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Blogging and writing

BOOK REVIEW: An uneasy journey into Clubland with Pete Brown

Pete Brown’s latest book is really three-in-one: a history of working men’s clubs, a portrait of clubs as they exist today, and an emotional memoir of a life spent struggling to navigate the English class system.

Like Pete, I’ve got a strong connection to working men’s clubs. Although my parents tended to prefer pubs – better beer, better atmosphere – they were also members of The Railwayman’s Club in Bridgwater, and of The Royal British Legion.

But my maternal grandparents, Lancastrians who moved to Somerset in the 1960s, were club people by nature. Grandpa had a strict three-pint limit and liked the fact that, at the club, it felt OK to nurse a half-pint of mild for an hour or two. Nan liked bingo.

The club I think of when I think of The Club is Highbridge Social Club where my grandparents drank for several years and which for a while my cousin actually managed.

A social club.
Conservative Club, Bath.

In Clubland Pete writes about the difficulty of knowing whether he really likes clubs or is appreciating them through a middle class filter. Is it nostalgia? Or, worse, ironic detachment?

Personally, I think it’s both of those things, but also completely sincere. I remember visiting the former railwayman’s club at Truro for the first time (it’s now just a pub, albeit one in a Portakabin) and feeling deeply, wonderfully at home.

Drinking a brown split, in lieu of mild, sitting on a bench under fluorescent light, I was eight-year-old me again, but also my own father and grandfather and uncles, but also a writer thinking: “There’s content in this.”

Pete Brown navigates this awkward space with the confidence you might expect from a man who has been writing about beer and pubs for 20-odd years and seems to win Beer Writer of the Year most years he’s eligible.

A particularly mean-spirited review of one of his previous books, by Jonathan Meades, of all people, dismissed Pete as a “professional northerner”. Still smarting from that, perhaps, Pete has nonetheless leaned into it: good point, Mr Meades – but what does that actually mean? Let’s not shy away but, rather, dig deeper into it.

How does a man from Barnsley – whose identity is built on being A Man From Barnsley – feel when he walks into working men’s clubs in Newcastle or Sheffield, knowing that he is also now a middle class writer from North London?

In the introduction to the book, he recalls how, as a student, he visited the hometown club with his father and, suddenly, didn’t fit in:

“I’m at college,” I said proudly (‘college’ being the catch-all term for any education after the age of sixteen. You just didn’t say the word ‘university’).

“What’s tha study?”

This was brilliant. A follow-up question! A real conversation with the lads. ‘Management Studies,’ I replied proudly.

An embarrassed silence fell immediately around the table. After a while, one of the other blokes, without lifting his eyes from his pint of John Smith’s, muttered, ‘Tha can’t study management.’

And that was the end of it.

Elsewhere, he runs himself in circles trying to work out if it feels right for him to join his local working men’s club in Stoke Newington. On the one hand, he’s helping it survive. On the other hand, he has a reflexive dislike of “middle class twats” appropriating working class culture.

Of course you might prefer your history with less personality, less emotion, and more footnotes.

The fact is that the facts are all here, in the service of a story about how the British working class has struggled against attempts to dictate how it ought to live, and enjoy itself.

Pete traces the origins of the club movement as an effort by well-to-do, well-meaning people who wanted to provide an alternative to the pub. At first, there was no beer, but the working man won that battle.

They then, after much wrangling, won control of the entire movement. In so doing, they wrestled free of the influence of brewers (real competition, cheap beer) and of moral arbiters – late opening, the development of a unique clubland culture behind members-only doors.

Tales of clubs in the north in the 1960s and 70s have a flavour of the novels of David Peace: an attempt to transplant the glamour of Las Vegas to a landscape of moorland and mines. Did you know Roy Orbison met his second wife while performing at a club in Batley?

A recurring point is that people underestimate the importance of clubs, overlooking their role in the history of everything from music halls to improved pubs, and the extent of their reach.

In 1974, he tells us, there four million people were members of Club & Institute Union (CIU) affiliated clubs.

