News, nuggets and longreads 3 July 2021: Allsopp’s, brown ale, Devon

There’s been some interesting writing about beer, pubs and brewing in the past week. Here are our highlights, from brown ale to brands reborn.

First, a bit of deja vu: someone is reviving the historic Allsopp’s brand to brew an IPA and a pale ale.

You might recall that, back in 2017, BrewDog were attached this this particular brand revival. Beer writer Pete Brown, who has a stake in this new project, says it’s nothing to do with them any more. We’re intrigued, not least because it sounds as if the intention is to use original recipes and even some version of the Allsopp’s house yeast.

Petteri leans on his bar.
Petteri’s bar. SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

Lars Marius Garshol provides another report from Finland, on the trail of Sahti culture. This time, the story concerns Petteri Lähdeniemi who runs a small commercial brewery with a bar in the middle of nowhere. This, Lars makes clear, is something quite different to a hip urban taproom:

He says he arranges karaoke nights and rock concerts here, which seems a bit odd, as while the area is dotted with farms it’s hardly densely populated. But he explains the bar is mainly “a hobby”, and that the brewery is what really generates income. Most of his business is selling to the Alko, the government alcohol monopoly stores, and various bars… He explains that the area just inside the door is where he sells beer for takeaway. The rest of the bar is for consumption on the premises… Petteri explains that if you come to buy beer to take away but you go four steps inside the door instead of just three you walk out of the takeaway sales zone, and then you’re technically breaking the law. The door is the obvious way to walk between the patio and the bar, but that’s not legal if you’re drinking on the premises, so you have to go round the back and in a separate door. Finnish alcohol regulations are just as strict and nonsensical as in the rest of the world.


Nobody wants a backstreet corner pub on their backstreet corner

People sometimes talk as if the appeal of the neighbourhood pub is self-evident and universal… but is it?

We ran the above poll on Twitter after reading this admittedly rather thin PR piece via a property news website. It suggests that the presence of pubs can bring property prices down:

The homebuying platform [YesHomeBuyers] analysed property market data based on the number of pubs in each local authority and found that having too many options for a swift pint on your doorstep could be detrimental to the value of your home… In local authorities with an estimated 1 to 150 pubs, property prices averaged £289,479. This then fell by -9% to £263,041 in areas with 151 to 300 pubs and further again to £253,808 in areas with 301 to 450 pubs – a drop of -4%… The research shows in local authorities with 451 or more pubs, the average house price fell by a further -6% to £238,163, an -18% gap between those local authorities with the most and least pubs.

Unfortunately, we can well imagine this is true. Look at most suburban streets after about 8pm – they tend to be silent. Dormant.

In this context, even quiet, well-behaved pubs might seem disruptive.

We forced ourselves to have a really honest conversation about this between ourselves. Would we want to live next door to a pub?

We concluded that we wouldn’t be too bothered. We don’t have kids, don’t tend to go to bed before 11pm and, well, love pubs of all shapes and sizes.

Even so, we can understand why some people might not fancy it. You only have to look at some neighbourhood pubs to see the ghostly traces of low-level conflict:

  • Don’t stand here on your mobile phone.
  • Don’t smoke here.
  • Don’t sit on this wall.
  • Please leave quietly and respect our neighbours.

It’s no wonder, then, that when asked by a developer if they’d object to the pub next door being turned into flats, those disrespected neighbours might say, quietly, “Go for it, mate – knock yourself out.”

In the context of the battle for The Rhubarb, we’ve been thinking about why industrial estate taprooms might be thriving when pubs aren’t – and maybe it’s this.

Perhaps the neighbourhood corner pub is doomed, not because people don’t want to drink or go out, but because they don’t want to do it where they live.

As we put it in a Patreon post on Saturday, people want licenced premises, but “Not here, where we live, but over there, beyond the railway line, behind the jam factory, out of sight and out of mind.”

It makes sense, really. People are already used to going to retail parks and high streets to buy everything else. Why shouldn’t boozing zone itself, too?

Rezoning happens from time to time, remember. In the interwar years, pubs moved from city centre slums to suburbs and outer-rim estates. Now, that process might be reversing.

As far as we’re concerned, this is bloody miserable. Backstreet pubs on quiet residential streets are often the best of the lot.

And, yes, if you move next to a pub that’s been there for 200 years, it’s mad if you then moan about it.

Still, there’s some morning coffee to be smelled here. You can’t save pubs if you’re not realistic about how they’re viewed by people who don’t necessarily love them.

Once again, we find ourselves looking at micropubs as another pragmatic solution. They often close early – at nine or nine-thirty – and they’re usually too small to draw noisy crowds.


