News, nuggets and longreads 3 September 2022: The in crowd

It’s Saturday morning and time for our regular round-up of writing about beer and pubs. This week we’ve got what feels like multiple takes on ideas of inclusion and exclusion.

First, a bit of news: on top of everything else, as Stan Hieronymus puts it, ‘It’s official: Bad to horrible year for most European hops’. Stan (whose hop-related newsletter is also worth a read) says:

This year, there was no “August Surprise” for European hop growers, whose crop was saved last year by unusually good weather just before harvest… Estimates made as harvest began — late, in many cases — indicate that the German crop will be down about 20 percent from 2021, and 18 percent below an average year. The Czechian crop, which is almost entirely Saaz, will be down 43 percent from last year’s record crop.

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

In The Drapers Arms last night all anyone wanted to talk about was the energy crisis. People are anxious and, as yet, there’s been no concrete policy response from the Government. The Pub Curmudgeon has been pondering on the idea of ‘warm rooms’ – public places where people can hang out during the day – and whether pubs might fulfil that function:

Licensees, with good reason, have always been resistant to the idea of allowing freeloaders to spend extended periods in the pub without putting any money across the bar, and to not being able to exercise control over who is allowed entry. It would not be reasonable to expect already cash-strapped pubs to extend this welcome out of the goodness of their own heart, but if this role was formally recognised it could be a reason for pubs to receive additional financial support. 

Tasting notes

Courtney Iseman has been reflecting on the language we use to describe flavour in beer and other beverages. It’s a long piece that reflects a lot of fretting over inclusivity. Ultimately, though, there’s a point about intent – are we choosing our words to lock people out, or bring them in?

Taking valid terms that capture the essence of a beer or wine well and deciding they’re the only “correct” terms instead of using them as jumping-off points for interpretation and expansion cuts entire cultures out of the conversation and keeps beverage alcohol small, narrow, homogeneous, exclusive. It tells consumers they won’t like this because they won’t get it, which, as Miroki points out, is just bad business—it obviously behooves any brand to connect with as many people as possible. It tells people that they could never be sommeliers or brewers. It others the brands that do exist, based on rigid Westernized constructs.

People outside the King's Arms.
This picture floats, uncredited, around the internet.

We’re fascinated by the idea of English pubs around the world and Gary Gillman has uncovered a great example, The King’s Arms in Kobe, Japan:

[The] pub was operated by [R.D. Courtney-Browne] (d. 1994), a Briton who took up residence in Kobe after the war. Apparently he was a former British Army major with war service in India and elsewhere in the Far East… It was built as an express tribute, including in architecture and décor, to a traditional, English country public house… Edmund Blunden, the poet, composed verses in its honour, referenced in the film. The full poem may be read in Sumie Okada’s 1988 book, Edmund Blunden and Japan: the History of a Relationship.

This 2021 Twitter thread on pubs in Japan is also worth a read:

The Murnauer Moos. SOURCE: Franz D. Hofer/Tempest in a Tankard.

At Tempest in a Tankard Franz D. Hofer takes us on a tour of Murnau in Bavaria, famous for its light which inspired artists, and which also has plenty of beer:

Small as Murnau is, it’s home to two breweries. And for folks who like to combine imbibing with wandering, Murnau is ideal. The hike around the fascinating Murnauer Moos wetlands is worth the trip alone, while the shorter Drachenstich loop with its rewarding views of the Murnauer Moos makes for a nice afternoon walk… Brauerei Karg is one of those rare Bavarian breweries like Schneider Weisse, Erdinger, Kuchlbauer, and Hopf that focuses its attention on wheat beer. And it does so to great effect… Karg has been a family enterprise since its founding in 1912, when Andreas Karg took over the Hirschvogel brewery and turned it into a wheat beer brewery. Now in its fourth generation, the brewery and its Wirtshaus is a fixture in the center of Murnau’s old town.

A group of people in a pub garden holding a rainbow flag.
SOURCE: Ferment/Out and About (Sheffield).

