Saddleworth Pub Carpets, 1966

Graham Turner’s fascinating 1967 book The North Country paints portraits of towns and cities from Wigan to Durham, often stopping off in pubs and clubs on the way.

You might remem­ber us quot­ing from it before, on the sub­ject of Pak­istani migrants attempt­ing to inte­grate into pub life in Brad­ford in the 1960s.

The rather less polit­i­cal­ly charged extract below, from a chap­ter called ‘Over the Top’ about Sad­dle­worth Moor, grabbed our atten­tion for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

No group of peo­ple in the val­ley are in more demand than the mem­bers of the Boarshurst Sil­ver Band. George Gib­son, a large, enor­mous­ly jovial man with a great red face who plays the ‘bas­so pro­fun­do’ and also teach­es brass in the local schools, reck­ons to be out either play­ing or teach­ing ‘very near every night’… [He] said over a pint at the King William [that] find­ing play­ers was not any par­tic­u­lar prob­lem – “you find me twen­ty-four instru­ments and I’ll find you twen­ty-four kids”. The King William, inci­den­tal­ly, is one of the pubs in Sad­dle­worth which has treat­ed itself to wall-to-wall car­pet­ing, an extrav­a­gance which [local char­ac­ter] John Ken­wor­thy thinks has changed them from forums of dis­cus­sion into mere drink­ing places. At one end of the bar were a group of the men we had been drink­ing with the night before at the Gentleman’s [Club], now deeply engrossed in a catholic selec­tion of rac­ing papers. At the oth­er were half a dozen men in over­alls.

So:

  1. Car­pets were seen as tak­ing pubs downmar­ket, some­how? Mak­ing them more friv­o­lous?
  2. A reminder that pub car­pets aren’t a great old tra­di­tion – they’re a rel­a­tive­ly new devel­op­ment.
  3. And, car­pets aside, a reminder of how class seg­re­ga­tion can hap­pen even with­out phys­i­cal bound­aries.

In case you’re won­der­ing, by the way, the William IV is still there, and still trad­ing as a pub.

News Pubs and Old Favourites #1: The Forester, Ealing

We spent the gap between Christmas and New Year in West London, on the hunt for Proper Pubs. Four stood out and we’re going to give each one its own post.

Jess first vis­it­ed the Forester in North­fields, Eal­ing, in 2016, dur­ing research for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, and has been try­ing to get Ray there ever since. It’s of aca­d­e­m­ic inter­est, being built in 1909 as an ear­ly Improved Pub to a design by Now­ell-Parr, and retain­ing a mul­ti-room lay­out with lots of peri­od details.

It also hap­pens to be a sub­ur­ban back­street cor­ner pub – our cur­rent favourite thing. As we approached, it peeked into view between the cor­ner shops and ter­raced hous­es, like a steam­punk cruise ship at berth.

It’s a Fuller’s pub, too, which means touch­es of the cor­po­rate, but not to an oppres­sive degree. It helps that the light is kept low and (not to everyone’s taste, we know) the music loud, so every table feels like its own warm bub­ble.

The Forester, Ealing -- interior.

The locals seemed well-to-do with­out being posh, sink­ing beer and gin, and throw­ing out the odd rau­cous joke: “Bloody hell! When you bent over then, Steve… Either you’re wear­ing a black thong or you for­got to wipe your arse.”

They ignored par­ties of out­siders – a group of what we took for pro­fes­sion­al foot­ballers on tour, all design­er shirts and hair prod­uct; a trio of twen­tysome­things, appar­ent­ly from the mid­dle east, when-in-Rome-ing with pints of Guin­ness – with­out appar­ent mal­ice.

The beer was excel­lent, too – Fuller’s as Fuller’s should be served, gleam­ing and bril­liant beneath clean arc­tic foam. The ESB in par­tic­u­lar was hard to resist, demand­ing to be treat­ed like a ses­sion beer, which maybe it is at Christ­mas.

We made time to vis­it twice dur­ing a four-night trip, which should tell you some­thing. You might find it worth a detour next time you’re in Lon­don.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 December 2018: Slavery, Philosophy, Wetherspoon Museum

Here’s everything that grabbed us in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from American history to donkeys in pubs.

