News pubs

News, nuggets and longreads 5 September 2020: Colonialism, Steinbier, cycling

Here’s everything on beer and pubs from the past week that struck as particularly readworthy, from hot stones to vans full of wort.

First, a bit of news that we suspect offers a hint of things to come: villagers in Halse, Somerset, have raised £330,000 to buy and preserve their local pub. We wrote about community pubs in 20th Century Pub and have long thought there’s more mileage in the idea. The coronavirus crisis has put many pubs in sudden, sharp danger; it has also made people reflect on the fondness they have for pubs and their importance in communities.

A colonial diamond mine in South Africa.

For Good Beer Hunting beer historian Tom Acitelli provides an overview of how colonialism spread aspects of European beer worldwide, squashing local drinking cultures in the process:

The first professional European brewer arrived in what’s now Namibia and South Africa in 1694, when Rutgert Mensing schoonered in from Amsterdam. He brought with him a lot of technical knowledge, as well as the support of the Dutch authorities who had begun colonizing the area 40 years before. Mensing quickly set about building a brewery in a part of present-day Cape Town… He found an already-growing market. In the decades ahead of Mensing’s arrival, the Dutch and other European colonizers had begun to recreate the Ales that were popular back home, so much so that that same area of Cape Town became known as the “Tavern of the Sea.”

Beer taps.

At Burum Collective editor Helen Anne Smith sets out something of a manifesto for both the website and her current project interviewing queer people in the beer industry:

The title of this piece is in reference to my twitter bio. It has been ‘queer and works in beer’ for about a year now because even though it’s a small thing, hopefully someone who is in beer or someone who wants to work in beer will see it and will know that they aren’t alone. Over lockdown, I realised it wasn’t enough, I needed to do more, be louder, be prouder, fight for those who need it… I will continue to work as hard as I can making the bar that I work in a friendly and inclusive environment, I will keep signal boosting on twitter, start raising money for local charities and to get Burum Collective to a point where I am able to step back from blog content and be able to pay people from queer and BIPOC communities to write and tell their own stories. But whilst I continue to apply for grants, work hard and save money; I need the beer industry to step the fuck up.

A Steinbier brewery.

Historical brewing expert Andreas Krennmair has turned his attention to another obscure but glamorous beer style – Carinthian Steinbier, brewed with hot stones. His commentary is based on an interesting new (old) source:

Carinthian Steinbier is interesting because it survived for a fairly long time, until 1917 to be exact, despite repeated attempts to completely supplant it with what was called “kettle brewing”, i.e. brewing involving metal kettles. During other research, I recently stumbled upon a 1962 article that is probably the most detailed description of Carinthian Steinbier tradition that I’ve found so far… In Die Steinbiererzeugung, ein ausgestorbenes Gewerbe in Kärnten (lit. “stone beer production, an extinct industry in Carinthia”), Josef Grömmer discusses Steinbier brewing in Carinthia, the common brewing practices over time including the last few surviving breweries up to the demise of Steinbier in Carinthia.

A caravan.

SOURCE: Lily Waite/Pellicle

For PellicleLily Waite offers a profile of Mills Brewing and its unorthodox, untidy approach to the process:

To transfer wort from kettle to fermenter, Jonny Mills has to pump it out of the door of the brewhouse, through a small garden, over a fence, and into a 1000 litre tank in the back of his van. A fraction of a second later, he has to race the wort to the van to ensure the hose doesn’t slip from underneath the brick balanced carefully atop it, and douse the inside of the van in hot, sticky liquid… Once the wort is safely in the tank, the van then slowly sloshes and wobbles its way a half-mile down a bumpy country lane, to a tumbledown outbuilding in an overgrown yard in the neighbouring town of Berkeley. Here, the wort is slowly transferred to an old open-top fermenter, and if the recipe so requires, a bag of hops is weighed down with the cumbersome steel door from a tank the next room over.

Brighton Pavilion.

