Categories
pubs

Every Pub In Bristol: the new, the remixed and the uncounted

It didn’t feel right to resume our #EveryPubInBristol quest until restrictions were lifted in full.

Even now, almost two months later, it’s not clear if we’re really getting a sense of any new-to-us pubs, based on our experiences of going back to pubs we do know well.

But then we thought, well, the point of this exercise isn’t to make a value judgement. We’re not reviewing.

And in the beforetimes, we wouldn’t necessarily visit a place at the ‘right’ time to really understand it and its place in the community – just whenever we happened to be in the neighbourhood.

So, we’re now back on the trail.

Our first tick since October 2020 was The Langton, in St Annes, which we mentioned in this post about grey makeovers, and which might be a candidate for our new local. 

However, we felt it almost didn’t count as a real tick as Ray had been before, both before and after its refurbishment. (Our rule is that both of us have to be present at the visit and at least one of us must have an alcoholic drink.) Still, that did mean we had a sense of what normal felt like.

Our first experience of jointly crossing the threshold a definitely new-to-both-of-us pub came a few weeks later, at The Wackum Inn. 

This was a great reminder of the point of the #EveryPubInBristol project.

A Greene King pub on a main road in an unprepossessing suburb we don’t know well wouldn’t seem especially appealing.

We were greeted at the bar by a very friendly team, however, and had a great pint of Greene King IPA (no, really) while the music ramped up to mark the transition from Saturday afternoon football to Saturday evening party mode.

There was a range of ages, from children hovering around the pool table to well-groomed youths to older folk watching the football or comparing tans.

It struck us as a well run pub with a guvn’ing couple (we think) working very hard to make sure their place has something to offer everyone while retaining some kind of distinct community character.

It’s given us quite the taste for more ticking.

***

One of our occasional debates is whether a refurbishment or a reopening after a long period closed counts as a new tick.

A visit to the newly-reopened Llandoger Trow sparked the argument anew.

Last time we visited, it was essentially a dingy Premier Inn breakfast room with far too many people in it and yet, somehow, zero atmosphere.

It’s now under the ownership of the Euston Tap team. It has been stripped right back and now feels a lot like a European multi-roomed beer hall – an impression underlined by the seriously impressive lager list.

It’s quite a change, in both mood and offer, but we decided it didn’t count as a new tick because, fundamentally, it’s the same type of business: an establishment on one of the most popular drinking runs in the city.

We’re delighted to have a place in town that takes good lager seriously but we suspect most of the clientele would go there whatever they sold, crawling in one direction or another.

***

We’ve been visiting tap rooms a lot this year, including some new ones. They don’t usually count as pub ticks because when applying the Is it a Pub? test, they usually fall into the ‘possibly’ rather than ‘probably’ category.

And we don’t tend to write about them much on the blog because, well, if we’re honest, most are kind of similar, with similar customers and similar weedy IPAs. We’ve simply always preferred pubs. 

However, new to us this year, and now one of our most regular haunts, is the Lost & Grounded tap room.

This is partly because of proximity to our house, partly because it has a large outdoor space that seems to always have a table free, but mostly because of some (usually) excellent Continental style beers.

It’s still not a pub, though. Maybe we need an #EveryTapRoomInBristol hashtag, too? And #EverySocialClub, while we’re at it. Short on pubs though it may be, our new neighbourhood has a few of these to explore.

Categories
bristol cider

The Cider Box, Bristol

It’s taken us a while to get to the Cider Box, despite walking past it most days.

That’s partly because it’s only open on Friday evenings and Saturdays and partly, if we’re honest, because cider tends to be very much a second choice for us.

But it’s probably our closest active licenced premises and can look quite inviting on a warm evening.

It’s in a railway arch on Silverthorne Lane, next to a mechanic, opposite one of a number of abandoned Victorian industrial buildings.

It’s a short distance from a number of East Bristol tap rooms but in the wrong direction.

The area is going to be the focus of a new industrial heritage conservation area so no doubt in five to ten years, these arches will be full of similar businesses. At the moment, though, it’s pretty quiet, with grey stone walls overlooking a no-through road that’s unfortunately popular with fly tippers.

Most people are on tables outside whenever we’ve been past and on the night of our visit it was no different. Inside, it feels cosier than the average tap room, possibly because of the posters, memorabilia and bubbling bartop carboys that proclaim a real love of cider.

Handwashing advice using the lyrics of 'I Am a Zyder Drinker' by the Wurzels.
Remember this gag from 2020?

In general, the place feels more Bristolian and a little funkier than most of the local craft beer taprooms which, let’s face it, could often be in any other UK or world city.

The music was a mix of Hip Hop Don’t Stop and Abba (this was the day the new album came out) and people with a range of accents, from West Country to Welsh, burst into occasional song.

Beer is available – Lost and Grounded Keller Pils – but this place is really about cider in all its forms.

Some come from the tap, brisk and bright, very much designed to chug without too much reflection. Some are of the bag-in-a-box variety. There is even a ‘Cider Royale’ section of the menu, featuring 750ml sharing bottles.

We kicked off with some kind of own-brand option (from a tap, rather than a bag in the box) which got us firmly in the zone – sweet and faintly rural, not dry enough for our taste, but a good warm up for the taste buds.

Our next two came from Totterdown producers Ganley & Naish. One was advertised as a single variety cider but we’re not sure which variety; it was dry and oaky (and added a great extra note to the own-brand leftovers that Jess was nursing).

Mourning Drop is described on their website as a ‘single orchard’ cider, which seems to mean a bunch of apple varieties. This one was weird – woody, almost fungal.

With just three rounds, we were delivered a reminder of the variety of cider out there to enjoy. Or, at least, to experience.

Every now and then, a bat sliced through the air above our heads, and at one point what looked like a thousand seagulls, illuminated from below by streetlights, scattered across the sky indigo sky. Everyone stared upward and pointed in cider-addled delight.

A vandalised phone box.
When you’ve had a few ciders, you stop to take photos like this.

To finish, we chose a bottle from the fancy bottle section and, boy, did that blow our minds. Pilton One Juice is the result of a project in which five separate makers produce their own cider from the same juice. It was utterly, smile-inducingly delightful. Simultaneously sweet, full-bodied and dry, every mouthful highlighted some new, intense, wonderful flavour.

Perhaps we do love cider after all.

We swayed off home under the railway bridges as Chiquitita echoed off the walls of the old timber yard, chatting excitedly about apples, and very much looking forward to our next visit.

Categories
News opinion

News, nuggets and longreads 4 September 2021: Limbo, Dodo, Eko

Over the past week, we’ve bookmarked all the new writing on beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting, from quiet pubs to treasure maps.

First, though, notes from the frontline. Dave Hayward, of the shop and bar A Hoppy Place in Windsor, has written about the challenges faced by the trade in this strange time when things are open, but not normal:

This August Bank Holiday just gone has helped us to finish off the summer school holiday period of trading. The great unlocking. The first 6 weeks “restriction free”, wherein everything would go “back to normal”. How do you feel that went for you? It was an interesting time, certainly. But was it the reopening that so many in hospitality hoped for? I think that for nearly everyone – this inbetweenland has been pretty underwhelming… I think we should be talking about what’s left of our pubs – and what we need to do to recover things. I think we should be talking about how hundreds of breweries are cutting their noses off to spite their face. I think we should be talking about the damaging shift in consumer habits and how we should absolutely not be encouraging them.

And here’s another point of data, from The Dodo Micropub in West London:

We suspect lots of people are trying to second guess when other people are going to be in the pub so they can pick ‘the quiet night’. Things have yet to settle, for quite understandable reasons.


SOURCE: Eko Brewery.

At Hop Culture Hollie Stephens has profiled Anthony and Helena Adedipe’s Eko Brewery in London:

Eko Brewery derives its name from Eko, the original name of Lagos, the most populous city in Africa and Anthony’s family’s home. From the beginning, the pair both wanted the beers to reflect their heritage. Anthony is from West Africa. Helena is Congolese. “We wanted to incorporate that into what we do,” says Anthony. “There’s an element of risk in that because it hadn’t been done before. We were so keen to try it and [to] try and see if there was a market for African-inspired beer.” And now, thanks to Anthony and Helena’s tenacity, Eko Brewery is making huge waves in a sea of sameness… In homage to their African heritage, Anthony and Helena focus on brewing with classic African components. Traditionally brewed with ingredients such as maize, sorghum, and cassava (a starchy root vegetable, popular in Latin American, Caribbean, and African cuisines), African beer typically forgoes the hops. This means the beers are often sweet or sour. And they are sometimes fuller in form.


SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

Eoghan Walsh’s epic tour through the history of Brussels beer continues with entry number 8 on the statue of Karel van Lotharingen in the Grand Place:

At 7pm on August 13, 1695, the skies above Brussels commenced to rain fire down on the city. French king Louis XIV, frustrated with the progress of his Nine Years’ War, determined to make an example of Brussels. For three days the Sun King’s troops pummelled the city with a barrage of cannonballs and firebombs, stopping only once, briefly, to reload. To keep their aim true they used the ornate spires of Brussels’ Town Hall, on the Grand Place, as their target… The buildings around the Town Hall were obliterated, including the one that used to stand at number 10: the Maison de l’Arbre d’Or (“House of the Golden Tree”), known locally as the Brauwershuys and home to Brussels’ brewers’ guild.


Three pints of beer, each slightly different.

There’s been a lot of chat about beer styles in the past week or so – this being one of those topics that comes up on the beer blogging randomiser every couple of years. This time round, among familiar arguments, there are some new angles and interesting nuggets:


SOURCE: Franz D. Hofer/Tempest in a Tankard.

Franz D. Hofer has shared detailed notes on Augsburg and its beer at Tempest in a Tankard. We visited Augsburg in 2007 and this post, as is often the case with Franz’s writing, makes us want to go back:

No one knows how Die Drei Königinnen (The Three Queens) got its name, not even the owner. But the patrons who flock to this lively Wirtshaus don’t seem much bothered by these arcane details of local history, devoting their attention instead to the beer and satisfying food on offer at this chic tavern… Located in a quiet neighbourhood just beyond the southern edge of the Fuggerei, Die Drei Königinnen also conceals a secluded treasure of a beer garden in its courtyard. You’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret as you drink in the autumn sunshine shimmering through the leaves of the majestic trees rising up over this small oasis of calm. Near the back of the garden is a covered seating area held aloft by slender iron columns. This was once an outdoor bowling alley, a historical remnant that stands as a testament to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century leisure pursuits.


SOURCE: Martin Taylor/Google Maps.

Pub ticker Martin Taylor is one of the most consistent bloggers in the game and we often find ourselves referring to his back catalogue when we want to know what a pub in a strange town is really like. Now, he’s started to put together a map so you can more easily find what he’s written about particular places.


Finally, from Twitter, notes from the holiday we wish we’d had…

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

Categories
marketing

Killian’s, Irish red ale and French beer drinkers, 1978

During 1978, Guinness got twitchy: a new beer was muscling in on their turf in France. Did George Killian’s Irish Red present a threat, or an opportunity?

From its London base at Park Royal, Guinness commissioned Market Behaviour Limited to go to France and investigate:

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

1. To study the premium beer market sector in France. To explore beer drinkers’ attitudes towards the sector and the various brands of beer within that sector. (The research concentrated on the bottled beers within the sector.)

2. To explore attitudes towards Killian’s, and to find out which elements of the marketing mix are leading to its current success.

3. To undertake exploratory research into the idea of a new bottled beer to compete with Killian’s, positioned somewhere between the Spéciale and Luxe categories. To explore reactions to the new beer both with and without the Guinness connection.

The report they turned in in December 1978 is interesting not only because it provides more information on the creation of a new beer style but also because it hints at the craft beer culture to come.

The best place to start with the story of Killian’s is Martyn Cornell’s recent in-depth piece on its genesis at Zythophile. It was that which reminded us of the document we’ll be digging into in this post, which we got hold of via former Guinness head brewer Alan Coxon’s papers.

In summary, though, it was launched in 1974 by the French brewery Pelforth, based on a strong ale recipe bought from the Irish firm of Lett & Co., and presented to the French market as a traditional Irish ‘style’. It was a huge success which made other breweries keen to produce their own takes on Irish red ale. That included Guinness.

Commodity blonde vs. quality rousse

Guinness’s market research team focused on drinkers of what we would probably call premium beer – why, and when, did they consider it worth upgrading?

The majority of people seem to split their beer drinking into two main categories: firstly, occasions when the taste and quality of the beer are thought to be important enough for the drinker to exercise his choice in terms of the type of beer, (blonde, brune, rousse, Geuze) and the brand; and secondly occasions where the taste and quality of the beer are far less important and the drinker tends. to choose a cheaper brand of ‘blonde’ beer, almost as a ‘commodity’ product.

French beer drinkers appear to take more care in choosing their beer when they want to relax and when their objective is the enjoyment of the beer. On these occasions they tend to choose a slightly more expensive beer which they feel has a more identifiable taste than an ‘ordinary beer’. This would, for instance, be the occasion when the majority of drinkers of ‘rousse’ and ‘brune’ beers would switch from drinking an ordinary French ‘blonde’ to their favourite type of beer, and when confirmed ‘blonde’ drinkers would switch from an ordinary French ‘blonde’ to either a foreign ‘blonde’ beer or a better quality French ‘blonde’ beer.

However, most of the beer drinkers to whom we spoke tended to drink an ordinary French ‘blonde’ beer most of the time. The ‘normal’ beer to drink in the cafe/ brasserie/bistro is a ‘demi’ of the establishment’s draught ‘blonde’ beer, which is usually an ordinary French ‘blonde’. The important feature of this type of drinking is that, most of the time, the drinker is not aware of which brand of ‘demi’ he is drinking.

A few things strike us as interesting there:

  1. The perceived connection between the colour of a beer and its depth of flavour. We all know that pale beers can be flavourful, and that dark beers can be bland, but there is still a popular perception that darkness equates to intensity.
  1. The idea that people could identify as drinkers of quality beer some of the time while also enjoying necking “Whatever normal lager you have, mate,” on other occasions.
  1. That brand becomes more important with ‘savouring’ beers.

The research confirmed that, almost overnight, French drinkers had accepted the existence of a new style, even though only one example of that style existed:

The research seems to indicate that George Killian’s has been successfully introduced into the French beer market.

The majority of people accept [Bières Rousses] as a legitimate category and not just a description of George Killian’s beer… George Killian’s seems to have attracted beer drinkers because it aroused their curiosity through its unique positioning as a ‘rousse’ beer and because of its taste. Killian’s originally drew its drinkers from ‘blonde’ drinkers as well as ‘brune’ drinkers, but we feel that its major appeal now lies with ‘blonde’ drinkers who are seeking something more than a ‘blonde’ beer but who do not want the heaviness or the bitterness of a real ‘brune’ beer. We feel that a ‘rousse’ beer will not have great appeal to the majority of ‘brune’ drinkers as it lacks the bitterness and heaviness which are characteristics which these people look for in a beer.

Reading that, we can’t help but think of the success of Camden Hells and similar ‘mainstream upgrade’ beers. If the majority of drinkers like standard lager, giving them something a bit more characterful, but not too scary, is a good way to win market share.

