News, Nuggets & Longreads 27 October 2018: Brixton, Babies, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week, from financial stories about big beer to blog posts about Dorchester.

Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John came to the UK in August and in typically reflective style, elegantly expressed as ever, has shared some outsider observations:

The next day at the Great British Beer Festival, more change is evident. For one thing, the crowd is significantly younger than when I was there in 2013. It’s a Tuesday and most of  London’s brewery staff has the day off and is in attendance. I run into people from Moor and Windsor & Eton, but really I’m there to talk to the people from Fourpure. They have just recently launched their Juicebox IPA in Ontario, but sadly the beer didn’t clear customs in time for the launch. Even more recently than that, they’ve announced the sale of the brewery to the Kirin owned Lion PTY Ltd. Check it out: Purchased by the Australian subsidiary of a Japanese Brewery to be a cat’s paw in England to compete with Meantime, which is owned by Asahi, another Japanese Brewery.


Bill Coors.

Beer industry magnate Bill Coors has died at the age of 102. Rejecting the reverential tendency Jeff Alworth has written a clear-eyed reflection on Coors’ life and legacy:

Wealth and success have always been enough to launder bad behavior into institutional respect and honor, but we shouldn’t let these statements become canonical. In the decades of his chairmanship, the idea that he had a “commitment to bettering lives around him” would have been greeted with sour laughter by many. Bill Coors had a dark side, and it is at least as important to note as his tenure as chairman.


A baby.

Perhaps picking up on a theme established by Becky last week, Rachael Smith explains how important The Pub has been to her in early motherhood:

Kerthudd! That’s the sound that a half-full infant’s beaker makes when it hits a hard tiled floor, thrown from the height of a highchair with all the gusto and might a fourteen month old can muster whilst sleepy and full of chips. Well, mostly full of chips, I’m sure half his portion were on the floor by the end of the session, minus the one half-eaten fry that was gifted to the staff member who took her time to get to his level and say hello… Whilst I was chatting with a friend, my child had been communicating in his own little way with another little kid on the table next to us. They had their own little language going on and were getting on like a house on fire. At the end of lunch a slip of paper was popped on to my table, as I looked down a lopped-off giraffe’s head looked straight back up at me (it was, I soon realised, the top of the children’s menu), next to it in crayon were names, a number, and the words; play-date?


Keg taps.

An interesting observation from Alec Latham: there is a constant three-way push and pull between supermarkets, craft beer bottle shops and pubs. He writes:

I was put in mind of this over the weekend when I went to visit a new bottle and tap room in Harpenden opened by Mad Squirrel Brewery (Hemel Hempsted)… I noticed how many chillers there were on the shop floor and enquired whether the cans and bottles could be consumed on site – a daft question – of course they could… But then he also mentioned something I’d noted myself subconsciously, but without joining up all the dots: takeaway sales of cans from beer shop shelves are reaping diminishing returns, whereas sales of cans from the fridges to be cracked open in the shop are increasing.


Gary Gillman has been digging into the history of beer festivals  – what filled the gap between Oktoberfest and CAMRA’s 1975 Covent Garden Beer Exhibition? Part 1 | Part 2.


The Dorchester Brewery c.1889.
SOURCE: Alfred Barnard/Hathi Trust.

Meanwhile, Alan McLeod continues his research into the provincial beer styles of Britain with further information on the apparently once legendary Dorchester Ale:

A lady, who had been my fellow passenger, turned to me as we drove up the avenue, and said, “I suppose, of course, you mean to try the Dorchester ale, which is so celebrated.” “Is it very fine?” I asked.

“Dear me, have you never tasted Dorchester ale?” “No, madam, nor have I ever been in this town before.” She looked at me in some surprize, as my speech was not Irish nor Scotch. When I told her I came from the United States, she gazed upon me with the greatest curiosity…

(Read the comments, too.)


An interesting bit of financial newsAB InBev has cut its dividend after a tough year in some markets:

“We can’t remember a more disappointing set of figures from AB InBev,” said RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones, noting that most regions missed analysts’ estimates for volume growth.


And finally, faith in human nature, and so on and so forth:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 October 2018: Bermondsey, Breakfast, Birthday Beers

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from greasy spoons to tap rooms.

