Categories
Blogging and writing

Everything we wrote in November 2020

November was a bit more productive than October, thank goodness, or this blog might have started to acquire cobwebs.

It helped to have a bit of a project, only a small one, looking into some of those aspects of pub culture that puzzled or intrigued us.

We started the month by trying to work out what a sign we used to see in a London pub might have meant:

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?


How important is consistency in beer? We’ve heard all sorts of opinions on this over the years and found ourselves reflecting on our own point of view as of 2020:

We want things to be consistent enough that we know what we’re going to get if we order the same thing twice, while still having scope to surprise us, just a little, in the subtle details.


What makes pubs feel like pubs? It’s at least partly the texture provided by the junk on the walls and shelves and back bar, which makes us think of the greebling on the plastic spaceships in Hollywood films.


We spent evening drinking beers from Elusive Brewing and liked them a lot:

The final round included Lord Nelson, a 6.8% saison originally brewed in collaboration with Weird Beard… [which inspired] oohing and aahing – it’s a really exciting beer. Think Dupont (classical) but with a sharp melon-grape-gooseberry note from New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops. Each sip reminded us of something different: Hopfenweisse? Tokaj? Japanese gummy sweets? We wonder how it might have fared in our saison contest of a few years back.


We reviewed our new local craft beer bar, Sidney and Eden, which proves that, in the right neighbourhood, you can make a go of this kind of specialist outlet.


Eoghan Walsh’s book Brussels Beer City seems to be going down well. We certainly enjoyed it:

What gives the book energy is Eoghan’s dogged determination to find the very last traces of these stories in real life – a broken chimney here, a faded sign there… It’s no deskbound, bookbound work of dry scholarship and even, at times, suggests mild peril. Poking through the ruins of a brewery by torchlight, kicking through the traces of recent trespassing, who or what might we bump into?


Jukeboxes are a fixture of a certain type of English pub but when did they first arrive? We reckon it can be pinned down to the late 1940s:

Throughout 1948, newspapers reported on the spread of jukeboxes much as they reported on outbreaks of coronavirus back in March this year – “Two already in Nottingham”; “Juke-box experiment for Hull”; “Juke-box music application fails” (Dewsbury)…In February 1949, a pub landlady in Liverpool, Eileen Jones of a ‘local’ on Griffiths Street, asked local licencing magistrates permission to install a jukebox. After much deliberation – would it cause noise? Bring down the tone? Prompt fighting over the choice of music? – they turned down the application.


Jess provided an update on our cider experiment now it’s had a year to mature:

It’s a gorgeous pale gold and very clear… The aroma is ever so slightly vinegary, which isn’t a good sign, although the acetic aroma dissipates quickly and doesn’t carry through into the taste… It is very dry, unsurprisingly, but I found a teaspoon of sugar per pint was enough to take the edge off.


We put together four round-ups of news, nuggets and longreads:


There was a load of stuff like this on Twitter:


And we put weekly round-ups of our favourite beers of each weekend on Patreon. We’ve had a few new sign-ups there, too – thanks, all!

Categories
Blogging and writing

Everything we wrote in October 2020 (spoiler: not much)

We thought we might as well get this out of the way as it’s going to be the world’s briefest round-up.

We didn’t even bother with a monthly email newsletter, having very little to say.

Why the limited output? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Between pandemic, family stuff, work, housing troubles and the Coming of Darkness, it’s been hard to get motivated.

Back in spring, there was at least the motivating power of lockdown mania, but now, the weariness is real.

Don’t think we’re being idle, though.

Jess has knitted five pairs of gloves in the past month, as part of something called ‘Mitten Madness’.

Ray has written a couple of stories like this one, several thousand words of his almost-complete second novel and compered an online event for his writers’ group at the Bristol Festival of Literature.

We’ve also got an idea for how we might motivate ourselves in November – watch this space and so on.

