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News, nuggets and longreads 26 November 2022: The Onion Song

We’ve bookmarked a bunch of good writing about beer and pubs in the past week, including notes on onions and old ale.

Dark Star (Fuller’s (Asahi)) has brewed a version of Gale’s Prize Old Ale which is now, on and off, available to buy. The first batch went onto the online store this week and promptly sold out. We’re told another 1,300 bottles will be up next Friday, 2 December. Martyn Cornell explains in this blog post why you should care, and why you should join the queue:

15 or so years ago, the appreciation of sour ales that there is today, and Fuller’s sales team simply did not understand Prize Old Ale, what it was and what it could be. Fortunately John Keeling resisted their calls to pour it away down the drain, and kept 80 hectolitres or so hidden in the Griffin brewery. Earlier this year Henry Kirk had some of that beer conveyed to Sussex, where he brewed a fresh batch of Prize Old Ale to the original Horndean recipe, carefully blended that into the old, well-travelled beer, and then waited while the aged yeasts and bacteria did their job… The result is a marvel: an amazingly complex beer for a brew in one way so young, the sort of deep and fascinating palate (and palette) that beers such as Rodenbach or lambic achieve only after years in Belgian foeders: but then, parts of this beer have been around for a century.


Illustration of a dimple mug of brown bitter.

Just one question, just a small question, just an easy one, from Pete Brown: what is beer?

I’ve always had a very simple distinction. All fermented drinks are based on sugars that yeast converts to alcohol. If those sugars come from fruit, the drink is wine (real cider is, effectively, apple wine). If those sugars come from grains the drink is beer (which is why Japanese sake is technically rice beer rather than rice wine)… Ah. Says [the Beer Archaeologist Travis Rupp]. But of the starches in the Natufian beer, only 34.2% came from grasses. The rest were a mix of starches from a wide variety of plants including lentils, tubers, leaves, even flowers. Fruit was likely added not primarily for flavour, but because the yeast on the skins would have started the fermentation… So is this still beer?


Keg taps.

Almost three years since the start of the pandemic, many people still haven’t returned to city centre workplaces, fundamentally changing the feel and flow of cities. Jeff Alworth has explored this topic before and returns to it now with more data:

This summer, researchers at UC Berkeley found that of 62 cities in North America, only four saw their downtowns recover from Covid; a third still had half or less traffic than pre-pandemic… But here’s the thing—it wasn’t just downtowns. Cities as a whole were still suffering. According to that  same UC Berkeley study, only 16% of cities saw life return to normal across the metro areas. People hadn’t switched from having that after-work pint downtown to heading out of the house for one at the neighborhood local… Once people were in their homes, it seems, they were less likely to go back out…Earlier this week, I met with a brewer for an article I’m working on. He told me his taproom volume came back after the pandemic, but only to about three-quarters its original level.


Onions.

Liam at Beer, Food, Travel is on a roll. This week, he delivers a torrent of lovely 19th century slang, from ‘crappers’ to ‘hinions’, in a post on ‘summut’:

Leaving all of that aside, the big thing here is an onion being served in a pint of porter and whiskey – or at least that is implied by the comments of Mr. Mulvey. This seems odd to the extreme and I can find no other reference to either a ‘summut’ or the practice of serving onion in a beer anywhere else – as of yet.

Reminds us of the ‘Pondicherry Pearl’, which makes us think Liam might be onto something when he suggests the whole idea of summut could be a gag.


Food at The Island Inn, West Bromwich.

Now, a couple of pieces that echo each other. First, for Pellicle, David Jesudason writes about the role of Desi pubs in the Midlands in making football more diverse:

Inside the Red Cow, Bera [Mahli], who is 65 years old, is frantically running from three different sets of customers; in the room above the packed pub of football fans, he’s catering for two different parties… But the football fans are his stock and trade. So much, in fact, he charters fleets of taxis for them before the match. He did this because he used to run Redfort Social Club, which was nearer the ground, and when he moved to the Red Cow he had to come up with a novel way of keeping his Saturday customers.

And at Good Beer Hunting Amy Lo answers a question we’ve all asked from time to time: why do so many London pubs serve Thai food?

