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News

News, nuggets and longreads 28 January 2023: New Rose Hotel

It’s Saturday and time for a round-up of writing about beer and pubs from the past week, including fast pours and missing monks.

First, some old news, with a recent update. Chatting to someone in the industry, who lives and breathes beer in a way we don’t these days, we were astonished to discover that Belgian brewery Achel no longer has Trappist status. Back in 2021, the two monks who supervised the brewing process, and thus underwrote its Trappistness, left. It lost the right to have the Authentic Trappist Product (ATP) label on the bottle. Now, in 2023, it’s been bought by a local entrepreneur which means… we’re not quite sure. But it definitely won’t be Trappist, and will probably become an Abbey beer. (Via @BelgianSmaak.)


Scampi Fries on the wall in our 'little pub' during COVID.

For Pellicle Rachel Hendry has written about Scampi Fries, a snack so closely associated with the English pub that when lockdown kicked in 2020, we ordered an entire package for home, out of pathetic yearning. But like a lot of ‘traditional’ aspects of pub life, they’ve hardly been around five minutes:

As crisp-making technology progressed these flavour wars waged on with Smith’s producing some of the most iconic crisps known today: the monstrosity that is Monster Munch, the corrugated delight of Frazzles, the delicate crunch of Chipsticks. But it was their range of Moments – pillow-shaped cereal snacks that debuted in the 1980s – that were to become an instant pub sensation… The flavour drum is where the magic happens. Having just been fried, the scampi and lemon flavouring would be added, clinging to the fresh oil coating the shapes. There’s only one problem, when Jamie [Baxter] worked at the factory there wasn’t a single scampi flavouring in sight… “There was a Dover Sole flavour on the labels rather than scampi,” Jamie says.


A closed bar in Brussels in the rain.
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

Eoghan Walsh has been out with his Praktica exploring Brussels and, in particular, thinking about the pubs and bars that are no longer there:

Then our first child came. We went out less but I started exploring the neighbourhood more. If she was wrestling against sleep in her cot, I’d take her down the lift in the buggy and we’d walk endless circuits on the streets around the Vossenplein, her wrestling against tiredness, and me too… On these directionless walks I started taking more interest in the streets on our beat, and began to notice the accumulated contributions left behind by previous generations of Marollien newcomers. It was the abandoned cafés (or bars, pubs or estaminets – it’s never clear to me exactly what to call them) that most caught my eye. There was Le Foyer just down the hill from us on the corner of the Rue des Tanneurs and Rue du Lavoir, though the calligraphy on the window called it “Au Foyer”. The Foyer looked as if it could have closed a week ago or five years ago, it was hard to tell.


A clock advertising Guinness.

At Beer (History), Food, Travel Liam has shared an interesting nugget that feels like evidence of an alternate reality:

Ignoring the emphasising on ‘conditioned’ in the advert – which was possibly a way of making the kegged product sound more ‘legitimate’ – we will focus instead on the words ‘in half the time it used to take,’ and although it is unclear if they mean ‘new’ draught Guinness is now quicker to serve than when it was first launched in 1959 or just quicker compared to the older cask porter, we can see how at this time the speed of the pour and serve is seen as an important selling point by the marketeers in the company.


The Outpost, a railway arch bar on the Bermondsey Beer Mile.
SOURCE: Stephen Jackson/Musing Anorak.

Stephen Jackson at Musing Anorak has checked in on the 16 stops on the Bermondsey Beer Mile which, it turns out, is still a thing. (Even if we never got round to doing it.) This bit struck us as especially interesting:

Based in Northamptonshire and producing some amazing dark beers they [Three Hills] to open a second, smaller brewery, in Bermondsey. An impressive range of their own beers is available with some guests thrown in for good measure… A [few] doors down is the London home of Manchester superstars Cloudwater. A nicely decorated arch coupled with an excellent beer selection, both their own and guests… Another few steps and you are at the premises of another non London brewery, Moor Beer Vaults & Tap Room is the London presence of the Bristol stalwarts.


The wallpaper at The Wellington in Birmingham.

The Beer Nut spent Christmas exploring the Midlands including Birmingham where he got to ponder multiple pints of mild, and Shrewsbury which now has a craft beer bar, kind of:

I caught some flack a few years ago by complaining that the town of Shrewsbury lacks craft beer, and while it’s well supplied with the traditional stuff in cask and bottle, it’s useless as a destination to find out about trendy, murky, contemporary British brewing. I visited again over Christmas and discovered that, perhaps inevitably, craft has reached Shrewsbury. It’s in the form of Tap and Can, a pub beside the station in the familiar hardwood-furnished pseudo-dive craft vernacular. Still, there’s a decent cask offering among the kegs and cans, and that’s what interested me.