News, nuggets and longreads 26 June 2021: Rhubarb and rainbows

Once again, here we are, rounding up all the most interesting news and commentary on pubs and beer from the past week, including thoughts on Pride, more on ancient Sumeria and a giant tankard.

First, a little update on The Rhubarb, our nearest pub, which is in danger of being turned into flats: there is now an organised campaign, centred around Facebook and the story has been covered by the Bristol Post and Bristol 24/7. Now, we promise not to go on about this too much – if you don’t live in Bristol, or Barton Hill in particular, why should you care especially? But it’s interesting to us to see a local campaign from the inside, having previously studied and written about them without that personal connection.

SOURCE: Brussels Beer City.

From Eoghan Walsh at Brussels Beer City comes an in-depth study of the brewery architecture of the Belgian capital (#secondmentions). It has lots of photos and a map, should you find yourself wanting something to do between drinks next time you’re there. Here’s what prompted him to write it:

In 1989 Belgian geographer Martine Louckx published Itinéraire de la Bière: 55km à travers Bruxelles et le Brabant flamand occidental. The book was a 55km tour through the ailing brewing landscape of Brussels and Flemish Brabant, stopping along the way at working breweries and the remains of breweries that had closed down. Louckx’s tour reveals the parlous state of an industry gutted by de-industrialisation and consolidation… The surviving buildings were enough material for her to be able to identify three broad types of Brussels brewery architecture: the rural brewery; the urban brewery; and the usine-îlot or “factory island” brewery. 


Dr Christina Wade continues her exploration of those Sumerian cuneiform tablets with a piece on the legal aspects of beer c.4000 years ago:

If an alewife
For the price of beer
Barley has not accepted,
but by the large stone
silver has accepted,
and the market price of beer
to the market price of barley has reduced,
against that alewife
they shall prove, and
into the water they shall cast her.


SOURCE: Miller/Flickr.

For Pellicle, Lily Waite explains what Pride means in the context of beer and why ‘rainbow washing’ AKA ‘pinkwashing’ is a problem:

American brewing giant Miller has a long history of gay marketing, starting in the 1970s with the sponsorship of the leather and BDSM oriented Folsom Street Fair. Budweiser and Coors have both marketed towards US queer communities since the ‘90s—though there’s little evidence of any UK equivalents… While, as the saying goes, “Pride is a protest, not a party,” rainbow capitalism is almost as old as Pride itself. Brands, including breweries such as Miller, Budweiser, and Coors, have been sponsoring pride for decades. Though this has increased in recent years, prompting criticism from much of the queer community. 


Here’s a headline for you: ELY PUB’S ‘QUIRKY’ TANKARD INVESTIGATED BY COUNCIL. Personally, we’re all for giant quirky tankards. More of this sort of thing!


Ed Wray provides a brief correction to the often-made claim that you can make beer by chucking grains in water and walking away:

It has occurred to me that if some sort of primitive beer is this easy to make then why don’t we see it naturally forming on a regular basis? If ancients could make beer by simply getting wild grains they’d picked wet then surely now grains are farmed on an industrial scale shouldn’t it be happening all the time? When barley fields are flattened after heavy storms shouldn’t there be reports of beer puddles forming? Or if a grain silo or lorry has a leaky roof shouldn’t spontaneous outbreaks of brewing happen? Come to think of it, if it was that bleedin’ easy, why don’t teenagers desperate to get hold of some alcohol mix wholemeal flour and water a few days before parties?

Finally, from Twitter…

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


Are cult beers a thing?

I’ve been reading Danny Peary’s Cult Movies, published in 1981 when the idea of a cult film was quite new and, inevitably, it’s started me thinking about what might qualify as a ‘cult beer’.

Here’s how Mr Peary defines a cult movie in the introduction to the book:

Of the tens of thousands of movies that have been made, only an extremely small number have elicited a fiery passion in moviegoers that exists long after their initial releases… Cultists don’t merely enjoy their favorite films; they worship them, seek them out wherever they are playing, catch them in theaters even when they have just played on television, see them repeatedly, and are intent on persuading anyone who will listen that they should be appreciated regardless of what the newspaper or television reviewers thought. Strike up a conversation about movies anywhere in the country and the titles found in this book soon will be flying back and forth in frenetic debate. And as likely as not you’ll end up forcing someone to watch The Late Late Show to see a special favorite of yours or find yourself being dragged to some repertory theater to see a picture your well-meaning abductor has viewed ten, twenty, or a hundred times.

I certainly recognise something of the attitude of the beer geek in that description: “We just need to get a train and a bus, then it’s a short walk through an industrial estate, but trust me, it’ll be worth it…”

There’s also something appealing about the idea of a descriptor that sidesteps all those conversations about ‘craft’.

It’s not about whether a film is well made, says Mr Peary – “often the contrary” – or which studio made it (though many cult films are independent productions). What matters is that it has dedicated, even obsessive fans.

And perhaps also that it’s not readily available everywhere, all the time. You need to put in a little effort to enjoy it, especially if you want to see it on a big screen.

That’s why in Peary’s world, Citizen Kane can sit on the same list as Emanuelle alongside The Warriors a few pages on from Bedtime for Bonzo.

If cult beers exist, if that’s ‘a thing’, we might end up with similarly unlikely bedfellows.

Bass is probably a cult beer – a big name in its day but hard to find in its natural habitat, the pub.

Orval is, surely? Especially with all those instructions about storage and service. In fact, doesn’t Belgium rather specialise in cult beers all round?

Batham’s, too – the way people go on about it!

Schlenkerla Rauchbier, which people either love or hate, feels like a contender.

It would be easy for this to turn into a list of canonical beers, though. What’s not on the list? Anything you can easily find in a pub or bar in most towns, I suppose, which puts Guinness out of contention, even if it has T-shirt wearing fans.

What do you reckon might count as a cult beer? Something you’ve queued for, hunted down or gone well out of your way to drink.


Saving The Rhubarb just got real

On Friday, we got an email from Garvan, landlord of The Drapers Arms, letting us know that the owners of The Rhubarb have applied for permission to turn it into flats.

You might recall that we wrote anxiously about the future of The Rhubarb a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve corresponded with somebody who was trying to get some kind of community ownership project of the ground and had been in negotiation with the owners.

What we didn’t know was that, by that time, they’d already put in their application for change of use.

We’re gutted about this, frankly. Not only is The Rhubarb the closest pub to our house, it’s also the only pub left in the neighbourhood. (The Swan is already lost.) If The Rhubarb goes, there’s going to be an enormous gap in the map.

At present, you can walk the length of Avonvale road, the spine of Barton Hill, without passing a single pub. (Although there are two social clubs.) Lawrence Hill, the next bit over, has one pub, The Packhorse; St Anne’s, in the other direction, has The Langton Court; and The Barley Mow is in St Phillips. There are also a few pubs along Church Road in St George’s.

Things change, pubs close, but a residential area as populous as Barton Hill without a single pub? Something has broken.

The Rhubarb isn’t only the last pub – it’s one of the few buildings in Barton Hill with any history at all. Most of the factories and terraces that once defined the area are long gone; The Rhubarb, strange, compromised thing that it is, is a link to the past.

Thanks to Michael (@BringOnTheBeer) we also know that it has significance in the history of Britain’s railways, too: the bit of track that runs over a bridge next to the pub is known as ‘Rhubarb Loop’.

Now isn’t the time to decide

The planning application is built around the suggestion that the pub is fundamentally not viable.

First, it seems to us that a pandemic is not the right time to judge this. We’ve had messages from a couple of experienced operators who were interested but the timing wasn’t right for them, which must be common across the entire industry right now.

There needs to be a delay so this decision, if it must be taken, can be done so calmly, with due process.

We do acknowledge, though, that there is a correlation between social deprivation and pub closures – and Lawrence Hill is deprived. So, yes, it might be a challenge to make money from a pub like The Rhubarb while also serving the community, rather than simply existing in it.

But we think it could be done with the right team and investment.

There are certainly a lot of unserved chimney pots nearby.

What is to be done?

You can object to the planning application here, as several people have already done.

We’re not experts on this kind of thing at all but, as we understand it:

  • Your objection is more likely to carry weight if you live in Bristol, of course, and doubly so if you live in or have a connection to Barton Hill or Lawrence Hill.
  • It’s best to make your objection specific and personal rather than copy and paste a general complaint that can be easily dismissed as part of a campaign.
  • State specifically what you want to happen instead.

When we file our objection, it will be on the grounds that:

  • It’s an important pub, both in terms of community function and history.
  • It’s not appropriate to judge viability during a pandemic – the decision should be delayed.
  • Though the developers claim a community consultation has occurred, we’ve seen and heard no sign of it.
  • We believe the pub could be viable given the lack of local competition and high population density.
  • A community ownership model might allow it to operate profitably.

There is also a campaign page on Facebook set up by Annie McGann of the organisation Save Bristol Nightlife. You can join the group for updates and information on how to get involved.