These are a Few of our Favourite Pubs

Over a few beers the other week we found ourselves making a list of pubs we love and find ourselves longing to be in.

It’s not The Best Pubs, it’s not a Top Ten, it’s just some pubs we like enough to feel wistful for. We’ve been tinkering with it since and decided to share it.

Brains bitter at the City Arms, Cardiff.
The City Arms, Cardiff

10-12 Quay St, CF10 1EA
This is, in fact, the pub where we had the conversation. It was our first visit but love at first pint. The perfect mix of old school, new school, cask and keg, it just felt completely right to us. Worn in and unpretentious, but not curmudgeonly, and serving a revelatory point of Brains Bitter. (Not SA.) Is it an institution? We assume it’s an institution.

The Brunswick, Derby.
The Brunswick Inn, Derby

1 Railway Terrace, DE1 2RU
We loved this first time, and it’s still great. Flagstones, pale cask ale, cradling corners, a view over the railway, and the murmur of lovely local accents. Worth breaking a train journey for.

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The Pros and Cons of the BrewDog Blueprint

BrewDog bar sign.

A challenge floated across our Twitter timeline today: can anyone really write objectively about BrewDog’s new ‘Blueprint’?

Well, we’re going to try.

The blueprint is a document which sets out their intentions for the next decade – a business plan, effectively, only simplified and given a heavy graphic treatment, as is de rigueur in the corporate world these days.

Before we get into dissecting what is there, let’s look at what isn’t: any evidence of contrition or regret for several years’ worth of clangers and crassness in the marketing. This is as close as it gets:

We have done some amazing things, we have taken some insane risks and we have always worn our heart on our sleeve. We know that we can always get better and we work towards that every second of every day.

There are people we respect who regard BrewDog as irredeemably homophobic, sexist and transphobic, and the Scottish Brewery has been given lots of chances to get this right but keeps failing. Nothing in this new manifesto suggests the management really understand those complaints, or that they intend to address them.

We think there’s a vague, implied desire to do better but until it’s been, say, a year without any spunking beer bottles or similar, who will be convinced by that?

Cask ale

After a couple of false dawns and sidequests BrewDog is going to start producing cask ale again. (Yes, cask is back from extinction for the second time this week.)

Pros: This sends a long overdue conciliatory signal; if cask is endangered and needs support, well, here it is; and DPC is a good beer, so if it ends up being an alternative to Doom Bar in mainstream pubs, that’s fine by us.

Cons: For breweries scraping by supplying the hoppy cask ale niche the re-entry into the market of a large, well-funded, commercially aggressive competitor is probably bad news.

Allsopp IPA

We’ve known about this for ages, and even suspected Martyn Cornell’s involvement based on whispers here and there, but this is the most detail we’ve had on the project. It sounds cool, and they’ll probably do a good job of it.

Pros: This is an important beer and being able to taste what we hope will be a serious recreation will be exciting.

Cons: Historical recreations aside, is this really the opposite of a trad brewers sneaky craft sub-brand? Will the packaging be sufficiently transparent that people buying it will know it’s from BrewDog?

Beer on TV

Beer Bucket List, in which Martin Dickie tours UK breweries, probably won’t be for us, but we can imagine it going over well with people a few notches less geeky than us. It’s simple, will be cheap and fast to produce, and sidesteps the issue that has scuppered successive attempts to produce The Great British Brew Off: beer is sloooooooow.

Pros: Beer on TV! And they’re using the opportunity to promote independent breweries, too.

Cons: But it’s also a big BrewDog advert, isn’t it?

Ethics

As a team that is 50 per cent accountant we very much approve of the commitment to shorter payment terms for small suppliers.

There’s also a pledge to reduce plastic packaging, and a fund for investing in smaller breweries with a mission to promote inclusiveness.

Pros: This goes beyond posturing – it’s concrete and practical.

Cons: But it’s kind of the bare minimum really, isn’t it, for a firm that’s trying to reaffirm its indie cred. And we reckon the plastic reduction is being driven by the supermarkets anyway.

Supporting local breweries

There is a commitment to having local guest lines in BrewDog bars – a smart move to counter the impression that it’s a rootless chain. (Which it is.) There are also pledges to collaborate with smaller breweries – an interesting list which might be said to represent the current indie top table.

Pros: They don’t have to do this and it is something we’ve suggested larger breweries ought to do more of.

Cons: Who can tell what’s sincere and what’s about brand building at this stage; and it’s nothing they can’t withdraw from at the drop of a hat.

Franchises

This is a weird one, and a bit of a surprise. We’ve wondered in the past whether there might not be more BrewDog branded bars not run directly but BrewDog but expected it to be via a bigger partner such as Greene King. Now, they’re offering Equity Punk shareholders chance to open BrewDog branded bars of their own, with training and support.

Pros: More BrewDog bars in small towns, which we guess is good news for small town BrewDog fans; and these bars will probably be smarter and better run than some indie craft bars outside big cities.

Cons: It’s yet more high street homogenisation.

* * *

Overall, this blueprint reinforces what we already thought: BrewDog is an important presence in British beer culture, and always worth watching, but it becomes less human with each passing year.

If they really want to shore up their craft credentials, which seems to be at least in part the intention, then they’ll need to be a bit more radical than this. And, dare we say, a touch more modest.

It’s Easy to be Intrepid When You’re a White Bloke

Illustration: "Odd One Out".

