News, nuggets and longreads 18 January 2020: Summer Wine, South Africa, Sierra Nevada

Here’s everything that struck as especially interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from GMO yeast to dogs in taprooms.

Here’s everything that struck as especially interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from GMO yeast to dogs in taprooms.

First, a bit of news: Summer Wine, one of the middle wave of new British craft breweries (definition 2) has announced it is shutting down.

Based in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, it had a loyal following but, from our remote perspective, always seemed to be overshadowed by local competitor Magic Rock. There’s an end of an era feel to this announcement, as there was to the news of Hardknott’s shuttering in 2018.


 

Black Lab brewery.
SOURCE: Jordan St John

Canadian beer writer and teacher Jordan St John reports on a visit to a Toronto brewery taproom where he encountered several dogs:

I tell tourists, of the dog fountain in Berczy Park, that people are basically the dogs they choose to live with and to my left is a blonde man in a Roots cabin sweater who is ferrying beer back to his table. Under the table is a nine month old Golden Retriever puppy (named Roo) in a Toronto Vs. Everybody sweater. It’s good to know my hypothesis continues to bear up under scrutiny.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 18 January 2020: Summer Wine, South Africa, Sierra Nevada”

Mild is dead, long live the new mild

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

A couple of weeks ago, Roger Protz quoted a Black Country brewer foretelling the eventual death of mild along with the passing of those who regularly drink it. But what if it’s just mutated?

We once wrote about a resurgence in the popularity of mild not as a mainstream beer style but as a niche oddity, like milk stout or Berliner Weisse.

We still think that’s about right – that what is dead, or dying, is the standard three-point-something ABV dark mild that too often tastes like watered down stout or, worse, watered down mild.

What hadn’t quite occurred to us, though, until we listened to our own middle-aged grumbling, was that mild might have faked its own death before sneaking back into the room with a different hat on.

Forget beer styles, forget beer history, and think about utility: what do English drinkers seem to want?

A beer they can drink four pints of without too much damage.

A beer that doesn’t demand lots of attention while being drunk – that goes down easily and addresses thirst.

That isn’t bitter, or dry and, indeed, might even be called sweet.

For much of the 20th century, that was mild.

Then, for about 40 years, it was so-called cooking lager – the kind of stuff that apalled Rheinheitsgebotists but which British drinkers took to overwhelmingly from the 1970s onward.

But now… Could it be soft, hazy session IPA?

Circa 4%. Not bitter, perhaps even sugary. And undemanding, unless you’re hung up on haze, with fruit juice and soft drink citrus flavours rather than the brittle hop spikiness.

One data point does not prove the case but it’s certainly fascinating to see the degree to which Ray’s dad, previously a keen mild drinker, has taken to beers like Moor Nor’Hop.

News, nuggets and longreads for 11 January 2020: Abstinence, Birmingham, Smithwicks

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting or entertaining in the past week, from Burton to Osaka.

The current fuss around Bass in certain corners of the beer world must seem baffling if you don’t get it. You might even have tried Bass and found it underwhelming – that can happen. Now, Ian Thurman, AKA The Wicking Man, is a passionate advocate for this historic brand and has declared 11 April National Bass Day 2020, which seems like a good opportunity for sceptics to give it one last chance:

First of all, have a pint or two of Draught Bass on Easter Saturday. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram etc. please let people know the pubs you’ll be in. Don’t wait until Easter Saturday, tell us now where you’ll be and use the hashtags #DraughtBass, #NationalBassDay, #NBD2020… If you’re a landlord why not promote the day and let folk know that you’ll have Draught Bass on the bar. I’ll be offering free downloadable posters. Please PM me with your contact details through Twitter @TheWickingMan . A number of pubs have already offered to be the lead in their area. If you’re interested in doing the same please let me know.


