Categories
News

Links for 23 January 2021: being Asian, Baltic porter, brahäuser

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that we deemed bookmarkable in the past week, from personal observations to policy suggestions.

Ruvani de Silva, AKA @amethyst_heels, has spoken to a group of south Asian women who love beer, comparing notes on their experience of navigating this predominantly male, predominantly white world:

“Don’t even get me started on beer and yoga events,” says beer blogger Sonia B, and I laugh out loud. The cultural-religious incompatibility of yoga with beer (or any form of alcohol) is so rarely acknowledged that I forget about it sometimes. I enjoy the shivering spark of recognition I feel in Sonia’s comment… It’s not often that I get to have conversations like this—there aren’t many other South Asian women in the beer world. Although there are some 5.4 million South Asians in the U.S. (and close to 2 million in Canada), we are noticeably absent within the ranks of a sector that made $29.3 billion in 2019 (the last year of data available).


Detail from lager ad, 1961: "You're watching a trend grow."

For the Guardian, Tony Naylor asks a good question – how exactly do food and drink trends happen? Why do people get obsessed with sriracha or avocados or pastry stouts?

Such renewal is human nature, says Daniel Woolfson, food and drink editor at trade magazine The Grocer. “People are faddy. When Instagrammable stuff gets old, they instinctively look for the next thing… The industry is obsessed with disruption,” says Woolfson. That is, creating a new sub-group in a food or drink category or transforming how an item is perceived and sold. Fever-Tree is the classic example. It pioneered an unforeseen market for “posh tonic” and even now when, like kombucha, cupcakes, Brewdog or smashed-patty burgers, it is long past peak cool, it retains an aura of quality and sophistication that bolsters sales. 


"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

Ian ‘The Wicking Man’ Thurman, Bass-lover extraordinaire, has written a heartfelt piece about how the Government might support the pub sector in practice:

Pubs need to see a way forward. I recognise that fixed dates for the reopening of pubs aren’t possible at this time. That doesn’t mean that pubs and their customers can’t be given hope and the opportunity to plan… It’s time to set some targets. Government needs to decide the level of 7 day rates for positive cases, hospital admissions and population vaccinated per head of population that need to be achieved by local area before pubs can open. Opening targets would offer an incentive to pub-goers and the opportunity for brewers, pubs and ancillary suppliers the chance to plan for their businesses… Offer the pub sector a carrot and then, in my view, most publicans would accept the need for strict COVID-ready compliance. If that includes the government telling people to use local pubs rather than travel, so be it.


An aeroplane

Tandleman insists he is not being sentimental when he asks “Where is the Tandle Hill Tavern?” but there’s an obvious element of yearning into this piece inspired by an aerial photo of his local pub:

So what are we looking at?  This is the open farmland between part of Middleton on the left side and on the right-hand side of the photo, the lane,  continuing into Royton. The right-hand part of the photo, where it ends, is, more or less,  the boundary between the two boroughs mentioned in the first paragraph above.  If you look at the left of the photo, in front of the farm with the wind turbines, you’ll see Thornham Lane. Follow this right with your eye to the clump of buildings in the middle and the reddish looking building – it isn’t red – with an  apparently white roof – it isn’t white –  is the Tandle Hill Tavern.  To save you the counting, there are four farms in the photo, so to say that it “nestles” amongst them, is pretty accurate I think you’ll agree.


Neuhaus
SOURCE: Robbie Pickering/Refreshing Beer

Robbie Pickering, AKA Barm, AKA @robsterowski, has finally got round to writing up a 2019 trip to Zoigl country and the village of Neuhaus:

The unique feature of Zoigl culture is a beer which is made in a shared, communal village brewery. When the wort has been made in the Kommunbrauhaus, the brewers take it home and ferment and mature it in their own basements and garages… The Oberpfalz alone once had 75 towns and villages with a communal brewhouse. Now the culture survives in just a few villages: Neuhaus, Windischeschenbach, Falkenberg, Mitterteich, Eslarn… Once the beer is ready, each brewer sells it to the public in their Zoiglstube (Zoigl parlour). Originally it would just be served in the kitchen or the front room, whatever space the brewer had. Despite the cheap price the beer sells for, brewing Zoigl seems lucrative enough that many of the householders these days have dedicated extensions built with Zoigl money. These are pubs in all but name, yet the community feeling continues.


Baltic porter beer bottle cap: Pardubicky Porter.

