Blogging and writing

The best beer writing of 2023, according to us

There’s been a lot going on in 2023 and it was difficult to whittle this list down to just 15 pieces.

We started with a long list of something like 45 substantial pieces of writing which seemed, to us, to have made a useful contribution to the conversation, or have lasting value.

Collect them all and you’d have one heck of a yearbook.

It’s worth saying that, once again, this could probably have been a list of the best articles from Pellicle.

There’s also only one writer who made our list twice, via pieces for Pellicle, and that’s Rachel Hendry.

It’s consistently commissioning and publishing exactly the kind of stories we want to read. If you want to support good beer writing from a range of voices, do consider supporting it via Patreon.

What didn’t make the cut

Reviewing our weekly ‘news, nuggets and longreads’ posts we found quite a few pieces that were either:

  • long and a bit baggy (AKA “kind to their research”) and in need of an edit
  • short or fragmented – research nuggets, or thinking aloud, rather than complete stories

Of course we enjoy reading those kinds of things throughout the year and, heck, we write enough of both types of posts ourselves.

They can be vital steps along the way to creating finished products such as articles or books… but they’re not neat, meaty and complete like the standout material suggested below.

Nine ways of looking at a pint of Guinness

Ana Kinsela, Vittles, January 2023

“What makes a good pint of Guinness? Ask this question next time you get a round with a group. One of them will say it’s necessary that the lines between keg and tap are clean, which happens naturally when the bar serves a lot of the stuff. Another might add that it needs to be cold, someone else that it should be room temperature at best. One person, the contrarian of the group, will maintain that there is no difference between one pub’s Guinness and the next – it’s all psychosomatic, a trick of the marketing light.”

Gotlandsdricke: Sweden’s Elusive Smoked Ale

Lars Marius Garshol, Craft Beer and Brewing, January 2023

“If you really want to try gotlandsdricke, your best option is the annual championship in gotlandsdricke brewing, usually held one weekend in early October. Finding out exactly when and where it is requires some serious online sleuthing, but it’s definitely possible. Usually, it’s held in some remote country inn as an open party for anyone who shows up. There’s accordion music, dancing, rivers of gotlandsdricke, and dinner… The dinner is an attraction in itself: the local specialty of steamed, smoked sheep’s head, complete with tongue and eyeballs—perfect, I imagine, with some smoky gotlandsdricke.”

Cut To The Feeling – The Anatomy of Smith’s Scampi Fries

Rachel Hendry, Pellicle, January 2023

“I’ve been staring at the block of chartreuse-coloured card hanging on my kitchen wall for weeks… The concertinaed columns of pale lemon plastic hanging neatly from it have looked so peaceful I haven’t had it in me to disturb them. But it is time. I take a deep breath, reach for the packet two across and three down and carefully pluck it from its home… There is a framed illustration on its front, an image I’ve never really paid attention to before. A table is situated by a window, providing me with a picturesque view of a fishing harbour – two creels sit ready and waiting, boats float patiently, and a seagull is mid-flight.”

British Drinking Culture, Meet Cost of Living Crisis

Lauren O’Neill, Vice, January 2023

“The received wisdom is that young people – particularly Gen Z – aren’t drinking as much as their older counterparts, and recent stats from the OECD show that the UK is no longer one of the ten heaviest drinking countries in Europe. But considering that ‘getting absolutely battered’ is all but an unofficial national hobby of millions in the UK, I’ve been curious as to what impact the economic situation has so far had on this time-honoured tradition, particularly in the first year post-lockdown… So a few Saturdays ago, I decided to conduct what I believe is scientifically known as a ‘vibe check’. I hit up high streets in south London’s Clapham… and Soho to ask punters how the cost of living crisis is affecting the way they go boozing, and whether in times of hardship – perhaps especially in times of hardship – there is anything at all that can get in between Brits and their love of drinking.”

Bradley’s: Lager and Shots in No-Man’s Land

John Bull, London in Bits, April 2023

“‘I’m disappointed everyone here isn’t more… you know… Spanish.’ The man in the expensive suit says, with slight confusion, to the towering figure behind the downstairs bar. Jan, the Belgian manager of Bradley’s Spanish Bar gives him a look of faint amusement… Rich, who had been working behind the bar until a few minutes before, is now propping up its end, a glass of cider in his hand… ‘If you’re disappointed here mate,’ he interjects, in his broad Irish accent, ‘then you’re going to be really disappointed when you get to the Unicorn down the road!’”

