Categories
Blogging and writing

The best of our writing from 2019

We’ve turned out some stuff of which we’re quite proud this year, from Guinness history to reflections on Belgium.

We’ve been pulling together these self-celebratory round-ups for a few years now, as companion pieces to our selections of the best beer writing by other people.

They offer a chance to pat ourselves on the back, tamp down some of the self-doubt that probably afflicts anyone who ‘puts stuff out there’ and to think about which direction things might head in the year to come.

If you’ve enjoyed some of our work this year, do consider:


Fuller's Traditional Draught Beers (1970s beermat).

Feelings about Fuller’s, January 2019

“On Friday it was announced that Asahi had acquired the brewing wing of Fuller’s, subject to rubber-stamping, and we felt, frankly, gutted… With a few days to absorb and reflect we’re still feeling disappointed, despite commentary from those who argue that Asahi aren’t the worst, that it’s a vote of confidence of cask, and so on. It still feels as if someone you thought was a pal has betrayed you.”

Simon Guineau

The distributed brewery: Simon G. and Zero Degrees

“Simon Gueneau is a Parisian trained in Belgium, based in Bristol, and brewing Continental-style beer on Italian kit – how could we fail to be intrigued? We’ve long been fascinated by Zero Degrees, the brewpub chain that predates the craft beer craze of the mid-2000s, with bars that never quite click for our taste. Since moving to Bristol, though, we’ve come to really appreciate the beer, which, if you can ignore the context, is clean, classical and balanced across the board.”


Soon after opening.

Soon after opening, March 2019

“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.”


Ikeja, 1962

Snapshot: Guinness in Nigeria, April 2019

“We had a huge house. We lived in a big compound with about half an acre of land around it, maybe more, with a houseboy, a cook and a nanny, who lived in shacks in the back garden. They thought they were nice quarters but even as a small child I thought they were shacks. We were very well looked after… We had mosquito nets, but we also had air conditioning. We only dropped the mosquito nets if the air con broke and the windows had to be opened. Every night before we went to bed the houseboy would come in and spray God knows what, DDT probably, and kill everything that was in the bedroom.”


Illustration: a round of drinks.

The unwritten rules of buying rounds, June 2019

“There are few things as odd as reading an observed description of your own culture’s unconscious habits, such as the buying of rounds of drinks. When we arrived in Glasgow last weekend we browsed the guidebooks supplied in our flat and stopped short when we found a note, aimed at visitors to Scotland, on how to buy rounds…”


Glasgow.

Glimpses of Glasgow, June 2019

“We went to the Babbity Bowster because it’s in the Good Beer Guide and our friend recommended it and someone on Twitter told us to go. We loved it, though plain it was, with its Jarl, tourist-baiting fiddle music and eyepatch-wearing cowboys… The Black Friar is in the Good Beer Guide. We didn’t love it, plain as it was, with its long silences and so-so cask ale… The Pot Still, late at night, had a buzz and humidity we enjoyed, and a certain everyday ceremony around the serving of whisky. But everybody seemed to be Swedish or Spanish or, ugh, English, which is fine, of course, but, well…”


The Drapers Arms.

Two years, two hundred pubs, July 2019

“We’ve now been in Bristol for two years and have logged every single official Pub Visit since arriving…. We have logged 516 pub visits in total. Almost 30% of these were to our local, The Drapers Arms. We have visited 216 different pubs. Our pace of visiting new pubs has slowed: we went to our first 100 in six months; our second 100 took a year; and we’ve only added 16 in the last six months.”


Leeds town hall

In their own words: the development of the Leeds beer scene, August 2019

“Leeds is still Leeds – there’s still a pub for all tastes within walking distance and the majority of the classic places are still there, doing well. There’s even more choice and it’s hard to not encounter ‘craft’ in most places now, like in any major city. At the risk of sounding like an old man, it’s getting increasingly expensive to drink in the city centre, but the scene itself is thriving – beer is mainstream, there’s no need to guide people anymore.”


Ceci n’est pas un travelogue.

Ceci n’est pas un travelogue, September 2019

“There is a man with a piece of pencil lead under his fingernail drawing nudes in a notebook while drinking a milky coffee. 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.’”


The Meaning of Pub

Running the numbers, October 2019

“One of the most frequently asked questions about #EveryPubInBristol is how we define a pub. This is hard to answer beyond ‘We know one when we see one’. But we thought we might try to be a bit more scientific and come up with a scoring system.”


Swan With Two Necks interior.

The Swan with Two Necks and the gentrification problem, November 2019

“‘I’ve been called a cultural terrorist,’ said Jamie Ashley, the new landlord of The Swan With Two Necks, seeming offended, amused and confused in equal measure. In the past few months, he’s found himself at the centre of one of Bristol’s many small dramas of gentrification, as either a pioneer or an intruder depending on your point of view.”


