of people are looking around to see how they can help – us too. That’s why we put together this initiative, working with friends and colleagues across the drinks industry to use what we have to raise as much as we can, as soon as we can. The #DrinkersForUkraine fundraising effort is centred around three linked activities launching right now. Participants can join one or more – or all – of them. The point is to get involved – every single Dollar, Pound, Euro, and Peso counts.
At Travel. Run. Eat. Drink beer. Repeat. – a blog that is new to us – Lana Svitankova (one of the people behind Drinkers for Ukraine) has written about Ukrainian Golden Ale, which she argues is a distinct style worthy of recognition:
It isn’t craft enough for some, while others say it doesn’t have any explicitly Ukrainian ingredients (although coriander has a significant share of the total export of the country). Some critics even say it is patently a low-quality execution of Belgian Strong Ale. However, it indisputably has been a big part of the new wave of Ukrainian beer since its inception… The first example of Golden Ale (what may be considered the prototype) was brewed in 2009, preceding the first Ukrainian breweries to explicitly call themselves “craft” by three years. While the modern craft beer scene is now developing apace, Golden Ale is still alive and kicking, enjoyed by Ukrainian drinkers in great volumes; just last year they drank more than 1,25 million (!) litres. Not bad for a country without a long tradition of beer drinking.
Brewing historian Lars Marius Garshol has written a typically thoughtful piece about Estonia and the important part brewing plays in defining its national identity. It isn’t only about Estonia, of course:
After the Russian revolution in 1917 the Russian Empire fell apart, and Estonia escaped Moscow’s clutches by declaring itself independent. Suddenly Estonia was a free nation, in a position to develop as it pleased… A major part of this project, which started even before Estonian independence, was to define what it meant to be an Estonian, and to show that this was a valuable thing. A nationalistic project to rebuild confidence in Estonian ethnicity, if you will… Documenting the national culture was a major part of it. That’s why Estonians were doing these massive surveys of their own culture, and it’s also why Estonians responded so overwhelmingly to the questionnaire… Going through these answers later it became very clear that at this time farmhouse brewing was going on all over Estonia. Every single answer seemed to say the same: yes, beer is still being brewed at home here. The impression I get is that in the late 1930s farmhouse brewing in Estonia was something most households did… Those dates were kind of ominous, though. I turned to the last volume, 55. March 1940 to September 1940. Wasn’t that when …?
Duncan Mackay, AKA The Pubmeister, has unearthed a book about pubs that isn’t in our collection and that, as far as we can tell, we’ve never come across in a library. It’s called The English Inn and was written by Herbert Jenkins in 1930, with revisions by Thomas Burke in 1947:
Burke declares the pub to be all but finished and the inn to be dying: “The old-style pub is already doomed and the inn will quickly follow”. He describes how pubs had replaced taverns but they too would not stand the test of time, becoming “community centres, working-men’s clubs or family cafes”. We will overlook his failure to foresee the development of micropubs… Of the Inn he predicts that “speed will kill it….but will be utterly useless when the plane displaces the car as…those inns outside the air-track will have to close”… He particularly liked the Sun in Splendour in Notting Hill “for its grotto, and its waterfall, and its wonderful dog”.
That last bit is interesting – an earlier example of the ‘theme pub’ idea than we’ve previously traced, perhaps?
Dermot Kennedy has had another go at sorting out the muddle around the various claims to be the “oldest pub in Britain” – a topic on which pubs themselves can rarely be trusted:
The pub guide on this website has a category called Ancient Pubs. When I added it I was thinking about the very oldest pubs and I’d assumed that it would include those dating from maybe the 1100s up to the 1400s. Like most people, I was ready to believe claims made by pubs like “dates back to the twelfth century”, or “over 800 years old”. And why not, as these claims are repeated without question in dozens of pub guides from the early 1900s to the present day… But it soon became clear to me that none of these pubs would be in my guide’s Ancient Pubs category. In fact if I had stuck to the initial criteria of 1100-1499 there would only be two or three pubs in the category and none at all from before the late 1300s.
Michael at Bring on the Beer has been engaging in some mindful drunkenness, demonstrating that one way to deal with stressful times is to focus on controlling what you can control:
I don’t need another beer. Tomorrow is Saturday. Even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t need another. The next day offers hope, and opportunity. At least it does right now, inside my mind… When my grandad was alive, we used to love balmy summer evenings; when the heat of the sun had subsided enough, when the BBQ embers were dying off, but it was still light, there was still beer in our glasses, there was still time to live, to enjoy life, to be who we were.
Finally, from Twitter, a thread about what’s going on with cask ale in 2022: