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News, nuggets and longreads 2 January 2021: Future Shock

After a couple of weeks off, partly because beer writing and blogging also went into hibernation, we’re back with our first round-up of 2021.

Once again, things are bleak. As various wags have pointed out, the only pubs you can now sit in for a drink are on Scilly and UK COVID-19 case numbers look scarier than ever. Still, at least vaccines are beginning to roll out – though even that has somehow become fraught and and confusing.

Still, beer continues to exist, and pubs continue to fascinate, and writing about them rolls on.


Brussels blood sausage.

At Brussels Beer City, with the help of his wife, Eoghan Walsh provides notes on whether there is such a thing as traditional Bruxellois Christmas food and, if so, which of the city’s beers might best pair with what:

Irish Christmas traditions are pretty standard when it comes to food, and are what you might expect from the archipelago of English-speaking islands in the northwestern corner of Europe: mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding, turkey, stuffing, ham, various iterations of potatoes (mashed, roasted, parsley), gravy. In asking around what constituted a Brussels Christmas, it became clear that no such culinary canon existed. For some people, game – rabbit often, sometimes small birds – featured highly, while for others it was all about salmon. Noting Brussels’ long history of migrant communities, people suggested dishes with Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, and French influences…


A pint and a book.

Suzy Aldridge has launched a new blog, Hobbyist Lobbyist, with a bit less beer than the old one but still plenty of room for, say, reflections on the magic of bar stools:

There’s just enough space on the curved end of the bar for your pint, your book, and a pot of olives. There’s four more seats at the bar but you’re just out the way enough that no-one needs to lean over you to order. You occasionally duck so they can read the blackboard behind you but you don’t mind, in fact you can recommend the stout – gesturing at your tankard. The bar staff are charming, the ebb and flow of customers sharing the bar with you is friendly and comfortable. You are at peace.


Alice Batham

For Burum Collective, Helen Anne Smith has interviewed Alice Batham, an early-career brewer with a name famous among beer geeks:

“My family own a brewery, so I have actually grown up in the industry. When I was younger, I used to go to the brewery with my Dad, it was only ever like a Saturday, or Sunday kind of thing. I was never pressured into going into beer. I went to University to do English and – it sounds like super cliche whenever I say this to people, but I went and lived in Australia for a bit. Their bar and pub scene is just so different and I realised how much I loved it and missed it.”


Rural Jamaica

In his ongoing research into porter and stout (there’s a big book on the way) Martyn Cornell continues to find new stories to tell. This week, he shone a light on the historic popularity of porter among working-class Jamaicans:

Draught porter was sold from draught porter shops, in existence in Kingston, Jamaica from at least the Edwardian era; from casks in refreshment parlors that also sold fried fish and bread; and also by travelling salesmen, who would call out “Draaf porter!” as they travelled on foot around rural villages in the Jamaican interior, carrying a large tin container with a spout, and cans in quart, pint, half-pint and gill (quarter-pint, pronounced “jill”) sizes, for serving… Draught porter, often referred to as “drought porter,” was brewed by Jamaica’s many soda water and soft drinks manufacturers using “wet sugar,” a type of molasses made by the hundreds of small cane-sugar farmers in the Jamaican countryside and sold in tins. Draught porter retailed for an exceedingly cheap 1½ pence a glass, and was the drink of Jamaica’s poorest classes.


Breakfast now being served.

Liam at Beer, Food, Travel has unearthed a fun little thing – a rundown of the correct names for drinks taken at various times of day, from 1892. At the time of writing, we ought to have put away our eye openers (6am), be working on our appetizers (7am) and looking forward to digesters at 8am. (Ugh.)


After a slow start, a decent number of Golden Pints posts did appear in the end. If we’ve missed yours, give us a shout.

Common themes? “What a year it’s been!” and plaudit for Lars Marius Garshol’s excellent book.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this, which you’ll either get, or you won’t:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-ups from Thursday – from the past three Thursdays, in fact.

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Our favourite bits of beer writing from 2020

These are individual pieces of beer writing that stood out to us, and stuck in our memories, because they were powerfully written, especially illuminating or simply spoke to a moment.

This isn’t a record of every good bit of writing from the year – we managed to find between five and eight notable posts or articles most Saturday mornings.

If there’s a favourite piece of yours we’ve omitted, feel free to give it a shout out in the comments.

Mallaig

My Journey to Scotland’s Most Remote Pub

By Oliver Smith, Outside, January 2020

“In the beginning, there was the pub. And the people saw that the pub was good… The pub was the Old Forge, and the Guinness Book of World Records declared it “the most remote pub on mainland Britain.” It was set in the village of Inverie, the only major settlement on Scotland’s Knoydart peninsula, a wild finger of land with a population of 100. To get there, you had two choices: catch a six-mile ferry from the little port of Mallaig, or set out on a two-to-three-day hike across some of the most isolated mountains in Western Europe—an attempt referred to by the British outdoor community as a “walk-in.” The trek from the hamlet of Glenfinnan is some 27 miles, crossing swollen rivers and lonely mountains along vague and vanishing trails. With every mile walked, every sprain of ankle, every squelch of bog, the beer tasted sweeter… But then the trouble started.”

Norway

East of the mountains: gong

By Lars Marius Garshol, April 2020

“While the wort boiled, we headed into the house where Ågot, Sverre’s mother, was preparing the yeast. Sverre said that even when his father brewed, his mother was the one that handled the yeast. Entering the kitchen I was astonished to see pieces of cloth with a thin, dry crust of darkish-brown yeast on them. I’d read about people storing yeast by drying it on cloth, but never actually seen it… This is the “gong”, the yeast that Sverre inherited from his father. Exactly where it came from before that he’s not quite sure. He also shares it with Bjarne Halvorsgard, another local brewer. So the exact origin of the yeast is difficult to pinpoint, but it’s definitely been in the village for a long time. Beyond that it was not at all clear what it was, except that it could ferment beer… It turns out Ågot takes the harvested yeast and smears it on cloth, where it is dried. She has a box full of these cloth pieces with dried yeast on them. After they’re dried she cuts them into suitable sizes for the next brews.”

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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!

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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.

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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.