Running the numbers: is it a pub?

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.

As a start­ing point, we took CAMRA’s guide­lines, most recent­ly updat­ed in May 2019:

The licensed premis­es must:

[1] be open to and wel­come the gen­er­al pub­lic with­out requir­ing mem­ber­ship or res­i­den­cy and with­out charg­ing for admis­sion (a);

[2] serve at least one draught beer or cider (b);

[3] allow drink­ing with­out requir­ing food to be con­sumed, and have at least one indoor area not laid out for meals; and

[4] allow cus­tomers to buy drinks at a bar © with­out rely­ing on table ser­vice.’

[a] except when enter­tain­ment is pro­vid­ed on lim­it­ed occa­sions, when an entry charge may apply.

[b] includes cask or keg beer or cider. Ref­er­ences to ‘cider’ should be read as ‘cider and per­ry’.

[c] includes ser­vice from a hatch or spe­cif­ic ser­vice point.

This offers a help­ful base­line, effec­tive­ly weed­ing out clubs, ded­i­cat­ed music venues and restau­rants.

How­ev­er, under this def­i­n­i­tion, some­thing which we would instinc­tive­ly call a cafe would com­fort­ably fit and, indeed, venues of this type do make it into the Good Beer Guide from time to time.

Bris­tol is par­tic­u­lar­ly blessed with cafes that are open until well into the evening, serv­ing draught beer, includ­ing real ale, so it’s not out­ra­geous but, still… They’re not pubs.

We sourced some more ideas on Twit­ter (months ago – this real­ly has tak­en a long time to digest) and then con­struct­ed a spread­sheet for scor­ing.

It includes things like car­pet, whether there are table­cloths, the his­to­ry of the build­ing, whether it’s part of a chain, and so on, amount­ing to 24 cri­te­ria in total.

Next, we test­ed it by feed­ing in a few pubs we know are def­i­nite­ly pubs, a hand­ful of estab­lish­ments that def­i­nite­ly aren’t, and every­thing in between.

What we’ve end­ed up with is a scor­ing sys­tem that offers four out­comes:

  • Not a pub | 19 or less
  • Pos­si­bly a pub | 20 to 39
  • Prob­a­bly a pub | 40 to 59
  • Def­i­nite­ly a pub | 60 or more

A max­i­mum score of 100 is pos­si­ble.

For #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol, we’re tick­ing def­i­nitelys and prob­a­blys, but won’t go out of our way for pos­si­blys.

It’s impor­tant to note that the scores are not about the qual­i­ty of a pub, or intend­ed as crit­i­cisms of places that aren’t pubs – it’s fine to be a bar. It’s just an attempt to eval­u­ate the essence of pub­bi­ness.

In par­tic­u­lar, we’re try­ing to work out what typ­i­cal pubs have that typ­i­cal cafes don’t, such as fruit machines, a mix­ture of stand­ing and sit­ting, and so on.

And we’re doing this for our own ben­e­fit, pri­mar­i­ly – do we need to trek to the far end of the oppo­site cor­ner to vis­it this place, or can we get away with­out the hour-long bus ride?

We should also point out that we have only designed this with the Eng­lish pub in mind, and our weight­ings may not be right for pubs else­where in the UK, let alone pub-type estab­lish­ments in the rest of the world.

We, like CAMRA, have a fair­ly low bar for entry: some­where serv­ing draught beer in pints from a counter is already across the ‘pos­si­bly a pub’ mark (unless it has tra­di­tion­al cafe open­ing hours, for exam­ple), and cask ale and the right name or decor will tip it into the ‘prob­a­bly’ zone.

When we shared a ver­sion of this post with our Patre­on sub­scribers last week, there was a gen­tle chal­lenge on car­pet. That’s a good exam­ple of a mar­gin­al indi­ca­tor of pub­bi­ness to which we’ve giv­en low weight­ing in the scor­ing sys­tem. On its own, car­pet prob­a­bly won’t rule out most pubs, or tip non-pubs over the line.

How­ev­er, we’re sure there are fur­ther tweaks that can be made.

So, with that in mind, have a play with this Google Docs spread­sheet and let us know how well it works with pubs in your town.

You’ll have to make a copy (Sign in to Google > File > Make a copy) but then you’ll be free to play around as much as you like, adding or remov­ing cri­te­ria, or chang­ing the weight­ing to your lik­ing.

