The Swan With Two Necks and the gentrification issue

“I’ve been called a cultural terrorist,” said Jamie Ashley, the new landlord of The Swan With Two Necks, seeming offended, amused and confused in equal measure.

In the past few months, he’s found himself at the centre of one of Bristol’s many small dramas of gentrification, as either a pioneer or an intruder depending on your point of view.

Until recently, The Swan With Two Necks was a rare thing – a working class backstreet pub on the edge of Bristol city centre.

St Jude’s will feel familiar to anybody who has ever visited Digbeth in Birmingham or Ancoats in Manchester – a timewarp of red brick industrial buildings, workshops, warehouses and yards, with social housing filling the gaps.

In recent decades, Bristol has lost much of this landscape as the city centre has expanded and developers have moved in. But this pocket, these few streets, feel like a precious if unpretty relic.

Swan With Two Necks interior.

This particular pub also had another distinction, however: permanent Draught Bass, served almost flat from a cask on the back bar, per Bristol tradition.

Then in August this year the landlady left, and the pub closed. Loyal locals were worried – would it be reopening under new management? Yes, they were reassured, it would, and they would still have somewhere to drink.

Meanwhile, those on the Bristol beer scene began to chatter about an exciting rumour: the landlord-manager of The Hillgrove Porter Stores, the aforementioned Jamie Ashley, was taking on The Swan With Two Necks and intended to bring it in to the 21st century with a range of local craft beer.

For many non-local, non-regulars, this felt like good news – a pub saved from closure and yet another addition to the city’s impressive collection of beer-focused venues.

It seemed like good news to local brewers, too, as Kelly Sidgwick of Good Chemistry (who also happens to drink in our local, The Drapers Arms) told us in an email:

We were really excited to hear that Jamie was taking on The Swan With Two Necks. It’s always great when pubs move to buying more of their beer locally – supporting local businesses who are employing people locally and putting money back into the local economy. Jamie’s a well-known local landlord who’s been running a Bristol institution of a pub for a decade, so we’re especially pleased to see him taking on his own place. We really hope the locals of the pub remain its locals and like the beer, because Jamie is buying really good, locally-brewed beer.

When we visited the pub shortly after its reopening, it was clear that all was not quite well, thanks to an A-board on the pavement outside with a message that felt like a falsely cheerful defensive reply to criticism received. It began “Hello lovely humans”, listed the pub’s many great qualities, made a point about the price/quality/value, and concluded “Why not pop in and see if this is true, or am I simply a…. windbag/filthy liar? You decide.”

Inside, we found the pub much the same, only a little tidier and cleaner. It still felt well-worn, cosy and brown, and the corners were still dark. What was most different was the bar: six hand-pumps, a row of keg taps and where the Bass used to be, a set of decks playing indie music from vinyl.

It wasn’t empty but wasn’t exactly busy either and the crowd was clearly both more middle class and a shade whiter than when we’d previously visited.

After our visit, we investigated further and found comments like the following from ‘Martyn-3114’ beneath an article at Bristol247 (lightly edited):

Been drinking in this pub for 20 plus years. Very sad what’s happened in the last week or so. A lot of regulars have lost their local, mainly because of the landlord’s new plans. Proper backstreet pub now becomes very overpriced – £4 cheapest bitter or £5.75 for lager. Good luck, you’ll need it.

(Lager actually costs £4.50 a pint.)

On Facebook, responding to news of a Wiper & True tap takeover, Robin Fynn wrote, more bluntly (again, edited):

Heard of the pub with no beer? It’s now the pub with shit beer. He’s fucked our pub. Me and twenty regulars banned ourselves. Get the Bass back – you might get some customers then.

(We tried to get hold of both for further comment, without success.)

Intrigued, we got in touch with Ashley to arrange an interview which Ray ended up conducting over a pint on a quiet Monday night.

He’s a youthful, blonde-haired 46-year-old who bears a distinct resemblance to Bernard Sumner from New Order. While he spoke, he made a half-pint of beer last an hour and broke off frequently to change the record spinning on the back bar, flipping the discs between fingertips with the telltale skill of a vinyl obsessive.

Having worked behind bars and running pubs for years, he has a natural charm which, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have washed with the old locals:

“Maybe I tried a bit hard, I don’t know…” he said while telling an anecdote about a run-in with a gruff drinker angry at the loss of Foster’s from the beer line-up, and those few words seem important.

It’s clear that he hoped the changes he has made would be accepted by at least some of the previous clientele, even as he was determined to stick to his fairly uncontroversial ambitions: to sell beer he liked, produced locally, at a commercially viable price.

“I asked the lady who was running it before I took over what I should keep on from the old product range,” he said. “She said, two things: Natch, and Bass.” He pulled a face. “Now, Natch was pretty high up the list of stuff I wanted to get rid of. And Bass… I’ve never been a huge fan but I thought of it was selling tons, sure, I’ll keep it. But it was two nines a week – about 140 pints.”

Though the way he describes it makes it sound a purely rational decision, it’s clear that some regular read it as something of a “Fuck you”. If you identify as a Bass Drinker, and were travelling miles by bus to get to it, that’s perhaps an understandable reaction.

The ditching of big-brand lagers was similarly controversial and Ashley’s attitude reveals the gulf between traditional attitudes and those of the modernisers. There is still lager on offer but it’s from Moor and Lost & Grounded. Though you might think these would appeal to Bristolian drinkers, there’s a weird loyalty to international brands brewed under licence, and these sometimes hazy, fruity, characterful beers bear little practical resemblance to Foster’s or Stella, despite the shared family tree.

Then there’s the question of price.

“A couple of people have accused me of charging London prices and I just think, have you actually been to London?” said Ashley with a laugh. “I’m just not charging 1960’s prices, that’s all. One old regular told me I needed ‘real drinkers’ in to make money but my view is that if I have a hard core of people drinking ten pints each a night, but I’m only making 10p on each pint, then that’s a lot of work for £10 profit. Whereas if I make 50p per pint, I can bring in £30 for the same effort. And that’s still not a lot of money.”

That sounds reasonable – of course it does – but if you’ve got a limited income, you might well interpret it as a passive-aggressive ‘Go away’. And if the previous management could sell lager at less than £3 a pint, why can’t the new lot? (Answer: the old lot couldn’t; the business wasn’t viable.)

Ashley says he’s faced anger and, at times, even aggression – fists banged on the counter, handshakes that turn into arm-wrestling matches. He’s stopped opening on Sunday lunchtimes because he felt vulnerable in the empty pub as one embittered ex after another popped in to growl at him, or deliver an angry lecture.

This story is part of a wider debate about gentrification in Bristol which, with faster trains and the arrival of TV production companies, can sometimes feel like a commuter satellite for London.

In 2018, posters appeared across the city with the slogan MAKE BRISTOL SHIT AGAIN – a protest against the bourgeois invasion of previously characterful, edgy neighbourhoods like St Paul’s.

Since our arrival in 2017 (yes, we know, we’re part of the problem) we’ve been paying particular attention to pubs and have noticed that those which close for good or get demolished tend to be in the areas least likely to gentrify. Lockleaze, the big council estate on a windswept hillside in north Bristol, no longer has any pubs after the closure of The Golden Bottle earlier this year.

But in neighbourhoods with attractive Victorian houses, within walking distance of the centre of the city, pubs seem to be transforming one after the other.

In St Pauls, The Star & Garter was closed and boarded up for a long time after the death of legendary landlord Dutty Ken. It reopened earlier this year with a hipsterish vibe and decor that feels like an homage to its past identity rather than a continuation of it. We liked it, and it’s surely better than conversion to flats, but it’s undeniably a symptom of gentrification.

In St Anne’s, The Langton Court Hotel has been reinvented as The Langton. Formerly a down-to-earth, barebones local where people played darts and drank lager and Natch, it has been smartened up and now has what we can only describe as a mildly aspirational menu – risotto and falafel burgers.

People we know who live nearby are delighted to have somewhere to go for a pint after years without and, as it happens, The Langton does still sells Natch and mainstream draught brands. Nonetheless, it feels like a fundamentally different place, with a fundamentally different crowd.

We asked our Twitter followers whether they thought gentrification of pubs was a problem.

The replies were interesting.

Tania said: “I guess may depend on each individual case; near me are 3 pubs I would never go in because they have a rep for unpleasant violent regulars (and landlord in one case) & don’t serve anything at all I would like to drink… So I tend to think of my area as ‘having no pubs at all’. If just one of those places became ‘gentrified’ it would create a new community hub where I could actually hang out and get to know people in my neighbourhood.”

“It’s a societal issue and pubs are often the ‘canary’ tell-tale sign that your rent’s about to go up” said Peter McKerry.

And Nathaniel Southwood made a point about brands that chimed with us: “I’d never say it’s a big problem but I think every pub should stock say a beer and spirit from a brand that’s recognisable to the general public as to not scare away less adventurous drinkers.”

In our view, the problem isn’t with individual reborn pubs, or the motives of those behind those rebirths – it’s to do with balance in a given town, city or neighbourhood.

A decade or so ago, Bristol had lots of earthy, ‘normal’ pubs. Pubs that felt welcoming to younger people and women, with craft beer and contemporary decor, were relatively rare. You had to know where to go and perhaps be prepared to make a journey.

Nowadays, they feel like the norm and it’s drinkers who prefer a more traditional, unpretentious atmosphere who have to schlep or catch the bus.

As it happens, though, there is another pub near The Swan With Two Necks – perhaps a three-minute walk – that remains stubbornly authentic and which also happens to sell Draught Bass.

The Crown Tavern has frosted windows behind which the curtains are usually drawn. There’s generally a smoker or two in the doorway and the clientele tends to the elderly. Inside, it’s sparse and run-down.

When the Bass is £1.50 a pint, half the punters are drinking lager from cans, and with talk of the neighbourhood becoming a ‘quarter’, how long can this last?

And it’s not just the culture that feels as if its days are numbered: the back room has a leaky roof and a floor covered in newspapers.

If you want to see it while you can, we’d suggest making part of a crawl: Elmer’s, The Crown, The Swan With Two Necks, the Volunteer and The Phoenix make a good run.

Not only are there pubs on that list that we suspect would welcome the custom but also you’ll get a snapshot of where Bristol’s pub culture is at in 2019.

