The meanings of pub

There is no universal understanding of what ‘the pub’ means – no single image that materialises in the mind at the sound of the word.

For us, it’s a space with low light, nest-like corners and the murmur of conversation. Though not right now, of course. Together with the world but separate. This is the George Orwell ideal, about contentment more than excitement.

Some hear ‘pub’ and think, oy oy, here we go, lads! It’s going-out clothes, perfume and lippy, aftershave and flash the cash. It’s laughing, shouting, hugging, tumbling into cabs, he’s not worth it, babe, I love you mate, you know that, don’t you, like a brother? Crawling, ranging far and wide, biting into life like a hot kebab.

For others, watching from outside, the pub is chaotic and dangerous – a place where people lose control, behave badly, practice a form of self-harm. They get pickled, get gout, disappear into the fog. Maybe they fight, or fall over, or superspread – “Please sell no more drink to my father…”

Some see the pub as a place where they’re not and never can be welcome – “He smelt of pubs/ And Wormwood Scrubs/ And too many right wing meetings…” Opaque windows, a glare from the doorway, no incentive to ever step across the threshold.

For our ruling politicians, up above the clouds, the pub is where you go for your down-to-earth-chap photo op, or to eat an informal meal in the Cotswolds, pointedly tieless in chinos and deck shoes. It’s a prop. Abstract. A line in a spreadsheet.

In suburbs like ours, there are those for whom the pub is the only manifestation of The Community. It’s where they see the couple with the poodle most Sundays and Nick the Electrician and Pete the Widower who keeps dropping his stick down the back of the radiator. The pub connects them to the world and makes it all make sense, for an hour or two, which is why it’s worth the risk.

All this is why when we talk about pubs, we’re often at cross-purposes – how can you keep them open/let them close? How can you love them/hate them so much? Won’t somebody do something.


News, nuggets and longreads 24 October 2020: Existential crisis

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from despair to… well, more despair, mainly.

With some pubs trading as per the new normal, others facing restrictions and many forced to close altogether, there’s palpable sense of despair and frustration in the industry. The rules aren’t clear, they don’t always seem to make sense (substantial food offerings) and even the new government support on offer doesn’t seem to provide much hope.

Veteran pub manager Mars Pascale, currently based in Manchester, provides a raw, emotional readout of how it feels trying to make a living selling beer in this climate:

And what the bar staff are thinking? I think they’re probably thinking why did I have to come on my own and occupy a whole table just for myself, and I think to tell them don’t worry, I drink a lot, but then again, I’m a slow drinker, I’m good on the long run, I can’t stay here for hours anymore… And isn’t it what I think when working the bar myself? Is he/she going to spend money for two at least, are the takings today going to justify me being here, my pay, my work, my job…? And everything feels so mechanical, take the order, deliver to the table, try not to stop in between, go to the door, do your track and trace, hand over a menu, show them the table, take the order, deliver to the table…

On a similar note, Mark Johnson, whose partner runs a pub, provides a snapshot of how people are feeling and the boiling resentment behind the entire conversation:

I look at my mate who works in a bar, smiling through a final night of socialising in the pub. Pubs mean everything to them. They love their job but there might not be one to come back to. “I have £27 in my bank,” they reveal to me later on, through a forced smile… Those that have raised the issues of mental health detriment this year by restrictions haven’t considered the impact on the workers in this industry.

Finally, the Pub Curmudgeon offers a clear summary of the problem of forcing pubs to trade under new rules and regulations:

If people have a compelling reason to go to the pub, then they may still be willing to jump through the hoops, although of course now across large swathes of the country you can’t even meet up with anyone outside your own household. But that swift pint on spec – forget it… It’s all very well saying that people should support pubs, but if the experience has been turned from something pleasurable to a grim rigmarole it becomes increasingly hard to see the attraction. And most ordinary people go to pubs because they enjoy it, not out of a sense of duty.

We’ll say it again: people mixing indoors and sharing air is a problem; pubs are one place where that happens, like it or not; and all the sanitiser in the world won’t change that. The Government needs to step up and make it feasible for pubs to close without closing for good, or throwing their staff under the bus.

A cat outside the craft pint.

SOURCE: Suzy Aldridge.

We were delighted to see a new post from Suzy Aldridge, even if it is a sad one. She is pissed off that BrewDog has chosen this moment to expand its “industrial McCraft” bar operation into her home city of Lincoln:

It’s not you, Brewdog, it’s me. Entirely irrationally this feels like a very personal punch in the gut… The Crafty Bottle, the independent bottle shop on The Strait that I put my heart and soul into for the past four years was, amongst a multitude of small businesses in Lincoln, a victim of the pandemic. I weeped at the prospect of not returning there after lockdown even though The Strait and the beer industry were not going to be the same places I left. I’m outside of the beer industry now, literally walking past Small Beer on my way to work staring over like a small child at the window of a sweet shop.

Rothaus Pils

Somehow, even with all this going on, Tandleman has managed to get out and visit a place we’ve been curious about – the German Gymnasium at King’s Cross in London:

It is a fine imposing building with a large bar and tables downstairs and a galleried restaurant above. Surprisingly the choice of German beers is a bit limited, but with most of them coming from Rothaus, I wasn’t complaining. Pricey enough – but hey, I don’t eat out that often – certainly well below what E aspires to – so bugger the expense and well worth the cost for both food and drink.

We also agree with his judgement re: Camden Hells – it is a reliably decent lager.

A desert highway.

SOURCE: Losu Lopez at

For the North American Guild of Beer Writers’ Reporter’s Notebook Beth Demmon writes about Mexico-US craft beer collaborations during a time when trade and borders are both restricted:

The Mexican state of Baja California is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the entire country’s cerveza artesenal, serving as home to multiple burgeoning homebrew clubs and cross-border initiatives such as Dos Californias Brewsters, a women’s beer group supported by the United States Consulate in Tijuana… Control over this typically fluid segment of the border tightened when COVID-19 hit North America in the spring of 2020, leading the governments of both countries to quash non-essential travel in late March, followed by the closure of so-called non-essential businesses like craft breweries.

Keg taps.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has begun the post-mortem already: what does the pandemic mean for beer culture in the long-run? He makes astute observations, asks good questions and draws a few tentative conclusions, too:

For the better part of a decade, breweries thrived on variety. It’s a safe bet that the median number of beers made by American breweries numbered a few dozen. What happens, however, when the channels to sell that variety collapse? … [Many] breweries have had to focus as their draft options dwindle. They no longer have taprooms with dozens of handles, and trying to package such a wide range for delivery or curbside sales doesn’t make sense.

Finally, from Twitter, an important reminder:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 17 October 2020: memory, colonialism, beer styles

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting in the past seven days, from Egypt to European beer styles.

We usually put some news at the top here but, frankly, the news around beer and pubs has been variations on the same few themes for weeks now. Further restrictions on opening are either here or imminent, depending on where you live, and everyone is struggling. Even so, we reckon the industry is making a mistake by lobbying against lockdown – it’ll just damage trust. Ah, well. Let’s have some distractions.

Breakfast now being served.

Jordan St. John has written about a confusion of sense and memory that we haven’t experienced and don’t quite understand, which makes it all the more fascinating:

Since about April, I’ve been getting periodic involuntary flashes of autobiographical memory; awfully specific granular moments of sensory memory brought on by some random set of variables in my environment. It’s the kind of thing Proust wrote about, essentially a limited kind of Hyperthymesia, which in my case seems to be focused specifically around moments with food and drink… I’ve had a pint of Otley 01 (no longer exists) at The Rake in Borough Market with black pudding and mustard flavoured crisps. I’ve had a pint of Fuller’s Steam Effort (a 2018 one off with Redemption) at The Harp Covent Garden triggered by the consideration of whether to put Anchor Steam in the online version of the George Brown course. I’ve had a mixed grill at the Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich, and had to consult with my dining companion from February of 2008 on which kind of mustard he thought might have been on the table (we think Keen’s).

A nose.

SOURCE: Alexander Krivitskiy at Unsplash.

Sticking with sensory perception, Stan Hieronymus provides his “biannual reminder” that less is more when it comes to the perception of hop character in beer:

Researchers at Kyushu University found that the olfactory sensory neurons can exhibit suppression or enhancement of response when odors are mixed, meaning that perception is not the simple sum of the odors… “It has been previously considered that each odor ‘activates’ a specific set of receptors, and that the response of neurons in the nose to odor mixtures is a simple sum of the responses to each component, but now we have evidence in mice that this is not the case,” said Shigenori Inagaki, the lead author of a paper published in Cell Reports.

