News, nuggets and longreads 10 August 2019: sexism, shandy, Smithwick’s

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in beer and pubs in the past week, from the Great British Beer Festival to comedians in pubs getting bladdered.

Undoubt­ed­ly the biggest sto­ry of the week, mak­ing it into mul­ti­ple news­pa­pers and even on to break­fast TV, was the fact that this year’s Great British Beer Fes­ti­val was deci­sive­ly, con­vinc­ing­ly wel­com­ing to women. Here’s how Rebec­ca Smithers report­ed it for the Guardian:

Drinks that have fall­en vic­tim to crude stereo­typ­ing – such as Slack Alice, a cider described as “a lit­tle tart” and pump clips fea­tur­ing scant­i­ly-clad bux­om women – have been banned from this week’s event at London’s Olympia which is set to attract tens of thou­sands of vis­i­tors… The blan­ket ban goes a step fur­ther than a new code of con­duct launched by the cam­paign group last year… All 1,000-plus beers, ciders and per­ries avail­able at the fes­ti­val have been checked to ensure they adhere to Camra’s char­ter and strict code of con­duct, which sets out its com­mit­ment to inclu­siv­i­ty and diver­si­ty.

This seems to chime with the expe­ri­ence of women who were actu­al­ly at the fes­ti­val, such as beer indus­try vet­er­an Rowan Molyneux (who also hap­pens to be in the pho­to at the top of the Guardian article).She had this to say on her blog:

From the start, there was a gen­er­al feel­ing that this year was going to be dif­fer­ent. The news that beers in keykeg would be present seems to have piqued people’s inter­est, for one thing. It sig­nalled that CAMRA was tak­ing a step into the mod­ern world, and that mood car­ried through­out the rest of the fes­ti­val. Take this year’s char­i­ty of choice, for exam­ple. I nev­er thought I would see Great British Beer Fes­ti­val atten­dees being able to donate to Stonewall and wear­ing stick­ers that state “Some peo­ple are trans. Get over it!”

Melis­sa Cole also seems to have been won over:

This all sounds pret­ty good to us, goes far beyond the tokenism and half-heart­ed ges­tures of the past, and sets up CAMRA well for the future.


Kilkenny

Liam at Beer­Food­Trav­el has put togeth­er a com­pre­hen­sive set of notes on pre-20th cen­tu­ry brew­ing in Kilken­ny, Ire­land. A dogged and detail-focused schol­ar, we always enjoy read­ing the fruits of his research, espe­cial­ly when he’s bat­tling to bring down bull­shit brew­ery back­sto­ries:

The ear­ly brew­ing his­to­ry of Ire­land is often quite murky, and try­ing to pin­point the exact posi­tion of brew­eries and the brew­ers that oper­at­ed in any give loca­tion is quite a tricky job until we get to the era of com­mer­cial direc­to­ries, bet­ter record keep­ing, accu­rate maps and archived con­tent of news­pa­pers. Even after that point the his­to­ry and devel­op­ment of brew­eries is dif­fi­cult to track, espe­cial­ly beyond The Pale. Kilken­ny’s brew­ing his­to­ry is sim­i­lar in one way but some­what dif­fer­ent in anoth­er, as much of that his­to­ry is dif­fi­cult to clear­ly see due to being mud­died by decades of mar­ket­ing spiel which has been repeat­ed and reprint­ed over the years.


Beautiful beer glass.

Jeff Alworth chal­lenges an often-repeat­ed asser­tion in a piece enti­tled ‘Are Pil­sners real­ly the hard­est beers to make?

The dif­fi­cul­ty of a pil­sner is its sim­plic­i­ty, but the dif­fi­cul­ty of a good IPA is its com­plex­i­ty. Brew­ers must har­mo­nize much stronger fla­vors, and this presents its own chal­lenge. Fig­ur­ing out how the hops will har­mo­nize, when there are dozens of hop vari­eties avail­able that can be used in thou­sands of com­bi­na­tions, and jil­lions (tech­ni­cal term) of com­bi­na­tions when you con­sid­er all the oppor­tu­ni­ties dur­ing the brew­ing process to add these thou­sands of com­bi­na­tions of hop vari­eties… The idea that oth­er beers are “eas­i­er” to make is refut­ed by all the mediocre exam­ples out there. How many crap IPAs have you had? Is the bat­ting aver­age for excel­lent IPAs any bet­ter than excel­lent pil­sners? Not in my expe­ri­ence.


'Ginger Beer Makers and Mush Fakers', 1877.

Mark Dredge has both a new web­site and a new book on the way, on the his­to­ry and cul­ture of lager. As a side inves­ti­ga­tion, he’s been look­ing into the his­to­ry of shandy, or shandy­gaff, with ref­er­ence to pri­ma­ry archive sources:

[The] first men­tion for lager and lemon­ade that I’ve found… [is] from 1870. It comes from the Span­ish city of Seville [and was report­ed in] York­shire Post and Leeds Intel­li­gencer. It’s inter­est­ing to me that there was a lager brew­er in Seville in 1870 – that’s ear­ly for lager’s spread into Spain. I also like that it was served with a ladle. I’d like a shandy ladle.