For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Siobhan Hewison has explored the various groups for queer beer drinkers around the UK:

Being openly queer is very much still a radical act, and being openly queer in a group of over a dozen other queers is even more so… I started Queer Beer Drinkers to get more people interested in beer, to diversify the scene, and to provide a safe, sociable setting for those who want to try more tasty bevs. But, it was also to create a community where queer folks can feel supported and accepted, and drink freely in ‘regular’ establishments rather than feeling like they can only hang out in ‘gay bars’…

Finally, from Twitter…

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


News, nuggets and longreads 27 August 2022: Oompah-pah

Every Saturday we round up the most interesting writing about beer and pubs we’ve found in the past week. This time we’ve got gas, Guinness and Gärten.

The beer industry just can’t catch a break these days. On top of some terrifying figures being thrown around in relation to the rising costs of commercial energy, there’s also a problem with supplies of CO2:

CF Industries is halting ammonia production at its UK plant, in Billingham. This, in turn, will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) supplies… The plant is the main source of the country’s CO2 which is used throughout the food and drink industry. A temporary closure of the plant last year led to many shortages in the supply chain. Closure now is being blamed on soaring natural gas prices.

A pint of stout.

Dublin by Pub has caved to popular demand and decided to give a straight answer to an often-asked question: where’s the best pint of Guinness in the city?

J.M Cleary’s: Amiens Street

A favoured haunt of Michael Collins, Cleary’s is said to have had its electricity bill taken care of by Irish Rail to balance the inconvenience of having had a railway bridge pass over its roof. Evidently, the time that would have been spent on the administrative task of paying the electric has been better spent perfecting their pint purveying abilities- they’re unrivalled between the canals, as far as we’re concerned.

(Price: €5.20 as of Summer 2022) 

Illustration: "Wodge of cash."

Dave, founder of A Hoppy Place, a bottle shop in Windsor, has written in some detail about the process of crowdfunding the opening of a second outlet in Maidenhead:

I think there is an issue of credibility when it comes to some crowdfunders, and especially non-equity crowdfunders. A great many of us have been sold a dream, some snake oil, or invest in a brewery only to see it fail months later. My great friends at Weird Beard for example raised a very respectable £46k only 6 or so months before their brewery in Hanwell was closed… A question is always going to be “why do they need MY money – don’t they have it / can’t they get it?”… Both answers to that can be galling. Either the owner has access to his own funds and doesn’t want to invest them, or worse for the health of your investment: Doesn’t, and the banks are saying no.

The exterior of The Sunflower with a green sign and a notice that reads "No topless sunbathing - Ulster has suffered enough".

Lisa Grimm has been to Belfast and for Weird Beer Girl writes about her experience of drinking cask ale in its pubs:

We had been recommended The Crown Liquor Saloon for cask and food by many people, and during pre-trip planning, I was excited to update my Nicholson’s Pub app so that we could order from our eventual table (especially handy when you have a hungry child in tow). Although their dining room was closed and it was a bit crowded in the bar area as a result (soooo many people looking for the perfect Instagram shot without even getting a beer), we did manage to score one of the very pleasant snugs and ordered away… As an aside, my Grand Unified Theory of Everything is that the world would be a more pleasant place if we could replace all ‘Spoons with Nicholson’s pubs, but maybe I simply haven’t been in enough of the latter to have had a bad experience.

Lederhosen lads with litres of lager.
The Hirschgarten in Munich.

For The Washington Post Will Hawkes evokes the world of the Bavarian beer garden with a long piece covering their past, present and purpose:

Munich’s beer gardens have a checkered history. The Löwenbräukeller in Stiglmaierplatz, for example, hosted Nazi meetings in the early years of the Second World War, until a Royal Air Force bombing raid severely damaged half the building in 1944. Other beer halls and gardens, such as the Hofbräukeller in Wiener Platz, can tell similar stories… This is not, though, the Löwenbräukeller’s only history of note. It opened in 1883, when Munich was the “City of Beer and Art,” a glorious moment of growth and cultural richness. Its appearance reflects that, even if its iconic stone lion, gazing moodily into the middle distance from its perch above the entrance, was added in 1911.

(You might be unlucky with the paywall but we had no trouble reading this piece.)

"So who says we have to sit in a booth!?"

At Ferment, the promo mag for a beer subscription service, Rachel Hendry asks a great question: why are people so obsessed with “getting a booth”?

My friend Elliot Comanescu works across hospitality, design and architecture, so I asked him about the sinful, sought after nature of the booth seating… “I think you can draw lots out of this notion of public and private spaces. Booth seating creates a sense of privacy and intimacy simultaneously,” says Elliot. “The increased height of the back creates more privacy than your regular chair,” he adds, which is something I’d never considered before. A space within a space. Interesting.

Whatever the reason, the same psychology must also be behind the undignified argy-bargy over ‘table seats’ on the train.

Finally, from Twitter…

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


Hello, Goodbye: the art of the warm welcome

A smile and a few words of welcome go a long way when you’re a stranger in a strange pub.

On a mission to tick a pub for #EveryPubInBristol the other day we were made to feel at home in a pub that otherwise didn’t much appeal to us.

It wasn’t over the top. It was just that when we reached the bar we got: “Hello! With you in just a second.”

Then when they did get to us, in just a second, the first thing they asked us was how our days had been.

Not a grumble about how their day had been, or a curt WhatCanIGetcha, but a simple question that suggested they recognised as fellow human beings.

Finally, as they handed over our drinks, they said: “We’ve got a singer on at eight, fifties, sixties, classic rock…”

But what they meant, we suppose, was: “We hope you’ll stay for the evening. We’re happy you’re here.”

We instantly felt accepted, like locals, despite the fact it was our first visit.

We didn’t stay, though, because (a) we had another nearby pub to visit nearby; (b) as a pair of mutterers we didn’t want to try to talk over live music; and (c) there was nothing much for us to get excited about drinking.

Still, so touched were we by the welcome that we were seriously tempted to stay for another, and it felt almost rude to leave, despite all the good reasons to do so listed above.

A good welcome is a hook. It makes you feel seen and forms a connection. And signals to the regulars that they’d better behave, too: these people are our guests.

The goodbye wasn’t bad, either. As we dropped our glasses on the bar and snuck away through the crowd, there was a wave and, over the hubbub: “Bye! Enjoy your evening! See you again!”

And you know what? Maybe they will.

As Tandleman wrote back in 2016:

When I started work in a pub many, many years ago the first thing the Boss said, was always say “Hello” and “Goodbye” or equivalent… He reasoned that the hello made people feel welcome and the goodbye made people feel appreciated. It is enduring logic and complete business sense.


News, nuggets and longreads 20 August 2022: Punk’s not dead

It’s Saturday morning which means it’s time for a round-up of all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from an epic take on IPA to mild in space.

CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival continues, somehow, to be a magnet for controversy. This year there were frustrating reports of sexist behaviour which made women feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. You might or might not be able to read this piece at The Telegraph by Emmie Harrison-West, depending on how lucky you are with the paywall:

In a now-viral tweet, I described what it felt like to be a woman at beer festivals. Though I got called ‘a snowflake’ by one man, and was advised by a woman ‘to learn how to defend myself,’ the response has been overwhelmingly positive – including from Camra… On Twitter they publicly condemned this behaviour – recognising that GBBF ‘was not the positive, inclusive and safe environment that Camra aspires to provide.’… ‘We issued our public statement because this isn’t something which can be ignored, and we are committed to providing inclusive, welcoming festivals,’ Catherine Tonry, Camra’s festival organiser, told me.

A milk carton of IPA.

