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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
Well… Chasing after a woman.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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’…
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.