News, nuggets and longreads 31 August 2019: London, Lambeth, Lancashire

Here’s everything that struck us as noteworthy in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from judging beer to assessing malt.

First, a bit of news: Founders Brew­ing Co has final­ly sold off the major­i­ty of itself to Mahou, hav­ing ini­tial­ly sur­ren­dered a 30% stake in 2013. This comes in the con­text of accu­sa­tions of endem­ic racism at the Michi­gan brew­ery which have tar­nished its image in the past year or so.


And anoth­er: accord­ing to fig­ures released by Lon­don City Hall, the num­ber of pubs in the city has sta­bilised at just over 3,500. In 13 bor­oughs, the num­ber of pubs actu­al­ly increased and the num­ber of small pubs across the city went up, buck­ing a trend towards larg­er pubs that’s been evi­dent since 2003. There’s also a map show­ing the num­ber of pubs for each bor­ough – a fas­ci­nat­ing at-a-glimpse read­out with traf­fic light colours that we sus­pect would look sim­i­lar for most cities in the UK these days.


Old engraving of Lambeth Palace.
Lam­beth Palace in 1647. SOURCE: Archive.org

At A Good Beer Blog Alan McLeod con­tin­ues his inves­ti­ga­tions into old British beer cat­e­gories ask­ing this time why Lam­beth Ale was called Lam­beth Ale:

Let me illus­trate my conun­drum. If you look up at the image above, which I am informed is a 1670 illus­tra­tion of the sights at Lam­beth, you will note two things: a big church com­plex and a lot of grass. Here is a sim­i­lar ver­sion dat­ed 1685. I have fur­ther illus­trat­ed the con­cept here for clar­i­ty. Lam­beth Palace is and was the Lon­don res­i­dence of the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury, head of the Church of Eng­land. It sits in what is known as – and what was at the time in ques­tion – Lam­beth Marsh. Grass.


Tractors at Rivington.
SOURCE: Katie Mather/Pellicle.

Katie Math­er reports for Pel­li­cle from “Man­ches­ter’s Lake Dis­trict” where Riv­ing­ton Brew­ing Co is oper­at­ing from a farm, pro­duc­ing Amer­i­can-style IPAs and sour beer:

We do suf­fer from a mas­sive sense of imposter syn­drome,” Ben says as we stand around the tiny lean-to, clutch­ing mugs of diges­tive bis­cuit-coloured tea. “When oth­er brew­eries give us good feed­back we think… But we’re mak­ing it in here. Are we good enough?”


A perfect pint of Bass in Plymouth.

For Der­byshire Live Col­ston Craw­ford has writ­ten about the resur­gence of Bass, not only as a cult brand but as a beer real­ly worth drink­ing:

Noth­ing the var­i­ous own­ers of the brand have done to try to ignore it has, it would seem, dimin­ished its pop­u­lar­i­ty in this part of the world and peo­ple keep on telling me that Bass right now is as good as it’s been for many a year… There are a num­ber of pubs serv­ing mul­ti­ple brews around the city who will not remove Bass from the pumps, as there would be an out­cry if they did… This sug­gests that the own­ers of the brand – cur­rent­ly the con­glom­er­ate AB-InBev – have missed a trick while con­cern­ing them­selves with flog­ging us Bud­weis­er.

There’s even a poll: does Bass taste bet­ter than it has done for years?


Judge with beer.

Chris Elston at Elston’s Beer Blog has been reflect­ing on what it means to judge beer in our every­day lives, in the wake of his expe­ri­ence at the World Beer Awards:

How can you judge a beer when you haven’t even tried it? We all do it though, every time we go into the bot­tle shop or super­mar­ket, we do it. We’re not just choos­ing the beers we’d like to drink, we’re judg­ing those we’re not sure about or the ones we feel we don’t want. These are the beers that lose out, or rather, we lose out because we’ve judged that they are not worth pur­chas­ing. Which again is wrong.



If you want more read­ing and com­men­tary, Stan Hierony­mus posts a round-up every Mon­day, while Alan McLeod has the Thurs­day beat cov­ered.

Geoffrey Fletcher on Victorian Pubs, 1962

Geoffrey Fletcher (1923–2004) wrote and illustrated a lot of books – observations of the unglamorous end of London life, from pie shops to street markets.

His most famous book is The Lon­don Nobody Knows, pub­lished in 1962 and the basis of a cult doc­u­men­tary from 1969.

