The Challenge of Objectivity

Detail from a Watneys Red Beer Mat.

As we start lining up interviews with the current generation of British brewers, rather than those in retirement, we find ourselves reflecting on what we can do to make sure our book remains objective. We’re interested in them because they’re part of a bigger story, not because we think they’re awesome. What we don’t want to do is parrot their PR, puff them up, or get drawn into fawning. (Under an awning..?) There’s plenty of that about already.

We’ve already had our objectivity tested a couple of times. One of the things we are determined to avoid is merely repeating the established CAMRA mythology — ‘we saved beer’ — which has been polished to a sheen with years of repetition, but it’s hard when you speak to founder members and early activists not to get swept up in the excitement of it all. That’s especially true when they are nice fellers, and you’re sharing a pint.

What’s working so far, we think, is asking challenging questions, without malice, and as politely as possible.

It is also helpful to speak to ‘the enemy’. A chap who worked in PR for a big brewery in the seventies was very helpful in giving an alternative view of CAMRA in its heyday. We’ve also managed to dig out a few contemporary articles which set out how the Big Six felt about CAMRA at the time. (They didn’t like it.) It’s a shame that we missed the chance to grill E.C. ‘Ted’ Handel, head of PR at Watney’s in the early seventies, though.

What we need to do, for balance, is find the modern equivalent of Mr Handel — someone from AB-Inbev or Diageo perhaps — and ask them what they think of CAMRA and the current craft beer boom. But what would be in it for them?

Hopostrophes

Table from a Institute of Brewing Journal, 1983.

By Bailey

I once wrote the language style guide for a large organisation but I didn’t get chance to come up with advice on writing about hops. Now seems like a good time to put that right. As usual with questions of style (grammar’s wishy-washy, let-it-all-hang-out cousin) this is slightly more complicated than it ought to be.

1. The names of hop varieties should be capitalised. Most older varieties are named after places or people (Goldings, Fuggles) and many newer ones are trademarks, and so ought to be capitalised. For consistency, it makes sense to capitalise all of them, all of the time.

2. Older hop varieties named after people or places tend, historically, to be written as if they were plurals. This might be because they were once possessives which have lost their apostrophes — should it be Golding’s, just as the variety of apple is Laxton’s Superb? Or do we accept that, as with the Nags [sic] Head, it is too late to be correcting typos? My view is that to attempt to overturn this tradition would be churlish. So, Fuggles and Goldings it is.

3. Except, of course, in the case of Whitbread Golding Variety (WGV) which is definitely not Whitbread Goldings Variety.

4. American hops which have been around for a long while cause confusion: should they be given names which echo Goldings and Fuggles? The Journal of the Institute of Brewing referred, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, to Clusters (with S, an old variety) and Cascade (without, relatively modern). They also suggest Super Styrians, perhaps because they were seen as part of the same family as Styrian Goldings. That seems a good example to follow.

5. New hops varieties are rarely, if ever, pluralised: writing Sorachi Aces, Citras, Mosaics and Danas seems outright barbarous.

6. Hops from non-English speaking countries which are commonly referred to using, e.g., German or Czech names should not be pluralised as if they were English words: ‘Saazs’ seems silly (zeems zilly). Hallertau is a variety in its own right; but sub-varieties from the Hallertau region are, e.g., Hallertauer Magnum.

7. A general rule, then: don’t stick an S on the end of the name of a hop variety unless it is Fuggles, Goldings, Super Styrians or Clusters.

The brewer added generous amounts of Cascade in the first batch. By the time of the second brew, the recipe had been revised, and on that occasion used equally generous amounts of Goldings and Clusters, with a touch of Citra.

Give Your Pub a Makeover

Victorian beer engines.

When we’re sitting in a pub, we spend quite a lot of time talking about what what works, and what could be improved. We know, however, that many publicans have little cash at hand and that their options are often limited by the terms of their lease. Nonetheless, we think there a few things that more pubs could be doing which are free, or at least very cheap.

1. Ditch the net curtains — we want to see into a pub before we enter it. Unless there really is something illicit going on, they block the light and our view, and gather dust.

2. Tear down tatty posters — whether they’re your own or put up on behalf of local community groups or clubs, posters quickly curl, rip and fade. Take down old ones regularly, even if they are confined to a noticeboard. (2b — political posters of any description will probably alienate 50 per cent of your potential customers.)

3. Sweep up outside — crisp packets, pasty wrappers, leaves and fag ends on the pavement outside and in the doorway give an impression of abandonment and decay.

4. Smile and say hello as a matter of policy — other than great beer, the thing that makes us feel warmest towards a pub is a friendly greeting from the person behind the bar when we walk through the door.

5. Identify a ‘unique selling point’ — which pub doesn’t offer a ‘friendly welcome, real ale, good food’? You can’t rely on those to help potential customers decide between your pub and the nearby King’s Legs. So, be specific: name the real ale you are selling; mention that your famously wonderful chicken and leek pie is made to your grandmother’s recipe; big up your collection of comics, vintage photographs of the town, sports memorabilia or board games.

6. Control the crowd — you can’t make your regulars smile at people, but be prepared to have a quiet word if they’re downright rude. Regulars are already regulars; newcomers are potential regulars, and need looking after.

7. Get a fresh pair of, er, nostrils — we have been in some very smelly pubs that would benefit from a shake’n’vac, but you’re in the pub all the time and might be immune to its ‘perfume’. Get someone you trust to check the place out and let you know if it needs airing and/or a squirt of deodorant.

8. Get online — Twitter and Facebook are great ways to promote not only your latest offers but also your ‘brand’. If you’re resilient enough to take it, online is also a good place to find frank feedback from bloggers, Tweeters and reviewers, perhaps highlighting easy-to-fix problems you didn’t know your pub had. (See nostrils, above.)

9. Details make a difference — we notice little things like beer mats and coat hooks. They don’t cost much, but they’re extremely convenient.

10. No such thing as too much product information — some pubs have small glasses of each beer in front of the pump so you can see what colour it is before your order. Others have ‘point of sale’ material from the brewery at hand so you can read about the beer. Chalkboards, inside and outside the pub, are great ways of explaining and selling what’s on offer. Having said that…

11. Tidy signage, tidy pubyou don’t have to design your own font, but take a little time to make sure your chalkboards are neat, consistent and fresh-looking. At the same time…

12. Avoid corporate — unless a pubco or brewery insists otherwise, try to minimise the amount of branded or off-the-shelf bumph on display. Menus printed at home on A4 usually look ten times better than wipe-clean, glossy ones, covered in stock photography.

13. Do what you can with the bogs — you might not have the cash to completely renovate and, yes, customers, especially blokes, can behave like animals, but, as a bare minimum, have soap and water.

If your reaction to this is a bitterly sarcastic ‘Aw yeah, I hadn’t fought of dat!’, then we might well quite like your pub.