Hop Merchants and White Doves – Rediscovering Jewish History in the Beer Capital of Bamberg, Germany

Tasha Prados, Good Beer Hunting, May 2023

“In Bamberg, Jewish families came to govern the hop trade in what was then one of the main nodes of the global hop business. Markus Raupach, the Bamberg-based author of Bier: Geschichte und Genuss (or Beer: History and Enjoyment), says that Jewish hop traders in his city benefited from their international contacts, which gave them a highly productive network that transcended language barriers. This allowed them to quickly implement innovations from abroad, he notes, and gave them the means to make up for poor regional harvests with imported hops… Christian Kestel, economic historian at Weyermann Specialty Malting, says that over 100 Jewish firms and families dominated Bamberg’s hop trading business by the end of the 19th century”

Understanding Early Modern Beer: An Interdisciplinary Case-Study

Susan Flavin, Marc Meltonville, Charlie Taverner, Joshua Reid, Stephen Lawrence, Carlos Belloch-Molina and John Morrissey, Cambridge University Press, February 2023

“Beer was a crucial part of diets in sixteenth-century Ireland, as it was in most of northern Europe. It fuelled manual labour and greased the wheels of social life from grand dining rooms down to raucous alehouses in towns and villages. This drink was in many ways comparable to its modern counterpart – it used hops, was lightly bitter, and was produced using similar processes – but it was also distinctive, employing pre-modern varieties of grains, brewed with heavy quantities of oats as well as barley, and reliant on less precise equipment. To understand more deeply beer’s significance as an intoxicating and energy-providing foodstuff, it is vital to move beyond theoretical calculations and rough approximations with present-day equivalents. This can only be achieved by attempting to recreate an early modern beer, following the practices of past brewers, and employing the most accurate ingredients and technology possible.”

God Bless Your Transsexual Heart – The Pub As An Unlikely Sanctuary

Lily Waite, Pellicle, April 2023

“I felt safe here in the Joiners: I struck up a friendship with one barman, an almost-caricature of a London geezer who in the same breath told me how he’d thrown someone off a multi-storey car park whilst telling me if anyone had a problem with my being trans, he’d “sort them out”. My hackles were (are) always up: I’d expected, via my own prejudices as a sheltered middle-class kid from the Cotswolds, hostility from him because of who I was, and indeed, who he was. Instead, I had fierce support from a supposedly violent bloke who regularly offered us disco biscuits by the bagful. He called me Princess; I couldn’t tell if he wanted to fuck me or just found me intriguing. We drank Guinness together.”

Translucent Style: Cut & Etched Glass in Pubs

Dermot Kennedy, Pub Gallery, July 2023

“Cutting, etching and embossing glass was perfected by the Victorians and put to excellent effect in many of the hundreds of pubs they built towards the end of the 19th century. It was considered inappropriate for people to be able to peer through pub windows at the people inside, and in any case the magistrates would not have allowed clear glass. Translucent glass in the lower panes was the ideal solution, as people couldn’t see in and it allowed the creation of the ornate and decorative designs beloved of Victorian pub architects… Almost all Victorian and Edwardian urban pubs had decorative translucent glass and although most of it has been torn out, much still remains. Etched glass was still popular in the 1920s and 1930s, although the intricate art nouveau patterns had given way to simpler geometric designs. Pubs continue to add etched glass windows today, often to replace glass that was removed in the clear glass craze of the 1990s and early 2000s, and sometimes to replace original glass with modern copies.”

Steam beer from Yukon to Nevada and the strange link with Flat Beer

Martyn Cornell, Zythophile, July 2023

“One of the problems in trying to unravel the history of steam beer is that for at least the first 30 years or so after the Gold Rush began in California and entrepreneurs rushed in to supply the hundreds of thousands of miners with their needs and wants, brewers on the Pacific coast generally called what they were brewing ‘lager’, though it was not cold-brewed, since ice was almost impossible to obtain. It was not until ‘real’ lager arrived in the 1880s that a differentiation started to be drawn between the sort of warm-fermented beer made with lager yeast brewed, not just in San Francisco, or California, but up the Pacific coast from Nevada through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia to Alaska and Yukon, and even as far away as Quebec, and the cold-fermented lager beer brewed east of the Rockies.”

