News, nuggets and longreads 19 September 2020: aerosols, Anspach & Hobday, Out and About

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the past week, from unmalted grain to boozers on film.

First, something about the Dreaded Plague that helps understand exactly why we need to be clear-headed about pub-going, and especially sitting indoors surrounded by others. In this piece, Dana G. Smith summarises what we know about how the virus is transmitted, several months in. Good news: you probably don’t need to be terrified by passing close to someone in the street, or disinfect your bananas. Bad news:

Being outdoors is the ultimate ventilation, and for months public health officials have recommended that people socialize outside rather than in. However, with winter and colder temperatures coming, indoor air filtration and adherence to masks will become even more important… “The important thing on the public side is air handling, reducing the number of people in enclosed indoor spaces, and wearing a mask,” says Bhadelia. “[Aerosol transmission] explains why indoor settings are so much more important and contribute so much more to new infections than outdoor settings do.”

Related: there’s been a change in the rules around contact tracing that we missed and, it seems, many pubs may have also have overlooked. Venues now need to take details for every individual in a party, not just one contact per group.

Anspach and Hobday

It’s always a good week when there’s new Will Hawkes to read and this time, we got two pieces together:

  1. A profile of London brewery Anspach & Hobday for Pellicle which made us think we ought to give them another look, having filed them away as fine based on previous experiences.
  2. Notes on the persistence of cask ale in pubs in South East London and Kent at a time when you might expect them to be quietly dropped.

Barley & Malt.

Apparently having run out of other people to fact-check, Martyn Cornell has turned inward, questioning a claim he has made himself:

It’s an excellent idea for a historian never to make a claim that cannot be backed up with actual evidence. In particular, it’s a terrible crime to assume, without verifying. Forgive me, therefore, Clio, muse of history, I have sinned: for many years I have been asserting that British brewers were banned from using unmalted grain when Parliament introduced a malt tax in 1697 to fund William III’s wars against the French. Alas: when I finally got round to doing what I should have done at the start, checking the actual statute, there was no such clause.

Out and about logo.

Burum Collective continues to do great work giving a platform to fresh voices, this week sharing an interview with Heather and Michael who run Out and About, a non-profit in Sheffield dedicated to making beer more friendly and inclusive LGBTQIA+ people:

Michael: We realised that we weren’t really getting anywhere by just going to the same places that we already knew like places that were already inviting and friendly. So we have to get start going to different pubs and make sure that there’s not just four pubs in Sheffield that you can go to if you’re queer.

Heather: I wouldn’t put somewhere on that list that neither of us had been to or had no experience with because I wouldn’t want to take the risk and have people going to an event there. If something did happen, it would be on our backs. But even by getting to different parts of the city and stuff and having the pubs that might be a risk seeing what we’re doing in other pubs… it might help perpetuate a culture.

Michael: What we’re really keen to do at some point is have a bar at Pride in Sheffield, that serves proper beer, not just corporate lager and Guinness.

An industrial brewery.

Here’s an amusing snippet from Barm/@robsterowski, adding to the evidence for the argument that the craft v. industrial argument has been going on in beer since long before CAMRA turned up:

The steam-powered breweries increase constantly in number and it seems they shall quite soon squeeze out the other breweries, or force them into imitating them. As in so many other [trades], the machine seems to make manual labour almost redundant in the brewery. The question must be asked: which beer is preferable, that produced by steam or by hand? Experienced beer conners prefer the latter.

Beer cans in a supermarket.

Jeff Alworth has been thinking about the language used to market beer and reached an interesting if unsurprising conclusion: the names breweries give to beers matter, and people are drawn to ‘cool’ words more than dorkily technical terminology. For example, even ‘hoppy’ may be a turn-off:

Very simple terms like “ale” and “lager” exist at the outer edges of most drinkers’ knowledge. Hop and malt varieties, unusual style names, foreign beer terms—most of these fly over the aver drinker’s head. Ingredients and process, used routinely on labels, are murky even among avid drinkers. Beer is incredibly complex. Hops offer bitterness—but so does roast malt. They are fruity, sweet, and aromatic, but so are fermentation compounds, and sometimes malt, too. Put “hoppy” on a label and you invite confusion. The result, of course, is that the beer doesn’t sell. Some adventurers seek the unknown, but most drinkers will opt for something familiar.

