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.

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.


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:
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.


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.

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.”

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.


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.

buying beer

Liquid popcorn: finding a time and place for non-alcoholic beer

Tough day. Lots on your mind. Open the fridge, grab a bottle, loosen and lose the cap. Sip. Close your eyes. Sigh.

The after work beer is a ritual or ceremony for many people. It’s about scrubbing dirt and dust from the throat. Cooling down. Stamping a firm full stop.

We’ve seen it enacted in hundreds of films and TV shows over the years, too. Sarah Lund in The Killing springs to mind, slumped by her fridge, clinging to a green lager bottle for comfort as the corpses pile up.

Oh, yes, the green bottle. This is a job for a small amount of a small beer – something without a big personality.

A few months ago, with a plan to watch a film on an uncomfortably warm evening, I fancied one or two unwinders. With that in mind, I let my evening walk take me past the CO-OP. I wandered in and up the beer aisle and after a moment decided, to my surprise, to buy a four-pack of Heineken 0.0.

Let’s be clear about what happened here: I looked at it on the shelf and wanted it. I’d had it before and retained, it turned out, a fond memory of the encounter. I could have had Pilsner Urquell, or Krombacher, but Heineken 0.0 was the one that grabbed me.

So I grabbed it.

And over the past few months, that’s become a habit.

I’ve always been resistant to non-alcoholic beer. Those I’ve tried over the years simply haven’t tasted good. Or, at least, less pleasant than a glass of sparkling water.

I’ve tried quite a few other brands and, no, they don’t do the job.

Some low alcohol craft beers are technically impressive and enjoyable in their own way. The problem is that they often end up being rather intense. Very bitter, or very sweet, and heavily hopped to fill the hole. They’re not green-bottle after work brews.

No, it’s Heineken 0.0 that works for me. It is, first and foremost, not disgusting. It doesn’t taste cooked or artificial. More than that, though: it’s actually pleasant. I find it light, lemony and dry.

Other opinions are available, of course:

When I say non-alcoholic beer in this context is like liquid popcorn, that’s not a tasting note.

It’s about the part it plays in my personal slow shutdown rituals.

The bottle feels right in the hand. The foam prickles, refreshes and slips into the background.

And it certainly doesn’t make a fuss when you’re trying to concentrate on Randolph Scott, Gloria Grahame or some black-gloved killer roaming the streets of Milan.


News, nuggets and longreads 13 November 2021: It tolls for thee

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck us as particularly revealing, interesting or entertaining – from Hanna Aberdam to Cleopatra.

It’s been a while since we started one of these round-ups with a brewery takeover story. Bells was founded by Larry Bell in 1983 and is a big deal in the story of US craft beer but this week, it was acquired by Japanese-Australian multinational Lion/Kirin. At Good Beer Hunting Kate Bernot has the facts and stats; Stan Hieronymus offers some personal notes; and Jeff Alworth wonders why this was presented as “joining forces” with New Belgium, with no mention of Kirin. Jeff writes:

It’s hard to overstate what an important brewery Bell’s is. It’s one of the key pioneer-era American craft breweries, founded in Kalamazoo in 1985. It has grown to become one of the most successful breweries in the world… Larry has been the brewery’s avatar since day one. Since his name is on the bottle (and now cans), he’s often referred to by first name only, even by people like me who have never met him… Larry clearly tried to keep the brewery independent. After 38 years, he’s tired and ready to retire—and he also mentioned recent health problems. Running a business like this is incredibly stressful, and he’s earned his retirement. Yet I don’t doubt he wanted it to go a different way. Thus, I suspect, the strange way he delivered the news.

We quite liked the brewery’s flagship Two Hearted Ale when we tried it, by the way.

Another bit of interesting news: the latest edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide once again records not only an increase in the number of UK breweries but also the highest number since it was first published in 1974. In total, Roger Protz reports, there are 1,902 currently in operation, compared to 1,823 in 2019. (There was a dip last year, but not a huge one.) Proof, perhaps, that the industry as a whole is more resilient than the conversation around it sometimes suggests.