Wandering into strange pubs in strange towns, perhaps even in distant countries, isn’t as fun for some people as it is for others.

This is something we’ve been brooding on for years, triggered by a passing conversation with a friend. We suggested meeting in the William IV in Leyton and she winced and shook her head. “I don’t feel comfortable in there,” she said. “I feel like people are staring at me because, you know… I’m a bit brown.”

To be clear: nothing ever happened, nothing was ever said, but she simply didn’t feel at ease — and unease, after all, is a finely honed human survival mechanism.

Even within this household there are differing thresholds. There are pubs which Ray (an average-looking white bloke) has visited and enjoyed, but where Jess felt on edge, and certainly wouldn’t particularly relish visiting alone.

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Session #138 — Return of the Wood Part II: Woody’s Revenge

A sea of wooden casks.

For the 138th edition of the Session Jack Perdue at Deep Beer has asked us to reflect on the wonders of wood.

Back in 2013 we wrote a post reflecting on the role of wood in the ‘rebirth of British beer’, observing that it was making something of a comeback:

More significant, perhaps, is the recent obsession with ‘barrel ageing’, derived from Belgium via the United States. Though it is not always used quite as Arthur Millard and the other founders of the SPBW might have hoped, hip young brewers positively fetishise wood. At the Wild Beer Company in Somerset, barrels — their source a closely guarded secret — are cooed over like newborn babies: ‘This one was used for Pedro Ximenez — smell it!’

In the past five years, that trend has continued.

It is now all but compulsory for substantial, ambitious UK craft breweries (def. 2) to have permanent wood-ageing facilities on the side: Beavertown, BrewDog, Cloudwatereveryone is doing it.

Wild Beer Co, with wood at the centre and ‘normal’ beer almost as an afterthought, has gone on to win major awards, carving a niche which it shares with an increasing number of other wood-first breweries such as Burning Sky and Little Earth.

In pure marketing terms, wood is a godsend — what better way to signal rustic authenticity? (Even if you fiddle it.)

But what’s interesting to us about all this is that it represents not just a growth in variety but a broadening of the palette (as in artist’s) — another variable, another way to add complexity and depth to even quite simple beers.

Imperial stouts are great and all that but it would quite suit us if the end-point of all this experimentation was a growth in the number of drinkable cask porters and IPAs with just a bit of something funkier blended in, Greene King 5X style.

Great Myths of Our Time: Beer Geeks Don’t Like Lager

“Lager in general is underappreciated by ‘beer enthusiasts’.”

That’s something the Pub Curmudgeon (@oldmudgie) said on Twitter the other night. We probably wouldn’t have taken particular note had it not arrived in the midst of what has felt like a positive bombardment of love for lager in the feed.

For example, the Pub Curmudgeon’s Tweet landed right alongside a series of distinctly lagery Tweets from Mark Dredge who is currently in Germany (researching a book about lager, we assume).

And there’s also been this article by Katie Taylor, Nathaniel Southwood’s CAMEL, and lots of this:

We do get what the Pub Curmudgeon is getting at: there was definitely a stretch, 30 years or so, where big-brewery lager was the enemy as far as many CAMRA members were concerned, not helped by its public image.

And it’s true that lagers don’t get big ratings.

But the thing is, they do get the check-ins: Carling has been rated 30,000 times on Untappd, compared to 60,000 for Beavertown Gamma Ray, to pick a popular craft pale ale as a point of reference. Beer geeks (and we reckon anyone who bothers logging every beer they drink counts as a beer geek) are drinking Foster’s, Stella, Carling and Kronenbourg 1664 fairly frequently.

We reckon there’s one of yer false dichotomies here.

The same people who enjoy imperial stouts and IPAs, and love limited edition novelties and specialities, also drink normal beer with their normal mates in normal pubs.

There aren’t many people living a 100 per cent Craft Beer Lifestyle, as far as we can tell. (Even if there are, there are plenty of lagers about in that world these days, from BrewDog to Cloudwater.)

It feels to us that as long as we’ve been into beer, we’ve seen beer people talking fondly about lager. Michael Jackson wrote about lager with as much passion as any other beer style; Graham Lees, co-founder of CAMRA, became a lager specialist; and Alastair Hook built what were arguably Britain’s first Definition 2 craft breweries largely on lager.

Indeed, Meantime’s range of lagers were among the first beers to grab our attention, and lager prompted us to start this blog in 2007.

Many of the first beer bloggers and writers we engaged with were open about their enjoyment of lager, to some degree: Stonch, Tandleman, Ron Pattinson, Max, Velky Al, Evan Rail, Robbie Pickering… We could go on.

In fact, the only person we can think of who still baldly states that he doesn’t like lager in general is Ed Wray — hardly a figurehead for the trendy end of the craft beer movement. (No offence meant, Ed. Or would the opposite be ruder?)

Perhaps the impression that beer geeks don’t appreciate lager is partly a result of the way beer geeks who do tend to talk about it:

  • “Unlike all those other IPA-obsessed beer geeks I, an open-minded world traveller with a sophisticated palate, am able to truly appreciate the subtlety of lager.”
  • “You might think Budweiser is bad but actually it’s good, ahh, not like you thought, aah…” (The Ironic Review.)
  • “Am I the only one here who appreciates a good pilsner?” (No. See above.)

Not that there’s anything wrong with not liking lager.

There’s nothing wrong with not liking it, and there’s nothing wrong with liking it.