Anyway…

We started October with a big feature piece on Watney’s Birds Nest pubs which were briefly trendy in the 1960s and 70s:

[The] Twickenham Birds Nest has become the “in” inn for young people from all over southern England, would you believe? And packed every night, would you also believe? This came about largely through the ‘rave’ buzz getting around among 18-25 year-olds – inspired by the fun experienced there by early young customers – that ‘The Birds Nest’ scene was really different. Guys and dollies were even making the trip from Chelsea to Twickenham, would you believe, so loud was the buzz of approval.


We wrote about a lost pub, The Cook’s Ferry Inn, the name of which lives on as a road junction and bus stop:

In the inter-war years, it was decided to build a great north circular road to connect newly populous outer London neighbourhoods, open up space for industry and provide jobs. In 1927, the stretch between Angel Road, Edmonton, and Billet Road, Chingford was opened… The rebuilding of the Cook’s Ferry Inn was made necessary by the fact that the new road was higher than the narrow old lane it replaced… In 1928, this was a grand, well-appointed pub – part of Whitbread’s commitment to make pubs bigger, smarter and more respectable.


Pondering why we see such different attitudes to pubs during the pandemic in different contexts, we reflected on the different meanings of pub:

There is no universal understanding of what ‘the pub’ means – no single image that materialises in the mind at the sound of the word… For us, it’s a space with low light, nest-like corners and the murmur of conversation. Though not right now, of course. Together with the world but separate. This is the George Orwell ideal, about contentment more than excitement.


Yesterday, we gave our thoughts on life in Tier 1+ where pubs are open, trading, but… weird:

Humans are terrible at risk assessment, aren’t they? People who were not going out when new cases were at around 20-30 a day and were stable or falling, are now happily visiting pubs with cases at 250 a day and rising. Great British Common Sense in action.


We did, at least, keep up our regular schedule of Saturday morning news and links round-ups:

What an amazing volume of fascinating, insightful, entertaining stuff our fellow beer nerds have produced, despite everything.


We did some Tweets, too, like this:


And, finally, we popped a few bits on Patreon, such as additional notes on Watney’s Birds Nest pubs from our pal Adrian and several sets of ‘Beers of the Weekend’ tasting notes.

Categories
Blogging and writing

News, nuggets and longreads 10 October 2020: architecture, yeast culture, the nature of time

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that’s caught our attention in the past week, from looming Lockdown 2 to the philosophy of yeast.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the same grim news cycle, fretting over restrictions on pub opening hours and the possibility of their total closure for another stretch, as the UK Government struggles to keep COVID-19 under control. If the capricious paywall will let you read it, this summary of the debate from Chris Giles and Alice Hancock at the Financial Times is helpful:

Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said that in the UK, the “concrete evidence was a little bit thin”, but that was more because everyone was understandably “panicking in a pandemic” rather than setting up studies that would provide proof… “Trying to tease out evidence from noise is not an exact science,” he said, “but based on pragmatic thinking and given what we know about superspreading events . . . pubs and restaurants are where some outbreaks are seeded”.

With tighter restrictions due to be rolled out on Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced yet another package of support for business, this time focused on those legally obliged to close, or to switch to a takeaway collection or delivery model.

It includes payment of a proportion of wages for furloughed staff and an increase in the size of cash grants available. So, somewhat helpful for pubs but, as others have pointed out, not much to use breweries or other industries reliant on pubs.

To echo points we made in our monthly newsletter a few weeks ago, we agree that it’s unfair to “blame pubs” – the Government needs to own this. At the same time, we do feel fairly sure that the biggest risk is people mixing indoors; pubs aren’t the only place that happens but, sorry, they’re simply not as important as schools; and closing or restricting pubs is justified based on the evidence we have. But that ought to come with the necessary support, both from Government and from drinkers who are able to buy takeaway.


Newcastle

We like this piece from Newcastle brewery Wylam on the closure of its taproom because it’s full of hard detail on the economics of running a brewing-hospitality business in 2020:

[Over] the past four weeks since the further tightening of restrictions… we have seen the following reduction in the year on year trade at our Tap Room:

 

Sept week 1 minus 36%

Sept week 2 minus 55% – Rule of 6 announced

Sept week 3 minus 79% – 10pm curfew announced

Sept week 4 minus 84% – Illegal to drink with anyone outside your household [in the North East of England]


Illustration: 'Yeast'.

At Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymus has, as always, been connecting dots and asking thought-provoking questions. This time, inspired by a piece by Clare Bullen, he’s got us reflecting on yeast culture or, rather, the culture around yeast:

Until 1980, a guard at the Carlsberg brewery gate in Copenhagen handed out small quantities from a “yeast tower” to locals who asked… “The old founder of Carlsberg knew that this sharing of yeast was a fundamental ‘law’ and security for any brewhouse. Imagine that your yeast went wrong and you did not have the possibility to get I from another brewery. In other words, there is a strong relationship between cultivating yeast, keeping the culture healthy and distributing the risk,” [Per] Kølster wrote.


Brussels architecture

Belgium’s beer is beautiful and distinctive. Its architecture is… not universally admired, shall we say. At Belgian Smaak, Breandán Kearney explores the “shared strangeness” of these two worlds:

Taste in design is subjective, of course, but it seems what people see as ugly in Belgium is its violently extreme patchwork of architecture, a kind of chaotic diversity that is challenging for the human mind to process and which it happens is not unlike the idiosyncratic nature of its beers… In fact, some of the words used by visitors to Belgium to describe its architecture—quirky, characterful, complex, and intense—are the exact same words used by many beer enthusiasts to describe the country’s beer.


A pub clock.

For Good Beer Hunting Evan Rail wonders what will happen when we run out of historic beer styles to revive, and whether the concept of history even makes sense:

If we keep resuscitating these previously extinct historic beer styles, we will run out of them—unless, of course, some contemporary beer styles also disappear along the way. It’s not hard to foresee the extinction of Amber Ale, Brown Ale or even Black IPA. Some of us can even imagine the complete and total disappearance of Milkshake IPAs… Some of us think about the extirpation of Milkshake IPAs a lot.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this reminder that all sorts of stuff goes on in pubs:

For more good reading, with commentary, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up of beer news notes.

Categories
Blogging and writing

Everything we wrote in September 2020

It’s not all that much by our standards, is it? The thing is, it was August, then suddenly it was October.

We started out with a bit of cautious optimism: if we’ve got to go through all this, wouldn’t it be nice if neighbourhood pubs at least managed to claw some custom back from city centres?


The Champion is a famous London pub with a deep Victorian look but, in fact, it was basically invented in its current form in the 1950s:

In 1954, Barclay Perkins commissioned architects and designers Sylvia and John Reid to bring it up to date by taking it back to the newly fashionable 19th century… Accordingly, they told the brewery that they didn’t intend to create a straightforward pastiche or reconstruction of a Victorian pub. Instead, their plan was to identify what made pubs feel pubby and then achieve the same atmosphere with modern materials and craft.


Summer Lightning was the first golden ale, right? Or maybe not. We’ve finally been convinced by the claims of one of the earlier examples of the style, from c.1887.


We spent a few days in Broadstairs in Kent and took the opportunity to visit a few micropubs in their natural environment:

The game in 2020 is all about confidence and reassurance and there was plenty of that at The Magnet. There were enough staff on to intercept every guest and cheerfully direct them to the sanitiser and guestbook, along with table service that felt as if they were doing you a favour rather subjecting you to a restrictive regime. Personality goes a long way, doesn’t it?


Comus Elliott was, or maybe is, Britain’s most famous pub crawler. He started ticking pubs in 1957 and visited his 10,000th in 1983.


We finished the month with a piece by Ray about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his pub crawling adventures and the laxative properties of Gose.


We also put together our regular weekly round-ups of news and links:


We posted a few bits and pieces on Patreon including notes on brewers playing cricket, Watney’s in New York and struggling pubs.


There were quite a few Tweets, like this:


Finally, we put out 1,300 or so words of exclusive stuff in our newsletter. If you want to read October’s, sign up now.