A bar window in Egypt.

SOURCE: Omar Foda/Photorientalism.

For Good Beer HuntingOmar Foda, a writer who is new to us, delves into beer and colonialism in Egypt in the 20th century:

Erik Carl Kettner had a dilemma. The Dutch employee – appointed by Heineken to head up the recently acquired Pyramid Brewery in Cairo – wanted to teach his charges about the Ten Commandments of Management. It was necessary to convey the importance of efficiency, organization, and training; to prioritize communications, supervision, and discipline… So he held a competition among the department heads to see who could reproduce them best. After collecting the answers, he announced the winners to the whole company: the ‘Awad brothers, who were in charge of the brewery’s cellars… This contest was well-meaning, but, in general, the moves Kettner and Heineken would make in response to the ground shifting underneath them would only inflame relationships within the company. The working environment would quickly turn toxic.

The photo above comes from another piece by Foda on Stella beer which is also worth reading.

Pasteurising process at Watney's c.1965.

Gary Gillman shines a light on brewing scientist John Lester Shimwell and his views on pasteurisation, published in 1937:

“No one, surely, would contend that pasteurised, carbonated beer is better than unpasteurised, naturally-conditioned beer, and it is therefore perhaps not untrue to say that the quality of beer, as at present retailed, is just as good as bacteria and yeast will allow it to be, since pasteurisation is enforced at the dictation of yeasts and bacteria.”

Price list in a pub.

Did you know renowned beer writer Tim Webb had produced a comprehensive guide to European beer styles, available online via the European Beer Consumers’ Union? No, neither did we until @thebeernut pointed it out to us. It’s a work in progress, we gather, and will no doubt keep the pedantic busy for a few hours.

A nugget from Ron Pattinson: notes from 1943, on a strong ale from Essex, that give us a glimpse into what vat-ageing brought to the party: “a pine-apple flavour developed and the beer was ready for consumption at the end of two years”.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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

Blogging and writing

News, nuggets and longreads 10 October 2020: architecture, yeast culture, the nature of time

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that’s caught our attention in the past week, from looming Lockdown 2 to the philosophy of yeast.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the same grim news cycle, fretting over restrictions on pub opening hours and the possibility of their total closure for another stretch, as the UK Government struggles to keep COVID-19 under control. If the capricious paywall will let you read it, this summary of the debate from Chris Giles and Alice Hancock at the Financial Times is helpful:

Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said that in the UK, the “concrete evidence was a little bit thin”, but that was more because everyone was understandably “panicking in a pandemic” rather than setting up studies that would provide proof… “Trying to tease out evidence from noise is not an exact science,” he said, “but based on pragmatic thinking and given what we know about superspreading events . . . pubs and restaurants are where some outbreaks are seeded”.

With tighter restrictions due to be rolled out on Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced yet another package of support for business, this time focused on those legally obliged to close, or to switch to a takeaway collection or delivery model.

It includes payment of a proportion of wages for furloughed staff and an increase in the size of cash grants available. So, somewhat helpful for pubs but, as others have pointed out, not much to use breweries or other industries reliant on pubs.

To echo points we made in our monthly newsletter a few weeks ago, we agree that it’s unfair to “blame pubs” – the Government needs to own this. At the same time, we do feel fairly sure that the biggest risk is people mixing indoors; pubs aren’t the only place that happens but, sorry, they’re simply not as important as schools; and closing or restricting pubs is justified based on the evidence we have. But that ought to come with the necessary support, both from Government and from drinkers who are able to buy takeaway.


We like this piece from Newcastle brewery Wylam on the closure of its taproom because it’s full of hard detail on the economics of running a brewing-hospitality business in 2020:

[Over] the past four weeks since the further tightening of restrictions… we have seen the following reduction in the year on year trade at our Tap Room:


Sept week 1 minus 36%

Sept week 2 minus 55% – Rule of 6 announced

Sept week 3 minus 79% – 10pm curfew announced

Sept week 4 minus 84% – Illegal to drink with anyone outside your household [in the North East of England]

Illustration: 'Yeast'.

At Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymus has, as always, been connecting dots and asking thought-provoking questions. This time, inspired by a piece by Clare Bullen, he’s got us reflecting on yeast culture or, rather, the culture around yeast:

Until 1980, a guard at the Carlsberg brewery gate in Copenhagen handed out small quantities from a “yeast tower” to locals who asked… “The old founder of Carlsberg knew that this sharing of yeast was a fundamental ‘law’ and security for any brewhouse. Imagine that your yeast went wrong and you did not have the possibility to get I from another brewery. In other words, there is a strong relationship between cultivating yeast, keeping the culture healthy and distributing the risk,” [Per] Kølster wrote.

Brussels architecture

Belgium’s beer is beautiful and distinctive. Its architecture is… not universally admired, shall we say. At Belgian Smaak, Breandán Kearney explores the “shared strangeness” of these two worlds:

Taste in design is subjective, of course, but it seems what people see as ugly in Belgium is its violently extreme patchwork of architecture, a kind of chaotic diversity that is challenging for the human mind to process and which it happens is not unlike the idiosyncratic nature of its beers… In fact, some of the words used by visitors to Belgium to describe its architecture—quirky, characterful, complex, and intense—are the exact same words used by many beer enthusiasts to describe the country’s beer.

A pub clock.

For Good Beer Hunting Evan Rail wonders what will happen when we run out of historic beer styles to revive, and whether the concept of history even makes sense:

If we keep resuscitating these previously extinct historic beer styles, we will run out of them—unless, of course, some contemporary beer styles also disappear along the way. It’s not hard to foresee the extinction of Amber Ale, Brown Ale or even Black IPA. Some of us can even imagine the complete and total disappearance of Milkshake IPAs… Some of us think about the extirpation of Milkshake IPAs a lot.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this reminder that all sorts of stuff goes on in pubs:

For more good reading, with commentary, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up of beer news notes.


Up the junction: how the Cook’s Ferry Inn became a roundabout

“The Cook’s Ferry Inn? Why do I know The Cook’s Ferry Inn? Oh, yeah – because there’s a roundabout named after it.”

Variations on this statement are fairly common. Baker’s Arms, Green Man, Charlie Brown’s Roundabout – they’re all over London, certainly.

We came across the mention of The Cook’s Ferry Inn in The House of Whitbread magazine for April 1928, a new acquisition for our little library.

It has an eleven-and-a-half page photo feature on the launch of an ‘improved’ incarnation of this old pub at Edmonton, North London, on the way to Chingford. That’s the source of the images in this post.

An old print of the inn.

“The Cook’s Ferry, Edmonton, reproduced from an old print of uncertain date.”

The old pub seems to have been built in the 18th century as a waterside pub and was a local landmark throughout the 19th century. It was also popular with anglers.

In the inter-war years, it was decided to build a great north circular road to connect newly populous outer London neighbourhoods, open up space for industry and provide jobs. In 1927, the stretch between Angel Road, Edmonton, and Billet Road, Chingford was opened.

The old pub with the raised roadway.

“The old Cook’s Ferry… showing its position as the new arterial road was being constructed.” Photo by E.A. Beckett of Loughton.

The rebuilding of the Cook’s Ferry Inn was made necessary by the fact that the new road was higher than the narrow old lane it replaced.

In 1928, this was a grand, well-appointed pub – part of Whitbread’s commitment to make pubs bigger, smarter and more respectable.

Roadside pub.

“A view of the Cook’s Ferry showing the new arterial road looking towards Walthamstow.” Photo by Larkin Bros.

A modern bar.

Saloon Bar. Photo by Larkin Bros.

A basic bar.

Public bar. Photo by E.A. Beckett.


Dining room. Photo by Larkin Bros.


The kitchen, with Whitbread branded rubbish bin. We’re not sure we’ve seen a photo of an inter-war pub kitchen before. Photo by E.A. Beckett.

After World War II, like many of these hard-to-fill inter-war pubs, it had become ‘scruffy’ and morphed into a music venue.

First, it was a jazz club, founded by musician Freddy Randall and his brother Harry in the 1940s.

Then, in the 1960s, it became associated with ‘beat music’, mods and pop music, with performances by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and The Who.

Finally, in the 1970s, the North Circular was widened and the pub was demolished. Now, the spot where it stood is all concrete flyover and brambles.

Even the channel of water it once stood beside has gone.

Still, the name lives on, just about, on bus stops, road signs and maps.