At Pellicle Matt Curtis has laid down the law on the definition, or definitions, of IPA. At 5,000+ words it earns its ‘essential guide’ title. There’s lots to grapple with but we especially enjoyed this from the intro:

To the educated beer connoisseur—very much a minority, even among beer drinkers themselves—the language of IPA comes instinctively. They know their Citra from their Nelson Sauvin. But to the majority of people, labels like NEIPA, DDH, and the other myriad terms associated with one of beer’s most argued-over styles, are ultimately meaningless. You could even go a step further and suggest they’re a form of gatekeeping; if beer is truly for everyone, why go to such great effort to make it so fucking complicated? IPA used to mean “strong and hoppy”, now it could mean pretty much anything. Today’s breweries are as comfortable using it to label what is essentially an alcoholic fruit smoothie as they are for a beer that tastes like licking a goat.


Why do we associate Mexico with lager? And when breweries outside Mexico brew a ‘Mexican lager’ what exactly do they think they’re doing? Jess Keller Poole has dug into all this for Beer is for Everyone:

The use of lime in Mexican lager goes back to the use of clear bottles made famous by Corona. Clear bottles allow UV rays to interact with the alpha acids in hops, making the beer taste and smell “skunky.” The acidity from limes helps cover the off-flavor. But still, we receive limes with UV-protected canned beer as the association of Mexican lager and limes has been established. More recently, the term Mexican lager is loosely used in craft beer. Is it a Vienna lager of past traditions? Is it a corn-adjunct light lager? Or a marketing term? Just look at how many of your local craft breweries brew a Mexican lager with no real grasp on what it is or should be. Without a solid definition of the style, modern breweries can really do whatever they want with the term. No matter the recipe or serving technique, the association of crisp, light, refreshing lagers and Mexico is rooted in both American and Mexican culture. 

A billboard advertising BrewDog.

Martyn Cornell has done some excellent number crunching based on new data from YouGov. It’s one of those pieces that comes as a much-needed reality check:

There are some fascinating facts to be extracted from the YouGov “Most Popular UK Beer and Cider Brands” survey for Q2 2022, not least the fact that James Watt, Beer Twitter’s most hated villain, runs one of the UK’s most popular craft beer brands right across the age spectrum, from 20-year-old Millennials to Baby Boomers in their 70s… There are a few surprises in the lists – wot, no Meantime? Why so few German brands? – but I suspect this is a factor of the list of brands YouGov asked people about, which was very probably driven by the brands its clients asked to be included. That would explain why a number of obscurish (to me) US brands are in there. There are also quite a few total unsurprises, such as the way Baby Boomers go for traditional brands, and Millennials love ciders.

Illustration: The Fog.

In her newsletter Hugging the Bar Courtney Iseman has written about how her relationship to beer changes with the highs and lows of her mood. In particular, she observes that hazy IPAs are a kind of low-investment comfort food:

I realized I’d gone back to just ordering the hazy IPA. And when I did have that realization, it brought up questions about my present feelings toward hazy IPAs. Does this mean they don’t really bring me much joy, certainly not compared to the joy of trying something totally new or zeroing in on what makes a simple pilsner perfect? Does this mean on a subconscious level, I don’t think hazy IPAs are worth any kind of analysis, so they won’t distract me or demand attention I’m apparently conserving to be sad? Why are hazy IPAs my default “I can’t even” beer?… I don’t mean to hate on you, hazies, we’re cool. But I am thrilled to be getting excited about doppelbocks again.

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

Mark Johnson has been blogging about beer for a decade. To mark the occasion he has answered a bunch of questions from readers and friends resulting in what feels like about 20 blog posts at once:

What’s the one beer style you would consign to the depths of space? And why is it mild?

Haha. My transition through beer began from a love of Guinness and Murphy’s. When I played football for a pub team, the post match pint order was “Ten Carlings and one Guinness.” The first cask beers I enjoyed were stouts and milds. Then I went a bit more amber. The last style from the bar that I found enjoyment in were the pale and bitter styles that I love now.