Categories
Blogging and writing

Everything we wrote in July 2020

We kept up the usual pace this month, somehow, turning back to our long-term to-do list and the frequently asked questions at which we’ve been chipping away.

We started the month with a brief note on a perennial question: which is the oldest pub in England? We had this on our list anyway but moved it up when Ewan gave us a nudge via Patreon:

The other problem is the tendency of pubs to tell outright fibs about this kind of thing. It turns out that many such claims can be dismantled with a bit of work and you soon learn to ignore any information board that opens with it “It is reputed that…”


For the first time in ages, we reviewed some books. First, we looked at a pair of self-published eBooks by Pete Brown and Andreas Krenmair, drawing some conclusions about the future of beer writing:

When it comes to beer, most publishers seem hung up on the same handful of topics and formats: lists of beers you must drink, beginners’ guides, compilations of trivia and the occasional breezy personal memoir… Not needing to sell well is one of the great advantages of eBooks, however. If an eBook doesn’t sell, it’s disappointing. If a print publication is slow to move, that’s someone’s office or warehouse or spare bedroom piled high with boxes for years to come.

There are some related thoughts from Jeff Alworth here.


Next, we reviewed Historical Brewing Techniques: the lost art of farmhouse brewing by Lars Marius Garshol. We liked it quite a bit:

The farmhouse brewers themselves are under constant pressure to modernise and standardise. Why use that dirty old yeast your grandfather passed on when I can sell you a nice lab-grown dried variety designed for brewing? Making your own malt is a waste of time – just buy some… In that context, this book – and the half-decade of research that led up to it – feels like a just-in-time intervention. Stick to your traditions, Lars seems to be saying; you’re right, the modernisers are wrong; don’t let this die.


On 19 July, we highlighted the apparent dominance of family brewers when it comes to bitter, based on a numbers from a conversation on Twitter:

The only ‘new’ breweries represented at this top table were founded in 1981 (Woodforde’s) and 1997 (Marble)… If you tot up all the nominations for new breweries and treat them as a category, you get to about 14. (We don’t know all the beers named and some might not meet our definition of bitter.) That’s still not enough to beat Harvey’s, Landlord or Batham’s.


Then, on 23 July, we had to tut at the very brewers to which we’d given a big shout out when news broke of proposed changes to small brewers relief (SBR):

We believe the breweries lobbying for it have made a strategic error; and we, like others, might be less inclined to buy their beer or speak positively of them as a result… And we don’t really buy the ‘Poor us – we’re being undercut by these upstarts’ argument. It sticks in the craw somewhat to see breweries who own hundreds of tied pubs, to which they often sell their beer at above the market price, complaining about distortions in the market.


Back to the FAQ list, we revisited the research we did for Brew Britannia to give a straight answer to the question ‘Which was the first UK microbewery?


Tower of coins.

A thing that used to be popular in pubs, but has more or less disappeared, is piling pennies on the bar to make a huge tower in aid of charity. We finally did the research to work out (a) when it started; (b) how it worked; and (c) when and why it died out.


Having visited some pubs, finally, we’ve found ourselves thinking about the apps many of us are now using to order our pints. Jess wrote up some thoughts on this drawing on her own experience working for a business that ran a large hotel-pub in Cornwall:

First, it’s interesting that we caught ourselves going back to the same pub twice because, among other reasons, “We already have the app.” Although the apps are reasonably easy to use, there is a bit of time required for setup and those of us nervous about data protection are reluctant to sign up with ten different apps… Secondly, the availability of an app really brings the ownership of a pub to the surface.


We’ve also started to ramp up posting on Patreon again with regular posts on our favourite beers of each weekend, sharing an article on saudade we wrote for Original Gravity in 2018 and adding some footnotes to posts we shared here on the main blog.


We wrote our usual 1,000+ words for our monthly newsletter – sign up here to get next month’s.


And, of course, we were all over Twitter with stuff like this mystery and satisfying crowdsourced solution:

And that’s it. Next month, we’re actually going somewhere which might inspire something. We’ll no doubt be sharing a work-in-progress diary on Patreon as we go, anyway.