The thrill of the new

For ages, we’ve thought the trick to showing Ray’s parents a good time was taking them to proper pubs. It turns out we should have been going to craft beer bars.

Now, we’ve had some bloody good fun with them in places like the Mer­chan­t’s Arms and the Annexe, play­ing euchre and shar­ing bags of pork scratch­ings over pints of But­combe or Lon­don Pride.

The oth­er week­end, though, as we crawled around cen­tral Bris­tol with them, we were inspired to take them to Small Bar.

The spe­cif­ic trig­ger was a round of awful, but­tery Sam Smith’s Old Brew­ery Bit­ter at the William IV – a pub which rarely has any atmos­phere at all but does at least usu­al­ly have cheap, decent beer.

We left feel­ing down in the dumps, the ses­sion in jeop­ardy, and Small Bar, Bris­tol’s craft beer cen­tral, seemed as if it might be the anti­dote – a short, sharp shock to jolt us all back to life.

You might not like it,” we got in, pre­emp­tive­ly.

Ray tried to iden­ti­fy some­thing vague­ly like Dad’s usu­al bit­ter and the staff react­ed rather weari­ly, as if they get asked this all the time. In the end, it was two-thirds of Lost & Ground­ed Keller­pils that did the job. Ray’s Mum, who drinks lager when she’s not on whisky, got a murky pale ale – the kind of thing we don’t real­ly enjoy, as a rule. And do you know what? She loved it.

In fact, they both thought Small Bar was great. It had a vibe, a bit of a crowd, and despite being the old­est peo­ple there by some stretch, they did­n’t get looked at twice.

After that we thought we’d try them on Brew­Dog, which they also liked a lot: Punk IPA, it turns out, is a decent sub­sti­tute for But­combe. (Not sure Brew­Dog will be pleased to hear this, mind.)

They’re now plan­ning to bring a cou­ple of friends up for a craft beer crawl lat­er in the sum­mer.

For our part, we’ve learned a les­son: don’t make assump­tions about what peo­ple will enjoy based on what they’ve enjoyed in the past, or based on their age.

Next time, we might take them on a tap­room crawl – they’re prob­a­bly cool enough to enjoy it, unlike us.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 9 February 2019: London, Chuvashia, Viborg

Here’s everything that struck us as especially interesting in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from the origins of craft beer to best practice in bars.

A cou­ple of years ago we put togeth­er a short his­to­ry of beer weeks with input from Will Hawkes, then involved in organ­is­ing Lon­don Beer Week. Now, Will has writ­ten his own piece reveal­ing just how much stress and work was involved, and for how lit­tle reward:

It had all been a ter­ri­ble error. I should have known that I was doing some­thing very stu­pid before I start­ed; I’d asked around to see if any­one else in the Lon­don beer demi-monde was inter­est­ed in help­ing, and got a series of respons­es along the lines of “Good idea! No, sor­ry, I’m too busy,” gen­er­al­ly from peo­ple with enough time to be dis­cussing the idea with me in a pub in mid-after­noon… Not only that, but I was nev­er real­ly sure why I was doing it: it just sort of kept on hap­pen­ing, for four long years.


For The Take­out Kate Bernot writes about the expe­ri­ence of drink­ing out as a woman, and how much she appre­ci­ates con­crete steps tak­en by bars to make women feel safe:

The Rhi­no bar in Mis­soula, where I live, has post­ed fly­ers indi­cat­ing its bar­tenders have under­gone “bystander inter­ven­tion” train­ing. The bar has also host­ed police-led class­es on the top­ic. “What our train­ing specif­i­cal­ly talked about was inter­ven­ing in things like sex­u­al assault,” Mis­soula Police Depar­ment detec­tive Jamie Mer­i­field told KGVO years ago. “When you see some­one in trou­ble, the train­ing helps you to inter­vene, and not just turn a blind eye. Most peo­ple would want to help, they just don’t know how.” In a sim­i­lar vein, oth­er estab­lish­ments around the coun­try have intro­duced “angel shots,” drinks that peo­ple can order as a sig­nal to bar­tenders that they’re in trou­ble.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets and Lon­greads 9 Feb­ru­ary 2019: Lon­don, Chu­vashia, Viborg”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17/11/2018: Cloudwater, Collaboration, Klein-Schwechat

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from yeast family trees to the curse of good press.