Pictures from a Brewery by Asher Barash

There are surprisingly few novels featuring breweries – has anyone put together a definitive list? – but Gary Gillman has unearthed a particularly interesting example, Pictures from a Brewery by Asher Barash. Gary has been writing about Jewish-owned breweries in Galicia in Eastern Europe for some time and this book, written between 1915 and 1929, would seem to be an interesting historical source, albeit one to be handled with care:

The heroine of the book is Hanna Aberdam, called Mrs. Aberdam or in the Polish honorific Pani Aberdam. The period described is not made explicit but seems to be the first years of the 1900s, by which time she has run the brewery for 30 years, under lease from a Polish grandee called Count or Graf (the German form) Stefan Molodetzky… Mrs. Aberdam is described as a kindly person, born of a well-to-do merchant family. When her first husband, a pious scholar, dies young, she remarries a shopkeeper of no great business ability and decides to enter business herself to provide for her family… She leases the town brewery, which previously had gone bankrupt. It overlooked a body of water called in the book “the lake”, fed by underground springs… A theme in the book is how the successful Jewish businesses in these small towns were an organic part of their community, helping to support townspeople through employment, and co-religionists with charity. For example, Aberdam would lead a drive to provide a dowry for an indigent bride, or help Jews who lost their homes in a fire.

Craft Beer World and The Craft Beer World
SOURCE: Joe Tindall.

At The Fatal Glass of Beer Joe Tindall reflects on what Mark Dredge’s book Craft Beer World meant to him as a beginner and compares the new edition, The New Craft Beer World, with the original, from 2013:

The accessibility of craft beer is one obvious change that has occurred in the intervening years between Craft Beer World and its sequel. “Back in 2012 when I wrote the book there were only a few places where I could buy or order interesting beers”, Mark says, “it’s now become normal to find great beer everywhere.”… Back then, I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that in the not too distant future, I’d be picking up a can of Mikkeller’s American Dream lager during my weekly shop at Sainsbury’s. I certainly wouldn’t have believed that I would purchase said can only once before losing interest, such is the variety of craft beer in 2021.

The cover of Mallory O'Meara's book.

For the London Review of Books Sophie Lewis reviews Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara. Thought not uncritical, there’s enough here to make us think it might be worth a read:

O’Meara [exposes] the racism and misogyny underpinning the contempt for Cleopatra in Greek and Roman culture – an animus that fixed on her love of drinking. She gives an account of antiquity’s invention of the double standard for drunkenness: in noblemen, it enhanced natural virility, ‘while in women [of all classes] it destroyed their honour and inverted the gender hierarchy’. One of the appealing features of O’Meara’s book is her love for carousing women: ‘working-class women brewing – topless and up to their elbows in beer’; Moll Cutpurse; Calamity Jane; Yang Guifei (concubine of the Tang emperor Xuanzong) with her wine-flushed cheeks and jewel-encrusted cups; ‘an affluent Egyptian woman named Chratiankh (birth and death dates unknown)’ whose tomb inscription was said to read: ‘I was a mistress of drunkenness, one who loved a good day, who looked forward to [having sex] every day, anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent.’


At Ancient Malt and Ale Graham Dinely provides in-depth notes on the history and behaviour of yeast in brewing:

The spores can be wind and air borne on dust and insects. This became obvious to me in our last house in Manchester. After about 12 years of brewing and washing equipment there, any sweet juice drinks left out overnight by the kids in the summer months would be slightly fizzy by the morning, as did any yoghurt… It was obvious to me that the yeast had established itself in the microbiome of the house, along with 130 years worth of other microorganisms. This sort of thing must happen in every brewery, no matter how much attention is devoted to hygiene and sterility.

And, although Brew Britannia was published in 2014, we’ve never really stopped writing it, so we were especially delighted by this nugget relating to an important early UK microbrewery:

In 1980 I was still living in shared accommodation and for convenience I was making beer from kits. At work we had a retirement celebration for some colleagues and one of the refreshments was a polypin of Pollard’s Ale… Pollard’s beer had a very distinctive, dry almost musty flavour that was very popular. At the end of the celebration there were a few pints left with the lees… so I took it home and added it to a 5 gallon kit brew that had just finished primary fermentation. I expected it to settle out, but instead it took off with a very vigorous fermentation and a strong sulphurous aroma that lasted just over a day. The Pollard’s was obviously metabolising something that the kit yeast had not. The resulting beer had that distinct Pollard flavour too. I have often wondered if that was a hybrid yeast. Pollard’s ales did not last that long, despite being very popular. The story that I heard at the time of its demise was that they had lost that unique yeast, and with no back up brewery to restore it, that was the end of Pollard’s. 

Finally, from Twitter, some pure wisdom from Liam…

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