Interior of the Buffs club, Penzance.
The Buffs Club, Penzance.

In the past we’ve referred to clubs as “shadow pubs”, invisible in many towns and neighbourhoods. Perhaps, as Pete suggests, they’ve flown below the radar in terms of cultural commentary too.

Pete’s accounts of visits to clubs still in operation today are distorted by the strange effects of the pandemic. Soldiering on, though, he talks to treasurers, committee members, bar staff and drinkers, making keen observations on the way.

For example, he is repeatedly told that the secret to the success of clubs is cheap beer. But it’s cheaper again from the supermarket so there must be something else that draws people in. It’s company, he suggests, and live music. (And the relatively cheaper beer doesn’t hurt.)

At the same time, Pete keeps checking himself for rose-tinted-glasses. He reflects on the sexism that blighted men-only working men’s clubs for decades, even as he seeks to understand it as a response to the accumulated trauma of successive world wars. Sheila Capstick, who campaigned to abolish the practice of second-class club membership for women, gets some well-deserved attention in a dedicated chapter.

Pete also forces himself to look long and hard at Bernard Manning who, for many people, epitomises the clubland comedian.

Throughout, the writing is frank, witty and warm. I particularly enjoyed the casual use of northernisms throughout the text – another “fuck you” to Jonathan Meades, but also mimicking the way your accent returns when you spend time with the folks, back home. “As the nature of being working-class shifts, and t’world continues to open up…” he writes at one point. Is it an affectation, or could he just not help himself? Either way, it’s a welcome touch of seasoning to the prose.

He concludes with some advice for clubs which are struggling to survive, including the very basic step of making it easier to join. After more than a century of exclusivity, some have simply not adapted to a world in which they need to attract members, rather than find excuses to turn them away.

Our nearest club is St Anne’s Board Mill Social Club, originally serving workers at a long-demolished cardboard factory. Maybe we’ll join, if they’ll have us.

Clubland: how the working men’s club shaped Britain is published by Harper North, RRP £20, but we got our copy for £15. There’s also an eBook and an audiobook read by Pete Brown himself.

Categories
pubs

From pub to pub in the company of friends

Last Saturday I walked from Cheltenham to Broadway with a couple of old friends, stopping at a few contrasting pubs on the way.

This trip, planned months ago, happened to be just what I needed after my wobble the other week.

Traveling from Bristol, Stockport and London respectively, we met at the Sandford Park Ale House in Cheltenham on Friday night.

We compared walking boots, rucksacks and water bottles of varying degrees of fanciness.

They, both being dads, swapped advice on the management of children.

And we asked all the obvious, important questions.

“Have you heard from…?”

“Did you hear about…?”

“How’s your mum?”

“How’s work?”

It’s a good pub, the Ale House. Remarkably so. Smart without being snooty, busy but bearable.

The beer is good, too. There are lots, and well chosen, covering all the bases. But once I’d spotted Oakham Citra, fresh as spring water, I didn’t want to drink anything else.

On the way back to the hotel, we were tempted to have one more and chose a pub purely because it was advertising Butcombe, of which one of my companions is a particular fan.

A DJ was blasting out what sounded like The Best Ragga Album in the World… Ever while a single manic dancer threw himself around in the empty centre of the pub, enveloped in the stink of weed.

We should have turned round and walked out but the pub was almost empty and we dithered until we felt committed.

We sipped our flat, gravy-like bitter, groaning occasionally.

“Shall we ditch it?”

We ditched it.


The next morning I was, somehow, hungover. Not badly – just slight seasickness. It seemed unfair on three and a half pints of standard strength cask ale.

“Ugh,” said one of my pals, grappling with a slice of Premier Inn bacon. “I blame that dodgy Butcombe.”

By 9am we were on the way out of town and towards Cleeve Hill.

“Looming over Cheltenham like Mount Fuji,” someone observed.

As we schlepped, the conversation got sillier and more relaxed – not quite like when we were 21 but at least more interesting than house prices and kitchen fittings.

