Everything we wrote in October 2019: Apples, pubbiness, the perfect pint

We managed to post slightly more in October than in September, only thrown off course by the usual combination of day jobs, other hobbies, autumn sniffles and weather-triggered ennui.

Having said that, we did also manage to complete a long-planned project, from graphic design to printing, which feels, it must be said, FANTASTIC.

Anyway, here on the blog, we kicked the month off with a hangover from September in the form of notes on The Black Cat, a quirky micropub in Weston-super-Mare:

This strange hybrid is a thing we’ve seen a few times, now, in towns apparently not quite big enough or hip enough to support both a micropub (real ale, conservatism) and a craft beer bar (keg beer, trend-chasing). Sonder in Truro springs to mind as another example.


Then, getting into October proper, we declared Cider Season 2019, and committed to trying to get to understand a beverage popular in the West Country but about which we know woefully little. That took us to The CoriTap, down the rabbit-hole of cidermaking and into quite a few cider-focused bars and pubs:

Has this month turned us into cider drinkers? Probably not. While we have much more appreciation for the variety that is out there, and will definitely continue to have the occasional cider session, it’s difficult to conceive of us choosing cider when beer is available. We find it hard to session on and hard work rather than refreshing.


Excited by the arrival of the new edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide we were inspired to put together a respectful additional list of Bristol pubs that we reckon GBG believers might also enjoy:

Selection processes vary from district to district, as we understand it, but the Bristol branch has clearly documented processes which seem to be about as thorough and democratic as is possible to be, but obviously will still favour pubs that are popular with active CAMRA members… We’re not really sociable enough to contribute to this sort of thing so of course we don’t get to complain if we don’t like the entries. And actually, in Bristol, there isn’t much to grumble about from our perspective.


The Rising Sun

Continuing the theme, we wrote up an extraordinarily productive day of #EveryPubInBristol ticking in Bedminster and beyond, from The Assembly to the Star & Dove:

There’s something about this particular approach, every pub, that really makes sense of the scene as a whole and how things fit together. Posh pubs are uphill, less fancy ones at the bottom; chains are sometimes where the action is; and there’s almost no pub that’s not OK for at least one round on a Saturday afternoon.


How much foam is the right amount of foam? Having been served what felt to us like the perfect pint, we wondered if it might help us prove a rule: that regardless how much head is on a beer, someone on Twitter will tell you it’s the wrong amount. We ran a poll and everything:

[About] 90% of poll respondents thought it looked fairly spot on, the remaining votes were split between too much and not enough, with a slight bias towards too much.


We finally shared our embarrassingly dorky system for deciding whether a place is a pub or not using a spreadsheet. So far, responses have tended to amount to either:

  1. this kinda works
  2. you’re overthinking it.

If you’ve had chance to have a play, we’d love to know the results.


If you wanted to put together a gift-box to help someone new to beer get their heads around the different styles fairly quickly and easily, what would be in it? Here’s our suggested line-up.


We also put out the usual round-ups of links and news each Saturday:

5 October 2019 | sessionability, Spam, the seventies

12 October 2019 | silly stout, Somerset cider, sad stories

19 October 2019 | Lancashire, language, local

26 October 2019 | Westminster, Witbier, white men



Then there was the email newsletter, with notes on apples rolling in the gutters of Bristol, the annoyance of unasked for advice, motorway pubs and more. Sign up for next month’s here.


For Patreon subscribers we gave weekly round-ups of the best beers we encountered over each weekend, shared an original short story with a beer bottle at its heart, gave lots of sneak previews of the van Klomp project in progress and an advance look at the Beta version of the ‘Is it a pub?’ spreadsheet. We’ve also spent the past week sending out free copies of the PVK zine to subscribers. Sign up!


On Twitter, there was loads of this kind of thing:

Now then, November – let’s do this.

News, nuggets and longreads 5 October 2019: sessionability, Spam, the seventies

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading we’ve found especially illuminating or enjoyable in the past week, from Monty Python to pensions.

When you’ve been at this game for a while, you start to see the same conversations cycle round. This week, it’s time to talk about what ‘sessionable’ means again. First, for VinePairLily Waite argues that it’s impossible to pin down

The most common use of ‘session” in beer contexts is as a qualifier. It means the beer in question contains low enough amounts of alcohol that several, or even many, can be consumed in one drinking ‘session.’ The term ‘sessionable’ is commonly used to suggest something is easily drinkable, light, refreshing, or any combination of the three… But even those airy definitions leave a lot open to interpretation. As all beer drinkers are different, with individual sizes, appetites, tolerances, and preferences, how can we say what ‘session” or ‘sessionable’ even means?