And finally, from Twitter, a quick run through the portrayal of pubs on film – a favourite topic of ours.

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


Micropubs of Broadstairs

Yes, here we are again with the hottest takes on the latest developments in beer: not only are there craft beer bars in Hackney, but it turns out there also micropubs on the Isle of Thanet in Kent.

One of our own little rules for coping with the weirdness of the present situation has been NO PUB CRAWLS. In Broadstairs last weekend, though, we made an exception because we figured we could visit every micropub in town without going within a mile of anyone else, and sticking to outside seating for the most part.

We started off with a visit to The Magnet on a hot, golden Saturday evening with the smell of garlic on the air. Sitting in the alleyway outside on wobbly chairs, we could have been in Marseilles or Malaga.

The Magnet.

The game in 2020 is all about confidence and reassurance and there was plenty of that at The Magnet. There were enough staff on to intercept every guest and cheerfully direct them to the sanitiser and guestbook, along with table service that felt as if they were doing you a favour rather subjecting you to a restrictive regime. Personality goes a long way, doesn’t it?

When it got cold, we moved inside and, suddenly, it felt more like Belgium than the Mediterranean: brown wood, enamel signs, mirrors, warm light and conspiratorial conversation.

The cask ale selection reminded us of The Draper’s Arms, covering a range of tastes but tending towards the trad and with an emphasis on local. The standouts were a strong, vaguely Victorian IPA from Gadd’s which suggested strawberry jam and orange marmalade, and Bexley Brewery Bursted Bitter: “This is how Shepherd Neame wants its beers to taste.”

Or maybe it just feels like a… pub? Bar, hand-pumps, not especially micro. We liked it a lot and came back for another go on our final night in town.

‘It’s been manic,’ the landlady told us. ‘It usually goes quiet when the schools go back but not this year. All the hotel owners say they’re booked up for weeks. But who knows. You’ve got to keep putting money away in case there’s a second lockdown.’

Let’s hope that one upside of this strange year is a slow, steady trade for pubs in tourist areas right through the off-season.

Four Candles.

On a burning hot Sunday, we walked past The Four Candles on the way out of town and noticed three little tables in the shade across the road. On our way back, dusty and dry, we knew we’d have to stop for at least one Ice Cold in Alex.

It’s one of those barless micropubs, the pure Hillier model, with casks in the back room and regulars who look as if they never go home.

A perennial problem for micropub owners is that people confuse them with microbreweries. This micropub is, of course, a microbrewery. One of the beers we tried, a pale ale with Amarillo hops, was outstanding; another, with Centennial, was rough and hard to finish. We’ll let others who know the pub better than us chime in below to suggest which is more typical.

A table at The Pub.

Knowing that the other micropubs in town would be closed on Monday, this is when we decided we had to crawl, small C, and set off for The Pub. Slightly out of town, beyond the railway line, it would probably be classified as a craft beer bar in any other part of the world: vintage record player, smart graphic design and keg beer from breweries such as The Kernel.

Desperate for shade, we sat inside, looking out on a sun-blasted shopping street with ‘Fruits de Mer’ and a Free Church of England. A couple a little older than us sat on a bench outside smiling into the sky.

Mind the Gap

Finally, we nabbed a seat outside Mind the Gap, where we had a brief, intense emotional affair with Gadd’s hoppy pale ale (HPA).

We’ve known about Gadd’s for a long time, known it was a respected and well-liked brewery, but rarely had chance to drink the beer ourselves. When we have, we’ve been reasonably impressed but, of course, there’s something about consuming cask ale close to source. This beer could not have tasted better, or fresher, more subtle or more vivid.

The phrase ‘Another pint and a half of HPA, please!’ slips off the tongue easily, it turns out.

You can read more about the development of micropubs in our book 20th Century Pub and in this companion piece for Beer Advocate from 2018.