A Smithwick's TIME beer mat.
SOURCE: Beerfoodtravel

Liam at BeerFoodTravel continues his chronicling of lesser-known aspects of Irish brewing history with notes on Smithwick’s 1960s attempt to compete with Watney’s Red Barrel:

Smithwicks have never been very good at promoting their not-so-recent history, or at least not if it varies from the fake-lore and new-stalgia that’s created by their marketing department goblins, as they weave their wicked magic over the actual history of the brewery to create some quasi-real world where their red ale is the same as one that was produced a 300 hundred odd years ago in a (possibly mythical) brewery from that age. I’ve written before of my doubts regarding their self-promoted history and how even that has changed over the years, it’s as if they feel uncomfortable about anything that deviates from that arrow-straight history that springs from 1710 to the present, so I feel duty bound to write about a period not terribly long ago when yet another Smithwicks marketing department decided that the company needed a rebrand for the swinging sixties – and so was born their Time brand.


Brewdog bar with SOBER in the window.

At Bring on the BeerMichael Young has written about Dry January, Tryanuary and the bitterness it increasingly seems to prompt:

I wouldn’t for one moment decry desperate business owners for being miffed at a campaign that they perceive as seeking to undermine their footfall at a needy time of year. But I would like to know if it’s been proven that that’s where their ire should be directed. Blunt, hostile rejection of the ‘other’ camp is completely illogical and does more harm than any abstinence campaign ever could. If a pub does put out a tweet saying ‘Forget (or stronger) Dryanuary’ it makes it less likely that folks will come into their pub to partake of a soft drink or two, so they’re basically shooting themselves in the foot.


Crackers, bread and sunflower seeds -- malt-type flavours.

At Appellation BeerStan Hieronymus has been thinking about how we taste beer, the perception of flavour, off-flavours and whether any of that helps us have more fun:

There’s good reason for those in the beer business to learn to identify what are classified as off flavors, and it useful to some to understand what causes them… However, I’m not convinced that the “Best way to be a better drinker is drink bad beer and learn what has gone wrong with it.”… I think the best way to be a happy… drinker is to drink great beer and learn what makes it great. Learning to identify positive attributes expands the number of beers you might appreciate.


Blogging is dead, people sometimes say, but it’s so frustrating that great information is left lying in Twitter where hardly anybody can find it within ten minutes of transmission. On that note, here’s @BEERMINGHAM with a thread listing the best places to drink in Birmingham.


Ceiling of the Marble Arch, Manchester.

And in Manchester, Kaleigh Watterson has prepared her now regular list of beer events to look forward to in the coming year. If you’re a drinker, you’ll want to see what’s on; if you’re a pub or brewery and your event is listed, let her know!


Brewery in Osaka, Japan.

SOURCE: Derailleur Beerworks.For the GuardianJustin McCurry reports on a brewery in Osaka, Japan, that employs disabled people and those with addiction issues:

Derailleur employs about 70 people, many of whom have physical and intellectual disabilities. They are given on-the-job training and perform tasks ranging from brewing, labelling, sales and delivery, as well as serving food and drink at the brewery’s three pubs – two in Osaka and one in the central city of Nagoya… Mr Yamagami – known affectionately as Yama-chan – spent his youth drinking illicitly produced alcohol and getting into fights, but decided to apply for a job at the brewery after he lost his sight… “It’s fun to be able to work alongside my friends,” says Yama-chan, a 47-year-old former fishmonger. “Handling the bottles by touch alone is the sort of work I can do without any problem. I need help getting around, but apart from that I can do my job freely. I really enjoy it.”


And, finally, here’s a taste of Bristol street photographer Colin Moody’s latest project:

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

Filton in the Merrineum

Filton is and isn’t part of Bristol, out on a limb where the city fades into country via mile after mile of suburb, in the land of aircraft hangars and road junctions. It certainly isn’t famous for its pubs.

We’ve passed through many times, either on foot or on the bus, and noticed the shortage. Some, we guess, have disappeared, converted to other uses, like the George VI, built in the 1930s and now a DIY centre.

Others were never built, we suppose, perhaps because Rolls Royce, Bristol and other aerospace giants had their own on-site social clubs.

