News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 December 2018: Stats, Social Clubs, Suburban Pubs

Here are all the blog posts, articles and news stories around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Norway, Maine, to Canley.

First, something with a bit of weight behind it: UK government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a report on the health of the pub market. The overall conclusion it reaches is that, yes, lots of pubs have closed in the past 20 years, but “the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remaining flat since 2008, once inflation is taken into account”.

There’s also an interactive tool which will give you a readout for your town or city, e.g.

ONS chart on Bristol pubs -- down from 375 to 285 since 2001.

The report suggests increasing employment in the pub trade might be down to the growth in food service, and a trend towards bigger rather than smaller pubs. (But we wonder if the introduction of RTI in 2013 might also be an influence, effectively ending  informal (unreported) employment in most sectors.)

Children's party at a social club.

Historian of clubs Ruth Cherrington has written about her memories of playing bingo with her parents at the Canley Social Club and Institute in Coventry, and what it all meant:

Our local club was conveniently situated just across the street from our house on a postwar council estate. Mum told us that Dad was thrilled to bits when plans for the clubs were drawn up in the late 1940s. Having a local place to drink and play games like billiards and cribbage over a pint or two meant he would no longer have to trek to his old haunts on the other side of town. Like many local men on the estate, he threw himself into setting up the new club on the land allocated by the Corporation specifically for that purpose. The club opened in a wooden hut in 1948 and affiliated to the Club and Institute Union in 1950.

(PDF, unfortunately.)

Norway, Maine, brewpub.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has taken a moment to breathe and reflect on how ordinary it has become to find decent and interesting beer in unlikely places:

Human experience requires constant recalibration, and mine occurred about halfway through my dry-hopped pilsner, Impersonator. I was focused on the overly American hop character and lack of assertive malt flavor when it hit me: I am in a brewpub in Norway, Maine. My critical apparatus had been set to “world standards.” I quickly recalibrated to “18-month-old brewpub in rural Maine,” and all of a sudden it was looking mighty impressive. There were no flaws in that or any beers we tried, and part of my complaint was, admittedly, preference (I don’t want to taste IPA in my pilsner).

Debit card illustration.

We wrote about cashless/cardless pubs and bars earlier this week, and it’s a topic generally in the air. David Holden at Yes! Ale reports the reality on the ground where consumers are expected to carry both cash and cards if they expect to visit more than one venue in the course of an evening:

Yes, I had to go back out in the wind and rain but at least I am in a position to get cash out at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t have to go into an open branch to get cash. In Koelschip Yard I was in the position to open my wallet and draw a card out to make a payment. There are many reasons why not everyone can do this. These reasons may be why one potential customer has to “give this one a miss” or ask their mate “Do you mind getting the round in here?”.

Hofmeister lager.

And here’s another reality check, from Paul ‘no relation’ Bailey: beers that you can’t actually buy, even if you really, really want to, might as well not exist. His experience was with the award-winning revived version of Hofmeister.

Vintage illustration: McSorleys

We were surprised to come across someone this week who didn’t know Joseph Mitchell’s brilliant 1940 essay on New York City tavern McSorley’s, AKA ‘The Old House at Home’. So now, in what might be a one-off, or could become a regular feature, welcome to Classics Corner:

It is equipped with electricity, but the bar is stubbornly illuminated with a pair of gas lamps, which flicker fitfully and throw shadows on the low, cobwebby ceiling each time someone opens the street door. There is no cash register. Coins are dropped in soup bowls—one for nickels, one for dimes, one for quarters, and one for halves—and bills are kept in a rosewood cashbox. It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years.

And how can we not finish with Hilary Mantel doing her version of 20th Century Pub?

Want more reading? See Alan.

Everything We Wrote in November 2018: Backstreet Pubs, Cashless Payments, Guinness (again)

Here’s a round-up of everything we wrote in the past month. We managed 17 posts here in total, plus a few pieces over on the Patreon feed.

Just to shake up the running order, let’s start with the latter:

Illustration: Hilltop.

Here on the blog proper, we started the month with notes on, and photographs of, Hilltop, a resolutely modern pub, the design of which was tied up with post-war social ideals.

Back from a trip to Sheffield, with the pubs of Kelham Island in mind especially, we thought a bit about how standing in crowds can be part of the fun of a really busy pub. (And why quiet pubs, though pleasant, might not be in the best of health.)

Still in Sheffield, we brought our 100-word #BeeryShortreads format out of retirement to describe a brief moment of rapport between bar staff and customer: “Sure?”