The Churchill Arms in Kensington is a Fuller’s pub, one that looks exactly like the sort of pub you probably imagine when you think of England… Unexpectedly, it is also widely considered to be the first pub in London with a Thai kitchen, thanks to a chef named “Ben” Songkot Boonyasarayon, as manager James Keogh tells me. “He was running a restaurant in Earl’s Court back in the late ’80s, and he just happened to be a customer of the pub here, and he asked us if we would try Thai food here in the pub,” Keough says.


Finally, from Twitter, a mystery…

…and from Mastodon, a bedtime story:

Dr Christina Wade
@Braciatrix@mastodon.beer
Did you know one of the first European children’s picture books featured people brewing? Written by Jan Komenský, the Orbis sensualium pictus, published 1658 and trans. to English by Charles Hoole in 1659, told children:

Where Wine is not to be had, 
they drink Beer, 
which is brewed of Malt,
and Hops in a Caldron,
afterwards it is poured into Vats.

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

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News

News, nuggets and longreads 19 November 2022: Discount tents

Another week, another collection of essential reading on beer and pubs. This week we’ve got old breweries, breweries on the move, and mulled porter.

First, some news: in recent years, Dark Star was bought by Fuller’s which was bought by Asahi, which is now moving production of Dark Star beers to its Meantime Brewery in Greenwich. The positive spin on this is that Dark Star, the beer after which the brewery was named, was born in London, so this is kind of a homecoming. And, so far, Fuller’s/Asahi have done a good job maintaining the quality of the beer despite pragmatic goings-on behind the scenes, such as a change of yeast. But this does rather feel like the moment when it becomes a brand rather than a brewery.


The Hook Norton brewery
SOURCE: Good Beer Hunting/Jonny Garrett

Speaking of breweries, as opposed to brands, Adrian Tierney-Jones has been exploring Hook Norton’s brewery in Oxfordshire in the company of managing director James Clarke. It’s the usual mix of impressionism and detail we’ve come to expect from ATJ, both contributing to the romance these Victorian industrial buildings embody, and commentating on it:

His grandfather Bill Clarke, who then held the post that Clarke now occupies, brought him along on those early visits. Now in his early 50s and a respected figure within British brewing, Clarke can still recall the impressions that a trip around the brewery made on his young self. “It was always a mystery to me, and I was still finding different rooms until my teens,” he says. “There was a lot of romance. You could see the building on a foggy night and it was quite eerie—or also at night with all the lights on.”


Mulling machinery

Every now and then you read something that brings some new detail to your mental model of life in the past. This week, Liam at Beer Food Travel wrote about mulled porter and mulling machines in the 19th century:

Mulled porter appears to have been relatively popular in public houses Ireland at this time – perhaps less so elsewhere – and there were even specific lemon and spice extracts and liquid spiced syrups available to the publican to quickly and easily spice their porters. It would be great if some of the dispensers still existed in public houses somewhere in the country – if you spot one please send me a photo… It would also be nice to be able to walk into a pub in Ireland now and get a glass of spiced porter in a nice pewter mug on a cold winter’s evening, served from a shiny brass and copper barrel on the bar…


Lager illustration.

For Pellicle Will Hawkes has written about lager and its importance to the culture of Washington DC:

Once you’ve visited a few Washington DC breweries, you start to get the message. At DC Brau, the city’s first production brewery for almost 60 years when it opened in 2011, a sign inside demands “Statehood for the people of DC”… City-State Brewing Co., founded in 2021, has also tied its identity to that of the city, and Right Proper Brewing Co’s glassware declares the beer was “made in the Douglass Commonwealth”—the name DC would take upon statehood… No brewery in DC embodies this difference, and the battle for statehood, more than Right Proper. This brewery is centre stage in a political struggle that uses the city’s Germanic lager-brewing past in an attempt to forge a different, perhaps better future.


A pumpclip for Old Speckled Hen.