Nonetheless, with our duty to visit #EveryPubInBristol in mind, we set out in the bleak days between Christmas and New Year to explore as many as possible of those that do exist.

Air Balloon interior.

First, the most prominent and visible of them all, The Air Balloon, a Greene King pub on the big roundabout next to the Airbus site. It looks like a typical 1960s pub building – sparse and modern but with, as usual, a few bits of faux-Victorian detail glued on top.

Though hardly our kind of place – every bit of character there might have been has been buffed out by the corporate makeover – it had more buzz, better beer and warmer welcome than we expected.

In the absence of a local Wetherspoon, that’s the function it seems to perform, offering reasonably-priced fast food and space for large parties to dine and drink together. There was even a corner, in front of the TV, for a handful of older, harder drinkers to bash down pints and grumble at each other.

Like Dorian Gray’s painting in the attic, though, the gents toilets perhaps revealed the true soul of the place: foul-smelling, strewn with bloody tissues, battered and broken. All the Live, Love, Laugh decor in the world can’t compensate for that.

The Plough (exterior)

The Plough (sign)

A few doors up, there’s The Plough, which isn’t part of a chain and is certainly characterful. Low-lit to the point of gloominess, slightly tacky to the touch, with evidence of a governing force. In this case, we gathered from snatches of conversation behind the bar and the astonishing range of vodkas on offer, a Pole.

You know how sometimes you approach a pub and can tell everyone is thinking, “Hello, hello, what have we got here?” The Plough was like that. Not unfriendly, just… curious, or perhaps even sceptical.

The interesting looking cask Citra pale ale from Severn was off but their keg session IPA was on, and decent enough.

At the bar, middle-aged couples gathered to exchange notes on Christmas. A young woman fed the jukebox and lined up one 1990s rave tune after another. Pool balls clicked and smacked.

We sort of liked it. We’ll probably never go again.

Inside the Bristol Concorde. Bristol Concorde, exterior.

For completeness, and with great reservations, we decided we had to investigate The Bristol Concorde, a Brewery’s Fayre in the shopping centre. We hoped it wouldn’t count as a pub – that it would so obviously be an anonymous hotel bar that we could just skip it. But it has a unique name, a bar, cask ale… It passes the test.

It was bleak.

Like a waiting area, or furniture showroom, or old people’s home.

We wallowed in it, looking out over the bland backside of the Premier Inn as dusk fell, knowing that we’d be able to leave soon enough for what we suspected would be the most interesting of the lot.

Ratepayer's Arms (exterior)

Ratepayer's Arms (bar)

The Ratepayer’s Arms is a council-owned pub occupying a corner of the local recreation centre.

It’s an odd place. If you look towards the bar, it feels much like any other social club with plenty of charming clutter, pickled eggs, rolls and drinkers clustered round the bar. Look the other way, though, and it’s all blank walls and municipal fixtures and fittings.

Still, the welcome was notably warm, nobody paid us the slightest attention – just how we like it – and we enjoyed the buzz of local gossip and, inevitably, bitter criticism of the quality of Boeing aircraft these days.

“Fancy a crawl?” someone asked. “We could go up The Bristol Concorde after this one.”

Everybody laughed at this absurd suggestion.

There are lots of houses in the area and the pubs there are were certainly busy, which made us think the area could certainly support a micropub or two. In fact, we bet there’ll be one before the end of 2021.

News, nuggets and longreads 4 January 2020: BrewDog, boats, brewery cats

Here’s everything on the subject of beer that we picked up during the Christmas and New Year deadzone, from booze-free pubs to home-brewing.

First, there’s this story of BrewDog’s new non-alcoholic bar. Like almost every PR claim to be “the first ever”, the PR doesn’t hold up to scrutiny (here’s one example, here’s another, there are lots more) but it still seems significant to us: no- and low-alcohol beer really is having some sort of moment. Out in the real world, we’ve seen more of it being drunk, heard more people talking about it and, indeed, drunk a little bit more of it ourselves. This new surge seems to be driven by people who like beer rather than by people opposed to it on moral grounds, as has tended to be the case in the past.


