News, nuggets and longreads 10 August 2019: sexism, shandy, Smithwick’s

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in beer and pubs in the past week, from the Great British Beer Festival to comedians in pubs getting bladdered.

Undoubt­ed­ly the biggest sto­ry of the week, mak­ing it into mul­ti­ple news­pa­pers and even on to break­fast TV, was the fact that this year’s Great British Beer Fes­ti­val was deci­sive­ly, con­vinc­ing­ly wel­com­ing to women. Here’s how Rebec­ca Smithers report­ed it for the Guardian:

Drinks that have fall­en vic­tim to crude stereo­typ­ing – such as Slack Alice, a cider described as “a lit­tle tart” and pump clips fea­tur­ing scant­i­ly-clad bux­om women – have been banned from this week’s event at London’s Olympia which is set to attract tens of thou­sands of vis­i­tors… The blan­ket ban goes a step fur­ther than a new code of con­duct launched by the cam­paign group last year… All 1,000-plus beers, ciders and per­ries avail­able at the fes­ti­val have been checked to ensure they adhere to Camra’s char­ter and strict code of con­duct, which sets out its com­mit­ment to inclu­siv­i­ty and diver­si­ty.

This seems to chime with the expe­ri­ence of women who were actu­al­ly at the fes­ti­val, such as beer indus­try vet­er­an Rowan Molyneux (who also hap­pens to be in the pho­to at the top of the Guardian article).She had this to say on her blog:

From the start, there was a gen­er­al feel­ing that this year was going to be dif­fer­ent. The news that beers in keykeg would be present seems to have piqued people’s inter­est, for one thing. It sig­nalled that CAMRA was tak­ing a step into the mod­ern world, and that mood car­ried through­out the rest of the fes­ti­val. Take this year’s char­i­ty of choice, for exam­ple. I nev­er thought I would see Great British Beer Fes­ti­val atten­dees being able to donate to Stonewall and wear­ing stick­ers that state “Some peo­ple are trans. Get over it!”

Melis­sa Cole also seems to have been won over:

This all sounds pret­ty good to us, goes far beyond the tokenism and half-heart­ed ges­tures of the past, and sets up CAMRA well for the future.


Kilkenny

Liam at Beer­Food­Trav­el has put togeth­er a com­pre­hen­sive set of notes on pre-20th cen­tu­ry brew­ing in Kilken­ny, Ire­land. A dogged and detail-focused schol­ar, we always enjoy read­ing the fruits of his research, espe­cial­ly when he’s bat­tling to bring down bull­shit brew­ery back­sto­ries:

The ear­ly brew­ing his­to­ry of Ire­land is often quite murky, and try­ing to pin­point the exact posi­tion of brew­eries and the brew­ers that oper­at­ed in any give loca­tion is quite a tricky job until we get to the era of com­mer­cial direc­to­ries, bet­ter record keep­ing, accu­rate maps and archived con­tent of news­pa­pers. Even after that point the his­to­ry and devel­op­ment of brew­eries is dif­fi­cult to track, espe­cial­ly beyond The Pale. Kilken­ny’s brew­ing his­to­ry is sim­i­lar in one way but some­what dif­fer­ent in anoth­er, as much of that his­to­ry is dif­fi­cult to clear­ly see due to being mud­died by decades of mar­ket­ing spiel which has been repeat­ed and reprint­ed over the years.


Beautiful beer glass.

Jeff Alworth chal­lenges an often-repeat­ed asser­tion in a piece enti­tled ‘Are Pil­sners real­ly the hard­est beers to make?

The dif­fi­cul­ty of a pil­sner is its sim­plic­i­ty, but the dif­fi­cul­ty of a good IPA is its com­plex­i­ty. Brew­ers must har­mo­nize much stronger fla­vors, and this presents its own chal­lenge. Fig­ur­ing out how the hops will har­mo­nize, when there are dozens of hop vari­eties avail­able that can be used in thou­sands of com­bi­na­tions, and jil­lions (tech­ni­cal term) of com­bi­na­tions when you con­sid­er all the oppor­tu­ni­ties dur­ing the brew­ing process to add these thou­sands of com­bi­na­tions of hop vari­eties… The idea that oth­er beers are “eas­i­er” to make is refut­ed by all the mediocre exam­ples out there. How many crap IPAs have you had? Is the bat­ting aver­age for excel­lent IPAs any bet­ter than excel­lent pil­sners? Not in my expe­ri­ence.


'Ginger Beer Makers and Mush Fakers', 1877.

Mark Dredge has both a new web­site and a new book on the way, on the his­to­ry and cul­ture of lager. As a side inves­ti­ga­tion, he’s been look­ing into the his­to­ry of shandy, or shandy­gaff, with ref­er­ence to pri­ma­ry archive sources:

[The] first men­tion for lager and lemon­ade that I’ve found… [is] from 1870. It comes from the Span­ish city of Seville [and was report­ed in] York­shire Post and Leeds Intel­li­gencer. It’s inter­est­ing to me that there was a lager brew­er in Seville in 1870 – that’s ear­ly for lager’s spread into Spain. I also like that it was served with a ladle. I’d like a shandy ladle.


Louis Barfe

If you want some­thing to lis­ten to as opposed to read, there’s this by his­to­ri­an of light enter­tain­ment Louis Barfe for BBC Radio 4 on the con­nec­tions between drink­ing and com­e­dy.


Final­ly, the usu­al mis­chief from Thorn­bridge’s in-house provo­ca­teur:


For more links and good read­ing check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­days and Alan McLeod on Thurs­days.

Brewing in Georgian Bristol: smells and cellars

When I’m not obsessing over beer I sometimes obsess over architecture which is why I’ve been reading Walter Ison’s The Buildings of Georgian Bristol.

It was first pub­lished in 1952 and revised for a sec­ond edi­tion in 1978. It most­ly com­pris­es fair­ly dry research into build­ings and street lay­outs – who designed or built what with ref­er­ence to orig­i­nal con­tracts, whether the ped­i­ment is seg­men­tal or not, and so on – but you won’t be sur­prised to learn that there are a cou­ple men­tions of brew­ing that leapt out.

The first is with ref­er­ence to Queen Square, which you can see from Small Bar on King Street, to give a beer geek friend­ly ref­er­ence point. Orig­i­nal­ly marsh­land, it was divid­ed up into plots from 1699 and built up between 1700 and 1718. It had a dual car­riage­way run­ning through the mid­dle for most of the 20th cen­tu­ry but is these days once again a peace­ful pub­lic space.

Ison quotes from the city records for 1699 which include the terms of what we would now call plan­ning per­mis­sion for the first house on Queen Square:

[No] Ten­e­ment [is] to be lett out to any sort of Ten­ants par­tic­u­lar­ly no Smiths Shopp Brew­house nor to any Tal­low-Chan­dler or to any oth­er Trades­men who by noyse dan­ger of ffire or ill smells shall dis­turbe or annoy any of the Inhab­i­tants who shall build neer it…

This was a classy devel­op­ment for well-to-do folk and it would­n’t do for it to pong or oth­er­wise exhib­it evi­dence of peo­ple work­ing. These days in Bris­tol, brew­eries tend to be on indus­tri­al estates – the log­i­cal con­clu­sion of this kind of zon­ing reg­u­la­tion.

The sec­ond ref­er­ence comes in a descrip­tion of the devel­op­ment of Port­land Square from 1788. Here, Ison quotes for a sale notice for the mid­dle house on the south side of the square from 1812:

[The house con­tains] three arched under-ground cel­lars, a ser­vants’ hall, house­keep­er’s room, back-kitchen, larder, brew-house, and oth­er offices…

A brew­house is an inter­est­ing addi­tion to a large, fash­ion­able house as late as the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry. Oth­er hous­es near­by seem to have had wine cel­lars rather the brew­ing facil­i­ties, at least accord­ing to Ison’s notes, so the own­er of this one was clear­ly one of us.

But who did the brew­ing? What did they brew? Where would we even start look­ing to find out?

Main image: detail of ‘The Man­sion House at the cor­ner of Queen Square look­ing along Queen Char­lotte Street’, Samuel Jack­son, 1824, via Water­colour World/Bristol Muse­ums.

A Nice Cold Pint at the Winchester

Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to The Win­ches­ter, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”

The above line in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s 2004 zom­bie com­e­dy Shaun of the Dead, accom­pa­nied by a car­toon­ish wink and the rais­ing of a pint of lager by Pegg, spawned a meme and sum­maris­es a whole (point­ed­ly flawed) phi­los­o­phy of life.

Shaun of the Dead is one of the all-time great pub films. Few oth­ers fea­ture a pub so promi­nent­ly as both a loca­tion and in dia­logue; hard­ly any make a pub so piv­otal to the plot. Shaun’s atti­tude to the pub, to this par­tic­u­lar pub, defines his entire per­son­al­i­ty and directs the course of his rela­tion­ships.

It has an added res­o­nance for me in that, for sev­er­al years in my own flat-shar­ing twen­ties, I lived around the cor­ner from The Win­ches­ter.

And, to be clear, I don’t mean that I lived near a pub that was like The Win­ches­ter: the actu­al pub you actu­al­ly see in the actu­al film was about four min­utes walk from my house in New Cross, South Lon­don.

It was called the Duke of Albany and I nev­er went in.

Why? I was too scared.

I was, in gen­er­al, fair­ly brave, reg­u­lar­ly drink­ing in sev­er­al pubs near my house that oth­ers might have balked at – the kind of down-at-heel, last-legs places where it was a choice of Foster’s or Stel­la, and every­thing was ripped, stained, bro­ken, or had ini­tials carved into it.

The Duke of Albany always seemed next lev­el scary, though, per­haps because it was a Big Mill­wall Pub. Or maybe because it was on a back­street rather than the main road – the only street, in fact, where any­one has ever tried to mug me. I have a faint mem­o­ry of there always being dogs out­side and I don’t mean 10/10 floofy inter­net dog­gos – real face-chew­ers. You couldn’t see in, either, which meant walk­ing through the door would have been a pure gam­ble.

And that fortress char­ac­ter is, of course, exact­ly why Shaun choos­es it as his base for the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse.

The pub In Shaun of the Dead, though it is The Duke of Albany, isn’t the Duke of Albany. It rep­re­sents every decent but unpre­ten­tious, tat­ty but not grot­ty, func­tion­al neigh­bour­hood pub in Lon­don.

As such, it is lov­ing­ly, care­ful­ly depict­ed, Edgar Wright’s hyper­ac­tive cam­era swoop­ing in on res­o­nant details: a cow­boy boot tap­ping a brass rail, the fire­works of the fruit machine, tex­tured wall­pa­per var­nished with nico­tine, and frost­ed glass that speaks of pri­va­cy and mis­chief. TV screens, flam­ing sam­bu­cas, glass­es that only just bare­ly look clean…

It’s an attempt to depict a real back­street, out­er-rim Lon­don pub, not the roman­tic Olde Inne of pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. An ide­al, sure, but not a fan­ta­sy.

It picks up on threads laid down in Spaced, the cult TV show that launched the careers of Jes­si­ca Hynes, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. One episode in par­tic­u­lar, ‘Back’, the open­ing to series two from 2001, fea­tures a Matrix-like fight sequence in a very real-look­ing, unglam­orous pub.

You might dis­cern a pro­gres­sion, in fact. In Spaced, about post-ado­les­cence, pubs are impor­tant, but just part of the mix along­side night­clubs, raves and house par­ties. By Shaun of the Dead, with char­ac­ters star­ing down the bar­rel of 30, pubs have become the default, with fan­cy restau­rants and din­ner par­ties the threat­ened next step. And in The World’s End, pubs have def­i­nite­ly become a prob­lem, some­thing to be shak­en off with matu­ri­ty.

Simon Pegg has said as much out­right, in fact, acknowl­edg­ing last sum­mer that he had stopped drink­ing, and describ­ing The World’s End as a way of admit­ting his prob­lem with alco­hol.

Re-watch­ing Shaun of the Dead recent­ly both Jess and I were struck by the extent to which the spe­cif­ic pub cul­ture depict­ed has already begun to fade out of exis­tence. The por­tray­al of a lock-in, for exam­ple, gave us a rush of nos­tal­gia for the world of drawn cur­tains, low mut­ter­ing and con­spir­a­to­r­i­al glee.

The Duke of Albany closed a few years after the film came out and is now flats. When I vis­it­ed New Cross last year I found that oth­er sim­i­lar­ly rough-and-ready pubs had also dis­ap­peared, either re-pur­posed, demol­ished or gen­tri­fied into some­thing fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent.

The Wind­sor had some of the old Win­ches­ter atmos­phere, though, with chat about pool cues being bro­ken over people’s heads (‘Don’t Stop Me Now’) and elder­ly drinkers whose faces told sto­ries.

But would I hole up there dur­ing the end of the world? No chance. After all, man can­not sur­vive on scratch­ings and Extra Cold Guin­ness alone.

Out of the loop

A milk carton of IPA.

I ended up sat in Bottles & Books on my own on Friday night, hovering around the edge of a conversation about beer that made me feel totally ignorant and out of touch.

Bot­tles & Books is our local craft beer phan­tas­mago­ri­um, with fridges full of cans, a wall of bot­tles, and a few taps of draught beer served by the third and two-thirds mea­sure.

On Fri­day, the dis­cus­sion turned to IPA, and it was when I heard this sen­tence that I knew I was out of my depth:

Brut IPA died a death fair­ly quick­ly, did­n’t it? And NEIPA just tastes a bit… old fash­ioned. It’s all about the Hud­son Val­ley style now.