A man dispensing Guinness from a cask.

We flagged another gem found in the pages of an old Guinness Time magazine: a detailed account on the status and ongoing development of draught Guinness from 1958, with specific information on the two-cask method, and some excellent photographs.

The Session is on its death bed. For the penultimate edition we reluctantly blogged about blogging, offering some notes on where beer blogging was, where it is now, and where it might be going:

In general, we’d say the feeling of global community has diminished, but that’s not a whinge. It’s been replaced (probably for the best) by many active, more locally-focused sub-communities: the pub crawlers, the historians, the tasting note gang, the podcasters, the social issues crew, the jostling pros and semi-pros, the pisstakers, and so on.

Host Jay Brooks rounded up the paltry six responses here. The very final last edition of the Session is next Friday, 7 December. Stan Hieronymus has asked us to think about beer for funerals. Do join in.

Observing friends, family and colleagues in the past year, we’ve noticed a new behaviour emerging: the tendency to order “Whatever IPA they’ve got”, or whichever ‘craft lager’.

pub life observational piece gave an account of a Big Lad offering unwanted and persistent compliments on a Mod’s admittedly attention-grabbing hairdo:

“No, listen, seriously… If I was as good looking as you, I’d go out and get that haircut today. The girls wouldn’t know what hit ‘em.”

Silence. Shifting in seats. The Big Lad’s wheezing breath.

Then, remembering his primary mission, he lurches away into the gents toilet, smashing through doors like a bulldozer.

After a crawl around the pubs of Totterdown in Bristol we found ourselves thinking about how magical backstreet pubs can be, and almost always look, especially in the dark, especially in rain or snow:

You know the feeling – walking up the centre of the road because there’s no traffic, TV light flickering behind curtains here and there, and the sound of your boots crunching and echoing in the quiet.

Reading a tatty old edition of a 1934 book by J.B. Priestley we were delighted, if not entirely surprised, to find some piquant observations on inter-war ‘improved pubs’:

The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or disreputable, and then to point out how dull or disreputable it is. Is is rather as if the rest of us should compel teetotallers to wear their hair long and unwashed, and then should write pamphlets complaining of their dirty habits: “Look at their hair,” we should cry.

After a Twitter conversation about finding, sharing and hoarding archive material on beer and pub history, we put some thoughts into words. Short version: nobody owns history, we’re all better off when people share, and the more you share, the more people share with you.

An out-of-date hack paperback on pub names put us on the track of an interesting story: an Exeter pub which opened in 1985, designed to give people with alcohol problems the feel of a proper night out with no booze on the premises. How do you think it went?

We briefly acknowledged that we won an award, that we are very pleased about it, and pointed to the stuff wot won it.

The post that got most traffic this month, perhaps because it dealt with a contemporary hot-button issue rather than what kind of pies they served in the Watney’s canteen in 1962, was about cashless pubs, and pubs that don’t take cards, and putting the needs of consumers first:

One publican in a cash-only business recently told us they’d been thinking about getting a card machine purely because they were aware of constantly turning away young people who expected to be able to use cards. About half of them were willing to find a cash machine and come back, but the rest just moved on down the road.

Anyway, back to those Watney’s canteen pies: in the early 1970s cutting edge architecture firm Arup designed a new brutalist brewery for Carlsberg in Northampton. Arup’s own in-house journal is now available online and the March 1974 edition has a wealth of information on the brewery, as well as some fabulously industrial photographs.

We produced our usual round-ups of news, nuggets and longreads:

We Tweeted quite a bit (but perhaps not as much as usual) and Instagrammed a touch, too. Facebook, frankly, barely got a look in.

A Brutalist Brewery: Arup and Carlsberg in Northampton, 1974

The March 1974 edition of the Arup Journal is an amazing artefact, offering a blow-by-blow breakdown of the design and construction of Carlsberg’s state of the art Danish brewery in Northampton.

You can read the full magazine here in PDF form, and it’s a lovely thing in its own right – all white space and sans serif, as stylish as the buildings it depicts.

Arup Journal, March 1974, cover.

Arup is an architecture firm founded in 1946 by Ove Arup, born in Newcastle  upon Tyne in the UK to Danish parents in 1895, and educated in Denmark. Though he died in 1988 the company lives on, its name a byword for modernism.