First, pick­ing up on the top­ic of the day, the BBC’s Chris Bara­niuk has inves­ti­gat­ed the ques­tion of cash­less pubs and bars in some detail. This line seems like the key to under­stand­ing the trend:

Ikea found that so few peo­ple – 1.2 in every 1,000 – insist­ed on pay­ing in cash that it was finan­cial­ly jus­ti­fi­able to offer them free food in the shop cafe­te­ria instead.


Mon­ti­cel­lo by Mar­tin Fal­bison­er | Wiki­me­dia Com­mons | CC BY-SA 3.0

For Good Beer Hunt­ing Dr J. Nikol Jack­son-Beck­ham has writ­ten an absorb­ing piece about Peter Hem­ings, the enslaved man who actu­al­ly did the brew­ing with which Pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son is some­times cred­it­ed:

With sev­er­al years of expe­ri­ence, Peter Hem­ings came into his own as a malt­ster and brew­er, and may have taught these trades to oth­er enslaved men in Vir­ginia. On April 11, 1820, Thomas Jef­fer­son wrote to James Madi­son, “Our brew­ing for the use of the present year has been some time over. About the last of Oct. or begin­ning of Nov. we begin for the ensu­ing year and malt and brew three, 60-gal­lon casks suc­ces­sive­ly which will give so many suc­ces­sive lessons to the per­son you send… I will give you notice in the fall when we are to com­mence malt­ing and our mal­ter and brew­er is uncom­mon­ly intel­li­gent and capa­ble of giv­ing instruc­tion if your pupil is as ready at com­pre­hend­ing it.”


The Beach Bar

Mar­tyn Cor­nell has attempt­ed to tack­le the world’s thorni­est philo­soph­i­cal conun­drum: what’s the dif­fer­ence between a pub and bar?

In the New Town where I grew up, all the estate pubs had been built to look like New Town homes on steroids, fol­low­ing the ‘pub as a home from home’ idea, but their new­ness stripped them of any of the ‘sense of per­ma­nence and con­ti­nu­ity’ that all the pubs in the Old Town had drip­ping from every brick and beam, and they felt like zom­bie pubs, life­less and with­out char­ac­ter. A bar, in con­trast, nev­er feels ‘homey’: indeed, I’d sug­gest that the slight­est pinch, jot or iota of ‘a home-like char­ac­ter’ turns a bar into either a pub or a teashop.


Warpigs in Copenhagen.
SOURCE: The Beer Nut.

We were intrigued by the Beer Nut’s obser­va­tion that Copen­hagen has become ‘Mikkeller World’:

Last time I was in town, the brewer’s retail out­lets con­sist­ed sole­ly of the lit­tle base­ment bar on Vik­to­ria­gade; now there are over a dozen premis­es in Copen­hagen alone, with more world­wide.

And that’s not all – even flights in are awash with the stuff.


A side order of nuggets

Victorian illustration of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.
Classics corner: Charles Dickens’s ‘dropsical’ inn

We promised to flag some famous bits of beer and pub writ­ing and this week’s piece – one of Jess’s absolute favourites – is the descrip­tion of a Lon­don river­side pub that appears at the start of Chap­ter 6 of Charles Dickens’s Our Mutu­al Friend:

The bar of the Six Jol­ly Fel­low­ship Porters was a bar to soft­en the human breast. The avail­able space in it was not much larg­er than a hack­ney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar big­ger, that space was so girt in by cor­pu­lent lit­tle casks, and by cor­dial-bot­tles radi­ant with fic­ti­tious grapes in bunch­es, and by lemons in nets, and by bis­cuits in bas­kets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made low bows when cus­tomers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snug cor­ner, and by the landlady’s own small table in a snug­ger cor­ner near the fire, with the cloth ever­last­ing­ly laid. This haven was divid­ed from the rough world by a glass par­ti­tion and a half-door, with a lead­en sill upon it for the con­ve­nience of rest­ing your liquor; but, over this half-door the bar’s snug­ness so gushed forth that, albeit cus­tomers drank there stand­ing, in a dark and draughty pas­sage where they were shoul­dered by oth­er cus­tomers pass­ing in and out, they always appeared to drink under an enchant­i­ng delu­sion that they were in the bar itself.