Non alcoholic beer: 0,0

Related: the Pub Curmudgeon has an interesting angle on the years 2010-2019, reflecting on the limited progress made by the anti-alcohol lobby in legislative terms in that period. This is especially interesting because he’s tended to be among the most vocal in sounding the alarm about slippery slopes and the risk of a return to prohibition:

In fact, changes in social attitudes have been doing a lot of the anti-drink lobby’s work for them. Over the past ten years, there has been a gentle but significant fall in per-capita alcohol consumption, probably more than they would have hoped for in 2009, but largely without help from public policy. As I’ve said in the past, the moderate consumption of alcohol in social situations has increasingly been stigmatised, and the range of occasions on which people will consider an alcoholic drink has shrunk. Just look at all those pubs that no longer open at lunchtimes, or are virtually deserted when they do, and observe amongst a party of diners in a pub how many of the adults have a soft drink.


Dupont logo.

For Craft Beer & Brewing Drew Beechum has given an account of his attempts to clone a cult Belgian beer, Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux:

I replaced my Saaz and Styrian Goldings with hops that I knew were in better shape in our markets. (It’s tempting to use region-appropriate ingredients, but if they’re not high-quality, skip them.) I simplified my water additions to a small dose of gypsum to punch the hops forward a bit. And the yeast … here, I got complicated… Over the years, from various sources, I’ve learned that Dupont has a few cultures living in the brew. Despite our desire for single manageable organisms, you can’t get there with just a single strain of yeast. (This is a good tip for a number of complex Belgian beers—mix strains!)

 


Exterior of the Vine Inn.

For CAMRA’s What’s Brewing newspaper, but reproduced here on his website, Roger Protz has a report into the health of Black Country breweries and, more particularly, their famous milds:

The only sadness visiting the two breweries is the dramatic decline of their Mild ales. Batham’s brews 8,000 barrels a year and only 2 per cent of that production is now Mild. Holden’s is slightly bigger, brewing 10,000 barrels a year, and Jonathan says he brews Mild only once every three weeks… Tim Batham says bluntly: “Mild is dying because the people who drink it are dying. But we’ll continue with it as long as people drink it.” Jonathan Holden offers a tad more optimism as sales of his bottled Mild are selling well.


Toulouse
SOURCE: Henrique Ferreira via Unsplash.

From the recently revived Booze, Beats and Bites blog, Nathaniel Southwood gives an account of an English pub in, of all places, Toulouse in the south of France:

There were a couple of tables out the front of the pub, with old chaps standing around chain smoking cigarettes, slowly drinking their dark amber coloured beer and occasionally engaging each other in conversation, nodding at all those who enter the pub as if they owned the place. Had it not been for the fact that they were speaking French, they could have been anywhere in the UK… Walking into the pub, I felt like I was in my local; the pub itself has a carpet, which is unlike Europe, it has low tables and stools with fixed seating on the back wall.


The Edwin Fox
SOURCE: Zythophile/Edwin Fox Society.

Martyn Cornell has found something amazing: “the Edwin Fox, last remaining wooden sailing ship to have carried India Pale Ale from London to the thirsty east”. You can read the full story at Zythophile:

In her three decades as a working ship, the Edwin Fox carried an enormous variety of cargoes and passengers: troops to the Baltic during one of the side-campaigns of the Crimea War, supplies and ammunition to Balaclava, wounded soldiers back home, rice for Hong Kong and South Africa, coolies from China to the plantations of Cuba, coals to the Coromandel coast, convicts for Australia, cotton, sugar, more troops to and from India, emigrant families to New Zealand, as well as beer… Her transport of IPA from London to India, according to modern commentators who prefer the thrill of a good story to the labour of checking its veracity, brought the Edwin Fox the nickname “the booze barge”.


