Categories
breweries

Are cult beers a thing?

I’ve been reading Danny Peary’s Cult Movies, published in 1981 when the idea of a cult film was quite new and, inevitably, it’s started me thinking about what might qualify as a ‘cult beer’.

Here’s how Mr Peary defines a cult movie in the introduction to the book:

Of the tens of thousands of movies that have been made, only an extremely small number have elicited a fiery passion in moviegoers that exists long after their initial releases… Cultists don’t merely enjoy their favorite films; they worship them, seek them out wherever they are playing, catch them in theaters even when they have just played on television, see them repeatedly, and are intent on persuading anyone who will listen that they should be appreciated regardless of what the newspaper or television reviewers thought. Strike up a conversation about movies anywhere in the country and the titles found in this book soon will be flying back and forth in frenetic debate. And as likely as not you’ll end up forcing someone to watch The Late Late Show to see a special favorite of yours or find yourself being dragged to some repertory theater to see a picture your well-meaning abductor has viewed ten, twenty, or a hundred times.

I certainly recognise something of the attitude of the beer geek in that description: “We just need to get a train and a bus, then it’s a short walk through an industrial estate, but trust me, it’ll be worth it…”

There’s also something appealing about the idea of a descriptor that sidesteps all those conversations about ‘craft’.

It’s not about whether a film is well made, says Mr Peary – “often the contrary” – or which studio made it (though many cult films are independent productions). What matters is that it has dedicated, even obsessive fans.

And perhaps also that it’s not readily available everywhere, all the time. You need to put in a little effort to enjoy it, especially if you want to see it on a big screen.

That’s why in Peary’s world, Citizen Kane can sit on the same list as Emanuelle alongside The Warriors a few pages on from Bedtime for Bonzo.

If cult beers exist, if that’s ‘a thing’, we might end up with similarly unlikely bedfellows.

Bass is probably a cult beer – a big name in its day but hard to find in its natural habitat, the pub.

Orval is, surely? Especially with all those instructions about storage and service. In fact, doesn’t Belgium rather specialise in cult beers all round?

Batham’s, too – the way people go on about it!

Schlenkerla Rauchbier, which people either love or hate, feels like a contender.

It would be easy for this to turn into a list of canonical beers, though. What’s not on the list? Anything you can easily find in a pub or bar in most towns, I suppose, which puts Guinness out of contention, even if it has T-shirt wearing fans.

What do you reckon might count as a cult beer? Something you’ve queued for, hunted down or gone well out of your way to drink.

Categories
Uncategorized

Will you buy us a drink if we tell you?

There’s a famous photo of the Fitzroy Tavern in London which is full of lovely details, including a sign that reads ‘WYBMADIITY’.

We got to know this photo quite well because for many years, it was blown up across one wall of the Fitzroy itself – very meta, a pub whose theme was its own history.

It was taken by Margaret Bourke-White in 1939 and you can see a nice high resolution version via Google’s Arts & Culture portal.

For years, we tried to work out what WYBMADIITY stood for, in the days before everyone had Google on their phones. We got as far as ‘Will you buy me a drink if I _____ you?’

What ITMA, Max Miller, Round the Horne naughtiness might that missing word suggest?

Then we left London, the pub got refurbished, and we forgot about this unresolved mystery.

It popped back into our heads as we read Eoghan Walsh’s piece about a Belgian café preserved as art, with its overwhelming collection of tat. The WYBMADIITY sign would fit right in.

And, of course, having let our brains stew on it for a decade or so, we immediately realised what it stood for: ‘Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?’

At this point, we also got the joke.

Imagine one dozy punter after another seeing that curious sign.

“I say, what does WYBMADIITY stand for?”

“Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?”

“Well, OK – what’ll you have?”

It was apparently a stock, standard gag in British pubs, American bars, Australia, South Africa… everywhere – and of a similar ripeness to ‘Please do not ask for credit because a smack in the mouth often offends’.

Another variant was apparently the more specific ‘Will you buy me a double if I tell you?’

One newspaper article from the 1940s connects it with the craze for acronyms such as SWALK (‘sealed with a loving kiss’) on correspondence between servicemen and their sweethearts but the earliest reference we can find is in a London restaurant review from 1935.

Which brings us to our blogging challenge for November 2020, or, rather, blogging challenges.

First, what’s something about beer or pubs that’s always puzzled you?

Now’s the time to find out, and write a quick blog post or Twitter thread sharing your newfound knowledge. Let us know and we’ll do our best to share whatever you write.

Or ask us and we’ll do it – we like answering questions.

Secondly, we’re going to dig deep into the world of pub tat. We’ve already explored pump clips, beer mats, coin stacks and bell pushes, but what about all that crap gathering dust on the back bar and useless shelves? The stuff that gives a pub texture.

