Zine review: Service, Please! by Burum Collective

We’re used to pubs being written about by consumers and commentators – what if hospitality workers had a voice, without a commercial filter?

They don’t, traditionally, because a core function of hospitality is pandering to customers.

Said customers expect to be made to feel welcome, and appreciated. They need to believe that the places where they eat and drink are little paradises. Don’t harsh my buzz, man!

Hospitality workers writing about how annoying we are, or the indignities and injustices of their jobs, amounts to bad PR.

As the editor of the c.40-page zine Service, Please! Rachel Hendry says in her introduction:

“[There] has been something tentatively radical about creating this zine written and illustrated entirely by people who work or who have worked in hospitality.”

We might challenge that word “tentatively”. About half of the zine is dedicated to explicit calls for hospitality staff to join unions, or to show solidarity with other unionised workers.

Less directly, Douglas Nelson’s short essay ‘Hypocrisy’ highlights the difficulty of working for employers who say the right thing, and champion justice… only not for their own staff.

Other pieces express irritation at the bad behaviour of colleagues, such as those who disappear to the alleyway for a mid-rush cigarette.

There’s also a strand of depressive melancholia: accounts of derailed creative careers, repetitive shifts, and the pressure to perform cosy cheeriness on loop every single day.

Even when we’re not being utter dicks, we customers are a wearying lot. In one cartoon, by Ceara Colman, a barista is slowly ground down by one customer after another calling them hun, babe, love…

It’s good to see another piece acknowledging the existence of the colour bar in British pubs in the 20th century. Yasmin Begum’s article is about Cardiff Bay and its lost pubs, expressing nostalgia but also prompting us to think about who was welcome, and who was not.

Between heavier pieces, there are amusing illustrated snippets such as ‘Things I Have Cleaned up With Blue Roll’ and ‘Chef’s Menu Du Jour’ which starts with “Pasty De Gregg En Route”.

After reading Service, Please! on Saturday morning we went out to the pub. We ordered a half of a fancy keg beer from out of town and the person behind the bar said:

“Just to let you know, that’ll be £5.”

“That’s fine, but thanks for the warning.”

“No problem,” they replied. “I’m skint and I’d be furious if I paid a fiver for a half.”

As pubs and restaurants become ever more a premium product, is it right that those who work in hospitality should feel locked out of what they sell by low wages and tight terms and conditions?

We paid £10 for our copy of Service, Please! as a pre-order. We’re not quite sure where and how you can buy a copy yourself but will add a link here when we find out. In the meantime, start by visiting Burum Collective. You can order a copy from Burum Collective.


Impressions of Berlin: a tale of 5 pilsners

Our first visit to Berlin in more than 20 years was marked out by pilsner beers, but that doesn’t mean they were all the same.

Our first drink in Berlin wasn’t even German, it was Czech.

Kohlenquelle in Prenzlauer Berg has the original golden lager from the tank, Pilsner Urquell, served in jewel-like handled mugs.

When we turned up in the early afternoon, after the advertised opening time, the bar was still shut. It looked shut down, in fact, with graffiti covering its shutters and ivy obscuring its windows. 

When it eventually opened, it felt a little hungover – quiet and bleary.

It’s a funny name, Kohlenquelle. As the official Pilsner Urquell website explains, it was a coal bunker in its days on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall. It was converted to a basement bar in 2000 and got its Pilsner tanks in 2016.

The furniture and bar fittings feel simultaneously junk-shop hipster and somewhat Ostalgic – two aesthetics that fit together well. The bar counter, in particular, looks as it was pulled from a working men’s club c.1973.

It seemed odd to come to the German capital to drink Czech beer but then Czechia is closer to Berlin than Bavaria is. And for 40 years, politically speaking, even more so.

It tasted as it always does: bitter, rich, and weedy. And its shade of gold really is golden, or perhaps even coppery.


News, nuggets and longreads 28 October 2023: The Uninvited

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck as especially interesting or entertaining in the past week, from Americans failing in Europe to ‘fakelore’.

First, some words of wisdom from self-defined ‘elder’ Jeff Alworth: let people like what they like, and dial down the intensity a little, eh?

Time’s lessons can bring us a certain equanimity about what is important and what merely seems important. One example that has been rising in my mind a lot lately is this one: I don’t need to get worked up about what other people like and, in fact, I can take real pleasure in people who don’t like the things I like… This seems like a banal enough observation—like, really, who cares what beer you drink or car you drive or brand of shoes you wear? Yet in a social species, affinities matter—they become heuristics we use to evaluate each other. This was more true for me as a young person, still relevant well into adulthood, and it was only when I was well into my forties that it shifted. I distinctly remember saying the words “people like what they like” and feeling something click.

