News, nuggets and longreads 25 November 2023: Space and time

Here’s all the standout beer and pub writing of the past week, from Burton upon Trent to Belgrade.

First, some (boring) news: there was a Budget on Wednesday and various measures relating to beer and pubs were announced. The summary by Darren at Beer Today did the job for us. TL;DR the Government thinks it’s been very helpful; industry bodies think it’s better than it could be, but still not enough; others think it’s a stitch up designed to help only the biggest operators. We could copy and paste this summary, to be honest.

The exterior of The Coopers Tavern, a Victorian pub in red brick.
SOURCE: Pellicle/Jack Spicer Adams.

Despite having been to Burton, we missed The Cooper’s Tavern, which is one of those cult pubs you need to visit before you die and so and so forth. For Pellicle Neil Walker, former beer blogger of the class of 2011, and now SIBA comms man, profiles the pub and explains its significance:

The Coopers Tavern is a true ‘public house’. Once a residential home with narrow doors and tight internal rooms, the large cream sign on the front reads ‘Bass & Cos Coopers Tavern’ in faded brown font, painted directly onto the Victorian brick and revealing its true purpose. Here since the early 1800s it was built to be a head brewer’s house, but a few decades later it was being used as overflow storage for speciality malt by the William Bass Brewery. By 1826 it was cellaring Bass’ famous Imperial Stout and by no small coincidence began being used by senior members of the brewery as their own personal pub.

Five Points brewery kegs piled high

For The Grocer James Beeson has written about what he calls “the ‘second wave’ of craft brewers” in the UK, providing an interesting perspective on the ebb and flow of the story of British brewing, with input from brewer founders and owners:

London’s Five Points, Brixton and Fourpure all came into being a decade ago, as did Berkshire’s Siren Craft Brew and Yorkshire’s Northern Monk… All five have – at various stages – been listed with national grocers. Two have been bought out by multinational brewers (with one returning to independence last year) and all have played a part in growing the reputation of small, independent British breweries in the last decade… The year 2013 was a good time to get into beer… Craft beer fever was taking hold, and all five of these businesses experienced rapid growth in their first five years of existence. Bermondsey’s Fourpure caught the eye of Australasian outfit Lion, which snapped up the business in 2018 (it returned to independence last year), while Heineken took 49% stakes in both Beavertown and Brixton the same year.

The city of Belgrade with baroque an modern buildings staggered up a hill from the river.
Belgrade by Nikola Aleksic, via Unsplash.

For The Guardian Camilla Bell-Davies has written about the Kafana pub culture of Belgrade, Serbia:

Kafanas are Serbia’s tavernas: a restaurant, pub and music venue operating from morning to late night. Regulars come for a lively breakfast before work, families throw weddings and celebrations here, business deals are cut and sorrow drowned in dark corners. They were so central to people’s daily lives that friends and the postman would come to find you at your local kafana, not your home… Sadly, many traditional kafanas closed down in the 2000s, partly because of their reluctance to prioritise profit-making over letting regulars sit at one table all day. However, much like struggling British pubs turning to gastronomy, kafanas have adapted their offerings to survive, heralding a culinary comeback.

Andrew Campbell's The Book of Beer, 1956.

A few years ago, we were all but obsessed with finding out more about Andrew Campbell, author of an important early book about beer called, er, The Book of Beer. Before the days of the British Newspaper Archive we struggled to find reliable information beyond a passing mention of someone involved in the theatre of the same name. Now Gary Gillman has pinned it down and settled the question once and for all. What a relief! (We can’t copy quotes from Gary’s blog, hence the odd break in format here.)

A watercolour of a brewery with men in frock coats, a woman in a bonnet, and a horse-drawn dray loaded with barrels.

Still on the subject of satisfying resolutions to niggling mysteries, Liam K at Irish Beer History has been trying to identify an Irish brewery from an old picture for years. The breakthrough he needed was to realise that it wasn’t in Ireland at all:

I was scrolling through a website when a painting’s image jumped off the cover of an old book at me. It was an angled photo but it was unmistakably ‘my’ Irish brewery. There it was, with the dray carts and tower, impossible for me to mistake for anything similar as I had spent so much time studying it… The arresting issue was the title of the book. It was a 1980s printed facsimile of A History of Southampton by Reverend John Silvester Davies… Southampton? In England?

Old London Pubs Calendar 2024 by Lydia Wood, with a drawing of the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping on the cover.
SOURCE: Lydia Wood.