Beer marketing veteran Marc Bishop has been putting some of his professional memories together in blog posts at Beer Marketeer. This week, he told the story of Old Speckled Hen, a brand that’s hugely popular in pubs and supermarkets but less so with hardcore beer geeks:

Firstly, the Monopolies and Mergers Committee reported into the beer industry with what would turn out to be far reaching changes and alter the brewing and pubs landscape forever. One of the recommendations was that national brewers, all of whom had large pub estates, must allow their pubs to offer a guest cask beer. Secondly, Morland had a failing lager brand called Kaltenberg Braumaster (see my other blog for the story), that already had a sizable marketing budget of £100,000 per annum. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the then marketing manager, a very clever man called Gerald Pridmore, was bright enough, bold enough and risk tolerant to take advantage of this situation… Morland never had a cask beer suitable to make great strides as a guest beer so they would need to invent one, but Gerald saw the opportunity and duly worked with Bill Mellor to introduce Old Speckled Hen on draught. A new brand also needs a marketing budget so Gerald took a risk and unbeknown to the then CEO, used the existing marketing budget set aside for Kaltenberg to put the building blocks in place for OSH.


A jumble of pubs.

We don’t tend to listen to podcasts but this episode of Gone Medieval caught our attention. It asks how long we’ve had pubs, and which can really claim to be the oldest. Worth a listen.


Finally, from Twitter…

…and Mastodon, where The Session seems to be making a comeback:

A Toot from Thomas Gideon: "Hello, friends in beer! I am curious, what beer first ignited your passion about beer, as a drinker, a brewer, or both?"

We’re enjoying Mastodon, BTW, and are there as much as we’re on Twitter: mastodon.online/@boakandbailey If you’re thinking of having a look around, this guide is helpful.

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

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News

News, nuggets and longreads 12 November 2022: The Big Combo

Here are all the beer- and pub-related links we bookmarked in the past week, including plenty of challenging stuff about who belongs in beer.

This could almost be boilerplate text: BrewDog has not had a good week. After launching a big marketing campaign criticising FIFA and World Cup hosts Qatar, there was significant backlash. They’re still showing World Cup games in their bars, it turns out, and have sold beer to the Qatar state alcohol distribution company recently. Even people on LinkedIn (generally pro-business BrewDog cheerleaders) were annoyed by this one.


A little more news: Estrella Damm has bought the Eagle Brewery in Bedford, formerly home of Charles Wells, from Carlsberg Marston’s. That means beers such as Young’s Original (AKA Bitter, AKA Ordinary) will be brewed elsewhere in the UK. The link to where these brands are from and where they’re made was broken a long time ago in most cases but, still, this feels like another step along the wrong path. Keith Flett has opinions.


Lad culture: an old beer mat with the slogan "Strongarm and darts with the lads".

Good Beer Hunting is hosting posts by the winners of Diversity in British Beer Grants from the Guild of British Beer Writers. This week, it’s a piece by Damian Kerlin about how lad culture gets in the way of gay men enjoying, and getting involved in, craft beer:

[Among] the gay men I spoke to, there was an early awareness that beer was “a man’s drink.” As I was growing up, I had a heightened sense of what was “manly” and what wasn’t, an acute awareness that my interests did not align with what I was told I should enjoy. And beer was always manly. You would only have to watch TV to see beer adverts aimed at straight men, or look at photos in national publications of pints being consumed by men staggering out of sport stadiums, to understand that. When you see a drink associated with interests that are opposed to yours, you unconsciously learn to avoid it. 


Children's tricycles in a pub garden

For Pellicle Jemma Beedie has written about the difficulties of being seen with a beer in your hand while you’re breastfeeding a baby:

Cultural gender roles mean that women who drink may be stigmatised, and new mothers who have a drink may be criticised, either by society at large or, worse, by their families, friends and partners… New fathers are encouraged out to ‘wet the baby’s head’ but we shy away from serving new mothers a glass of wine. We don’t see men drinking as shameful or unnecessary. Many decades of marketing tell us that it is manly to drink beer. We’ve all hung out with a pair of new parents while the dad drinks beer after beer and the mum is on duty because she’s breastfeeding—the primary parent no matter the situation.


