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News, nuggets and longreads 9 April 2022: Specificity

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past seven days, from local traditions to the publican as priest.

First, a bit of good news: as we suspected might be the case, despite stubbornly high numbers of COVID-19 cases and the cost of living crisis, pubs are back on track. The Return of the Pub report from KAM and the British Institute of Innkeeping, as reported at Beer Today, includes this fascinating detail:

Thirty-five per cent of all pub-goers believe that the role of the Great British pub has grown in importance, for them personally, since the various lockdowns. This is significantly higher in the 18- to 34-year-old age bracket.

We’re reluctant to suggest that COVID-19 had any ‘upsides’ but pushing people to think about what they really value, and what they might have been taken for granted, might look like one from certain angles.


A banked pint. SOURCE: Reece Hugill/Pellicle.

Reece Hugill’s piece about ‘banked pints’ on Teesside for Pellicle was a bit of a viral hit this week. We enjoyed it enormously. What makes it so good? We think it’s this:

  1. It turns what has previously been a mere footnote into something truly substantial.
  2. The joy of the specific and the local – these things still exist.
  3. On the ground reporting and conversations with real people.
  4. The clarity and simplicity of the writing – unobtrusive but elegant prose.

You’ve probably already read it but in case it might tempt you into a second pass…

Half-full glasses are pulled from the bar-back fridge, topped up feverishly from the hand-pull. Placed in front of me are two ridiculous looking pints of ruby-red cask beer. Foam cartoonishly mounded a full four inches higher than the brim of the glass. Wobbling and bubbling, alpine peaks and whips of pure white.

And now keep your eyes peeled for this kind of thing in the wild:


Bitter.

For Good Beer Hunting Anthony Gladman has written about the current status of best bitter in British which, he argues, is having a moment alongside mild:

There’s an almost inescapably nostalgic side to Best Bitter. It is a cultural touchstone for an idealized Englishness, like cricket on the village green, orderly queues, and pots of tea. (Perhaps that’s why it was used by some pro-Brexit voters and campaigners as a vehicle for propaganda.) It helps that the style has a strong association with the pub, another institution with deep roots in the British psyche. Best Bitter is usually enjoyed as a cask Ale (sometimes also called real Ale), which is about as Platonically British as you can get. Cut us deep enough and we bleed Best Bitter… I like to think Best Bitter makes more memories than it obliterates.


A glass of saison.

Saison isn’t exactly the style of the moment, as Jeff Alworth mentions in the latest entry in his ‘Making of a Classic’ series. Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson brought it to the world’s attention in the 1970s and craft brewers became obsessed a decade or so ago. Now, it’s just one of many styles you can find with relative ease almost wherever you go, if you’re curious or have a craving. Jeff’s piece attempts to explain what saison is

On a warm autumn afternoon in 2019, Yvan De Baets and I sipped cloudy, golden ale from elegant, vase-like glasses. Yvan has been making beer at Brasserie de la Senne for twenty years and, more than that, he has one of the most extensive libraries on Belgian brewing I know. If anyone can answer a question about Belgian brewing, it’s Yvan. Yet when I asked him about saison, he frowned. “Honestly, it’s very difficult to explain. We [brewers] always have our own definition, our own feeling.” Saisons are at once elusive yet unmistakable. They might be boozy or weak, dark or pale, hoppy or sweet. Meet one in the glass, though, and you know it instantly.

…with a focus on Saison Dupont, including this startling detail: “When the old equipment finally wears out, they replace it, and they’ve even added a highly-sophisticated robot to the bottling line.”


Mallaig

At I Might Have a Glass of Beer Rob Sterowski writes about the revival of The Old Forge, sometimes called “Britain’s most remote pub”, on the Knoydart peninsula in the Scottish Highlands:

Almost as famous as the Old Forge’s location is the bad feeling that developed between its owner and the local community, which eventually led to a spectacular falling out. That story should perhaps be told by someone more knowledgeable than me… Now that chapter is closed. The local community collectively owns the pub, through the Old Forge Community Benefit Society, which over the last couple of years has methodically put the organisational pieces in place and raised the money – a mixture of grants and crowdfunding – to buy out the former owner… And last week they finally got the keys.


Stools at the bar in a pub.

We don’t often get to include fiction here but how could we not feature a story called ‘The Pub with No Beer’? It’s by the Irish author Kevin Barry and was published by The New Yorker. It’s about a reluctant publican alone in a pub closed during lockdown, reflecting on his family and the community, and the pub’s place in it:

He went under the bar and into the kitchen. The kitchen always had been the sanctuary of the house. Draw the curtain and it was removed from the public view. Once in this room he had seen his father weeping. Time unspooled, unreeled. Angered by a customer, thrown perhaps by an intrusive comment, riled by some perceived slight, his father had withdrawn to this room and silently wept. To be a publican was a lifelong performance… “People need steadiness,” his father said. “They want to look into the same expression on your face always. You’ve to arrange your misfortunate face for them.”


Finally, from Twitter…

If you want to know more, we wrote about The Merchant Venturer, now The Colosseum, in this post about Bristol’s 20th century pubs.

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

3 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 9 April 2022: Specificity”

“Strip and chips” or “chrome, keg and chicken”? Which (sucks pipe meditatively), considering that the chicken was clearly being served with chips (on big chunky plates with knives and forks) means that strictly speaking we’re talking about a contrast between chrome and keg, on one hand, and, er, strippers on the other. It’s a weird combination of ideas, not least because it implicitly puts CAMRA on the side of the fine old ancient pub tradition of striptease.

Although now I come to think of it, maybe that’s not so far out – that Bill Tidy cartoon dated from 1985, fully 12 years later than this clip, and the great clearing-out of sexist pump clips and merchandise from CAMRA festivals only dates from the 2010s. Cultural conservationists, careful what you’re conserving!

I wrote about my encounter with banked pints – and the Hartlepool Head – back in 2014. Glad to hear the Globe is still going strong, although my welcome wasn’t quite as warm as Reece’s. Not sure how he managed, though – I found it fiendishly difficult to drink without getting foam all over my face.

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