Fifteen years ago today the first post appeared on this blog. It wasn’t anything very exciting in itself – we just wanted to test how it all worked before committing – but was the start of something that has brought us a lot of fun and satisfaction over the years.
When work or real life has been tough, the blog has been somewhere to retreat. You can’t be depressed when you’re totally absorbed in writing something about gin palaces, or organising a tasting of bottled milds.
More than that, though, it’s taught us new skills, most notably how to write – and how to collaborate on writing.
The experience we’ve gained writing with each other translates well into writing with other people: don’t take those edits personally; it’s all about getting the best end product in the time available.
And, of course, it led to two published books, of which we’re very proud, and a few awards, too.
We’re not sure how we’ve stuck at it this long. Being a team helps but also, habit. We might not post as often as we used to but even now, if we don’t put up at least one post per week, we start to feel a bit twitchy.
That about 70 people think we’re worth supporting via Patreon, and several thousand more follow us on Twitter, is also a great encouragement to stick at it.
It can feel as if you’re throwing stuff out into a void – and we definitely were doing that for the first year or two – but it only takes the smallest echo to feel reassured that it’s landing somewhere.
To mark this little milestone, we put it to readers, followers and subscribers in various places that we’d be up for answering any questions they might have.
Here’s what we got, starting with a few questions from Andreas Krennmair, via Patreon.
What’s your most popular blog post by e.g. page views or comments?
In terms of comments, it was this piece from 2012 on ‘The Brown Bitter Company’ which actually got to something like 120 comments before the site was hacked. We tried to restore as many comments as we could from a backup but didn’t catch them all.
We don’t particularly monitor analytics these days but we do know that our piece about Watney’s Red Barrel is consistently among the most visited on the site. That’s not a surprise: we wrote it with the specific idea that it might be a helpful single source of information on this important beer, and it’s somewhat optimised to show up in Google search results for a range of searches on this topic. (This is another skill we’ve learned through blogging.) It got about 8,000 views in 2021 and continues to do steady traffic every day. We could probably make some money off that if we had on-page ads.
On a similar note, which blog post was the greatest unexpected success, and vice versa, were there any posts that you expected to be popular but then got a lot less resonance?
What we thought was a fairly minor bit of midweek pondering on brewery takeovers generated (a) several days of angry Tweeting, stroppy emails and not entirely welcome attention; followed by (b) a second surge of attention a couple of weeks later when it turned out our guesswork was more accurate than we could have known.
In terms of disappointments, it’s usually the longreads. When you’ve put a lot of effort into something 1,500 or more words long, you hope people might read and enjoy it. Our second piece following up on the story of Brew Britannia, ‘Don’t Worry, Be (Mostly) Happy’, runs to 6,000 words and took a lot of work, but didn’t grab people anywhere near as much as the first update, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Murky’. So maybe that one. Or it might be our interview with Simon Gueneau from Zero Degrees, which we think got overlooked because, first, that’s not an especially cool brewery and, secondly, interviewers with brewers don’t excite people all that much in general, we’ve found.
What is your whale topic? By that I mean something you’ve wanted to research but every time you tried, you have not been able to find any (usable) sources about it?
We’ve got one at the moment – the history of Smiles Brewery here in Bristol. We’ve cast around for information and sources a few times but can’t get hold of anyone with first-hand knowledge, or any documentation. That might be because it’s relatively recent history and people feel uncomfortable talking about it, or it could just be that there’s not much to tell. But we’ll keep at it.
Having just returned from Belgium, is there a Belgian beer that you’re surprised doesn’t get more recognition?
This question and the next are from Stuart Pritchard, also via Patreon. Our gut instinct is to say De Ranke. Beer geeks know them and in our minds, they’re up there with Duvel, Orval and Westmalle. But we wonder how many people outside The Bubble might think of them at all. Finding De Ranke XX on draught in Bristol the other week was a major cause of excitement.
Given the amount of hype around some beers and breweries, is there one subject of adulation that you have found warranted the attention?
We struggle with this a bit. Few breweries that appear from nowhere and generate lots of excitement in a short period of time have ever really worked for us. We sometimes feel out of step, wondering if we’re missing something. But, ultimately, we have to trust our own judgement. Sometimes those breweries get good, if they stick it out. Siren, for example, we recall finding underwhelming early on but now, well established and consistent, they’ve become a go-to for us. Generally, we prefer breweries that start small and quiet and build a buzz over the course of years. We’d never have called Elusive a hype brewery and yet we hear that other week a ‘meet the brewer’ event generated queues around the block. They’ve earned that following.
If you could resurrect one beer that has ceased being brewed, or the original brewery has ceased to exist, what would it be? – Ian Garrett, via Twitter
There are a couple of categories here. First, there are beers we miss from the last decade or two, such as Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter. This was a go-to, especially for Jess, and we still don’t understand the logic behind its disappearance. (“Poor sales!” Yes, but also poor marketing.) Then there are beers and breweries we regret having missed, from the perspective of beer history. Boddington’s, for example, which we’ve done our damnedest to get to know by reading and talking to people – but that’s not the same.