German soldiers with beer.
German soldiers distributing beer in 1914. (Flanders Fields Museum)

Here’s a story by Christopher Barnes we’ve featured before but it deserves another surfacing. It’s a wonderful account of the fate of European breweries during World War I originally published at the now defunct All About Beer which, Mr Barnes reveals, never paid him for his hard work. He’s now revived the piece at his own website, I Think About Beer:

Before the war, there were more than 6,000 breweries spread across Belgium and France, with the majority of the French breweries located along the northern border with Belgium and Germany. World War I profoundly changed the face of brewing in Western Europe. Germany-backed Austria-Hungary’s desire to punish the Serbs for the assassination drew Russia and France into the war to defend the Serbs. Germany’s strategy involved a lightning-quick strike through neutral Belgium into northern France to capture Paris. Unfortunately for the Germans, the French and English halted their advance and created a brutal four-year stalemate that encamped millions of soldiers from both sides directly through the heart of Belgian and French brewing country.


Finally, there’s this from Twitter:

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

Our Golden Pints of 2019

It must be the end of the year… Wait, no, the end of the decade – because here we are, once again, debating which pubs and beers we want to declare The Best of 2019.

It gets easier, this, when it’s a habit. Throughout the year we find ourselves saying to each other: “Could this be a contender?” We keep notes, we check-in every now and then, and so half the post half-written by October.

It also helps that we’ve been reporting to our Patreon supporters on the best beers of each weekend most weeks and so have a decent record of what really impressed us.

As last year, though, it’s amazing how often that’s The Usual Suspects – Young’s Ordinary, St Austell Proper Job, Dark Star Hophead, Bass, Oakham Citra or JHB, Titanic Plum Porter, Hop Back Summer Lightning… Classics, in other words.

Bristol Beer Factory might have won more awards if its range was a bit more stable. As it is, the many excellent but barely distinguishable pale-n-hoppy cask ales we enjoyed from them never seem to be on sale with any regularity to we never quite get to know them.

Now, then – the awards.

The Drapers Arms -- a table with beer and filled rolls.

Best Bristol pub – The Drapers Arms

Yes, again, but how could it be anything else? We go at least once every week, usually more like twice or three times, and it’s got to the point where we can’t be remotely objective about it. It’s also become a kind of office for us – somewhere to meet visitors to Bristol, such as the charming Texans we got sloshed with in the summer. And we’ve never felt more like part of the community than when our neighbours responded to Jess’s call for apples.

Runner-up: The Good Measure.


The Laurieston.

Best non-Bristol pub – The Laurieston, Glasgow

A historic building with period decor is obviously exciting but when the beer is also great, and the service, and the atmosphere, you’ve got a winner.

Runner-up: The Waterloo, Shirley, Southampton.


Au Stoemelings.

Best overseas bar – Au Stoemelings, Brussels

This is a fairly basic bar with what, by Belgian standards, a bog standard beer list, but we loved it because (a) we found it ourselves and (b) it felt so real. We got the impression that if we’d sat in the corner for a week, we’d have come away with material for an 800-page novel.

Runner-up: Cafe Botteltje, Ostend.


Best cask beer – Five Points Pale Ale

When it came on at The Drapers, we couldn’t stop drinking it, and nor could Ray’s parents. On multiple occasions, we schlepped across London to The Pembury determined to drink it. Softness, fruitiness, peachy goodness… It’s a great beer.

Runner-up: Bath Ales Prophecy.


Best bottled beer – Westmalle Tripel

We barely drink bottled beer these days but this one… This is irresistible. Still the best beer in the world.

Runner-up: Augustiner Helles.


Best keg beer – Bristol Beer Factory White Label

A 3.3% pale ale with Belgian yeast is more or less the perfect concept and this particular example really delivered. One of those beers we marked up as CONTENDER? In about May and revisited a couple of times thereafter.

Runner-up: Bristol Beer Factory Banoffee Pies.


Best beer overall – Five Points Pale Ale

See above. And the fact is, cask ale is what we like best.