Will Hawkes’s marvellous email newsletter about London pubs is also available online, a month behind. The October edition has lots of great stuff, including some gloves-off commentary on Cask Marque. But our favourite item was about Lydia Wood who is drawing every pub in London – quite a big job!

If you had to describe the archetypal London pub based on the ones you’ve drawn so far, what would it look like?

A corner pub, slated roof, a couple of chimneys, bricks on the top half, painted bottom half, leaded windows, lantern lights, pub name signage, swinging sign, double doors, hanging flower baskets, a potted plant either side of the entrance, window reflections of the street opposite.

Finally, from social media, another Christmas gift idea…

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 18 November 2023: Pulp Fiction

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs we particularly enjoyed in the past week, from obscure hops to autumnal moods.

First, some news. At VinePair Dave Infante continues his detailed coverage of attempts by workers to buy San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing – or, at least, to buy the brand:

“We’re guessing [$2.5 million] is the lowest number the IP is going to be sold for.” If they can raise that sum from small-dollar investors, their thinking goes, they’ll be able to attract bigger sums from deeper-pocketed ones, or leverage it to draw a bank loan — or both, to be as competitive as possible in securing Anchor’s recipes, trademarks, and branding. Bringing back the old label, which SUSA replaced in 2021 in a widely panned rebrand, is a top priority for the co-op. As is reinstituting Our Special Ale, says [brewer Patrick] Machel. “That’s a ‘for sure.’”

The word hops with a simple illustration of two hop cones.

Pellicle has the semi-magical story of the emergence of a new hop variety in the Kent, as told by Adam Peirce:

So steeped is Little Scotney Farm in the traditional ways of picking and drying hops that the last thing you would expect are experimental hop varieties with very different flavours to what traditional English hops are known for. In 2015, David Goodsel, who has been working on the farm since before Ian took over, noticed a group of seven different looking hops at the end of a row of Whitbread Goldings Variety (WGV). It’s not known how long they’d been growing in the ground, nor how they came into existence so beyond this. The story is lost to the mists in the valley of the River Bewl.

Autumn leaves somewhere in Europe.

Adrian Tierney-Jones has been sitting in pubs again, thinking about the passage of time again, and letting his consciousness stream:

This is a consume-at-all-costs war, but is also an undemanding slumbering conflict into which it is easy to fall, as in the mall that one has uneasily and warily come to in search of goods that slam the cost of living crisis into a wall, with the ease of Joe Marler tossing aside Faf de Klerk. Yes, when you were young and the world seemed as bright as the light that lit up the family lounge and your parents were alive and still married, you really wished it could be Christmas every day and now your dream has come true and from early November it really is. But it is too late and love left on a boat without even a farewell sometime ago.

The word Kveik on a rough textured background.

Stan Hieronymus has written about one of his beers of the year – an American kveik beer inspired by the work of Lars Marius Garshol. Here’s what struck us as most interesting – the impact a good book can have:

A Better Burden is a collaboration between Narrow Path and Nine Giant Brewing, and Powers and Mike Albarella have brewed it together at Narrow Path the past three years… They had both read ”Historical Brewing Techniques” by Lars Marius Garshol right when the book became available. They wrote the initial recipe together and have subtly changed it each year. The base malt and the alder wood smoked malt come from Sugar Creek Malt Co. in Indiana. “We knew that Caleb (Michalke) had built a Såinnhus, and we wanted to use ingredients that were as local as possible and that were produced as traditionally as possible,” Powers said.

Guinness vintage-style cap.

Liam K at Irish Beer History continues his exploration of the objects that tell the national beer story by turning his attention to a 1970s Guinness bottle opener:

There is a relatively famous (in certain circles at least) archive film from RTE that reports on the ceasing of the cork-bunged Guinness bottle by orders of the brewery, as it was to be completely replaced by a seemingly unpopular bottle closer – the metal cap. In that piece of recorded Irish beer history from 1969, which incidentally shows both the insertion and extracting of corks, there are a few stout drinkers quite unhappy with this change from what was seen as the traditional method of sealing beer bottles in this country. The interviewees argued that cork-sealed stout bottles tasted better than those using a metal cap, with one drinker being shown to be able to pick out the one corked bottle from a row of poured stouts, allegedly based on taste alone. 

A view of Bamberg along the river with spires and old buildings.

