News pubs

News, nuggets and longreads 21 November 2020: laddism, lager, longing for pubs

Here’s everything bookmarkworthy on beer and pubs from the past week, including two pieces on hops and one about cornettos.

There’s an absence of anything resembling beer-specific news this week although it’s clear we are entering some sort of final phase with daily vaccine progress announcements. In the meantime, we’re all missing pubs and Jim Rangeley at Mashtun and Meow has expressed the yearning well:

I miss pints.

I miss a table with torn open packs of Sneiders Pretzels.

I miss lacing.

I miss a sarni for snap after early brew shifts.

I miss 4:15 lagers with the team.

I miss the joint acknowledgement that we are, indeed, in rounds.

I miss the pub.

Vintage photo of a woman behind the bar of an Irish pub.

SOURCE: National Library of Ireland/Flickr.

At Every Pub in Dublin Cian Duffy provides a fascinating insight into the long fight for women to be allowed to work behind the bar in pubs in Ireland:

Dublin’s then strong barmans union… prohibited the employment of women in unionised pubs, and the majority of Dublin’s pubs were unionised. Most non-union pubs were smaller, family operated premises with the larger and busier pubs that made up most of the volume of the trade, and of employment of external staff, being signed to union agreements… Dublin’s infamous longest strike – that at Downeys pub in Dun Laoghaire – actually related to the replacement of a unionised staff member with a barmaid.. The first attempts to get this ban overturned came from a less than ideal source – the publicans union… seeking to be able to employ barmaids so that they could pay them less than men, this being explicitly legal until 1974.

(Via @thebeernut.)

Hops against green.

At Zythophile Martyn Cornell asks “How important were hop varieties to pre-20th century brewers?” You’ll know the answer to this if you’ve ever looked at any old brewing logs:

The hops, in themselves, were pretty irrelevant, with perhaps the single exception that Goldings, as THE premium hop, were regarded as the hop to use in the most premium beers, such as IPAs. But apart from that, the concept of “hop variety” itself was scarcely developed, as far as brewers (but not growers) were concerned… For growers, varieties WERE important, but the importance of variety was not connected with flavour so much as yield…

Lager illustration.

For Pellicle Adrian Tierney-Jones has produced a characteristically spiralling, tumbling piece of prose-poetry on the subject of lager:

If ever there was such a hopeless descriptor of a family of beers of various colours, aromas, flavours and cultural mores, then lager is it. This is a variety of beers that encompasses the brooding, shadowy alter egos of bock, doppelbock and schwarzbier, the bright, cheerful treasure hoard of gold-flecked helles, pils, kellerbier and světlý ležák and not forgetting the amber assertiveness of a vienna or a märzen (oh and there’s also rauchbier, maibock, festbier, zoigl, tmavý ležák and American pils). I could cheerfully hang out with this family for the rest of my life.

Pub life.

Next up it’s, erm, us. We wrote a lot of ‘Pub life’ vignettes over the past few years. Then, when we came to put together our best-of collection Balmy Nectar, we realised they clicked together rather well as an extended piece which we called ‘The Complete Pub Life’. That is now available for everyone to read via our Patreon feed:

Two barmen in matching polo shirts, one small, one tall, stand behind the bar with arms folded engaged in debate with a regular sat at the bar.

The tall barman leads: ‘No, you’re not getting what I’m saying: I’m asking, does a staircase go up or come down? Which way does it go?’

‘Up,’ says the baffled regular. ‘If it didn’t go up, you wouldn’t need it to come down. That it comes down is a side effect of it having gone up in the first place.’

Diagram of EKG flavours.

SOURCE: Brulosophy.

At Brulosophy Paul Amico has been experimenting with East Kent Goldings. We all know the cliched descriptors but what does this classic hop variety actually bring to beer?