What springs to mind when you think of pub tat, cheap gags and advertising junk?

Categories
Beer history Germany

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, beer geek and pub crawler

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the fathers of English romanticism, had opinions on beer and pubs, it turns out.

I ought to have known this. Growing up in Somerset, where Coleridge lived for a few important years of his life, you get a decent dose of him, not least because every other building has a plaque saying he stayed or preached there.

Then I ended up studying him formally from the ages of 16 to 21, and wrote my undergraduate dissertation on… Er, actually, I can’t quite remember. I know I had to slog through the Biographia Literaria and every scrap of poetry, even the unfinished bits, to make what I’m sure was a very compelling argument about something or other.

The problem is, I was very much done with bloody Coleridge after all that and my interest in him and his work didn’t overlap with my fascination with beer.

That is until a couple of weeks ago when my little brother very kindly sent me a book in the post – a copy of Coleridge Among the Lakes & Mountains, a selection of the poet’s letters and journal entries, published in 1991.

As often seems to happen these days, I opened it at random and at once saw a reference to beer:

Saturday, May 11th, 10 o’clock, we left Göttingen, seven in party… We ascended a hill N.E. of Göttingen, and passed through areas surrounded by woods, the areas now closing in upon us, now opening and retiring from us, until we came to Hessen Dreisch… They were brewing at the inn – I enquired and found that they put three bushels of malt and five large handfuls of hops to the hogshead. The beer as you may suppose, but indifferent stuff.

My immediate thought was, wait, was Coleridge some sort of proto beer geek? Am I going to find beer on every other page of this book?

Well, we’ll get to that, but, first, let’s unpick the quotation above and see if we can find the place he drank at.

Coleridge wasn’t, it turns out, very good at German place names. There is nowhere called ‘Dreisch’ north east of Göttingen, although there is a Dreiech near Frankfurt. In the same entry, he mentions ‘Rudolphshausen’ and ‘Womar’s Hausen’, neither of which seem to exist either, even on older maps.

Kathleen Coburn identifies the latter as Wollbrandshausen, though, which does make sense, especially when you plot a route from Göttingen to Wollbrandshausen on Google Maps and it happens to take you through Radolfshausen.

Tracking back through the route Coleridge describes, through ‘coombes very much like those about Stowey and Holford… [with] great rocky fragments which jut out from the hills’ via ‘a lofty fir grove’, we reckon Röringen might be the place where Coleridge stopped for his mediocre lunchtime pint. But that’s a bit of a guess. And there’s no obvious old inn there.

So, further suggestions are welcome, especially from Göttingen locals, German speakers who might be able to make sense of Coleridge’s mangling of the local place names, or experts in German history.

While Coleridge was exploring, his friends William and Dorothy Wordsworth were hanging out in Goslar, which they hated. Coleridge passed through and wasn’t impressed either and, though this book doesn’t include his thoughts on Gose, it turns out he did translate a bit of German doggerel on the subject:

This Goslar Ale is stout and staunch;
But sure ‘tis brewed by Witches!
Scarce do you feel it warm in paunch,
‘Odsblood, ‘tis in your Breeches!

Just in case you’re not a trained literary analyst like wot I am, it’s suggesting that Gose makes you shit yourself.

As for the recipe, I’ve got no idea why Coleridge thinks it ought to be obvious that beer would be ‘indifferent’. Bushels of malt, handfuls of hops – is he saying it’s not hoppy enough? Too sweet?

Coleridge on British beer and pubs

The next big question: does Coleridge have lots to say about beer elsewhere? Well, no, not really. He was much more into laudanum and laughing gas, which he got from his mate Humphrey Davy.

But there are some nuggets.

In Llangynog, Wales, in July 1794, he had lunch at the village inn, enjoying ‘hashed mutton, cucumber, bread and cheese and beer, and had two pots of ale – the sum total of the expense being sixteen pence for both of us!’ Note the distinction between beer and ale, there.

In 1801, he briefly became obsessed with the idea of making productive use of acorns:

I am convinced that this is practicable simply by malting them… last week as I was turning up some ground in my garden, I found a few acorns just beginning to sprout – and I ate them. They were, as I had anticipated, perfectly sweet and fine-flavoured… I have no doubt that they would make both bread and beer, of an excellent and nutritious quality.

In the same year, he went walking around Sca Fell in Cumbria, and on 4 August stopped at a lonely alehouse at ‘Bonewood’ (Boonwood) above Gosforth where he ‘drank a pint of beer’. And that’s it – that’s the review. You might expect better tasting notes from a poet, mightn’t you? I wonder if the pub was what is now The Red Admiral.