First, though, let’s have a bit of good news: John Pry­bus, the char­ac­ter behind the cult sta­tus of The Blue Bell in York, will con­tin­ue to run the pub after a vig­or­ous local cam­paign to pre­vent the pub com­pa­ny that owns it boot­ing him out in favour of a man­ag­er.


Cloudwater cask beers on a bar in Manchester.

Cloud­wa­ter aban­doned cask-con­di­tioned beer, but have now come back round to the idea. While some have bri­dled at the hype sur­round­ing this event (con­trolled launch of cask beers into select­ed pubs, lots of social media buzz) it’s prompt­ed some thought­ful debate. For exam­ple, there’s this cau­tious wel­come from Tan­dle­man, who avoids the knee-jerk anti-craft response:

Cloud­wa­ter has been seek­ing out pubs where their cask cre­den­tials are such that they will look after the beer prop­er­ly, going as far as hav­ing a lit­tle inter­ac­tive online map where you can seek out those who know how to coax the best out of beer from the wick­ets. Addi­tion­al­ly, a vet­ting process, which while hard­ly the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion, at least gets enough infor­ma­tion about prospec­tive sell­ers of the amber nec­tar to judge whether they’ll turn it into flat vine­gar or not. Good idea. Qual­i­ty at point of sale is para­mount and Cloud­wa­ter are to be praised for mak­ing such efforts as they have in the name of a qual­i­ty pint.


Handshake illustration.

At Pur­suit of Abbey­ness Mar­tin Stew­ard has been think­ing about col­lab­o­ra­tion brews. While acknowl­edg­ing the down­sides, he avoids cliched cyn­i­cism and reflects pleas­ing­ly deeply on how this rel­a­tive­ly new com­mer­cial prac­tice fits into the evo­lu­tion of our beer cul­ture:

Craft beer dis­tri­b­u­tion today has lit­tle to do with tied pub­lic hous­es, or even nation­al bar chains. The off-licence trade revolves around inde­pen­dent bot­tle shops that stock main­ly local prod­ucts, and the glob­al mail order ser­vices facil­i­tat­ed by the inter­net and advances in can­ning and logis­tics tech­nolo­gies. The on-licence trade con­sists of spe­cial­ist craft-beer bars and brew­ery tap rooms which, like the bot­tle shops that are some­times also on-licence tap rooms, have a dis­tinct­ly local bias… Col­lab­o­ra­tions enable brew­ers to expose their brands through those frag­ment­ed mod­ern dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works, and an Insta­gram sto­ry of a col­lab­o­ra­tive brew day instant­ly reach­es the fol­low­ers of each col­lab­o­ra­tors’ brands, wher­ev­er they are around the world.


One of our favourite writer-researchers, Andreas Kren­mair, con­tin­ues his obses­sives prob­ing into the his­to­ry of Vien­na beer with the unearthing of a water pro­file for the brew­ery well at Klein-Schwechat:

By pure acci­dent, I stum­bled upon an analy­sis of the brew­ing water (well water) of the brew­ery in Klein-Schwechat, in the book “The The­o­ry and Prac­tice of the Prepa­ra­tion of Malt and the Fab­ri­ca­tion of Beer, with Espe­cial Ref­er­ence to the Vien­na Process of Brew­ing” by Julius E. Thaus­ing. It’s actu­al­ly the Eng­lish trans­la­tion of a Ger­man book. One prob­lem with the analy­sis is that it doesn’t spec­i­fy any units for most of the num­bers. It does spec­i­fy the amount of residue after the water has been evap­o­rat­ed (in grams), but that was it… So by itself, the analy­sis is unfor­tu­nate­ly not real­ly help­ful. If any­body knows how to inter­pret the num­bers, I’m grate­ful for any help with it.

The open, col­lab­o­ra­tive grop­ing towards the truth con­tin­ues.


