Pub Life: Shaving the Zebra

A zebra.

Two barmen in matching polo shirts, one small, one tall, stand behind the bar with arms folded engaged in debate with a regular sat at the bar.

The tall barman leads: “No, you’re not getting what I’m saying: I’m asking, does a staircase go up or come down? Which way does it go?”

“Up,” says the baffled regular. “If it didn’t go up, you wouldn’t need it to come down. That it comes down is a side effect of it having gone up in the first place.”

“No, it’s both. It goes up and comes down. It doesn’t matter that it was built specifically to go up. Once you’ve got an up, the staircase has to go down as well. So it goes both ways.”

The small barman frowns, laughs quietly, and shakes his head.

“What are you on about? What are you actually on about?”

“Alright, scratch that, here’s another one: is a zebra black with white stripes, or white with black stripes? Eh? Think about it.”

The regular says, confidently: “White with black stripes.”

“Yeah, but how do you know for sure?”

“Shave it.”

The small barman claps in delight.

“He’s got you there, mate!”

“Alright, what about this one: we’re all agreed stairs go up and down–”

Regular: “No, but carry on.”

“– but what about escalators? Does an escalator go up, or come down?”

“You’ve hoisted yourself by your own petard here,” says the regular. “It depends which way it’s going, doesn’t it? I mean, you literally get one to go up, and another to come down.”

“Ah, see, no, you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why: because it has to come down on the underside or it can’t go up. It’s a loop. So escalators always go up and down, just like staircases. Makes you think, doesn’t it?”

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 2 June 2018: Flanders, Erith, Easterly Road

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from D&D to WWI.

First, a great story by Liam Barnes that just missed the cut off for last week’s round-up, about the part pubs and bars are playing in the resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons:

On first glance this branch of BrewDog in Nottingham might seem like your typical hipster hangout, but one thing gives it a slightly different air: numerous hand-drawn maps, some character sheets, and voluminous bags of 20-sided dice…. It’s the bar’s monthly tabletop gaming night – and regulars love it…. “I think the escapism is the best bit,” says 27-year-old gamer Hannah Yeates. “For a few hours you can become a completely different person living a completely different life, making decisions you’d never make and forgetting what’s happening in the real world…. It’s liberating.”


German troops sharing beer during World War I.

For All About Beer Christopher Barnes has written a long, detailed, heavily illustrated account of how World War I affected French and Belgian breweries:

The monks of Westmalle and Achel were forced to flee to The Netherlands. The Belgians, in their defense of Antwerp, destroyed a tower at Westmalle to prevent it being used as an observation post by the approaching Germans. Achel was occupied by the Belgians and shelled by the Germans until they were able to solidify their hold on Belgium. To keep citizens from going back and forth over the border with The Netherlands, the Germans erected an electrified fence along the border. Since Achel straddles the border of The Netherlands and Belgium, the fence bisected the abbey’s lands. When the call went out from the German War Department, the monks of Achel were able to sadly watch as their brewery was dismantled. No beer was brewed at Achel until 2001.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads for 2 June 2018: Flanders, Erith, Easterly Road”

Session #136: Farmhouse Brewing — Cheap, Fast, Fresh

This month’s host is Dave S of Brewing in a Bedsitter and he has asked us to tackle, in any way we like, the subject of farmhouse brewing.

We’ll begin this bit of pondering with an extract from an article in the Brewing Trade Review for June 1955 reporting on the collection of the Museum of English Rural Life of ‘absolute unit’ social media fame.

In the home brewing section a particularly interesting exhibit is the equipment from a Suffolk farmhouse where this once domestic art was practised as recently as 1934. Included is a mash tub, vat, stillions and a heavy old copper, the removal of which almost necessitated dismantling that part of the building in which it was houses. Other items allied to home brewing include examples of malt scoops from Suffolk and Berkshire, a Suffolk mash stirrer, a Berkshire horn mug and kegs of various size from Somerset, Essex and Worcestershire once used by farm labourers to carry their beer and cider into the fields, particularly at harvest time.

Insofar as we’ve given British farmhouse beer — or let’s say rural beer — a great deal of thought there’s a point hinted at here that rings true for us: we reckon it ought to be quickly, cheaply, easily made, and probably drunk very fresh, if not, indeed, while still fermenting.

That is, like ‘Cornish swanky’ which we wrote about for Beer Advocate a couple of years ago:

One particular set of instructions is repeated in various corners of the internet, usually verbatim, without any original source. The earliest version, posted on RootsWeb by someone called Jan Gluyas in May 1997, calls for boiling four pounds of brown sugar in five gallons of water for 45 minutes with hops, ground ginger, raisins and salt. It is to be fermented for around two days and then bottled with a single raisin in each bottle for priming.

Or, if you prefer pictures to words, along the lines of this ginger beer recipe from a strangely compelling YouTube channel which is part exploration of 18th century American cooking techniques, part advertising for a firm that sells historic kitchen equipment:

The Brewing Trade Review article gives details of the slightly larger scale, more elaborate communal brewing method of one Suffolk village via the testimony of an 81-year-old woman interviewed in 1950. Even that, though, was fermented for a maximum of a week before being drunk, although…

those who liked “young beer”, it seems — or who perhaps found seven days too long a wait to quench their impatient thirsts — often tapped the casks before the lapse of this period.

But it’s hard to imagine anyone making this kind of beer commercially viable in 2018 so these days farmhouse, as a label, must mean something else. Lars Marius Garshol may have it when he suggests that most commercial beers commonly labelled as ‘farmhouse’ are actually “farmhouse ales that have been imported into the world of commercial brewing, undergoing some changes on the way”.

Everything We Wrote in May 2018: Pints, Drinks, Staropramen

"What a Lot of Words!"

It was a busy month for us — almost too busy, really, because we set ourselves rather too much of a challenge with #BeeryLongreads2018. Still, the results were probably worth it.

We began the month with one of our ‘Pub Life’ pieces based on observing an odd character one Sunday afternoon. We didn’t intend any criticism — the pub seemed to tolerate him well enough and it’s their business, really — but some of the comments suggest that freeloaders are a real problem in some pubs.


In the wake of a piece we wrote for CAMRA’s BEER magazine we asked people to tell us about their local beer mixes and beer mixing traditions. You’ll see there were plenty of comments and we gather CAMRA has also been receiving correspondence on the issue.

Continue reading “Everything We Wrote in May 2018: Pints, Drinks, Staropramen”

Don’t Worry, Be (Mostly) Happy

This post was written for #BeeryLongreads2018 and made possible by the support of our Patreon subscribers. Do consider signing up if you enjoy this blog, or perhaps just buy us a one-off pint.

For the last year or so we’ve been slowly chewing over a single big question: how healthy is British beer culture?

You might remember, if you’re a long-time reader, that we first wrote about the idea of healthy beer culture in 2013, but that was a set of bullet points. This post expands on those ideas with another five years’-worth of evidence, experience and thinking.

We should confess that our starting point is one of mild frustration at the pervasive idea that British beer – and beer culture more generally – is ailing. We see various worries expressed on social media, and in blog posts and articles, each one discrete and personal, but adding up to a mass of anxiety. If you’re in this bubble it can feel like the end times.

To provide fuel for this specific blog post we asked our Twitter followers to tell us what, if anything, made them worried for the future of British beer. Some statements echoed things we’ve seen said many times before, while others flagged issues we had not considered. Quite a few effectively cancelled each other out, highlighting the absurdity of thinking about British beer as a monolith. There is no single idea of what healthy looks like, and no victory that won’t feel like a defeat to somebody else.

In this post we want to focus on some of the most commonly expressed fears, question whether they have a basis in reality, and consider the the likely impact of those that do.

Let’s begin with a staple of beer commentary for the past 25 years or so: the  perils of the pursuit of novelty.

Continue reading “Don’t Worry, Be (Mostly) Happy”