On beer scenes

We’re currently working on a big piece about the Leeds beer scene, hopefully to go live next weekend, which has got us thinking about the very idea of ‘scenes’.

To qual­i­fy as some­where with a ‘beer scene’ there are a few require­ments, we reck­on:

1. Mul­ti­ple inter­est­ing pubs, bars or beer exhi­bi­tion venues. One microp­ub, tap­room or bar does not a beer scene make. And they real­ly do need to be with­in walk­ing dis­tance of each oth­er – the basis of a crawl. There prob­a­bly has to be at least one leg­endary, must-vis­it venue.

2. Pun­dit­ry. If you’re vis­it­ing Bog­gle­ton, who do you ask for advice? Who’s writ­ten a local guide, whether as a book, web­site or blog post? Have Matt Cur­tis, Jon­ny Gar­rett or Tony Nay­lor been in town tak­ing notes?

3. Events. Bot­tle-shares, meet-the-brew­ers, tap takeovers and the like. We don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like events but there’s no deny­ing that they bring scat­tered beer geeks togeth­er, cre­at­ing and sig­nalling the exis­tence of a com­mu­ni­ty.

4. Fes­ti­vals, plur­al. Not just the local CAMRA fes­ti­val, although those are impor­tant, but alter­na­tive events organ­ised out­side that infra­struc­ture. Espe­cial­ly if they’re focused on par­tic­u­lar nich­es – lager, sour beer, green hops, and so on. (Again, we rarely go our­selves, but…)

5. Faces. The peo­ple who make things hap­pen, are at all the events, who drink maybe a bit more than a civil­ian might and put their mon­ey where their mouths are. They’re also the source of low-lev­el soap opera (Thingum­abob’s fall­en out with Woss­name; So-and-so’s left Venue A to work at Venue B). And, of course,  they’re the ones to watch when it comes to the next gen­er­a­tion of bars, brew­eries and beer busi­ness.

6. Tourists. If beer geeks build their hol­i­days around your town, city or region, it’s prob­a­bly got a bona fide beer scene. In gen­er­al, it needs to be a city or larg­er town. Fal­mouth almost pulls it off, as did New­ton Abbot for a while, but there almost needs to be a sense that there’s just too much to get into a sin­gle long week­end.

What do you reck­on? Any­thing obvi­ous we’ve missed?

The unwritten rules of round-buying

There are few things as odd as reading an observed description of your own culture’s unconscious habits, such as the buying of rounds of drinks.

When we arrived in Glas­gow last week­end we browsed the guide­books sup­plied in our flat and stopped short when we found a note, aimed at vis­i­tors to Scot­land, on how to buy rounds:

Like the Eng­lish, Welsh and Irish, Scots gen­er­al­ly take it in turns to buy a round of drinks for the whole group, and every­one is expect­ed to take part. The next round should always be bought before the first round is fin­ished.

It was that last line that gave us pause.

We’ve nev­er real­ly thought about how rounds are paced, even though we’ve some­times been aware of strug­gling to keep up with fast-drink­ing friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers, and  on oth­er occa­sions of sit­ting with emp­ty glass­es wait­ing for the round-buy­er des­ig­nate to make a move.

Our Twit­ter fol­low­ers offered vary­ing points of view:

  • The fastest drinker sets the pace.
  • The slow­est drinker sets the pace.
  • If you drink espe­cial­ly quick­ly, you should buy the odd pint on your own to fill the gaps.
  • The round-buy­er should go when there’s a win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty at a busy bar.

Which sug­gests that if there are rules, they’re flex­i­ble, and vary from place to place, and group to group.

We also looked at Pass­port to the Pub, a bril­liant piece of work by soci­ol­o­gist Kate Fox from 1996 which attempts to break down in exquis­ite detail every aspect of pub cul­ture for the ben­e­fit of non-Brits. She writes:

Don’t wait until all your com­pan­ions’ glass­es are emp­ty before offer­ing to buy the next round. The cor­rect time to say “It’s my round” is when your com­pan­ions have con­sumed about three-quar­ters of their drinks. (Beware: the natives tend to drink quite fast, and may have fin­ished their drinks when you have bare­ly start­ed.)