Yeast

We were surprised and pleased to see a post by Michael Tonsmeire pop up in our RSS feed this week. His last was in 2020. It’s a pretty dense technical piece about yeast management in small breweries but some of you will no doubt revel in that:

When it comes to brewing delicious beer, there are few aspects more important than the yeast. A healthy fermentation allows the malt, hops, and adjuncts to shine. Pitching the right amount of healthy cells helps ensure that the finished beer has the intended alcohol, expected residual sweetness, and appropriate yeast character… Over the last four years at Sapwood Cellars we’ve slowly improved our yeast handling. We’ve noticed improved fermentation consistency, and better tasting beers. Most of our process is excessive for a homebrewer, but it might give you some ideas!


An engraving of a barque (ship)

At Beer is for Everyone Ruvani de Silva has interviewed David Jesudason about Empire State of Mind, the beer he brewed with London’s Villages Brewery:

“Desis wanted to hang onto our cultural heritage, which we don’t have that much of. We have very little to hang onto when it comes to our heritage, so we see something that looks Indian, like Jaipur IPA by Thornbridge. We don’t want to pull it down, but now we can view this through a specifically desi perspective – our own perspective. All of this is a desi thing – it’s a British-Indian thing. It’s up to us to do this – we are British – there’s no other way of looking at it. We are who we are. We can’t change – British culture is part of us.”


The cluttered bar area of the Poechenellekelder
SOURCE: Belgian Smaak/Cliff Lucas.

At Belgian Smaak Cliff Lucas provides a photo portrait of Poechenellekelder in central Brussels:

The peeing boy attraction, known as Mannekin Pis, is so disorientating and bizarrely unimpressive, that visitors often need a drink afterwards to digest the experience. Nearby Poechenellekelder, however, offers little relief from the bewilderment: its eclectic wall art, peculiar hanging puppets, and strange antique photographs are nearly all dedicated to this small peeing boy…


From Twitter, an excellent newsletter worth signing up to:

We got the first edition yesterday and it is, as you might expect from Will Hawkes, great.

Finally, from Mastodon

Andreas Krennmair: "Today's #SteinkrugOfTheDay is from Brauerei Schnitzlbaumer in Traunstein, Bavaria. The line measure has a capital L but is right next to handle, which indicates it's most likely from the 20th century. Judging from the print of the brewery logo and name, this is more likely from the interwar period.

Brauerei Schnitzlbaumer was founded in 1575. In 1889, it was sold to Bernhard Schnitzlbaumer I. and his wife, who then grew the successful business."

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

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News

News, nuggets and longreads 5 November 2022: Bread rolls, blue rolls

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from Lambic beef to laidback bars.

You know we’re fans of the basic bartop bread roll. Now, a pub not too far from where we live has gone viral thanks to its particularly chunky examples of the ‘popular bar snack’.

The BBC interviewed the landlord, Martin Donlin, who says: “They are basic sustenance after work and go nicely with a pint of cider… They make you more thirsty too.”


The interior of the Strait and Narrow with dark corners, red light and Belgian beer signs on the bare brick walls.
SOURCE: Pellicle.

For Pellicle Jane Stuart has written about The Strait and Narrow, a nice-sounding bar in Lincoln:

Situated at the foot of Steep Hill, where it meets the top of Lincoln High Street, for me, the Strait is a pub like no other in the UK. It’s not traditional, it’s not a micropub, it’s not a family pub, it’s not a foodie pub, a brewpub, or a sports pub. So what exactly is it? Well… it’s a Strait and Narrow thing… Immediately upon entering, it feels like you’re transported to another country. The long bar dominating the room’s left took me back to San Diego and the Monkey Paw Brewpub (sadly now extinct). The room—riddled with cosy nooks—is dimly lit by chandeliers, spotlights and Tiffany lamps—an odd mix that somehow just works. The background music hits that sweet spot of being loud enough to lose yourself while being comfortably able to hear conversations.

There’s no particular angle or remarkable story here, but sometimes, it’s just good to read someone being enthusiastic about a place you’ve never been.


Illustration: lambic blending.