In August 1802, he stopped at The Blacksmith’s Arms, Broughton Mills, where he ‘Dined on oatcake and cheese, with a pint of ale and two glasses of rum and water sweetened with preserved gooseberries’, which sounds pretty good.

Finally, in August 1803, he went to Gretna Green:

A public house with a gaudy daub of Hope. ‘To crown returning Hope’ – no beer! – What then? Whisky, gin and rum – cries a pale squalid girl at the door, a true offspring of whisky-gin-and-rum drinking parents.

It’s been nice to get reacquainted with Coleridge and to be reminded of the pleasure of dipping into a randomly chosen book with beer in mind.

Categories
pubs quotes

Michael Innes depicts temperance tensions in Scotland

John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, 1906-1994, was a respected Scottish novelist and academic who also wrote crime novels under the name Michael Innes, featuring Inspector Appleby of Scotland Yard.

Lament for a Maker from 1938 is a fascinating piece set in the Scottish Highlands. It has a beautiful, snowbound Gothic setting and, of course, a depiction of a pub.

Actually, you could pull the passages about the pub and stitch them together into an effective short story.

The angle is the tension between Roberts, landlord at the Arms, Kinkeig’s one hotel, and Mrs Roberts, who serves behind the bar: she is a sly temperance campaigner, always trying to convince customers to forego whisky and beer for tea or ginger beer.

Here’s the best bit, cleverly woven through and enlivening an expository passage in which the locals discuss the eccentric Laird of Kinkeig:

Once in a while, you must know, I take a look over to the private bar – most of the better-thought-of folk of the parish think it a decent enough space for a bit crack of an evening. Will Saunders was there, and Rob Yule, and whiles in came the stationy… And behind the bar was Mistress Roberts, banging the pots about to show she was real unfriendly to the liquor and had never thought to come to the serving of it; a sore trial she was to Roberts but not undeserved, folk said, for all the time of their courting had she not been slipping him wee tracts about the poisonous action of alcohol on the blood-stream, and might a publican not have taken warning from that? Mistress Roberts said never a word until in came wee Carfrae, the greengrocer. Carfrae never touches, only he comes into the private for a gossip and Mistress Roberts keeps him a special ginger beer; at one time she put a row of the stuff behind the bar with a notice: Sparkling, Refreshing and Non-Injurious, but at that Roberts put his foot down, everything had its place, he said, and the place for a notice like that was in the sweetie-shops. As I say, wee Carfrae came in for this dreich drink of his, and it was him restarted the speak about Guthrie… Mistress Roberts made a shocked-like click with her tongue and poured herself out a cup of tea: she ever has a great tea pot at her elbow in the private and anyone comes in she I like enough over a cup to, gratis; it makes Roberts fair wild.

[…]

Rob walked over to [carfrae] and took the glass of ginger beer from his hand and emptied it, careful-like, in Mistress Roberts’ nearest aspidistra. ‘Carfrae, he said, ‘the Non-Injurious is wasted on you, man. It’s over late for such precautions: you’re nought but a poison-pup already.’

It wasn’t you could call an ugly situation, for the greengrocer was far from the sort would put up a fight against Rob Yule, there was just no dander to rouse in him. But it was fell uncomfortable; Carfrae was looking between yellow and green, like one of his own stale cabbages, the stationy was havering something about its being technically an assault, and Mistress Roberts had taken up her teaspoon and was stirring furious at the teapot – which was what she ever does when sore affronted. And then Will Saunders, who had been holding his whisht the same as myself, thought to cut in with a bit diversion. ‘Faith,’ cried Will, and look at the aspidistra!”

I don’t believe the plant had really suffered any harm from the Non-Injurious, but the way Will spoke and his pointing to the poor unhealthy thing in its pot fair gave the impression it had wilted that moment. I mind I gave a laugh overhearty to the decent maybe in a man of my years and an elder of the kirk forbye, Rob gave a great laugh too and then we saw that this time Mistress Roberts was real black affronted, she rattled her teapot like mad, herself making a noise like a bubblyjock with the gripes. After all, the Non-Injurious was some sort of sym bol to the wife of her struggle against Roberts and the massed power of darkness that was the liquor trade she’d married into.

Note the aspidistra – a fixed feature in early to mid-20th century pubs, hence the inclusion on the playlist we put together for our last book of Gracie Fields singing ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World’.

I get the impression Innes was fond of pubs and beer – the couple of other Appleby books I’ve read also feature little moments like this, which you don’t tend to get in Agatha Christie.

Categories
Beer history

Cave’s Solid Beer Syndicate

This morning, David Martin asked us if we knew anything about Cave’s Solid Beer. We didn’t, but we do now; here’s what we found out.

CSB, Cave’s Solid Beer Syndicate, was founded by George Gordon Cave in Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire – now part of Milton Keynes – in around 1898.