In 1970, Arup was commissioned by Carlsberg Brewery Ltd to design a new plant in Northampton in the English Midlands, just as the lager boom was beginning to bite. The cost of the project was £15 million; Carlsberg supplied the brewery equipment and defined the necessities of the space according to production need; and Arup commissioned Danish architect Knud Munk to produce a design that would “express the best in modern Danish architecture”.

As well as lots of detail in the text the magazine also includes process charts…

Process chart of lager brewing at Carlsberg.

…interior shots…

A control panel at the brewery.

…and lots of dramatic black-and-white photography of the brewery building at various stages of construction, set in the flat landscape against dramatic skies…

The exterior of the brewery.
CREDIT: Colin Westwood.

…which are either awe-inspiring or grim depending on your point of view.

It’s fascinating to think of this hulk appearing, with attendant talk of efficiency and automation, at just the exact moment the Campaign for Real Ale was taking off. This is about as far from all that imagery of wooden casks, old inns and pewter tankards as you can get.

And the emphasis throughout on the Danishness of the project – Danish brewers, Danish architect, officially opened by the Queen of Denmark – while canny in terms of underlining the authenticity of the product was also at odds with the growing sense that Local was somehow a sacred virtue.

We’ve been researching this building and Carlsberg’s arrival in the UK on and off for years and this showed up in one of our periodic check-ins. There are times we worry about the state of corporate archives and others when we feel like we’re living in the best possible age, with digitising getting cheaper and companies realising the value of their own history.

Cash or Cashless, the Problem is ‘Only’

Both cash-only and cashless-only are barriers, and both tend to be driven by the needs of the business rather than what works for customers.

We got talking about this in the pub last night because of a poll from the Beer O’Clock Show:

The arguments against card-only have been piling up for some time:

  • it excludes the poorest in society
  • it discriminates against older consumers
  • it plays into the machinations of global tech giants
  • it contributes to the tracking and influencing of our behaviour.

But on the ground, in daily life, we very much understand the appeal of paying by card in pubs, bars and bottle-shops.

It saves us having to wander round suburbs or industrial estates looking for cash machines, and makes it easier for us to manage our various bank accounts and budgets, with every transaction recorded and reported.

And not taking cards can be excluding in its own way. One publican in a cash-only business recently told us they’d been thinking about getting a card machine purely because they were aware of constantly turning away young people who expected to be able to use cards. About half of them were willing to find a cash machine and come back, but the rest just moved on down the road.

A lot is made of the cost of processing card payments but depending on the size of the business, cash can be just as expensive to handle, and certainly less convenient.  It can require extra staff-hours for counting and banking, and needs transporting, either at considerable cost (secure pickup) or risk, with a member of staff walking to the bank with a sack of readies. (I’ve managed cash-heavy concerns and write from experience. – Jess.)

The presence of cash can also make premises more vulnerable to crime or, rather, advertising total cashlessness can be a good way to deter it.

And some of the objections cash-only businesses have to cards seem to use to be a hangover from a decade ago when banks charged a lot more for the service, and when people who paid by card in the pub were amateurs and freaks.

It used to mean five minutes of faffing around with signatures and pin numbers, holding up the line. Sometimes, there’d also be another minute or two of trying to get up to the limit for paying by card without an additional charge – “What are your most expensive crisps?” Nowadays, it’s a quick one-handed tap and done, and its people fiddling with coins and waiting for change who seem to cause a delay.

Fundamentally, though, we bridle at the idea of businesses doing only one, or only the other, because it’s convenient for them, rather than offering both with the convenience of their customers in mind.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 November 2018: Jopengasse, Bermondsey, Cold Comfort

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from conclusions on cask beer to booze in cold climates.

First, an astonishing revelation – researchers have discovered that living in a cold, dark climates makes you want to drink more:

Senior author Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre, said: “This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”

The old city of Gdansk.

We’re not generally that interested in Wot I Dun on my Holiday blog posts but knowing that Barm, AKA @robsterowski, is a serious scholar of European beer, and being long-time Polonophiles ourselves, we were excited to read his account of a visit to Gdańsk. He did not disappoint:

This is Ulica Piwna in Gdansk. In the past when the town was predominantly German, the street was called Jopengasse. Both names redolent with beery history, for Jopengasse is named after the legendary Danziger Jopenbier (or perhaps the beer is named after the street), whereas Piwna literally means Beer Street… Danzig in the 19th century also had a Mälzergasse, maltsters’ street. The street then called Hinter Adlers Brauhaus, “Behind Adler’s Brewery” is now called Browarna, brewery street and the one-time Hopfengasse is now Chmielna, both meaning Hop Lane.