Participants were instructed to focus only on the aromatic qualities of the beer before evaluating the flavor. For each aroma and flavor descriptor, tasters were asked to write-in the perceived strength of that particular characteristic on a 0-9 scale where a rating of 0 meant they did not perceive the character at all and a 9 rating meant the character was extremely strong. Once the data was collected, the average rating of each aroma and flavor descriptor was compiled and analyzed… Like the blind tasters, I also perceived a bit more fruit than I expected based on existing descriptions, though floral notes and a mushroom-like earthiness were just underneath.

(Via Stan Hieronymus.)

The World's End: the 'gang' lined up at the bar downing lager.

For Burum Collective Paul Crowther has been thinking about beer and gender stereotypes in the so-called Cornetto Trilogy of films by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg:

Edgar Wright has had the same socialisation from media that is then being repeated in his own creations. Edgar growing up will have seen the same representations of men and women on tv and film and has unthinkingly reproduced them. His female characters drinking vodka tonics, his underage drinkers all being teenage boys, his pubs filled with men because that is just obvious, it doesn’t require thought… Does this mean Edgar Wright is a bad man, should we shun him and boycott the films? No, not at all. They are still good films and I’ll still enjoy them, whilst being aware of their shortcomings in this area.

And, from Twitter, there’s this.

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

bristol pubs

Your friendly neighbourhood craft beer bar

Somewhat against the odds, a new bar opened on Gloucester Road over the summer.

Sidney and Eden is the latest development from the team behind Bottles & Books, which had previously evolved from a comic book and bottle shop into a teeny-tiny tap room.

Technically S&E isn’t an additional bar on the scene as it takes the place of something vaguely bar-like that existed in those premises before. But this is very much a New Venture, with a clear idea of what it wants to be – a neighbourhood craft beer bar that can compete with city centre destinations.

It has 20+ taps and, from our observations, makes a point of covering a range of styles within that. It’s weighted towards the IPAs and exotic stouts but there’s also room for local standards such as Lost and Grounded Kellerpils and Belgian classics such as Saison Dupont.

Prior to Lockdown 2 it seemed consistently busy, at least by the standards of interregnum levels of activity. We saw a number of people we know from the Drapers in there, suggesting that, like Bottles & Books before it, it provides a complementary offer.

Pastry stout.

We managed a couple of sessions there before lockdown, under the awning in our woollens, including a truly delightful evening trying a succession of silly pastry stouts and enjoying them immensely.

We hadn’t really thought about the neighbourhood craft beer bar as a concept before. Our assumption has been that this sort of specialist tasting venue is still sufficiently niche that it only really makes sense as a city centre destination.

Sidney and Eden is a good 40 minutes walk from the centre, or 15 minutes on the bus. It’s well connected on public transport if you’re coming from the centre or from Filton but not if you’re in any other part of the city. With that in mind, it really has to appeal to sufficient numbers of local people to be a success.

But if you’re going to do it in any neighbourhood, this one is a really good choice.

It’s directly on Gloucester Road and thus benefits from (a) the presence of other good pubs nearby and (b) the general independent spirit and commitment to shopping local.

We suspect there was plenty of pent up demand in the nearby residential streets. If house prices are a measure of wealth then it’s a pretty prosperous area (we rent and, in fact, are having to move away from the area to somewhere cheaper) and yet, despite the large numbers of drinking establishments nearby, none had a serious craft offer (definition 2) until now.

Sidney and Eden certainly improved the quality of our lives in the couple of months it was open, and we really hope it survives the winter and thrives beyond. It’s currently open for pre-ordered takeaway beer.

beer reviews bottled beer

An evening with Elusive: clean, likeable beers

When it became apparent that another month or two of compulsory evenings in was on the cards, we went mad and ordered mixed cases from a handful of breweries on the advice of our Patreon subscribers.

One of the boxes we ended up with was from Elusive, founded by award-winning home-brewer Andy Parker in Berkshire in 2016.

This gave us six beers to taste, which we worked our way through in approximate order of strength, low to high.

We’ve had Plan-B a few times before and always enjoyed it. It’s a Belgian-inspired pale ale at 4.2% and the characterful, spicy, spiky yeast adds a welcome layer of complexity. It has the body and depth of a much stronger beer, with banana and citrus balanced by snappy bitterness. Why aren’t more breweries doing this? It’s £3.75 for a 440ml can.