Best brewery – Stroud

We thought long and hard about this but, looking back over a year’s-worth of notes, saw Stroud’s name popping up time and again in the Beers of the Weekend posts on Patreon. This award, we think, has to be about consistency as much as moments of brilliance and the facts is that we’re always relieved to see their name on the board at The Drapers. Their Budding has become a go-to bitter, too. But there’s plenty to get excited about, too: towards the end of the year, they produced a stunning, irresistible cask Rauchbier.

Runner-up: Moor.


Best blog – Tandleman

One of the last of the old school, blogging for the sake of blogging, drinking beer and visiting pubs not many others notice, writing with a voice so strong it nearly knocks you off your feet.

Runner-up: Bring on the Beer


Best beer Twitter – The Beer Nut @TheBeerNut

Again. Possibly forever. Who knows.

Runner-up: Jezza @BonsVoeux1

The best of our writing from 2019

We’ve turned out some stuff of which we’re quite proud this year, from Guinness history to reflections on Belgium.

We’ve been pulling together these self-celebratory round-ups for a few years now, as companion pieces to our selections of the best beer writing by other people.

They offer a chance to pat ourselves on the back, tamp down some of the self-doubt that probably afflicts anyone who ‘puts stuff out there’ and to think about which direction things might head in the year to come.

If you’ve enjoyed some of our work this year, do consider:


Fuller's Traditional Draught Beers (1970s beermat).

Feelings about Fuller’s, January 2019

“On Friday it was announced that Asahi had acquired the brewing wing of Fuller’s, subject to rubber-stamping, and we felt, frankly, gutted… With a few days to absorb and reflect we’re still feeling disappointed, despite commentary from those who argue that Asahi aren’t the worst, that it’s a vote of confidence of cask, and so on. It still feels as if someone you thought was a pal has betrayed you.”

Simon Guineau

The distributed brewery: Simon G. and Zero Degrees

“Simon Gueneau is a Parisian trained in Belgium, based in Bristol, and brewing Continental-style beer on Italian kit – how could we fail to be intrigued? We’ve long been fascinated by Zero Degrees, the brewpub chain that predates the craft beer craze of the mid-2000s, with bars that never quite click for our taste. Since moving to Bristol, though, we’ve come to really appreciate the beer, which, if you can ignore the context, is clean, classical and balanced across the board.”


Soon after opening.

Soon after opening, March 2019

“Soon after opening I came down to the public bar in the plain old pub in the plain old part of Exeter that traffic flew through, dusting everything black and shaking crumbs from the cracks, following Mum for no special reason other than that following Mum was my default course, and knowing soon that I would be sent upstairs, away from the optics and the enticing piano, away from the plastic sign advertising hot pies and pasties, away from the plastic Babycham Bambis and unbelievably, unthievably massive porcelain ashtrays.”


Ikeja, 1962

Snapshot: Guinness in Nigeria, April 2019

“We had a huge house. We lived in a big compound with about half an acre of land around it, maybe more, with a houseboy, a cook and a nanny, who lived in shacks in the back garden. They thought they were nice quarters but even as a small child I thought they were shacks. We were very well looked after… We had mosquito nets, but we also had air conditioning. We only dropped the mosquito nets if the air con broke and the windows had to be opened. Every night before we went to bed the houseboy would come in and spray God knows what, DDT probably, and kill everything that was in the bedroom.”


Illustration: a round of drinks.

The unwritten rules of buying rounds, June 2019

“There are few things as odd as reading an observed description of your own culture’s unconscious habits, such as the buying of rounds of drinks. When we arrived in Glasgow last weekend we browsed the guidebooks supplied in our flat and stopped short when we found a note, aimed at visitors to Scotland, on how to buy rounds…”


Glasgow.

