A Nice Cold Pint at the Winchester

Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to The Win­ches­ter, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”

The above line in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s 2004 zom­bie com­e­dy Shaun of the Dead, accom­pa­nied by a car­toon­ish wink and the rais­ing of a pint of lager by Pegg, spawned a meme and sum­maris­es a whole (point­ed­ly flawed) phi­los­o­phy of life.

Shaun of the Dead is one of the all-time great pub films. Few oth­ers fea­ture a pub so promi­nent­ly as both a loca­tion and in dia­logue; hard­ly any make a pub so piv­otal to the plot. Shaun’s atti­tude to the pub, to this par­tic­u­lar pub, defines his entire per­son­al­i­ty and directs the course of his rela­tion­ships.

It has an added res­o­nance for me in that, for sev­er­al years in my own flat-shar­ing twen­ties, I lived around the cor­ner from The Win­ches­ter.

And, to be clear, I don’t mean that I lived near a pub that was like The Win­ches­ter: the actu­al pub you actu­al­ly see in the actu­al film was about four min­utes walk from my house in New Cross, South Lon­don.

It was called the Duke of Albany and I nev­er went in.

Why? I was too scared.

I was, in gen­er­al, fair­ly brave, reg­u­lar­ly drink­ing in sev­er­al pubs near my house that oth­ers might have balked at – the kind of down-at-heel, last-legs places where it was a choice of Foster’s or Stel­la, and every­thing was ripped, stained, bro­ken, or had ini­tials carved into it.

The Duke of Albany always seemed next lev­el scary, though, per­haps because it was a Big Mill­wall Pub. Or maybe because it was on a back­street rather than the main road – the only street, in fact, where any­one has ever tried to mug me. I have a faint mem­o­ry of there always being dogs out­side and I don’t mean 10/10 floofy inter­net dog­gos – real face-chew­ers. You couldn’t see in, either, which meant walk­ing through the door would have been a pure gam­ble.

And that fortress char­ac­ter is, of course, exact­ly why Shaun choos­es it as his base for the zom­bie apoc­a­lypse.

The pub In Shaun of the Dead, though it is The Duke of Albany, isn’t the Duke of Albany. It rep­re­sents every decent but unpre­ten­tious, tat­ty but not grot­ty, func­tion­al neigh­bour­hood pub in Lon­don.

As such, it is lov­ing­ly, care­ful­ly depict­ed, Edgar Wright’s hyper­ac­tive cam­era swoop­ing in on res­o­nant details: a cow­boy boot tap­ping a brass rail, the fire­works of the fruit machine, tex­tured wall­pa­per var­nished with nico­tine, and frost­ed glass that speaks of pri­va­cy and mis­chief. TV screens, flam­ing sam­bu­cas, glass­es that only just bare­ly look clean…

It’s an attempt to depict a real back­street, out­er-rim Lon­don pub, not the roman­tic Olde Inne of pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. An ide­al, sure, but not a fan­ta­sy.

It picks up on threads laid down in Spaced, the cult TV show that launched the careers of Jes­si­ca Hynes, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. One episode in par­tic­u­lar, ‘Back’, the open­ing to series two from 2001, fea­tures a Matrix-like fight sequence in a very real-look­ing, unglam­orous pub.

You might dis­cern a pro­gres­sion, in fact. In Spaced, about post-ado­les­cence, pubs are impor­tant, but just part of the mix along­side night­clubs, raves and house par­ties. By Shaun of the Dead, with char­ac­ters star­ing down the bar­rel of 30, pubs have become the default, with fan­cy restau­rants and din­ner par­ties the threat­ened next step. And in The World’s End, pubs have def­i­nite­ly become a prob­lem, some­thing to be shak­en off with matu­ri­ty.

Simon Pegg has said as much out­right, in fact, acknowl­edg­ing last sum­mer that he had stopped drink­ing, and describ­ing The World’s End as a way of admit­ting his prob­lem with alco­hol.

Re-watch­ing Shaun of the Dead recent­ly both Jess and I were struck by the extent to which the spe­cif­ic pub cul­ture depict­ed has already begun to fade out of exis­tence. The por­tray­al of a lock-in, for exam­ple, gave us a rush of nos­tal­gia for the world of drawn cur­tains, low mut­ter­ing and con­spir­a­to­r­i­al glee.

The Duke of Albany closed a few years after the film came out and is now flats. When I vis­it­ed New Cross last year I found that oth­er sim­i­lar­ly rough-and-ready pubs had also dis­ap­peared, either re-pur­posed, demol­ished or gen­tri­fied into some­thing fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent.

The Wind­sor had some of the old Win­ches­ter atmos­phere, though, with chat about pool cues being bro­ken over people’s heads (‘Don’t Stop Me Now’) and elder­ly drinkers whose faces told sto­ries.

But would I hole up there dur­ing the end of the world? No chance. After all, man can­not sur­vive on scratch­ings and Extra Cold Guin­ness alone.

The unwritten rules of round-buying

There are few things as odd as reading an observed description of your own culture’s unconscious habits, such as the buying of rounds of drinks.

When we arrived in Glas­gow last week­end we browsed the guide­books sup­plied in our flat and stopped short when we found a note, aimed at vis­i­tors to Scot­land, on how to buy rounds:

Like the Eng­lish, Welsh and Irish, Scots gen­er­al­ly take it in turns to buy a round of drinks for the whole group, and every­one is expect­ed to take part. The next round should always be bought before the first round is fin­ished.

It was that last line that gave us pause.

We’ve nev­er real­ly thought about how rounds are paced, even though we’ve some­times been aware of strug­gling to keep up with fast-drink­ing friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers, and  on oth­er occa­sions of sit­ting with emp­ty glass­es wait­ing for the round-buy­er des­ig­nate to make a move.

Our Twit­ter fol­low­ers offered vary­ing points of view:

  • The fastest drinker sets the pace.
  • The slow­est drinker sets the pace.
  • If you drink espe­cial­ly quick­ly, you should buy the odd pint on your own to fill the gaps.
  • The round-buy­er should go when there’s a win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty at a busy bar.

Which sug­gests that if there are rules, they’re flex­i­ble, and vary from place to place, and group to group.

We also looked at Pass­port to the Pub, a bril­liant piece of work by soci­ol­o­gist Kate Fox from 1996 which attempts to break down in exquis­ite detail every aspect of pub cul­ture for the ben­e­fit of non-Brits. She writes:

Don’t wait until all your com­pan­ions’ glass­es are emp­ty before offer­ing to buy the next round. The cor­rect time to say “It’s my round” is when your com­pan­ions have con­sumed about three-quar­ters of their drinks. (Beware: the natives tend to drink quite fast, and may have fin­ished their drinks when you have bare­ly start­ed.)

She also adds, how­ev­er:

Don’t be afraid to refuse a drink. If you can­not keep up with the drink­ing-pace of your native com­pan­ions, it is per­fect­ly accept­able to say, “Noth­ing for me, thanks”. If you alter­nate accept­ing and declin­ing dur­ing the round-buy­ing process, you will con­sume half the num­ber of drinks, with­out draw­ing too much atten­tion to your­self. Avoid mak­ing an issue or a moral virtue of your mod­er­ate drink­ing, and nev­er refuse a drink that is clear­ly offered as a sig­nif­i­cant ‘peace-mak­ing’ or ‘friend­ship’ ges­ture – you can always ask for a soft-drink, and you don’t have to drink all of it.

There’s also a lot of good stuff on round-buy­ing in the 1943 Mass Obser­va­tion book The Pub and the Peo­ple, includ­ing a note on how drinkers in Bolton in the late 1930s kept pace with each oth­er to avoid awk­ward­ness:

[All] our obser­va­tions show that the major­i­ty of pub-goers tend, when drink­ing in a group, to drink lev­el; and very often there is not a quar­ter inch dif­fer­ence between the depth of beer in the glass­es of a group of drinkers… The simul­ta­ne­ous emp­ty­ing of glass­es is the most fre­quent form of lev­el drink­ing. And it is (for rea­sons con­nect­ed with the rit­u­al of stand­ing rounds) the most like­ly form of lev­el drink­ing that is due to ‘antic­i­pa­tion’.

We sus­pect a fair bit of this still goes on today even if, again, those doing it don’t know it’s hap­pen­ing. Or maybe this is a bit of a lost art?

In prac­tice, of course, all of these rules or cus­toms are under­stood with­out being spo­ken, and pos­si­bly com­plete­ly uncon­scious­ly. We mod­er­ate our behav­iour based on the group we’re with, our knowl­edge of people’s finan­cial sit­u­a­tions, or their capac­i­ty for alco­hol.

The only time strict rules are like­ly to be enforced is when we’re drink­ing with com­plete strangers.

Anoth­er thought: in a good pub, there are plen­ty of options for keep­ing pace with­out get­ting exces­sive­ly drunk. For exam­ple, Pal­ly makes the pace with pints of strong ale; Matey, drink­ing a bit quick­er than they’d like, is on best; and Woss­name, who keeps hav­ing to chug the last third of every pint, takes ordi­nary bit­ter at 3.7%. They all end up about as pissed as each oth­er.