Martyn Cornell has provided an in-depth review of a new book by Raf Meert about the history of Lambic beer. It’s interesting, and controversial, because it “puts a big bomb underneath all the marketing efforts of of companies such as Boon and Lindemann’s”. Reviewing serious history books is hard work – how do you verify their accuracy, especially when the sources are obscure, and in languages you don’t speak? Martyn treads appropriately carefully but concludes:

If you’re at all interested in the history of lambic and gueuze, and especially if you are ever going to write about the history of lambic and gueuze, this is a book you are going to have to read, because its alternative take on the story of these two fascinating and important beer styles is so radically different compared to the story that HORAL and the big lambic/gueuze makers put out that you are getting only half the picture if you don’t read it.

Martyn’s review prompted a bit of discussion on Twitter about the grumpiness of this kind of history writing and Martyn says: “The tone is sometimes polemical – I thought I was occasionally a little rough on people who get their facts wrong, but Meert has no fear of sticking the clog in hard.” We tend to prefer our history dispassionate, so that’s not a selling point as far as we’re concerned.


At Craft Beer & Brewing Jeff Alworth has provided an update on what’s going on with IPA in America, where the dividing lines between sub-styles are breaking down:

You might imagine that along [the 3,000 miles between Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine] you’d find differences in the way people make their beer. That was the initial idea behind this article—to document those differences in the ways that brewers in different regions make their hazy IPAs… Yet, when I set out to investigate this question, speaking with brewers and writers across the country, they kept describing the same kinds of beers. As a control, I polled my readers on social media and my blog about their preferences. I was astounded to find that not only did drinkers from different regions prefer pretty much the same things, but they also agreed with the brewers, too… Americans may be riven by political and cultural divisions, but in this one small area, we seem to speak with a single voice.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

For the British Beer Breaks newsletter Phil Mellows writes about the new edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and its status after 50 years in print:

The strength of the Good Beer Guide, and what makes it different from, and in many ways better than, competing guides, is that the people picking the entries are so close to the ground… This is also a weakness. A pub can fall out of favour with these individuals for all kinds of reasons that may be obscure to the occasional visitor. And there must be, it seems to me, a growing pressure on the decision-making resulting from the limit imposed on the number of entries allocated to each county or region… While each Camra branch has its own way of doing things, Strawbridge suggested that rota systems are common. Regular entries may take turns dropping out for a year to make room for others – though they can hardly now leave out any of the Big Five on that basis.


A sign advertising Duvel.

We continue to watch Sergey Konstantinov’s beer history book project with interest. Recent posts have concerned the development of modern Belgian styles such as Quadrupel and the strong golden (Duvel) type:

In 1923 (or 1918, as some sources claim) the Moortgat brewery released its special strong ‘Victory Ale’ to celebrate the end of the First World War. To do so, one of the Moortgat brothers, Albert, went to Scotland searching for proper yeasts (and had found them either at William McEwan’s or William Younger’s brewery — the sources are again inconclusive). More importantly, he brought not only the yeasts, but the recipe as well: in fact, Victory Ale was a Belgian interpretation of the classical Scottish Ale (which was, in turn, the Scottish interpretation of the classical English barleywine) and had an impressive 8.5% ABV. So impressive that the local shoemaker named Van De Wouwer reportedly called it ‘the real devil’ (‘nen echten Duvel’ in the local dialect) — and the Moortgats unhesitatingly renamed ‘Victory Ale’ into ‘Duvel’.


Finally, from Twitter…

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

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News

News, nuggets and longreads 29 October 2022: boos, boggarts and wrongreads

Every Saturday we roundup the best of the past week’s writing about beer and pubs. This time we’ve got ships, sours and Scottie Road.

The issue of the week for CAMRA is plastic beer glasses. Specifically, it has called for the Government to let publicans decide whether to serve beer in plastic glasses rather than allowing local licensing authorities to make it compulsory. This sounds like a good idea to us. Quite apart from the environmental issues around single-use plastic, there are few things as disappointing as finding a lovely beer, and a lovely beer garden, and then being forced to sip out of a cheap-feeling beaker.