Belligerent myth-busting is a great format for Martyn Cornell. This week, responding to ‘Baltic Porter Day’ (who knew?) he’s turned his guns in that direction:

Baltic Porter, if you want to be historically accurate, should NOT be as strong as an Imperial Russian Stout. Baltic porter has its roots in the early 19th century, when Polish drinkers could not get hold of the strong porters imported from England that they had grown to love: but these were what would have been called a “double brown stout” in Britain, around 7 or 8 per cent alcohol by volume, heavy but rather weaker than the “imperial” stouts popular at the Russian court: a Polish publication from 1867 compares the strength of “piwo podwójne,” double beer, such as “porter angielski” to “Salvator or Bockbier from Munich,” which was an 8 per cent abv beer.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

Categories
marketing

More breweries = dafter beer names

Drinking our way through a selection of canned craft beers, we’ve caught ourselves rolling our eyes at the long, strange, often pun-laden names.

And we’re not the only ones, either.

What we’d never asked ourselves before is… why? We reckon the answer lies with the proliferation of breweries in the past 30 or so years.

A hundred years ago, most beers had exciting, distinctive names like ‘mild’, ‘bitter’ or ‘X’.

Then, in the mid-20th century, national brands emerged with snappy names such as Red Barrel or Double Diamond.

Next, the CAMRA-led real ale revolution kicked off, and brewery numbers began to climb in the 1970s and 1980s. These breweries were, in their own way, also national brands, competing for space at beer festivals and in specialist real ale pubs up and down the country.

Premium bottled ales (PBAs) also came along, filling supermarket and off licence shelves.

In this phase, beers with distinctive names such as Summer Lightning, Old Nick or Spitfire had a clear advantage.

Ale ticking culture must also have had an effect. Breweries with ranges of three, five or maybe seven beers are one thing; when you’re producing a new beer every month, or every week, you’re obliged to get creative. Or resort to crude puns.

Jump forward a couple of decades and instead of a few hundred breweries, we’ve got more than 2,000. And that culture of guest ales has morphed into a need for a constant flow of novel, Instagram-friendly products for keg, bottle or can.

The scramble for unique web addresses during the dot com boom led to companies with names like Accenture, Consignia and Moonpig.com. In much the same way, a crowded beer market inevitably calls for Experiments in Evil, Big Raspberry Dog Chew and Grainsley Harriot.

Plus, of course, it’s fun – another outlet for creativity in a subsector that prizes that over blazer-wearing conformity.

Categories
News

News and links 16 January 2021: Brains, pub names, the rise of craft beer

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that helped distract and entertain us in the past week, from Cardiff to cans.

First, commentary on a bit of news that we neglected as it landed over Christmas: Tandleman has thoughts on the sort-of-takeover of Brains by Marston’s. We say sort-of because this is another of those commercial arrangements that is hard to explain in plain English:

So what has happened? In short, Covid-19 has happened. Wales has been particularly hard hit by restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic causing “significant financial pressure” to Brains. The company had already concentrated business on a core number of  around 160 pubs with the remaining 40 or so being closed or sold off in March 2020.  Clearly this wasn’t enough to stave off problems, as this was followed by an announcement before Christmas that rival pub chain Marston’s was to take over on 25-year lease, 156 Brains pubs in a bid to save 1,300 jobs.  The deal includes a supply agreement to continue the availability of Brains brands in the pubs, which will be leased to Marston’s at an annual rent of £5.5 million. Brain’s managed houses will also be run by Marston’s.

And there are further thoughts, with contextual historical notes, from the Pub Curmudgeon:

Too many pubs now have beer ranges that are hard to distinguish from one another. Promoting the fact that Bloggs’ pubs are the best place to find Bloggs’ beers has to potential to create a unique selling proposition. It also must be noted that the integrated approach has been adopted by newer breweries such as Joule’s and Wye Valley who have built up significant tied estates that heavily feature their own beers. Clearly there is life in that model yet.


An A-board advertising craft beer.

Recent changes in the US brewery landscape have got Jeff Alworth thinking about the long-term success of the craft beer segment:

Beer used to be considered déclassé, beneath the attention of polite society. Now it’s served in every good restaurant. Big companies had enough money to keep craft out of expensive sports and entertainment venues, but it became too popular and ballparks and stadiums had to start offering it. Beer has also seeped into venues it never appeared before like movie theaters. Grocery stores and gas stations sell growlers. Beer is everywhere, and that beer is overwhelmingly the various varieties of craft beer… We beer fans may overestimate the average drinker’s knowledge of terpenes or fermentation techniques, but grab a typical pubgoer and send them back in time and they’d know more than most ‘experts’ did in 1986.