At our local, the Drap­ers, a fur­ther refine­ment can be found in the four-pint jug. First, choos­ing the beer is a real team exer­cise, leav­ing no room for fussi­ness. Sec­ond­ly, shar­ing, while not strict­ly equi­table, does solve the pac­ing prob­lem: if your glass is emp­ty, have a slug more; if the jug is emp­ty, some­one needs to get a round in.

Final­ly, Kate Fox also makes the point that it’s as bad to make too much fuss about equal­i­ty in round-buy­ing as it is to be seen as stingy. After all, it gen­er­al­ly evens itself out across mul­ti­ple ses­sions, or over the course of a life­time of friend­ship – a boozy take on the con­cept of kar­ma.

Only once that either of us can remem­ber have we encoun­tered some­one who real­ly broke the unspo­ken rules of round-buy­ing, almost seem­ing to make a game out of avoid­ing pay­ing their way over the course of months. Even­tu­al­ly, after about a year of mount­ing irri­ta­tion, there was an inter­ven­tion and they were forced to buy a rea­son­ably-priced round in a Sam Smith’s pub in cen­tral Lon­don. This was, as you might imag­ine, an awful thing to wit­ness.

Everything we wrote in May 2019: Guinness, pubs, tea gardens

Oof, this was not a highly productive stretch… Let’s just say we were running low on energy in the run up to the holiday we’re now on. Anyway, slim or not, the month was not without interesting stuff.

First, there was a long piece actu­al­ly pub­lished at the end of April, but after the cut-off for our last month­ly round-up: the sto­ry of Guinness’s brew­ery at Ike­ja in Nige­ria told through an inter­view and archive research. One read­er kind­ly wrote to tell us it was ‘far and away the best beer blog of 2019’ and that it reflect­ed his own expe­ri­ences of work­ing in Africa (not in brew­ing) in the 1980s, which was nice.


We announced our new bookBalmy Nec­tar, which we’re pleased to say has been sell­ing quite well. If you haven’t bought a copy, do take a look; and if you have, please leave a review.


Sev­er­al months ago, some­one asked us if we knew the ori­gins of an appar­ent­ly unique pub name from Leices­ter­shire and after weeks of dig­ging, we think we’ve cracked it. Spoil­er: freema­son­ry!


One of those peri­od­ic debates about sparklers popped up on Twit­ter and, watch­ing the con­ver­sa­tion play out, we thought we’d achieved clar­i­ty: they’re nei­ther good nor evil, it depends on the under­ly­ing con­di­tion of the beer.


We picked some bits of about beer from a 1945 mag­a­zine for British armed forces sta­tioned in India, like this:

Advertisement for Dyer Meakin Breweries and their Solan brand beers.


We final­ly made it to Beese’s Tea Gar­dens, a Vic­to­ri­an insti­tu­tion on the out­skirts of Bris­tol, where you can drink beer in the shade of ancient trees on a river­bank:

Last Sat­ur­day, we approached from Broomhill, cut­ting from a coun­cil estate into a slop­ing park where teenagers flirt­ed on the climb­ing frame next to a bas­ket­ball court. A short walk down a wood­ed path brought us to a gate that might have been trans­plant­ed from Bavaria…


Cam­den Hells didn’t seem that big a deal in 2011; we’ve now come to realise that there was a time before Cam­den, and a time after, and the post-Cam­den beer scene is an alien plan­et:

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.


The cover of 'Pub', 1969.

Osbert Lan­cast­er was an illus­tra­tor and writer with strong opin­ions about pubs, espe­cial­ly Vic­to­ri­an ones, as set out in a 1938 book:

In the ear­li­er part of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry it was assumed, and right­ly, that a lit­tle healthy vul­gar­i­ty and full-blood­ed osten­ta­tion were not out of place in the archi­tec­ture and dec­o­ra­tion of a pub­lic-house, and it was dur­ing this peri­od that the tra­di­tion gov­ern­ing the appear­ance of the Eng­lish pub was evolved.


Anoth­er mid-cen­tu­ry writer and illus­tra­tor, Geof­frey Fletch­er, set out sim­i­lar views in his book The Lon­don Nobody Knows in 1962. We picked out a few choice lines, like this:

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.


We also put togeth­er our usu­al round-ups of news and good read­ing from beer blogs, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines:


At Patre­on we gave $2+ sub­scribers run­downs of the best beers of each week­end plus a few extra nuggets, such as an account of a (no-injuries) car crash out­side a pub that turned into a seri­ous spec­ta­tor event.


Our month­ly newslet­ter was a prop­er whop­per with notes on tea in pubs in the 1920s and links to archive footage of pubs in action. Sign up here.