For Imbibe Will Hawkes has been investigating what’s going on with London’s beer scene as outsiders infiltrate and success leads to exodus:

Enid Street is not London’s most picturesque road, despite the huge, verdant plane trees on the Neckinger Estate along its southern side in Bermondsey. It’s a place of light industry rather than elegant architecture, distinguished by its railway-arch businesses and the rumble of trains on the tracks above. For beer-lovers, though, Enid Street is special, and it is about to become even more so…. The recent past and immediate future of London beer and brewing is being played out here. Regulars on the ‘Bermondsey Beer Mile’…. may know about Moor Beer, the Bristol brewery that occupies number 71. And if they don’t yet, they’ll surely soon know all about number 73, which Cloudwater is turning into a London tap for its Manchester-brewed products.

London isn’t an island and all that.


Beer pump for Young's Ordinary bitter.

The weeks-old post Cask Report discussion continues, and continues to be interesting.

First, Pete Brown reveals some of the background research behind the Cask Report, which he didn’t edit this year, but did contribute to. Of particular note is the word-cloud showing what people who don’t drink cask ale think of it: “old man”, “unpleasant”, “strong”, “dark”, “warm”, “thick”, “hipster”, “piss”, and so on.

Meanwhile, at the narrative end of the lane, Jessica Mason has been conducting a thought experiment: what if cask ale was a person, and what if you were trying to convince a mate to go on a blind date with it?

You were so busy trying to describe them by comparing them to others and by trying to impress people with details on their past or intellect; you forgot all of the really great things about them.

You forgot the fact that they are honest. Humble. And really really nice.

You forgot to say how, when you met them, that moment was life-affirming. And how, for lots of your shared time, they have always been a pleasure and a comfort.


Greasy spoon cafe, Bethnal Green.

This article about greasy spoon cafes by Edwina Attlee for Architectural Review isn’t about pubs but also kind of is, in a week when there has been much discussion of boozeless boozers, and in the general context of thinking about ‘the third place’:

In one sense it was the immateriality of the food in these places that meant they were problematic for planners and puritans alike. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, you could always get breakfast. It didn’t matter how long you stayed as long as you ordered a cup of tea. If you were going there for one reason (company or comfort), you could pretend it was for another (eggs and bacon). If the planners hoped that civilians would start and end their day at the family home, these strayed homes made that less likely. They needed to be planned out.

(Via @gargarin.)


Trillium's Garden on the Greenway
SOURCE: Trillium Brewing.

Here’s another shout-out for new blogger Peter Allen who at Pete Drinks a Beer reflected this week on the supposed gulf between the world of beer geeks and that of ‘normals’:

Aside from the brewery based at trendy Fort Point, Trillium also run a beer garden (Garden on the Greenway) in a more offices-and-Irish Pubs part of the city that I visited twice. Perhaps the most notable thing about this was that, although there were a handful of the maligned “people sitting there with five small glasses in front of them, filled with different beers, taking notes”, the place was mostly filled with people who clearly had no idea that a) Trillium are a world-renowned brewery or b) that many Craft Beer Nerds would likely consider exchanging a limb for a night spent at the Garden on the Greenway. Most of them were drinking the lowest ABV beer on offer (the superb Launch Beer) and paying it basically no mind whatsoever.


Belgian beers from Guinness

The Beer Nut offers tasting notes on an interesting set of beers: a stout/Lambic blend from Guinness and Timmerman’s, with support from a bunch of Belgian-inspired beers brewed at the experimental Open Gate brewery in Dublin. Some hits, some misses, but overall an intriguing path for Guinness to be on, even tentatively.


Thomas Hardy in profile on the neck of our 1986 beer bottle.

We’ve never quite got into the Thomas Hardy game but we note with interest via our pal Darren Norbury at Beer Today that the 50th anniversary edition of the beer, brewed at Meantime, is now on sale.


Now, an advertisement for someone else: if you value what Ron Pattinson does (“Pedantically correct people on Twitter?” No, the painstaking research and writing and stuff) then you really ought to bung him some money once in a while. Now, there’s a fun new way to do that: for €25 he’ll dig into his vast collection of historic beer recipes and find one for a date of your choice — your birthday, or your kid’s, or your wedding anniversary, or whenever.


Finally, here’s an interesting bit of news for people who like to monitor CAMRA after the manner of Cold War Kremlinologists:


Want more? Alan does something like this every Thursday, too.

Incidental Lager, Pubs and Breweries in Photos of Edwardian London

Someone — we don’t know who — spent the week of 22-28 August 1908 visiting the capital of the British Empire and brought home as a souvenir a photo book called 350 Views of London.

They wrote the dates of their holiday on the inside cover in pencil. The book then spent at least some of the past century somewhere damp — an attic or shed — so that its cover buckled and the staples holding it together rusted away. That’s why we were able to by this relic for a couple of quid from the junk box in a secondhand bookshop in Bristol.