Try to break the scor­ing sys­tem – find a place you know is a pub that our scor­ing sys­tem does­n’t rank, or a place that def­i­nite­ly isn’t a pub (a cur­ry house with cask ale, a cafe) that does.

If you don’t have a Google account or don’t want to use a spread­sheet, here’s a text ver­sion so you can tot it up how­ev­er you pre­fer.

Is it part of a chain?
Some or com­plete chain brand­ing; name of chain promi­nent­ly dis­played on sig­nage. Pub­cos and brew­eries are not chains for this pur­pose.
If yes, ‑5 points

On some or all tables
If yes, ‑5 points

Cakes on the bar
If yes, ‑5 points

Pri­ma­ry pur­pose of estab­lish­ment is some­thing else
E.g. hotel, bowl­ing alley, music club
If yes, ‑5 points

Closed at least one day a week
If yes, ‑5 points

Bar and bar ser­vice
Or ser­vice hatch
If yes, +10 points

Mix­ture of stand­ing and seat­ing
If yes, +10 points

Tra­di­tion­al pub name
Assessor’s judge­ment
If yes, +5 points

In a his­tor­i­cal pub build­ing
If yes, +5 points

Has one or more guv’nors
I.e. some­one who owns it or man­ages it close­ly – you know their names
If yes, +10 points

Has locals/regulars
Reg­u­lar cus­tomers who know each oth­er only via the pub
If yes, +10 points

Par­tial or through­out
If yes, +2 points

Mixed fur­ni­ture
I.e. chairs don’t all match
If yes, +4 points

If yes, +4 points

If yes, +5 points

At least one of Dart­board, pool table or fruit machine
If yes, +5 points

Pre-pack­aged snacks
Crisps, nuts, pork scratch­ings, Scampi Fries, or sim­i­lar; not cakes
If yes, +5 points

Draught beer
If yes, +5 points

Cask ale
If yes, +10 points

Serves pints
If yes, +10 points

Eat­ing com­pul­so­ry
If yes, imme­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion

Need to be a mem­ber to enter
If yes, imme­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion

No alco­holic drinks
If yes, imme­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion

News, nuggets and longreads 19 October 2019: Lancashire, language, local

Here’s everything that struck as noteworthy in beer and pubs in the past week, from foeders to the importance of L.

Mar­tyn Cor­nell has been reflect­ing on the urge to nit­pick over the lan­guage peo­ple use to talk about beer and brew­ing:

I had a small Twit­ter spat yes­ter­day with Dura­tion Brew­ing after they said they were installing a cool­ship and foed­ers at their brew­ery in Nor­folk. A wave of grumpy old man­nish­ness washed across me, and I tweet­ed that we don’t have cool­ships and foed­ers in Britain, we have cool­ers and vats. Why use a for­eign word when we have Eng­lish words that mean the same thing?

Wetherspoon pub sign, Penzance.

Ben­jamin Nunn at Ben Viveur is a fan of the Wether­spoon pub chain but not uncrit­i­cal. In his lat­est post, he lists five things he likes and five he does­n’t:

3. Col­lec­tabil­i­ty. For those of us for whom brew­ery- and beer-tick­ing isn’t enough, there’s the chal­lenge of try­ing to vis­it all the Spoons. It’s tremen­dous fun. Some have vis­it­ed over 1000 and to them I doff my Wether­cap. (If you’re even slight­ly inter­est­ed in tak­ing up this hob­by, Spoon­sTrack­er makes it easy!)

Casked in Rawtenstall.
SOURCE: Dun­can Mackay/Pubmeister.

Is Rawten­stall in Lan­cashire “the Hack­ney of the north”? Dun­can Mack­ay thinks it might be, unless it’s the oth­er way round:

It’s one of sev­er­al sol­id for­mer mill towns that seem to be increas­ing­ly attrac­tive to the Man­ches­ter dias­po­ra. How else to explain two microp­ubs, a sta­tion bar, a brew­ery tap, a tem­per­ance bar and, wait for it, a nano pub, all doing a brisk trade on a dre­ich Sun­day evening… Two of the above (Hop and Buffer Stops) have graced pre­vi­ous Good Beer Guides.… The new addi­tion is Casked, described as a microp­ub but real­ly a decent sized beer and gin bar that looks as if it occu­pies two for­mer shops.

Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

For The Morn­ing Adver­tis­er Stu­art Stone looks into why so many tra­di­tion­al British beers have updat­ed their brand­ing late­ly, and the impor­tance of brand­ing to con­sumers more gen­er­al­ly:

Hobgoblin’s mod­ern makeover is fur­ther vin­di­cat­ed by the fact that 41% of 18 to 25s and 39% of 26 to 35s agree that “I think mod­ern beer brands under­stand me bet­ter as a con­sumer”, accord­ing to Street­bees – with only 14% of each age-group dis­agree­ing with the state­ment. ­ Is falls to an aver­age of 34% across all age groups and 27% among those aged over 46.

(Note the bloop­er, though: Georgina Young is head brew­er at Bath Ales, a sub­sidiary of St Austell, not at St Austell prop­er.)

A nugget from Stan Hierony­mus: what if all brew­eries local­ness was list­ed like ABV?

Full­steam Brew­ery in North Car­oli­na has made a small change in the sig­nage it uses at beer fes­ti­vals.

A line that pre­vi­ous­ly read “AUTUMN LAGER fes­t­bier, 6% ABV, 99% local” now reads “AUTUMN LAGER fes­t­bier, 6% ABV, 99% L.”

Final­ly, from Twit­ter, via @teninchwheels:

Stan has retired from link wran­gling but do check out Alan McLeod’s Thurs­day round-up for more good read­ing.

The perfect amount of foam on a pint of beer

Of course there is no correct amount – it will vary from beer to beer, from region to region and from person to person – but it looks as if a beer we were served on Friday night was pretty close to perfect.

When we Tweet­ed this with the mes­sage ‘One for the Foam Police’ we were being delib­er­ate­ly vague.

What we meant was ‘This looks pret­ty good’ but want­ed to test a the­o­ry: we reck­on it is pos­si­ble for a spe­cif­ic indi­vid­ual pint to have both (a) too much head and (b) too lit­tle.

When we Tweet pic­tures of the beers we’re drink­ing, it’s quite com­mon for peo­ple to reply with either some­thing like ‘Stick a Flake in that?’ or ‘That looks in poor con­di­tion’.

In this case, though about 90% of poll respon­dents thought it looked fair­ly spot on, the remain­ing votes were split between too much and not enough, with a slight bias towards too much.

It would be inter­est­ing to have the abil­i­ty to drill down into the results a bit more. We sus­pect those who vot­ed ‘too much’ will be in Lon­don and the Home Coun­ties, while those who vot­ed ‘not enough’ will skew younger. But those are just guess­es, for now.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing thing was that some peo­ple want­ed to know more about the beer before form­ing a judge­ment:

Of course there’s a lot of cer­e­mo­ny and debate around lager, espe­cial­ly in the Czech Repub­lic, but we hadn’t con­sid­ered before that keg beer might be expect­ed to have more head than cask. Now it’s been raised, though, it does feel right.

Alto­geth­er, though, what this proves is that it’s a mat­ter of taste, as sub­jec­tive as any­thing else.

Is the the­atri­cal cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Fel­low­ship of the Ring too long, too short or about right? Would you like more tracks on Sgt Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band, few­er, or about the same num­ber?

Well, sub­jec­tive except for in the (sort of) legal sense. There’s a gen­er­al accep­tance, rein­forced by mes­sages from indus­try bod­ies and Trad­ing Stan­dards, that says a pint should be at least 95% liq­uid, and no more than 5% foam.

We sus­pect our ‘about right’ pint on Fri­day might have failed this test, by a per­cent­age point or two, but in the moment, we real­ly did­n’t care.

News, nuggets and longreads 12 October 2019: silly stout, Somerset cider, sad stories

Here’s everything on the subject of beer, pubs and (this month only) cider, that caught our attention in the past few days, from lost friends to last beers.

Between us we’ve encoun­tered Roger Wilkins of Wilkins Cider a few times over the decades. When Ray was young, his Dad used to buy cider from the farm every now and then. And until a year or so ago, Wilkins used to sup­ply the Drap­ers Arms so the sight of Mr W him­self steam­ing through a crowd­ed pub, sweat­ing and huff­ing, with a jar of pick­led eggs under each arm was­n’t uncom­mon. Now, for Pel­li­cleNic­ci Peet has giv­en him the full pro­file treat­ment:

I hear Roger before I see him, his laugh bel­low­ing from inside his barn. It’s as big and as bold as his rep­u­ta­tion. Local­ly, and to some inter­na­tion­al­ly, he is known as the “cider king,” mak­ing prop­er, tra­di­tion­al farm­house cider… Roger offers two ciders: dry and sweet. Both sit in big wood­en bar­rels with taps ready for you to serve your­self and there’s no fixed price—you pay as you feel. If you’re after a medi­um sim­ply mix the two. Then sip your cider in the barn or in the orchard, the way Som­er­set cider has been enjoyed for cen­turies. Even how he sells his cider is old school, as you have to ring him direct­ly if you want to make an order.