Glimpses of Glasgow, June 2019

“We went to the Babbity Bowster because it’s in the Good Beer Guide and our friend recommended it and someone on Twitter told us to go. We loved it, though plain it was, with its Jarl, tourist-baiting fiddle music and eyepatch-wearing cowboys… The Black Friar is in the Good Beer Guide. We didn’t love it, plain as it was, with its long silences and so-so cask ale… The Pot Still, late at night, had a buzz and humidity we enjoyed, and a certain everyday ceremony around the serving of whisky. But everybody seemed to be Swedish or Spanish or, ugh, English, which is fine, of course, but, well…”


The Drapers Arms.

Two years, two hundred pubs, July 2019

“We’ve now been in Bristol for two years and have logged every single official Pub Visit since arriving…. We have logged 516 pub visits in total. Almost 30% of these were to our local, The Drapers Arms. We have visited 216 different pubs. Our pace of visiting new pubs has slowed: we went to our first 100 in six months; our second 100 took a year; and we’ve only added 16 in the last six months.”


Leeds town hall

In their own words: the development of the Leeds beer scene, August 2019

“Leeds is still Leeds – there’s still a pub for all tastes within walking distance and the majority of the classic places are still there, doing well. There’s even more choice and it’s hard to not encounter ‘craft’ in most places now, like in any major city. At the risk of sounding like an old man, it’s getting increasingly expensive to drink in the city centre, but the scene itself is thriving – beer is mainstream, there’s no need to guide people anymore.”


Ceci n’est pas un travelogue.

Ceci n’est pas un travelogue, September 2019

“There is a man with a piece of pencil lead under his fingernail drawing nudes in a notebook while drinking a milky coffee. Two bar staff are dancing and miming along to ‘Dolce Vita’ by Ryan Paris as they wash glasses. A man with a shopping trolley, dressed head to toe in custom embroidered denim, lumbers in and raises a hand at which, without hesitation, he is brought a small glass of water; he downs it, waves, and leaves. On the terrace, two skinny boys in artfully tatty clothes eat a kilo of pistachios and sip at glasses of Pils. A group of Englishmen in real ale T-shirts arrive: ‘Triples all round is it, lads? Aye, four triples, pal.’”


The Meaning of Pub

Running the numbers, October 2019

“One of the most frequently asked questions about #EveryPubInBristol is how we define a pub. This is hard to answer beyond ‘We know one when we see one’. But we thought we might try to be a bit more scientific and come up with a scoring system.”


Swan With Two Necks interior.

The Swan with Two Necks and the gentrification problem, November 2019

“‘I’ve been called a cultural terrorist,’ said Jamie Ashley, the new landlord of The Swan With Two Necks, seeming offended, amused and confused in equal measure. In the past few months, he’s found himself at the centre of one of Bristol’s many small dramas of gentrification, as either a pioneer or an intruder depending on your point of view.”


Those are, for us, the real highlights, but with about 150 posts in total this year there’s plenty more to explore – do have a nose around using categories and tags. And if there’s a piece you liked we haven’t included above, feel free to mention it in the comments. We absolutely will not object to a bit of flattery.

Our favourite beer writing of 2019

Every year for the past few years, we’ve dug through our weekly news, nuggets and longreads posts to identify what we reckon is the best of the year.

We do this not only as a reminder that there’s lots of great stuff being produced by talented writers but also because writing online is transitory – you sweat over something, it has its moment of attention, then sinks away into the bottomless depths of the Eternal Feed.

The pieces we’ve chosen below excited or interested us when they were published an, rereading them this weekend, retained their power.

They tell us things we didn’t already know, challenge our thinking, find new angles on old stories, and do it with beautiful turns of phrase and delightful images.

Give these writers a follow on social media, if you haven’t already, and do what you can to support their efforts (Patreon, Ko-Fi, buy their books or zines, pay them to write for you) if you want more of this in 2020 and beyond.


David Brassfield outside Brupond.
SOURCE: Will Hawkes.

