News, nuggets and longreads 6 May 2023: Cantina Band

Every Saturday we round-up the best writing about beer and pubs. This week, we’ve got more brewery closures, segregation in the 21st century, and naval ale.

First, some news. We haven’t been commenting on every brewery closure, partly because we haven’t always had much to say about the breweries in question. But this week brought a flurry of news from breweries we’ve heard of and/or have feelings about:

As always, bookmark Steve Dunkley’s blog post for a running total.

A glass of golden orange beer with a green can next to it.
Founders All Day IPA in 2015.

From the US comes news of further accusations of a culture of racism within Founders Brewing. The case was laid out in an employee exit interview at its Detroit taproom last week. Then Founders suddenly announced it was closing said taproom, with no notice for employees, blaming COVID-19. Naeemah Dillard has now filed a racial discrimination complaint against the brewery. (We barely see any American beer for sale in the UK these days and haven’t had the opportunity to buy Founders for some years. But if we could, we wouldn’t.)

A portrait of a black man with a greying beard.
Caesar Kimbirima, manager of The Brockley Barge. SOURCE: David Jesudason.

It’s all too easy to think of racism as being something that’s in the past (“It was a different time!”) but in his newsletter this week David Jesudason tells a story of segregation which is depressingly recent. He quotes Jauval, a drinker at The Brockley Barge, formerly The Breakspeare Arms:

It was something that had to be accepted because Jauval remembers his dad not being served in the pubs in the area at all, such as the Brockley Jack – now a Greene King pub/theatre, which last time I went had a black bar manager. This discrimination he says was common in the area with the nearby Maypole (which is now flats by Brockley train station) also segregating on grounds of colour – and he believes it only really stopped when the Breakspeare Arms was reopened by JD Wetherspoon in 2000… Jauval explains how the pub was divided into two and he would see his white school friends in the side that he wasn’t allowed in. What other locals tell me is that the Breakspeare Arms had an “Irish bar” and a “black bar” which was segregated to the point that the only people who could freely go between the two internally were staff as the bar was the only visible passage between them.

A colour bar in operation in the capital within the past 25 years – astonishing! This piece also has plenty to say about gentrification and class. And it gives us a glimpse into how easy it is for white drinkers to say, “It didn’t seem that bad to me…” Ultimately, though, this is an uplifting story of how management can make choices to break down barriers and make people feel welcome.

A rainbow coloured sign reading RASCALS above a taproom bar.
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

Lisa Grimm continues her fascinating tour of the pubs and bars of Dublin with a visit to ‘Rascals HQ’ which, for some reason, we feel obliged to put in distancing quote marks. As she describes it, it sounds very much like an outpost of global Craftonia:

Rascals is situated on a semi-industrial estate in Inchicore, with the brewery and restaurant all under one roof, so it’s much more of a ‘taproom’ than ‘pub’ vibe, and certainly not unlike many spots in the US or Canada in that respect; indeed, it reminds me very much of Victory before they had their renovation at their OG brewery in Downingtown, PA, USA, some years ago. I had never gotten around to doing the brewery tour before this past weekend’s festival, so I don’t think I had a sense of just how large it was, by local standards – so many tanks! As Rascals is one of the typical craft options you often seen at other pubs and bars around town, it makes sense that they need to keep cranking out their core beers like Happy Days, Yankee White and Wunderbar.

A comparison of the original Teku design and the revised version. Both are stemmed glasses with a flared lip.
SOURCE: Rastal.

How bad is the Teku glass, really? asks Kevin Kain at Casket Beer, considering alongside the similarly unpopular ‘shaker’ glass:

Tekus were created in 2006 in Italy and are produced by the German glassware company Rastal. Technically, the name is spelled TeKu, representing the names of the two creators, Teo Musso and Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove. Musso is the brewer/owner of the Italian brewery Birra Baladin… The websites for both Rastal and Baladin include fluffy language about how great the Teku glass is. It’s pretty. It has a modern look and works well if you like/want a stemmed glass. I like that it was specifically designed for beer and the way the curve at the top hugs the lip. Beyond that, I don’t think there are any major differences between it and most other stemmed beer/wine glasses with a decent bowl shape. This may be the reason why others gripe about it. Is it really necessary? The main complaint people seem to have about the Teku is its shape, which many people find a bit pompous, or simply unattractive. 

A painting of a naval ship on fire.
‘The Danish ship Dannebroge caught on fire in the battle of Køge Bay’, Christian Mølsted, 1710. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons.

How could we possibly resist an article by the brilliant Lars Marius Garshol with the headline ‘Skibsøl: the smoky ale of the seas’? It’s for Craft Beer & Brewing and has the distinct whiff of adventure about it:

In 1710, the remains of the Danish fleet returned from the Battle of Køge Bay to Copenhagen. The crews and officers were deeply unhappy, not only because their mission had failed nor even that the flagship Dannebrog had been lost. No, their complaint was that a quarter of the crew had been sick before they even sailed, and many had died of illness at sea before they ever met the Swedes. The admiral blamed the skibsøl—literally, “ship’s beer”—which was an important part of the fleet’s provisions… The navy’s commissar-general investigated the issue, and he found that throughout the year there had been many examples of skibsøl being found spoiled and returned to the brewers. The returned beer wasn’t merely sour—it was foul. His report was part of a long discussion that had already run for many decades about how to ensure a reliable supply of skibsøl that did not go bad.

Five Points brewery kegs piled high

At Pellicle Fred Garratt-Stanley (a writer who is new to us, we think) provides a portrait of London’s Five Points Brewing Company. By extension, it’s also a reflection on the evolution of the UK brewing scene and, most interestingly, that place of cask ale within that context:

“When we were founding the company, it was a really exciting time,” [co-founder] Greg [Hobbs] tells me. “There was a real buzz about craft beer, it wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is now.”… According to Ed [Mason], breweries like Thornbridge in Derbyshire and nearby Camden Town Brewery (the latter now owned by AB InBev) helped “educate people’s palates and teach people the idea that beer could be flavoursome and more interesting, and could be brewed locally and owned independently.”… “There’s a danger of taking that for granted, but that wasn’t there 12 years ago,” he adds.

Let’s round this out with some more positive signals via Twitter:

We’re still using Twitter but we’re also about as active on Mastodon, Instagram and Substack, if you’re looking for more. And we’ve been posting bits and pieces to Patreon, too, for subscribers only.

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


Is “We were sitting there” a scam?

It was either terrible pub etiquette, or a low stakes con.

Two men get up, put on their coats, and slip out of the door. They leave two pint glasses on the table, each with less than an inch of beer.

After five minutes, a party turns up and spots the table. They hover for a minute before deciding to go for it.

They take the (not quite) empty glasses to the bar and get comfortable, ordering drinks, ordering food.

Then the two men return, after almost fifteen minutes. Astonished, aggrieved, they say: “Excuse me, but we were actually sitting there. We had beer left to drink.”

The new party at the table is mortified, even if it is plain that they know they’re being treated like mugs.

Reluctantly, they surrender the table and, through gritted teeth, say: “Let us buy you a drink…”

The bar staff, perhaps aware something odd is going on, step in and offer to replace the drinks on the house.

If it’s a scam, it’s a small one. What did they get? Most of a pint each. But when a pint costs more than a fiver, perhaps it’s worth it.

Maybe they do this every time they visit a pub, getting four or five free drinks over the course of an evening.

And if it’s not a scam… what on earth were they thinking?

We all know the rules.

You leave your coat. You leave a book on the table. You put a beer mat over the glass. You say to the people on the next table (us): “Can you keep an eye on our table?”

A nearly empty glass on a table only holds it for five minutes. Even a full glass probably only gets you twenty.

Pub people – was this a scam, or just bad manners? We’re intrigued to know about any low-level fiddles you’ve encountered.

bristol pubs

The lost pubs of Bristol’s central ghost town

One of Bristol’s weirdest features is its central ghost town where, on inter-war maps, seven pubs were marked.

The ghost town in question is otherwise known as Castle Park and it was once the core of the central shopping district.

It was badly damaged during World War II and the decision was made after the war to clear it rather than rebuild.

Now, it’s a pleasant (if sometimes spicy) green space containing the bombed ruins of two churches and some hints of the old street patterns.

A map showing modern day Castle Park with the old streets roughly marked and the locations of the seven pubs.
BASE MAP SOURCE: Open Street Map.

Let’s start our pub crawl on Bristol Bridge, heading into town along High Street, and pause to think about The Posada, AKA The Posada Wine Vaults.

It stood exactly where you can now find a weird little concrete obelisk with a door, leading down to tunnels beneath the park.

The edge of Castle Park with concrete buildings and street furniture.
The obelisk (left), the old Norwich Union building (1962) and the remains of St Mary-le-Port Church.

It was a 19th century building, erected when the road was widened in the 1860s, we think. In 1877 it was known as The Posada Espanola.

It survived a massive bombing of central Bristol in November 1940 before being finished off in another raid in 1941.

Next, let’s turn left onto Mary-le-Port Street. Except it’s not there any more, so we can’t, really, but we can cut through the park to look at the ruins of St Mary-le-Port Church hidden behind the brutalist Lloyds Bank and modernist Norwich Union building.

A tatty path through the park with a church tower in the distance.
Looking along Mary-le-Port to St Peter’s Church.

Then follow the path that tracks the old street pattern towards the site of The Raven. C.F. Deming, author of Old Inns of Bristol, published in 1943, reckoned The Raven dated back to the 17th century and was “mentioned in 1643”.

Interviewed for an oral history project in 2005 Dorothy Bullimore and Emily ‘Emmy’ Taylor recalled drinking there:

Dorothy: They used to have pigs’ feet up Hodders on a Saturday night and there was a little pub next door to it and after you’d finish shopping you’d sit in there with all your carrier bags at your feet. We used to go in the pub with my husband’s brother- he worked for Hodders, the butchers. 

Emmy: It was a tiny little pub in Mary Le Port Street.

It had already gone when Old Inns of Bristol was published, destroyed by bombing.

Old buildings overhanging a narrow shopping street.
Mary-le-Port in the 1930s via Know Your Place Bristol. An entrance to The Swan Hotel is to the right.

A little further along we find the site of The Swan, just about where the diagonal path down the river meets the terrace in front of the ruin of St Peter’s Church.

Deming calls The Swan “one of Bristol’s most picturesque buildings” but adds:

Like many other notable Houses, The Swan had been neglected for many years, and its decayed timbers had fallen into such a sad state that, in conjunction with other circumstances and in spite of many requests to retain the building, its preservation was found to be impossible.

The Swan was demolished in 1936, after someone bought the whole corner site for redevelopment. The building that replaced The Swan was then so badly damaged by bombing that it had to be pulled down.

A stone structure in the park.
The site of The Bank Hotel. The path to the right roughly marks the line of the rear of the building.

Rounding the corner of Mary-le-Port onto what was Dolphin Street we next find the site of The Bank Hotel, on the waterside. There used to be two urinals here, hanging over the river, which we guess were for customers of the pub.

An 1884 guidebook says this pub got its name because it was built on the site of a branch of the Bank of England which was opened there in 1827, but later moved.

Now let’s walk back along what would have been Dolphin Street to Newgate – that is, across the park to the junction with Union Street where the falafel stand is now.

Newgate was originally Narrow Wine Street and about here stood The George Inn.

The Galleries Shopping Centre beyond a line of trees and hedges.
From the site of The George looking across Newgate (Narrow Wine Street) to The Galleries Shopping Centre.

The George Inn was certainly old and there was a brewery on the premises in the 1810s.

A Popular History of Bristol (not a hugely reliable source) dates it to the 17th century and suggests it was named in reference to St George, rather than any monarch of that name.

By the 1930s it was one of six Fussell’s pubs in Bristol.

In 1940 a 24-year-old soldier, Corporal Ernest Newman, robbed the landlord of The George at gunpoint, before being chased and captured by police. That’s an interesting glimpse into what Bristol was like during wartime.

A scrappy corner of the park with fences and paths.
The site of The Cat & Wheel near an exit from the park.

At this point, follow the path back to the ruin of St Peter’s Church and go through the water garden. At the end of the garden a path curves down. Near the bottom is where Little Peter Street used to run and where two pubs stood side by side.

The Cat & Wheel and The Bear & Rugged Staff were both 17th century pubs but the former was rebuilt in the early 20th century.

An Edwardian pub with signs advertising George's Pale Ales.
The Cat & Wheel. SOURCE: Know Your Place.

Both, amazingly, survived the Blitz and were trading until the late 1960s. They were demolished in 1969 as part of the creation of Castle Park.

The Bear & Rugged Staff then donated its name to The Welcome Inn, an interwar pub at Southmead.

This was the final stage in the clearance of the area, which the city planners had decided to do as far back as 1943.

Shopkeepers and local wanted to restore the shopping district to how it had been but the planners were keen to do away with what had been a mess of narrow streets.

Some people are still annoyed about this decision today.

And that’s the end of the tour. If you want to continue hanging out in Bristol’s pre-war shopping district, fire up one of these two sites to layer old maps with new ones:

And if all that walking around pubs that aren’t there has you feeling thirsty check out our guide to the best pubs in Bristol, updated for 2023.

This has been an interesting exercise and has given us a partial answer to our question about why Bristol doesn’t have a central pub equivalent to Whitelocks in Leeds. It would probably have been one of those described above, if they’d survived.

Main image adapted from ‘Ruins of the Church of St. Mary-le-Port with St. Peter’s in the background’ by Beryl Thornborough for Bristol Siren Nights, 1943.


News, nuggets and longreads 29 April 2023: The Criminal Code

Every Saturday, we pull together the best beer-related reading from the past week. This time, we’ve got moving breweries, Munich yeast and more.

First, from BBC Northern Ireland, one of those stories that shines a light on the less glamorous logistical side of the beer business, and the material value of things like casks and kegs:

Two men have been handed suspended sentences over the theft of empty beer kegs worth more than £250,000… Both men are involved in supplying kegs to the beer industry… Belfast Crown Court heard that, in 2019, County Down-based alcohol wholesaler Tennent’s NI Ltd reported to police their “suspicion of a large-scale theft of empty beer kegs” from its premises… A prosecution lawyer explained that all kegs sold by breweries remained their property, with buyers under contractual obligation to return the empty beer kegs, each valued at £66, to the wholesaler or the brewery directly.

A detail from a 1950s map of British breweries featuring Jennings.

For Pellicle Jacob Smith (a writer who is new to us) has reflected on the death of a historic regional brewery, Jennings of Cockermouth, whose beer is now brewed in Burton:

John Jennings, the son of a maltster, founded Jennings Brewery in the tiny Cumbrian village of Lorton in 1828. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, new breweries were not wholly unique enterprises during this time. Yet, as its high-quality ale gained renown beyond the local vicinity, Jennings began to set itself apart from its competitors. In 1874, the brewery moved from Lorton to a bigger site in the neighbouring town of Cockermouth to keep up with growing demand… Castle Brewery, as it became known, stood in the crumbling shadow of the town’s Norman fortress, upon the confluences of two rivers: the Cocker and the Derwent. This location provided the brewery with access to the finest Lakeland water. An attribute that would define Jennings’ beers for centuries to come.

Partizan Lemongrass Saison.
Partizan Lemongrass Saison c.2015.

The latest edition of Will Hawkes’s London Beer City newsletter is now available to read online (you should subscribe for early access) and has plenty of good stuff. That includes the news that Partizan is leaving Bermondsey for Market Harborough in Leicestershire:

The cost of the space on Almond Road in Bermondsey was exacerbated by a dispute with the arch’s owners – The Arch Company – that culminated in a risk that the brewing equipment would be seized. At that stage, Andy took advice and sold the brewery’s assets to Langton, thereby securing them from that prospect. This means he’s now employed by Langton, but he insists nothing else will change. “It’ll still be me making the Partizan beers on the same brew kit,” he says. (He didn’t want to discuss financial details.)… He seems very phlegmatic about what has happened, and to a degree that’s understandable. He hit 40 a few years ago, and moved to Suffolk with his partner and son last year… In that respect this is a classic London story; middle-aged people have always left for a different way of life. In another, though, it’s yet more evidence of how life in London gets financially tighter by the day, something we’ve known for years but that, in the aftermath of Covid lockdowns, has become ever more fraught.

A detail from the delivery docket showing 'Number of casks' and some pencil scrawl.

Picking up his ‘100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects’ project Liam K has been looking at an 1892 drayman’s delivery docket from Sullivan’s Brewery:

[The docket is for] a half barrel of Pale Butt from 1892, brewed by Sullivan’s Brewery which operated from James’s Street in Kilkenny on the site of an earlier brewery being operated by a Mr. Archdeakin in at least 1702… The half barrel of pale butt was delivered to a Laurence Long who had at this time a public house and grocery store on the corner of Barrack Street and the Castlecomer road, which is now known as Lenehan’s Public House… The drayman who delivered the cask on his route was a J.(?) Dowling and the cask number was 2574. This number ensured that the casks could be tracked and returned to the brewery. It would also be helpful if a full barrel of beer was stolen…

Inside the Bartons Arms

Paul Bailey (no relation) has taken pictures and written notes on The Bartons Arms, one of Britain’s most gorgeous Victorian pubs, in Birmingham:

The Bartons Arms dates from 1901 and was built for Mitchells and Butler who, even back then, were one of Birmingham’s premier breweries. The pub is built of stone and red brick in a style that is said to be inspired by the nearby Aston Hall and was regarded as the flagship pub of the Mitchell and Butlers brewery estate. The imposing exterior includes shaped gables and a tall clock tower, with the building occupying a site at the junction of two roads. It is one of the most spectacular survivors from the late Victorian era in the country, with one of the most beautiful pub interiors to match.


Finally, here’s something for the yeast geeks: ‘A new hypothesis for the origin of the lager yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus’ by Mathias Hutzler, John P. Morrissey, Andreas Laus, Franz Meussdoerffer and Martin Zarnkow, in FEMS Yeast Research:

Saccharomyces pastorianus, which is responsible for the production of bottom-fermented lager beer, is a hybrid species that arose from the mating of the top-fermenting ale yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the cold-tolerant Saccharomyces eubayanus around the start of the 17th century. Based on detailed analysis of Central European brewing records, we propose that the critical event for the hybridization was the introduction of top-fermenting S. cerevisiae into an environment where S. eubayanus was present, rather than the other way around. Bottom fermentation in parts of Bavaria preceded the proposed hybridization date by a couple of hundred years and we suggest that this was carried out by mixtures of yeasts, which may have included S. eubayanus. A plausible case can be made that the S. cerevisiae parent came either from the Schwarzach wheat brewery or the city of Einbeck, and the formation of S. pastorianus happened in the Munich Hofbräuhaus between 1602 and 1615 when both wheat beer and lager were brewed contemporaneously.

Or, in plainer language:

If you like lager, chances are you’ve got a 17th century brewmaster to thank for it. The commercial yeast used to brew most modern lagers was created when the pasty yeast slurries for a white ale and a brown beer mixed in a cellar of  the original Munich Hofbräuhaus—not to be confused with the beer hall there today—sometime between 1602 and 1615, according to a new synthesis of historical brewing records and genetic histories of yeast.

The covers of the two books mentioned below.

We’re looking forward to reading these two books from CAMRA publishing which, in our view, offer something genuinely new:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 22 April 2023: Eight Miles High

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week we thought bookmarkworthy, including wartime ale and space-age hops.

First, some nuggets of news around the upcoming coronation of King Charles III:

The NAAFI logo.

How did the British Army supply its troops with beer in the field during World War II? It had the enterprising Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) Breweries, as Gary Gillman explains in a series of posts on his blog this week:

One instance occurred in Tripoli after the British 8th Army took control of the city in early 1943… We can start with a story in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of March 19, 1945… “NAAFI seems to be particularly enterprising in Italy and North Africa. I have just been reading some description of the brewery established at Tripoli. This brewery was formerly used by the Afrika Korps. When the British organisation took over they found 60,000 gallons of beer already brewed and quantities of Czech barley and German hops. Malt was subsequently imported from America, and the brewery now supplies lager to Tripoli troops and exports pasteurised beer to Benghazi at the rate of 80.000 bottles a week. A sideline is the production of 400 blocks of ice a day for canteens in the Western Desert.”