Categories
Blogging and writing

BOOK REVIEW: Modern British Beer by Matthew Curtis

Modern British Beer (RRP £15.99, 256 pages) by Matthew Curtis comprises a series of short pieces covering 80 or so beers that the author feels reflects the breadth and range of beer on offer in the UK today.

As in our review of the official history of CAMRA, we’ll start with an observation that this is an interesting choice of book for CAMRA to commission and publish.

It suggests they’ve moved quite comprehensively past the debate about whether it is ever appropriate for the Campaign to support or endorse beer that isn’t ‘real’.

The book features a good spread of breweries, from the very new to stalwarts of the real ale scene such as Durham and Oakham. It’s fair to say, though, that the book leans towards those founded in the 21st century.

We often feel we’ve fallen out of the loop since writing Brew Britannia and all too often fall into the trap of writing off a lot of modern beers as hazy and/or sweet, and not to our taste. A book that provides a manageable hit list and helps us find our way to the good stuff in a crowded market might, we hoped, make us feel more on top of things.

This book delivers precisely that. Like the book we started out with all those years ago, Michael Jackson’s 500 Great Beers, it offers page after page of delightful descriptions accompanied by enticing photography.

Perhaps wisely, the choice of image goes beyond glossy product or pack shots and instead seeks to convey a sense of what ‘modern British beer’ means in practice. That is, lots of stainless steel, industrial units and taprooms.

We’ve drunk maybe only a third of the beers listed. There are a few breweries in the book we’ve never come across in the wild and which, having read Curtis’s impassioned tributes, will definitely be seeking out.

We know we won’t like everything he recommends but the hit rate is likely to be higher with a guide than without.

Particular kudos is due to the author for making the effort to list plenty of beers that aren’t hazy IPAs.

As with Michael Jackson, the tone is positive and uncritical – perfect for generating enthusiasm in the reader. There is a sense that the text takes the various breweries’ marketing lines and origin stories at face value, usually with a personal recollection of where the author first tasted Beer X or first met Brewer Z.

In a couple of cases, this highlights the weakness of books as a format for covering the here and now. For example, between writing and printing, the environmental credentials that form a large part of the BrewDog story here came under fire in the national press. And a passage about the head of one brewery who ‘has always done things her way’ prompts an involuntary cringe in the wake of bullying allegations which led to her recent resignation.

Books can only ever be snapshots, however, and capturing the moment is worthwhile, too. We can presumably expect a new edition of this guide every two or three years and it will be interesting to see who is in, and who is out.

One final quibble: we’re also not sure about the definition of modern British beer, or whether it even needs defining.

That is, we’re not convinced that being focused on ingredients, or being rooted in the local community, is something that sets the breweries listed here apart from, say, Bathams, or Adnams.

The point isn’t laboured, though, and is hardly that important. Really, it’s all about the list, the guiding hand and the sense of infectious glee.

The book is already well-thumbed and is, as we speak, informing our plans about where to go on holiday later this year.

We bought our copy direct from CAMRA at a pre-order price of £13.00 plus delivery.

Categories
opinion

BOOK REVIEW: 50 Years of CAMRA

The decision by CAMRA to commission a warts-and-all official history by Laura Hadland made something of a statement: it is keen to balance celebration with reflection – and perhaps ready to show its sensitive underbelly to the world.

50 Years of CAMRA (RRP £16.99, 245 pages) will be most interesting to CAMRA members, either nostalgic or curious, and to scholars of British beer history.

It is built around a combination of archive research, with special emphasis on What’s Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper; and interviews with longtime CAMRA members, both in leadership positions and the rank-and-file.

Until now, we’d have said our own Brew Britannia offered the most detailed and balanced account of the early years of CAMRA, but Hadland’s book benefits from the space to zoom in on certain details that we had to summarise.

She also has input from founder member Graham Lees – something we never achieved, despite many grovelling emails.

Before opening the book, we had a particular test in mind: what might she say about the founding date of CAMRA?

Researching Brew Britannia we worked out that the official founding date didn’t tie in with another detail of the story – that the founders read a story in the Mirror about the poor quality of British beer on their way home from the trip to Ireland on which CAMRA was formed.

It’s a minor detail, it doesn’t really matter in terms of the grand narrative, but it is a flaw in what for decades was the accepted origin tale.

In a footnote to Brew Britannia we suggested that the trip must have been a week later than supposed and that the article probably prompted the founding of CAMRA; Hadland, based on new testimony from founder member Michael Hardman, argues otherwise.

What matters to us, really, is that this point is considered at all. It’s a sign of due diligence.

Throughout the book, similar rigour is displayed in terms of pinning down the facts, with reference to original sources and first-hand testimony.

Elsewhere, criticisms of the Campaign, arising both internally and from outside, are clearly set down and thoroughly interrogated.

“With nearly 200,000 members it is not surprising that CAMRA cannot always present a united front”, she writes. What it does present, through this book, is the ability to look at itself with clear eyes.

From institutional sexism to the constant debate over the organisation’s focus (is it ale, pubs, or something else?) and the failure of the CAMRA Revitalisation project, Hadland makes space for thoughtful comments from veterans, newcomers and objective outsiders.

Most talk sense, even if they often contradict each other, giving the sense that the instinct to debate and to compromise are among CAMRA’s strengths, not its weaknesses.

Although clearly and engagingly written, the book isn’t a narrative history to be read from cover-to-cover. Instead, it is arranged around big themes, each chapter or section bouncing the reader back and forth through the decades like a tiddly timelord.

We were particularly pleased to see space given to topics such as the role of women in CAMRA over the years and to a note on the founding of the Lesbian and Gay Real Ale Drinkers Group (LAGRAD) in 1995.

If you’re interested in the history (and future) of CAMRA, you’ll want this on your shelf. Every time you dip into it, you’ll learn some new detail; and as a reference, it will prove invaluable.

We bought our copy from the CAMRA bookshop. It’s also available via, for example, bookshop.org.

Categories
20th Century Pub pubs

The joy of Glasgow pubs in 1901

In 1901, James Hamilton Muir conducted a survey of life in Scotland’s biggest city, including notes on its pubs and the drinking habits of its citizens.

Now, Glasgow is well off our beat, though we very much enjoyed our stay there a couple of years ago. When we wrote 20th Century Pub, after a little hesitation, we decided to focus on England rather than wade into the complexities of cross-jurisdictional licencing law and drinking culture.

Still, every now and then, we stumble upon something interesting about Scotland and decide it’s worth flagging, more in the hope that someone with local knowledge will dig deeper.

This time, it’s Muir’s book Glasgow in 1901. Who was Muir? Apparently, he didn’t exist – it was a shared pseudonym for James Bone, a journalist, and churchman Archibald Charteris.

In a section entitled ‘His Howffs’, they describe the late-Victorian Glaswegian’s preferred haunts starting, perhaps surprisingly, with tea shops, or tea rooms:

It is not the accent of the people, nor the painted houses, nor yet the absence of Highland policemen that make the Glasgow man in London feel that he is in a foreign town and far from home. It is a simpler matter. It is the lack of tea shops. You  understand and sympathise with the question that he never fails to put to his southern friend, ‘A say, whit do you folk dae when ye want a good cuppa tea?’ And the Londoner, what can he answer? Barring gin palaces and restaurants (where tea is equally tabooed) he knows no middle between, let us say, Fuller’s on the one hand and a shop of the Aerated Bread Company on the other… Glasgow, in truth, is a very Tokio for tea rooms. Nowhere can one have so much for so little, and nowhere are such places more popular or frequented.

A while ago, we wrote about the erotic fixation on barmaids which marks much Victorian and Edwardian writing about pubs. Tea shops, it seems, had a similar appeal:

The girls who now are waitresses in tea shops would have been domestic servants fifteen years  ago… Once installed, she may discover that a covey of young gentlemen wait daily for her ministrations, and will even have the loyalty to follow her should she change her employer. This is the only point in which she resembles a barmaid, from whom in all others she must be carefully distinguished. She is less the Juno, and more the Cricket on the Hearth; less knowing, less familiar with the eccentricities of bibulous man, more quiet and domesticated… To other people she has a more human interest, and to a young man coming without  friends and introductions from the country, she may be a little tender. For it is not impossible that, his landlady apart, she is the only petticoated being with whom he can converse  without shame.