A useful bit of local intel: Joe Tindall at The Fatal Glass of Beer has provided a round-up of the breweries of Brighton. It comes with bonus reflections on what it means for a brewery to really be from a place:

Basing your brewery in Brighton is a great idea, from a marketing perspective. It’s a popular summer destination, so you have that association going for you; it’s well known for its bohemian character, so there’s that, too. There are recognisable landmarks like the Laines, or the skeleton of the burned out pier that now eerily shadows the slick, pointless i360 tower. You could draw on these in your branding… Not such a great proposition financially though. Rents are high, second only to London. So you can see how one might form a dastardly plan to claim, or at least heavily imply, to have a brewery based in Brighton, whilst taking care of the inconvenient of business of brewing beer somewhere cheap in the Sussex countryside.


For Ferment, the promotional magazine for beer subscription service Beer52, Eoghan Walsh of Brussels Beer City writes about the entanglement of beer and bikes in Belgian culture:

“If the scent of Belgium is that of a good ale, then the defining sound of the nation is the swish of bicycle tires on wet roads, the whistling of wind through spokes, the juddering thrum of steel frames on cobblestones,” English author Harry Pearson wrote of the twin obsessions of his adopted country in his book on the subject The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman. It is in Flanders where the twin obsessions of beer and cycling have been elevated to totems of national (or should that be regional) identity. And more often than not, just as with my visit to a chilly late-winter Ghent, they come together. While beer is a year-round passion in these parts, it is impossible to exaggerate the degree to which cycling saturates Flanders from the beginning of the classics season with the Omloop in late-February, through to the one-two punch of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix races on consecutive Sundays in April.

Finally, from Twitter, we couldn’t resist this pocket history of a pub, from Victorian to prefab to post-war:

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


Could all this help the neighbourhood pub?

Is it wrong to poke around in the ruins looking for something to be optimistic about? Maybe, possibly, all this will help revive the neighbourhood corner pub.

Of course we can only ever be tentative and won’t be remotely surprised if things go in the opposite direction, towards disaster, but indulge us.

First, we know that city centres are struggling as many people continue to work from home.

The narrative has coalesced around coffee and sandwich shops but central pubs, too, rely on commuters hanging around for a pint or two with colleagues.

Without birthday drinks and leaving drinks and fuck-it-it’s-Thursday drinks, they’re reliant on determined, deliberate pubgoers.

The few times we’ve been into town lately, pubs and bars have seemed quiet – handy for distancing purposes but not if you want to pay staff, pay suppliers and keep the lights on.

Local pubs out in the suburbs, meanwhile, though also struggling, seem to be doing a little better.

After all, sticking your nose in at the local is low commitment: you wander round and if there’s space, you stay; if not, you wander on, or get takeaway. And if it gets uncomfortably crowded, you can go home.

The Foresters Arms, a pub near us, has struggled through the last few years with periods of closure, changes of management and a basic Guinness-n-sport offer in an area which has all but fully gentrified.

Now, though, it’s buzzing seven days a week. We’ve never seen it so busy or so alive. Peeking through the side door on our daily walks we’ve noticed quite a few of the regulars from The Drapers Arms in the (sensibly distanced) crowd – not their first choice, perhaps, but maybe somewhere they’ve come to appreciate in recent months.

We’ve certainly become less fussy. On Monday, at the end of a long walk to Keynsham, we ended up drinking Peroni in an edge-of-town pub and loving it. Well organised, spacious and friendly beats central in 2020.

On that note, we’ve also wondered if this might be the saving of some of those big inter-war pubs you find on the outskirts of towns.

A year ago, people talked about ‘rattling round sterile barns’.

Now, as our ideas of busy and close have been forcibly re-calibrated, that’s distinctly more appealing.


Everything we wrote in August 2020

This was a relatively light month for us because we treated ourselves to a week off when we visited London. We managed a few interesting bits, though.

