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News

News, nuggets and longreads 13 June 2020: mild, missing pubs, morality

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting in the past week, from endangered styles to sleep warehouses.

For Ferment, the promotional magazine published by beer retailer Beer52, Katie Mather has written about mild – if everyone feels so fond of it, why is it so hard to get hold of?

“You don’t get many milds nowadays, do you?” says a fellow drinker, after I tell him I’m drinking a mild. “Never see them around anymore.” I found the comment curious, because there was one in my hand, and I was drinking it. A strange sensation crept over me, as though he had looked at me, and at my beer, and found us both transparent; as though despite appearances, we did not really exist.

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20th Century Pub pubs

FAQ: When did beer mats come in?

This is the first in a new series of short posts attempting to give straight answers to direct questions, all of which we’ll be collecting on a new permanent page.

This one, which we were asked ages ago by the folks at The Station House in Durham, turns out to be easy to answer. Sort of.

Beer mats, because collecting them is a hobby, are fairly well documented and have an established origin story.

Here’s a version from the British Beermat Collectors Society (BBCS):

The first beermats as we know them were cardboard based and produced in Germany by around 1880 by Friedrich Horn, a German printing and board mill company. Not only did they create small thin(ish) cardboard mats but they also printed messages on them, something that would eventually open up a whole new world of advertising! This was quickly taken to a new level by Robert Sputh, also in Germany who began to produce much thicker, highly absorbent mats…

So, printed cardboard beer mats arrived in Germany in the 1880s. But when did they hit the UK?

Consensus seems to be that it was in the early 1920s when Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. introduced two mats advertising Watney Pale Ale and Reid’s Stout.

The BBCS says this happened in around 1922, though other sources say 1920. The date can be estimated because the printers included their own names on the mats, says the BBCS.

We’d really like to find a contemporary document pinning this down – a note in the board minutes, for example, or a newspaper report. We’ll keep looking.

After Watney’s, says the BBCS…

A number of other breweries also began producing mats in the 1920’s, for example Massey’s… And by the mid-late 1930’s many of the recognisable ‘names’ in the brewing world were producing them and British manufacturers such as Quarmby and Regicor can be seen on many mats from this period.

We’d observe, though, that British newspaper articles in the 1930s still felt the need to explain what beer mats were, and associated them entirely with Germany and the Continent:

‘Absorbent cardboard discs as mats for beer glasses are a familiar object in nearly every German public-house…’ – Belfast Telegraph, 2 December 1936

‘The cardboard mat on which the German puts his pot of beer is a frequent cause of trouble…’ Liverpool Evening Express, 29 May 1939

‘Perhaps beer mats is not the official description, but you may know what they are; I saw them on the Continent years before they were used in this country; they are round and absorbent, and they protect tables from liquid drippings.’ – Leeds Mercury, 30 May 1939.

We did, after quite some hunting, manage to find this image of a 1930s pubs with beer mats in plain view, and another here, from c.1938. They’re in the posher rooms – smoke rooms and lounges – and perhaps that makes sense. Spit, slop and sawdust in the public bar; dainty drip-collectors for gentlemen and ladies.

Like many other aspects of UK beer advertising, beer mats seem to have taken off in earnest in the 1950s and 60s with the rise of competition between national brands.

There are lots of mentions of beer mats in 1950s newspapers, none of them feeling the need to explain what a beer mat is.

Many concern the new hobby of ‘tegestology’ or ‘beermatology’ as one report calls this particular collecting mania.

So, here’s our straight answer:

The modern beer mat emerged in Germany in the 1880s, reached Britain in the 1920s, and became common from the 1950s onward.

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featuredposts marketing

His Master’s Stout?

We all know Nipper, the HMV dog, forever captured with his snout down a gramophone trumpet – but did you know he also advertised beer?

Nipper was born in Bristol in 1884 and died in 1895. His first owner was Mark Barraud, a theatre scenery designer; his second was Francis Barraud, a painter, who immortalised him in the image we all know today.

But on another occasion, Nipper was painted investigating not a gramophone but a glass of stout – and that image was famous, too, in its day.

As always, piecing together chronologies is difficult, but what we think happened is that Nipper became an early example of a meme.

First, in around 1900, Nipper became the trademark of the His Master’s Voice and Victor gramophone companies.

Then, at some point in the following decade, Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. (hereafter just Watney’s) came up with the slogan ‘What is it master likes so much?’ From bits we’ve been able to piece together, we think this was supposed to be in the voice of a household maid, purchasing bottled beer on behalf of the man of the house.

Then, in around 1910, Watney’s bought, or more likely commissioned, two paintings from Barraud, mashing up the HMV trademark with their slogan to create this campaign:

A dog sniffing a glass of stout.
SOURCE: Watney’s/American Radio History.
A dog slinking away from spilled stout.
SOURCE: Watney’s/American Radio History.

This campaign apparently ran for months with posters up all around London, on trams, and on tram and bus tickets, and seeped into the national consciousness.

One national newspaper felt justified in saying in 1914 that Watney’s was primarily ‘familiar to the man in the street by that famous poster, What is it Master likes so much, which is undoubtedly one of the most successful pictorial advertisements on record.’ (Globe, 27/02/1914.)