News, nuggets and longreads 12 September 2020: cats, culture wars, craft beer w**kers

Here’s all the reading about pubs and beer from the past week that struck us as especially fun, thought-provoking or important, from gruit to wood-ageing.

We found plenty to think about in Zoe Williams’s piece on pubs for the Guardian which rightly observes that whether you do or don’t feel like going to pub during a global pandemic has become yet another facet of the supposed culture war:

Meanwhile, the pub-goer-as-patriot brigade has been out in force, embodied, as so often with a culture war, in the person of Nigel Farage, back in the boozer from noon on 4 July, the first day they were allowed to open in England, uttering out loud that a pint was a “patriotic duty”, as unaware of his own absurdity as a dog with its head stuck in a bucket… The debate travelled along the same faultlines as the bizarro fights before it – vegan sausage rolls, moderately tasty or an insult to real men? Blue passports, a waste of energy or the peak of true Britishness? Pubs-as-identities collided in the person of Tim Martin, the combative founder and chairman of Wetherspoons, ardent Brexiter, believer in herd-immunity, defender of the boozer. His pubs became a muster point for an economy-first, libertarian, anti-mask, it’s-just-the-flu worldview.

From our point of view, it’s frustrating to hear people arguing that if you don’t feel like going to the pub right now, you must be a closet temperance campaigner, a snob, or both. There are lots of good reasons you might choose not to go; and lots of reasons you might personally decide it’s a risk worth taking. But the idea that’s it’s somehow a political decision, rather than one based on the objective facts of a rampant and dangerous disease, is baffling.

A sea of wooden casks.

We enjoyed Roger Protz’s notes on wood-aged beers, which made us want to track down some of the mixed-fermentation beers from one of our local breweries:

Wiper and True, founded in 2012 in Bristol, has built a Barrel Store close to the brewery. The store enables the brewery to produce oak-aged beers and this summer it launched two beers made by mixed fermentation. Wort – the sugary extract produced during the mashing stage – is produced in the brewery then transferred to the Barrel Store where fermentation takes place in oak, using Brettanomyces and Cerberus yeast cultures – Cerberus is a strain widely used, in the U.S. in particular, to make sour beers, a modern interpretation of Belgian Lambic… The two beers are Narrow Sea, based on the Belgian Saison style, and Hinterland, a 7.3 per cent IPA brewed with Citra, Ekuanot, Loral and Simcoe hops. Could this be akin to the IPAs sent to the Raj in India in the Victorian period?

Bog myrtle.

For Good Beer Hunting, Eoghan Walsh reports on new interest in gruit, a mix of herbs used to flavour and preserve beer in the days before hops became ubiquitous. His article is built around a report of gruit beer festival in Münster, in northern Germany:

Münster seems an unlikely home for a new generation of German brewing radicals. It has none of the historical brewing cachet of its neighbors Cologne and Düsseldorf to the west, nor the urban edge of Berlin’s new wave craft beer scene to the east, nevermind the internationally celebrated traditions of Bavaria to the south. But once upon a time, Münster was home to a thriving brewing center, plugged into a pre-modern, northern European gruit-making culture where the people in control of the gruit demurred only to bishops and mayors… What went into a particular gruit mixture was determined by geography and climate, but the basic components were largely the same: bog myrtle as a primary ingredient in addition to yarrow, wild rosemary, caraway, juniper, wormwood and whatever other herbs and spices were indigenous or available to a gruit maker.

Elland 1872 porter pump-clip.

We continue to enjoy the single-beer personal essay as a form and Pellicle keeps commissioning them. The latest is Neil Walker’s piece on Elland 1872 Porter:

It was 2006 and we were in Headingley, undergraduates at Leeds University, and unbeknown to us enjoying one of our last gatherings in this pub when smoking was permitted… Thin white ribbons of smoke rising from ashtrays on a busy bar, dotted with pints and short wine glasses, a gentle haze across the room as shafts of light hit the fog in the air… The setting of our meeting—one last beer before what felt like an unnecessarily long hibernation away from this newfound family—moved me to look towards the darker, stronger end of the beer list, finally settling on a pint of Elland Brewery’s 1872 Porter. I was only meant to be staying for one, but even before the intensely smoky, port-decanter aroma hit me, I knew I was in for something special.