Several hours later, as we trudged in the midday sun along a dusty path, a bike pulled alongside.

“Where you walking to, lads?”

“Broadway.”

“Do you want to know a nice pub to stop at for lunch?”

Following the stranger’s advice, we later calculated, had added about three miles to a walk that was already, perhaps, a bit too ambitious.

The sign for The Craven Arms

The Craven Arms is a country pub in Brockhampton, one of those perfectly composed Cotswold villages where nobody actually seems to live.

“This is the kind of place Mike Oldfield has a mansion.”

“Or Mike Batt.”

The Craven Arms had better Butcombe along with North Cotswold Brewery Jumping Jack, a 3.9% summer ale.

Is it possible to give objective tasting notes after a walk?

I was hot and thirsty.

Jumping Jack was cool and wet.

I enjoyed it, insofar as I had a chance to notice it in the moment between picking up a full glass and putting down an empty one.

The beer garden was tidy and full of dogs barking at each other. Waitresses rushed around carrying food balanced on boards and slates. About half the drinkers, in designer wellies, were drinking wine.

“Shall we get going?”

We got going.


Broadway seemed to be getting further away and our conversation dwindled.

“My boots are definitely beginning to rub.”

“Which route gets us there quickest?”

“Shall we stop for another pint on the way into town?”

Snowshill had a pub, our map told us, and it would only be another hour’s walk from there, all downhill.

So we took another detour and descended through a valley full of wild garlic flowers into an even more idyllic village: red phone box, tiny church, neatly barbered village green and, yes, a lovely looking pub.

The Snowshill Arms in yellow Cotswold stone.

“What time is it?”

“Five.”

“It doesn’t open until six.”

We peered through the window.

“It looks so nice.”

Then we sat on the grass and looked at the pub for a few minutes. Perhaps if we looked sad and tired enough, the publican would take pity and open early.

“If we don’t move soon, I don’t think I’ll be able to move at all.”

We moved.


Hobbling into Broadway, tired but triumphant, we scoped out the pubs on the way. Most looked more like restaurants but The Crown & Trumpet caught our eye.

“Lots of normal people drinking there.”

An hour later, now seriously seizing up and with tender feet, we shuffled back to it like three elderly men. The five-minute walk took more like fifteen.

It was worth it, though.

The 1980s idea of the Victorian pub is a happy place for me.

It had red carpets, dark wood, brewery memorabilia all over the walls and, of course, horse brasses.

A photo of a moustachioed man smoking a big cigar. (Jimmy Edwards, I think.)

At the bar, instead of the dour indifference we’d received at The Craven Arms, we were immediately engaged in a conversation about beer.

“The North Cotswold is our bestseller at the moment. Cheltenham Gold’s off at the moment but that’ll be back on in a bit.”

While my mates ate their prawn cocktails I drank the best pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord I’d had in years.

Wait – was this the walk talking? No, I don’t think so. It was bitter, flowery, clean and clear. Blossom and fresh bread.

As night came on, our conversation became less coherent and less animated until we were all but drowsing into our pints.

“One more pint? Or a glass of whisky?”

We couldn’t. We didn’t.


The next morning, barely able to move, we gathered around the breakfast table.

“That Cheltenham Gold was so good,” said one of my pals, “that I was thinking about going back for opening time to get one more in before we leave.”

But there was no time. We had a steam train to catch.

Categories
pubs

Pubs and loneliness

How do you make friends when you’re in your forties? Instinctively, I feel as if the pub must be the answer.

Recently, I found myself alone for the weekend and after a while, solitude got the better of me and I decided to go to the pub.

As I wrote years ago, I’m generally fairly introverted and happy with my own company

Two years of working from home has probably intensified that tendency, as has getting older and more set in my ways.

Sometimes, though, I need to be around people, even if I’m not joining in – and sitting in the pub with a book, part of it but separate, usually does the job. (Ross agrees.)

This time, though, pleasant as it was, I felt a sort of hollowness.