We’d pre­vi­ous­ly only read it in libraries but final­ly got our own copy last week­end – a 1965 Pen­guin edi­tion that cost £2.50.

Though most of Fletcher’s books men­tion pubs in pass­ing – we quot­ed a cou­ple in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub – it’s in chap­ter eight of The Lon­don Nobody Knows that he real­ly sets out his man­i­festo:

One of the strik­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Lon­don pubs is the way in which dif­fer­ent pubs have an appeal to dif­fer­ent kinds of patrons.

To under­line his point he goes on to list var­i­ous types of pub, from legal pubs to “homo­sex­u­als’ pubs… where queers meet queers”.

Like Bet­je­man, Osbert Lan­cast­er, Rod­dy Gra­didge and oth­er con­tem­po­raries, Fletch­er believed that Vic­to­ri­an pubs were the pin­na­cle of the form:

Lon­don pubs are rich in the trap­pings of the Vic­to­ri­an age, which knew exact­ly how a town pub should appear. A fine one is illus­trat­ed here – the King and Queen in the Har­row Road. This is nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Baroque at its most florid. Grey mar­ble columns ris­er from a mosa­ic floor, raised a step above the pave­ment. There is splen­did iron­work – iron let­ters and wrought iron – over the door. The words ‘Saloon Bar’ have a bucol­ic aban­don… 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.

The King and Queen
The King and Queen, Har­row Road, as drawn by Geof­frey Fletch­er.

Oth­er pubs Fletch­er men­tions by name as good exam­ples include the Lamb in Lead­en­hall mar­ket (still worth stop­ping to look at today), the Black Fri­ar at Black­fri­ars, and the Crown on Cun­ning­ham Place, St John’s Wood/Maida Vale. The lat­ter is still there, appar­ent­ly with a nice­ly pre­served inte­ri­or, but as a gastropub/bistro called, for some rea­son, ‘Crocker’s Fol­ly’. Fletch­er also pro­vides draw­ings of The Lamb and The Black Fri­ar.

Beyond fix­tures and fit­tings, Fletch­er has views on pub cul­ture, too:

Although… the East End is los­ing some of its strong­ly focal char­ac­ter, the old life of the pubs in those parts of Lon­don still per­sists. A week­end pub crawl in such places as Shored­itch, Step­ney, and Hack­ney is the way to see it at first hand. Here the East End ‘ma’ con­tin­ues to flour­ish, the large sized, per­haps even pneu­mat­ic spec­i­men who was no stranger to Phil May and Albert Cheva­lier, joins in the cho­rus, sup­port­ed at the bar by a but­toned horse­hair seat and at the front by a large Guin­ness. Such peri­od char­ac­ters must dis­ap­pear some­time – that is where the funer­al par­lour comes in; if so, how­ev­er, they are at once replaced by repli­cas, pre­sum­ably on a sys­tem known only to the East End.

That’s yet more evi­dence of the link between women and stout, by the way, which we’ll file away for future ref­er­ence.

You can find copies of The Lon­don Nobody Knows knock­ing around in sec­ond-hand book shops or online, or there’s a fair­ly recent reprint and eBook edi­tion from the His­to­ry Press, with a fore­word by Dan Cruik­shank.

The post-Camden world

A recent in-depth listicle from Pellicle made us reflect on how Camden Hells was a turning point, though we didn’t recognise the turn while it was taking place.

Back in around 2012, it was easy to over­look: sharp brand­ing aside, it was just anoth­er ‘craft lager’, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Zero Degrees, Mean­time and Free­dom.

We didn’t think it tast­ed espe­cial­ly excit­ing – per­haps a touch more appeal­ing than some main­stream draught lagers.

The com­pa­ny had its fans, but also its detrac­tors, not least those in the indus­try irri­tat­ed by a sense that it was out­right buy­ing cov­er­age, or was over-hyped, or was fail­ing to be trans­par­ent with con­sumers.

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.

With hind­sight, it’s easy to see why they’d make the switch. Hells was light-tast­ing, rea­son­ably strong, clean and clear; usu­al­ly came in smart but chunky glass­ware; and the brand­ing was nice – bold, con­tem­po­rary, declar­ing itself a Lon­don­er.

To reit­er­ate, Hells cer­tain­ly was­n’t the first British craft lager, but it might yet turn out to be the most influ­en­tial.

It prob­a­bly prompt­ed Fuller’s Fron­tier (2013), Adnams Dry Hopped (2013), and Guin­ness Hop House 13 (2015), to name but three exam­ples.