Drawing: a pub bar.

Mark John­son paints a pic­ture of pub life with an emo­tion­al twist in a post about the acci­den­tal Thurs­day Club, dry roast­ed peanuts and a man called Col­in:

Most­ly we just meet at the bar. First by chance. Then increas­ing­ly “by chance.” Then it became Thurs­day club. Then Wednes­day was added into the mix too. And of course we are always here Fri­day. And the odd quick pint on a Mon­day has been known to turn into five hours of putting the world to rights – or at least his beloved City’s back four… I’m not sure I’ve ever socialised with Col­in out­side of the pub… And he is too bloomin’ gen­er­ous. Annoy­ing­ly so. I have to fight to even pay for a drink. I’m sure I’m about 20 pints behind now. I don’t think I’ve ever bought the bags of dry roast­ed.

Chelsie's last beer.
SOURCE: Chelsie Markel.

Chelsie Markel did­n’t know she was drink­ing what might be her last beer when she checked it in on Untap­pd dur­ing the sum­mer:

While I was drink­ing my very last full pour of beer while vis­it­ing Tree House Brew­ing Co. in July, I had no idea I had the dis­ease. I had no idea that ‘Hur­ri­cane (with Peach)’ would be my last beer self­ie that I ever took. That the beer I rat­ed a 4.5 in Untap­pd and every­thing I had hoped for as a tast­ing expe­ri­ence would be the begin­ning of the finale… Even though a few years back a friend of mine had been diag­nosed with Sjo­grens and I thought “Wow! I have a lot of these med­ical con­di­tions and symp­toms though­out my life. But stop being sil­ly! Your doc­tors would have con­nect­ed the dots and test­ed you if they thought this was a real con­cern. Stop self-diag­nos­ing.”

Various books and magazine from the last 40+ years of CAMRA.

The Cam­paign for Real Ale keeps doing inter­est­ing things. The lat­est eye­brow-rais­ing move is to ten­der for a not-the-usu­al-sus­pects writer to tack­le an offi­cial 50th anniver­sary biog­ra­phy of the cam­paign group:

We would like this per­spec­tive to come from some­one who is not per­ceived as hav­ing a close asso­ci­a­tion with CAMRA. The brief is for a c.50,000 word autho­rised biog­ra­phy of CAMRA, to be researched and writ­ten in 2020, with the text due at the end of the year, ready for pub­li­ca­tion in March 2021 in time for the Campaign’s birth­day cel­e­bra­tions. Exact out­line, terms and fees to be nego­ti­at­ed.

Cult Czech brew­ery Kout na Šumavě is in trou­ble, it turns out:

Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake (label).

Steve Body, AKA The Pour Fool, has put togeth­er a typ­i­cal­ly impas­sioned defence of ‘crazy’ beers:

We have to have this sort of “crazi­ness” for craft beer – noth­ing says we have to like every dick­head idea or style that sham­bles onto the brew­ing scene – to con­tin­ue to evolve and progress as the par­a­digm-chang­er it has become. There is NO oth­er path. The surest way to mur­der inno­va­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty is to slap blind­ers on those doing the work. There is an old say­ing, “Out of exper­i­men­ta­tion comes syn­the­sis.” Nev­er heard that? Appar­ent­ly, I just made it up. Google gives me no hits on that axiom. But it’s the truth: we try crazy shit, watch some or even most of it fail, and pluck the nuggets, the pearls, out of the chick­en­shit.

Sam Smith logo from beer bottle.