Final­ly, here’s an old Tweet that’s new to us:


If you want more, check out Alan’s Thurs­day ‘beery notes’ and (thank­ful­ly back after a hia­tus) Stan’s Mon­day links.

Our Golden Pints for 2018

This is always an interesting exercise for us but all the more so as we’ve got better at keeping records throughout the year.

Those records, in the form of just-about-week­ly Patre­on posts on which beers we’ve enjoyed most each week­end and spread­sheets from #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol, help to avoid the recen­cy effect and push us to be hon­est.

So, after a good bit of back-and-forth over Lem­sips on Wednes­day night, here’s our list of the best beers and pubs of the year.

The best English pub of 2018

It’s been a year of pub lists for us (1 | 2 | 3 | 4) and we’ve vis­it­ed some great places that were new to us, as well as loop­ing back to old favourites.

But let’s be hon­est, there’s only one win­ner: our local, The Drap­ers Arms, on Glouces­ter Road in Bris­tol.

The Drapers Arms -- a collage.
A selec­tion of our ‘Drap­ers‘ pho­tos from Twit­ter.

It’s a microp­ub and has fun­ny hours. It tends to be either a bit qui­et (Mon­day evening, Sat­ur­day after­noon) or crammed (the entire rest of the time). Occa­sion­al­ly, we wish there was a reg­u­lar, reli­able beer on the list.

But the stats speak for them­selves: at the time of writ­ing, we’re just shy of our hun­dredth vis­it since mov­ing to Bris­tol. (Not includ­ing the times one of us has been in with­out the oth­er.)

Now, that’s part­ly down to prox­im­i­ty – it real­ly is the clos­est pub to our house – but we’ve chal­lenged our­selves on this: is our num­ber three pub, the Bar­ley Mow near Tem­ple Meads, bet­ter than the Drap­ers? No, it isn’t.

Best Pub: the Drapers Arms.
Best non-Bristol pub

The Roy­al Oak at Bor­ough, Lon­don, is the best pub in Lon­don, for now, and that’s not opin­ion, it’s sci­en­tif­ic fact. Sus­sex Best! Those salt beef sand­wich­es!

The best Belgian bar

We find our­selves going back to Brasserie De L’Union in Saint-Gilles, Brus­sels, so that’s our win­ner. It’s earthy, a bit grot­ty, utter­ly bewil­der­ing, and there’s usu­al­ly some­one behav­ing down­right weird­ly. The beer is cheap, the ser­vice cheeky, and a diplomat’s girl­friend forced us to accept a gift of exot­ic fruit. And maybe the most impor­tant thing – we found it for our­selves.

The best German beer garden

We had such a nice time pre­tend­ing to be reg­u­lars at the Michaeli­garten in Munich in the autumn and can’t stop dream­ing about going there again.

The best beer of 2018

Cer­tain beers came up repeat­ed­ly in our Beers of the Week­end posts on Patre­on, some of which sur­prised us when we looked back:

  • Young’s Ordi­nary
  • Young’s Dou­ble Choco­late Stout
  • Lost & Ground­ed Keller Pils
  • Five Points Pils
  • Bath Ales Sulis
  • Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry Pale Blue Dot
  • Harvey’s Sus­sex Best
  • Dark Star Hop­head
  • Thorn­bridge Jaipur
  • De la Senne Taras Boul­ba
  • Tiny Rebel Stay Puft and Impe­r­i­al Puft
  • Titan­ic Plum Porter
  • Zero Degrees Bohemi­an
  • Zero Degrees Dark Lager

And there were also some one-offs that we remem­bered, and remem­bered fond­ly, even months down the line: Siren Kiset­su, a sai­son with yuzu fruit and tea, for exam­ple, or Elgood’s Cool­ship Man­go Sour.