Cave was born in London in 1841. He worked in various parts of the UK including Bristol, where he shows up in the 1871 census as a ‘hotel keeper’, and Merthyr Tydfil where, in 1881, he was working as a brewery engineer. By 1891, he had arrived in Fenny Stratford and was a brewer, full stop.

His own firm, CSB, specialised in producing beer extract for shipping overseas using a patented method of Mr Cave’s own invention.

Amazingly, you can see what is probably some packaged solid beer in a photo from around the turn of the century hosted at the Talk About Bletchley website – wooden crates marked CSB CAPE TOWN.

Here’s a brief description of CSB from the Leighton Buzzard Gazette for 5 May 1903:

During his whole time in Fenny, Mr. Cave had been working at these patents, the object being to produce beer in condensed form to save enormously on the carriage of it to foreign countries and the colonies, where it could be developed under his patent process.

And here’s a note on the company registration from the International Brewers’ Journal for 15 June 1898:

Cave’s Solid Beer Syndicate Company, Ltd.,with a registered capital of £25,000, divided into 25,000 shares of £1 each, to acquire from Mr. George Gordon Cave, of Fenny Stratford, the invention protected by Letters Patent No. 2,889, of 1894, for improvements in the treatment of yeast and any further improvements and additions thereto, and all further patents granted to the said George Gordon Cave in respect of the invention above mentioned, together with the right to apply for letters patent in any foreign country or British colony in respect of the invention of any improvements thereof or addition thereto, and for the manufacture and sale of ale and beer in a solid and compact form for export as at present authorised by the Excise officials.

A few references in later local history publications refer to Solid Beer as being sold ‘in slabs’ for reconstitution with water but this syndicated news article, published in various local papers on or around 8 November 1900, specifies, as we suspected, that it required fermentation before drinking:

The Central News learns that the military authorities in South Africa have reported favourably upon the latest invention in the way of concentrated beverages, known as ‘solid beer’. This is a jelly made from malt and hops, and by its use beer, said to very wholesome and palatable, can be made anywhere and fermented, the process being exceedingly simple. practically indistinguishable from beer brewed in the ordinary manner, and it can made with equal facility and success in hot or cold climates.

That’s backed up by earlier instances of ‘solid beer’ as a synonym for ‘malt extract’, this being one of those products that people kept claiming to have invented every few years.

Here’s an example from 1856:

Will the inhabitants of London ever carry their beer in their pockets? A question, this, not so strange as at first may appear; for a Moravian, M. Rietsch, has invented a mode of making what may be termed solid beer. He brews a malt-extract; he bitters it with hops and sweetens it with sugar; he concentrates it by heat; he pours the thickened mass into wooden boxes lined with tinfoil; and he sells it in this form. The purchaser, when inclined for a draught of beer, takes some of the concentrated extract, dissolves it, ferments it, and — lo! the beer appears. It is obvious that the only question here is — not whether such beer can possibly compete with draught beer where brewers and malt and hops are plentiful — but whether it may not be a valuable addition to the commissariat stores of travellers or sojourners in distant and ill-provided countries; since the concentrated extract is suited for keeping.

Here’s another reported by the Scientific American in April 1870:

The age produces some queer paradoxes, and none more so than in the results of manufacturing science. In former days it was the custom to buy bread and even beef by the yard; but we believe that it is only in the present day that we can get our beer by the pound. By a very simple process, introduced by Mr. Mertens, the wort, after being made in the mash-tub of malt and hops in the usual manner, is sucked up by a pipe into a large vacuum (exhausted by an air-pump), and then persistently worked round and round while the moisture is evaporated. The wort emerges from its tribulations with a pasty consistency, and is allowed to fall from a considerable height into air-tight boxes, in which it reposes, like hard-bake. It soon gets so exceedingly tough that it has to be broken up with a chisel and mallet, and in that condition is easily sent abroad, or to any part of the world, for people to brew their own malt liquor.

A couple of years ago, we wrote about the tendency in journalism to get excited about this kind of beer innovation – instant beer! Beer in pill form! The Keurig of beer! And so on. But none of these Victorian ‘solid beers’ were any such thing – only proto-beers, requiring further work on receipt.

Still, clever stuff for the time, requiring ingenuity in processing and packaging, and we can imagine soldiers thousands of miles from home were glad to have something even vaguely resembling the ale they were used to drinking in Blighty. Our guess, pending further research, is that an army cook could take a block of this stuff, unwrap it, pound it up in warm water, chuck in dried yeast, and a week or two later have drinkable beer to serve up to the troops.

Unfortunately, George Cave died suddenly in 1903 at the age of about 62 and the company was wound up before 1914 when the premises was advertised for sale.

As ever, more information, especially if it’s based on primary sources, would be welcome.