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

More deep lev­el research, this time into yeast strains: Kristofer Krogerus and qq who com­ments here from time to time con­tin­ue to col­lab­o­rate on unpick­ing the ever-increas­ing pile of genet­ic infor­ma­tion on brew­ing yeast:

Wyeast 1469 West York­shire – Was ful­ly expect­ing this to be a Beer2 strain! 1469 is meant to come from Tim­o­thy Tay­lor, who got their yeast from Old­ham, who got their yeast from John Smith’s. The John Smith yeast also went to Harvey’s (the source of VTT-A81062, a Beer2 strain). So it’s a bit of a sur­prise that 1469 is in the heart of the UK Beer1 strains, clos­est to WLP022 Essex (‘Rid­leys’). So either the tra­di­tion­al sto­ries aren’t true, there’s been contamination/mixups, or we’re look­ing at John Smith being some kind of mul­ti­strain with both Beer 1’s and Beer 2’s in it.


Pete Brown's chart of cask + craft sales.

Pete Brown has shared more of the back­ground research that informed this year’s Cask Report, observ­ing that the cask ale and craft beer seg­ments of the mar­ket, if viewed togeth­er as ‘flavour­ful’ or ‘inter­est­ing’ beer, tell an inter­est­ing sto­ry:

Drinkers who say they under­stand what craft beer is and claim to drink it were asked to name a craft beer brand. A major­i­ty of them – 55% – named a beer the researchers felt was a ‘tra­di­tion­al ale’. Telling­ly, the [Marston’s On-Trade Beer Report’s] authors say that 45% ‘cor­rect­ly’ named a brand they deem to be craft – imply­ing that those who named a tra­di­tion­al brand were incor­rect in doing so… Per­haps you agree. Per­haps you’re sit­ting there think­ing, ‘Blimey, over half of peo­ple who think they’re drink­ing craft beer don’t even know what it is.’ Maybe to you this is a sign of how big­ger brew­ers have co-opt­ed the term ‘craft’ and made it mean­ing­less. Maybe you just think these peo­ple aren’t as knowl­edge­able about beer as you are. Or maybe – just maybe – they’re right and you’re wrong.


Black Sheep bottle cap.

Anoth­er pos­si­bly relat­ed nugget via @LeedsBeerWolf: one of the finan­cial back­ers of York­shire brew­ery Black Sheep is attempt­ing to mount a coup against the found­ing fam­i­ly because they are“failing to cap­i­talise on an explod­ing demand for craft beer”, as report­ed by Mark Cas­ci at the Har­ro­gate Adver­tis­er. (Warn­ing: the site is ren­dered bare­ly read­able by aggres­sive ads.)


Closed sign on shop.

This week’s not-beer lon­gread (via @StanHieronymus) is food writer Kevin Alexan­der’s piece for Thril­list about how he killed a restau­rant by declar­ing it The Best in the US nation­al media:

Five months lat­er, in a sto­ry in The Ore­gon­ian, restau­rant crit­ic Michael Rus­sell detailed how Stanich’s had been forced to shut down. In the arti­cle, Steve Stanich called my burg­er award a curse, “the worst thing that’s ever hap­pened to us.” He told a sto­ry about the coun­try music singer Tim McGraw show­ing up one day, and not being able to serve him because there was a five hour wait for a burg­er. On Jan­u­ary 2, 2018, Stanich shut down the restau­rant for what he called a “two week deep clean­ing.” Ten months lat­er, Stanich’s is still closed. Now when I look at the Stanich’s mug in my office, I no longer feel light and hap­py. I feel like I’ve done a bad thing.

A grim tale worth bear­ing in mind next time you see, or get asked to con­tribute to, a lis­ti­cle about pubs.



If you want more links, check out Alan’s Thurs­day round-up at A Good Beer Blog.

Craft Lager and Whatever IPA

Whatever IPA.

We’ve been observing the way people, including some of our own friends and colleagues, order their drinks in pubs these days.

Here’s a fair­ly typ­i­cal exchange:

What you hav­ing?”

[Point­ing at the keg taps] “What­ev­er IPA they’ve got.”

Malt­smith’s?”

Yeah, fine.”