Separation tipping over into alienation, perhaps, as Saturday afternoon whirled around me.

I realised after a while that what I wanted, truthfully, was a pint with a mate.

When you’re young, arranging pints with mates is easy:

  • shout ‘Pint?’ across the hall to your flatmate
  • text ‘Pint?’ to whoever happens to work nearby before they get chance to begin the commute home
  • catch the eye of a workmate and make a wavy pint-drinking gesture while wiggling your eyebrows

But people have kids, move away, get busy with work and family, get weary…

Before you know it, a pint with your best pals is something you do once a year, if you’ve booked it well in advance.

What I miss is low-commitment, low-intensity, spontaneity.

Problem one is a shortage of friends in the city I moved to in 2017.

I’ve been working on it, and I’m getting there, but it’s not easy. Certainly not as easy as when I was six and I could just wander up to other kids on the estate and say “Can I play?”

People keep telling me to join clubs and societies and, yes, that’s one way.

My weekly writers’ group has become important to me, especially as it met via video all the way through the pandemic.

Otherwise, though, that’s not my thing.

Pints are my thing.

The pub isn’t a big deal. It doesn’t require a subscription, demand regular attendance, or have prescriptive rules.

And the conversation isn’t limited to a single topic. Quite the opposite. If a session in the pub doesn’t range from telly to telephone boxes to the problem with the world today, the pints aren’t doing their job.

I sometimes find getting into a sulk is a necessary step in making things better.

Since my low-key freakout the other week I’ve convinced a couple of my fellow writers to detour to the pub after a group meeting, seen an old friend for the first time in almost a year and arranged to meet someone from Twitter for a pint.

Let’s see if I can keep this up.

Categories
20th Century Pub bristol pubs

A wake for the pubs of East Bristol

The neighbourhoods of Barton Hill, Lawrence Hill and Redfield in East Bristol are something of a graveyard for pubs, it turns out. On Wednesday 16 March, I attended the wake.

The Barton Hill History Group, itself founded in a pub in 1983, tracks changes, gathers information, and engages the community in the collection of memories.

A talk at a local social club was part of that process of outreach.

In his introduction local historian Andrew Jones explained how, by the 1960s, the number of pubs in Barton Hill had dwindled to a mere eight. Then, with eyes wide, he asked the audience: “How many pubs are there now?”

A collective sigh-groan went up.

“None!”

Mention of the closure of The Rhubarb in 2020, the last pub in the area, was greeted with similar mournful sounds.

Those continued throughout the evening, occasionally mixed with cries of wistful delight.

One thing Mr Jones and his colleague David Cheesley did especially well was to use pubs as anchor points for explaining how the very shape of the streets has changed.

Great Western Road, for example, named for the enormous cotton works, no longer exists.

Once an important arterial road, its line was broken when flats were built in the post-war period.

Now only its tail-end, Great Western Lane, survives.

Of its three pubs – the upper, middle and lower houses, as they were known – only The Lord Nelson can be seen today, in the final stages of conversion to flats.

The Lord Nelson after post-war refurbishment. SOURCE: Barton Hill History Group.

When a picture of The Lord Nelson in its prime appeared on the screen, there was a ripple through the crowd.

Grey and white-haired audience members remembered drinking there relatively recently.

They also recalled their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers visiting – and scrapping in the street outside.

Mr Cheesley’s photographs are remarkably unremarkable.

He took most of them himself between the 1980s and the present and many have that inherently nostalgic quality that comes with images shot on film.

A picture of a Ford Cortina parked outside a tatty looking pub, cast in a warm Kodak glow, feels like a window through time – not to Great Events but to everyday life.

Other pictures, often in black-and-white, he retrieved from the waste bin at the council planning office where he worked for decades.

Taken for valuation purposes, usually shortly before pubs were demolished, they’re less vivid but arguably more valuable.

They capture pubs that disappeared in the 1960s and 70s, including those on streets that were sacrificed for The Roundabout.

Oh, The Roundabout – the villain of the piece, mention of which caused members of the audience to boo and mutter.