Greene King sign

At the end of a year when a much-needed debate about symbols of slavery and racism got a bit lost amid a moral panic over statues, Greene King has decided to rename some of its pubs:

The pub company and brewer is renaming three pubs currently called The Black Boy, in Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury and Shinfield, as well as the Black’s Head, in Wirksworth… The decision to change the name follows detailed consultation with a range of stakeholders and thorough research of the pubs’ histories… While the pub name ‘Black Boy’ exists throughout the country, there is not a consensus on its origins and many of those consulted felt the name to be offensive and discriminatory.


SOURCE: Emma Inch/Pellicle.

For Pellicle Emma Inch has profiled a brewery we’ve never heard of – Good Things of East Sussex. What makes this particular brewery newsworthy? (Always a good question to ask.) In this case, it’s the environmental mission around which it is built:

Along with childhood friend Russ Wheildon [Chris Drummond] initially set up Crafted Crate, a beer subscription service. Through this, the pair visited hundreds of breweries right across the country, gaining their unique insight into the brewing industry.

“We found every time we left a brewery, we were writing down notes like ‘okay, yeah, love the way they did that. Perhaps a little change and we could make this more sustainable’ and that just kind of got us into the process, got us into brewing,” Chris says.


The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

For Ferment, the magazine that accompanies a beer subscription service, Matt Curtis has written about regional character in beer, as a foretaste of a longer work in progress:

With the rise of craft beer… came a gradual move to a greater amount of homogeneity, as brewers attempted to recreate the most in-vogue styles at their own breweries. As brewing equipment and processes improved – as did communication with the rise of the internet, meaning a new recipe or idea can be shared with another brewer on the other side of the world in seconds – so did this march towards uniformity… I can’t escape the feeling that in a regression from regionality, we’re losing something that makes beer truly special.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

(We will never get bored of shots of old skool classic beers in cans; it’s just funny.)

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

Categories
20th Century Pub pubs

The mystery of the Middlesex magistrates

One of the most frustrating parts of writing a book is having a theory but being unable to prove it. For example, we reckon Edwardian West London got improved pubs early because of the attitudes of the local licensing magistrates.

When we were researching 20th Century Pub we sought to trace the roots of the improved and enlarged inter-war suburban pub through a variety of movements and schemes – the Trust Houses, the Carlisle experiment, coffee shops and temperance houses. 

However, we also noticed that there were examples of pubs being built in similarly modest, up-to-date styles by private companies in the early twentieth century, particularly in West London, which were ostensibly nothing to do with these movements.

Pubs such as The Forester in Ealing (1909) and the Three Horseshoes in Southall (1916), both by Nowell Parr, showed a yearning for a rural, historic ideal.

Our general impression was that there seem to have been a lot of new pubs built in West London at this time, bucking the general trend for reducing the number of licences and the number of pubs.

We didn’t quite have the numbers to state this confidently in the book, though, although we did spend a fair bit of time looking at Middlesex Licensing sessions in the London Metropolitan Archive.

What we really wanted, but never found, was evidence that Middlesex magistrates looked favourably upon the right type of pub application from the right type of brewery. Fuller’s and The Royal Brentford Brewery seemed to have been particularly successful, for example. Meanwhile, Watney’s, Charrington and other big London brewers are notably underrepresented in the Edwardian period.

Or even, perhaps, we might have found that the magistrates helped influence the design of pubs in this area: “Do it this way, lads, and we’ll sign it off.”

Perhaps, though, it was less complicated than that. Maybe Middlesex magistrates, covering a huge area, were doing exactly the kind of thing that happened in Birmingham and other cities: refusing licences in slum districts but allowing them in well-behaved, leafy suburbs. But we don’t think so. In Birmingham, this kind of switch was often made explicit and we didn’t notice any such statements in the London records.

One day, when we’re allowed back in libraries, we’ll have another go at this. Somewhere in the paperwork – perhaps in the Fuller’s archive that we almost but not quite got into in 2016 – there must be notes on each of these individual licencing decisions.

In the meantime, we’ll think fondly of wandering around suburban streets with more than their fair share of unusually wonderful, remarkably beautiful pubs.

Categories
20th Century Pub Beer history

Comus Elliott’s neverending pub quest in his own words

When we came across the story of compulsive pub ticker Comus Elliott, we wrote it up, with at least a small hope that it might prompt him to get in touch. And it did.

