News, nuggets and longreads 7 January 2023: Get the message

So we’re still doing this every Saturday morning in 2023, then? Right-oh. In the first news, nuggets and longreads of the year we’ve made a particular effort to highlight newsletters.

First, a few bits of news:

With some of this in mind, we’ll share a nugget from an email we received off the back of our piece about the state of beer in 2023:

“You talk in your latest piece about 80 closures in 2022. Would it surprise you to know that in both 2018 and 2019 the number of closures was close to double that?”

Good fact!

A 1946 ad for Miller High Life which shows a man adjusting a woman's waders while they fish together. Wait, what?

By writing about the connections between beer and Champagne in technique and marketing for Good Beer Hunting Rachel Hendry has tricked us into reading about wine:

High Life was first unveiled on December 30, 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin… Even from a distance, the beer looked special. It came packaged in a clear, glass bottle at a time when much beer was still kept in barrels. The team at Miller had astutely opted for a more elegant, sloping neck, as opposed to the long neck more commonly associated with bottled beer at the time. Silver foil adorned the crown cap all the way down the full length of that neck, glinting and glistening as it caught the light… It would be another two years before the tagline The Champagne of Bottled Beers would be used, but even at this point of introduction, Miller High Life was already reaching for the stars.

The Golden Beam, a huge Wetherspoon pub in Headingley, Leeds

For The Sociological Review Reid Allan has written about the specific, interesting ways people use chain pubs in the UK:

Across from us on one of the two-top tables was an old man with his headphones in, connected to a Walkman device. He was writing in a notebook, using his tablet to reference whatever he was writing. Later he switched to a crossword. After a while there was a lull, and it became noticeably dim in the pub. I looked to my right and saw the gentleman reach into his satchel and take out a small, portable desk lamp from his bag. He set it up on the table and turned it on over his newspaper, taking a sip of ale before carrying on with his crossword.

Illustration: a quiet corner in a quiet pub, with table and stools.

At The Extreme Housewife Laura Hadland makes the case for supporting pubs, even, or especially, the ones you think are good enough to survive the current difficulties:

It is New Year’s Day and I am painfully aware that while The Boy and I were ensconced on the sofa… The West End Brewery in Leicester shut its doors for the final time last night after six or so happy years… It was Leicester’s first brewpub and I have many wonderful memories of time spent there… And that’s why I continue to tell anyone that will listen (and shout at the turned heads of those who don’t) to keep using your pubs. Whenever you can. I don’t care if you drink pints of well conditioned cask bitter, a fizzy lemonade or just bob in for a bag of Scampi Fries and a chat. They need your custom, and I strongly believe that those hostelries are the keepers of a significant piece of national heritage and culture.

A neon sign in a Mexico City bar: "Chela de la MX".
SOURCE: Courtney Iseman.

Courtney Iseman’s newsletter was one of the consistent highlights of 2022. The first edition of 2023 has enthusiastic notes on drinking beer in Mexico City, among other things:

At Drunkendog, a lively and convivial green-tiled beer bar in La Condesa, the beertender and I shared one common language, and that is the language of beer. Perhaps that sounds a bit much, but there’s no way around it! We couldn’t have talked about much else, but I was able to convey—or, let’s give credit where it’s actually due: he managed to suss out—I was from the States and wanted to try some Mexican craft beer, and bring a few favorites home, and (at the time) I was primarily after IPAs. Beer after beer after beer was pulled out of the front fridge and displayed on a table as he talked me through each one as best he could, with bullet-point descriptors that proved quite effective. “Bitter, orange, Mexico City,” “Thicker, sweet, pineapple, Tijuana.”

St George flags outside a pub.

David Jesudason has revived his newsletter under the name Episodes of my Pub Life, with a focus on Desi pubs. Yesterday’s mailout contains observation on what it’s like trying to guess if a pub might be racist:

There’s no real gauge if a pub is inclusive, like there’s no way of measuring if a place is racist. OK in the pub with my non-white friends sometimes we play “which place is more racist?” but it’s a semi-silly game and really just a way of talking about racist incidents from Aberdeen to Cornwall… It also depends on the day you visit, the mood of the punters and external issues, such as news events. You could have a black landlord or the most left-leaning publican imaginable but if a bunch of fascists want to visit then suddenly your safe place becomes perilous.

Someone biting into a citrus fruit.
SOURCE: Engin Akyurt/Unsplash.

Jen Blair has a newsletter called Under the Jenfluence. The most recent edition, published on 1 January, covers lots of ground, from family dynamics to (the bit that grabbed our attention) the science of taste:

Sensory experts and novices are more alike than different. On average, all of us (experienced or not) can identify about three distinct flavors in a beer. The rest, the flowery language, the intensity, all come from memory. The more experience you get, the better you’ll be able to recall what flavors you would expect to taste. There’s no innate talent or genetic superiority. Practice makes progress and sensory is basically a farce we’ve all collectively agreed upon. Don’t let someone tell you that your perceptions are incorrect because it’s all made up anyway.

Logo for the Big Smoke Brew Co.
SOURCE: Will Hawkes.

Will Hawkes’s London Beer City is, as you’d expect, a very professional bit of work with a laser focus on a single topic. The December edition is here and includes notes on a sort-of famous sort-of London brewery most of us have never heard of:

So who are Big Smoke, and how did they become so significant? The story begins in Surbiton, at a handsome Victorian pub called The Antelope, not far from the River Thames. Big Smoke Brew Co was established here in 2014 by James Morgan and Richard Craig, with Nick Blake – a genial Kiwi (is there any other kind?) – in charge of the beer. In 2018, they moved to the current site in Esher, Surrey, just beyond Greater London’s boundary, in search of more space… Brewing, though, is only the second most important thing about Big Smoke. This business is built on boozers. Morgan – whose dad Dick has run pubs around London for decades – met Craig when he hired him to work at Shillibeers, on the Caledonian Road, in 2001. They went on to take charge of The North Pole in Islington, one of the city’s first craft-beer focused pubs. They are steeped in pubs, with contacts most brewery owners would kill for.

Finally, from Mastodon…

…and, from Twitter…

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 7 January 2023: Get the message”

What a startling statement: “… because it’s all made up anyway…” Both an internal loop and an all purpose response.

Just catching up with the Hendry article and your catch that it is as much about wine as beer. Certainly it is well-written and thought-provoking, and indeed more articles should be written linking the various drinks because there are many intersections, a whole range in fact.

The Champagne situation, both of itself and as all–around status emblem, is very much a one-off in drink studies and business history, imo.

It was a once-in-its-era (1800s) supernova emergence, like the Beatles for the 20th century.

It brought together a whole range of factors – the glamour of being French, the first sparkling wine or widely available one, the British benediction for the now-standard dry form, and probably the vintage form, and marketing savvy – that vaulted it into the permanent luxe consumables class.

No other drink has or can come close to the Champagne phenomenon, imo. Hence the term has become a general metaphor, e.g. champagne taste, champagne lifestyle.

This said, I do feel it has justified gastronomic qualities. As for any product one must decide whether the various brands are worth the brass. I like Veuve Cliquot and Taittinger, especially.

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