Bristol’s post-war redevelopment put cars first. If that meant breaking important roads in two, severing community connections, and demolishing street after street, so be it.

The Lawrence Hill Roundabout is a great crater in the ground surrounded by tower blocks.

It used to be where Lawrence Hill joined the city centre: a major road lined with shops, churches and factories, with terraces and backstreets behind. Now, it’s a void.

Several pubs went too, of course, including what strikes Jess and me as perhaps the most significant loss: The Glass House on Lawrence Hill, knocked down in 1969.

The Glass House. SOURCE: simondsfamily.me.uk
A tower block by a main road.
The approximate site of The Glass House as it looks in 2022.

Whereas many of the other lost pubs were fairly modest, The Glass House was a substantial main road gin-palace-type pub, of which Bristol has relatively few surviving examples.

For the Barton Hill History Group, there’s a particular frustration: how can there be no photos of the interior of such a well-loved, well-remembered, well-photographed pub?

“We had our wedding reception there!” shouted one elderly woman.

“I used to go to the pigeon loft!”

“There used to be a big pair of horns above the bar – the Buffs!”

But nobody said, “I’ve got an album full of pictures.”

Maybe none will ever turn up. Maybe none were ever taken, because who on earth took a camera to an ordinary working class pub in the 1960s?

(This is a general problem for pub historians. If you have photos of pub interiors from before about 1980, do find a way to share them.)

As pints of cider, lager and Old Speckled Hen went down, audience participation became more frequent:

“I used to play bagatelle at The Royal Table.”

“The skittle alley there was bloody terrible – you could throw it right down the middle and it would always go left or bloody right.”

“It was only small but they used to have a dancefloor there anyway.”

The St George’s Hall in 2022.

To my surprise, the pub that got perhaps the strongest reaction of the entire night was The St George’s Hall, a recently-closed Wetherspoon pub on Church Road. 

It wasn’t an attractive pub – not a JDW flagship – nor especially historic.

But as the older pubs closed, one by one, or hippified and gentrified, it’s perhaps understandable that ‘Spoons became an important community hub. It was somewhere everyone could afford to drink.

Towards the end of the night, there was some grumbling about “demographic changes”.

The reason the pubs have gone, the argument goes, is that there are too many people in the area who don’t drink, or don’t drink in pubs.

We don’t really buy that.

But if you do, here’s a thought experiment: if you could click your fingers and fill every flat and house in East Bristol with white working class families, how many pubs could the area support?

Probably no more than it has now. Probably fewer.

Nobody has any money – and the fact is that the days when people spent multiple nights per week at their local have passed.

The front of the social club with a Greene King ale banner.
The Board Mill Social Club in 2021.

In the meantime, the venue for the talk, The Board Mill Social Club, allows something of that ‘traditional’ pub life to go on.

On a Wednesday night in March there was a game of skittles underway, a crowd around the bar, and a buzz in the air. With ale at £3 a pint, and no real alternative, you can forgive a bit of utilitarian clubland decor.

There are also some cautiously optimistic noises in the campaign to save The Rhubarb with multiple credibly parties apparently interested in running it as a pub.

Barton Hill might not be able to support eight pubs but surely there are enough drinkers to keep one alive.

Main image adapted from a postcard from Know Your Place Bristol.

Categories
opinion

The best beer writing of 2021 according to us

There’s been lots of good stuff to read in 2021 and plenty of big subjects to be tackled – from cultural crises in the brewing industry to colonialism to the ongoing problem of COVID-19. And that’s before we get into the thousands of years of beer history, much of it still to be explored.

Here, we’ve picked a few pieces that appeared in our weekly round-ups and stuck with us.

Perhaps they captured a moment.

Maybe they found a new angle on a familiar subject.

Or simply told us something we didn’t already know.