At Good Beer Hunting Brian Alberts has done what he does best: found a story from the history of American brewing we haven’t heard before, and told it well. This time it’s about an American brewer struggling during prohibition discovering that his own government, through one of its agencies, was selling beer brewed in Europe:

[The] Shipping Board… appealed unsuccessfully to U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty for permission to sell liquor in international waters. If U.S. jurisdiction ended three miles from the coast (today the boundary is 12 miles), they argued, surely Prohibition should too. The Justice Department disagreed, ruling that American laws applied to American ships wherever they sailed. Congress, dominated by prohibitionists, refused any legislative recourse. Foreign ships, meanwhile, operated without alcohol restrictions… This was very bad for business… American travelers, it turned out, were not so patriotic as to choose a dry American ship when they could drink freely aboard a British ship instead.


Helles

For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Matt Curtis has written about the increasing use of the German term Helles to describe all sorts of British lagers. Is it a problem that they don’t stick to a particular style? And why are they using it?

In serious beer terms, Pilsner refers to a specific style of pale lager that emerged from the city of Pilšen, in the Czech Republic. It is generally characterised as being bold in flavour, with a robust backbone of malt balanced by a sharp bitterness, giving it both palate-priming and thirst quenching qualities. Around the 1990’s, “Pilsner,” often shortened to “Pils,” became a pervasive term in the marketing of British lager. This was not done to specifically reference the original style, but because it sounded cool. It felt sophisticated to be among friends, enjoying an ice-cold pils. And if you ordered a “pilsner” you knew damn well you were going to be served a cold lager… Why does this matter? Because I believe lager is once again shifting its identity to maintain its dominance in the UK.

(We’ve written about this in the past, too.)


Detail from a 1943 advert for Lifesavers depicting fruit on a tree.

For The Washington Post, no less, Ruvani de Silva has written about the rise of ‘fruited sours’ in American brewing:

Rhodes likens the distinction between drinking traditional mixed-fermentation sours and fruited sours to “going from listening to classical music to pop.” Sonia B. echoes this sentiment, describing fruited sours as “fun and easygoing … a more everyday, every-person drink.”… With hundreds of U.S. breweries now producing the style in volume, it’s only a matter of time before most drinkers encounter their first fruited sour. Yes, these really are beers, and yes, they are here to stay. Drekker’s Bjornstad quotes Arthur O’Shaughnessy and Willy Wonka; “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” Beer, he believes, “is whatever we can dream it to be.”

This is a point we’ve made in the past: cynics think of these beers as way out there when, actually, they’re extremely accessible to people who find the beeriness of beer off putting. We don’t mind them existing. You don’t have to drink them.


Liverpool c.1907.

For the BBC Daniel O’Donoghue has written about Liverpool’s Scotland Road, AKA Scottie Road, which once had 200 pubs but is about to reach zero:

Previously surrounded by rows upon rows of tenements, ice cream parlours, tailors, grocers, pubs and cinemas and a stone’s throw from the childhood home of one of the city’s most famous daughters, Cilla Black, the Throstles Nest is now a lone outpost from a bygone era… On the night Liverpool faced Rangers in the Champions League, the sort of football match that would have previously seen thronging fans pack into the pub, just three people were in its saloon bar… Landlord Kevin McMullen, who has owned the pub for 40 years, has vivid memories of its heyday… “You wouldn’t be able to see the door for people,” the 78-year-old said… Referencing the bustling Barcelona street of bars, he said the road had been like “a poor man’s Las Ramblas”.


A sign for a pub cellar in wonky old writing.

It’s almost Halloween so let’s finish with a spooky story from Liam at Beer Food Travel, about a pub-cellar-dweller:

The few tiny pieces of bread he found upstairs are soon eaten and his ever-present thirst rises – his need for drink urgent and greedy. He goes to the part of the cellar where the barrels labelled ‘XX Stout’ are kept and removes an old piece of twine from around his neck, on which is tied his most important possession. It is a long narrow tool, pointed and with curved threads at one end, and a handle on the other – a gimlet. He pushes the tool into the hard timber of the barrel and twists it from side to side before turning it clockwise and letting the threads find purchase as the tool drags itself into the oak until it pushes through the stave and spins freely. He removes the tool and quickly puts his mouth to the spurt of black frothy liquid that erupts from the hole…


Finally, from Twitter…

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