In response, Martyn Cornell, who Waite cites in her article, says, no, actually – it’s not difficult at all:

I saw a tweet yesterday from someone talking about “a sessionable 5.5 per cent smoked oatmeal stout”, and the world swam and dissolved before me as I plunged screaming and twisting into a hellish, tormented pit of dark despair… Let me make this as clear as I can. This is an egregious and unforgivable total failure to understand what the expression ‘sessionable’ means, is meant to mean, and was coined for. A 5.5 per cent alcohol beer is not, and cannot be, ‘sessionable’. A smoked oatmeal stout, while I am sure it can be lovely, is not and cannot be ‘sessionable’. Nobody ever spent all evening drinking four or five, or six, pints of smoked oatmeal stout.


Stella Artois
SOURCE: Brussels Beer City.

One of our favourite blog posts of last year was Eoghan Walsh’s literary pub crawl around Brussels. Now he’s back with Part Two:

Nobody exemplified the writer living unhappily in Brussels better than Frenchman and serial flâneur Charles Baudelaire… Leaving behind Victor Hugo and the Chaloupe D’Or café on Brussels’ Grand Place, my walk follows the well-worn tourist path out of the square and into the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. These glass-ceiling shopping arcades were a first in Europe when they were built in 1847 and immediately they became a meeting place not only for the city’s bourgeoisie but also for its writers and artists. It was here that the Lumière brothers showed off their cinématographe for the first time outside of Paris, in March 1896. Victor Hugo’s mistress, Juliette Drouet – Juju – has an apartment above what is now the francophone Tropismes bookshop. French poet Paul Verlaine once purchased a revolver here with his mother. And, living a couple of streets away while escaping debts and debtors back in Paris, Charles Baudelaire was a frequent visitor.


Bass logo.

Roger Protz has written a portrait of a London pub famous for its Bass, as it has been since 1921:

The Express Tavern on Kew Bridge Road is that rarity – a London pub that regularly serves Draught Bass. The Bass red triangle trademark adorns the exterior and the famous triangle also declares itself on a pump clip on the bar… Two regulars seated at the bar nodded in salutation when I asked for a pint. “You’ve come to the right place for Bass,” they said. “That’s what we’re drinking.”


Citra/Spam.

Dave at Brewing in a Bedsitter offers a brief reinvention of a famous moment from Monty Python’s Flying Circus:

Waitress: Evening!

Man: Well, what’ve you got?

Waitress: Well, there’s IPA with mosaic and simcoe; IPA with mosaic and centennial; IPA with mosaic and citra; IPA with mosaic, simcoe and citra; IPA with mosaic, simcoe, centennial and citra; IPA with citra, simcoe, centennial and citra; IPA with citra, mosaic, citra, citra, simcoe and citra, IPA with citra, vic secret, citra, citra, mosaic, citra, centennial and citra;

Hipsters (starting to chant): Citra citra citra citra…


Homebrew beer mat.
SOURCE: NMAH.

John Harry has been interning at the National  Museum of American History and as part of an initiative to record US brewing history has researched and written about the birth of the modern home-brewing movement:

After graduating from college in 1972, [Charlie] Papazian moved to Boulder, Colorado, to try to figure out his life plans. Some people there discovered that he knew how to brew beer and asked him to teach a class on homebrewing at the local community free school. The classes were incredibly popular and attracted many curious local residents… As word spread through newspaper articles, administrators grew concerned that the classes might be attracting the wrong type of attention. “After about the third year…those classes became notorious,” Papazian recounted. “One time at registration for the class, the administration contacted me, and said, ‘You know… there’s a guy, who’s registering for this class. He may be from the ATF.’” The ATF is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms—the law enforcement agency in charge of regulating activities such as homebrewing. As Papazian started the class, a man walked in wearing a dark pair of slacks, a white shirt, and a skinny black tie. Papazian suspected he was the ATF agent right away.


The Cask Report.

The latest edition of Cask Marque’s Cask Report is out, edited by Matt Eley and with contributions from people like Pete Brown and Adrian Tierney-Jones. We haven’t had chance to digest yet but the key message is that cask ale could be about to have a moment if it can reinvent itself as a specialist, premium product:

The whole industry has to work together to improve the consistency and quality of cask. This will enable it to be positioned in a more premium manner on the bar, reignite wider interest and ultimately bring cask back to growth. It might not quite be cask’s moment yet, but it feels like it’s coming and pubs should be fully prepared by embracing it now.


The cast of We Anchor in Hope.
SOURCE: The Bunker Theatre.

We Anchor in Hope, a play set in a pub – a fully-functional pub reconstructed in a theatre – sounds interesting:

The two have thought a lot about the pub that the Bunker is becoming: a quiz every Tuesday, karaoke on Thursdays and a disco on the weekend. The space will be open an hour before the show for people to get a drink, with Sonnex himself pulling pints alongside his general manager, Lee. In the world of the play, the pints in the Anchor pub will be pulled by Pearl, the play’s only woman. “In the current climate, and rightfully so, you should be looking at the ratio of men to women and making sure there are really good opportunities for female actors,” Jordan tells me. But in order to stay true to the pubs she spent time in, which were “overwhelmingly male spaces”, We Anchor in Hope has “one female character and four male characters – which is something we both thought about and talked about”.