The exterior of John Kavanagh's, a traditional Irish pub.
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

Lisa Grimm’s tour of Dublin’s pubs continues with a visit to John Kavanagh’s, AKA The Gravediggers. This time, it’s not a craft beer hot spot but one famous for its Guinness, popular with tourists, and just a little bit spooky:

For those who have never been to The Gravediggers – or, improbable though it seems, have never read anything about it – it’s exactly as you’ve likely heard: the pub is built into one of the walls of Glasnevin Cemetery… and it has been in the same family since 1833. The plain wood floors and swinging doors divide it into cosy snugs, and the tobacco-smoke-stained walls have certainly ‘seen some things.’ There is no music or television, though on more than one occasion, including this most recent visit, there may be an auld fella surreptitiously streaming a horse race or two on his phone.

A billboard advertising Brooklyn Pilsner on an industrial estate.
Bristol, summer 2023.

At VinePair Will Hawkes digs into the question of why American craft beer might not be making an impact in Europe. It’s a fascinating topic for those of us who remember when craft beer was American, and have wondered why it’s disappeared from the beer lists of specialist shops and bars. Of course it’s mostly about price:

Nigel Owen runs Mother Kelly’s, a group of craft beer bars and bottle shops in London. In the past he’s imported American craft beer, such as Barrier Brewing from New York, but no longer. Prices are too high. For a 30-liter keg of 4 to 5 percent ABV pale ale from a London brewery, he’d expect to pay between $120 and $145; an equivalent American beer would be closer to $180 or $195 — and, crucially, would be less fresh… It’s not just the U.K., where Brexit has added an extra layer of economic gloom. At Malt Attacks, a bottle shop in Brussels, Belgium, owner Antoine Pierson no longer stocks much American beer, he says, because the price makes it very hard to sell.

Seans' Bar, a pub with a blue frontage and funky modern sign.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED.

Is Sean’s Bar in Athlone “Ireland’s oldest pub” as is claimed? Probably not. At the website of archaeological consultancy Triskele Heritage James Wright (we think) demolishes the public relations story:

It is proudly claimed on the pub’s website that an inn was founded by Luain Mac Luighdeach at a ford over the River Shannon in 900AD. A settlement then grew up around the pub and this became Áth Luain (the Ford of Luain), later Athlone. It is alleged that the public house, now known as Sean’s Bar, has been serving drinks to locals and travellers continuously since Luain started trading… However, literally nothing beyond the personal name is known about Luan, let alone that he set up a pub in 900AD. Given the sparsity of evidence for early development it seems more likely that the bridge and castle led to the settlement in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Significantly, there is not “a detailed and documented history right back to 900AD” for either the town or the pub.

And you should chase it with an excellent opinion piece from Liam K at Irish Beer History on the subject of ‘fakelore’ and the temptation to embellish when it comes to putting dates on pubs:

If you tell a story often enough it will spread and take over everything it touches, and you can never take it back. That mistruth, that lie, that embellishment, will always be there sliding into people’s minds and thoughts being constantly repeated, written, rewritten and recorded until the author too believes what they have perpetuated… We shouldn’t create beer and brewing related history, we should just record facts as best we can at any given time.

A brain.

Jordan St. John asks a big question: “How do you write about craft beer at this point?” His post isn’t really about beer, it’s about the sense that society is collapsing around him, making writing about fancy beer feel pointless. It perhaps speaks to global consumer mood. Here’s the best bit:

Hell, in a situation where everyone is strapped, can you ethically ask for samples for review? Am I going to write about trends? What trends? Someone’s going to put hops or puree in one of the remaining unhopped styles?… I figure the only way to do it is as a function of this general situation. That means that some of what I’m going to tell you is going to be grim. We’re going to lose a lot of breweries over the next six months. I had to lock down access to the spreadsheet I use to keep track because I needed columns for “affiliation” for when brewing companies shack up and “rumour and scuttlebutt” because there’s so much that it needs a column.

Schneider Hopfenweisse wheat beer.

For ‘Learn to homebrew day’ Stan Hieronymus shared a recipe for Schneider’s hoppy Weizen ‘Mein Nelson Sauvin’ from his book For the Love of Hops. Stan suggests this particular beer is a good reminder that hoppy beers don’t need to be IPAs and quotes brewmaster Hans-Peter Drexler:

“The idea was to build a bridge from characteristic traditional wheat beer flavors to the wine aroma. (For that) I found Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand and yeast from Belgium combined with local wheat and barley malt,” he said. It was the first time Schneider used any yeast other than its own… “In Germany we have a saying: Tradition does not mean keeping the ashes but carrying on the fire,” Drexler said. “In that sense hops could help to continue the Bavarian tradition of brewing wheat beer.”