Some, ‘Muir’ tells us, saw tea shops as a newfangled distraction, luring young men from the pubs where, by rights, they ought to be:

It is said that the tea shops have done away with the daylight drinking which used to be common among Glasgow clerks a decade or two ago. Of these stirring times legends still exist in many offices, and the raw novice is told how, when the first of the month fell upon a Saturday, the whole staff, braving the ‘guvemors,’ would sally forth in the forenoon to a howff in Drury Street and leave the porter to keep the office; or how the process clerk of a lawyer’s firm would each morning, punctually at ten, leave his desk under the pretext of ‘business at court,’ and late in the afternoon return warm with liquor and less than steady of foot. These days have gone for good or bad, and the clerk of the period must, at least by day, be reckoned among the sober  people… And so perhaps there is something in the complaint of men who have come back from the hard drinking of their youth, that tea shops are a snare for the feet of the young. In the old days, they say, to frequent a public-house demanded of a man a certain inclination towards licence, a certain disregard for propriety ; in fact, a certain pronouncedness of character. Hence youths of rectitude passed by on the other side. Nowadays, the very innocence of the liquid purveyed in a tea shop is the devil’s own device for soothing the conscience of the strictly bred. They enter, thinking no evil, and at the end issue as tea-sodden wretches that are worse than drunkards. Moreover, they inhale the smoke of cheap cigarettes. 

Having read more than one recent elegy for the death of daytime drinking and the lunchtime pint, it’s amusing to think that this was written more than a hundred years ago.

Before we get to pubs, the next category of ‘howff’ is the club – ‘If the tea shops are meant for the coming man, clubs exist for the man who has arrived, and public-houses for him who is overdue.’ These were exclusive, ‘Muir’ suggests, but hardly impressive: ‘The New Club has a most imposing house in West George Street… [but] has rather the air of being about to fall into the street’.

The Old Burnt Barns, Hamilton Street, Glasgow, in 1898, via Virtual Mitchell.

So, finally, we get to the main event – Glasgow pubs at a time when it was the second city of a global empire. Surely something special, right?

You cannot say that in Glasgow they have a distinctive character. They are of the most ordinary kind — brilliant, garish places, with barrels behind the counter, sawdust on the floor, and the smell of fermented liquor in the air. They are purely shops for perpendicular drinking, for the Magistrates, in the interests of the young, have succeeded in making them places in which no man, from the fatigue of standing, will linger long.

Oh. That’s a disappointment.

An interesting side note provided at this point concerns Manchester pubs which ‘Muir’ tells us was famous for its ‘sing-songs’ and ‘cosies’. These ‘random gatherings’ of people singing together were, ‘Muir’ suspected, fundamentally ‘un-Scots’: ‘It offends one’s sense of reserve, even one’s self-respect, and perhaps it is incompatible with the drinking of whisky.’

The prevalence of whisky drinking, the lack of seating and the foul weather seem, in the jaundiced view of ‘Muir’, to have made a big night out in Glasgow something of an ordeal:

[The] public-houses of Glasgow are crowded, garish, inhuman, unmerry places, to which men come for  refuge from the rain. They have no provision for a continued sojourn. So rare are seats, that if there chance’s to be a sitting-room in the shop a ticket is placed in the window to announce the fact. Thereby they encourage drinking, if not in one particular public-house, at least in several. For, after a while standing grows wearisome, and the frozen stare of the barmen at your elbow makes you unwelcome if you do not drink up and have another, and so your idle person goes out in the wet street, and once more, when the desolation of the rainy night has seized upon him, enters another public-house, to find as before that the relief is short. Then out again, and in once more, and so on till the clock strikes eleven, and the devious direction is home. A natural instinct for comradeship and brightness has driven him from a squalid home into illuminated streets, and from these the weather drives him for shelter to the public-house. Tis his only refuge from discomfort and weariness, and if he goes home drunk, he never meant to, and you cannot blame him.

What’s really interesting is the conclusion to which this leads ‘Muir’: to tackle the problem of excessive drinking, make pubs nicer places to be. This is very much in line with the trend towards ‘improved public houses’ in England at around the same time:

And if that is a task too great for a municipality, or even for the State, then as a makeshift the publicans must be persuaded to change their shops into open as well as actual club-houses for the poor, in which not the only attraction shall be drinking. The drawings might shrink, but the publican must bear in mind that he is a social pariah only because he is a social parasite, and that the loss to his purse might be the price of his advancement to esteem. The wish is Utopian, of course, and the very hopelessness of realising it will give the advocate for municipal public-houses another argument for his cause.