We Tweet­ed a ton, too, espe­cial­ly from Tewkes­bury:

News, nuggets and longreads 1 June 2019: Bubbles, Boozers, Business

Here’s everything that struck us as noteworthy, informative or entertaining in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from worrying to Wegbier.

Writ­ing, odd­ly, for the blog of beer indus­try mar­ket­ing agency Mash, Matt Cur­tis offers a bal­anced, detailed run­down of the state of UK brew­ing in a week when there has been much dis­cus­sion of brew­ery clo­sures:

About five years ago, if I was giv­en a pound for every time I was told that the “beer bub­ble” was about to burst, I’d have, well, sev­er­al pounds. Enough for a round of “Lon­don murky” in a trendy craft beer bar at the very least. At the time, it felt as though beer was reach­ing its apex. As it turned out, it still had fur­ther to climb before it did.

Now, how­ev­er, I’m begin­ning to think that, although some of those hot takes came far too ear­ly, that in today’s mar­ket, they might be right.


Augustiner bottles

For Vine­Pair Evan Rail writes about the Ger­man cul­ture of Weg­bier – lit­er­al­ly beer that you drink on your way from A to B.

A Weg­bier is a sim­ply a beer that you drink while you’re walk­ing,” Ludger Berges, own­er of the Hopfen & Malz bot­tle shop in Berlin, says. “Actu­al­ly, ‘Weg’ means ‘way,’ so it’s a beer for the road. If you’re on your way to a par­ty or on your way home from a par­ty, maybe it’s 10 min­utes by foot, many peo­ple in Berlin will walk that dis­tance, and many peo­ple will drink a Weg­bier along the way. It’s cool, it’s relaxed. Every­body does it.”

The con­cept of Weg­bier seems fair­ly spe­cif­ic to Ger­many. Despite the coun­try shar­ing a bor­der and lager-brew­ing (and -drink­ing) his­to­ry with the Czech Repub­lic, there is no Czech-lan­guage equiv­a­lent of Weg­bier. Nor is the con­cept in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries like Bel­gium or Poland.


Pubco advertisement for landlords.

In anoth­er area of the indus­try, the Guardian has a piece by Rob Davies on how the Mar­ket-Rent-Only option is work­ing out for pub­li­cans whose pubs are owned by the much-reviled pub com­pa­nies:

Pub ten­ants and MPs have been “duped and betrayed”, accord­ing to the British Pub Con­fed­er­a­tion, which said the MRO was lit­tle more than a myth.

It accused pub com­pa­nies of seek­ing to scup­per MRO appli­ca­tions by any means nec­es­sary, includ­ing spook­ing them with evic­tion notices. The group also cast doubt on the inde­pen­dence of assess­ments used to set rents.

The BPC chair, Greg Mul­hol­land, who pushed the MRO option through par­lia­ment as a Lib­er­al Demo­c­rat MP, said that in its cur­rent form “ten­ants do not have the rights they were promised by min­is­ters”.


Thornbridge, 2013.

Rea­son, a con­ser­v­a­tive Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tion which sits in around the same space as the UK’s Spec­ta­tor, has an inter­est­ing piece by Alex Mure­sianu on how the impo­si­tion of steel tar­iffs has affect­ed the US brew­ing indus­try:

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for import tax­es is usu­al­ly that they will pro­tect Amer­i­can jobs from for­eign com­pe­ti­tion. Tar­iffs on a spe­cif­ic good, like alu­minum, might help work­ers in the indus­try which pro­duces that good. How­ev­er, work­ers in indus­tries that use that good as an input suf­fer.

I have heard from brew­ers large and small from across the coun­try who are see­ing their alu­minum costs dras­ti­cal­ly increase, even when they are using Amer­i­can alu­minum,” Jim McGreevy, pres­i­dent and CEO of The Beer Insti­tute, said in March, when the group released a sep­a­rate report detail­ing $250 mil­lion in high­er costs cre­at­ed by tar­iffs and tar­iff-asso­ci­at­ed price increas­es.


We haven’t had chance to watch this yet but the Craft Beer Chan­nel has pro­duced a 70-minute doc­u­men­tary about beer in New Eng­land which is clear­ly a labour of love.


His­toric Eng­land is try­ing to save a rev­o­lu­tion­ary 18th cen­tu­ry build­ing in Shrews­bury that was built as a flaxmill and con­vert­ed into malt­ings in the 1890s. They call it ‘the first sky­scraper’. You can find out all about the Flaxmill Malt­ings at the His­to­ry Call­ing blog.


And final­ly, there’s this elo­quent account of why you might start a brew­ery, and what might move you to stop:

For more, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thurs­day. (Stan Hierony­mus is tak­ing a break.)

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.