We can’t resist these Humphrey Smith sto­ries: the head of Samuel Smith’s brew­ery in Tad­cast­er has reached a new high this week by shut­ting down a new­ly opened pub because he heard a cus­tomer swear­ing. Here’s the sto­ry as report­ed by the Inde­pen­dent:

[Smith] was vis­it­ing the Fox and Goose in Droitwich Spa, Worces­ter­shire, sev­en weeks after it opened… But when the 74-year-old heard anoth­er drinker drop­ping the F‑word while telling his wife a joke, he decid­ed to imme­di­ate­ly close the place… [leav­ing] land­lord Eric Low­ery, who lives in a flat above the pub with wife Tracey, look­ing for both a new job and some­where to live.

Final­ly, from Twit­ter:


Six new-to-us Bristol pubs in one day

Our #EveryPubInBristol mission had begun to stagnate a little with hardly any new ticks in weeks. Then, the Saturday before last, we managed six new pubs in one go. As ever, this concerted attack was eye-opening.

We start­ed at The Assem­bly in Bed­min­ster, a huge pub with the foot­ball on at ear-burst­ing vol­ume and a sense that it was drows­ing, just wait­ing for Sat­ur­day night to kick off. The kind of place where the wood­work has teeth-marks. Jess’s half of Doom Bar came in a dain­ty stem glass, though, and did­n’t taste bad.

The Windmill

The con­trast between this and the next pub, up Wind­mill Hill on the oth­er side of the rail­way line, was pow­er­ful. The Wind­mill feels like the kind of place you might find in a mid­dle class out­er Lon­don sub­urb, all scrubbed wood, burg­ers and jazz. The cou­ple on the table next to us seemed to be on hol­i­day in Bris­tol and had appar­ent­ly come out of their way to get to this par­tic­u­lar pub – is it in a for­eign trav­el guide, maybe? It’s for sale, we hear, which might explain the faint­ly gloomy mood. Over­all, we liked it, even if it did seem to be look­ing at us down its nose, just a touch.

The Rising Sun

At the top of the hill, The Ris­ing Sun appealed to us imme­di­ate­ly: a Vic­to­ri­an orphan along­side a mod­ernist tow­er block, windswept by default, it brought to mind the Cum­ber­land at Byk­er. Inside, we found a lamp­shade pub with plush seat­ing and kitsch details. Blue­grass music played on the stereo and the young pub­li­can told us he was a musi­cian. Bohemi­an might be a good word for this pub and we can imag­ine detour­ing to get to it again.

The Brunel

Things went down­hill after this, lit­er­al­ly, as we tot­tered down a tat­ty alley­way between ter­raced hous­es to The Brunel, AKA The Engi­neers Arms – a huge pub extend­ed or rebuilt in the 1920s, despite its sup­posed 1897 found­ing date. It’s a Greene King joint so you can prob­a­bly pic­ture it with 80% accu­ra­cy if you’ve ever been in anoth­er any­where else in the coun­try. But we liked the cheer­ful staff, the stained glass win­dows and the remains of the old mul­ti-room struc­ture: the real drinkers were in what was obvi­ous­ly the Pub­lic. It’s not our kind of place but there was cer­tain­ly a buzz.

The Victoria Park

Next stop was The Vic­to­ria Park, a some­what famous gas­trop­ub in 1990s style, with Miche­lin stick­ers and more. We did­n’t expect to like it but the hill­side beer gar­den and Edwar­dian exte­ri­or were hard to resist, and inside we had no trou­ble find­ing a cor­ner to drink in. The oth­er cus­tomers were most­ly exhaust­ed par­ents rock­ing pushchairs or bounc­ing babies on their chests. This one, we thought, would fit an upmar­ket resort in Devon or Corn­wall, and the beer was most­ly Devon­ian, as it hap­pened.

The Star & Dove on the edge of Vic­to­ria Park has a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry. Ray’s been before, with his broth­er, when it was a full-on gas­trop­ub with slow-cooked pork bel­ly and so on. That ven­ture fold­ed, though, and in the space of a year or two, it’s revert­ed to being a nor­mal, down-to-earth drink­ing pub with some­what harsh light­ing and the down­stairs din­ing room locked. The inter­net seems gen­er­al­ly con­fused about whether it is still trad­ing (it def­i­nite­ly is) and whether it still has food at all – some­times, we think? Still, not often you encounter de-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion these days.

There’s some­thing about this par­tic­u­lar approach, every pub, that real­ly makes sense of the scene as a whole and how things fit togeth­er. Posh pubs are uphill, less fan­cy ones at the bot­tom; chains are some­times where the action is; and there’s almost no pub that’s not OK for at least one round on a Sat­ur­day after­noon.