This theme is hammered home later in a section on the personality and life of the typical Glaswegian working man, who is ‘not plump and genial like the Englishman, but a spare, reserved, sardonic person… [unwilling] to be seen with his wife in public’:

He could not, without offending a convention established among decent folk, take her into a public-house, and if he were to leave her outside he would hardly mend the matter. At a bar he might fall in with men he was ‘weel acquent wi,’ and might share in the round that was going; to withdraw then without returning the favour were the part of a sponge. And to say his wife waited for him on the pavement were worse than no excuse. The finger of scorn would rise and the sardonic chaff, for which he and his kind are famous, would play about him. ‘A merrit man, God help ‘um, a merrit man.’ And so his wife remains at home while he follows his own life. Partly the Magistrates are to blame. Their praiseworthy object has been to prevent the public-house from becoming what it is in England, the family sitting-room. They have made it an unlovely place, where the solitary person is not tempted to stay long after his liquor is over his throat. And women, except the poorest, do not frequent it. But the men by favouring the practice of ‘standing drinks round,’ have made it into their club, and so long as it is thus used, it works, together with overcrowded tenement houses, to make family life rather an impossible thing. 

This little dip into one view on one part of the history of Scotland’s pubs has made us think we need to read more. Anthony Cooke’s A History Of Drinking: The Scottish Pub Since 1700 looks like the obvious place to start.

Categories
20th Century Pub pubs

Pubs in novels: seediness, glamour, fellowship

When musician and comedian Robin Allender asked on Twitter “What are your favourite descriptions of pubs in novels or poems?” it made us realise just how many of these we’ve collected over the years.

It also made us aware of the scattered nature of our notes, which is why we’ve decided to pull them together here.

Let’s start with Dickens. We’re both fans but Jess has read more, and rereads Our Mutual Friend most years. She’s got a theory that he invented Ye Olde Inn much in the same way he’s been said to have invented Christmas – but that’s a work in progress. In the meantime, here are a couple of pubs from his novels.

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.

Our Mutual Friend, 1865, Chapter Six

I was such a child, and so little, that frequently when I went into the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter, to moisten what I had had for dinner, they were afraid to give it to me. I remember one hot evening I went into the bar of a public-house, and said to the landlord: ‘What is your best – your very best – ale a glass?’ For it was a special occasion. I don’t know what. It may have been my birthday.

‘Twopence-halfpenny,’ says the landlord, ‘is the price of the Genuine Stunning ale.’

‘Then,’ says I, producing the money, ‘just draw me a glass of the Genuine Stunning, if you please, with a good head to it.’

The landlord looked at me in return over the bar, from head to foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife. She came out from behind it, with her work in her hand, and joined him in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now. The landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition.

David Copperfield, 1850, Chapter Eleven

Later on in the same decade, there’s a pub that’s so brilliantly described, and so important a marker in the development of the English pub, that we quoted it at length in our book 20th Century Pub. It’s from Thomas Hardy’s 1895 novel Jude the Obscure:

[The inn] had been entirely renovated and refitted in modern style since Jude’s residence here… Tinker Taylor drank off his glass and departed, saying it was too stylish a place now for him to feel at home in unless he was drunker than he had money to be just then… The bar had been gutted and newly arranged throughout, mahogany fixtures having taken the place of the old painted ones, while at the back of the standing-space there were stuffed sofa-benches. The room was divided into compartments in the approved manner, between which were screens of ground glass in mahogany framing, to prevent topers in one compartment being put to the blush by the recognitions of those in the next. On the inside of the counter two barmaids leant over the white-handled beer-engines, and the row of little silvered taps inside, dripping into a pewter trough… At the back of the barmaids rose bevel-edged mirrors, with glass shelves running along their front, on which stood precious liquids that Jude did not know the name of, in bottles of topaz, sapphire, ruby and amethyst.

Here’s where we should mention another theory of ours: that the prevalence and presentation of pubs in literature tells us all we need to know about their social status. In 19th century novels, they’re lawless but joyful; then, as the 20th century approaches, they become wretched hives of scum and villainy – where characters go to get further down on their luck, or to get up to no good. Respectable writers don’t depict pubs at all. Then, later in the 20th century, perhaps as a result of the democratising effects of World War II, they begin to creep into ordinary novels as the settings for ordinary interactions between ordinary people. They become socially acceptable, their ubiquity in reality finally reflected in writing. But, again, this theory is a work in progress.

Speaking of villainy, Joseph Conrad deserves a mention here for his depiction of the Silenus, a German beer hall in London, which we cited in Gambrinus Waltz, our monograph on this very subject:

Most of the thirty or so little tables covered by red cloths with a white design stood ranged at right angles to the deep brown wainscoting of the underground hall.  Bronze chandeliers with many globes depended from the low, slightly vaulted ceiling, and the fresco paintings ran flat and dull all round the walls without windows, representing scenes of the chase and of outdoor revelry in medieval costumes. Varlets in green jerkins brandished hunting knives and raised on high tankards of foaming beer… An upright semi-grand piano near the door, flanked by two palms in pots, executed suddenly all by itself a valse tune with aggressive virtuosity.  The din it raised was deafening.  When it ceased, as abruptly as it had started, the be-spectacled, dingy little man who faced Ossipon behind a heavy glass mug full of beer emitted calmly what had the sound of a general proposition.