The researchers also reached the conclusion that beer was primarily drunk in France as an accompaniment to a night out with “the lads” (their phrase). On almost every other occasion, wine, spirits, coffee or other drinks were preferred. Beer was also seen as almost exclusively a drink for men; when asked why women might drink beer, one respondent said:

Par snobisme essentiellement. Vous ne pensez pas qu’elles le font pour fair plaisir a l’homme? (To be fashionable, essentially. Don’t you think that they do it to please the man?”)

Another interesting finding was that Killian’s was popular with drinkers in France despite being French, and despite being a Pelforth product. An imported product, with Guinness’s name attached, would surely be able to steal some of Killian’s thunder.

The result of all this activity was, we think, the launch of a stronger version of Smithwick’s under the name Kilkenny – hey, that sounds a bit like Killian! – on to the French market in the 1980s.

Categories
opinion

BOOK REVIEW: 50 Years of CAMRA

The decision by CAMRA to commission a warts-and-all official history by Laura Hadland made something of a statement: it is keen to balance celebration with reflection – and perhaps ready to show its sensitive underbelly to the world.

50 Years of CAMRA (RRP £16.99, 245 pages) will be most interesting to CAMRA members, either nostalgic or curious, and to scholars of British beer history.

It is built around a combination of archive research, with special emphasis on What’s Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper; and interviews with longtime CAMRA members, both in leadership positions and the rank-and-file.

Until now, we’d have said our own Brew Britannia offered the most detailed and balanced account of the early years of CAMRA, but Hadland’s book benefits from the space to zoom in on certain details that we had to summarise.

She also has input from founder member Graham Lees – something we never achieved, despite many grovelling emails.

Before opening the book, we had a particular test in mind: what might she say about the founding date of CAMRA?

Researching Brew Britannia we worked out that the official founding date didn’t tie in with another detail of the story – that the founders read a story in the Mirror about the poor quality of British beer on their way home from the trip to Ireland on which CAMRA was formed.

It’s a minor detail, it doesn’t really matter in terms of the grand narrative, but it is a flaw in what for decades was the accepted origin tale.

In a footnote to Brew Britannia we suggested that the trip must have been a week later than supposed and that the article probably prompted the founding of CAMRA; Hadland, based on new testimony from founder member Michael Hardman, argues otherwise.

What matters to us, really, is that this point is considered at all. It’s a sign of due diligence.

Throughout the book, similar rigour is displayed in terms of pinning down the facts, with reference to original sources and first-hand testimony.

Elsewhere, criticisms of the Campaign, arising both internally and from outside, are clearly set down and thoroughly interrogated.

“With nearly 200,000 members it is not surprising that CAMRA cannot always present a united front”, she writes. What it does present, through this book, is the ability to look at itself with clear eyes.

From institutional sexism to the constant debate over the organisation’s focus (is it ale, pubs, or something else?) and the failure of the CAMRA Revitalisation project, Hadland makes space for thoughtful comments from veterans, newcomers and objective outsiders.

Most talk sense, even if they often contradict each other, giving the sense that the instinct to debate and to compromise are among CAMRA’s strengths, not its weaknesses.

Although clearly and engagingly written, the book isn’t a narrative history to be read from cover-to-cover. Instead, it is arranged around big themes, each chapter or section bouncing the reader back and forth through the decades like a tiddly timelord.

We were particularly pleased to see space given to topics such as the role of women in CAMRA over the years and to a note on the founding of the Lesbian and Gay Real Ale Drinkers Group (LAGRAD) in 1995.

If you’re interested in the history (and future) of CAMRA, you’ll want this on your shelf. Every time you dip into it, you’ll learn some new detail; and as a reference, it will prove invaluable.

We bought our copy from the CAMRA bookshop. It’s also available via, for example, bookshop.org.