We thought it was odd when Moor and Cloudwater opened bars on the Bermondsey Beer Mile but it’s now got even weirder with the announcement of plans by New Zealand brewery Panhead to launch a spearhead there too. The full story is at Australian industry news site BrewsNews in a story by Matt Curtis:

Lion-owned Panhead Custom Ales is set to open a taproom in the UK before the end of 2019… This new retail site will be headed-up by Fourpure, itself acquired by Lion in July 2018. The project will be led by Fourpure Marketing Manager and former 4 Pines marketing head Adrian Lugg, according to its co-founder Dan Lowe.

There’s further commentary, insightful as ever, from Will Hawkes at Imbibe:

Little Creatures, founded in 2000 in Western Australia and now owned by Kirin, is preparing to open in King’s Cross, and Panhead, a Kiwi brand also owned by Kirin, is set for Bermondsey. There are also persistent rumours that Sierra Nevada, which is independently-owned but still huge, has similar plans. Brewdog, Britain’s only representative in the big-craft league, opened a brewpub in Tower Bridge earlier this year… The value of brewpubs to big brands is simple: provenance is important to craft-beer drinkers, so it pays to muddy the water.

Source: Kirsty Walker.

At Lady Sinks the Booze Kirsty Walker is on a mission: to go drinking in the towns where the former members of defunct pop group One Direction were born. Obviously. She has started with Bradford, hometown of Zayn Malik, where she had a perfect pint of Timothy Taylor Boltmaker in “Car Wash and Tyre Centre Land” and got chatted up by a bloke who gladly drank a foul pint of Sam Smith’s she’d abandoned:

The pint I had just returned wasn’t just on it’s way out, it was downright rancid, and yet this specimen gulped it down like it was that pint of Boltmaker I pined for. I drank the Sovereign. It was fine, it was good in fact. How someone could taste both this and the pint of swamp water I had just consumed and say they were both the same was beyond me.

Pint glasses in a pub.

We’ve featured both previous pars of Pete Brown’s reflections on the health of the cask ale market and can’t omit his concluding post which is full of fascinating details:

On my questionnaire, before we got onto the business side of things, I asked respondents how they felt about cask themselves. Now – I split the data by size of pub, by whether it was freehold, leased, tenanted or managed, whether or not it had Cask Marque accreditation, and there was little variation in the data. The one difference that was significant was when I compared publicans who said they personally adored cask and drank it themselves to everyone else. These were the guys for whom cask ale was making money, who put in the extra time, who trained their staff properly.

The lingering existence of Young & Co is fascinating: the brands are now owned by Marston’s and brewed… in Bedford, maybe? But the heart and soul of the brewery remains in Wandsworth, south London, even if the site of the old place is in the process of becoming a residential and retail ‘quarter’. For the Brewers Journal Tim Sheahan has interviewed the keeper of the flame, John Hatch:

John is the head brewer at Wandsworth’s Ram Brewery. He’s also the assistant brewer, head cleaner, packaging operative and everything in-between… You see, the Ram Brewery is no normal brewery. Instead, it’s a truly unique operation housed on the grounds of the old Young’s brewery. A passion project that came into being upon the news that Young’s was to shutter it’s London brewing business back in 2006, Hatch has ensured that although the brewery would be leaving the site, brewing wouldn’t.

Old drawing of a brewery.
Dreher’s brewery. SOURCE: The Penny Illustrated Paper, 28 May 1870, via The British Newspaper Archive.

Andreas Krenmair has made yet another breakthrough in his attempts to pin down the specifications of historic Vienna beer. This time, it’s the colour:

Back in 2015, when I started looking more closely into the historic specifications of Vienna Lager, one question where I started speculating and couldn’t really get a good answer was the question of colour. I based this off historic records that I had found in one of Ron Pattinson’s books, Decoction!. The provided value of 6.3 (no units) seemed reasonably close to be SRM, but as Ron commented below my posting, the beer colour is not in SRM, and that he’s not sure what exactly it is… Well, today I can proudly proclaim that I have finally discovered not only what the 6.3 means but also how the value relates the modern beer colour units like SRM or EBC.

We don’t normally do this but we’re going to finish with one of our own Tweets — a short thread, in fact, and the kind of thing we might normally put on the blog, but wanted to experiment with.

Want more? Alan posts a splendidly splenetic links round-up every Thursday.