News, nuggets and longreads 11 November 2023: Fall Guy

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from old ale to Glasgow pubs.

When you’re trying to gauge the health of brewing and hospitality there are relatively few reliable sources of information. All you can do is look at the same regular reports and try to gain a sense of the general direction of travel. The latest Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA is one such marker and the most recent edition tells us that:

Britain’s number of licensed premises has fallen by 3.6% over the last 12 months to 99,916 sites… The total at the end of September marks the first time it has dropped below 100,000 in the Monitor’s history. The 3,766 drop over the 12-month period is equivalent to more than ten net closures every day… However, the pace of venue failures has slowed as the year has gone on… The report flags a particularly robust quarter for the managed hospitality sector. In the three months to September, this segment achieved 0.5% growth, in contrast to a 0.6% drop in the number of independently-run venues.

Gale's Prize Old Ale

For Good Beer Hunting Martyn Cornell has written about the history of Gale’s Prize Old Ale – or, rather, more interesting, its recent history. It’s a fascinating insight into how brewery takeovers work in practice and the financial factors that influence whether interesting, historic beers survive and thrive:

“COVID put a block on everything, and I was also terrifying Asahi by insisting that I wanted to have a wooden washback for this beer,” [brewery Henry Kirk] says. Much of the delay had to do with the cost of the new wooden vessel: some £15,000, or about $18,000. “That derailed the project for about two years, to be honest. But once everyone had calmed down, they said okay, and we brewed it, and mixed the old and the new, and we filled thirty-six hundred bottles, and sold out every time we put a new batch of bottles up, and Asahi went: ‘Hmm.’” 

A simple flat-roofed pub on a street corner.
The Laurieston, Glasgow, in 2019.

As news breaks of its sale Robbie Armstrong’s piece for Pellicle paying tribute to The Laurieston in Glasgow feels timely. It might not be the same pub in a year’s time. He focuses on details and stories that might otherwise disappear, creating a valuable snapshot of a pub in time:

The Guinness here flows from three different taps: regular, extra cold and ‘the middle’, a somewhat clandestine vintage beer engine which looks ornamental at first, but is connected straight to the keg at cellar temperature, bypassing the modern python system. Joseph takes almost five minutes to pour me a pint from the middle, and it’s a sight to behold: voluptuous, nary a bubble, the dome’s surface tension appearing to defy gravity. It’s smooth, creamy, and coats my moustache as I gulp it down greedily… When I ask Joseph about the quirk, he shrugs it off in self-effacing Clancy fashion. “People think what they want to think,” he says.

A laptop with a glass of beer on its screen.

The latest piece from Jordan St. John expresses sarcastic irritation at breweries for failing to do basic business things like keeping their websites up to date:

There’s no gentle way to say this: Your brewery is a business… Your brewery operates to sell a luxury good that contains a small amount of alcohol to people who quite like a small amount of alcohol… Maybe you have extremely unlikely goals of changing the world with your 500 hL contract brand. Maybe you have environmental targets that would be easily met by your brewery just not existing in the first place. Maybe you had a nice trip to Germany one time and six years in, you’re in way over your head and your house is mortgaged so you can keep the lights on… Your brewery is a business, and without meeting the basic goals of a business, your brewery isn’t going to make it.

Ray especially enjoyed this post because it chimes with his day job working in ‘user-centred design’. As Jordan points out, there’s often very little overlap between what you find on company websites versus what you actually need, per XKCD.

Pub life.

Martin Taylor captures a human moment in a short post called ‘Pubs are life’:

[There’s] nothing like the inside of a pub on a Monday at noon, and I somehow got distracted and found myself inside the still newish Beer House S6 at opening… And then a chap came in, ordered a double brandy, and sat down in tears… The manager came round from behind the bar, sat down with him, and asked what was up. The chap didn’t speak any English, but by deduction we worked out he had family just south of Tirana who I guess he was missing. I sat down, put an arm around him, and tried to work out what was up.

He’s a prolific poster and, as always, we recommend you poke around and read more.

Here’s an intriguing project: legendary Soho drinking den The Colony Room closed in 2008. Now, a recreation is opening as a pop-up near its original location, as reported at Londonist:

[Artist Darren] Coffield [has created] a faithful facsimile of the Colony Room, its emerald green walls cluttered with a slew of artworks and knick-knacks including Maggi Hambling’s portrait of Soho dandy Sebastian Horsley, and Francis Bacon as painted by Michael Clarke. Even little details – a gravy-hued Bakelite phone, a Courvoisier ashtray – are scattered about… Other things will have to change. The bar is downstairs, rather than up. No longer will a pea souper of fag fumes be permitted to clog the ether. (In fact if you so much as think of using that ashtray, you’ll surely get barred.) And we’d expect the barkeep to be a smidge politer than the club’s nefarious landlady Muriel Belcher (we’d put money on the Daisy Green peeps NOT greeting punters with the catchphrase “Hello c***ty!”).

Two things interest us here: after hours drinking clubs feel like a subject worth further investigation; and which other lost pubs might be good subjects for nostalgic recreation?

Finally, from social media, yet more evidence that some of the most interesting stuff about pubs is being published in zines:

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