My point is that I loved mild when I was 18 and so believe that it has its place. What doesn’t have a place are the bogus claims, from people who have never taken a sip, that it is a style they have long heralded. I applaud the people that don’t like it sticking to those opinions, rather than people chasing something because of some flipping influencer.

Finally, from Twitter…

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

london pubs

Geoffrey Fletcher’s favourite London pubs, 1966

In a small booklet called Offbeat in London, published in 1966, writer and illustrator Geoffrey Fletcher provided a list of his favourite London pubs.

Fletcher’s list is unusual and interesting for various reasons.

He knew a lot about architecture but wasn’t an architectural critic in the formal sense.

Nor was he a beer geek. In fact, he rarely mentions drink at all.

What really mattered to him was the vibe. In particular, he loved anything that felt like a relic of times past.

His books often focus on ghost signs, buildings that had dodged demolition and elderly people who remembered Queen Victoria.

Pubs, many of which were built in the high Victorian period, were one more aspect of this.

The pub list in Offbeat in London comes after a description of Henekey’s, “the sole representative of the vanished gin palace of Victorian London”. (It’s now a Sam Smith’s pub called The Citties of Yorke.) After notes on its fixtures and fittings, such as “the famous Waterloo stove”, Fletcher writes:

Having made a digression in the direction of refreshment, I take the opportunity to introduce a short list of my favourite London pubs, recommended for architecture and atmosphere, as well as for food and drink.

Here’s his list, with a brief quote from the more extensive notes in the book for each entry.

  • The Salisbury | St Martin’s Lane, WC2 | “You go through the doors and find yourself at once in the London of Beardsley and Wilde.” | still trading
  • The Red Lion | Duke of York Street, SW1 | “a perfect hall of mirrors, quite untouched since the Victorian age” | still trading
  • The Albert | Victoria Street, SW1 | “a curiously American-like exterior with superb balconies” | still trading
  • The Jolly Butchers | Stoke Newington | “fantastic Gothic ironwork” | still trading
  • The Crown | Aberdeen Place, NW8 | “The interior has a strong flavour of the Diamond Jubilee about it…” | now a Lebanese restaurant but well preserved
  • The Black Friar | Queen Victoria Street EC4 | “the most remarkable Arts and Crafts period pub in London” | still trading
  • Mooney’s Irish House | Strand, EC4  | “Upright drinking, talk, stout, Irish whiskeys and crab sandwiches…” | now The Tipperary, temporarily closed was at 395 Strand, now closed (see correction in comments)
  • The Nell Gwynn(e) | Bull Yard, WC2 | “Porter on draught… was sold here until only a few years ago.” | still trading
  • The Final | William IV Street, WC2 | “a pile of turned mahogany, gold lettered mirrors and stained glass” | gone, we think
  • The Paxton’s Head | Knightsbridge, SW1 | “the name is derived… from the designer of the Crystal Palace” | still trading

It’s interesting how many of these are still trading and retain some or all of the features that made Fletcher love them.

The Final, on the edge of Covent Garden, is the only one that seems to have completely disappeared. It’s not listed in any of the other ‘great London pubs’ books on our shelves, either.

So, with that in mind, let’s have a slightly extended quote:

The saloon has a mosaic floor Street to cool your feet, and a brass rail to rest them on when you are called to the bar… Best of all, perhaps, is the Schweppes advert for Soda Water and Dry Ginger Ale, with an Edwardian nymph, an Albert Moore-like figure, at a spring. Watching her from the opposite wall is a group of natty, whiskery gents in titfers, with the day’s shoot at their feet.

It turns out, however, that Fletcher wrote about The Final in a couple of other places. We don’t have a copy of London by Night but we do have Geoffrey Fletcher’s London from 1968 in which he recycles a chunk of the note above, adding that he rates it “almost as highly as Mooney’s”.

How interesting, and how sad, that a beautiful Victorian pub can completely disappear, not only physically, but also from the collective memory.

Thank goodness for Big Geoff F. and his eye for nostalgic detail.