Keg taps.

For Ferment, the promo mag for beer subscription service Beer52, Anthony Gladman writes about the bad habits of ‘beer wankers’ and how they limit the growth of the craft beer market:

“The majority of people I know don’t go into craft beer places,” says Sanj [Deveraj]. He tells me attitudes of those inside are just too off-putting. “The term craft beer wanker exists for a reason.”

“I’ve seen it so many times. I used to work in The Rake and someone would come in and go ‘what lagers do you do?’ and they would get laughed at.” When I ask who was laughing, Sanj tells me it was the bar staff. Let’s consider that for a moment. A customer being belittled by a member of staff in the hospitality industry. Hospitality. You see what’s wrong here, don’t you?


Ron Pattinson continues to explore the footnotes and dead-ends of beer history, this time providing detailed notes on a beer style that doesn’t really count as beer, and that you never hear anybody raving about:

“If sweetener-sweetened beer owes its origin to the war, sugar-sweetened Malzbier (Karamelbier) appeared around 16 years earlier. The original method of production, which is still used, consists, if it is bottled beer, of adding sugar to the beer after fermentation (vat fermentation), then it is filled into bottles and, after sufficient sediment has formed, further fermentation is prevented by pasteurisation… The formation of sediment can be accelerated by the application of heat, which is often done, and can easily be carried out in such a way that the bottles are either brought into warm rooms or straight into the pasteurisers, which have been appropriately warmed up.” – Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung by Dr. Franz Schönfeld

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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

Beer history

A century before Summer Lightning, Golden Sunlight

Alright, fine, we give in: perhaps Summer Lightning wasn’t the original golden ale.

One of the topics we spent months researching when we wrote Brew Britannia between 2012 and 2014 was the origins of a style that had come to take a substantial chunk of the ale market.

In the end, we broadly agreed with the narrative set out by Martyn Cornell in his excellent 2011 book Amber, Gold & Black: Exmoor Gold may have come first, in 1986, but it was Hop Back Summer Lightning, first sold in 1989, that really kicked off the craze.

It won awards and prompted imitators throughout the 1990s and, eventually, laid to supermarket bestsellers like Thwaites Wainwright, and less popular cash-ins such as John Smith’s Gold.

But we’ve known all along that there were even earlier beers that could be argued to count as golden ales – not least because, again, Cornell acknowledges them in his brief history of the style.

Some are contenders because they were, well, golden.

Others because they were advertised with the phrase ‘golden ale’, or similar.

But most felt like footnotes, failing to tick enough boxes:

  • Very pale in colour.
  • Described as gold or golden.
  • Sold under a brand name referencing sun or summer.
  • Popular and/or influential.

Then, the other day, we came across an 1888 advertisement for one of the early beers Cornell mentions in Amber, Gold & Black and thought, oh, this really does sound like Watkins of Hereford invented golden ale before or around 1887.

"Golden Sunlight" Ale, A light pale golden ale of wonderful value.

SOURCE: Public Record Office/British Library, via Time Gentlemen, Please! by Michael Jones, 1997.

It’s clear from this that Golden Sunlight is definitely a brand name, if not a trademark – and, in fact, the brewery itself eventually came to be known as the Sunlight Brewery to cash-in on the popularity of this particular product.

The beer was, indeed, “light pale”.

And there it is, in black and white: “golden ale”.

Just to cap it off, it was also promoted as being similar to German-style lager, just as Hop Back Summer Lightning would be a century later.

A quick note on dates: we’re a bit suspicious of what is supposed to be an 1851 advertisement for ‘Golden Sunlight Pale Ale’ on the Brewery History Society website. That’s 30-odd years earlier than any other reference to this product in print and, frankly, it looks as if someone drew that ad with a felt-tip pen sometime in the past 40 years. But it’s possible, we suppose, that this ur-golden-ale was first brewed 170 years ago.

It’s probably too much to hope for brewing log to turn up so we can find out more about the colour and likely taste of the beer but we do know from a note in The Brewers’ Guardian for September 1892 that Watkins & Sons was buying up ‘Early Goldings’ hops.