Cantillon
A History of Brussels Beer in 50 Objects #1: Cantillon Coolship

Eoghan Walsh | Brussels Beer City | July 2021

“Starting today, an article will appear each Friday until Brussels Beer City’s fifth birthday in July 2022. Each object will tell a different aspect of Brussels’ interconnected beer and urban histories – from the city’s early medieval founding, its emergence as an economic, political and ecclesiastical centre, tumultuous centuries of war and occupation, and its rise, fall, and rise again as an industrial, economic, and brewing powerhouse.”

A show of hands
This is our place: behind misogyny and bullying in the craft beer industry

Charlotte Cook | Ferment | June 2021

“The recent reckoning in beer was the outpouring of distressing accounts of the abuses that women and non-binary people working within craft beer face daily. I’ve worked in craft beer for a decade and at some of the most highly regarded breweries on the planet, including BrewDog, Põhjala and Cloudwater, so for me the recent revelations of horrific sexism that came out on the Instagram account of Brienne Allan (@ratmagnet) were not surprising at all. I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it, and I’m bloody sick of it, and I want to let those of you outside of the bubble know where it stems from, and how you can help.”

Empire State of Mind – Interrogating IPA’s Colonial Identity

David Jesudason | Good Beer Hunting | August 2021

“My father’s love of empire, and his belief that Britain was a civilizing force, was mirrored in the drink he called his own: the India Pale Ale. Of all of his beliefs, this one was particularly confused. His friends were Lager drinkers, and his adoption of IPA was a way of pretending to be refined in the days before the craft revolution had taken hold. But where he saw a drink that was emblematic of genteel, colonial India, I see something very different: Owing to the beer style’s association with the East India Company and its brutality, I can’t help but think of bloodshed, oppression, and enslavement.”

Keeping it in the family: brewing dynasties, hopes and strife

Jo Caird | Ferment | January 2021

“There’s something reassuring about the idea of a family-run brewery in these unsettling times. Family members working away side by side, pulling together to fulfil the hopes and dreams of their forebears. Developing knowhow down the generations. Doing their part to keep the great tradition of British beer making going strong. Warms the cockles, doesn’t it? The reality is a little less rose-tinted.”

SOURCE: Bar Corto/Katie Mather.
The Bar at the End of the World

Katie Mather | Good Beer Hunting | March 2021

“Clitheroe is a pretty market town somewhere near the center of the Ribble Valley… This is the land of the pint of Bitter… It takes years for even the most pervasive beer trends to reach our town… Working in the drinks industry here means using a bit of imagination. People of all ages drink cask-conditioned Ale, poured through a sparkler to create a perfect, foamy head. Over the past five years or so, the craft beer exception to this rule has gradually become more commonplace, and whenever the two meet, they sit comfortably side-by-side at the bar.”

Henry Weinhard
Henry Weinhard. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons.
Epilogue: Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve

Jeff Alworth | Beervana | August 2021 

“On Monday, Molson Coors… announced it was cleaning up its portfolio and dumping some of the more marginal off-off-market stuff… One name, however, really stood out: Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve… To be clear, the 45-year-old brand was a zombie beer, having died decades ago when Miller shuttered the old Blitz-Weinhard plant on Burnside Street in downtown Portland. The company moved production to Full Sail for a time and then I don’t know what happened to it. But the beer received the full Mickey’s Ice treatment in time, becoming a mere label on a bottle of generic mass market lager. One could still locate the bodies of Private Reserve on a few grocery shelves, but the soul departed long ago.”

Folk Round Here: The Blue Anchor Inn and Spingo Ales in Helston, Cornwall

Lily Waite | Pellicle | October 2021

“Inside, the Blue Anchor looks every bit its 600-or-so years old. Its rooms are divided down the middle by a flagstone alleyway, worn concave by centuries of footsteps; the two on the right connected by a cramped bar bedecked in tankards and lined up with hand pulls. Beams strut from side to side on the looming ceilings, occasionally adorned with curios – in at least two places hand-carved signs read ‘Ye Olde Special Brew’ – and on the walls are standard snippets of history: late-Victorian photographs and newspaper clippings. One framed certificate recognises the pub’s inclusion in the first 10 editions of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.”