Finally, here’s a nugget from Twitter:

For more links and news, check out Stan Hieronymus on Mondays and Alan McLeod on Thursdays.

Everything we wrote in September 2019: Belgium, scary pubs, The Vodi

With a ten-day holiday at the start, September got off to a slow start on the blogging front, and we only managed 12 posts in total.

Mind you, we did post on the Patreon feed every day from Belgium, amounting to about 5,000 words in total. The first entry, written on arrival in Ostend, was on open access, too, if you fancy a taste.

When we got back to the UK, we distilled all that lot into one long post capturing our impressions of the country, its cafes and its beer:

Two bar staff are dancing and miming along to ‘Dolce Vita’ by Ryan Paris as they wash glasses. A man with a shopping trolley, dressed head to toe in custom embroidered denim, lumbers in and raises a hand at which, without hesitation, he is brought a small glass of water; he downs it, waves, and leaves. On the terrace, two skinny boys in artfully tatty clothes eat a kilo of pistachios and sip at glasses of Pils. A group of Englishmen in real ale T‑shirts arrive: “Triples all round is it, lads? Aye, four triples, pal.”


Delighted to be back home, we headed straight to The Drapers Arms and pored over the latest edition of Bristol CAMRA’s magazine Pints West. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to give it a shout out on the blog:

In general, there’s an openness about it that shows CAMRA at its best. All breweries are covered with enthusiasm and honesty, regardless of their particular cask-ale credentials. Licensed premises of all kinds get a look in and there are heartening tales of local activism to save apparently doomed pubs.


John Braine’s 1959 novel The Vodi has something in common with many other British books from this period: it reeks of beer and pubs. We highlighted some of the most interesting bits, like this:

[He] didn’t like the Lord Relton very much. It was a fake-Tudor road-house with a huge car park; even its name was rather phoney, an attempt to identify it with the village of Relton to which, geographically at least, it belonged. But, unlike the Frumenty, unlike even the Ten Dancers or the Blue Lion at Silbridge, the Lord Relton belonged nowhere; it would have been just as much at home in any other place in England.


A raven in deep shadow.

From novels, we moved on to films, specifically the invention of a particular myth of the English pub created in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s:

Consider 1943’s Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, one of the better entries in the run of Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, which gives us The Rat & Raven… The film is set in Northumbria, not that you’d know that from the cast of assorted Brits, Antipodeans, Irishmen and Americans, all speaking stage cockney or Transatlantic English… The pub, which appears 35 minutes in, is located in the country town of Hurlstone – instantly recognisable to students of horror film as the standing ‘European village’ set at Universal Studios, built c.1920 and reused endlessly to stand in for everywhere from the Western Front to Wales to the fictional ‘Visaria’ where Frankenstein’s monster rampaged in his later post-Karloff career.


We approached the end of the month with a couple of related items:

  1. It can really difficult to leave a pub when you’re having a good time
  2. …but sometimes pubs make the choice for you and aren’t always polite about it.

Then, way back in the mists of, uh, this morning, we flagged a story from 1966 about a piece of pop-Freudian analysis of British drinkers and their attitude to beer.


We also put together our usual round-ups of news, nuggets and longreads:


There was also a 1,000+ words newsletter (sign up!), a handful of other bits and pieces on Patreon and lots of Tweets, like this:

Next month: cider, apparently. More about that later in the week.

Pints West: a mine of information

We’ve found ourselves getting a bit excited when we find a new edition of the local CAMRA magazine, Pints West, in the display holder at The Drapers Arms, because we always learn so damned much.

The latest issue, for autumn 2019, is just out and is a good example of why we like it so much.

First, with #EveryPubInBristol in mind, there’s a comprehensive update on what’s going on with local pubs based on extensive fieldwork from the Bristol Pubs Group. It tells us which pubs have closed, reopened and changed hands, usually before we hear via social media.

We’re fascinated by the fate of The Merchant’s Arms in Stapleton which just sits there with its big, blank, boarded-up facade; Pints West always gives us an update – stalemate, apparently, with the owner determined not to re-open it as a pub despite its ACV status.

But there’s more: we don’t drive (and wouldn’t drive to the pub if we did, obviously) so the pub crawls focused on walking and public transport are always inspiring. This quarter, Vince Murray suggests a couple of trips in South Gloucestershire by bus while Duncan Shine gives a run down of all the pubs along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path. We’re already working out ways to tackle some or all of those on the list.

We were also struck by a piece in the last edition by Robin E Wild on the best value pubs in the area – a positive way to address the fraught issue of the sometimes exclusive price of beer.