We doubted that at first until we discovered the music hall song and this account of a particularly weird-sounding theatrical performance at a village not far from Land’s End in 1910, as reported by the Cornishman:

On Saturday a very successful entertainment was given at Cliff House, Lamorna, by kind permission of Mr and Mrs Jory, in aid of the Buryan District Nursing Society. The principle feature of the entertainment, which was organised by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick, was a most artistic series of living pictures designed and arranged by Miss Barker of London… The second picture, ‘What is it master likes so much?’ suggested by a well-known poster, had a clever fox-terrier, Jimmie, as its central figure, investigating his absent master’s luncheon table. Jimmie proved himself an actor of rare gifts of facial expression, and greatly amused his audience…

There were lots of parodies and pastiches of Barraud’s Nipper paintings, including this by Philip Baynes from the Bystander for 14 February 1912, which brilliantly highlights the oddity of having the same dog advertising two quite distinct products:

A dog in a smashed gramophone.
‘I still don’t know what it is master likes so much – or am I the wrong dog?’

For all Watney’s seemed proud of these early forays into modern advertising, when the Red Barrel and What We Want is Watney’s came along between the wars, Nipper got sent to the pound.

The campaign is mentioned in both official company histories, from 1949 and 1963 respectively, but only in passing.

If you know more about this campaign, do comment below.

Categories
pubs real ale

Variety is the spice of life

Our beloved local, The Drapers Arms, reopened last week as a takeaway. We’ve had a couple of takeouts so far and it feels like a significant, wonderful step towards normality.

Of course, if you’d asked us in January how we’d feel about getting four pints of beer in a placcy milk bottle to drink in our front room, we’d have said, meh, we love pubs, we don’t really drink at home much – why on earth would we ever want to do this?

We wrote a month ago about our new lockdown routines and where we were buying packaged beer.

Since then, we’ve added mini-kegs to the repertoire – Jarl one week, Harvey’s the next.

This has helped recreate a reasonably authentic cask ale experience. Surprisingly good, in fact – we’re fully won over to mini-kegs in principle.

But the reopening of The Drapers is definitely next level, game-changing stuff. Not necessarily because every single beer is utterly brilliant, but because:

  • We suddenly have access to a range of cask beers, not just one at a time.
  • We don’t have to decide a week in advance what we want to drink, and we (probably) don’t need to worry about running out between deliveries.
  • The range that’s been on offer so far includes things we would not have been able to get hold of easily. It also includes new-to-us beers that we wouldn’t have wanted to risk buying in bulk, on spec.

The last point was particularly important for us.

Part of the joy of a good pub is being able to dabble in things you might not necessarily fall in love with. You might discover a new gem or, alternatively, it’ll make you enjoy the stuff you really do like a whole lot more.

Being presented with limited options in a range chosen by someone else, can be oddly liberating. The agony of choice and all that.

Hopefully other beer drinkers feel the same and haven’t decided to just drink the world’s best beers at home forever.

The takeaway cask model could offer a lifeline to pubs that will be too small to reopen safely in the next few months.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 6 June 2020: Black Lives Matter

Here’s everything about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from #BlackLivesMatter to the mysteries of bitter.

For Good Beer Hunting, beer writer and broadcaster Jamaal Lemon provides a succinct, cutting summary of his experience as a black American, from worrying about how to teach his son to present himself to the world to being the odd man out at craft beer events:

My great-great-grandfather Ernest Barber Sr. was born in Catawba, South Carolina on April 15, 1889. His grandfather was born in 1845, and his grandmother in 1830. They, too, lived, worked, and died in Catawba, but they were born into slavery. Ernest Barber Sr. died in 1976… I was born in January 1979… Slavery in America is only a few generations away from all of us—in my case, its direct reach extends to three years prior to my birth. Most Americans mark their birth year by a TV show they remember, or a popular song. I mark it by how far away slavery was from my body.


Dr. J Nikol Jackson-Beckham has been reflecting on the purpose behind her Craft Beer for All project. Perhaps beer doesn’t feel hugely important at this particular moment, she suggests, but…

it is in the banality of beer that I see its greatest potential to affect positive social change. Systemic anti-black racism is not born of malicious intents, spectacular violence, or complex conspiracies. Rather, it is continuously reproduced in everyday acts of carelessness and comfort, quiet omissions and revisions, and unthinking webs of justification that are woven into the fabric of our daily lives–webs so well made that when malicious and spectacular acts of racist violence are set before us, we swaddle them–excuses drifting from our lips like lullabies. I can think of no better tool, no better place, no better community than craft beer to do the everyday work of unraveling American racism.


At Craft Beer AmethystRuvani urges the US craft beer industry to opt-in to the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and to mean it:

No one is dying in the beer industry. It’s not our fault that ignorant, brutal police officers and other individuals are committing racially motivated murder. What possible relation could this have to our own lack of diversity and inbuilt reluctance to do anything about it? Everything. Absolutely everything… Whether you work in the beer industry or are a regular beer consumer, this is your landscape, your everyday, your home-from-home. This is the world that you inhabit, the world you see as normal, and if that world is not reflective of the wider world at large it becomes easy to forget that other people, different people, exist. If they cease to exist through their absence, then their concerns, needs and ultimately their voices disappear from that landscape and unconscious bias self-perpetuates in their absence.