What’s your favourite flavour of crisps? What’s your favourite brand of crisps? Does your favourite flavour/brand become overall fave? Why do lots of ‘beer’ pubs sell Pipers Crisps? – ‘Reg Plates’ via Twitter
Ray’s given up crisps! But Jess says Pickled Onion Monster Munch. We’ve both been impressed by Piper’s ready-salted which are a bit more oily than some other brands and get really close to the experience of the bits from the bottom of a bag of chips. Which probably answers that final question, too.
The one/ultimate Bristol pub to visit for that a craft (summer) experience….. throw in a yard…or garden… forget the food…. though a pop up…. – DG, via Twitter
We don’t think there is one magical place that has it all. The Lost & Grounded taproom comes closest with its benches out on the car park, an always-interesting beer list and usually someone cooking pizza or whatever. When the weather is right, and the crowd is buzzing, it can feel quite like a German beer garden… despite being on an industrial estate in Brislington.
What is the answer to Life, the Universe & Everything?? – Granddad Greg, via Twitter
We’d have put money on some smart arse asking this. Anyway, it’s beer.
If you had to draw a pie chart showing importance for a good night with 3 factors, company, atmosphere/surroundings and beer quality what would it look like? – Chris Murray, via Twitter
First, pie charts are bad, and information can almost be displayed more clearly with another type of chart. But, anyway… These days, beer quality is much less important to us than it used to be. As long as there’s something on offer we can enjoy drinking – and that can be Guinness at a push – if the pub and/or company are interesting, we’ll have a good time. Here’s the chart, though, showing a 40/40/20 split.
Can you define the difference between porter and stout? – James B, via Twitter
We’ve already had a go at this one on our FAQ page: “Historically speaking, nothing: stout is to porter what best bitter is to bitter – a heftier version of the same style. Modern home-brewing competition guidelines set specific parameters but remember, those aren’t rules. And if a brewer makes both a porter and a stout they’ll usually, in our experience, make the stout denser and more bitter.” From a personal perspective, we’d probably describe something rich and creamy as stout, and expect porter to be more smokey or fruitier.
Why do brewers still conform to the uniform of check shirts, beards, tattoos and beanies long after the fashion died? – Alcofrolic Chap, via Twitter
We don’t know if they do, to be honest. Especially not the women. But about 18% of British men had full beards as of 2017 and around a third of UK adults have tattoos. Given that part of the appeal of working in craft brewing must be that you’re not expected to be clean-shaven, wear a suit or otherwise conform to corporate dress codes, it’s probably higher again in the industry. And check shirts are just… standard clothes? Pretty practical for working in, too, as they don’t show dust or schmutz as easily as, say, a white or black one. And beanies are still very much in fashion, based on our observations of people going about their business in Bristol. What we’re saying is, they’re just normal men. They’re just innocent men.
Have your thoughts on what makes an ideal pub changed since you first started? – Lisa Grimm, via Twitter
Yes. When we started blogging, we were constantly irritated at pubs only having brown bitter on offer and would rate pubs more highly because of their beer offer even if the atmosphere wasn’t great. We were on a mission back then to try as many beers as possible and expand our knowledge. Now, we value variety much more. The ideal pub now will have personality, individual character and something unique about its offer – whether that’s cheese rolls in paper bags, a particularly good jukebox or, say, weirdly flat Bass. One of our latest thoughts, that we haven’t quite worked through yet, is that a great pub should make the regulars feel as if they’re at home without making incomers feel unwelcome.
We hear statistics about how many pubs have closed in recent years; but several that I know are now a lot bigger with extensions built and outbuildings refurbished. Has anyone studied how the overall hospitality area has changed? – Mark Swingler, via Twitter
We’ve thought about this a bit. Old-fashioned street corner beerhouses might have had space for 20 or 30 drinkers. A typical Wetherspoon pub has room for 200 or more. So there’s definitely some sort of consolidation process going on. At the same time, the micropub has arisen in the past two decades. Operators will always want bigger, more efficient premises; but maybe drinkers don’t; so huge pubs won’t necessarily be anyone’s favourite place to drink, even if they’re convenient. Pre-pandemic, we’d have said the medium-sized suburban local was most at risk but the pandemic has thrown everything up in the air, including where you’ll find people. So who knows what will happen in coming years.
Who is your favourite beer writer? – Tim Hickford, via Twitter
In our Golden Pints last year we named Eoghan Walsh and we’d stick by that, especially as we hear he’s turning his excellent posts on Brussels beer history into a book. But David Jesudason is having a hell of a year in 2022. Check out this list of our favourite beer writing from 2021 for more names.
Will Scampi Fries, Cheese Moments and pork scratchings ever be surpassed? – Martyn Griffin, via Twitter
We’d make the case for pistachio nuts, salted cashews and Serious Pig ‘Crunchy Snacking Cheese’. The latter is the essence of oily, salty umami and does the job when (having gone veggie in the past year or so) we crave something like scratchings.
Thanks to everyone who asked us something for this post and, of course, to everyone who’s encouraged or supported us over the years.