Finally, from Mastodon, an interesting blogging prompt, perhaps: what is the greatest beer bar in Europe?

…and from Twitter…

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

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 21 January 2023: The dolce vita

Here’s all the news and commentary from the world of beer that’s caught our attention in the past week, from Fat Tire to lemonade.

First, let’s look at the collective attempt to gauge how good or bad things might be in brewing and hospitality in the UK right now.

  • Tandleman observes that pubs feel a little busier than might be expected – but asks if it will be enough to balance out increased operating costs?
  • David Jesudason is worried, not only about the possibility of mass pub closures in 2023, but also by the apparent complacency of the commentariat.
  • Katie Mather feels the reckoning is here: “It’s the middle of January 2023 and what I thought might happen is happening – hospitality businesses are counting up their Christmas and New Year takings, falling short of their targets, and closing up shop.”

Fat Tire
SOURCE: New Belgium Brewing.

Stan Hieronymus asks a good question: ‘Why do people suddenly care (again) about Fat Tire?’:

I spent more time Tuesday looking at Twitter than I have in the last two weeks, maybe a month, working my way through various threads, wondering when those commenting last drank Fat Tire, or why they spent so much time typing words about the can, or if the rebrand will help New Belgium recharge Fat Tire, or in another words if “high quality, low impact” (a reference to the beer’s zero-emissions production process) will create more connections than “Follow your Folly” once did, or why a brewery should be obligated to make a legacy beer exactly like it always has even if it quit using the exact same ingredients maybe two decades ago, or for that matter exactly what a legacy beer beer is, or . . . whew . . . exhausting.

Wait, back up: the story is that an important American craft brewery, New Belgium, has rebranded and reformulated its flagship beer, Fat Tire.

Kate Bernot offers a to-the-point summary of what’s happened, exactly, and why it matters – “Since a peak year in 2016, Fat Tire has lost -52.2% of its volume in chain retail nationally.”

And Jim Vorel has tasted the old and new alongside each other.


The sign on the Brasserie de la Senne brewery

How is making beer like making art, or not like making art? And how is tasting beer like looking at art, or not? Eoghan Walsh has been reflecting on this question with Brasserie de la Senne in mind:

Alcohol features sporadically in Picasso’s works and judging by two of the still lifes in the Brussels exhibition he must have been a Bass drinker. But it was his late-era variations on the Old Masters that most caught my eye because earlier that same month, across town and in a very different discipline, Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne was involved in his own reinterpretation of a (modern) Belgian classic. To celebrate the 20th birthday of the brewery’s Zinnebir, De Baets had commissioned three brewers – Nino Bacelle at Dottignies’ Brouwerij De Ranke, Daniel Thiriez of the eponymous northern French brewery, and Brasserie de la Mule’s Joel Galy – to produce their own variation on de la Senne’s flagship.


Peveril of the Peak

It’s a treat to have new writing about pubs from Katie Mather via Pellicle, for which she is an associate editor. It’s an account of a crawl around Manchester not drinking beer, but enjoying the pubs no less for that:

The Nag’s Head is an ideal pub if you love tall tales, wild overheard conversations, and the privacy of darkly varnished wood and heavy furniture. We become emotional, then giddy, then serious—at one point I take out a notebook and make business plans I will never activate. We hug, and we tell each other not to be silly. We have personal revelations. It’s not the lime and lemonade that’s encouraged this… Mulligans is a place for the living, and for living in. We talk with our hands, getting into topics we can’t believe we’ve never spoken about before in our many years of friendship. The live band starts, and we get another round of drinks and Taytos. Soon we’re dancing, totally sober, raising our arms and shouting along with the folk songs we know.


Four large steins of Spaten lager (detail from a poster c.1920s.)

Al Reece at Fuggled has been digging in the archives of the Austrian National Library again. This time, he’s found notes on a debate about drinking vessels from the 1890s:

According to one Dr Schulze, writing in 1890, “””you shouldn’t drink beer out of beer glasses”. Schulze went on to state that the traditional German bierkrug was far superior as it protects the liquid from the deleterious effects of sunlight. This fact might seem fairly obvious to us here in the first quarter of the 21st century, but in late 19th century central Europe, this was cause for much concern and investigation.


A pen on a table next to a beer mat and glass.

We’ll finish with a bit of blogging about blogging from Mark Johnson:

I do not think that beer writers, especially those of us who do this as a free hobby, are mandated to research and write about what you think they should be covering. Blogging is still about writing about what you want or at the very least feel comfortable doing. If you want certain topics discussed – start that conversation your bloody self and stop blaming others for talking about *shrugs* anything else that they want. If you want paid writers to cover it then create that publication and get those stories commissioned. You have the power. You just want others to do the work.


Finally, from Mastodon

Post from Kathleen Weessies
@weessiek@mapstodon.space:
"Why roller skates were invented? 1851 description of delivering beer without upsetting the foam in Berlin. From Scientific American."

…and from Twitter:

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

Categories
Beer styles

Electric Bear’s brand new old school bitter

“You can’t get a pint of normal bitter these days!”

This isn’t a problem we have in Bristol. From The Swan With Two necks to The Sandringham, there’s one available in most pubs we visit.

Bristol Beer Factory Fortitude, for example, or Butcombe, or Bass, or Young’s Ordinary, or… 

Maybe what people mean, though, is that this isn’t where the excitement lies.

Just being able to drink bitter isn’t enough.

One won’t do.

They demand a choice, in even the hippest bars, and expect brewery research and development teams to be pushing the envelope.

But it’s bitter, and that’s not how it works, is it? It’s been perfected. There’s plenty of room for variation, but not for innovation.

When we saw A Bitter This A Bitter That by Electric Bear Brewing on the bar at The Barley Mow near Bristol Temple Meads station we ignored it at first.

There were more exciting and interesting beers on offer, not least a couple of lagers, and we tend to default to lager when we want an uncomplicated beer to drink while we chat, rather than to think about.

But we had been talking about Bath brewery Electric Bear only the weekend before, when a friend told us that it had got new owners in April 2022 – news we missed at the time.

In this incarnation, the branding has become plainer and cleaner. Less circus bus chic, more organised fun.

Wondering if their beer was still decent, in general, we ordered a pint, for curiosity’s sake.

And we’ll be blowed if it’s not an excitingly good, totally trad, brand new best bitter.

Perhaps being served with a sparkler helped. It looked and tasted like something we might have been encountered in a pub in Sheffield or Leeds.

Some craft brewery takes on bitter can be too full of crystal malt, too dark, and too chewy. This was between gold and brown with a pleasing dryness and lightnes – and perfectly clear.

There was some funk there, too. A touch of nail polish. A bite of apple. Just as you might find in beers from, say, Theakston’s. Complex in its own small way.

It was too good to have just one, so we stopped for another.

During the second round, looking at the pumps, it also occurred to us that, based on recent experience, it might well be possible to turn up at The Barley Mow and find on the bar:

  • this straight-up bitter
  • Left Handed Giant’s straight-up dark mild
  • Moor’s straight-up stout

An opportunity to party like it’s 1929, half-and-half and all.

Categories
bristol pubs

The Bulldog: full of clowns?

The Bulldog is the last of three inter-war pubs surviving on Filton Avenue and it’s under new management. So, finally, after more than five years in Bristol, we visited for a pint.

When we lived in Horfield we did a pretty good job of popping into all the local pubs, from The Foresters to The Beehive. But we never quite found the right moment for The Bulldog.

Let’s be completely honest: it had bad vibes.

For one thing, if your pub has an actual bulldog on a sign above the door, it’s a bit on the nose.

Signs and icons have meanings.

They’re designed to send signals. (Or dog whistles, if you like.)

And publicans can’t benefit from the signal being sent – a welcome message to a particular subset of customers – while also expecting everyone else to overlook it.

Beyond that, when we’d pass on bus or on foot, there wasn’t much to entice us in. It looked run down and the windows were frosted and blank.

When it was busy, on weekend evenings, the people in the crowd spilling around the entrance often looked as if they partied way harder than us.

When we asked around, locals tended to say that they’d either never dream of drinking there, or that they’d tried and been made to feel unwelcome. Not threatened, as such, but frozen out.

Then there were online reviews which painted a pretty bleak picture, including our favourite pub review of all time:

Paul Connellly, 1 star review: "Shite hole, full of clowns!"
SOURCE: Google My Business.

An interesting pub

Pubs exist in four dimensions and The Bulldog has been with us for a long time.

When it opened in 1938, it was one of three pubs on Filton Avenue, the others being:

  • The Fellowship, George’s, 1929, now a branch of Tesco
  • The George VI, Bristol United Breweries, 1938, now a DIY store

All were built to serve expanding out-of-town communities built around the growing aerospace industry.