Those are, for us, the real highlights, but with about 150 posts in total this year there’s plenty more to explore – do have a nose around using categories and tags. And if there’s a piece you liked we haven’t included above, feel free to mention it in the comments. We absolutely will not object to a bit of flattery.

Categories
Blogging and writing

Our favourite beer writing of 2019

Every year for the past few years, we’ve dug through our weekly news, nuggets and longreads posts to identify what we reckon is the best of the year.

We do this not only as a reminder that there’s lots of great stuff being produced by talented writers but also because writing online is transitory – you sweat over something, it has its moment of attention, then sinks away into the bottomless depths of the Eternal Feed.

The pieces we’ve chosen below excited or interested us when they were published an, rereading them this weekend, retained their power.

They tell us things we didn’t already know, challenge our thinking, find new angles on old stories, and do it with beautiful turns of phrase and delightful images.

Give these writers a follow on social media, if you haven’t already, and do what you can to support their efforts (Patreon, Ko-Fi, buy their books or zines, pay them to write for you) if you want more of this in 2020 and beyond.


David Brassfield outside Brupond.
SOURCE: Will Hawkes.

The Quiet American

By Will Hawkes, @Will_Hawkes, January 2019

The story of the rise and fall of Brüpond, a London brewery set up by an American with high hopes, offers a valuable perspective on failure,  a topic often overlooked in the excitement around the beer boom:

I only met David Brassfield once, at The Kernel on a warm day at the end of July 2012. He was standing patiently in front of a fermenting vessel, a notepad clutched to his chest, waiting to speak to Evin O’Riordain. I noted how smartly turned-out he was: he was wearing modish thick-rimmed spectacle, as I recall, and there was a biro tucked into the breast pocket of his white shirt… For a moment I imagined him as an American journalist, here to find out more about London’s brewing renaissance. A quick chat dispelled that notion. He was setting up a brewery in London, he told me in easy-going Midwestern style, and gave me his card: Brüpond Brewery, it read in thick black type, “for explorers”… 13 months later, Brüpond was up for sale.


The Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.

The Male Gueuze – Cantillon, Cabaret, and Context

By Lily Waite, @LilyWaite_, December 2018

There’s been some squirming over the attitudes of the cult Belgian brewery for a few years now but if anything, its management seemed to be doubling down:

In 2018… the Zwanze Day events that Cantillon co-hosted at Moeder Lambic—one of Brussels’ most popular beer bars—overshadowed the beer itself… After an introduction by Cantillon owner Jean Van Roy, Colette Collerette, a burlesque dancer who performs with Brussels’ Cabaret Mademoiselle, began to disrobe in front of the bar. The show culminated when Collerette—wearing just nipple pasties and a thong—shook two bottles of beer and sprayed the foam over her nearly-naked body.

What’s going on, and how does it fit into the wider conversation around attitudes to women in beer?

Categories
Blogging and writing

Everything we wrote about beer and pubs in November 2019

We managed a respectable fourteen posts in November, with an emphasis on pubs, community and gentrification, but with the odd tasting note and bit of history, too.

The first proper post of the month wasn’t about beer and was a solo flight for Ray on the subject of pies, and specifically whether they need to have a pastry base:

You are here for deprogramming. Everything you thought you knew about pies is wrong. Listen to me – listen carefully: even if it has no pastry base, it is still a pie. You might have a preference for a pie with a pastry base. That might be how your Mum made pies, or how the speciality pie of your hometown is made. But none of that means ‘stew with a lid’ is anything other than a legitimate pie.

This generated some attention from outside our friendly bubble – turns out pie people are passionate and partisan as beer geeks.


For our own satisfaction, we (mostly Jess) set out to discover exactly when British brewers started putting the ABV on beer packaging and at point of sale:

[We were] able to establish that a change in the law was proposed in 1987 by the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in response to an EEC (European Economic Community) directive… And that was our first surprise – we had assumed it happened as a result of either consumer or CAMRA pressure, or as a result of one of the many government enquiries going on at the time. But it looks like it was actually just an all-but automatic implementation in the UK of European wide legislation.


Cinema Open

The first of our pieces on pubs and gentrification was a reflection on the relaunch of The Fellowship at Bellingham, south east London, which we last visited in 2016 when it was semi-derelict:

We visited shortly after opening on a Sunday when it was fairly quiet but with a good number of reservations for lunch later in the afternoon. They had had a busy night before, too, as suggested by the dry pumps and confirmed by the staff behind the bar: “Well, we did have Don Letts here last night.”… We were really impressed with the transformation, or rather the comparative lack of it. While it definitely clean and contemporary the original wooden panelling was visible throughout, barely even retouched or varnished in some places.

Categories
Blogging and writing

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.

Categories
Blogging and writing News

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.