Louis Barfe

If you want some­thing to lis­ten to as opposed to read, there’s this by his­to­ri­an of light enter­tain­ment Louis Barfe for BBC Radio 4 on the con­nec­tions between drink­ing and com­e­dy.


Final­ly, the usu­al mis­chief from Thorn­bridge’s in-house provo­ca­teur:


For more links and good read­ing check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­days and Alan McLeod on Thurs­days.

Training Day: pull it flat

Lots of drinkers in Bristol like their pints flat. That is, completely without foam.

We’ve writ­ten about this before but in the past week got more evi­dence when we saw a pub man­ag­er train­ing a new mem­ber of staff.

No, way too much head, bit more,” said the man­ag­er. “Just give it anoth­er pull.”

Like this?”

No, still too much head. You might get away with that up norf but not in Bris­tol, mate.”

It’s OK, we don’t mind a bit of a head on our pints,” we said and then took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask a cou­ple of fol­low-up ques­tions.

The man­ag­er told us that old­er Bris­to­lian drinkers espe­cial­ly real­ly appre­ci­ate pints where the beer is absolute­ly to the rim with as clear a sur­face as pos­si­ble.

He put it down to stingi­ness – “They’re afraid you’re doing them out of nine pence worf of beer.” – but con­firmed that it cer­tain­ly was a mat­ter of pref­er­ence, not the result of poor­ly-con­di­tioned beer.

In Bris­tol, we’re begin­ning to think the default flat­ness of the pints is a pret­ty good indi­ca­tor of how many born-and-bred locals drink in a par­tic­u­lar pub.

In the city cen­tre, where incom­ers, com­muters and daytrip­pers drink, it’s quite pos­si­ble to be served 450ml of beer with sev­er­al inch­es of head (“Could I get a lit­tle top up, please?”) but that’s much less like­ly in back­street pubs and the more down-to-earth sub­urbs.

The Drap­ers seems to strug­gle some­times, too, with bar staff get­ting mixed mes­sages from tra­di­tion­al­ist locals and beer geeks. A few weeks ago we got served beau­ti­ful pints, foam piled high, with an apol­o­gy: “Sor­ry, it’s very live­ly.”

Almost any­where else in the UK, it wouldn’t have seemed so.

The good news is that at the pub we vis­it­ed last week, the new mem­ber of staff even­tu­al­ly got the hang of it, pulling a string of pints with a per­fect­ly rea­son­able amount of foam – nei­ther exces­sive­ly north­ern nor too strict­ly Bris­to­lian.

On beer scenes

We’re currently working on a big piece about the Leeds beer scene, hopefully to go live next weekend, which has got us thinking about the very idea of ‘scenes’.

To qual­i­fy as some­where with a ‘beer scene’ there are a few require­ments, we reck­on:

1. Mul­ti­ple inter­est­ing pubs, bars or beer exhi­bi­tion venues. One microp­ub, tap­room or bar does not a beer scene make. And they real­ly do need to be with­in walk­ing dis­tance of each oth­er – the basis of a crawl. There prob­a­bly has to be at least one leg­endary, must-vis­it venue.

2. Pun­dit­ry. If you’re vis­it­ing Bog­gle­ton, who do you ask for advice? Who’s writ­ten a local guide, whether as a book, web­site or blog post? Have Matt Cur­tis, Jon­ny Gar­rett or Tony Nay­lor been in town tak­ing notes?

3. Events. Bot­tle-shares, meet-the-brew­ers, tap takeovers and the like. We don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like events but there’s no deny­ing that they bring scat­tered beer geeks togeth­er, cre­at­ing and sig­nalling the exis­tence of a com­mu­ni­ty.

4. Fes­ti­vals, plur­al. Not just the local CAMRA fes­ti­val, although those are impor­tant, but alter­na­tive events organ­ised out­side that infra­struc­ture. Espe­cial­ly if they’re focused on par­tic­u­lar nich­es – lager, sour beer, green hops, and so on. (Again, we rarely go our­selves, but…)

5. Faces. The peo­ple who make things hap­pen, are at all the events, who drink maybe a bit more than a civil­ian might and put their mon­ey where their mouths are. They’re also the source of low-lev­el soap opera (Thingum­abob’s fall­en out with Woss­name; So-and-so’s left Venue A to work at Venue B). And, of course,  they’re the ones to watch when it comes to the next gen­er­a­tion of bars, brew­eries and beer busi­ness.

6. Tourists. If beer geeks build their hol­i­days around your town, city or region, it’s prob­a­bly got a bona fide beer scene. In gen­er­al, it needs to be a city or larg­er town. Fal­mouth almost pulls it off, as did New­ton Abbot for a while, but there almost needs to be a sense that there’s just too much to get into a sin­gle long week­end.