She also adds, how­ev­er:

Don’t be afraid to refuse a drink. If you can­not keep up with the drink­ing-pace of your native com­pan­ions, it is per­fect­ly accept­able to say, “Noth­ing for me, thanks”. If you alter­nate accept­ing and declin­ing dur­ing the round-buy­ing process, you will con­sume half the num­ber of drinks, with­out draw­ing too much atten­tion to your­self. Avoid mak­ing an issue or a moral virtue of your mod­er­ate drink­ing, and nev­er refuse a drink that is clear­ly offered as a sig­nif­i­cant ‘peace-mak­ing’ or ‘friend­ship’ ges­ture – you can always ask for a soft-drink, and you don’t have to drink all of it.

There’s also a lot of good stuff on round-buy­ing in the 1943 Mass Obser­va­tion book The Pub and the Peo­ple, includ­ing a note on how drinkers in Bolton in the late 1930s kept pace with each oth­er to avoid awk­ward­ness:

[All] our obser­va­tions show that the major­i­ty of pub-goers tend, when drink­ing in a group, to drink lev­el; and very often there is not a quar­ter inch dif­fer­ence between the depth of beer in the glass­es of a group of drinkers… The simul­ta­ne­ous emp­ty­ing of glass­es is the most fre­quent form of lev­el drink­ing. And it is (for rea­sons con­nect­ed with the rit­u­al of stand­ing rounds) the most like­ly form of lev­el drink­ing that is due to ‘antic­i­pa­tion’.

We sus­pect a fair bit of this still goes on today even if, again, those doing it don’t know it’s hap­pen­ing. Or maybe this is a bit of a lost art?

In prac­tice, of course, all of these rules or cus­toms are under­stood with­out being spo­ken, and pos­si­bly com­plete­ly uncon­scious­ly. We mod­er­ate our behav­iour based on the group we’re with, our knowl­edge of people’s finan­cial sit­u­a­tions, or their capac­i­ty for alco­hol.

The only time strict rules are like­ly to be enforced is when we’re drink­ing with com­plete strangers.

Anoth­er thought: in a good pub, there are plen­ty of options for keep­ing pace with­out get­ting exces­sive­ly drunk. For exam­ple, Pal­ly makes the pace with pints of strong ale; Matey, drink­ing a bit quick­er than they’d like, is on best; and Woss­name, who keeps hav­ing to chug the last third of every pint, takes ordi­nary bit­ter at 3.7%. They all end up about as pissed as each oth­er.

At our local, the Drap­ers, a fur­ther refine­ment can be found in the four-pint jug. First, choos­ing the beer is a real team exer­cise, leav­ing no room for fussi­ness. Sec­ond­ly, shar­ing, while not strict­ly equi­table, does solve the pac­ing prob­lem: if your glass is emp­ty, have a slug more; if the jug is emp­ty, some­one needs to get a round in.

Final­ly, Kate Fox also makes the point that it’s as bad to make too much fuss about equal­i­ty in round-buy­ing as it is to be seen as stingy. After all, it gen­er­al­ly evens itself out across mul­ti­ple ses­sions, or over the course of a life­time of friend­ship – a boozy take on the con­cept of kar­ma.

Only once that either of us can remem­ber have we encoun­tered some­one who real­ly broke the unspo­ken rules of round-buy­ing, almost seem­ing to make a game out of avoid­ing pay­ing their way over the course of months. Even­tu­al­ly, after about a year of mount­ing irri­ta­tion, there was an inter­ven­tion and they were forced to buy a rea­son­ably-priced round in a Sam Smith’s pub in cen­tral Lon­don. This was, as you might imag­ine, an awful thing to wit­ness.

News, nuggets and longreads 25 May 2019: Hyperlocal, Global, Superfresh

Here’s all the beer and pub writing from the past week that made us pause to think, with something of a common thread emerging.