Finally, a reminder that there’s a rare opportunity to see us doing an in-person ‘thing’, talking with David Jesudason about his book Desi Pubs, at The Good Measure in Bristol next Wednesday, 1 November, from 18:30.

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.

Generalisations about beer culture Germany

The Way of the Wegbier in Berlin

It’s normal in Berlin to drink a bottle of beer as you wander between pubs… or wander anywhere, for that matter.

We hadn’t been in the city long before we noticed just how many off-licences there are.

Or, rather, convenience stores that just happen to be piled high with crates of beer.

In Berlin, they’re usually labelled as ‘Spätis’, from Spätverkaufsstellen, meaning ‘late shopping outlet’. It’s a culture that originated in the former Communist East.

Our favourite, glimpsed from a tram, had stolen Spotify’s branding and was called, of course, Spätify.

Alongside dirt cheap mass-produced or local beers there are also exotic imports from Bavaria. Tegernsee Helles from Bavaria, for example, at €2 a pop.

But there’s nothing remotely pretentious about these shops. They also sell Monster energy drinks, chocolate bars, ice cream, vapes, and bog roll.

That the beers are being sold to drink on the go is underlined by the presence on the counter of a bottle opener.

Hand over your cash, knock off the cap, and you’re away.

And that’s exactly what people do. Visiting some Kneipen with Berlin-based friends we lost sight of one on the subway. He reappeared 30 seconds later with an open bottle of Sternburg Export which, he told us, cost €1.

“Back home, people look askance if you‘’’re carrying an open bottle of beer in the street,” he said. “In Berlin, on Saturday night, they look askance if you’re not.”

There’s an old Berlin joke about this, as Evan Rail quoted in an article for VinePair back in 2019:

“Someone said that the police stopped a person to check his papers on the Oranienburger Strasse… It turns out he was a Canadian tourist. And the police stopped him because he was the only one who didn’t have a Wegbier, so he looked suspicious.”

Nor did it take us long to start noticing empty bottles on pavements, and the men who make a living collecting them for the deposit.

Even in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate they dodge between American tourists filling tattered carrier bags, clink, clank.

When our pub-crawling companion – otherwise a very tidy, law-abiding sort – finished his Wegbier, he placed the bottle carefully on the ground near a bin.

Why make the professional scavengers dig around in the filth?

And it’s not as if it will be there long.

It’s a very efficient system, exploitative as it might be.

Wegbier isn’t the preserve of rebels and youngsters, either.

One weekday afternoon we watched a smartly-dressed thirty-something couple escorting their small children along the street.

Both parents were carrying open bottles of lager as casually as someone in Britain might carry a to-go cappuccino.

What if you can simply decide not to be drunk?

What if you can drink constantly, without a Teku glass in sight, and retain total responsible respectability?

Though it didn’t come naturally to us, we decided to try to fit in. We popped into a Späti for a between-pub pick-me-up and, overwhelmed by choice, also went for Sternburg Export.

It’s not the most exciting beer in the world but it doesn’t need to be when you’re swigging straight from the bottle on a busy street in one of the most interesting cities in the world.

Under the glow of traffic lights and kebab shop neon it felt positively glamorous, or delightfully seedy. It adds a swagger to your step.

Looking down into the gutter, we laughed. The road surface was studded, of course, with hundreds of rustling bottle caps pressed into the tar. And a layer of fresh bottle caps had already begun to form, like a tide line.

“We should do this more often,” we said.

Then, on our last morning in Berlin, we saw another bottle of Sternburg swinging past in the street.

Glancing up at its owner we saw a face that looked as if it had been hit by a brewery dray. Yellow eyes, bloody nose, bruises, and a look of forlorn befuddlement.

Perhaps, after all, it is good to pause.

Maybe we can just enjoy some fresh air on the walk between pubs.

And keep Wegbier as a treat when we’re in Germany, doing as the Germans do.


News, nuggets and longreads 21 October 2023: Berlin Game

Even on holiday we’ve been keeping an eye on what’s going on in beer writing. Here’s our pick of the best reading from the past week, including micropubs, pub etiquette and Bavaria in Berlin.

First, some interesting news: a new survey suggests that hospitality businesses are still struggling to recruit while, at the same time, 42% of hospitality workers are thinking of quitting the industry.

This tracks with our experience in the past few months where pubs and bars feel quietly wrong: closed when you expect them to be open; understaffed; or staffed by people who don’t know the ropes.

