News, nuggets and longreads 26 November 2022: The Onion Song

We’ve bookmarked a bunch of good writing about beer and pubs in the past week, including notes on onions and old ale.

Dark Star (Fuller’s (Asahi)) has brewed a version of Gale’s Prize Old Ale which is now, on and off, available to buy. The first batch went onto the online store this week and promptly sold out. We’re told another 1,300 bottles will be up next Friday, 2 December. Martyn Cornell explains in this blog post why you should care, and why you should join the queue:

15 or so years ago, the appreciation of sour ales that there is today, and Fuller’s sales team simply did not understand Prize Old Ale, what it was and what it could be. Fortunately John Keeling resisted their calls to pour it away down the drain, and kept 80 hectolitres or so hidden in the Griffin brewery. Earlier this year Henry Kirk had some of that beer conveyed to Sussex, where he brewed a fresh batch of Prize Old Ale to the original Horndean recipe, carefully blended that into the old, well-travelled beer, and then waited while the aged yeasts and bacteria did their job… The result is a marvel: an amazingly complex beer for a brew in one way so young, the sort of deep and fascinating palate (and palette) that beers such as Rodenbach or lambic achieve only after years in Belgian foeders: but then, parts of this beer have been around for a century.

Illustration of a dimple mug of brown bitter.

Just one question, just a small question, just an easy one, from Pete Brown: what is beer?

I’ve always had a very simple distinction. All fermented drinks are based on sugars that yeast converts to alcohol. If those sugars come from fruit, the drink is wine (real cider is, effectively, apple wine). If those sugars come from grains the drink is beer (which is why Japanese sake is technically rice beer rather than rice wine)… Ah. Says [the Beer Archaeologist Travis Rupp]. But of the starches in the Natufian beer, only 34.2% came from grasses. The rest were a mix of starches from a wide variety of plants including lentils, tubers, leaves, even flowers. Fruit was likely added not primarily for flavour, but because the yeast on the skins would have started the fermentation… So is this still beer?

Keg taps.

Almost three years since the start of the pandemic, many people still haven’t returned to city centre workplaces, fundamentally changing the feel and flow of cities. Jeff Alworth has explored this topic before and returns to it now with more data:

This summer, researchers at UC Berkeley found that of 62 cities in North America, only four saw their downtowns recover from Covid; a third still had half or less traffic than pre-pandemic… But here’s the thing—it wasn’t just downtowns. Cities as a whole were still suffering. According to that  same UC Berkeley study, only 16% of cities saw life return to normal across the metro areas. People hadn’t switched from having that after-work pint downtown to heading out of the house for one at the neighborhood local… Once people were in their homes, it seems, they were less likely to go back out…Earlier this week, I met with a brewer for an article I’m working on. He told me his taproom volume came back after the pandemic, but only to about three-quarters its original level.


Liam at Beer, Food, Travel is on a roll. This week, he delivers a torrent of lovely 19th century slang, from ‘crappers’ to ‘hinions’, in a post on ‘summut’:

Leaving all of that aside, the big thing here is an onion being served in a pint of porter and whiskey – or at least that is implied by the comments of Mr. Mulvey. This seems odd to the extreme and I can find no other reference to either a ‘summut’ or the practice of serving onion in a beer anywhere else – as of yet.

Reminds us of the ‘Pondicherry Pearl’, which makes us think Liam might be onto something when he suggests the whole idea of summut could be a gag.

Food at The Island Inn, West Bromwich.

Now, a couple of pieces that echo each other. First, for Pellicle, David Jesudason writes about the role of Desi pubs in the Midlands in making football more diverse:

Inside the Red Cow, Bera [Mahli], who is 65 years old, is frantically running from three different sets of customers; in the room above the packed pub of football fans, he’s catering for two different parties… But the football fans are his stock and trade. So much, in fact, he charters fleets of taxis for them before the match. He did this because he used to run Redfort Social Club, which was nearer the ground, and when he moved to the Red Cow he had to come up with a novel way of keeping his Saturday customers.

And at Good Beer Hunting Amy Lo answers a question we’ve all asked from time to time: why do so many London pubs serve Thai food?

The Churchill Arms in Kensington is a Fuller’s pub, one that looks exactly like the sort of pub you probably imagine when you think of England… Unexpectedly, it is also widely considered to be the first pub in London with a Thai kitchen, thanks to a chef named “Ben” Songkot Boonyasarayon, as manager James Keogh tells me. “He was running a restaurant in Earl’s Court back in the late ’80s, and he just happened to be a customer of the pub here, and he asked us if we would try Thai food here in the pub,” Keough says.

Finally, from Twitter, a mystery…

…and from Mastodon, a bedtime story:

Dr Christina Wade
Did you know one of the first European children’s picture books featured people brewing? Written by Jan Komenský, the Orbis sensualium pictus, published 1658 and trans. to English by Charles Hoole in 1659, told children:

Where Wine is not to be had, 
they drink Beer, 
which is brewed of Malt,
and Hops in a Caldron,
afterwards it is poured into Vats.

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

5 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 26 November 2022: The Onion Song”

Really enjoyed Amy Lo’s piece, thinking of the many great Thai meals I’ve had alongside cask beer!

The Thai feature inevitably raises the question, which was the first UK pub to specialise in Thai food. I believe it may have been the legendary Black Horse in Walcote, Leicestershire, famous both locally and for travellers on the nearby M1 for its Thai kitchen, as well as the real ales as far back as the 1980’s, possibly earlier.

When we were working in London in the early to mid/late 90s we used to go to the Paviours Arms in Westminster on a Monday night for the excellent Thai food, which I’d never eaten before then, and the football which they showed on a large screen. It was one of those pubs they used to put in the ground floor of office blocks.
I’ve just looked and the whole block was demolished in 2003. Apparently it was classic Art Deco but I don’t remember. Too busy watching the football I expect.

I missed the Gale’s going up on the website; I had a look round online when I first read Martyn’s piece, but couldn’t find it on the Dark Star webshop. Or was it in the Fuller’s webshop? I still have a bottle or two of the Marble releases in the stash somewhere – I might dig one of those out tonight.

We got ours from the Dark Star online shop, ordering within minutes of seeing someone (Henry?) Tweet about it.

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