Memphis Mephisto is a pale ale with Mosaic hops and probably all the review you need is Ray’s gut reaction on first sip: “Oh, wow, that’s absolutely brilliant.” At 4%, it’s clear, clean and fruity – hefty without being sickly, bitter enough to earn its sugars. Even Jess, who can’t really being doing with Mosaic, agreed that it was a cut above. This was also £3.75 for 440ml.

Overdrive American pale ale at 5.5% and Level-Up American red at 5% are clearly siblings. Both resembled drinkable strawberry jam overlaid with a fairly intense grassy, herbal hop character. We suspect we’d have enjoyed them more if we’d left them to mellow for six months but, as it is, they got drunk without complaint. We think these were both £3 for 330ml, bottled.

The final round included Lord Nelson, a 6.8% saison originally brewed in collaboration with Weird Beard, and Spellbinder coffee porter, at 6%. These were also £3 each.

The former inspired more oohing and aahing – it’s a really exciting beer. Think Dupont (classical) but with a sharp melon-grape-gooseberry note from New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops. Each sip reminded us of something different: Hopfenweisse? Tokaj? Japanese gummy sweets? We wonder how it might have fared in our saison contest of a few years back.

Finally, Spellbinder was a very decent porter that, frankly, probably would have been more to our taste without the coffee. Adding coffee to beer is a distinctly homebrew habit – it seems as if it’ll be fun, doesn’t it, so why not? – but generally ends up reminding us of the cold dregs from an hour-old cup of instant. This was good, though, and, again, got drunk without grumbling.

If you like well made beers with distinct flavours in styles other than hazy yellow IPA, give Elusive’s mix-and-match offer a go. At worst, the beer will be properly made and decent tasting; and at best, it’ll make you swoon.


News, nuggets and longreads 14 November 2020: Mexico, money, mould

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from microbiology to model pubs.

First, a bit of news: Guinness recently launched an alcohol-free variant of its stout; that beer has now been recalled because of the possible presence of mould in the beer. This comes a week or two after a major publicity blitz which saw many writers and bloggers receiving free samples – we’re not saying Diageo was trying to wipe out its critics but… No, we’re definitely not saying that.

Macro shot of 1p pieces with The Queen's profile.

Paul Crowther answered our challenge and wrote about something that’s always puzzled him in the world of beer: why are we so shy about asking the price of a pint?

What an absolutely bizarre commercial interaction. The bar doesn’t advertise the price, I don’t ask for the price because its against social norms to do so, the beer server doesn’t even then inform me of the price until after I have the change and beer in my hand. I leave with the can, even though it was unopened and I could easily have asked for refund and got a different drink! We’ve all been there, left with less change than we thought we’d get, or asked to hand over more money when we though the note we handed over was sufficient. I’ve even had a pint handed to me, poured and the server say to me “That’s £5.20, unfortunately!’ Like he’d tricked me somehow.

Gig posters on a pub in Manchester.

Our post on ‘greebling’ inspired a response from Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale – it’s do with implying age, he reckons:

Age doesn’t necessarily mean trying to look like “really old pubs”, either. I’m thinking of Jam Street Café, a bar near us that I never used to visit very often (beer range not great, plenty of alternatives). When I did go in, though, I always felt comfortable straight away, purely because of the decor: framed posters advertising local bands from the very first days of punk… I went in again a year or so back, after a refit and a rename (Jam Street), and immediately felt uncomfortable. I realised eventually it was (also) because of the decor – the walls were now covered with posters for all these, I don’t know, modern, up-to-the-minute acts, like Moby and Catatonia and the Stereophonics… In other words, instead of appealing to people who wanted to be reminded of their lost youth in the late 70s, they’d reoriented to people who wanted to be reminded of their lost youth in the late 90s.

Santa Barbara, Mexico.