For Fer­ment, the mag­a­zine pub­lished by beer sub­scrip­tion ser­vice Beer52, Katie Math­er has writ­ten about the beer-drinker’s equiv­a­lent to the book group:

What’s espe­cial­ly grand about these hyper­local com­mu­ni­ties is that they’ve all grown out of neces­si­ty and pure enthu­si­asm. Even large groups like Craft Beer New­cas­tle, Ladies That Beer and the long-run­ning Twit­ter com­mu­ni­ty Craft Beer Hour start­ed off as ideas sparked by pub con­ver­sa­tions between beer lovers who want­ed to hang out more. Now, most areas have at least one super-small com­mu­ni­ty for you to take part in, whether they’re local CAMRA groups or self-start­ed clubs like Beer Mersey­side, Glas­gow Beer, Mid­lands Beer Blog, South Dublin Brew­ers, North Coast Bot­tle Share, Leeds Beer Bul­letin or CRAP (Cum­bria Real Ale Post­ings).


Oompah band at the Hofbrauhaus.

There are four First Class Beer Coun­tries, argues Ed, where the beer and drink­ing cul­ture is just bet­ter than any­where else:

1. Britain

A well kept pint of cask ale is indeed the great­est beer in the world. It has only been when drink­ing cask beer that I’ve felt the mag­ic come and angels dance on my tongue. Served as god intend­ed with­out arti­fi­cial car­bon­a­tion, there is no bet­ter beer. And to back it up it will be found in pubs, the great­est places that can be found to drink beer, where you can relax and unwind in a com­fort­able and cosy envi­ron­ment.


Barcelona in 2007.

Now, segue­ing well, here’s a month-old arti­cle that bare­ly men­tions beer: Rebec­ca Mead writ­ing for the New York­er on Airbnb and its impact on Euro­pean cities. The apart­ment rental ser­vice, she argues, is dri­ving the homogeni­sa­tion of cul­ture as part of ‘a glob­al trend in urban gen­tri­fi­ca­tion’, focus­ing on Barcelona as a prime exam­ple:

We crossed the Ron­da de Sant Pau, a boule­vard that sep­a­rates the Raval from its more mid­dle-class neigh­bor Sant Antoni. Quaglieri want­ed to show me a café, Fed­er­al, which Aus­tralian expats had opened a few years ago. We might as well have been in Hack­ney or the Mis­sion Dis­trict or any­where else that hip­sters gath­er: signs, in Eng­lish, request­ed that vis­i­tors with lap­tops con­fine them­selves to a large com­mon table, every seat of which was occu­pied by a young per­son using the Inter­net. We ordered drinks: a warm gin­ger infu­sion for me, a turmer­ic lat­te for Quaglieri.


Dom Cook.
Source: The Takeout/Tiesha Cook.

And anoth­er segue: what are the alter­na­tives to gener­ic, cos­mopoli­tan white hip­ster cul­ture? For The Take­out Kate Bernot has inter­viewed Dom Cook, author of This Ain’t the Beer That You’re Used To:

Dom “Doochie” Cook is also not the beer writer that you’re used to. I’ve read a lot of beer books, and I’ve nev­er seen prop­er beer and food pair­ing described as “like Jadakiss and Styles P going back and forth on a Swizz track in the ear­ly 2000s.” Cook and his Beer Kul­ture col­lec­tive have set out to change the way urban black Amer­i­ca thinks about beer, and vice ver­sa. They’re out to deliv­er a wake-up call.


Jaipur can
SOURCE: Thorn­bridge.

This one is about glob­al or local beer cul­ture… Or is it? Josh Far­ring­ton at Beer and Present Dan­ger was moved to come out of a year-long blog­ging hia­tus by a can of Thorn­bridge Jaipur from his local super­mar­ket which made him rethink his atti­tude to fresh­ness:

Crack­ing it open ready to enjoy a sim­ple glug­ging beer, I was stopped in my tracks, even before I took a swig – the aro­ma leapt out of the tin, a tuft of fruit sal­ad chewi­ness, and the taste was per­fect, part Nordic Fir and part mar­malade shred, decid­ed­ly bit­ter but with­out being harsh or dry­ing. It was sub­lime, a pla­ton­i­cal­ly good beer, and a per­fect rev­e­la­tion when I’d expect­ed mere­ly fine. I checked the can – and dis­cov­ered it was three days old.


And final­ly, an inter­est­ing look­ing book with a great title:

 

For more of this kind of thing check out Alan McLeod’s round-up on Thurs­day; Stan Hierony­mus’s Mon­day links are on hold.

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.