Malt­smith’s (Caledonian/Heineken, 4.6%) is the same as Samuel Smith India Ale (5%, cop­pery, Eng­lish hops) is the same as Brew­Dog Punk (5.6%, pale, pun­gent) is the same as Goose Island IPA (AB InBev, 5.9%, amber, piney).

We’ve noticed more or less the same ten­den­cy with ‘craft lager’ – a phrase we geeks could prob­a­bly lose weeks bick­er­ing over but which to most con­sumers has a fair­ly clear mean­ing: some­thing with CRAFT LAGER writ­ten on its label, and a brand invent­ed in the past decade.

Fuller’s Fron­tier, Hop House 13 (Guin­ness), St Austell Korev, Cam­den Hells (AB InBev), Lost & Ground­ed Keller Pils… They’re all seen as avatars of the same thing, despite the vast diver­gence in flavours, and regard­less of own­er­ship, inde­pen­dence, and so on.

It was weird the oth­er night to be in Sea­mus O’Don­nel­l’s, a cen­tral Bris­tol Irish pub, and see on draught not only Guin­ness stout but also a Guin­ness brand­ed gold­en ale, cit­ra IPA, and two craft­ed-up lagers – Hop House 13 and Guin­ness Pil­sner.

This line-up is what peo­ple expect to find in 2018, and brew­eries are oblig­ed to respond if they don’t want to lose space on the bar to com­peti­tors.

The frus­tra­tion for beer geeks is that this feels and looks like what they want­ed, what they clam­oured for, but the beers them­selves are so often dis­ap­point­ing – hops a lit­tle more in evi­dence than the old main­stream, per­haps, but rarely more than that.

And if you’re wed­ded to ideals of inde­pen­dence, qual­i­ty and choice, it’s all a bit wor­ry­ing: most con­sumers are appar­ent­ly easy to befud­dle, or don’t care, which is bad news for those who do.

A Surprising New Local

Our neighbourhood has a new place to drink, and a new type of place to drink at that: a specialist bottle shop with bonus beer on tap.

Bot­tles & Books opened as a shop only at about the same time we moved to Bris­tol last sum­mer. Com­bin­ing beer with com­ic books it nev­er quite seemed right, with not quite enough room to look at any­thing com­fort­ably, or to fit more than two brows­ing cus­tomers at once. A month or so ago, though, it moved into the emp­ty shop unit next door, to great effect.

Bot­tled and canned beers are clear­ly organ­ised and laid out with plen­ty of space to browse. The hippest of hop­py beers are refrig­er­at­ed while most oth­er styles are on open shelves for now – per­haps not per­fect by 2018 stan­dards, but a marked improve­ment on anoth­er near­by beer shop which keeps many of its beers on dis­play in a hot win­dow.

It’s an indie shop so costs a lit­tle more than the super­mar­ket, but not out­ra­geous­ly so, and the range is cer­tain­ly more excit­ing.

Keg taps.

The draft set­up is neat and dis­creet – a hand­ful of taps on the wall behind the counter with a small menu chalked on a board. The selec­tion tends towards the strong, intense and trendy – Ver­dant and the like. They are served in mea­sures of one-third and two-thirds and there are tables in the win­dow and (for now) on the pave­ment out­side.

We’ve popped in a cou­ple of times now and found it sur­pris­ing­ly busy. On anoth­er occa­sion, walk­ing home from work, we looked across the road and saw it heav­ing. So there is clear­ly pent-up demand for the craft beer expe­ri­ence out here in the sub­urbs.

The own­ers of the local microp­ub, The Drap­ers Arms, seem san­guine about what might look like com­pe­ti­tion because, actu­al­ly, there is almost no over­lap: Bot­tles & Books is about keg and pack­aged beers, The Drap­ers cask only; the for­mer is focused on for­eign beer and High Craft, while the lat­ter tends towards the tra­di­tion­al.

From our point of view, it looks like the con­vin­cer to get peo­ple on the bus and out to Hor­field where there are now the mak­ings of a decent after­noon’s crawl with enough vari­ety and qual­i­ty for any­one.

Bot­tles & Books is at 354–356 Glouces­ter Road, Bris­tol BS7 8TP, and is open six days a week, 12–9pm. It cur­rent­ly clos­es on Sun­day but there are plans to open sev­en days a week down the line.