And we’re cer­tain it’s why brew­eries like Moor have been unable to resist giv­ing lager a go in recent years, even though that’s not some­thing that seemed on the agen­da for them a decade ago.

The recent launch of Carls­berg Dan­ish Pil­sner must also sure­ly be a reac­tion to Hells, or at least indi­rect­ly, via Hop House 13 and the oth­ers.

BWOASA: Marble Barley Wine from a dusty old can

One of the good things about this little project has been the nudge to go to different places, such as Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green.

Though we still think of it as that new bar we must get to at some point, it turns out to be five years old, and now part of a sub­stan­tial chain. Time slips away.

We had formed the idea, per­haps based on murky social media pho­tos, that it was a small, dark space on the cor­ner of a back street. In fact, it’s in a large rail­way arch with a decent beer gar­den and, on a sun­ny April after­noon at least, per­fect­ly airy and bright.

Though Moth­er Kel­ly’s does have draught beer, its sell­ing point is real­ly the wall of fridges on the cus­tomer side, packed with intrigu­ing beers from sought after brew­eries. We fig­ured there might be at least one bar­ley wine lurk­ing in there.

There were three, but they took a while to find, dur­ing which squint­ing, bent-backed hunt we con­clud­ed that fan­cy pack­ag­ing designs and quirky names are great and all that but they don’t half make it a chal­lenge to work out what you’re buy­ing.

We chose the cheap­est of the three at a drink-in price of £12 for 440ml. It was the 2017 vin­tage of Mar­ble’s won­der­ful­ly clear­ly-named 12.4% bar­ley wine, BARLEY WINE. Being an antique, the can had spots of rust across its top, and crumbs and dust, so we asked for a quick clean up before pour­ing. We got it, albeit grudg­ing­ly – maybe a bit of filth on your tin­ny is con­sid­ered all part of the fun these days?

Marble Barley Wine in the glass.

Sit­ting down to drink a beer that you already resent is a good test of qual­i­ty. Any irri­ta­tion we felt in this case passed the moment we tast­ed it, which real­ly was fan­tas­tic – almost, maybe, per­haps £6‑per-nip good.

It seemed pos­i­tive­ly lumi­nous in the dain­ty glass­ware, cycling orange, red and gold depend­ing how the light struck it. The con­di­tion was also excel­lent prov­ing that cans can work for this kind of beer.

Between appre­cia­tive purring, we talked it over: on the one hand, it did rather resem­ble Gold Label, but it also remind­ed us of a very par­tic­u­lar beer: an attempt to recre­ate Bal­lan­tine IPA using Clus­ter hops. Rasp­ber­ry jam, mar­malade, chewy syrup sweet­ness, clean-tast­ing and dou­ble-bass res­o­nance. Just won­der­ful.

And one more small twist: because of the dif­fi­cul­ty of pour­ing two clear glass­es from one can, we got to try this with and with­out (a tiny bit) of yeast haze. On bal­ance, though it was hard to resist the sheer visu­al appeal of yeast­less, slight­ly yeasty actu­al­ly tast­ed bet­ter – soft­er and silki­er, with a lit­tle less jan­gle.

We con­tin­ue to hold Mar­ble in high regard and will prob­a­bly go back to Moth­er Kel­ly’s some time, when we’ve saved up some pock­et mon­ey.

London pubs from a woman’s perspective, 1964

A drawing of a pub.
The Kings Head and Eight Bells by John Coop­er.

In 1964 Batsford published a guide to London with a twist: it was about where to go and what to do on sleepy Sundays. Such as, for example… visit the pub.

We picked up our copy of Lon­don on Sun­day at Oxfam in Cotham for £3.99. It’s not a book we’ve ever encoun­tered before, or even heard of.

We haven’t man­aged to find out much about the author, Bet­ty James, either, except that she wrote a few oth­er books, includ­ing Lon­don and the Sin­gle Girl, pub­lished in 1967, and Lon­don for Lovers, 1968. She was old­er than the girl­ish tone of the book might sug­gest – in her late for­ties, we gath­er – and twice divorced by the time she was pro­filed in the New­cas­tle Jour­nal in 1969.

Before the main event, indi­vid­ual pubs crop up here and there – the Grapes in Wap­ping is accu­rate­ly described as ‘an old saw­dusty riv­er pub’ where the staff give direc­tions to a par­tic­u­lar­ly good but hard-to-find Chi­nese restau­rant.

