Bristol, Where Headless Pints are a Feature, not a Bug

A Bass pale ale advertising lantern.
The William the Fourth, Sta­ple Hill.

Here’s a thing: the perfect Bristol pint doesn’t have foam. It comes up to the very brim, and the merest  hint of scum might draw a tut.

At least that’s what we’ve been told by sev­er­al dif­fer­ent peo­ple on sev­er­al dif­fer­ent occa­sions that this is the case, and that Bris­tol his­tor­i­cal­ly likes its pints ‘flat’.

A few months ago we had to nego­ti­ate heads on our beers with a mem­ber of staff in a pub more often fre­quent­ed by elder­ly men who angled the glass and trick­led the last inch­es with great care: “Look, I agree with you, but I’ve been work­ing here for a while and this lot have got me trained to serve it flat.”

At which point, an inter­rup­tion from a grey-hair with a sad-look­ing decap­i­tat­ed pint: “Yeah, prop­er Bris­tol style, we’re not up north now.”

To Jess, this idea doesn’t seem so alien: she recalls a gen­er­al pref­er­ence for com­plete­ly head­less pints in East Lon­don before about, say, 2005.

There, it often seemed to be tied to the ques­tion of val­ue, and a refusal to be at all influ­enced by the super­fi­cial: foam’s a mar­ket­ing trick to make mug pun­ters pay for air, innit?

In Bris­tol, we won­der if it’s a com­bi­na­tion of that, plus the influ­ence of scrumpy cider drinkers, whose pints are froth-free by default.

But we can’t say that in prac­tice we’ve encoun­tered many flat pints in Bris­tol, though, and one of the few handy sources, Fred Pearce’s 1975 guide to the pubs of Bris­tol, fea­tures plen­ty of shots of white-capped glass­es.

Maybe we’re hav­ing our legs pulled, or per­haps this is more com­plex than we’ve realised  – maybe only cer­tain brands or styles get the millpond treat­ment – but either way, it would be a bit sad if a gen­uine bit of local beer cul­ture has been lost.

Even if it’s good news for us as drinkers who very much pre­fer a bit of dress­ing around the top of the mug.

As you might have guessed, this is real­ly our way of flush­ing out more infor­ma­tion. Do com­ment below if you can tell us more.

100 WORDS: A Warning to the Curious

Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

A busy pub in Sheffield on Saturday night, and a line of hand-pumps from here to the horizon.

We order a pint of this one, and a half of that one, then spot the oth­er one which we’ve been want­i­ng to try out of aca­d­e­m­ic curios­i­ty.

Oh, actu­al­ly, can you make it a half of [REDACTED].”

The per­son behind the bar hes­i­tates, glances, and says qui­et­ly (yet some­how audi­ble over the hub­bub):

Sure?”

Not good?”

A slight wrin­kle of the nose con­veys every­thing we need to know.

Ah, right, scratch that.”

A con­spir­a­to­r­i­al nod – good move, well done, smart choice.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 6 October 2018: Cask, Cans, Classics

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer in the past week, from cask anxiety to Berlin boozers.

The lat­est Cask Report was pub­lished (PDF, via Cask Mar­que) but for the first time in a few years we couldn’t sum­mon the ener­gy to read it, hence no men­tion in last Saturday’s round-up. But there has been plen­ty of com­men­tary in the past week and a bit which we thought it might be worth round­ing up:

Mar­tyn Cor­nell – “Why is find­ing a prop­er­ly kept pint of cask ale such an appalling lot­tery in Britain’s pubs”?

Ben Nunn – “[Are] we… head­ing for a world where real ale is, like vinyl, a niche prod­uct – not real­ly for the main­stream, sold only in spe­cial­ist out­lets and usu­al­ly restrict­ed only to cer­tain styles or gen­res?”

Pub Cur­mud­geon – “Maybe it is also time to ques­tion whether hand­pumps can be more of a hin­drance than a help.”

Steph Shut­tle­worth (Twit­ter) – “[We] don’t cur­rent­ly have any reports that are nuanced or in-depth enough for the indus­try to rely on… Cask is a sig­nif­i­cant part of many craft brew­eries e.g. Mar­ble, Mag­ic Rock, Thorn­bridge, but we can’t draw lines as to who is in which mar­ket…”

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 6 Octo­ber 2018: Cask, Cans, Clas­sics”

A New Axis: Classic | Standard | New-Local

A pint of beer.

