A new book: Balmy Nectar

A mockup of the book.

Balmy Nectar is a collection of all the longer pieces of writing we’ve produced for CAMRA, magazines such as Beer Advocate, and here on the blog.

It also includes a fore­word by Tim Webb and a new piece pulling togeth­er into a coher­ent whole the best of the many ‘pub life’ obser­va­tion­al posts we’ve been writ­ing since 2015.

In total, it runs to about 80,000 words, a sim­i­lar length to Brew Bri­tan­nia and 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub. Which is to say, it’s a prop­er chunky book, unlike Gam­bri­nus Waltz which was only ever what they used to call a mono­graph.

And though col­lat­ing and edit­ing it all has been hard work, it’s also been real­ly love­ly to be remind­ed of how much good stuff we’ve turned out. We’re espe­cial­ly proud of the voic­es we put on record, from beer fes­ti­val vol­un­teers to pub­lic­i­ty shy brew­ers.

If you want a copy, and of course you do, Balmy Nec­tar is avail­able from the Ama­zon Kin­dle store now for £7, or $9.22 in the US.

It would be a handy thing to have loaded up when you go on your sum­mer hol­i­days, or just to have handy in the free app on your phone for dip­ping into if you find your­self wait­ing for a mate in the pub.

Ama­zon UK | Ama­zon US | Cana­da | Ger­many | Aus­tralia

A print-on-demand paper­back ver­sion is also avail­able for the tra­di­tion­al­ists among you, priced at £11. (Con­fes­sion: the main rea­son we went to all the trou­ble of com­pil­ing, cor­rect­ing and updat­ing this stuff is because we want­ed one of these for our own shelf.)

And here’s what the col­lec­tion includes, to save you a click or two: Fore­word | Intro­duc­tion | Beer geeks in his­to­ry | Brew Bri­tan­nia: the women | A pint of Old & Filthy | Only a north­ern brew­er (David Pol­lard) | 1974: birth of the beer guide | The pub crawlers | 1975: birth of the beer fes­ti­val | The Cam­paign for Unre­al Ale | Craft before it was a thing (Williams Bros) | Michael Jack­son | Bel­go­phil­ia | Lager louts | Cor­nish swanky beer | The Qui­et One (Peter Elvin) | Newquay Steam | Spin­go | Bit­ter | Watney’s Red Bar­rel | Boddington’s | Doom Bar | Guin­ness in decline | Pale and hop­py | The mys­tery of Old Chim­neys | Mix­ing beer | The pubs of Bog­gle­ton | Ger­man Bierkellers in Britain | Wel­come to Adnam­s­land | The Good, the Bad and the Murky | Don’t Wor­ry, be (most­ly) hap­py | Pub Life

Everything we wrote in April 2019: mostly barley wine

The blog turned 12 this month, did you know? It’s not a major anniversary but, still, we’re astonished that it’s still going and that we’re only 150 posts off 3,000.

April 2019’s con­tri­bu­tion to that ridicu­lous total amount­ed to 17, includ­ing this one.

Mind you, almost all of them were reviews of bar­ley wines, old ales or strong ales.

Collage of barley wines.

We tast­ed:

Not bad for a month asso­ci­at­ed more with spring-sig­nalling gold­en ales. What we didn’t find any­where except a super­mar­ket was Gold Label, the clas­sic mass mar­ket bar­ley wine.

Which was our over­all favourite? It’s a tough call but prob­a­bly… The Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry effort, with Mar­ble short­ly behind, and Fuller’s Gold­en Pride behind that.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Every­thing we wrote in April 2019: most­ly bar­ley wine”

Everything we wrote about beer and pubs in March 2019

We managed about the usual number of posts in March, despite trips to London and Penzance, with a handful of real good ‘uns among them.

Before we get to the round-up, though… If you like what we do, and want to give us some encour­age­ment to keep doing it:


We began the month, as we so often have late­ly, with some notes from the Guin­ness archives, this time on the stout brewer’s attempts to appeal to female drinkers in the late 1970s. Even if you saw this first time round, it’s worth click­ing the link again as Jon Urch was kind enough to send us a scan of the glossy mag­a­zine ad we hadn’t been able to track down when we first pub­lished the post.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Every­thing we wrote about beer and pubs in March 2019”

Anatomy of a Rumour

If you are at all engaged with beer social media, you will be aware that there have been rumours, or at least rumours of rumours.

Though we don’t recall sign­ing up to a code of ethics on this, there are cer­tain­ly good rea­sons to be cagy about shar­ing or dis­cussing such rumours.

First, there’s the risk of things get­ting a bit ‘lawyery’. We don’t know if this is a real issue, or a bor­rowed trou­ble, but who wants to find out the hard way?

Then there’s the ques­tion of people’s feel­ings. Imag­ine you’re nego­ti­at­ing the sale of your com­pa­ny but haven’t finalised the deal; there’s a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment in place so you can’t tell your team any­thing until it’s done; and, any­way, you wouldn’t want to say any­thing in case it falls through at the last minute. Then imag­ine how those team mem­bers feel learn­ing the news from Twit­ter, or on some poxy beer blog.

The Amer­i­can food reporter Far­ley Elliott recent­ly described how, in the ear­ly days of his career, he would some­times turn up at restau­rants he had heard were clos­ing down and, over-eager in mak­ing his enquiries, acci­den­tal­ly break the news to front­line staff that they were about to lose their jobs. He felt bad, they felt bad… There are bet­ter ways.

Final­ly, there’s the risk of embar­rass­ing your­self if the rumoured takeover doesn’t hap­pen. Rumours are just rumours, and are some­times just lies. Five or so years ago, we heard a cast-iron rumour of a takeover that was def­i­nite­ly about to hap­pen at any minute now… but didn’t. And still hasn’t.

And any­way, unless you are work­ing for an out­let that thrives on scoops – that relies on being first with the break­ing news – there’s no par­tic­u­lar need for any­one in beer to be rush­ing to talk about this stuff.

The only dif­fer­ence a rumour makes, real­ly, is that it allows time to men­tal­ly pre­pare. It can be a jolt to learn that a brew­ery you like or are inter­est­ed in has been tak­en over when 300 hot-take Tweets land with­in a minute of each oth­er.

Giv­en how things are, though, shouldn’t we all be men­tal­ly pre­pared, all the time, for any brew­ery of decent size and mar­ket reach to sell up? We all know how to spot the pre-erup­tion tremors these days.

Sure, we’ll still jump when the bal­loon pops, but at least by now we’ve learned to dis­cern the bal­loon, and to see some­one stand­ing there with pin in hand, grin­ning, wait­ing.

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.