Kevin Kain of Casket Beer has been inspired by Andreas Krennmair’s recent eBook on Vienna lager to dig deeper into the history of this beer style in Mexico:

Mexican lager brewing didn’t start until in the mid-1880s with brewers primarily from Germany and Switzerland, many of whom had trained in the United States. The growth at this time was due to the completion of a rail line between El Paso, Texas and Mexico City, providing access to grain and brewing equipment, including refrigeration. This kicked off a period of dramatic growth in domestic production… Some of the literature about these early breweries is incorrect or misleading by confusing when a brewery opened, and when it began making lager. For example, it is true that Compania Cervecera Toluca y Mexico, makers of Victoria, began operations in 1865, but they were producing ales. It was not until two decades later that a new owner, Santiago Graf, began making lager.

Paper model of a pub.

Do you fancy printing and making a tiny model of the Betsey Trotwood, a pub in Clerkenwell, London? Well, here you go. It’s by Andrew Frueh, based on an original photogrametric scan by David Fletcher.

Liverpool c.1907.

For the British Library’s Untold Lives project, cataloguer Lesley Shapland explores the story of her great-great-grandfather John Barlow:

On 29 December 1884, John was having a drink after work in the Farmer’s Arms, New Ferry, when he accidentally picked up the wrong pint of beer and drank from it. The pint’s owner, John Whitehouse, alias Mantle, objected and an argument quickly escalated into a fight… Unfortunately, John sustained fatal injuries and died next morning in the Borough Hospital, Birkenhead.

Finally, from Twitter… how big is Ron’s beer cellar?

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


Wiggets, greebling, useless shelves and the texture of pubs

Pubs are anti-minimalist by nature and texture sometimes matters more than function.

In the 1960s, special effects technicians working on spaceships for Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation shows realised that they could make them more realistic by covering their surfaces in small, functionless details taken from plastic model kits. They called them ‘wiggets’.

When a similar approach was taken during the making of Star Wars a decade later, however, the term ‘greebles’ was adopted, and stuck, and the process came to be known as ‘greebling’.

In pub decor there’s a form of greebling, too.

When Ray worked as a teenage waiter at a Brewer’s Fayre pub in Somerset in the early 1990s, he got roped into pre-launch preparations and was on site the day the truck turned up with boxes of books and antiques to go on the walls.

“Where do you want this scythe?”

“Top shelf, out of reach, and make sure you anchor it with a couple of cable ties.”

If you stop and look at the books on the shelves, or investigate the artefacts, you’ll find they rarely stand up to scrutiny.

Collections of Reader’s Digest abridged novels are popular because they were designed to look ‘classy’ – leather-effect, gilt-style yellow metal embossing, and so on. You might also find 1970s doorstop novels with their dust jackets missing, or faux-luxury editions from the Marshall Cavendish Great Writers Library part-work.

It doesn’t matter, though – not really. They absorb light, break up expanses of plaster and, crucially, soak up sound.

And it goes on.

That old carpenter’s plane is just… an old carpenter’s plane. Back of the garage, car boot sale, any-item-one-pound rusty crap. Those ‘vintage’ biscuit tins around the ceiling are 1990s reissues. The Edwardian-style enamel signs on the walls include rust printed on at the factory. The nicotine vignetting has been painted onto the walls.

The ceiling at the Poechenellekelder in Brussels.

In the 1980s, such was the demand for greebling for Irish pubs that the supply ran dry and an entire industry arose to supply brand new Gaelic-themed gubbins by the kilo or by the metre.

Again, it doesn’t matter: as long as these items cast shadows, provide splashes of colour and suggest, in the periphery, depth and detail, they’re doing their job.

What this kind of greebling aspires to, of course, is the genuine, accidental clutter of really old pubs.
The Bridge Inn at Topsham, The Blue Anchor in Helston or Brasserie Verschueren in Brussels can’t help but have texture and their surface details aren’t glued on.

Unless they are, of course. The great thing about contrived greebling is that it only takes a decade or two to look as if it’s been there forever, and for fake greebling to attract the real thing as regulars present offerings as tokens of love.

Perhaps the value of greebling is that it suggests continuity – that a pub has been under the same ownership for more than a year or two, at least.