Ten Years of Blogging: Our Favourite Posts

As of today, 25 April 2017, we have been blogging here for ten years. By way of marking the occasion we decided to revive this dormant page listing our favourite posts.

With more than 2,300 posts in the bag there’s a fair bit to choose from but we decid­ed to lim­it our­selves to a dozen of the ones of which we’re proud­est or fond­est, though we’d be delight­ed if you used this as a start­ing point for a rum­mage through our back cat­a­logue.

Welcome to Adnamsland: headline over Suffolk landscape.

Our account of a vis­it to South­wold and the sur­round­ing area in the apple-strewn autumn of 2014 was one of the first times we real­ly went some­where with a mis­sion to observe and then real­ly let our­selves be writ­ers when the time came to put it into prose.

In Kess­ing­land, we found more apples, clut­ter­ing up bus stops, rolling in gut­ters, and for sale in plas­tic bags on tres­tle tables on dri­ve­ways and lawns. Anoth­er town which is no longer as impor­tant as once it was, it lacks Southwold’s prim cute­ness, being more the kind of place where pen­sion­ers in anoraks hud­dle under shel­ters eat­ing sand­wich­es from Tup­per­ware box­es, and where work­ing peo­ple actu­al­ly live. There is no fresh­ly-paint­ed Adnams house, either. One pub is board­ed up, while anoth­er looked rather down-at-heel and was closed, and so we killed 30 min­utes in Livingstone’s, a ‘fun’ pub on the site of the local wildlife park, ‘Africa Alive!’ Cav­ernous and dim­ly lit, it throbbed with dance music play­ing for the ben­e­fit of the bar staff and two young men at the pool table. There was Adnams’s ale but it was served along­side beer from a local micro­brew­ery.


Illustration: women in beer, vintage style.

In 2013, as we were fin­ish­ing the first draft of Brew Bri­tan­nia, we became con­scious of how few women were rep­re­sent­ed in the sto­ry. After a bit of addi­tion­al research with that in mind what we came up with was a com­pan­ion piece to the book high­light­ing the con­tri­bu­tion of women in the peri­od it cov­ers, from around 1963 to 2013:


Newquay Steam Beer swingtop bottles.

Anoth­er piece from 2013 is one that gets a sub­stan­tial amount of traf­fic because it answers a peren­ni­al ques­tion: what­ev­er hap­pened to Newquay Steam Beer? Around this time of year espe­cial­ly, as peo­ple start plan­ning their Cor­nish hol­i­days, they won­der whether they’ll be able to get a bot­tle or two to drink on the beach like they did 30 years ago and it’s we who deliv­er the bad news. This sto­ry was sug­gest­ed by a read­er, Ray Bate­man, and ben­e­fit­ed great­ly from the input of those who were there at the time, as well as our then new­ly acquired archive of What’s Brew­ing.

One design fea­ture that would come to define the image of Newquay Steam Beer was its ceram­ic ‘Grolsch-style’ swing-top… [Michael] Cannon’s nose for what would make mon­ey was infal­li­ble. Those stop­pers, and com­plete trans­paren­cy about ingre­di­ents and alco­hol con­tent, helped the brand stand out in a mar­ket place where beau­ti­ful-look­ing bot­tled beers were then few and far between.


Peter Elvin portrait in black-and-white.

Still in Corn­wall, our 2015 pro­file of Peter Elvin who brews his Pen­zance Brew­ing Co beers at The Star Inn, Crowlas, Pen­zance, is a piece we enjoyed writ­ing more than (as far as we can tell) oth­ers enjoyed read­ing it. The premise behind it was that peo­ple are fed up of read­ing about the usu­al sus­pects and so ought to enjoy an inter­view with a low-pro­file, self-effac­ing brew­er. We orig­i­nal­ly pitched this to mag­a­zines with a series in mind but edi­tors didn’t get it.

Oh, uh, now… When was I born?

[Scratch­es head]

Er… 1958, on Scil­ly. St Mary. I grew up there, joined the Mer­chant Navy in 1979, most­ly round north­ern Europe, then went back for a year-and-a-half on the plea­sure boats. But it was sort of… claus­tro­pho­bic. I’d had too much free­dom, I sup­pose. So I left again went up to Budeleigh in Worces­ter­shire.

Why?

Well… Chas­ing after a woman.


The Old Pack Horse pub, Chiswick.

We spend a lot of time in the pub, as our end-of-month finan­cials so often sad­ly reveal, but one of our favourite pub-going expe­di­tions was in the win­ter of 2016 when we explored Fuller’s ter­ri­to­ry in West Lon­don. We like this post because it reminds us of a fun evening and because, here and there, the writing’s not bad either:

The Duke retains two bars, pub­lic and saloon — and not just the sug­ges­tion of two bars, mind you, but an appar­ent­ly gen­uine seg­re­ga­tion, with solo gents seat­ed at their cross­words in the lat­ter while the for­mer was stand­ing only, foot­ball on the tel­ly and pool under­way. Snatch­es of con­ver­sa­tion in var­i­ous accents rose above the chat­ter now and then: ‘Now, you know I’m a patient sort of bloke, but I told him…’; ‘After you, dear boy, after you, ha ha, jol­ly good!’ We were con­scious of being strangers — a cou­ple of curi­ous glances came our way — and yet also felt the most com­fort­able we had all evening. What­ev­er mag­ic makes a pub feel right, this seemed to have it.