Who likes a mystery? Andreas Krennmair has returned to Bamberg mapping the 41 breweries it had in 1876, and digging into the vague connection between Keesman and Mahrs:

Talking about Mahrs Bräu in Wunderburg, I came across something strange: the Mahr pub (building 702) is listed as “Brenner” with owner Ambros Mahr, while the “Brenner” brewery is listed with owner Karl Mahr (building 736½ on modern Holzgartenstraße, probably no. 29). But there is a second pub with the name “Brenner” listed, building 708, across the road from Ambros Mahr’s pub, with owner Adam Keesmann. Interestingly, Keesmann is not listed as a brewery (it was officially founded in 1867), and I still don’t understand the supposed connection of Keesmann and Mahr… Georg Keesmann, the person most often mentioned these days in connection with the foundation of Keesmann brewery (he was a butcher and allegedly finished his brewing education at age 51 to start his own brewery), is listed as a restaurant owner in a different section of the address book, not a brewery owner, for building 708. How are Georg and Adam related?

Finally, some photos, from a new book called East End Pubs by Tim George, as shared at Creative Boom:

The Old Ship, a backstreet Victorian corner pub with a prominent pride flag.
SOURCE: Tim George/Hoxton Mini Press/Creative Boom.

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s round up from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 11 November 2023: Fall Guy

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from old ale to Glasgow pubs.

When you’re trying to gauge the health of brewing and hospitality there are relatively few reliable sources of information. All you can do is look at the same regular reports and try to gain a sense of the general direction of travel. The latest Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA is one such marker and the most recent edition tells us that:

Britain’s number of licensed premises has fallen by 3.6% over the last 12 months to 99,916 sites… The total at the end of September marks the first time it has dropped below 100,000 in the Monitor’s history. The 3,766 drop over the 12-month period is equivalent to more than ten net closures every day… However, the pace of venue failures has slowed as the year has gone on… The report flags a particularly robust quarter for the managed hospitality sector. In the three months to September, this segment achieved 0.5% growth, in contrast to a 0.6% drop in the number of independently-run venues.

Gale's Prize Old Ale

For Good Beer Hunting Martyn Cornell has written about the history of Gale’s Prize Old Ale – or, rather, more interesting, its recent history. It’s a fascinating insight into how brewery takeovers work in practice and the financial factors that influence whether interesting, historic beers survive and thrive:

“COVID put a block on everything, and I was also terrifying Asahi by insisting that I wanted to have a wooden washback for this beer,” [brewery Henry Kirk] says. Much of the delay had to do with the cost of the new wooden vessel: some £15,000, or about $18,000. “That derailed the project for about two years, to be honest. But once everyone had calmed down, they said okay, and we brewed it, and mixed the old and the new, and we filled thirty-six hundred bottles, and sold out every time we put a new batch of bottles up, and Asahi went: ‘Hmm.’” 


News, nuggets and longreads 4 November 2023: Badlands

Every Saturday we collect the best writing about beer from the past week. This time we’ve got old brands, pub crawls, and the price of a pint.

First, some news that we’d probably have picked up from Twitter a year ago but which we only came across via Google News: the legendary Laurieston in Glasgow is up for sale. The property types involved are talking about “unprecedented levels of interest” and its strong prospects as a going concern. But it’s always worrying when a family-owned business changes hands. We just hope whoever takes it on doesn’t instantly rip out the beautiful historic interior.

A Double Diamond logo on a pub.
The Hyde Park, Plymouth, in 2014.

For Pellicle Rachel Hendry has written about the history of Double Diamond, a cult beer, in its own way, whos marketing campaigns in the mid-20th century still linger:

Peter Probyn was an illustrator and cartoonist whose work was described as “gently humoured”. It was Probyn who created the infamous character of the Double Diamond Little Man, a chicly dressed character adorned with a toothbrush moustache, bow tie, pinstriped trousers and never to be seen without his pocket watch, briefcase and cane. The Little Hat Man—as he came to be known—went on quite the adventure with Double Diamond… From heroically apprehending a bank robber, to winning the heart of a mermaid by fishing a Double Diamond out of the sea during an angling competition, to defying the laws of physics using only an umbrella as a parachute there was simply no scenario in which The Little Hat Man—with the help of Double Diamond, of course—would not succeed.

The Bricklayer's Arms at night.