Where are we in the cycle? At the point where seeing Elland 1872 Porter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Thornbridge Jaipur, Fyne Ales Jarl, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Bank Top Mild on offer in our local is tremendously exciting – that’s where.

Andy Hamil­ton, who writes about booze and for­ag­ing, and for­ag­ing for booze, is pro­mot­ing a book and con­vinced the Drap­ers Arms to hold a mini fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing some of the beers it men­tions.

The Drap­ers has a pret­ty seri­ous com­mit­ment to local beers, list­ing dis­tance trav­elled for each beer, and aver­age dis­tance for the entire list, on the menu black­board.

In fact, that’s a trend reflect­ed across Bris­tol: it’s not unusu­al to walk into a pub and find the whole beer list made up of beers from with­in the city bound­aries.

The beer list at the Drapers Arms.

That can be great – we’ve dis­cov­ered some impres­sive West Coun­try brew­eries this way, and it’s cer­tain­ly fuelling the Bris­tol brew­ery boom – but is also mild­ly frus­trat­ing.

Let’s con­sid­er Jaipur. It’s a beer that’s well into its sec­ond decade and has gained the sta­tus of a clas­sic. In bot­tles, it’s rea­son­ably easy to find in super­mar­kets. But how often do we get to drink it on cask? Twice, maybe three times a year? And that’s most­ly in Wether­spoon pubs.

Old Peculi­er is anoth­er beer we’ve encoun­tered on cask only a hand­ful of times in more than a decade of beer blog­ging, and which we’re hop­ing will still be on when we pop round to the Drap­ers after post­ing this. We felt a gen­uine thrill when we saw the A-board out­side the pub announc­ing its arrival last night.

All this has made us think that as well as our long­stand­ing wish for more pubs to make a point of hav­ing one of each colour (brown, yel­low, black) per­haps there ought to be anoth­er axis: big clas­sic + stan­dard + local/new.

We can imag­ine going into a pub with that kind of mix and start­ing on the clas­sic, try­ing the new­com­er, and then decid­ing where to stick for a third round depend­ing on how the first two tast­ed.

In the mean­time (this kind of thing is always fun) what’s your sug­ges­tion for a line-up which cov­ers brown/yellow/black and clas­sic/­s­tan­dard­/lo­cal-new?

Old Peculi­er, Lon­don Pride and Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry Nova would do us nice­ly, for exam­ple.

It’s Been Like That All Day”

Cartoon: a man peers at a beer with a beady eye.

We were recently in a pub serving a range of beers we know well enough to realise that they’re never supposed to be hazy.

But, of course, the beer we ordered was served with a light haze, Moor-style, which we gen­tly ques­tioned.

Oh, it’s been like that all day. It prob­a­bly didn’t quite set­tle out right before we tapped the cask.”

It was said pleas­ant­ly enough, but dis­mis­sive­ly – a vari­a­tion on “Nobody else has com­plained” crossed with a watered down “It’s meant to be like that”.

Because we did know the beer, and want­ed some­thing par­tic­u­lar from it – crisp­ness, hop per­fume – we pushed back: would it be OK, we won­dered, to taste the beer, and if it had a notice­ably dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter than usu­al, or wasn’t at least as good despite the dif­fer­ence, have it replaced?

The man­ag­er was con­sult­ed and every­one agreed (after a bit more time and effort than one drink deserved) that this was a good idea.

Sure enough, it tast­ed fine – not sour or nasty – but notice­ably mut­ed, and rather dull, so we reject­ed it.

We – knowl­edge­able con­sumers, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, and con­fi­dent about speak­ing up – were able to nav­i­gate this sit­u­a­tion to reach a sat­is­fac­to­ry con­clu­sion, but we can imag­ine oth­ers com­ing away think­ing ill of that beer and brew­ery, and prob­a­bly unim­pressed with the pub.

But why would the man­ag­er make the choice to keep serv­ing a beer they know isn’t right? Incom­pe­tence? Indif­fer­ence? Our sus­pi­cion is that it was an unin­tend­ed con­se­quence of the cor­po­rate set­up with­in which the pub oper­ates pri­ori­tis­ing the need to min­imise wastage over qual­i­ty.

Oth­ers, though, might argue that this is fur­ther evi­dence that increased accep­tance of haze in cer­tain beers is caus­ing con­fu­sion and jus­ti­fy­ing shod­di­ness more gen­er­al­ly. If that’s the case then com­plain­ing when pos­si­ble (qui­et­ly, polite­ly), mak­ing it more trou­ble than it is worth, might be part of the solu­tion.