We started the month with some first-hand observations of the malice-free but frustrating resistance to following the simple rules laid down by pubs trying to comply with COVID-19 distancing. This prompted a bit of subtweeting here and there from people who hadn’t seen any such worrying behaviour – your mileage may vary, and so on.

In London, we saw a whole range of systems in operation, some more successful than others, and generally managed to have a pretty nice time visiting different bars around Stratford and Hackney over the course of week.

As the Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme kicked in, we fretted about how it might make things worse for wet-led pubs already struggling with decreased business. As it happened, we had chance to talk about this with a publican who confirmed that trade dropped off for them in August.

Ray read Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes and was delighted to find, amid the Gothic castles and murder, a portrait of a rural Scottish pub where the temperance battle is played out.

Nosing around in the British Newspaper Archive we found mention of a German-style Bier Keller in Coventry which, as we tugged the thread, led us to reflect on another time when people and staff were nervous to go to the pub – the mid-1970s when the IRA was running an active bombing campaign in England.

Yesterday morning, we asked for your help identifying a pub in a brilliant archive film from 1955.

And finally, this morning, we had some thoughts about the advantages of ordering by app in bars with extensive beer lists.

There were five editions of our regular Saturday news round-ups with plenty of good stuff, including from some sources new to us:

Patreon subscribers got some bonus bits, too including thoughts on the difficulty of telling it like it is; some beers of the weekend notes; pub life observations; an audio reading by Ray of a piece from last year; and a brief comment on the tell-tale Bacchus which gives away a former pub.

We put out a 1,000+ word newsletter with thoughts on London pubs and news on what’s been keeping us busy beyond beer. Sign up for next month’s here.

And there were bunch of Tweets like this photo of a pub door on a hot day.


bristol pubs

Another advantage of ordering via app

We’ve been to Small Bar, the best of Bristol’s full-on craft beer bars, a couple of times in recent weeks and it’s in places like this that ordering by app works especially well.

How it used to work most of the time:

  • Shuffle around in a disorderly queue squinting at the blackboards trying to work out what’s on offer.
  • Get to the front; harried member of staff asks, “What would you like?”
  • Panic; choose something you’ve had before for convenience; scurry off to a table.

Now, though, the app allows you to browse the extensive beer list at leisure and, best of all, to filter it by beer style.

You’ve even got the option to nose around online to see what your fellow beer geeks have to say about a particular beer, reducing the risk of spending too much on something disappointing.

And, in fact, there’s another advantage: no more conversations about whether this bar or that does third-pints, or surprise that (as in the case of Small Bar) the largest measure on offer is two-thirds.

Of course there’s a downside: when there are lots of beers on offer you’ve never heard of, tasters are the traditional approach to narrowing the field, and making that work via app would be quite a challenge.

london pubs

A Barclay Perkins pub c.1954

The 1955 documentary We Live by the River provides a child’s-eye tour of post-war London including, of course, a stop off at the door of a busy pub – but which one?

You can watch the film here, as part of the excellent archive collection available via BBC iPlayer, or on YouTube if you’re outside the UK. The pub appears at about 21 minutes but it is worth watching the whole thing if you’re interested in the place and/or period.

The brief moment we spend in the pub offers one wonderful image after another – you could easily extract each one as a still photograph.

An accordion player in the doorway. Drinkers. The landlady. The landlord. Two men in animated discussion.

As we’ve said many times, shots of pub interiors with people drinking are oddly hard to come by so, even if these have the staged quality typical of British documentaries of this time, they’re a bit special.

From the information in the film, we can assume this pub is somewhere in Soho or Fitzrovia, can’t we?

It’s definitely a Barclay Perkins pub; and Barclay’s was subsumed by Courage, so you might have known it in that guise.

In terms of architecture, it’s got a corner door (although those are easily blocked up and moved); the exterior has what looks like marble and stone; the windows are rounded at the top.

Make your suggestions below – ideally with a link to photo evidence.

In the meantime, we can think of worse ways to spend Sunday than looking at every pub in central London on Street View.