Eclectic Avenues – How London’s First Black Pub Landlords Changed the City’s Drinking Culture

David Jesudason, Good Beer Hunting, July 2023

“Many of the so-called Windrush Generation fought in the war, and afterwards they arrived in the U.K. to slog away in manual jobs or become nurses in the newly established National Health Service… The conditions they experienced in Britain were often brutal and hostile: Racism was common in the workplace, on the street, and especially in the pub, where the colour bar was widespread. Many had to travel far to find a safe, unsegregated space to drink in… In the area of Southeast London where I live now, none of the pubs would serve non-white customers… Instead, from the 1960s onwards, they traveled west to the Jamaican-owned pubs in and around Brixton. These venues were frequented by British-Caribbean customers, and were run by a series of trailblazing Black landlords. They were busy, raucous places where customers could drink, sing, and play dominoes, free from other pubs’ racist policies.”

The Centre

Will Hawkes, London Beer City, August 2023

“Dockley Road Industrial Estate in Bermondsey has changed since I was last here. Then, pre-Covid, it was a scrappy collection of industrial units occupied by some of London’s best small food producers; now the same space is filled by soaring blocks of black and beige flats, with glass-fronted shop units at ground level housing many of those same producers… Some elements, though, are unaltered. The Kernel Brewery, which inhabits a sizeable chunk of the pre-Victorian railway arches running along the north side of what is now called ‘Dockley Apartments’, is much as it was before, physically at least. That’s satisfyingly appropriate: there’s a feel of permanence about The Kernel that increases as London’s brewing world becomes ever more precarious.”

The Bitterness Problem

Joe Stange, Craft Beer & Brewing, September 2023

“It’s a fascinating evolutionary quirk that we can both taste and enjoy bitterness. It’s long been thought that our ability to detect it was a defense against poison, but the evidence for that is mixed—plenty of bitter things are healthy. Consider the argument put forward by Yvan De Baets, founder-brewer at the Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels and one of the finest bitter-beer brewers in the business. He likes to say that our enjoyment of bitterness sets us apart from our animal selves—it’s a sign of culture and civilization… As people who taste and evaluate a lot of beer, we’re used to thinking about bitterness in a nonlinear way. Besides noticing how much bitterness, we tend to taste and describe different kinds and qualities of bitterness… Oddly, how our taste buds detect bitterness may be much simpler than that.”

Flavour Track – A Culinary Crawl On Belgium’s Coastal Tram

Eoghan Walsh, Belgian Smaak, September 2023

“Beer is everywhere at Het Botteltje. The bar has the booths, brass fittings, and polished brewery-branded mirrors of an old-style pub. The walls are covered in memorabilia from breweries past and present. There’s even a fingerpost near the entrance marked with the distances to famous breweries. It smells like a pub—unemptied slop trays, degreaser, and disinfectant—and those English tourists that came in the 1980s would easily recognise it as a pub… Together with his father Jean-Pierre, James Desimpelaere has grown the beer list for the hotel’s now-extended bar to include somewhere between 280 and 310 entries. It’s a thick folder featuring explanatory texts about different beer styles and a compendium of beer-themed jokes.”

It Works Wonders! – The Legacy of Double Diamond Burton Pale Ale

Rachel Hendry, Pellicle, November 2023

“Peter Probyn was an illustrator and cartoonist whose work was described as “gently humoured”. It was Probyn who created the infamous character of the Double Diamond Little Man, a chicly dressed character adorned with a toothbrush moustache, bow tie, pinstriped trousers and never to be seen without his pocket watch, briefcase and cane. The Little Hat Man – as he came to be known – went on quite the adventure with Double Diamond… From heroically apprehending a bank robber, to winning the heart of a mermaid by fishing a Double Diamond out of the sea during an angling competition, to defying the laws of physics using only an umbrella as a parachute there was simply no scenario in which The Little Hat Man – with the help of Double Diamond, of course – would not succeed. The message was clear; Double Diamond doesn’t just make everything better, it makes you better.”

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