Don’t Worry, Be (Mostly) Happy

This post was written for #BeeryLongreads2018 and made possible by the support of our Patreon subscribers. Do consider signing up if you enjoy this blog, or perhaps just buy us a one-off pint.

For the last year or so we’ve been slowly chewing over a single big question: how healthy is British beer culture?

You might remember, if you’re a long-time reader, that we first wrote about the idea of healthy beer culture in 2013, but that was a set of bullet points. This post expands on those ideas with another five years’-worth of evidence, experience and thinking.

We should confess that our starting point is one of mild frustration at the pervasive idea that British beer – and beer culture more generally – is ailing. We see various worries expressed on social media, and in blog posts and articles, each one discrete and personal, but adding up to a mass of anxiety. If you’re in this bubble it can feel like the end times.

To provide fuel for this specific blog post we asked our Twitter followers to tell us what, if anything, made them worried for the future of British beer. Some statements echoed things we’ve seen said many times before, while others flagged issues we had not considered. Quite a few effectively cancelled each other out, highlighting the absurdity of thinking about British beer as a monolith. There is no single idea of what healthy looks like, and no victory that won’t feel like a defeat to somebody else.

In this post we want to focus on some of the most commonly expressed fears, question whether they have a basis in reality, and consider the the likely impact of those that do.

Let’s begin with a staple of beer commentary for the past 25 years or so: the  perils of the pursuit of novelty.

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Belgophilia Unlocked

Illustration: Belgium and Belgian beer.

Last year we wrote a piece for CAMRA’s BEER magazine about British beer drinkers obsessed with Belgium and Belgian beer.

It was great fun to write and involved interviewing and corresponding with some fascinating people, pondering some intriguing questions — what part did Eurostar play in all this? How will Brexit influence it in future? What the heck is ‘Burgundian Babble Belt’?

It was in the magazine last autumn and in February this year we made it available to our Patreon subscribers. Now, a couple of months on, we’ve unlocked that post so everyone can read it.

If you’d like to get advance access to this kind of stuff (we write two or three things for the Patreon feed every week), and want to tell us which beers to taste, among other perks, then do consider signing up. It’s dead easy and really does give us an enormous boost and encourages us to keep this madness up.

Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide

In 1974 the first edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide was published. We spoke to those who were involved in its genesis to find out how it came to be. Here is the story in the words of those who were there, a version of which first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of BEER magazine.

John Hanscomb
Early CAMRA member, and first editor of the Good Beer Guide
We all knew we liked proper beer but the problem was, we didn’t know where to drink – we didn’t know where the pubs were. There was Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Companion but that was all about the breweries, not the pubs, although it did give you an idea of their trading areas. And the brewers… The brewers wouldn’t give me any information! I rang up one and asked them which were their pubs and which sold proper beer and they wouldn’t tell me because they thought I was from Watney’s or Whitbread: ‘We don’t know who you are.’

Michael Hardman
Co-founder and first chair of CAMRA
John Young [of Young’s brewery] was championing cask ale in a very serious way, and had been holding out for a decade before CAMRA came along. He thought of himself as the only one left. Young’s had never been a particularly profitable company. They had some pretty dingy pubs, and a very ‘bitter’ bitter that was going out of fashion. In 1963, he’d been approached by Derek Peebles, a former naval officer, who said: ‘What you need is a PR campaign, and I’m the man to do it!’ What he did was put together the first ever comprehensive list of Young’s pubs under the title ‘Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It’.

Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It

John Hanscomb
The Young’s guide was undoubtedly an influence, very much so. With Young’s you could guarantee that all their pubs would have proper beer. John Young deserves a lot of credit.

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#BeeryLongreads 2018

On Saturday 26 May (in three months’ time) we’d like our fellow beer bloggers to post something a bit special — longer, more challenging, or just different — and share it on social media with the hashtag #BeeryLongreads, or #BeeryLongreads2018.

What’s the purpose? To some degree, it’s purely selfish: it’s about increasing the amount of deep beer and pub writing around for us to enjoy. But it’s also supposed to encourage others, like the writing equivalent of signing up to a 10k run. If there’s a project you’ve been meaning to get round to but keep putting off, this is your chance. If your blog has gone dormant, this might be a peg on which to hang its revival.

What are the rules? There aren’t any rules, as such. You don’t have to link to us when you post, though obviously it would be nice if you did. Using the hashtag will help people find your contribution via social media and  is probably the bare minimum commitment.

We don’t have any objection to professional writers getting involved, either, if they want to, perhaps by sharing an article you want to write but nobody will commission, an old piece from your archives, or an extract from a book you want to plug.

How long is a longread? If you want a target, aim for 2,000 words, or twice as long as your normal average post, whichever is bigger. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be long, this time round. It might be deeper, darker, just something that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Definitely don’t flog your way to, say, 2,000 words for the sake of it.

And here’s what we can do to help: if you’d find it helpful, we’ll read drafts, comment on ideas before you start work, share our research material, or advise you on where to find your own. If you are someone who struggles with illustrations or photographs, we might be able to lend a hand there, too. Email us: contact@boakandbailey.com

And when it’s all done, we’ll include your post in a round-up and maybe share it separately on social media.*

If you want some ideas or prompts: write about a local brewery, active or defunct, that people might now know much about; or an interesting local pub. Give us a family memoir or tell a personal story you’ve hesitated to share. Dig up a story — read old books, old newspapers, ask questions, until you find an interesting tale nobody else has noticed. Crunch some numbers. Brew a beer. Visit every pub in town.

We’ll issue occasional reminders, probably at the end of March and again at the end of April. You might consider sticking it in whichever calendar app you use and setting a few nudging reminders of your own.

If you’ve got other questions, drop us a line, or post in the comments below and we’ll update the post as necessary.

* But we reserve the right not to include a post if it’s, say, downright abusive.

An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge

MAIN IMAGE: The Markham Arms in 1976 © Klaus Hiltscher, used with permission.

The architect and interior designer Roderick ‘Roddy’ Gradidge was both a conservative and a wannabe Teddy Boy proto-punk. Though he worked on all kinds of buildings, and wrote several books, he is usually described in short-form as one thing: a pub designer.

We’ve put together this profile based on the newspaper archives we were able to access, online sources, and the books in the ever-expanding Arthur Millard Memorial Library (our box room). As such, consider it a work in progress: when we get chance, for example, we’ll visit the RIBA library and see if we can come up with a more comprehensive list of his projects. Here’s what we know for now.

John Roderick Warlow Gradidge was born in Norfolk in 1929 but grew up in India where his father served in the colonial army. Young Roderick came back to England in 1943 to attend Stowe under the headmastership of J.F. Roxburgh. Writing in the aftermath of Gradidge’s death the writer A.N. Wilson, a friend, suggested that Roxburgh was a key influence on Gradidge’s character:

When one thinks of the flamboyant gallery of talent fostered by that schoolmaster – Peregrine Worsthorne, Antony Quinton, George Melly, – it is hard not to feel some connection.

Flamboyant is certainly the right word: Gradidge, who everyone describes as ‘huge’ or ‘massive’, started wearing an earring in 1955 and ‘longed to be a Teddy boy’, donning the uniform drape jacket, sideburns, tight trousers and suede brothel-creepers and devoting himself to rock’n’roll.

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