Everything we wrote in May 2019: Guinness, pubs, tea gardens

Oof, this was not a highly productive stretch… Let’s just say we were running low on energy in the run up to the holiday we’re now on. Anyway, slim or not, the month was not without interesting stuff.

First, there was a long piece actu­al­ly pub­lished at the end of April, but after the cut-off for our last month­ly round-up: the sto­ry of Guin­ness’s brew­ery at Ike­ja in Nige­ria told through an inter­view and archive research. One read­er kind­ly wrote to tell us it was ‘far and away the best beer blog of 2019’ and that it reflect­ed his own expe­ri­ences of work­ing in Africa (not in brew­ing) in the 1980s, which was nice.


We announced our new bookBalmy Nec­tar, which we’re pleased to say has been sell­ing quite well. If you haven’t bought a copy, do take a look; and if you have, please leave a review.


Sev­er­al months ago, some­one asked us if we knew the ori­gins of an appar­ent­ly unique pub name from Leices­ter­shire and after weeks of dig­ging, we think we’ve cracked it. Spoil­er: freema­son­ry!


One of those peri­od­ic debates about sparklers popped up on Twit­ter and, watch­ing the con­ver­sa­tion play out, we thought we’d achieved clar­i­ty: they’re nei­ther good nor evil, it depends on the under­ly­ing con­di­tion of the beer.


We picked some bits of about beer from a 1945 mag­a­zine for British armed forces sta­tioned in India, like this:

Advertisement for Dyer Meakin Breweries and their Solan brand beers.


We final­ly made it to Beese’s Tea Gar­dens, a Vic­to­ri­an insti­tu­tion on the out­skirts of Bris­tol, where you can drink beer in the shade of ancient trees on a river­bank:

Last Sat­ur­day, we approached from Broomhill, cut­ting from a coun­cil estate into a slop­ing park where teenagers flirt­ed on the climb­ing frame next to a bas­ket­ball court. A short walk down a wood­ed path brought us to a gate that might have been trans­plant­ed from Bavaria…


Cam­den Hells did­n’t seem that big a deal in 2011; we’ve now come to realise that there was a time before Cam­den, and a time after, and the post-Cam­den beer scene is an alien plan­et:

What we should have paid more atten­tion to was that our friends who weren’t espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in beer – who would turn pale if you accused them of being beer geeks – seemed to like Hells a lot. They were switch­ing from Foster’s, Stel­la, Per­oni, and (per­haps cru­cial­ly) drink­ing Hells just as they’d drunk those oth­er beers: by the pint, pint after pint.


The cover of 'Pub', 1969.

Osbert Lan­cast­er was an illus­tra­tor and writer with strong opin­ions about pubs, espe­cial­ly Vic­to­ri­an ones, as set out in a 1938 book:

In the ear­li­er part of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry it was assumed, and right­ly, that a lit­tle healthy vul­gar­i­ty and full-blood­ed osten­ta­tion were not out of place in the archi­tec­ture and dec­o­ra­tion of a pub­lic-house, and it was dur­ing this peri­od that the tra­di­tion gov­ern­ing the appear­ance of the Eng­lish pub was evolved.


Anoth­er mid-cen­tu­ry writer and illus­tra­tor, Geof­frey Fletch­er, set out sim­i­lar views in his book The Lon­don Nobody Knows in 1962. We picked out a few choice lines, like this:

The archi­tects of the late Vic­to­ri­an pubs and music-halls knew exact­ly what the sit­u­a­tion demand­ed – extrav­a­gance, exu­ber­ance, and plen­ty of dec­o­ra­tion for its own sake.


We also put togeth­er our usu­al round-ups of news and good read­ing from beer blogs, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines:


At Patre­on we gave $2+ sub­scribers run­downs of the best beers of each week­end plus a few extra nuggets, such as an account of a (no-injuries) car crash out­side a pub that turned into a seri­ous spec­ta­tor event.


Our month­ly newslet­ter was a prop­er whop­per with notes on tea in pubs in the 1920s and links to archive footage of pubs in action. Sign up here.


We Tweet­ed a ton, too, espe­cial­ly from Tewkes­bury:

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.