The Quiet American

By Will Hawkes, @Will_Hawkes, January 2019

The story of the rise and fall of Brüpond, a London brewery set up by an American with high hopes, offers a valuable perspective on failure,  a topic often overlooked in the excitement around the beer boom:

I only met David Brassfield once, at The Kernel on a warm day at the end of July 2012. He was standing patiently in front of a fermenting vessel, a notepad clutched to his chest, waiting to speak to Evin O’Riordain. I noted how smartly turned-out he was: he was wearing modish thick-rimmed spectacle, as I recall, and there was a biro tucked into the breast pocket of his white shirt… For a moment I imagined him as an American journalist, here to find out more about London’s brewing renaissance. A quick chat dispelled that notion. He was setting up a brewery in London, he told me in easy-going Midwestern style, and gave me his card: Brüpond Brewery, it read in thick black type, “for explorers”… 13 months later, Brüpond was up for sale.


The Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.

The Male Gueuze – Cantillon, Cabaret, and Context

By Lily Waite, @LilyWaite_, December 2018

There’s been some squirming over the attitudes of the cult Belgian brewery for a few years now but if anything, its management seemed to be doubling down:

In 2018… the Zwanze Day events that Cantillon co-hosted at Moeder Lambic—one of Brussels’ most popular beer bars—overshadowed the beer itself… After an introduction by Cantillon owner Jean Van Roy, Colette Collerette, a burlesque dancer who performs with Brussels’ Cabaret Mademoiselle, began to disrobe in front of the bar. The show culminated when Collerette—wearing just nipple pasties and a thong—shook two bottles of beer and sprayed the foam over her nearly-naked body.

What’s going on, and how does it fit into the wider conversation around attitudes to women in beer?

Continue reading “Our favourite beer writing of 2019”

News, nuggets and longreads 14 December 2019: Vintage ale, Christmas beer, winter walks

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that struck us as worth bookmarking in this past week, from pub numbers to Christmas traditions.

First, a rather pleasing news story: for the first time in a decade, the total number of pubs in the UK has risen rather than falling, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics:

The UK ended March 2019 with 39,135 pubs, 320 more than a year earlier, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It is the first net increase since 2010… The rise marked a dramatic turnaround compared with the previous nine years, during which the UK pub network declined by an average of 732 each year, comparable data showed… While the ONS figures showed an increase, industry trade body the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) warned that its own statistics, which capture a higher number of pubs, showed a turning point was yet to be reached.

As ever, it’s worth remembering that there are pubs, and there are pubs – it still seems that suburban backstreet pubs are more at risk than big ones in city centres and on high streets, and that certain neighbourhoods are at greater risk of becoming publess.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 14 December 2019: Vintage ale, Christmas beer, winter walks”

The sensible Miss Orme and the life of the barmaid, 1892

In 1892, Eliza Orme undertook a painstaking investigation into the working lives of barmaids, producing a report which takes us back to the pubs of the past with incredible vividness.

Eliza Orme was an interesting woman. She was the first woman in England to get a degree in law, in 1888, as Dr Leslie Howsam, who has studied Orme’s life, explains here:

[She] was 39 years old and already unofficially ‘practicing’ law out of an office in London’s Chancery Lane where she and a colleague prepared the paperwork for property transactions, patent registrations, wills, settlements, and mortgages. ‘I “devilled” for about a dozen conveyancing counsel who kept me busily employed on drafts they wanted done in a hurry, and for twenty-five years I found it both an interesting and profitable employment’, Orme recalled in a 1901 interview. This support-level work was the only legal employment open to women, who were not permitted either to be called to the bar or join the Law Society. It was only a small part, however, of Eliza Orme’s reputation as a public figure.

An early feminist, Miss Orme was a firm believer in allowing women to work in whichever industries they chose and was a member of the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women.

Through this, she ended up as Senior Lady Assistant Commissioner to the Royal Commission on Labour, overseeing a small team of Lady Assistant Commissioners.

Portrait photo.
Eliza Orme c.1900.

After the Commission decided at a meeting in March 1892 to undertake research into the working lives of women, Orme dispatched her team around the country, from Bristol to the Western Isles, to investigate various industries such as textile mills, chocolate factories and stocking making.

Continue reading “The sensible Miss Orme and the life of the barmaid, 1892”