A Kneitinger bock advertisement from 2007.

We’re includ­ing this one out of sen­ti­ment as much as any­thing: it was our first prop­er blog post, pub­lished on 26 April 2007. It’s prob­a­bly no use now as a guide to Regens­burg and there’s not much sub­stance to it but, wow, did it feel like a major piece of work at the time. Writ­ten by Boak, edit­ed by Bai­ley, it was also among the first things we did that ever got linked to by oth­er peo­ple – a mas­sive thrill, as you can imag­ine. Maybe some­day we’ll get to go back and rewrite this post with more expe­ri­ence as both beer drinkers and writ­ers.


1980s photo of Dad pulling a pint.

This 2009 piece on why work­ing class peo­ple don’t go to the pub (by Bai­ley, edit­ed by Boak) prompt­ed praise from Pete Brown which, at the time, we found aston­ish­ing. With hind­sight, the humour might be a bit dry – there was nev­er any real risk of a cheese dome pur­chase – but the under­ly­ing points are still good: people’s hous­es are nicer, booze is expen­sive, and drink dri­ving is taboo.


Camden beer taps at a London pub.

Anoth­er post that con­tin­u­al­ly gar­ners traf­fic years after pub­li­ca­tion is our piece on Cam­den Town Brew­ery and their habit of con­tract­ing pro­duc­tion to Ger­many and Bel­gium. Back in 2014, before they’d sold up to AB-InBev, Cam­den was res­olute­ly ‘craft’ but sub­ject to snip­ing from those in the know. This post helped us under­stand what was going on and, appar­ent­ly, brought the issue to to the atten­tion of oth­ers, too. The les­son we learned from this? If you want to know what’s going on, get on the phone and ask:

Though [Jasper Cup­paidge] was reluc­tant to spec­i­fy how much Cam­den Hells is brewed abroad at peak times because it can vary, the very vague ball­park fig­ure of 25 per cent was men­tioned. So, between, say, May and Sep­tem­ber 2014, there will be a some­thing like a one-in-four chance that pint of Hells you drink will have been brewed in Bel­gium.


Becky's Dive Bar c.1972.
SOURCE: Grant W. Corby/Brian Schwartz

The post that formed the ker­nel of Brew Bri­tan­nia, and which con­vinced our pub­lish­ers that there might be some sto­ries to tell, was this 2012 piece on Becky’s Dive Bar. Becky was the eccen­tric land­la­dy of a base­ment pub in South Lon­don which was famous in the 1960s and 70s for its vast range of beer:

It was car­pet­ed… with left­overs, scraps and “ends of rolls”. It stank of urine and stale beer. Michael Hard­man recalls his wife being served a gin and ton­ic with a fly swim­ming in it. When he com­plained, Becky speared the fly with a cock­tail stick and hand­ed the drink back.

We’ve kept it updat­ed as new infor­ma­tion has emerged and a ver­sion was includ­ed in Adri­an Tierney-Jones’s anthol­o­gy of beer writ­ing last year. (Dis­clo­sure: we got a token pay­ment and a free copy).


Samuel Smith's wheat beer label.

Over the years we’ve writ­ten a lot of tast­ing notes, in lots of dif­fer­ent styles, some more suc­cess­ful than oth­ers. We want­ed to include some­thing here to rep­re­sent that impor­tant part of what this blog is about but it’s hard to find one set of notes that real­ly stand out – they are, by def­i­n­i­tion, rather throw­away. That’s why we tend to wrap them up in sea­sons and series, such as Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour or taste-offs by style. But last year we did a sin­gle-post round-up of British wheat beers which was edu­ca­tion­al for us and fun to write.


Illustration: Koelsch in Cologne.

This piece is one we keep refer­ring back to and think­ing about: what are the indi­ca­tors that a place has a healthy beer cul­ture? If we ever write a book that isn’t about beer/pub his­to­ry, this might be the angle:

1. There is a drink­ing estab­lish­ment with­in walk­ing dis­tance of where you live where you like to spend time, and which serves decent beer.

2. If you are skint, there is an accept­able drink­ing estab­lish­ment with­in walk­ing dis­tance which sells decent beer at ‘bar­gain’ prices.

3. If you fan­cy some­thing spe­cial, there is a pub or bar with­in reach on pub­lic trans­port (WRPT) which sells imports and ‘craft beer’…


Illustration of a pub: How to Beer Blog.

Final­ly here’s one from 2015 which we wrote with some trep­i­da­tion and which we got a bit of stick for: ‘How to Beer Blog’. We saw, and still see, peo­ple try­ing to get up the nerve to start a blog, or find enthu­si­asm to keep one going, and this post is intend­ed to help. We want there to be more beer blog­gers for us to react to, talk with, and include in our Sat­ur­day morn­ing round-ups. Here’s the too-long-didn’t-read sum­ma­ry:

Please do start a blog – it’s fun – but don’t expect to become rich or famous off the back of it. Post inter­est­ing, orig­i­nal con­tent on a reg­u­lar basis, and pro­mote the work of oth­ers as much as you pro­mote your own, and you’ll do OK. If you want oth­ers to read what you write, by all means lis­ten to con­struc­tive crit­i­cism, but remem­ber it’s your blog, and your self-expres­sion, and any­one that doesn’t like it can get bent.