The Secret Agent, 1902, Chapter 4

P.G. Wodehouse didn’t often depict pubs but the odd one does appear, as a place for his comic toffs to interact with inscrutable oafs. There is also, however, The Angler’s Rest. Here’s a sample:

In a mixed assemblage like the little group of serious thinkers which gathers nightly in the bar-parlour of the Anglers’ Rest it is hardly to be expected that there will invariably prevail an unbroken harmony. We are all men of spirit: and when men of spirit, with opinions of their own, get together, disputes are bound to arise. Frequently, therefore, even in this peaceful haven, you will hear voices raised, tables banged, and tenor Permit-me-to-inform-you-sir’s competing with baritone And-jolly- well-permit -me- to-inform-yous. I have known fists to be shaken and on one occasion the word ‘fat-head’ to be used.

‘The Man Who Gave up Smoking’, 1929

At this point, someone will mention Patrick Hamilton, whose novels of London life revolve around pubs. Honestly, we’ve only read one between us – Hangover Square, which Jess read in 2019, and found utterly bleak. We don’t have a quote at hand.

Post-war ‘angry young men’ novels (one of Ray’s specialist subjects) are a particularly rich seam of pub descriptions, often laden with class significance. In Room at the Top, for example, pubs are a grim reminder of what our socially mobile ‘hero’ is struggling to leave behind:

“Do you know, when I come into this pub, I don’t even have to order? They automatically issue a pint of wallop. And if I come in with someone else I point at them and nod twice if it’s bitter… Lovely, lovely ale… the mainstay of the industrial North, the bulwark of the British Constitution. If the Dufton pubs closed for just one day, there wouldn’t be a virgin or an unbroken window left by ten o’clock.”

Another John Braine novel, The Vodi, from 1959, has multiple pubs, all carefully described:

[He] didn’t like the Lord Relton very much. It was a fake-Tudor road-house with a huge car park; even its name was rather phoney, an attempt to identify it with the village of Relton to which, geographically at least, it belonged. But, unlike the Frumenty, unlike even the Ten Dancers or the Blue Lion at Silbridge, the Lord Relton belonged nowhere; it would have been just as much at home in any other place in England. It even smelled like nowhere; it had a smell he’d never encountered anywhere else, undoubtedly clean, and even antiseptic, but also disturbingly sensual, like the flesh of a woman who takes all the deodorants the advertisements recommend.

Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar, also from 1959, gives us this portrait of an interwar estate pub:

There was a windy, rubber-tiled hallway where the children squatted, eating potato crisps and waiting for their mothers. Two frosted-glass doors, embossed with the brewery trademark, led off it, one into the public bar and one into the saloon…

The men who say [in the public bar] were refugees from the warm terrace-end pubs that had been pulled down; they sat around drinking mild and calling to each other across the room as though nothing had changed… The few items in the New House that gave it anything like the feel of a pub — the dartboard, the cribbage markers, the scratched blind-box, and the pokerwork sign that said IYBMADIBYO, if you buy me a drink I’ll buy you one — were all part of the same portable world, as if they had been wheeled here in prams in the flight from the old things.

(We’ve just noticed that clue to WYBMADIITY.)

There are also pubs to be found in the wonderful world of murder mystery. In fact, this lesser-known whodunnit is set entirely in a pub:

Lounge bar it was called, but it was not a place of thick carpets and potted palms. The bar, the stools, and the table tops were of plain dark-brown wood. The tables had strong iron legs, and they were bolted to the composition floor. The pictures on the walls were girlie advertisements for champagne cider and similar drinks. The four beer pumps had blue-and-white handles. But the place was clean and the girlie pictures were attractive, and on the shelves behind the bar was a bright display of bottles which promised drinks for the most exacting connoisseur of spirits and liqueurs.