What do you reck­on? Any­thing obvi­ous we’ve missed?

Brewing in Georgian Bristol: smells and cellars

When I’m not obsessing over beer I sometimes obsess over architecture which is why I’ve been reading Walter Ison’s The Buildings of Georgian Bristol.

It was first pub­lished in 1952 and revised for a sec­ond edi­tion in 1978. It most­ly com­pris­es fair­ly dry research into build­ings and street lay­outs – who designed or built what with ref­er­ence to orig­i­nal con­tracts, whether the ped­i­ment is seg­men­tal or not, and so on – but you won’t be sur­prised to learn that there are a cou­ple men­tions of brew­ing that leapt out.

The first is with ref­er­ence to Queen Square, which you can see from Small Bar on King Street, to give a beer geek friend­ly ref­er­ence point. Orig­i­nal­ly marsh­land, it was divid­ed up into plots from 1699 and built up between 1700 and 1718. It had a dual car­riage­way run­ning through the mid­dle for most of the 20th cen­tu­ry but is these days once again a peace­ful pub­lic space.

Ison quotes from the city records for 1699 which include the terms of what we would now call plan­ning per­mis­sion for the first house on Queen Square:

[No] Ten­e­ment [is] to be lett out to any sort of Ten­ants par­tic­u­lar­ly no Smiths Shopp Brew­house nor to any Tal­low-Chan­dler or to any oth­er Trades­men who by noyse dan­ger of ffire or ill smells shall dis­turbe or annoy any of the Inhab­i­tants who shall build neer it…

This was a classy devel­op­ment for well-to-do folk and it would­n’t do for it to pong or oth­er­wise exhib­it evi­dence of peo­ple work­ing. These days in Bris­tol, brew­eries tend to be on indus­tri­al estates – the log­i­cal con­clu­sion of this kind of zon­ing reg­u­la­tion.

The sec­ond ref­er­ence comes in a descrip­tion of the devel­op­ment of Port­land Square from 1788. Here, Ison quotes for a sale notice for the mid­dle house on the south side of the square from 1812:

[The house con­tains] three arched under-ground cel­lars, a ser­vants’ hall, house­keep­er’s room, back-kitchen, larder, brew-house, and oth­er offices…

A brew­house is an inter­est­ing addi­tion to a large, fash­ion­able house as late as the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry. Oth­er hous­es near­by seem to have had wine cel­lars rather the brew­ing facil­i­ties, at least accord­ing to Ison’s notes, so the own­er of this one was clear­ly one of us.

But who did the brew­ing? What did they brew? Where would we even start look­ing to find out?

Main image: detail of ‘The Man­sion House at the cor­ner of Queen Square look­ing along Queen Char­lotte Street’, Samuel Jack­son, 1824, via Water­colour World/Bristol Muse­ums.

News, nuggets and longreads 3 August 2019: Apollo, Bass, curation

These are all the stories about beer and pubs we enjoyed most, or learned the most from, in the past week, from Wetherspoons to museums.

From Jeff Alworth, an epic – a two-parter pon­der­ing the ques­tion of why we like cer­tain beers and dis­like oth­ers:

Let’s try a thought exper­i­ment. Select one of your favorite beers and think about why you like it. If I ask you to tell me the rea­sons, my guess is that you will talk about the type of beer it is and which fla­vors you like. Since you’re read­ing this blog, you might talk about ingre­di­ent or even process (Cit­ra hops! Decoc­tion mash­ing!). If I asked a casu­al drinker, some­one who drinks Mich­e­lob Ultra, say, I’d hear dif­fer­ent rea­sons, but prob­a­bly some­thing along the lines Eliz­a­beth War­ren offered: it’s “the club soda of beers.” No mat­ter one’s lev­el of knowl­edge, our opin­ions about beer appear to come from the liq­uid itself.

Part one | Part two


The carpet at the Imperial, Exeter.

Tan­dle­man has been observ­ing what he calls the “slight­ly tense calm” of ear­ly morn­ing in a Wether­spoon pub:

By 8.50 there is a pal­pa­ble sense of expec­ta­tion in the air. Eyes flick towards the bar. A few more arrive. Min­utes tick away and sud­den­ly there are peo­ple com­ing back to their tables with pints of beer and lager. One ded­i­cat­ed soul has two, which he arranges care­ful­ly in front of him, rims almost touch­ing. Over­all pints are even­ly split between lager and John Smith’s Smooth.


The Apollo Inn
SOURCE: Man­ches­ter Estate Pubs

Stephen Mar­land has turned his nos­tal­gic eye on anoth­er lost Man­ches­ter pub – the top­i­cal­ly named Apol­lo Inn in Cheetham Hill. Con­struc­tion, con­ver­sion, con­fla­gra­tion, col­lapse… The tale is famil­iar.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 3 August 2019: Apol­lo, Bass, cura­tion”