This is the last news, nuggets and longreads of 2023, featuring Edwardian pubs, beer tourism and American cask.
First, some big news: there won’t be a CAMRA Great British Beer Festival in 2024. The Campaign promises it will be back “with a bang” in 2025 and says the reason is that its usual venue, Olympia London, isn’t available this year. It feels like a big deal, though, especially coming so soon after the two years lost to COVID in 2020 and 2021. Perhaps this will also be an opportunity to rethink the festival and reinvent it somewhat for the 2020s.
Dermot Kennedy’s excellent blog Pub Gallery is back with a beautifully illustrated post about the pubs of Maida Vale in West London:
Maida Vale is a well off residential area in north west London known for its streets of mansion blocks. It’s also home to Little Venice, the canal basin on the Regents Canal famous for multiple narrowboats and waterside cafes and pubs. BBC’s Maida Vale Studios are possibly best known for being the home of the John Peel Sessions which were recorded here for his influential radio show from 1967 to 2004. What the area is less well known for is its collection of exceptional Victorian heritage pubs. This short walk takes in four pubs, all well worth a visit to see the extravagant steps brewers and entrepreneurs took to ensure their pub outdid their neighbours in style and elegance.
For Pellicle Courtney Iseman explores the history and culture of the cask ale revival in New York City, focusing on Strong Rope Brewery:
While nearly every neighbourhood had at least a couple of options, these places—an eclectic array of traditional-ish pubs, divier bare-bones spots, polished brewpubs, Belgian-inspired cellars, and sports-bar facsimiles—were destinations for which beer lovers would schlep across three train lines. I remember breathing deeply into bready, biscuity, pie-crusty, floral, woody, earthy, spicy, herbal aromas as I clutched my glass in the creaky wooden Blind Tiger Ale House, the warm and pubby David Copperfield’s House of Beer (RIP), the well-appointed and spacious Ginger Man (also RIP), and the rowdier Hop Devil Grill (oh, yes, RIP), and savouring smaller pours to suss out malt or hop differences at cask festivals at Chelsea Brewing Company (yep…RIP) and the Brooklyn location of d.b.a. (also closed; happily its original East Village space soldiers on).
David Elphick of the Brighton Beer Blog has interviewed beer writer Mark Dredge on a pub crawl around the city. We tend to avoid writing about beer writing these days but it’s interesting to see Mark’s reflections on actually making a living at it, which required (a) taking some risks; (b) making some compromises (working for breweries); and (c) nailing the art of pitching to publishers:
I timed it quite well. In 2008 I was about 24, everyone else in the scene was like 40, so I was coming into this as the young person, just as Punk IPA was being released. Just as Thornbridge was out there. Just when these modern beers came along… Many people were talking about heritage beers, trying to keep the classics going. Whereas I didn’t have a clue about all that. I just know this modern stuff is really interesting, I didn’t know any better… I got lucky, right place, right person, right time. But I worked hard for it. I would get up at 5am and write about beer, which as a 24 year old is an unusual thing to do.
Ahem… We were about 30 at the time. But people are always surprised that we’re not ancient.
At Belgian Smaak Ashley Joanna has another entry in her series of ‘Humans of Belgian Beer’. This time, it’s Stu Stuart, an American who leads Belgian beer tours:
In 2007, he began teaching a “Belgian Beer Me! Beer Appreciation Class” at the ASUW Experimental College at the University of Washington in Seattle. Some of his students suggested he should lead a beer tour in Belgium… When he first started, he was giving tours to just 3 people at a time. Now, his tour groups are generally numbered at 24 people… In 2018, Stu became an Honorary Knight of the Knighthood of the Brewers Mash Staff, an honour handed out by the Federation of Belgian Brewers in an enthronement ceremony in the Brewers Guild House in Brussels’ Grand Place.
Here’s some more news, via Tim Burford: The Eagle & Child in Oxford has been shuttered for three years but has now been bought by the Ellison Institute of Technology (EIT), founded by Larry Ellison of Oracle. EIT’s interest in the pub is down to its historic importance with links to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis:
Dr David Agus, EIT Founding Director and CEO, told BBC Radio Oxford that the Institute will re-open the pub as a pub… He said that the kitchen would be totally overhauled with a view to serving top notch food, while Norman Foster’s architectural agency Foster + Partners has been hired to work on a master plan that will see the second and third floors renovated into meeting spaces to discuss global problems, in effect a cosy and congenial extension of EIT’s recently announced state-of-the-art new campus in Oxford.
Finally, from Instagram, another of Niall McDiarmid’s beautiful pub photos: