News, Nuggets and Longreads 16 February 2019: Beer Duty, BridgePort, Brussels

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck as especially noteworthy, from colonialism to brewery closures.

For the Guardian Dutch jour­nal­ist Olivi­er van Beemen offers an arti­cle based on an extract from his book Heineken in Africa: a Multi­na­tion­al Unleashed. It offers a glimpse into the prac­tices of a Euro­pean brew­ing giant oper­at­ing in Africa, and how, despite the rhetoric of cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty, it can­not help but echo the behav­iours of the colo­nial era:

Fur­ther research [into pro­mo­tion girls] in DRC, the coun­try where the most abuse was report­ed, revealed that unwant­ed advances came not only from cus­tomers but also from Heineken staff. “The enor­mous uncer­tain­ty of keep­ing a job com­bined with the absence of employ­ee rights of legal sta­tus makes PW [pro­mo­tion women] vul­ner­a­ble for mis­use from sev­er­al stake­hold­ers,” the inter­nal report notes. Often, the women, who earned very lit­tle, had to sleep with man­agers if they want­ed to keep their job. But if they need­ed to see a gynae­col­o­gist or get an abor­tion, which was often ille­gal and dan­ger­ous, they had to sort every­thing them­selves, and pay for it. They also had to drink five to 10 large bot­tles of beer every work­ing day, in order to per­suade cus­tomers to con­sume more.


Sighing bar staff.

This week’s big viral sto­ry, for quite under­stand­able rea­sons, was this expres­sion of right­eous fury by Cana­di­an beer writer Robin LeBlanc in response to a bizarre sex­ist ram­ble in an Amer­i­can brew­ing mag­a­zine by its pub­lish­ers, Bill Met­zger, who has since resigned:

That’s right, folks. He man­aged to take a piece about cask ale and turn it into a whiny, self-indul­gent, sex­ist, heav­i­ly misog­y­nist, and creepy as hell work. In fact he did this so expert­ly that it actu­al­ly broke my brain and I need to break it down and go over most of the par­tic­u­lar­ly offen­sive quotes with you all because if I don’t I’m going to keep think­ing about it until I have a brain aneurysm.

Alright. Let’s start with the very first sen­tence of the arti­cle.

Like most men, I strug­gle with my my pri­mal self.”

Oh boy, strap in folks, because we know exact­ly where this is going.


De la Senne beers in Brussels.

For Brus­sels Beer City Eoghan Walsh pro­vides a run­down of the his­to­ry of cult Bel­gian brew­ery de la Senne, con­struct­ing his tale around five spe­cif­ic beers:

Before there was Brasserie de la Senne, there was Zin­nebir. Bernard Leboucq was home-brew­ing in the base­ment of a cen­tral Brus­sels squat in 2002, and he was invit­ed to brew Zin­nebir as the offi­cial beer for that year’s Zin­neke parade. Yvan De Baets, already pas­sion­ate about beer, was a social work­er work­ing along­side youth groups on the parade. A meet-cute was inevitable.

I saw this guy pulling a big trol­ley of beer,” says De Baets, “and I told the guys work­ing with me to take care of the kids, I have to meet him. He offered me a beer, a sec­ond, a third.” Two years lat­er De Baets joined Leboucq as unof­fi­cial brew­ing advi­sor in their first iter­a­tion of Brasserie de la Senne.


The Quest for the Perfect Pub

The Pub Cur­mud­geon has dis­sect­ed a large­ly for­got­ten book from 1989 in which broth­er Nick and Char­lie Hurt report on a three-month Quest for the Per­fect Pub:

The thir­ty years since the book was pub­lished have, not sur­pris­ing­ly, not been kind to the pubs list­ed. Some, for­tu­nate­ly, are still in exis­tence in lit­tle-changed form, such as the Yew Tree at Cauldon in Stafford­shire and the Traveller’s Rest at Alpra­ham in Cheshire. Oth­ers, such as the Stagg at Tit­ley in Here­ford­shire and the Durham Ox at Shrew­ley in War­wick­shire, have very much gone down the gas­tro route and can no longer be regard­ed as com­mu­ni­ty booz­ers, while many, such as the Horse & Jock­ey at Delph in the for­mer Sad­dle­worth dis­trict of York­shire and the White Lion at Pen-y-Myny­dd in Flintshire have long since closed. Indeed, I doubt whether either of those long sur­vived the pub­li­ca­tion of the book, and the Horse & Jock­ey has long been a roof­less, crum­bling ruin.


Abstract illustration of pubs.

Roger Protz has writ­ten an inter­est­ing piece about the spe­cif­ic issues faced by those run­ning hous­es owned by giant pub com­pa­nies:

My agree­ment meant I could buy wines, spir­its and min­er­als free of tie but I was tied for beer and cider. The main Ei beer list had Dark Star Hop­head. Jack had sold three 18 gal­lon casks a week of Hop­head but Ei said I couldn’t have it as it was out­side SIBA’s deliv­ery area – SIBA has a 25-mile radius for beer orders.”

Courage Best is a pop­u­lar beer among reg­u­lars. Har­ry found he would have to pay £30 a bar­rel more than Jack had paid – and Jack had sold 100 bar­rels a year.


Carling Black Label beer mat.

At Ed’s Beer Site Ed pro­vides some fas­ci­nat­ing details of how Car­ling lager is actu­al­ly brewed:

Very high mal­tose syrup is used in the ket­tle to give 20% of the grist. For those not famil­iar with high grav­i­ty brew­ing very high mal­tose syrup is impor­tant because it reduces the amount of esters pro­duced dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion, some­thing which high grav­i­ty brew­ing rais­es.


Jim at Beers Man­ches­ter is angry about the weasel­ly ways of the UK’s larg­er brew­eries which are lob­by­ing for changes to Pro­gres­sive Beer Duty from behind the facades of var­i­ous organ­i­sa­tions, such as the Inde­pen­dent Fam­i­ly Brew­ers of Britain:

Let’s look at the IFBB in more detail.

Richard Fuller. Sec­re­tary of The Inde­pen­dent Fam­i­ly Brew­ers of Britain.

Hang on. Fuller. As in that brew­ery that is no longer “Inde­pen­dent”? Hmmm.


A notable brew­ery clo­sure: Bridge­Port Brew­ing of Port­land, Ore­gon – one of the first of the mod­ern IPA brew­ers, launch­ing its flag­ship hop­py pale beer in 1996 – is shut­ting up shop after 35 years. Jeff All­worth offers con­text and com­men­tary here.


And final­ly, from Twit­ter:

For more links see Stan Hieronymus’s blog on Mon­days and Alan McLeod’s on Thurs­days.

The bare minimum

The above Twit­ter con­ver­sa­tion got us think­ing once again about ‘prop­er pubs’, and reach­ing a con­clu­sion: bare­bones isn’t every­thing – there are some min­i­mum entry require­ments.

We had a per­fect­ly fine time on our vis­it the Myr­tle Tree and, a lit­tle sleaz­ing aside, we were made to feel rea­son­ably wel­come.

But, still, we’re not sure it’s a ‘prop­er pub’, because it lacks atmos­phere and that sense of time­less­ness that you find in, say, the Merchant’s just up the road.

A ‘prop­er pub’ can’t have cold light and pale walls. It can’t be dom­i­nat­ed by TVs and flash­ing fruit machines. If you need to have a con­spir­a­to­r­i­al con­ver­sa­tion, there should be a cor­ner in which to do it. Ide­al­ly, there’ll be some sepia tones.

The Myr­tle Tree fails all these tests for us and so we would clas­si­fy it as some­thing else: a plain old, straight-up, stripped-t0-the-bone booz­er.

Booz­ers have their place, too, of course, but beyond the strange appeal of Bris­tol-style flat Bass, there’s not much for pub obses­sives to look at or enjoy at the Myr­tle Tree.

To put all that anoth­er way, ‘proper­ness’ is a pos­i­tive qual­i­ty, not mere­ly the absence of con­tem­po­rary adorn­ments.

Beer delivery vans in Bristol between the wars

In 1929 neither estate had a pub or off-licence, and tenants had to resort to vans selling alcoholic drink which plied the area.”

That intrigu­ing line appears in a paper by Madge Dress­er called ‘Hous­ing pol­i­cy in Bris­tol, 1919–30’, col­lect­ed in Coun­cil­lors and ten­ants: local author­i­ty hous­ing in Eng­lish cities, 1919–1939. The estates Dr Dress­er refers to are Hor­field and Sea Mills.

As we dis­cov­ered research­ing 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, it’s almost impos­si­ble to take a seri­ous inter­est in the devel­op­ment of the pub­lic house with­out also get­ting into hous­ing and social pol­i­cy.

Hous­ing estates – a new idea as the 19th cen­tu­ry turned into the 20th, even if they’re now tak­en for grant­ed – were gen­er­al­ly dry by default until the 1920s. What was the point of mov­ing peo­ple out of slums if the slum behav­iour (as it was viewed) car­ried on as before?

Estates, and espe­cial­ly those with ‘gar­den city’ pre­ten­sions, were about fresh air, healthy pur­suits, and the com­fort of the home. If peo­ple need­ed to socialise, there were church­es, and maybe sports clubs.

But fan­cy­ing a pint with your mates every now and then isn’t weird – it’s quite nor­mal. As a result, many peo­ple liv­ing on estates lob­bied for the pro­vi­sion of social clubs and pubs, but Bristol’s estates were with­out pubs until the 1930s.

What about those booze deliv­ery wag­ons? Well, a 1929 news sto­ry cov­er­ing the appli­ca­tion for an off-licence by a Sea Mills shop­keep­er Thomas Prestidge (West­ern Dai­ly Press, 5 March) pro­vides a bit more detail:

There was a large num­ber of res­i­dents on the Sea Mills Estate who had asked Mr Prestidge to make the appli­ca­tion. The near­est licensed house was the Swan in Stoke Lane, over a mile away, and in the oth­er direc­tion the near­est place was a mile and half away. At present the wants of the inhab­i­tants were sup­plied by three or four peo­ple who came from var­i­ous dis­tricts in and out of Bris­tol and deliv­ered to res­i­dents on the estate in dozen and half-dozen bot­tles.

So, to be clear, not only were there no pubs – there was nowhere to buy any alco­holic drink at all.

Objec­tions to this appli­ca­tion from local doc­tors and reli­gious types argued that sup­ply by deliv­ery was per­fect­ly ade­quate and that peo­ple who had moved to Sea Mills to get away from ‘hub­bub’ would pre­fer drink­ing to hap­pen, if it had to hap­pen at all, behind closed doors. Nonethe­less, the licence was grant­ed on a pro­vi­sion­al basis.

Sea Mills did even­tu­al­ly get a pub, and a very grand one: the Progress Inn (pic­tured above). It opened in 1936, but closed in 2011, and was then con­vert­ed into a nurs­ery.

That means if you live at Sea Mills and fan­cy a beer, deliv­ery trucks, from super­mar­kets these days, might once again be the best option.

Progress? What progress?

This hap­pens to be Sea Mills’ cen­te­nary year and the estate is the sub­ject of a local her­itage project, Sea Mills 100. We’ll be watch­ing with inter­est for infor­ma­tion on the estate’s licenc­ing bat­tles.

Camaraderie is forced on men’, 1988

Stools at the bar in a pub.

Cama­raderie is forced on men. They have lit­tle else in life. Forced espe­cial­ly on the des­per­ate, the unimag­i­na­tive, who must drink the same drink in the same place every day.

How to be alone in the midst of fel­low­ship? One can turn the oth­er stool, try to indi­cate with the shoul­der one wants pri­va­cy. One can snap like a lit­tle ani­mal. But this breeds sus­pi­cion. In the end one is nev­er left alone.

But nei­ther does cama­raderie real­ly exist. It is a cre­ation of racists and war-nov­el­ists. Rather, there is an ero­tism about men drink­ing togeth­er.

Come. Come, you must come with us into our hap­py love cloud. A pub­lic bar is the boudoir of a com­ic-opera seduc­tress…

That’s an extract from a piece called ‘Drink­ing Men’ by Amer­i­can writer Todd McEwen. He moved to Scot­land in 1981 and this sto­ry is set in a pub called the Auld Licht. It por­trays the rela­tion­ships between the pub­lic bar and lounge, and between the reg­u­lars who drink in them.

It’s fun­ny, bleak, and rather sour, cap­tur­ing a time when pubs were over­whelm­ing­ly male, every­one smoked, and the card­board back­ings from which pack­ets of peanuts were sold were items of every­day kitsch erot­i­ca.

Hav­ing recent­ly writ­ten about mas­culin­i­ty, beer and pubs for BEER mag­a­zine (see the lat­est issue here) we found plen­ty to chew on even in these few hun­dred words, and would cer­tain­ly con­sid­er include ‘Drink­ing Men’ in that anthol­o­gy we’re hop­ing some­one will ask us to edit one day.

If you want to read it in the mean­time, it can be found in Gran­ta 25: Mur­der, pub­lished in autumn 1988, which comes with an added bonus: Gra­ham Smith’s grim pho­to por­trait of Mid­dles­brough pubs.

Bristol Pub Guide: Our Advice on Where to Drink

First pub­lished 07.06.2019; updat­ed 07.02.2019

Bristol has a huge number of pubs and bars and an ever-growing number of breweries. If you’re in town for a few days or hours, where should you go to drink?

We’ve been asked a few times for advice on this and so decid­ed that, rather than keep typ­ing up the advice in emails and DMs, we’d risk pub­lic humil­i­a­tion, and the fury of local beer geeks and pub­li­cans, by giv­ing it a sort-of per­ma­nent home here.

We haven’t been to every pub in Bris­tol – in fact we’re 203 down with, we think, about anoth­er 150–200 to go – but we’ve vis­it­ed most of those in the city cen­tre, and most sev­er­al times.

In gen­er­al, Bris­tol pubs are pret­ty easy to find, and fair­ly easy to read – chain pubs look like chain pubs, craft bars look like craft bars, and so on – so you won’t go too far wrong fol­low­ing your instincts. There are lots of hid­den gems in the sub­urbs and up side streets, too, so do explore.

And if you want to keep things loose there are some decent crawls: St Michael’s Hill, Glouces­ter Road and King Street all have runs of var­ied and inter­est­ing pubs close togeth­er, one after the oth­er.

Before we get down to busi­ness we must once again thank Patre­on sup­port­ers like Jonathan Tuck­er, Peter Allen and Andrew Brun­ton who jus­ti­fied us spend­ing a bit too much time putting this togeth­er. If you find this post use­ful please do con­sid­er sign­ing up or at least buy­ing us a pint via Ko-Fi.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Bris­tol Pub Guide: Our Advice on Where to Drink”