The same article describes the beer as “renowned” and elsewhere in the local press it was referred to as “famous”. (Western Mail, 03/11/1898.)

All of which makes us wonder why golden ale didn’t take off and become a breakaway style in the early 20th century.

Did its similarity to lager do for it in the patriotic fervour of World War I?

Or was it only ever a novelty in a sea of mild, bitter and stout?

20th Century Pub pubs

The Champion, Fitzrovia: a Victorian fantasy

Until we started studying pubs it had never occurred to us that The Champion was anything other than a wonderfully preserved Victorian survivor.

Leaded windows, glinting mirrors, polished wood and ornate details that give a thousand layers to every shadow – it’s one of those places that makes you suspect that, at any given moment, a hansom cab might be passing in the street outside.

In fact, it’s a product of the 1950s and the flowering of art and design that followed the Festival of Britain.

The Festival, which took place in 1951, was intended to reignite British pride and optimism. Its various guiding creative hands concocted a unique style that overlaid elements of the Victorian (especially typography) onto economical, prefabricated modernism.

Having survived the war, The Champion looked a bit sad in the early 1950s. An earlier inter-war makeover had brought it in line with prevailing ideas of cleanliness and simplicity – wipe clean, plain.

Plain pub interior.

The Champion before its 1954 refurbishment.

In 1954, Barclay Perkins commissioned architects and designers Sylvia and John Reid to bring it up to date by taking it back to the newly fashionable 19th century.

These days, the Reids are best known for their Scandinavian-style S-Range furniture, now manufactured by their son, Dominic, which indicates where their hearts lay: they were modernists, not nostalgists.

Accordingly, they told the brewery that they didn’t intend to create a straightforward pastiche or reconstruction of a Victorian pub. Instead, their plan was to identify what made pubs feel pubby and then achieve the same atmosphere with modern materials and craft.

The Champion sign. Pub interior with new Victorian style.

There were even rumours, says fellow pub designer Ben Davis in The Traditional English Pub, 1981, that the Reids got the final say in choosing the couple who were to run the pub, keen to ensure that they were the right type.

“It can – indeed it should – be in the best of taste, but it must be larger than life, an exaggeration of the interiors its customers know…”

In his book English Inns, from 1963, Denzil Batchelor compares The Champion to The Sherlock Holmes, one of the first theme pubs, and seems unconvinced:

The Champion… is an example of a Victorian pub as beautifully reconstructed as the arena of a chariot-race in a billion dollar film. THe beer-mugs are authentic as the handles of the beer-engines. To visit it to pay a Chinese respect for your grandfather’s memory… [But for] all their merits you could hardly call The Champion or The Sherlock Holmes unselfconscious.

Generally speaking, though, people seemed to like it, not least as an antidote to the unabashed, stark modernism of many post-war pubs.

Alan Reeve-Jones says, in his snarky 1962 guidebook London Pubs, that “The work was carried out with such skill that it takes an expert eye to see where the old left off and the new began looking like the old.”

Official photographs of the newly refurbished Champion, without drinkers in the way of the detail, do indeed reveal a blend of old and new.

Pub window.

Etched windows evoke the Victorian era while at the same time employing the kind of lettering very much in fashion after the Festival of Britain. Gill Sans was out, a relic of the 1930s; modern adaptations of the kind of bold typefaces seen on Victorian posters were in.

Ornate bar.

More of the same can be seen over the bar, advertising mild ale, best bitter, DBA and lager  – a nice snapshot of the move towards ‘premium’ beer styles in the 1950s.

There’s lots, in fact, that would become standard in pub makeovers in the decades that followed. Leather seating, barrels as decoration, and vintage mirrors doing a lot of heavy lifting.

The funny thing is that The Champion today isn’t the Reids version – it’s a later refurb that does exactly what they wouldn’t. Pure Victorian pastiche. The modern arts-and-crafts they commissioned have gone, from the painted sign on the exterior to the modern-retro window designs.

A useful reminder, at least, that much of what evokes The Olden Days in British pubs is rarely more than 30 years old.

Images, details and quotes from A Monthly Bulletin for January 1955.