Stephen Jackson at Musing Anorak has been on a tour of South West London, highlighting everything from chain gastropubs to bottle shops to backstreet boozers:

I jumped on a train and made my way to Surbiton for a visit to the Antelope, my fifth Big Smoke venue of the day and the original home of the brewery. A small area as you enter quickly opens out to a huge space at the rear and a beer garden where you can see the outbuilding that housed the original brewing kit. Again, the usual good selection of Big Smoke and guest beers… I took a bus into Putney for a first chance to take a look at the newly refurbished Bricklayer’s Arms. They have done an outstanding job with the pub now having a light, airy, modern feel whilst still retaining its original character. and of course it still has its main selling point, the full range of Timothy Taylor beers, unique in London.

A jumble of pubs.

And David Jesudason has been hanging out in Reading, partly, it seems, out of bloodymindedness at how snooty people are about it –  “Why on earth would you go there?”

A former Irish bar, the Nag’s Head is a destination that’s possibly easier to sell than Reading itself (even though the Elizabeth Line now makes the trip from London speedy). It’s the mesh of tradition and modernity – 12 cask ales “a festival in a pub”, more kegs in a traditional, comforting setting. The publican and his staff are hugely attentive – rightly proud of what they’ve achieved. Offering recommendations, knowing the breweries well and aware that we like to be steered not prodded to the right pint… I have Oregon Trail by Elusive on cask. I feel like the day has started again. Some say this is the finest iteration of a “British” West Coast IPA, and I have to agree.

Cash Money Pound Signs.

What if breweries decided that their taproom ought to be the cheapest place to buy their beer on draft? At Fuggled ‘Velky’ Al Reece has written about a Viriginia brewery that has priced its pilsner provocatively:

Tabol Brewing are based in Richmond, and given that I very rarely go that way I have yet to actually get to their taproom, where all pints are now $3.50… A while back, I wrote a post about what the price of a pint would be if we followed the pricing restrictions of Reinheitsgebot as well as the ingredients, and unless my maths is entirely atrocious (eminently possible), based on the average daily wages of a manual labourer in Virginia and it’s purchasing power compared to 16th century equivalents, Tabol’s new price point is pretty close… I am pretty sure this move it going to stir the pot in craft brewing circles in Virginia, especially given the number of breweries where they are changing $7 and upwards for a pint at their taproom.

The word 'yeast' printed in an old book.

At Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymus indulges in a classic bit of reframing by flipping a BBC headline on its head to ask ‘Why wouldn’t you drink a genetically modified beer?’

Miskatonic Brewing in suburban Chicago first used Cosmic Punch before Omega gave it a name. Founder and brewer Josh Mowry had a pretty good idea of how CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology works. “We pretty quickly did some dives into what the concerns are. What are the known unknowns,” he said. He shared what he learned with customers. “We’ve only had a couple people raise (doubts), say that it feels unnatural.”… Plenty of brewers embraced modified yeast strains… Have they all gone out of their way to inform consumers that the strain in this beer may be different than the strain in that beer? Of course not.

Finally, re: social media, come and find us on…

And for more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 28 October 2023: The Uninvited

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck as especially interesting or entertaining in the past week, from Americans failing in Europe to ‘fakelore’.

First, some words of wisdom from self-defined ‘elder’ Jeff Alworth: let people like what they like, and dial down the intensity a little, eh?

Time’s lessons can bring us a certain equanimity about what is important and what merely seems important. One example that has been rising in my mind a lot lately is this one: I don’t need to get worked up about what other people like and, in fact, I can take real pleasure in people who don’t like the things I like… This seems like a banal enough observation—like, really, who cares what beer you drink or car you drive or brand of shoes you wear? Yet in a social species, affinities matter—they become heuristics we use to evaluate each other. This was more true for me as a young person, still relevant well into adulthood, and it was only when I was well into my forties that it shifted. I distinctly remember saying the words “people like what they like” and feeling something click.

The exterior of John Kavanagh's, a traditional Irish pub.
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

Lisa Grimm’s tour of Dublin’s pubs continues with a visit to John Kavanagh’s, AKA The Gravediggers. This time, it’s not a craft beer hot spot but one famous for its Guinness, popular with tourists, and just a little bit spooky:

For those who have never been to The Gravediggers – or, improbable though it seems, have never read anything about it – it’s exactly as you’ve likely heard: the pub is built into one of the walls of Glasnevin Cemetery… and it has been in the same family since 1833. The plain wood floors and swinging doors divide it into cosy snugs, and the tobacco-smoke-stained walls have certainly ‘seen some things.’ There is no music or television, though on more than one occasion, including this most recent visit, there may be an auld fella surreptitiously streaming a horse race or two on his phone.