But there’s one beer that we both agreed has become a favourite – that we find our­selves excit­ed to encounter, and stick­ing on when we find it in a pub – and that’s Ched­dar Ales Bit­ter Bul­ly. It’s clean, con­sis­tent, prop­er­ly bit­ter, and a very digestible 3.8%. It also almost in that north­ern style for which we’ve got such a soft spot.

Best Beer: Bitter Bully.
Best foreign beer

Based on vol­ume con­sumed, and time spent dream­ing about, it’s got to be De la Senne Taras Boul­ba.

Best Tripel

Look, we’ve been over this: it’s West­malle, but, boy, are we lov­ing Karmeli­et right now.

Best blend

Tuch­er Weizen with Oakham Green Dev­il – Hopfen­weisse!

Best blog/writer

With a year’s worth of news, nuggets and lon­greads posts to look over, this is anoth­er we don’t need to leave to guess­work because cer­tain blogs (or writ­ers) got linked to time and again:

But there’s one blog we reck­on stands above the rest for its fre­quen­cy and depth, and for the mea­sured insight it offers into a beer cul­ture not our own, and that’s Jeff Alworth’s Beer­vana.

Best blog: Beervana.Best beer Twitterer

It’s @thebeernut. Again.

Best beer publication

Orig­i­nal Grav­i­ty because it’s dif­fer­ent, both in terms of edi­to­r­i­al approach (cre­ative, impres­sion­is­tic, the­mat­ic) and dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el (free, in pubs). Good job, ATJ! (Dis­clo­sure: we’ve been paid to write a cou­ple of bits for OG.)

* * *

And that’s us done. We’ll also try to find time for our usu­al Best Read­ing and Best Tweets round-ups in the next week or so.

Pub Life: The Weegie and the Marbles

Illustration: "Old Boy With Pint".

An old pub in a quiet part of a busy city, and an elderly regular, watery-eyed and pale as paper, is sunk in his usual seat waiting for something to happen.

He looks at the TV, then at his news­pa­per, then at his watch. He stares into space, and per­haps into the past. He lines up the spare beer mats, then shuf­fles them out of line again.

Then, at least, some real excite­ment: a mixed group of twen­tysome­things enters, laugh­ing and chat­ter­ing. They are all tall, styl­ish, and dis­tinct­ly Mediter­ranean.

The Regular’s glit­ter­ing eyes track them across the pub car­pet. Two per cent of a smile appears on his thin lips.

The Vis­i­tors are qui­et­ly excit­ed to be in a Real Eng­lish Pub, star­ing at the ceil­ing, the ornate bar, the prints and mir­rors.

They all thrust bank notes at one woman, appar­ent­ly the best Eng­lish speak­er, and shove her towards the bar as they take over the table next to the Reg­u­lar.

The Reg­u­lar, his neck long gone, slow­ly turns his entire tor­so so he can watch them. The smile increas­es by anoth­er degree.

Where you from?” he gar­gles in their direc­tion.

The Vis­i­tors freeze and mut­ter attempt­ed trans­la­tions at each oth­er. The sec­ond best Eng­lish speak­er, beard­ed and quiffed, acts as spokesman.

We come from Greece.”

The Reg­u­lar nods – of course, he thought as much.

Well, me – I’m a Weegie.”

Silence. Baf­fled blink­ing.

A Glaswe­gian.”

Fur­ther mut­ter­ing.

I’m from Glas­gow.”

Bulbs light up.

Ah! Glas­gow! Yes, we know it! Alex Fer­gu­son! Celtic foot­ball club!”

A lucky guess, appar­ent­ly, as the Reg­u­lar is not offend­ed, but after this break­through, con­ver­sa­tion stalls.

Lagers and gins are sipped as the Greeks look anx­ious­ly at each oth­er – when is it accept­able to start talk­ing among them­selves again?

After an uncom­fort­able while, the Reg­u­lar shifts some phlegm about, and leans clos­er.

So,” he says, “here’s what I’m won­der­ing…”

Yes?”

When are the Eng­lish going to give you back those Elgin Mar­bles?”

And with that, the con­ver­sa­tion real­ly catch­es light.