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.
Carpets were seen as taking pubs downmarket, somehow? Making them more frivolous?
A reminder that pub carpets aren’t a great old tradition – they’re a relatively new development.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
We know the Wetherspoon chain has a fascinating history – we wrote about it at length in 20th Century Pub – and now that history is going to be celebrated with a museum above a Wolverhampton superpub. We suspect this will have a certain kitsch appeal and become a pilgrimage site for Spoons worshippers in years to come.
Some sad brewery news: York Brewery has gone into administration. We’ve generally enjoyed York’s beers over the years, and certainly associated them with weekends away in one of England’s most fascinating cities, even if in recent years they’ve perhaps struggled to stand out.
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.
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.
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 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 Munichin 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 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
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 foreign beer
Based on volume consumed, and time spent dreaming about, it’s got to be De la Senne Taras Boulba.
Look, we’ve been over this: it’s Westmalle, but, boy, are we loving Karmeliet right now.
Tucher Weizen with Oakham Green Devil – Hopfenweisse!
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:
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.)
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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.