A painting of the pub with well-to-do punters wandering about the open space outside.
The Bristol Bulldog as the brewery hoped it would look when built, from One Hundred and FIfty of Years of Brewing, Georges & Co Ltd., 1938.

The Bulldog was originally called The Bristol Bulldog, after a fighter aeroplane built nearby, and its opening was newsworthy:

The Bristol Bulldog, Filton Avenue, Horfield, the latest and most modern house of the Bristol Brewery, Georges and Co., Ltd., was formally opened, yesterday, in the presence of a distinguished company of citizens… Features of this latest Georges enterprise are:—

Lounge and smoking room panelled in solid oak, public bar laid with rubber flooring, off-sales’ department with separate entrance, spacious club room on first floor, also with separate entrance; skittles alley with regulation camber, ample accommodation for car parking, central heating, and pressure system of supply to ensure beers being in the best possible condition. The house was designed by Mr W. T. Cockram, head surveyor to the company, and built by Messrs C. A. Hayes and Son, of St. Thomas Street.

The landlord was a former police superintendent, J.A. Price – a choice perhaps made to reassure licensing magistrates that this would be an orderly house.

Then there was the war, of course, and this kind of huge, multi-room pub went out of fashion. The Bulldog seems to have trolled along for decades, serving the local community.

But perhaps an incident in 1959 when three brothers stomped a 17-stone police constable into the pavement outside the pub gives a flavour of what the neighbourhood might have been like, utopian dreams aside.

A new regime

We made pretty poor progress on our plan to visit #EveryPubInBristol during 2022 and have decided to pick up the pace in 2023. And it was bothering us that we hadn’t ‘done’ The Bulldog.

So, we decided to make a day of it, with the promise of The Drapers Arms for afters.

Since moving out of the area, we’d heard some encouraging things from friends. Well, mildly encouraging: “It’s fine, actually. We’ve been a couple of times recently. It’s fine.”

Checking in on those online reviews, we noticed a definite positive trend:

  • “Nice open fire friendly locals managers really trying to make the pub work… Best of luck!”
  • “The pub has always had a bad reputation and never wanted to come here but today I thought I would give it a go and I must say everyone made me feel welcome, staff and the new management, Aaron and Donna!! Would highly recommend giving it a go. Will definitely come back!! Thanks all.”

And took special notices of this response from the owner…

  • “[We] are working hard to change the reputation we had in the past & can say getting there. New Manager Aaron & Donna are doing their best to attract good crowd & make The BullDog a customer friendly Pub. Looking forward to your visit again, Many Thanks.”

It’s amazing what a difference this kind of public statement can make.

It acknowledges that the pub might have been unwelcoming before; promises that steps have been taken; and tells us who is responsible for fixing it.

The interior of The Bulldog with light grey walls, pool table and fruit machine.
Inside The Bulldog.

Like a lot of pubs with a reputation for being “rough”, The Bulldog’s main problem today would seem to be the very structure of the place.

Over the decades, walls have been removed, interior decoration stripped back, leaving the new management very little to work with when it comes to creating atmosphere.

It was, however, clean and bright, and the welcome we got at the bar was cheerful.

All the best seats in the house, around the bar, were taken by locals and regulars, most of whom were either watching the football on huge TVs or chatting quietly.

We drank Guinness in a corner, trying to spot any remaining scraps of George’s original design – some wood panels around the outer walls, perhaps? – and listening to the sound of pool balls snicking into each other.

It’s exactly this kind of old fashioned working class pub that is in the greatest danger. It’s never likely to be hugely profitable; and it’s had its problems. Why not turn it into a supermarket, or flats?

But it’s also offering something you can’t get for miles around – reasonably priced beer without frills, in an atmosphere that for many people is the very definition of comfortable. Where they can really feel at home.

We hope the (slight) reinvention of the pub works. We hope it can find new regulars and a way to thrive. We hope it sticks around.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 14 January 2023: Story of the blues

Here’s all the writing about pubs and beer that caught our attention in the past week, including two mentions for pickle beer.

First, a few bits and pieces about what’s going on right now in brewing and hospitality.

  1. Steve Dunkley, chronicler of recent UK brewery closures, has now added commentary to those numbers: “When the price of a pint has risen by 25% while people’s spending cash has dropped, it’s a double whammy.”
  2. In her newsletter, The Gulp, writer and bar-owner Katie Mather offers a similar view: “It’s the middle of January 2023 and… hospitality businesses are counting up their Christmas and New Year takings, falling short of their targets, and closing up shop.”
  3. For the BBC Dearbail Jordan reports that the UK economy performed surprisingly well in November: “The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said pubs and restaurants also boosted growth as people went out to watch the football.”
  4. SIBA has launched a new tracker for monitoring brewery numbers. There are the usual quibbles about how the numbers are derived but as another data sat, consistent within itself, it’s good to have.