In general, there’s an openness about it that shows CAMRA at its best. All breweries are covered with enthusiasm and honesty, regardless of their particular cask-ale credentials. Licensed premises of all kinds get a look in and there are heartening tales of local activism to save apparently doomed pubs.

Now, disclosure, before someone brings it up: in the past, before we moved to Bristol, we publicly rolled our eyes at one of the cartoons in the magazine. It irritated us then and looking back, it’s still irritating. But we haven’t noticed anything like that since.

Anyway, our piece said, we’re off to explore a couple of the pubs mentioned in the most recent edition – and isn’t that what a local CAMRA magazine ought to inspire?

News, nuggets and longreads 8 September 2019: Stevenage, Sheffield, Sam Smith

Better late than never, here’s everything that grabbed us in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from the Faroes to Wetherspoon.

One of our favourite sub-genres in beer writing is the nostalgic pub crawl and Martyn Cornell has delivered a classic of the form, revisiting his youthful haunts in the new town of Stevenage in Hertfordshire:

When I started going into pubs regularly, about 1968/69, the drinkers at the Chequers were mostly Old Towners whose ancestors had lived in North Hertfordshire for, probably, 500 years or more, and who spoke in a noticeably different accent from the tens of thousands of New Towners, like my parents, who had moved to North Hertfordshire in the early and mid 1950s from North London suburbs such as Willesden and Burnt Oak, 30 miles to the south.


Craft beer in Sheffield
SOURCE: Kirsty Walker.

Kirsty Walker at Lady Sinks the Booze ended up on an organised pub crawl in Sheffield and used the opportunity to make some typically sharp observations of the local pubs and bars:

Kommune… is your typical HWP or Hipster Warehouse Project. The following are signs you may have entered one: you try to pay with cash for something and you get a look as if you’ve tried to barter a live chicken; chips cost five pounds; periodically a loud person starts shouting that the puppet show/comedy improv/ritual killing will start in five minutes; every third person is either a dog, a child, or has a beard.


The Sportsman, a strange-looking modern pub.
SOURCE: Gerald Reece/Brownhills Bob.

Via @pezholio on Twitter, here’s a collection of vintage photos and notes on the pubs of Brownhills in the West Midlands from ‘Brownhills Bob’, with images supplied by Gerald Reece.


The Faroe Islands.

For Pellicle, veteran writer and industry commentator Phil Mellows reports from the Faroe Islands where craft beer (definition 2) is making inroads:

The rock in Søren Antoft’s hand is pitted with tiny holes like a black sponge. Once, it was the bubbling volcanic lava that solidified halfway between Shetland and Iceland to form the Faroe Islands. Now, it’s going to be reheated to 800 degrees centigrade before being plunged into the mash for a spicy, mineral-edged ale called Rinkusteinur.


An image from the Gazette.
SOURCE: BNA.

Exciting news for beer historians: the excellent British Newspaper Archive has added editions of Holmes’ Brewing Trade Gazette for the years 1878 to 1886:

During the Victorian era, temperance was one of the biggest moral, social and religious debates of the day… This debate, played out in the pages of the Gazette, is a fascinating one, with Victorian morality coming into direct conflict with Victorian enterprise. The debate was to only escalate with the coming of the twentieth century, and was to reach a head across the Atlantic with the introduction of prohibition in the United States. You can find out more about this debate by searching for the word ‘temperance’ in the pages of Holmes’ Brewing Trade Gazette.


Sam Smith logo from beer bottle.

Tandleman reports from the front line of Humphrey Smith’s war on his own pub customers, visiting one of his locals, The Pleasant in Royton:

Then horror on horrors. A mobile phone rang in the bar and in hushed tones, after exchanging endearments with his/someone else’s wife/girlfriend or whatever, the callee, said words to the effect of “I have to go. I’m in The Pleasant and mobiles aren’t allowed.” Seems Humph has put the fear of God into his customers on that one. Less so on the effing and jeffing I’d suggest, but all of it was in the context of fitting bathrooms, exchanges about how the day had gone and so on, so to my mind at least, harmless enough. One lad called through to me saying that he didn’t care (“couldn’t give a fuck”) about Humph’s rules. Sooner or later he’d shut the pub anyway, like he had the Yew Tree, he observed.


We’re all sick of (addicted to) Brexit news, of course, but this Wetherspoon story is so odd we have to mention it: the pub chain has cut the price of Ruddles by 20p a pint this week, apparently as proof of the freedom a no-deal Brexit would bring. Except… there hasn’t been a no-deal Brexit, not yet. Rumours on social media suggest this stunt was planned to land during a general election, currently in limbo, which might make some sense.


And, finally, from Twitter…

As ever, for more selected beer reading, check out Stan on Monday and Alan on Thursday.