Finland
Brewing with Olavi the champion

Lars Marius Garshol | Larsblog | May 2021

“Olavi is known for being the most successful brewer in the history of the Finnish sahti championship, having won it three times, and come second twice. But, it turned out, his daughter Tuula is also a sahti brewer, and a very capable one: in last year’s championship she placed second… Olavi said he learned to brew from his father and a neighbour back in the old days when they made their own malts. He took up brewing again around 1990, as a hobby. Then in 2003 Tuula suggested that he should join the local championship, and the second time he actually won the national championship. His recipe is no longer exactly the original one, because he’s adopted some tricks from his neighbours. As he says, ‘you can steal knowledge.’”

A label from the Pupko Brewery
Jewish Breweries in old Belarus. Part I, Pupko Brewery

Gary Gillman | Beeretseq. | April 2021

“It had been my impression that between 1880 and 1980, Jews generally did not engage in commercial brewing, modern Israel apart of course. They were well-represented in brewing science, and in retailing and wholesaling beer, but not in production… I then turned my mind to Eastern Europe, which I had not considered before, initially the Pale of Settlement. This opened my eyes to a different reality about Jews and brewing.”

Two men at the bar
Notes from a small pub

Chris Rigg | The Bay Hop website | March 2021

“To put it into context, the pandemic has resulted in us being open for just 76 days over the past year. When you break it down into hours, we have been open for just 18% of the time we would have expected to have been open. All of that time has been under various restrictions too, so far from the potential we might otherwise have reached. I’m not going to whinge though – the fact that we are still here at all is a miracle… Looking back to the approach towards the first lockdown a year ago, it still gives me shivers.”

A beer garden table.

Inbetweenland

David Hayward | A Hoppy Place website | August 2021

“A consequence of that is I spend a lot of time thinking to myself: What do I want to do now? But even more so: What do I think my customers want me to say I want to do now… I do not think I am alone in this. A huge swathe of hospitality businesses are treading the difficult path of working out how to vocalise their stance without ostracising or polarising their customers. You really can’t win. It’s just such an inflammatory subject. We’ve all suffered. We’re all quick to anger. Especially if we feel that our struggles are undermined. Not heard. Whitewashed. That we should get over it… So let’s not pretend this is fine.”

The Evening Star, Brighton, in 2009
Pouring Light into Ashes: The Evening Star, Brighton

Phil Mellows | Pellicle | February 2021

“July 4, 2020, 1.30 p.m. Hesitating at the kerb outside Taboo, Brighton’s premier adult store, anxiously peering across the road at the Evening Star. Someone said they were open… Approaching the door, and that awkward, familiar, brick pillar stuck two paces inside, wondering just how you go to the pub this strange day… An arm gestures me forward.”

How one Irishman’s ginger beard helped launch an entirely bogus style of beer

Martyn Cornell | Zythophile | August 2021

“If a mediumweight French brewery had not been looking for another beer to add to its portfolio in the early 1970s, and if the owner of a drinks distribution company in County Wexford had not also owned a striking ginger beard, we probably would not now have that totally fake beer style, Irish Red Ale.”

* * *

Hopefully you’ll find something interesting to read among that lot. It goes without saying that it’s not everything we enjoyed reading this year, and of course it’s totally subjective.

You’ll note that Good Beer Hunting, Pellicle and Ferment get quite a few entries between them. The fact is, they pay talented people to tackle big subjects at length and for that we thank them.

If you want these publications to keep going, support them if you can, via Patreon, by buying merchandise, or even just by sharing their links.

* * *

Other writers don’t have stand out, standalone pieces in quite the same way but rather produce a steady flow of interesting stuff throughout the year.

Martin Taylor in particular deserves a shout out for his ongoing chronicling of the minutiae of pub life.

We’re always pleased to see new posts from Tandleman, too, as one of the few other survivors of the class of 2007.

You know we always read The Beer Nut for sharp, snarky tasting notes.

And, on the beer history front, we love the work Liam is doing to demystify Irish brewing.