This post, which took us several days to research and write up, was made feasible by the support of Patreon subscribers like Joe Gorecki and Chris Gooch. If you’d like more of this kind of thing, do consider signing up, or maybe just buy us a Ko-Fi.

News, nuggets and longreads 30 November 2019: football, wine, pub rules

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that caught our eyes in the past week, from lower division football to natural wine.

First, there’s Katie Mather on the connection between beer and lower-division football, for Ferment, the promotional magazine for beer subscription service Beer52:

Standing in the drizzle of an unseasonably chilly Saturday, the fans of Altrincham FC aren’t fazed. They’ve got their scarves and their pride, but they’ve also got the best bar in any league. Well, according to Paul Rooney who runs it, anyway. He’s a lifelong Manchester United fan, but ten years ago he stopped making the pilgrimage to Old Trafford and started watching the Robins at Moss Lane instead… “It just got too expensive,” he says, opening our conversation with complete honesty. “To be honest, it’s not a great experience there anymore. I’m in my mid-thirties and so I might not have been old enough to drink back then, but I remember when you could stand and watch the game and have a beer. The atmosphere in the higher leagues is vanilla now. I’m not prepared to pay for it.”


Wine glasses.

We tend to leave wine be – we just don’t know enough about it and don’t have time to learn – but this piece by Rachel Monroe on ‘natural wine’ for the New Yorker is crammed with parallels to, and sideways insight into, the world of beer:

In place of Parker’s muscular Bordeaux, the wines of the moment were often described as glou glou, French for “chuggable”: light reds frequently made via carbonic maceration, a fermentation technique that results in fresh, fruity wines. (It’s also quick; the wines are often ready to sell a few months after the grapes are harvested.) They sometimes tasted self-consciously unconventional. Millennials with appetites for difficult beverages—sour beers, bitter spirits, kombucha, apple-cider vinegar—appreciated wines that were cloudy and effervescent, with a noticeably fermented funk. Wine bars celebrated previously obscure styles and regions: pét-nat, skin-contact, Georgian, Slovenian.


Hops against green.

For Pellicle Hugh Thomas has written about the Faversham Hop Festival which takes place in August every year:

Faversham is just south of the coast, between Maidstone and Canterbury in East Kent, the near-about birthplace of the East Kent Golding—a hop prized around the world for its aromas of lavender, thyme, and honey. It doesn’t matter if you’re the oldest brewery in the world or the youngest, the respect for this 230-year-old hop variety is often unmatched… You needn’t double-check the programme to know what they’re celebrating at the festival—hops are everywhere. The town is drenched in them. If they’re not working as a bittering or aroma agent in people’s pints, then they’re draped over shop fronts, or crawling through fences.


Stools at the bar in a pub.

This one’s a few weeks old but we’ve only just come across it: Richard Molloy is a publican and has written about the rules of becoming a regular. It contains helpful advice like this:

Real acceptance into the inner sanctum of the regular pub crowd takes time and patience. Here’s a quick guide:

1. Find a pub where most people sit around the bar.
2. Pick a barstool on the edge of where you perceive the regulars sit.
3. Take a newspaper – you don’t want to seem like you need them to entertain you. Do not take a book. Repeat. Do not take a book. This scares people and will set you back hours in your mission.


An old postcard of the Four Horseshoes.
SOURCE: Reading Libraries/The Whitley Pump.

Here’s a blog post of a type for which we have a real soft spot: a detailed, footnoted history of a specific pub, namely The Four Horseshoes in Reading, AKA The Long Barn. Writing for The Whitley Pump Evelyn Williams explains its origins, its place in a famous local libel case, its rebuilding, reinvention and eventual demolition:

On the front page of the Tory supporting Berkshire Chronicle on 24 September 1825 was a letter from James Leach of the Four Horseshoes addressed to ‘Brother Landlords’. He described how the renewal of his licence for the public house had been refused by magistrates at the annual licensing sessions… Leach wrote that around midsummer he had been given notice to quit by Mr Stephens and when he attended the magistrates sessions he was surprised to be told that his licence would not be renewed but was not given any reason. In particular he focused on the treatment he received from one of the magistrates, John Berkeley Monck one of the Whig MPs for Reading.


And finally, there’s this, via @irr_orbit:

For more reading, checkout Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.

Obadiah Poundage: instructive, refreshingly accessible

American brewery Goose Island has collaborated with beer historian Ron Pattinson, veteran London brewer Derek Prentice and the Wimbledon Brewery to produce what it reckons is the most accurate recreation of a 19th century London porter yet.

We’ve known this beer was in the pipeline for a while, not least because Goose Island’s Mike Siegel emailed us back in February asking for help finding an illustration of porter vats to be used in the promo video.

As with the stock ale produced by the same team a few years back, we were excited to try it and kept a close eye on the news. When Mike emailed last week to say it was on sale via Beer Hawk, we snapped up three 500ml bottles at £8 each, plus postage.

A quick note: Goose Island is owned by AB-InBev; so is Beer Hawk. That, along with the price, might give some principled beer geeks reason to hold off. And, further disclosure: we’ve corresponded with Mike Siegel on and off for years, we know Ron Pattinson fairly well, and someone from Beer Hawk subscribes to our Patreon.

For our part, we don’t draw a hard line re: AB and would point to this as an example of where the resources big beer is able to bring to the table pays off for curious consumers. That’s a thought echoed by Ron Pattinson in an email responding to a question from us – why work with Goose Island?

A totally honest assessment is: because they pay me cash money and pay for a load of travel. Financially, it’s one of the few collaborations that make any sense for me. It’s also a case of them being able to afford what are very expensive projects with little chance of making much of a profit on the beer. I’m pretty sure they lost money on Brewery Yard. We’ve been collaborating for about five years and have only managed two beers so far. Most small breweries couldn’t justify the effort and time for pretty much no financial return… In many ways it’s a breath of fresh air working with a large brewery. They expect to have to pay for my services. Something smaller brewers often neglect… Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had very good experiences with some very small breweries. Pretty Things and Zebulon, for example. Others really take the piss.

In this case, those resources paid for authentic brown malt kilned over hornbeam wood by Valley Malt of Massachusetts, and the wherewithal to age for a year one of the two beers blended to create the final product.

After all that effort, it only seemed fair to drink it from the oldest beer glass in the cupboard, c.1930s, and to give it our full attention.

It had fairly high carbonation but certainly not any ‘fizz’ and gave off a musty, leathery stink immediately on opening. It was deep red rather than black.

First gulps, dominated by the funky aroma of Brettanomyces, revealed a lighter body than many modern porters, despite the 6.3% alcohol by volume, and a distinct dryness.

First reactions: Ray liked it, Jess didn’t.

“Tastes like Bretted water,” was her gut response.

Ray found more to enjoy, picking up on a sort of nutmeg spiciness and more tobacco and leather.

The key takeaway, if we accept the authenticity of this recreation, is that 19th century porter wasn’t as madly challenging as we might sometimes imagine. It was an everyday drink, not an ‘extreme beer’.

As long as you’re somewhat used to Brettanomyces, it’s a refreshing, lively, fairly easy-drinking beer – not sour, heavy or sickly.

If you’re interested in historic beer, you will want to try it if you can. Having said that, we reckon you could get about 90% of the way there by blending your favourite strong porter with Orval.

What we’d really like is for other brewers to taste this and think, oh, easy – I can do that. We’d be delighted to come across more dark beers with Brettanomyces, historically accurate or not, especially if they were presented without hoo-ha, by the pint, in normal pubs.

The BADRAG effect – a choice of milds

Do you know how nice it is to be able to go into your local two nights in a row and order a decent ordinary dark mild?

Bristol and District Rare Ales Group, or BADRAG, campaigns for wider availability of stout, porter, old ale and mild. This year, hacked off with the madness of May as CAMRA’s official month of mild, it decided to launch its own bonus mild event in November, when dark beer has much more appeal.

As that happened to coincide with a beer festival at The Drapers Arms, we were treated to something remarkable on Saturday: a choice of three milds.

Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild is a classic, of course, but at 6%, not one you can settle on. No, the beer that caught our eye (and Ray’s especially) was Future Proof, a 3.3% traditional dark mild from Bristol Beer Factory.

We’ve got a soft spot for this well-established Bristol brewery even though, as one of our fellow drinkers put it, “They’re having some sort of midlife crisis at the moment”, no longer being hip or new.

With that in mind, dark mild is an interesting choice. We’d like to think it suggests confidence – so we’re middle-aged, deal with it – but it might just be the BADRAG effect.

Tasting notes on mild, like tasting notes on ordinary lager, can be a struggle, like trying to write poetry about council grit bins. Good mild is enjoyable and functional but, by its nature, unassuming, muted and mellow.

Still, let’s have a go: dark sugars and prune juice, the body of bedtime cocoa, hints of Welsh-cake spice, and with just enough bite and dryness to make one pint follow naturally into the next.

It’s a really great example of this endangered style, in line with the best of the output from the old family breweries.

Is mild ‘back’? Is a great revival underway? Well, probably not – you win some, you lose some – but it feels like good news that we’ve been able to manage two sessions on mild in the past month without making a special effort.

News, nuggets and longreads 23 November 2019: New Belgium, Bovril, Bucharest,

Here’s our round-up of all the beer and pub writing that struck us as especially interesting, enlightening or amusing in the past week, from Romanian craft beer to meat stout.

First, a big news item from US craft beer: New Belgium, founded in 1991, has sold up to Japanese firm Lion Kirin. New Belgium is employee-owned and there will be payouts for owner-staff, and Kirin isn’t AB-InBev, so the reaction to this seemed to us, as outside observers, fairly mellow. For  commentary check out this piece by Bryan Roth at Good Beer Hunting.


Screengrab from the iamcraftbeer website
SOURCE: I Am Craft Beer

Remember a while back when Cholanda White received racist abuse from someone telling her she shouldn’t be involved with craft beer? The hashtag that sprang out of that, #IAmCraftBeer, has now become a website, archiving all the selfies and stories uploaded by people keen to show how broad a range of people enjoy beer. So many happy faces!


A crowd.
SOURCE: Rob Curran via Unsplash.

For ViceRob Eveleigh has written about the nuts and bolts of the business of British beer, specifically the murky business of crowdfunding, with reference to a notable recent scandal:

For a few months, it looked like Simon Young’s minuscule stake in Britain’s craft beer boom was building into a tidy little nest egg. The Suffolk-based copywriter spent years trickling investment – £1,500 – into south London brewery Hop Stuff, and his 0.3 percent share in its nascent success was worth a reported £60,000… Then, like a Friday lunchtime sesh degenerating in queasy slow motion to 4AM gutter oblivion, it all went wrong. The writing was quite literally on the wall – in the form of a forfeiture notice from Hop Stuff landlord for unpaid rent.


Bucharest buildings.
SOURCE: Craft Beer Amethyst.

Ruvani of Craft Beer Amethyst has been to Bucharest, Romania, and has tips on where to drink and where to avoid:

Caru cu Bere (the beer wagon) has a sterling reputation for local beer and cuisine, located in a beautiful Art Nouveau building in the old Lipscani area of the city. An inn has existed on that site for over 130 years, and the beer was originally transported in on wagons, so the story goes. Based on the recommendations we’d received, our expectations were high and we’d even remembered to book a table (!), so it was disappointing to find that the food was a little flavourless, the house beer was pretty average and the service was bordering on rude – the classic complacency traits of an established institution which doesn’t need to work for its business. The building is, indeed, rather beautiful, but that’s pretty much all I’d bother visiting for.


An assortment of beers in a box.

For, oddly, Gear PatrolBen Keene, who commissioned us to write for Beer Advocate a few times, has taken an interesting approach to the listicle, asking a group of American brewers which beers they think don’t get enough attention. Here’s an interesting tip, for example:

“While regular Birra Moretti is a relatively bland industrialized lager, the La Rossa is a wonderful German-style doppelbock made in Italy. Clear, malty, and bitter enough to balance the sweetness. It arrives in the United States in very good condition and not as oxidized and old tasting as most of the doppelbocks from Germany and it is relatively easy to find.” — Ashleigh Carter, Bierstadt Lagerhaus


Old ad for Mercer's Meat Stout.

There are lots of things to enjoy in Martyn Cornell’s account of being whisked away to Blackburn, Lancashire, to drink a stout brewed with Bovril but our very favourite bit is Phil Dixon’s account of his Dad’s home-brewing regime:

“It was mashed in a bath, and then the wort was transferred into one of those top-loading washing machines to be boiled with hops, and then it was pumped out and fermented. So we couldn’t have a bath for a week and we couldn’t wash our clothes.”


Finally, here’s a Tweet that will make at least some of our readers wince:

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round up and Carey’s ‘The Fizz’.

Lager and the ABC1s, 1989

Super strong lager was for louts and layabouts; but strong lager, one category across, was the stuff for snobs.

At least that was the conclusion suggested by research from Public Attitude Surveys Ltd in 1989, as reported in the Economist for September that year.

You might remember our notes on a similar piece of research undertaken by PAS for Guinness all the way back in 1963.

We came across this particular article while researching the question of when ABV labelling was introduced and were excited – yes, excited; look, we’ve never claimed to be cool – to find hard statistics on lager consumption by (a) age and (b) social grouping.

Graph: lager consumption by social class.

Graph: lager consumption by age.

In each case, super strong lagers are those with an original gravity of c.1080 and premium refers to those with an OG of 1040 or higher.

The problem is that the stats don’t quite show what they might seem to at first glance – that is, how much lager was being sold in each subcategory.

What they actually tell us is how much of the total sold was being consumed by people in each bracket.

And that isn’t even the same thing as how popular each type of beer was with people in each category.

You could have, say, 15 people in one category each drinking a pint per week and 15 heavy drinkers in another each drinking ten pints per week. Thus their category would drink more of the total, even if both groups like the beer equally. The preference people in category B are demonstrating is for getting drunk.

The information is still interesting, though, in its own vague way.

We can see, for example, that a much larger proportion of non- and low-alcohol beers were consumed by ABC1s – that is, middle class drinkers – than by any other social group.

A higher percentage of super-strength lagers, meanwhile, were consumed by people over 50 and also by those in the DE social grouping, i.e. non-skilled working class people and the unemployed.

And more of the premium lager sold was consumed by C2s, skilled working class people, than by those in any other category.

All of which, quibbling aside, might be said to reflect stereotypes fairly well on the nose.

The Dog & Bell, Deptford: a defiant survivor

Is the Dog & Bell in Deptford, South East London, a hold-out against gentrification, a symptom of it, or, somehow, a bit of both?

We’ve known Deptford on and off for twenty years, since the days when it was all concrete creek, boarded-up buildings and pigeon roosts.

So resolutely down-to-earth was it that we sometimes wondered if it might be the one area of London that would never go hip.

How naive we were.

The turn started while we were away living in Cornwall. We noted from afar the arrival of the Antic Pub Group which took over a former Job Centre and turned it into a pub called, with stunning insensitivity, The Job Centre. If you were trying to come up with a symbol of the worst instincts of urban gentrifiers you might think this too ripe.

We were also intrigued when Des de Moor’s excellent guide to London pubs included a place in Deptford. We took note of its name, The Dog & Bell, thinking we might like to visit sometime if we found ourselves down that way.

It took a few years, though, as we kept finding ourselves either distracted by the established pleasures of Greenwich or drawn further out to places like Bellingham, for research purposes.

On our most recent trip, though, we actually stayed in Deptford, and made a visit to the D&B a priority.

Here’s what we were expecting, for some reason, having not double checked the entry in Des’s book: a high street pub with lots of keg beer where we’d feel old and a bit uncool.

In fact, it’s on a back street, on the wrong side of the big A-road that connects Rotherhithe with Greenwich. We wandered through piles of leathery leaves under orange street lights thinking, “Really? This way?” The neighbourhood doesn’t feel gentrified, just… Normal. A touch seedy,  perhaps, but not rough. Like lots of suburban London.

Our first sight of the pub all but took our breath away. It looks a bit too perfect – not corporate or contrived, fire engine red, with painted windows casting warm, broken light onto the blank, bland brick of the block opposite.

On this occasion, the temporary mural had a Cornish theme reflecting a recent beer festival and we felt momentary confusion at seeing One And All alongside renderings of cliffside mine workings.

Stepping through the door, glasses fogged and faces dewy, we were surprised to find London and Irish accents dominating among the mostly white-haired clientele.

You know how people want London pubs to be? All earthy chat and laughter, but without any of the challenging content that too often comes with it? Lively, but good-hearted? Well, this seemed to be that dream.

An Irishman in a three-piece tweed suit demonstrated his line dancing moves as a country and western song played. Someone asked the woman behind the bar if she was still a compulsive knitter: “I’ve seen you walking down the street doing it, haven’t I, eh?” There was heated debate about the likely winner of an upcoming pickle-making competition and a jar of something spicy was passed around for testing: “Bloody hell, I can’t breathe!”

Then there’s the beer list. Apart from apparently better-than-usual Guinness, cask ale and boxed cider, there’s also an extensive range of reasonably priced Belgian beers in bottles.

Belgian beer doesn’t feel faddy or trendy in the way a wall of craft beer fridges can. It also felt, somehow, completely appropriate to the setting, perhaps because a characterful brown pub with dark corners in London has a lot in common with a characterful brown cafe with dark corners in Brussels.

If it isn’t obvious, we were rather smitten, and struggled to leave. We can imagine staying in Deptford again purely on the strength of this interesting, authentic, fascinating pub.

Thinking about it later, though, we realised what felt odd about the place: it somehow reminded us of those insistently quirky pubs in Mayfair and Belgravia.

Now, Deptford is still Deptford, the odd splash of Farrow & Ball paint aside, so why should that be?

Perhaps because, as with those Up Town pubs, its survival feels so pointed – defiant, defensive, a last grab at something that’s slipping away as commodity flats replace factories and chi-chi coffee shops displace caffs.

News, nuggets and longreads 16 November 2019: novelty, nostalgia, nourishment

Here’s all the beer and pubs news, opinion and history that grabbed us in the past week, from Manchester estate pubs to meat stout.

First up there’s the welcome return of Chris Hall, always a thought-provoking and thoughtful voice, and a bloody good writer, too. He’s written at length about the tendency towards novelty in British craft beer, and what he sees as a worrying absence of maturity:

Discussions and debates in blog comment threads and on Twitter have waned. Craft beer consumers scroll and double-tap now, and have changed both the social media landscape and production schedules as a result. There’s no time to type, or respond, or think. When it does happen, it’s often as privately as possible, and typically with the safe, reaffirming vacuum of a private group chat or forum. The craft beer consumer feeds on their own opinions in reflection, and debates, when they do happen, are feverish in their heat and lifespan, destroying themselves in the process.


In response – and it is nice to see blog posts prompting responses – Dave S has stuck up for the novelty tendency while Bring on the Beer argues that the answer to this problem is speaking up for beers that aren’t IPAs.


Craft Brew Alliance logo.

It’s been a while since we had a good AB-InBev takeover story. This week’s is lacking a little dramatic impact because it’s merely the conclusion of a long, slow manoeuvre. Jeff Alworth, always our first port of call for clarity on US industry news, summarises the story:

In August, it was the shoe that didn’t drop. AB InBev (ABI) had had the opportunity to buy Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) as a part of an arrangement struck three years ago, but finally passed in August, paying the Portland-based brewery collective $20 million instead. That was perplexing. CBA’s biggest asset, Kona, was a brand ready-made for an industrial giant. It has enormous brand potential that extends nationwide—vanishingly rare in the current clogged craft market—and products tailor-made to be scaled up at any of the twenty North American plants owned by ABI.


Illustration: Men silhouetted in steam.

For Ferment, the magazine distributed to customers of beer subscription service Beer 52, Robin Eveleigh writes about an issue that’s moved up the agenda in recent months: the apparently cavalier attitude to health and safety at some UK breweries. It might, Eveleigh argues, be a cultural problem:

[It’s] the rapid expansion in Britain’s craft sector which some old hands say gives cause for concern. The craft beer boom has spawned almost a thousand new breweries in the last five years, and the Society of Independent Brewers’ (SIBA) latest annual report estimates indies will generate almost 900 new jobs this year alone. Inside of a decade, we’ve seen hobby brewers catapulted from cooking up 40-pint batches in garden sheds and back rooms of pubs to helming huge plants with scores of employees pushing out thousands of litres at a time.


The Gamecock
SOURCE: Stephen Marland/Manchester Estate Pubs.

The Gamecock at Hulme is a funky looking post-war building but currently derelict, as Stephen Marland reports for Manchester Estate Pubs:

The Gamecock ever in the shadow of one of the few remaining housing blocks… Nobody knows precisely when it ceased to be a pub, suffice to say that at some point, it sadly ceased to be a pub… It now stands abandoned, slowly reclaimed by nature – as bramble and dock scramble over its sharp interlocking volumes of brick and once bright white cladding.


Obadiah Poundage porter.
SOURCE: Goose Island/YouTube.

Goose Island (AB-InBev) has collaborated with beer historian Ron Pattinson on what might be the most painstaking historic recreation to date, as written-up by Ed Wray:

[Obadiah Poundage porter] was made with heritage barley, old English hop varieties and historic malting techniques. Though probably not that much brown malt, unlike when I had a go at making historic porter. A portion was aged in oak vats where it underwent a secondary fermentation with Bretanomyces clausenii (probably my old friend WLP645). This was then blended with a freshly made version as the porter brewers did back in its heyday at a ratio of 1:2.


Although on the painstaking front, we need to know more about this revival of Mercer’s Meat Stout:

For more reading check out the links round-ups posted by Alan McLeod on Thursdays and Carey’s The Fizz.

Return to the Fellowship, an important pub reborn

The Fellowship Inn at Bellingham, south east London, was the first pub to be built on a council estate and as such was a focal point of our research for 20th Century Pub, not least because it was a rare example of a pub of this vintage still trading – just barely hanging on – when we were writing the book. 

To briefly summarise the story, which is told in more detail in the book, prior to and immediately after World War I, pubs were still seen as part of a disreputable legacy of the slums that new home-builders were keen to leave behind.

When traditional neighbourhoods were cleared and populations rehoused, they were dispatched to estates that were free of licensed premises.

Unsurprisingly, the more enterprising breweries started to think about how they could clean up their offer to make it acceptable to local councils with a barely-contained prohibitionist streak.

London brewers Barclay Perkins were pioneers in this regard, having been working with the Trust Houses since 1916 and with Alexander Part, legendary licensee and sometime spy, in particular. This meant that it was easier for them to demonstrate that they had been operating on ‘improved’ public house principles for some time and so get a foot in the door at Bellingham.

The London County Council minutes record the plan as follows: 

“The building is designed to contain a large refreshment room, smoke room and lounge with ample seating accommodation as well as a spacious dining hall which could also be used as a recreation room and for social events and other meetings. There would also be a roof garden. No drinking bars would be provided…”

It was designed in glorious mock-Tudor style by Barclay Perkins’ in-house architect F.G.Newnham. On the opening day in 1924, Barclay Perkins reported that over a thousand meals were served. Again, check 20th Century Pub for more contemporary accounts of the life and colour of this and other big interwar estate pubs.

When we visited in 2016, a small part of the pub was still trading, though most of it was empty and and terrible disrepair. We were shown round by a representative of Phoenix Housing who led us through the abandoned ballroom and derelict upper floor workers’ quarters while she explained their plans for the future.

An old-fashioned pub bar.
The public bar at The Fellowship in 2016.

Its decline had in some ways been its saviour – much like the Ivy House in Nunhead, lots of original features remained because entire rooms had simply been closed off and ignored during the worst of the refurbishment era. In 20th Century Pub, we wrote: 

“It is hard to say whether Bellingham’s locals will take to a cinema-cafe-microbrewery-pub but it can scarcely be any less popular than the current offer – a dingy bar used regularly by only a handful of residents. It certainly seems likely that it will draw in the ever-increasing middle-class population of south London’s suburbs with baby strollers and a taste for craft beer with their Sunday roast. Either way, the building, and its remarkable architecture and history, will be preserved.”

It actually reopened three years on from our visit, in June 2019, operated by the Electric Star Group, and thus renamed The Fellowship & Star. The planned microbrewery, a relic of when Laine’s were slated to take it on, didn’t make the cut, but the cinema and everything else did.

Exterior of the Fellowship.

The welcoming front door.

We visited shortly after opening on a Sunday when it was fairly quiet but with a good number of reservations for lunch later in the afternoon. They had had a busy night before, too, as suggested by the dry pumps and confirmed by the staff behind the bar: “Well, we did have Don Letts here last night.”

We were really impressed with the transformation, or rather the comparative lack of it. While it definitely clean and contemporary the original wooden panelling was visible throughout, barely even retouched or varnished in some places.

A pub table and chairs.
Seats salvaged from the original cinema-theatre at The Fellowship.
Cinema Open
The new cinema makes use of the vast space available beyond the main pub.

What was formerly the central office, a fascinating feature of these sort of pubs where the manager could hide behind the counter, had been partly absorbed into the bar, but was still distinctly visible.

There was still a clear sense of different rooms – partitions and visual obstacles which give a sense that there’s always something else going on round the corner – a characteristic which can make an even fairly sparsely populated pub feel buzzy.

There was a great balance of illumination and shadow, too, thanks mostly to the natural light fighting its way through tall, thin original windows.

The public bar today.
The refurbished public bar in 2019.

We had a bit of a nose around the other parts of the building that were accessible and noted that other original features were still in place there, too.

Is it gentrified? Five Points Pale Ale was £4.20 a pint, which is at the lower end of prices in London, these days but rather underlines the point that almost any pub trading in London these days is by definition something of a luxury venue.

The staff were professional and down to earth rather than aloof or cool, though, and it looked like Guinness got as much action as the craft taps.

Children are welcome, as long as carefully written ground rules are followed, and football was being shown in a couple of parts of the pub – surely a signal of sorts.

In some ways, it’s sad to see the old pub, and the culture it represented, disappear. On the other hand, the pub was originally designed to serve people of different classes, drinkers and non-drinkers, eaters and boozers, children and families… So it’s really just returned to its true purpose.

News, nuggets and longreads 9 November 2019: Gushers, Sparklers, Fuggles

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that seized our wandering attention in the past week, from Fuggles to brewing family struggles.

A layperson’s-terms write-up of academic research into the British craft beer market by Maria Karampela, Juho Pesonen and Nadine Waehning provides a narrative of stagnation and stored-up problems, along with some interesting specific details:

Our research with brewers across Scotland and England found that those who identify themselves as “craft” brewers:

> Are typically beer aficionados who have decided to transform their enthusiasm into a living and set up their own businesses – with the vast majority being micro-businesses employing fewer than ten people.

> Are motivated by a lack of tolerance towards the standardised, predictable beer flavours that have so far dominated the market.

> Tend to use traditional – instead of industrial – methods to make beer and experiment with different types of beer, hop varieties, old or quirky recipes and unusual or exotic ingredients.

Via @ThurnellReadSoc


Adrienne Heslin
SOURCE: Breandán Kearney/Good Beer Hunting.

To wide acclaim this week, for Good Beer Hunting, Breandán Kearney tells the sad but ultimately triumphant story of the founding of the West Kerry Brewery in Ireland:

Adrienne Heslin and Padraig Bric left their chalet in the Italian resort town of Tropea for a short snorkeling trip off the town’s beach. Heslin was using the time away to plan her artistic projects. Bric’s focus was on a potential renovation to his parent’s pub and guesthouse. Eight years previously, their son Hugo had suffered Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, dying during the night as he lay between his mother and father in bed. This holiday was for thinking about the future… Bric was a nervous swimmer, and together the couple waded into the turquoise, blanketed reefs around the Gulf of St. Euphemia, an inlet leading to the Tyrrhenian Sea.


Fuggles illustration.

Scholars of hop history have been grappling with the precise history of Fuggles, one of the most famous English hop varieties, for years. What is true and what is a handy marketing myth? Now Martyn Cornell declares ‘The surprising secrets behind the origins of the Fuggle hop uncovered at last’:

Its genetic parentage has been a mystery, since it appeared to be unrelated to other English hop varieties, and the long-accepted story of when it was discovered, by whom, and when it was first launched turned out to be dubious at best. Now research by Czech botanists, and a Kentish local historian, has answered all the questions: it turns out that everything you have read until now, in every book and article, on the year the Fuggle hop was first launched has been wrong. In addition, the surprise answer to the exact parentage of the Fuggle hop turns out to be … well, read on.


Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

Did you know countries following the German brewing tradition had their own version of the beer sparkler that caused controversy among drinkers in the 19th century? No, us neither, but fortunately Andreas Krenmair is on hand to tell the story:

Most people think that this is probably a problem only cask beer aficionados in England face, but at least in the 19th century, lager beers in Germany and Austria directly dispensed from wooden casks were served in a similar way: besides the regular tap, a device called Mousseux-Pipe, sometimes also called Bierbrause (lit. “beer shower”), was also quite common. I’ve never seen an actual photo or illustration of one, but the descriptions of it make it sound very much like a sparkler: when beer was dispensed from a cask through the Mousseux-Pipe, it foamed up and produced a bigger, denser head… Just like its modern counterpart in England, the use of Mousseux-Pipen was not uncontroversial either: in Tyrol, the use of syringes of similar devices to create artificial foam in beer was prohibited from 1854 on for sanitary reasons. A letter to the editor in a newspaper from 1871 laments the “strict non-enforcement of this edict got rid of syringes” and popularized beer showers that produced a thick and dense foam that helped defraud customers through underpouring.


Yellowstone Park geyser.

What exactly might cause your beer to ‘gush’ out of the bottle uncontrollably on opening? Kate Bernot at The Take Out has the answers:

Some beers are bottle conditioned, meaning brewers add a small dose of sugar to the beer bottle before filling it so the yeast can continue to feed on the sugar after the beer is bottled… But if a brewer miscalculates and adds too much sugar to the bottle, the yeast will have a field day, gorging itself on sugar and creating too much carbon dioxide. Then, when you open the bottle, kaboom… “The great brewers who bottle condition their beers would simply not make that mistake,” Charlie Bamforth, distinguished professor emeritus in the University of California Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, tells me. “If it was a tiny brewery that wasn’t as in control as they should be, well…”


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more links and good reading check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up and Carey’s The Fizz.