One of the best lines in the book, thrown away in an itin­er­ary for a walk, is, we’re cer­tain, a dig at male guide­book writ­ers of the peri­od who could­n’t resist rat­ing bar­maids:

The Colville Tav­ern at 72 Kings Road… [has] the best-look­ing bar­man in Lon­don. Ask for Charles.

Pubs are giv­en real, focused treat­ment in the dying pages of the book, which is a state­ment in its own right.

From Mon­day until Sat­ur­day this Sun­day is the Local Pub­lic House of some­body else in whom once has no inter­est what­so­ev­er. How­ev­er… on Sun­day at the hour of noon it is entered imme­di­ate­ly by the knowl­edge­able tosspot in order that he may refresh him­self in con­vivial com­pa­ny, while his wife cooks the joint to which he even­tu­al­ly return too late to avoid unpleas­ant­ness… Mean­while, the reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to this Sun­day Pub (whose Local Pub­lic House it is from Mon­day until Sat­ur­day) will repair to anoth­er Sun­day Pub because it is con­sid­ered not schmaltzy to take drink in one’s own Local Pub­lic House upon a Sun­day.

Inevitably, the first pub to get a write-up is the Grenadier, which we vis­it­ed ear­li­er this year:

This very old pub is impos­si­ble to find. You can wan­der around the chi-chi lit­tle mews sur­round­ing it, absorb­ing the untrace­able ema­na­tions of Guards sub­al­terns and debu­tantes with­out actu­al­ly ever see­ing any­thing but a chi-chi lit­tle mews… A dread silence occa­sion­al­ly falls upon the place… [because] some­body has mis­laid a debu­tante.

The Kings Head and Eight Bells in Chelsea sounds like fun, with peo­ple drink­ing out­side in the embank­ment gar­dens on Sun­day morn­ing, or block­ing the road ‘where they risk being knocked drin­k­less by oth­er cognoscen­ti in fast sports job’. It is, Ms. James says, ‘exclu­sive­ly patro­n­ised by absolute­ly every­body who isn’t any­body’. Sad­ly, this one seems to be a goner.

A drawing of a pub interior.
The inte­ri­or of the Square Rig­ger by John Coop­er.

Of course we got real­ly excit­ed at the descrip­tion of a theme pub, the Square Rig­ger in the City, near Mon­u­ment Sta­tion:

Ful­ly rigged with seag­ull cries and the sound of break­ing surf there is also an enor­mous social schism between the Cap­tain’s Cab­in and the Mess Decks both 1 and 2… ‘Tween decks there are rope lad­ders, sails, and yard-arms and that. Togeth­er with a lot of beau­ti­ful­ly pol­ished brass bar-top.

We see from whatpub.com that it was a notable booze bunker, before its demo­li­tion in the 1980s.

Back to those clas­sic mews pubs of west Lon­don, the Star in Bel­gravia, of course, gets a men­tion, and rather a cheeky one: ‘Well now… The best thing we can say about this pub is that all the afore­men­tioned miss­ing debu­tantes may be dis­cov­ered here… recov­er­ing… And some of them sim­ply aching for the utter, utter blis­sikins of get­ting mis­laid again as soon as pos­si­ble’.

The Wind­sor Cas­tle in Kens­ing­ton appar­ent­ly had ‘Lus­cious sand­wich­es’ and quite the scene going on, with actors in the bar and ‘a pig ogling a cow in the pleas­ant walled gar­den’.

The last pub tip is giv­en reluc­tant­ly:

There is of course one Sun­day Pub to which affi­ciona­dos resort of a Sun­day evening. How­ev­er, it could so eas­i­ly be com­plete­ly ruined by hyper­me­trop­ic inva­sion that I hard­ly like to men­tion it. This is the Lil­liput Hall, a Courage’s house at 9 Jamaica Road SE1, where, at around 9 pm, com­mences the best not-too-far-out jazz this side of par­adise. The hun­dred per cent pro­fes­sion­al group ren­der­ings are led by the guv’nor, Bert Annable, a name to be con­jured with in the busi­ness, since he’s worked with Cyril Sta­ple­ton and Paul Fenoul­het, among oth­ers.

Sound like a laugh. Now, it goes with­out say­ing, flats, but the closedpubs.co.uk records some nice first­hand mem­o­ries.

We reck­on it’d have been quite nice to read an entire book about pubs by Bet­ty James. She seems to have a feel for them, and her arch­ness is amus­ing.