And the most competent bar staff, we notice, seem to turn up at different venues every other week, presumably because they’re able to pick and choose where they want to work.

(Via @BeerNouveau on Bluesky.)

The exterior of a pub on a busy London street.
SOURCE: Lily Waite/Pellicle.

For Pellicle David Jesudason has profiled a micropub in South London, The Shirker’s Rest, which we’ve heard of but never visited, despite New Cross being an old stamping ground:

The Shirker’s owners (Duncan Hart, Dave Crewdson, Graham Dodds, Andy Stockbridge, Andy Grumbridge and Ben McNamee) love micropubs despite my valid concerns… These are the ones inspired by Martyn Hillier, who opened Butcher’s Arms, also in Herne in 2005 in a formerly unlicensed premises, such as the Walmer’s Freed Man (a former post office) or the Four Candles in Broadstairs—but the Shirker’s owners wanted their version to be more inclusive. More modern… “They were bastions of ‘un’ modernity,” Andy Grumbridge tells me. “You weren’t allowed to use your phone—some micropubs would have phones nailed to the walls. And, even though they won’t admit it, they started as predominantly male spaces. Some grew up a bit and became more open, such as the Fez in Margate.”

Roadworks in Brussels.

We’re passing through Brussels tonight and we’d be lying if we said we weren’t conscious of it being a sometimes chaotic city. It’s the only place we’ve ever caught a pickpocket in the act, for example. After a shooting incident earlier this week Eoghan Walsh wrote a heartfelt reflection on the city’s nightlife and how it has been affected by this and similar incidents in the past decade:

I realise I’m sitting more or less in the same place, doing the same things, I was the first time the Belgian government told us to stay indoors and be alert for possible terrorists in the streets of Brussels. November 2015 was when “lockdown” entered the Brussels lexicon, in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris. I remember wild rumours circulating on Twitter about possible attacks happening or about to happen in Brussels. I remember following at a distance the clear-outs of bars and streets in the centre of town, checking in regularly with Ryan Heath’s feed for updates about what was going on. I remember the gallows humour on twitter as people checked in on each other and shared photos of their and other people’s cats as fear sublimated into a kind of giddy anxiety and everyone tried to keep the dread at bay.

Four large steins of Spaten lager (detail from a poster c.1920s.)

As we said last week, we love inspiring other people to write blog posts. This week we nagged Andreas Krennmair to write down some of the fascinating things he was telling us over a few beers in Berlin. The result was a post about Bavarian beer halls in the German capital which might feel like manifestations of chain-pub culture but are, in fact, historic in their own right:

An 1891 tourist guide to Berlin lists a number of “beer palaces”, many of which were owned by or at least serving beer from Bavarian breweries… Similarly, the 1898 Baedeker guide to Berlin lists several more… Some contemporary publications commented on this as a “Bier-Kulturkampf” (beer culture war) between the classic Berlin beer culture of top-fermented white and brown beer and the newfangled Bavarian beers that made an impact on Berlin architecture. The most prominent beer palace in that regard was probably Spatenbräu on Friedrichstraße 172.

(See also: London, which had its own Spaten beer hall, and others.)

Illustration: a quiet corner in a quiet pub, with table and stools.

James at The Last Drop Inn has notes on how to be a good citizen in the pub. He’s called it ‘The Unwritten Rules’ and provides a list of mildly irritating behaviours, like this:

Sampling a beer should be reserved for people who want to enjoy the same beer over the course of a couple of hours. Sampling a beer to decide whether you want to sample a beer is exploiting a loophole. Particularly when you’re going to have a sample of six beers, which you’re then going to have a half of each of anyway. What you’re really doing there is having seven halves for the price of six.

There are things in this post that will make some of you bristle. If you’re a CAMRA member or serious cyclist, and sensitive about some of the negative stereotypes, perhaps give it a miss.

We enjoyed this long piece on ‘48 Hours Drinking and Eating in Lille’ by Grace Weitz for Hop Culture. Sure, it was a sponsored trip, and we generally ignore those, but the fact is that we (a) added a few items to our to-visit list off the back of reading this piece and (b) learned some things from the article, like this:

Aurélie Baguet, co-founder of L’Échappée Bière, a beer event and tourism group in Lille… says she now counts 250 breweries in the region and thirty-five in the metropolitan city identified as “héritage bière,” an earned label that designates the brewery or beer bar as taking steps to welcome tourists… Moreover, within the last decade, the original families of both Motte Cordonnier and Célestin bought back or revived their breweries, starting from scratch and recreating a modern identity for their historic family breweries.

Finally, from Instagram, another glance downward in a branch of Wetherspoon…

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.