Mr Elliott is still with us and still visiting pubs, plagues permitting, and through his daughter, Caroline, made contact. We emailed a few prompts – where and when was he born and brought up? How did his father, Charles, get into ticking pubs? Which are his favourite pubs? And so on.

In response, he sent some handwritten notes on his life and career which we’ve typed up and present below with some small edits for clarity.

* * *

I was born 1940 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and moved to North London in 1945. Attended Princess Road Junior Mixed School, near Primrose Hill, and then William Ellis Grammar School (Boys) at Parliament Hill till 1958. After 8 O levels and 3 A levels I joined Barclays Bank in September 1958 and was employed in the Trustee Department dealing with estate administration, investment management and taxations where I stayed until 1994.

With Barclays, I moved from North London, West End, City and then to Chelmsford, Essex, Preston, Lancs, and Manchester and Knutsford in the North West.

When the bank reorganised the trustee side, I took (very) early retirement, but continued working in probate with a firm of solicitors in Maidstone, Kent.

All those moves assisted enormously in notching up new pubs!

I have no idea now my father started except for some reason he wanted to visit, and drink in every pub within the London Postal District, then round about 4,400 of them. He actually achieved 4,200 before his death in 2001. He did also keep a record of other pubs in the country but, important as they were, they were not his main aim.

I visited my first, but under age at 16, but was never challenged on age until the eve of my 18th birthday. I had by then decided that I would, too, record pubs visited – not in competition, though.

I kept (still keep) a fairly comprehensive record of those visited, with card index style systems for both names and locations. I also keep a chronological list of London Postal and each individual county, noting name, address, overall number in list of visits, brewery ownership or free house, and date visited.

My father was press and public relations officer for the Gas Council in London and therefore had many contacts in the newspaper world and eventually we were taken on a London pub crawl (six) one evening by the then News of the World who wanted to write a feature article.

That was followed up by several others, including Austin Hatton’s A Monthly Bulletin, so publicity started and continued on and off for some years, including TV appearances on About Anglia in 1968 and Look North West in Manchester, 1981.

Main publicity was attracted when my father and I reached significant milestones on our journey – the 100th, 5,000th, 10,000th, and my father’s 4,000th London Postal District pub. At such events we held parties for drinking companions who knew of our obsession.

Pubs have changed a great deal since my early collecting days, and not always for the better. Nice old drinking dens have either been closed or tarted up, often now food led. There are still nice old pubs if you can bother to seek them out (the Good Pub Guide and Good Beer Guide are invaluable). I much prefer a simple, old-fashioned pub – town or country – with good beer, good atmosphere, no loud games, TV.

Yes, some decent food, but not to the extremes that some so-called ‘gastropubs’ go to.

“Due to Covid, I’ve only done seven new ones in 2020, but my total is just over 16,000 now.”

Comus Elliott

Nice old original features have so often been ripped out in the guise of progress. Certainly the ideal English pub is not dead as some would have it but we should be careful to protect what is left.

In my prime I would try and average one new [pub] per day – not every day, but 365 [new pubs] in [each] year. I usually managed till I retired in 2000, and living in rural Northumberland, it’s difficult to find many new ones – fortunately, those that are within striking distance are well worth visiting time and again. Due to Covid, [I’ve] only done seven new ones in 2020, but my total is just over 16,000 now.

As regards my ‘favourite’ pubs – how about the one that I am in at the time? Different pubs for different reasons – one next to a sports event, after the theatre, to take your wife, to take somebody else’s wife, it’s the closest and nearly closing time, etc. etc…

Individual favourites include my own current local in Seahouses, The Old Ship – brilliant (old, good beer, good situation in the harbour, excellent long-serving staff (been in one family over 100 years).

Then there is The Blue Lion, East Witton, Yorks (food, atmosphere, Black Sheep, and a lovely place to stay).

The Red Lion, Burnsall, Yorks – I first stayed there with my father in 1961, when we were walking in the Pennines. Through a distant family connection I’ve been back a few times in the past three years and it’s as good as ever. Family run, like most good pubs seem to be – you can tell the difference between such, and a managed pub.

Pubs sadly gone include The Crown and The Paxton at Gipsy Hill in South London, and several village pubs in Quainton, Bucks, where my aunt and uncle kept The George & Dragon for some years in the 1950s and 60s.

I joined CAMRA for news of pubs and books, but have never been an active member. I never joined the SPBW.

Generally, friends and relations have looked kindly (perhaps enviously?) upon my hobby and are quite happy to join in, either with transport or advise on new pubs in their area. They also like the celebratory milestone parties!