All of which leads us nicely into…


Blurred lights in a city at night.

‘British Drinking Culture, Meet Cost of Living Crisis’ is a great headline for Lauren O’Neill’s piece for Vice. She spoke to people out and about in London to find out how the economic squeeze is affecting their spending on booze:

I decided to conduct what I believe is scientifically known as a “vibe check”. I hit up high streets in south London’s Clapham (notoriously the home of many chain bars, and many, many rugby lads in fancy dress) and Soho to ask punters how the cost of living crisis is affecting the way they go boozing, and whether in times of hardship – perhaps especially in times of hardship – there is anything at all that can get in between Brits and their love of drinking… The answer to that second question, in short, is basically “absolutely not”. In general, while everyone I speak to says they’re seeing costs rising, it isn’t putting them off going out.

There’s some especially interesting stuff about fixed-cost events such as bottomless brunches, which make budgeting easier. Is there any way for pubs to legally offer something similar?


Number 1 Croydon, AKA the 50p Building.

In the second edition of his newly pub-focused newsletter David Jesudason tells the story of The Windmill in Croydon:

In 2011, Darshan Barot visited the Windmill, was greeted warmly by the punters and decided that being a pub landlord would give his family a better life. He was running a post office seven miles away in Coulsdon but he wanted a business he and his wife, Dipta, could run and, most importantly, stamp their distinct desi identity on… The pub before Barot took over was described to me by former Croydon resident, Libby Bradshaw, as “not exactly rough, but not not rough”.

That’s an interesting category of pub, isn’t it? They might read as rough depending on your sensitivity, or how well your face fits; or they might feel like the absolute ideal, if you know how to navigate them.


Victorian advert: smiling sun being offered a drink.

Courtney Iseman has noticed a perhaps counterintuitive trend in drinks other than beer: a focus on decadence, luxury and silliness. And she asks ‘Hang on, is drinking supposed to be… fun?

2023 feels like a good time to lean into the fun on the inside, too. That means, let’s stop fighting all the wacky trends… I totally understand why it was once worthwhile to be a sort of guard for some rigid distinctions in craft beer. It had to differentiate itself from macro beer, it had to earn respect, and styles had to form. I still think some of that should stand—in fact, I’d argue for a split: let’s enjoy and educate consumers on styles in their original forms, with all the traditional methods and ingredients that define them and make them special, and also wild variations on those styles, whatever brewers dare to dream up. Even if that means extracts.


How can we resist an article that opens with the provocative statement: “Listen: Pickle beers are already a thing.” For Craft Beer & BrewingJoe Stange digs into the trend for putting “pickle juice” (the liquid from a jar of gherkins) into beer:

Even if we hadn’t noticed this trend anecdotally, an Untappd search turns up more than 1,400 pickle-themed beers… To ask why people are making pickle beers is to ask the wrong question. Indeed, that is usually the wrong question here, in our Special Ingredient department. This is where we set aside our love of sublime things such as great drinkability and Reinheitsgebot purity to embrace mad science. Insert Ian Malcolm: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We could roll that quote like a news-channel chyron over these articles, and it would always fit.


The bar at The Bald Eagle.

If you’re not already following Lisa Grimm however in whichever ways you prefer to follow people, now’s a good time to start. In 2023, she’s going be putting together what she calls her Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs, starting with The Bald Eagle:

For the uninitiated, Phibsborough is one of the World’s Coolest Neighbourhoods™, at least according to Time Out… Although I am not personally cool enough to live in Phibsborough itself, I’m in and out of it several times a day – it’s just a short walk up the canal for me, so I get all the Cool Neighbourhood benefits without the full Cool Neighbourhood price. And Cool Neighbourhoods need cool pubs, but it’s all about being just the right level of cool, and not trying too hard – and that (finally) brings me to what I love about The Bald Eagle.


Finally, from Mastodon

JK @vogod@mstdn.social

Apparently Asahi is stopping or limiting Fuller's exports everywhere. I thought it was just Finland not getting Vintage Ale or casks but people in FB are talking exports stopping completely to US, Canada and Australia.

WTF is going on there? Are they trying to make it into a domestic brand or something? It's a world renowned brewery for god's sake.

Could it just ONCE work out so that the global giant doesn't fuck everything up?

#beer #fullers #ukbeer #asahi

…and Twitter:

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