The Pub Crawler, Maurice Procter, 1956

In an edition of our monthly newsletter from a year or so ago, Jess observed that the Inspector Wexford novels of Ruth Rendell (a great writer, not just a great crime novelist) tell the story of the development of the English pub as they progress over the course of decades. This is from 1967’s A New Lease of Death:

The Olive and Dove is the best hostelry in Kingsmarkham that can properly be called an hotel. By a stretch of the imagination the Queen’s Head might be described as an inn, but the Dragon and the Crusader cannot claim to be more than pubs. The Olive, as locals invariably call it, is situated in the High Street at the Stowerton end of Kingsmarkham, facing the exquisite Georgian residence of Mr Missal, the Stowerton car dealer. It is partly Georgian itself, but it is a hybrid structure with lingering relics of Tudor and a wing that claims to be pre-Tudor. In every respect it conforms to what nice middle-class people mean when they talk about a ‘nice hotel. There are always three waiters, the chambermaids are staid and often elderly, the bath water is hot, the food as well as can be expected and the A.A. Guide has given it two stars.

There are hundreds more pubs in hundreds more novel – these are just some that seem especially vivid or important to us. Are there any real corkers you think we’ve missed? If so, comment below.

In the meantime, Robin also asked about poems, so we’ll finish with a line from Adrian Henri’s ‘Liverpool Poems’ published in The Mersey Sound in 1967:

Note for a definition of optimism:
A man trying the door of Yates Wine Lodge
At quarter past four in the afternoon.

Categories
Beer history Belgium

Book Review: Brussels Beer City by Eoghan Walsh

Brussels Beer City finds different paths to walk down, previously unseen things to look at and fresh things to say about Belgian beer, brewing and drinking culture.

We’ve enjoyed Eoghan’s writing online for years and were excited to see a number of his articles brought together in this book, which amounts to a series of short histories of a number of key breweries in the city.

Names such as Brasserie de Boeck, the Grande Brasserie de Koekelberg, Wielemans Ceuppens and Leopold illustrate the administrative complexity of Brussels, the French enclave in Flanders.

Some are strange while others feel vaguely familiar thanks, perhaps, to years of looking at Belgian cafe greebling over the rims of beer glasses.

The book begins with a startling fact: from an estimated 250 breweries in the late nineteenth century, Brussels was left with just one by the 1980s – Cantillon.

Many of the stories of individual breweries will, in their broad outlines, be familiar to anyone who has studied the fate of British breweries in the 20th century. First, they rise to local dominance; then there are buyouts and a period of consolidation; before they are eventually swallowed up by big multinationals.

The book also acts as an extended explainer on the concept of Brusselization – the frenzy of post-war development that makes the Belgian capital look as if it was Blitzed when, in fact, it wasn’t.

Consider Brasserie de Koekelberg whose buildings were listed and protected from demolition until… they weren’t. With talk of dry rot, they were torn down in the 1990s:

Today, Place van Hoegaerde is an anonymous, down at heel corner of Koekelberg towered over by social housing complexes. It’s a quiet place; the buildings all around protecting it from the bustle of the main road and metro station two streets over. Of the de Boeck brewery only fragments remain. The cold neoclassical brewer’s house that forms the sharp edge of one corner of the square is still there, abutted on one side by the old redbrick perimeter wall of the brewery. A black metal gate stands tall at the brewery’s old service entrance; several years ago, barely perceptible from the rust, you could still make out the name of the brewery, but that fence has been replaced.

What gives the book energy is Eoghan’s dogged determination to find the very last traces of these stories in real life – a broken chimney here, a faded sign there.

It’s no deskbound, bookbound work of dry scholarship and even, at times, suggests mild peril. Poking through the ruins of a brewery by torchlight, kicking through the traces of recent trespassing, who or what might we bump into?

It also makes the reader want to get moving — there’s a walking tour implicitly suggested in these pages and we can’t wait to go back to Brussels and follow Eoghan’s trail.

There’s plenty for fact-accumulating trivia fans, too. We found it hard to get through a chapter without disappearing down rabbit holes on Google.

Did you know, for example, that the Belgian brewers collectively sponsored a Disneyesque idealised Belgian village at the 1958 Brussels Expo? Neither did we.

The author stresses in the Foreword that this is “not a narrative history of Brussels brewing. That book is still to be written.” Perhaps a publisher could take this hint and commission Eoghan to finish what these snapshots begin?

It’s a fairly short book, but that does no harm at all. There’s no waffle or padding and the author’s prose is elegant throughout. We read it in a couple of sittings in lieu of a trip to Belgium, washing it down with Tripel, but dipping in now and then to read one story at a time would no doubt be equally rewarding.

We bought the Kindle eBook edition of Brussels Beer City for £4.47. It is also available as a print-on-demand paperback at £9.23.