Among those 350 photos, some full-page, others fairly tiny, there are a handful that particularly grabbed our attention, for obvious reasons.

The Spaten Beer Restaurant, Piccadilly, c.1908.

This is one of the clearest, most detailed views we’ve seen of the Spaten Beer Restaurant at Piccadilly — a pioneering London lager outlet that we obsessed over during the writing of Gambrinus Waltz. We still desperately want to see a view of the interior but this is nice to have.

The King Lud, Ludgate Circus

The King Lud, Ludgate Circus

The book contains two views of one particular pub, The King Lud at Ludgate Circus. This is interesting to us because Jess drank in it fairly regularly in its final years when it was branded as part of the Hogshead chain. It is now a Leon restaurant, but recognisably the same building.

Omnibuses outside the Royal Exchange.

The beer connection in this shot of the Royal Exchange is a little less obvious: look at those two omnibuses in the centre — they’re advertising Tennent’s Lager, as distributed in London by Findlater & Co of London Bridge. This is a reminder that Germany and Austria-Hungary weren’t the only countries importing lager to London in the years before World War I.

Tottenham Court road from the south.

We haven’t seen this shot of Tottenham Court Road before, or any other from quite this angle. That’s Meux’s Horse Shoe brewery and the attached brewery tap to the right — the site of the famous beer flood. The sign above the brewery door advertises MEUX’S ORIGINAL LONDON STOUT. We’d like to know more about the Horse Shoe Hotel’s ‘American Bar’.

The Saracen's Head, Snow Hill.

The Saracen’s Head was on Snow Hill in the City of London. We can’t quite pin down the precise location, even after looking at contemporary maps, aerial photos and the comprehensive Pubs History website. An educated guess is that it was destroyed during the Blitz — if you know otherwise, or can tell us exactly where it was, do comment below.

Notable Pubs: The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford

The Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford is a mock Tudor behemoth deformed by fire and forced to live out its old age bedecked with Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre branding.

When Jess told her Mum that we were staying there her reaction betrayed her memories of The Royal Forest’s reputation in the 1960s: “Ooh, get you!”

The Royal Forest in 1986.
SOURCE: Whatpub (CAMRA)

As a child growing up in Walthamstow Jess knew it as a place where you parked to eat your fish-paste sandwiches but wouldn’t dream of entering. It was alien territory — Essex culture, with Essex prices, not posh but still out of reach. We think with research that it was a Schooner steakhouse, Watney’s answer to the Berni Inn, if that helps place it in terms of culture and class.

Certainly its location between golf course and a genuine Tudor building, along with the sheer raging pretentiousness of its architecture, permits a certain grandeur to linger.

The approach to the Royal Forest along the main road.

Ray’s first encounter was this weekend, rounding the corner on foot to see its high flank with black-and-white timbering and multi-pane windows peering between the branches of old oak trees: “Bloody hell, it’s Nonsuch Palace.”

Brewers Fayre.

Faded sign on the front of the pub.
“Scotch Ales”

The corporate makeover isn’t elegant — plastic signs glued here, gaudy menus nailed there — but there’s the ghost of some old brewery livery at the front and a magnificent stained glass window inside, which you’ll probably only find if you’re staying over, or nosy.

Stained glass pub-hotel window.

Pinning down its history proved tricky, even with a trip to the local library on Sunday morning. Was it terribly ancient, or built in 1880, 1890, or the 1920s?

Eventually we decided the most efficient approach would be to contact London tour guide and Chingford history expert Joanna Moncrieff. We’ve followed on Twitter (@WWalks) for years and know that runs a guided tour of Chingford.

She laid it all out for us in an email (lightly edited):

It was built in 1879 as a hotel to accommodate the hordes of people visiting the Forest. It was renamed the Royal Forest Hotel in 1882 after Queen Victoria’s visit to Epping Forest to dedicate it to the People.

It was originally built by Edmond Egan, the Loughton architect who was responsible for some of the very decorative houses in The Drive and Crescent Road, Chingford.

The hotel’s busiest period was around 1910 but then there was a serious fire in 1912 which resulted in the hotel being re-built minus its top storey.

Until 1968 it was a terminus for buses.

1890 advertisement for the Royal Forest.
SOURCE: Hathi Trust.

Because it was a centre for tourism there are quite a few contemporary sources, such as A Forest Holiday from around 1890:

On the walls are some fine water-colours of forest scenery.

The wide staircase is decorated with a fine stained-glass window representing Queen Elizabeth and her Court at the famous Epping Hunt.

