Beer history pubs

Afraid to go to the pub, 1974

Some pubs in the city centre had to restrict services when bar staff were too frightened to report for duty. Bars and lounges normally packed on Friday night were almost deserted. Doors were guarded and people were searched before they went in.

Mr John Hill, manager of The Parisian – an underground bar in Cannon Street, was only able to open one bar because of lack of staff. “Their mothers or their husbands have asked them not to come and they haven’t,” he said.

His normally crowded bar was almost deserted.

Wendy Hughes, Birmingham Daily Post, 23 November 1974

In times of crisis there’s a certain comfort in looking back on previous crunchpoints and realising that we got through them.

In the mid-1970s, the IRA launched a bombing campaign in England which targeted city centres in particular. In November 1974 they planted bombs in two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 people.

There’s been plenty written about the awful immediate effects of the bombing and of the miscarriage of justice that ensued but we want to focus on something else: the fact that these attacks made people afraid to go into town and to go to the pub.

If, as some argue, the point of terrorism is to spread fear and disrupt the economy, the Birmingham bombings were apparently effective.

In the run up to Christmas 1974, England’s second city was unusually, worryingly quiet, as reported in the first instance two days after the bombings, in the article from which the quote that opens this post is taken.

On 26 November, almost a week after the bombings, the same paper had the headline ‘Stores hit as fear keeps away shoppers’:

People were still staying clear of Birmingham city centre yesterday and business was ‘very quiet’ for the third trading day since Thursday’s bombs… Many managers thought trade would pick up by the weekend if the city centre remained quiet… Mr S.N. Hancock, general manager of Rackhams, said: “Trade is much slower than it should be. We are down by about 25 per cent. Perhaps it will pick up by the weekend, provided nothing else happens.”

A quiet Christmas can be hard for a hospitality business to recover from, can’t it?

Ongoing anxiety in the wake of the bombings also prompted other risky behaviour: in December 1974, English fire brigades were forced to issue warnings to publicans against resorting to the locking of rear fire exits as a supposed security measure. (Belfast Telegraph, 30 December 1974.)

It’s worth putting some of this in a broader context.

Throughout 1973, Coventry, another Midlands city, had been in a state of permanent anxiety as a series of bomb hoaxes caused panic, eventually culminating in James McDade’s failed and suicidally fatal attack on the telephone exchange in November that year.

In Birmingham itself, a bomb disposal officer was killed in Edgbaston in September 1973 and there were also constant bomb hoaxes keeping people on edge.

Pubs in particular were targeted at Guildford in September 1974 – another tragedy, another miscarriage of justice – and earlier in November 1974, in London, a bomb thrown into a “pub frequented mainly by soldiers” (name obscured for security reasons, presumably) killed two, including the barman.

We’ve only found one instance so far of a pub operator citing the IRA bombing campaign as the reason for the failure of their business, from the Coventry Evening Telegraph for 3 January 1976:

Coventry’s German-style Bier Keller is to close next week – in the backlash of the terrorist bombings of more than a year ago…. Trade was booming in the Hertford Street underground club until November 1974… “It seems as if the public have been scared off going in places like this,” said Mr David Jones, a director of EMI Cinemas and Leisure, who own the Bier Keller. “This was one of our more profitable establishments until the bomb explosion. Trade did pick up for a short time at one stage for it fell off again.”

It would be interesting to look into local archives documents – licensed victuallers’ meetings, council minutes – to find out if it was generally felt that the bombing campaign had reduced trade in pubs in Midlands cities in the later 1970s.

pubs quotes

Michael Innes depicts temperance tensions in Scotland

John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, 1906-1994, was a respected Scottish novelist and academic who also wrote crime novels under the name Michael Innes, featuring Inspector Appleby of Scotland Yard.

Lament for a Maker from 1938 is a fascinating piece set in the Scottish Highlands. It has a beautiful, snowbound Gothic setting and, of course, a depiction of a pub.

Actually, you could pull the passages about the pub and stitch them together into an effective short story.

The angle is the tension between Roberts, landlord at the Arms, Kinkeig’s one hotel, and Mrs Roberts, who serves behind the bar: she is a sly temperance campaigner, always trying to convince customers to forego whisky and beer for tea or ginger beer.

Here’s the best bit, cleverly woven through and enlivening an expository passage in which the locals discuss the eccentric Laird of Kinkeig:

Once in a while, you must know, I take a look over to the private bar – most of the better-thought-of folk of the parish think it a decent enough space for a bit crack of an evening. Will Saunders was there, and Rob Yule, and whiles in came the stationy… And behind the bar was Mistress Roberts, banging the pots about to show she was real unfriendly to the liquor and had never thought to come to the serving of it; a sore trial she was to Roberts but not undeserved, folk said, for all the time of their courting had she not been slipping him wee tracts about the poisonous action of alcohol on the blood-stream, and might a publican not have taken warning from that? Mistress Roberts said never a word until in came wee Carfrae, the greengrocer. Carfrae never touches, only he comes into the private for a gossip and Mistress Roberts keeps him a special ginger beer; at one time she put a row of the stuff behind the bar with a notice: Sparkling, Refreshing and Non-Injurious, but at that Roberts put his foot down, everything had its place, he said, and the place for a notice like that was in the sweetie-shops. As I say, wee Carfrae came in for this dreich drink of his, and it was him restarted the speak about Guthrie… Mistress Roberts made a shocked-like click with her tongue and poured herself out a cup of tea: she ever has a great tea pot at her elbow in the private and anyone comes in she I like enough over a cup to, gratis; it makes Roberts fair wild.


Rob walked over to [carfrae] and took the glass of ginger beer from his hand and emptied it, careful-like, in Mistress Roberts’ nearest aspidistra. ‘Carfrae, he said, ‘the Non-Injurious is wasted on you, man. It’s over late for such precautions: you’re nought but a poison-pup already.’

It wasn’t you could call an ugly situation, for the greengrocer was far from the sort would put up a fight against Rob Yule, there was just no dander to rouse in him. But it was fell uncomfortable; Carfrae was looking between yellow and green, like one of his own stale cabbages, the stationy was havering something about its being technically an assault, and Mistress Roberts had taken up her teaspoon and was stirring furious at the teapot – which was what she ever does when sore affronted. And then Will Saunders, who had been holding his whisht the same as myself, thought to cut in with a bit diversion. ‘Faith,’ cried Will, and look at the aspidistra!”

I don’t believe the plant had really suffered any harm from the Non-Injurious, but the way Will spoke and his pointing to the poor unhealthy thing in its pot fair gave the impression it had wilted that moment. I mind I gave a laugh overhearty to the decent maybe in a man of my years and an elder of the kirk forbye, Rob gave a great laugh too and then we saw that this time Mistress Roberts was real black affronted, she rattled her teapot like mad, herself making a noise like a bubblyjock with the gripes. After all, the Non-Injurious was some sort of sym bol to the wife of her struggle against Roberts and the massed power of darkness that was the liquor trade she’d married into.

Note the aspidistra – a fixed feature in early to mid-20th century pubs, hence the inclusion on the playlist we put together for our last book of Gracie Fields singing ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World’.

I get the impression Innes was fond of pubs and beer – the couple of other Appleby books I’ve read also feature little moments like this, which you don’t tend to get in Agatha Christie.


News, nuggets and longreads 22 August 2020: Flights, Harp, Braumeisters

Here’s all the most attention-grabbing writing about beer and pubs from the past week, including interesting new hops and youthful memories.

First, news of more idiosyncratic behaviour from Yorkshire brewery Samuel Smith whose boss, Humphrey Smith, has declared that its pubs will not be bothering with track-and-trace. The brewery told The Times:

The reasoning behind [not having track and trace] is it’s against GDPR data protection to ask people’s names and addresses and most people would give false names and addresses. Sam Smith’s customers are locals and most managers know the customers and word would get around if Covid was in a pub.

(With thanks for Emma Stump for bringing this to our attention.)

Tasting flight at the Driftwood Spars beer festival.

At Craft Beer Amethyst Ruvani, a Brit based in Austin, Texas, explores how her beer drinking habits have been affected by the pandemic:

The closure of brewery taprooms, along with everything else, during lockdown brought a swift end to my consumption of beer flights. No more cute mini-pours. No more free samples in the store either. The option to try before buying suddenly vanished from my life and I found myself somewhat bewildered as to how exactly I had gotten so dependent on the culture of small pours… With purchasing choices suddenly, brutally limited, my drinking habits were thrown into sharp relief and I was forced to ask myself, for what felt like the first time in a very long time, what it was that I actually wanted.

Harp lager beer mat (detail)

We enjoyed Liam’s account of buying his first pint of beer – Harp Lager no less – in a provincial town in Ireland in 1984:

I stared at it for a minute watching the bubbles rise in quick succession from the base of the glass and breaking on the surface. This was my first proper drink in a bar, my first proper beer too, and I had somehow expected it to be a more momentous occasion. I picked up the glass and put it to my lips and had my first taste of beer… The music abruptly stopped with a mistimed twang of guitar strings. Everyone in the whole bar turned to look at me silently… before erupting into applause. I raised my glass and toasted my adoring fans.

Hops against green.

Stan Hieronymus offers some insider chat on developments in US hop breeding which is of interest as much for what it tells us about general trends as for the specifics:

The most anticipated new name this year is whatever HBC is calling HBC 692… HBC 692 is a daughter of Sabro and depending on who is describing the aroma and flavor is packed with “grapefruit, floral, stone fruit, potpourri, woody, coconut, and pine.” She is a high impact hop, bound for plenty of hazy IPAs… There are many other IPA-friendly varieties brewers are just learning or will soon learn the names of, but not all of them will produce beers that “smells like your cat ate your weed and then pissed in the Christmas tree.”

Braumeister Pils beer mat.

What does the term ‘Braumeister’ mean in the 21st century? That’s the question Ben Palmer, a British brewer working in Berlin, asks in his most recent post at Hops & Schwein:

In Germany, the Braumeister title is clearly defined. It is characterised solely by professional training and education… In the rest of the world, the definition of the brew master/master brewer is less stringent. Other institutions offering brew master level qualifications include the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Siebel Academy and UC Davis, just to name a few. And then obviously, there is the unique category of self-proclaimed brew masters without professional qualifications or training but with decades practical brewing experience, and sometimes those without the latter.

And from Twitter, there’s another nugget from photographer Colin Moody’s Bristol pubs project:

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

london pubs

Exploring craft beer in the age of track and trace

Is it fair to judge a bar or pub under current circumstances? Until recently, we’d have said a firm no but after a week in London we find ourselves thinking that if they can handle this, they can handle anything.

We were staying at Westfield in Stratford, East London, on the edge of the site of the 2012 Olympic Games, primarily for family and work reasons, but also because it’s a part of the city we find fascinating.

When Jess was growing up, and when Ray moved to London in 2000, there wasn’t much here at all – railways lines, flyovers, canals, marshes, overgrown woodland, relics of industry. You could spend hours trying to get from A to B in the absence of bridges or footpaths.

Then the Olympics came and it was transformed into a sort of Teletubbyland European Exposcape, followed by a phase of residential building designed to create several new ‘quarters’. The so-called East Village, the one that’s progressed the furthest, was right on our doorstep and is where we ended up spending a lot of time.


News, nuggets and longreads 15 August 2020: wine, IPA, Olga’s beer

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from disputes over duty to the language of beer.

First, news of the ongoing debate over changes to small brewers’ relief (SBR), which has now gathered petitions and, of course, put CAMRA in a pickle as it tries to find the correct position. This week, it issued a memo asking branches not to get involved in lobbying on SBR; it then had to issue a clarification (apology) making clear that individual members were, of course, free to sign petitions and lobby as they liked as long as they didn’t imply it was the Campaign’s official position.

Distancing tape.

For Tribune magazine philosopher and writer Tom Whyman has been reflecting on the future of the pub as a public space:

With a dedicated core of regulars, some sort of membership club which offered things like discount pints, exclusive beers, and preferential booking – or perhaps curated beer deliveries, with the staff knowing what everyone likes to drink – would provide the pub with the sort of secure, base-level monthly income which might underpin its long-term viability. Something closer to a private member’s club would also be preferred by people still wary of how responsible other drinkers are being in relation to the pandemic – it would be good to know you were drinking somewhere with people you could trust.

Convenience store and off licence.

It’s a classic format: beer geek tries extra strong cornershop lagers for thrills. But Tom Pears’ piece for Ferment, the magazine of beer retailer Beer 52, is an excellent example, with the added depth lockdown and plague bring to everything:

Finally, it was down to Karpackie. The beer that had haunted the back of my fridge and my dreams for weeks, demonic in its all-black can. The only attention that it pays to any form of branding is the ‘strong’ written in blood red on the front, which serves as both a warning and a tasting note. Foolishly, I’ve read online reviews, even watched a YouTube video, neither did much to temper my nerves. At 9%, it’s only 1% higher in abv that Super Tennant’s, yet it’s infinitely bleaker. A liquid headache, it impressively manages to smell and taste like glue, nail polish remover and petrol all at the same time.


Source: Lars Marius Garshol/Olga’s family.

Lars Marius Garshol has given us another detailed look at brewing on a specific remote Scandinavian farm, this time in Denmark, where people have an “easy, relaxed relationship… with beer as almost an item of everyday diet”:

Lotte said Olga’s last brew was in 1984, when she moved to a care home. The beer was actually served at a kind of celebration for her moving in at the care home. She died in 1988. Lotte took up the brewing again in 2005. She had brewed with Olga, so she knew what to do, but to be absolutely sure she had an older local woman with her “as a consultant.” That old woman had brewed until 2000, so she was probably the last person to brew on Møn before Lotte took up the brewing again.

Wine glasses.

For Burum Collective Rachel Hendry has written about “compound drinking” – that is, what you can learn about wine from drinking beer, and so on:

Whilst tasting wine came with pressures of a looming examination, with beer it was different. With no systematic approach, or a printed list of suitable aromas, I tasted openly, free of a need to point score or impress… Beers tasted of sharp, acidic tomato ketchup and hot dogs quietly smoking on a barbecue. Of leftover peach melba pie eaten for breakfast and the prickly spice of ginger as it wafts through the kitchen. I found I could talk about them with honesty, feeling less like an imposter with a borrowed vocabulary and more like someone who could confidently access their senses… Over time, comparisons and contrasts were made between wine and beer and I began to feel more certain about how my mouth responded to tasting, where tannins grazed my gums and the ways acid streaked down the sides of my mouth.

This week Good Beer Hunting shared three in-depth pieces unpacking exactly why brewing remains effectively closed to black people. The first piece by Mike Jordan digs into structural issues around funding – for various reasons, it is more difficult for black-owned breweries to get loans, grants and to access government support.

The second, by Toni Boyce, argues that a certain smugness and complacency around the idea of the ‘craft beer community’ has held back the discussion and prevented necessary change.

Finally, Dr. J Nikol Jackson-Beckham makes the business case for solving this problem: “The Kellogg report notes that in a little over 25 years, people of color will represent half the total population, and more than half of the working-age population, of the United States.”

Finally, from Matt Curtis for the blog of marketing agency Mash, comes a guide designed to help brewers label their IPAs in ways that will avoid irritating or disappointing consumers:

I can’t state this clearly enough: In a global market of over 20,000 breweries, you need to label your beer in a way that accurately describes to your customers what it’s going to taste like. If you’re going to sell an expensive ticket, the ride should be as advertised.

For more good reading – though not so much this week – check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.