A billboard advertising Brooklyn Pilsner on an industrial estate.
Bristol, summer 2023.

At VinePair Will Hawkes digs into the question of why American craft beer might not be making an impact in Europe. It’s a fascinating topic for those of us who remember when craft beer was American, and have wondered why it’s disappeared from the beer lists of specialist shops and bars. Of course it’s mostly about price:

Nigel Owen runs Mother Kelly’s, a group of craft beer bars and bottle shops in London. In the past he’s imported American craft beer, such as Barrier Brewing from New York, but no longer. Prices are too high. For a 30-liter keg of 4 to 5 percent ABV pale ale from a London brewery, he’d expect to pay between $120 and $145; an equivalent American beer would be closer to $180 or $195 — and, crucially, would be less fresh… It’s not just the U.K., where Brexit has added an extra layer of economic gloom. At Malt Attacks, a bottle shop in Brussels, Belgium, owner Antoine Pierson no longer stocks much American beer, he says, because the price makes it very hard to sell.

Seans' Bar, a pub with a blue frontage and funky modern sign.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED.

Is Sean’s Bar in Athlone “Ireland’s oldest pub” as is claimed? Probably not. At the website of archaeological consultancy Triskele Heritage James Wright (we think) demolishes the public relations story:

It is proudly claimed on the pub’s website that an inn was founded by Luain Mac Luighdeach at a ford over the River Shannon in 900AD. A settlement then grew up around the pub and this became Áth Luain (the Ford of Luain), later Athlone. It is alleged that the public house, now known as Sean’s Bar, has been serving drinks to locals and travellers continuously since Luain started trading… However, literally nothing beyond the personal name is known about Luan, let alone that he set up a pub in 900AD. Given the sparsity of evidence for early development it seems more likely that the bridge and castle led to the settlement in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Significantly, there is not “a detailed and documented history right back to 900AD” for either the town or the pub.

And you should chase it with an excellent opinion piece from Liam K at Irish Beer History on the subject of ‘fakelore’ and the temptation to embellish when it comes to putting dates on pubs:

If you tell a story often enough it will spread and take over everything it touches, and you can never take it back. That mistruth, that lie, that embellishment, will always be there sliding into people’s minds and thoughts being constantly repeated, written, rewritten and recorded until the author too believes what they have perpetuated… We shouldn’t create beer and brewing related history, we should just record facts as best we can at any given time.

A brain.

Jordan St. John asks a big question: “How do you write about craft beer at this point?” His post isn’t really about beer, it’s about the sense that society is collapsing around him, making writing about fancy beer feel pointless. It perhaps speaks to global consumer mood. Here’s the best bit:

Hell, in a situation where everyone is strapped, can you ethically ask for samples for review? Am I going to write about trends? What trends? Someone’s going to put hops or puree in one of the remaining unhopped styles?… I figure the only way to do it is as a function of this general situation. That means that some of what I’m going to tell you is going to be grim. We’re going to lose a lot of breweries over the next six months. I had to lock down access to the spreadsheet I use to keep track because I needed columns for “affiliation” for when brewing companies shack up and “rumour and scuttlebutt” because there’s so much that it needs a column.

Schneider Hopfenweisse wheat beer.

For ‘Learn to homebrew day’ Stan Hieronymus shared a recipe for Schneider’s hoppy Weizen ‘Mein Nelson Sauvin’ from his book For the Love of Hops. Stan suggests this particular beer is a good reminder that hoppy beers don’t need to be IPAs and quotes brewmaster Hans-Peter Drexler:

“The idea was to build a bridge from characteristic traditional wheat beer flavors to the wine aroma. (For that) I found Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand and yeast from Belgium combined with local wheat and barley malt,” he said. It was the first time Schneider used any yeast other than its own… “In Germany we have a saying: Tradition does not mean keeping the ashes but carrying on the fire,” Drexler said. “In that sense hops could help to continue the Bavarian tradition of brewing wheat beer.”

Finally, a reminder that there’s a rare opportunity to see us doing an in-person ‘thing’, talking with David Jesudason about his book Desi Pubs, at The Good Measure in Bristol next Wednesday, 1 November, from 18:30.

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.