Hud­son Val­ley? Is that a region? Yes, but it’s also a brew­ery, as pro­filed in this arti­cle, which has a head­line appar­ent­ly designed to annoy con­ser­v­a­tive beer geeks who already think brew­ing has been fatal­ly com­pro­mised by the ama­teur ten­den­cy:

Hud­son Val­ley Brew­ery Makes Beer Based on Instinct, not Instruc­tions

Sour IPA is, I gath­er, the long and short of it, and sure enough, when Jess and I went to the Left Hand­ed Giant tap­room yes­ter­day, there was one on the menu.

We gave up try­ing to stay on top of trends years ago but there was some­thing intox­i­cat­ing about all this new infor­ma­tion, all the names and details, that made me think… Should we try?

The odd edu­ca­tion­al eaves­drop­ping ses­sion prob­a­bly would­n’t do us any harm, at least.

Soon After Opening

Soon after open­ing I came down to the pub­lic bar in the plain old pub in the plain old part of Exeter that traf­fic flew through, dust­ing every­thing black and shak­ing crumbs from the cracks, fol­low­ing Mum for no spe­cial rea­son oth­er than that fol­low­ing Mum was my default course, and know­ing soon that I would be sent upstairs, away from the optics and the entic­ing piano, away from the plas­tic sign adver­tis­ing hot pies and pasties, away from the plas­tic Baby­cham Bam­bis and unbe­liev­ably, unthiev­ably mas­sive porce­lain ash­trays.

Soon after open­ing and the old sailor was in his usu­al seat with his quiv­er­ing dog and a bulb of brandy glow­ing like a port-side har­bour light on the table before him, in his grey Mack­in­tosh black at the cuffs, in his knocked-back flat cap, in his steel-capped shoes that anchored him in place. I had a sketch­book to show him and fold­ed it open so his quak­ing, tobac­co-cured fin­gers could trace my pic­tures of bombers, tanks and sub­marines, but not bat­tle­ships, thank good­ness not bat­tle­ships, like the one that burned and bub­bled away into the Java Sea beneath him in 1942, tak­ing half his mind with it.

Soon after open­ing and nico­tine-tint­ed frost­ed glass soft­ened the light, warmed it, and weak­ened it so that the far cor­ners stayed black as bot­tled stout. Last night’s spills and cig­a­rettes, twen­ty years of dust in the car­pet, and the gush of pumps into buck­ets, trailed the next turn of the cycle – anoth­er round of hands in pock­ets and make it a dou­ble, why not, and dirty play­ing cards slid­ing through pud­dles, darts drum, drum, drum­ming into a board more hole than fibre.

Soon after open­ing the juke­box came on, and imme­di­ate­ly we rocked down to Elec­tric Avenue, we wouldn’t let the sun go down on us, the Eton Rifles, Eton Rifles, Eton Rifles, Agadoo doo doo – cen­tre-less sev­en-inch records grabbed and flipped into place, clunk click every trip, as a sil­hou­ette in a shad­ow-black leather jack­et loaded coins into the machine with one hand, greasi­ly-fin­gered pint glass in the oth­er, knee bent and foot tap­ping. The small sound made the room emp­ti­er, a form of wish­ful think­ing.

Soon after open­ing and the stock­take con­clud­ed in the mush­roomy under­gut of the pub where the walls wept and Grand­pa spat gold into his hand­ker­chief. Scuffed plas­tic crates, pulled from pub to pub, brew­ery to dray, hurled and stacked and left to bleach like ele­phant bones in cracked-con­crete, weed-rid­dled yards. A short pen­cil, the tip of the tongue, a tal­ly kept on the curled page of an orange Sil­vine notepad from the newsagent by the Jew­ish ceme­tery – lemon­ade times two, cola times three, light ale, brown ale, ton­ic, Amer­i­can, pineap­ple, toma­to, orange – the car­il­lon chim­ing of scurf-necked nip bot­tles snatched and shak­en, stacked and tak­en, arranged into tow­ers and walls.

Soon after open­ing in the bar where my broth­er learned his first words which, yelled from a win­dow at a passer­by, were the shame of the fam­i­ly – pub words, not real world words, not words a grown man would say before his moth­er, let alone a fat-cheeked cherub in his ter­ry-tow­elling nap­py before the whole world – more men arrived, with skin­ny wrists and slip-on shoes, and took up post at sen­try sta­tions on bench­es and at the bend of the bar. Pound notes were snapped flat and primped and pinched between fin­ger­tips to be passed across – “Have one for your­self, love?”

Soon after open­ing the moment came for me to cross the the plum-coloured curlicues of the wall-to-wall, towards the door marked PRIVATE, towards the dark stair­well and the dusty steps with toe­nail thick white paint at either side and the cen­tre stripe of bare board, up to the flat where 80 years ago com­mer­cial trav­ellers dried their socks on the fire­guard and eyed their sam­ple cas­es with sor­row.

With apolo­gies to Dylan Thomas.