The landing is of noble dimensions, and lighted by another large window, opening on a broad balcony, from which is obtained a charming and extensive view of the Forest.

This source goes on to tell us of the great dining hall with its tapestries and heraldic designs, and of the six private dining rooms: Japanese, Watteau, Spanish, Queen Anne, Indian and Queen Elizabeth themed, with “furniture and appointments in harmony”. (An early theme pub?)

Lawn Tennis at the Royal Forest.

The fire is interesting. Of course “legend has it”, according to to hack-work local histories, that guests and firemen were killed and of course they are “now said to” haunt the hotel. But we looked at some contemporary newspaper articles and if anyone was killed, journalists were oddly silent on the matter, suggesting instead that most of the guests were out at the time.

At any rate, it didn’t feel haunted to us, as a lively 50th birthday celebration rocked the wooden beams, and the beer garden heaved with drinkers despite the whisper of drizzle.

Or did we perhaps hear the chug of a spectral beanfeast charabanc in the night?

News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 August 2018: Bartram’s, Belgium, the Barley Mow

Here’s everything published on beer and pubs in the past week that grabbed our attention, from teetotal tendencies to the extraordinary nature of ordinary pubs.

First, some trademark thoughtful reflection from Jeff Alworth at Beervana who asks ‘What If We Just Stopped Drinking?

[What] if we just keep drinking less and less until we’re consuming it like our old auntie, who only pulls out the sherry for special occasions? This won’t happen immediately, but the trend lines are pretty clear… A dirty little secret of the alcohol industrial complex: it relies on very heavy drinkers, many of them alcoholics, for the bulk of sales. Among drinkers, the median consumption is just a couple drinks a week. That’s the median–some “drinkers” basically don’t drink at all. That means, of course, that someone’s doing a lot of drinking…


A Belgian Brown Cafe.

There’s a new links round-up in town: Breandán Kearney at Belgian Smaak has put together a rather wonderful rattle through all the Belgian beer and bar news from the last few months. How can you resist a 15 item list including such headers as CHINESE HOEGAARDEN and BEAVERTOWN GOES BELGIAN?


The mad collection at the Prince of Greenwich.
SOURCE: Deserter

For Deserter the pseudonymous Dirty South gives an account of a day spent trying to entertain a sullen teenager in the cultural pubs of South London:

The Prince is run by Pietro La Rosa, a Sicilian who has not only brought Italian hospitality and splendid Italian food to SE10, but opened a pub full of curios that he and his wife Paola have collected from their travels around the world. An enormous whale’s jaw bone hangs over various objets d’arts, a rhinoceros’ head protrudes above an antique barber’s chair, surrounded by artwork from afar.

‘It’s mad,’ concluded Theo.


The Bridge Inn, Clayton.
SOURCE: John Clarke.

Here’s something we’d like to see more of: veteran CAMRA magazine editor  John Clarke dusted down a pub crawl from 30 years ago and retraced his steps to see how time had treated the boozers of Clayton, Greater Manchester:

The Folkestone was closed, burnt out and demolished. New housing now occupies the site. The Greens Arms struggled on and then had a brief existence as the Star Showbar… The Grove also continues to thrive as a Holts house and the war memorial remains on the vault wall. No such luck with the Church.


The Barley Mow, London.
SOURCE: Pub Culture Vulture.

Ben McCormick has been writing about pubs on and off at his Pub Culture Vulture blog for a few years now and a recent flurry of posts has culminated with what we think is a profound observation:

[The Barley Mow] must be the best Baker Street boozer by a billion miles… I was on the point of writing there is nothing special about the place, but stopped abruptly on the grounds that’s complete horseshit. There ought to be many, many more examples of pubs like this dotted around central London and further afield. But there aren’t.

Any pub, however, ordinary, becomes extraordinary if it resists change — that makes sense to us.


A bit of news: Bartram’s, a brewery in Suffolk, seems to have given up brewing (the story is slightly confusing) which has given the local newspaper an opportunity to reflect on the health of the market:

Now Mr Bartram is currently no longer looking to export overseas, and is not producing any beer. “There are about 42 breweries in Suffolk – when I started 18 years ago, there were just five,” he said. “There is a lot more competition. The market is saturated, it’s ridiculous.”

Another Suffolk brewer, who declined to be named, claims overcrowding in the marketplace is true of the cask ale industry that Mr Bartram is part of, but not the key keg ale market.

Also unclear: the key market for keg ale, or the keykeg ale market? Anyway, interesting.


If you want more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up and Alan McLeod’s regular Thursday linkfest.