Is it fair to judge a bar or pub under current circumstances? Until recently, we’d have said a firm no but after a week in London we find ourselves thinking that if they can handle this, they can handle anything.
We were staying at Westfield in Stratford, East London, on the edge of the site of the 2012 Olympic Games, primarily for family and work reasons, but also because it’s a part of the city we find fascinating.
When Jess was growing up, and when Ray moved to London in 2000, there wasn’t much here at all – railways lines, flyovers, canals, marshes, overgrown woodland, relics of industry. You could spend hours trying to get from A to B in the absence of bridges or footpaths.
Then the Olympics came and it was transformed into a sort of Teletubbyland European Exposcape, followed by a phase of residential building designed to create several new ‘quarters’. The so-called East Village, the one that’s progressed the furthest, was right on our doorstep and is where we ended up spending a lot of time.
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).
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.
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.
And another segue: what are the alternatives to generic, cosmopolitan white hipster culture? For The TakeoutKate 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.
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:
Today, with its wood and tiles and punk soundtrack, [the Fenton] is almost as it was; Gill observes that the jukebox has moved rooms. “Pre-mobile phones, you’d have to go where you knew people would be,” Mekons singer Tom Greenhalgh explains, remembering “intense political debates and insane hedonism”, and legendary scene characters such as Barry the Badge. “A huge gay guy covered in badges from Armley Socialist Worker’s party. He was rock-hard, but then he could just grab you, snog you and stick his tongue down your throat.”
I was asked for my views by Carlsberg’s London-based PR company, who sent me some samples. The bottled version said it was brewed in the UK – presumably this means the Northampton factory – while the can says “brewed in the EU”. I said this made a mockery of the new beer being called “Danish Pilsner”… I added that 3.8 per cent ABV was too low to merit being called Pilsner: the classic Pilsner Urquell is 4.4 per cent and all claims to be a Pilsner should be judged against it. I found the Carlsberg beer to be thin and lacking in aroma and flavour.
A footnote from us: we were asked to take part in market research by Heineken earlier this week, which leads us to suspect some similar post-Camden reinvention is in the pipeline there, too.
Here’s all the beer- and pub-related writing we’ve most enjoyed in the past week, and all the news that’s struck us as important.
First, a small thing that might not be: two chains of upmarket London pubs have effectively merged with the takeover by Draft House of Grand Union. So what? Well, from where we’re sitting, this looks like another step towards Draft House becoming a national chain. It’s a strong brand, ‘well craft’ without being too obnoxious about it, and we can well imagine a branch in every town and city.
Meanwhile, in the US, shot have been fired: the Brewers’ Association, which represents craft breweries as defined here, has announced a new badge to help consumers identify beer from independent breweries. This is intended to counter AB-InBev’s strategy of acquiring smaller local brewers which the BA apparently believes is leaving consumers confused. In retaliation, AB’s High End division, which ties together the craft breweries it has acquired over the past few years, has released a video saying, essentially, ‘The logo looks bad and doesn’t mean anything and we should be banding together to fight wine and spirits anyway and and and…’
For commentary on this we endorse the always thoughtful Jeff Allworth at Beervana: post 1 | post 2.
With all these factors happening at the same time, BBPA spokesman Neil Williams says it is ‘pretty impossible’ to unpick exactly what the individual impact of the ban has been.
And of course, many pubs have thrived since the smoking ban, changing to focus more on high-quality food and trying to attract families – including those with young children – who would previously have avoided smoky atmospheres.
‘Pubs have had to adapt. We’ve seen those that can invest in food and they’ve made a very good job of it.
‘But some pubs – the traditional street-corner boozer – simply haven’t had the space to do that. They are the ones that have suffered.’
We’ve attempted to address this in our forthcoming book, 20th Century Pub, and reached much the same conclusion: it probably has been bad news for a certain type of booze-led working class pub.
[One problem is that] the events themselves cost upwards of €11 each to get into, with the three beer-and-food dinners €60 a plate. That quickly makes a probably already expensive trip to Hamster Jam even more wallet-bending. But hey, you’re getting to try beers that will sometimes be once-in-a-lifetime experiences… Certainly, for me, the punch in the overdraft was utterly worth it: I’ve not enjoyed a beery gathering so much for a long time, lots of great conversations with eager, enthusiastic, experienced, knowledgeable, people…
It’s as easy to be charmed by Monocle as it is to hate it. Who doesn’t like a good Japanese leather origami bag? But if nationalists have a point in decrying the ‘global citizenship’ that Monocle epitomizes, it lies in the magazine’s subtle approach to cultural homogenization. [Editor Tyler] Brûlé’s stylistic vision has reproduced itself to the point of banality: Whether due to his own efforts or to the changing tide of taste, Danish furniture, clean cafés, shared offices, and artisanal food and clothing can now be found everywhere, attracting a floating tribe of international consumers the way flowers attract bees. The magazine’s worst offense may be that it is boring.
If you want some pure blogging to read, as opposed to longreads and news, we’ll take this opportunity to remind you to catch up with Martin Taylor‘s ongoing Good Beer Guide pub crawl. As we’ve said before, there’s rarely any one post that warrants a fanfare, but as an ongoing project themes emerge and incidents accumulate until something like an argument begins to form. This week, we were particularly struck by a Wetherspoon’s moment:
The Thumper tasted a bid odd to me. I said so to the Spoons barmaid, who, unbelievably;
1. Seemed interested in my £1.99 pint
2. Tasted it herself ‘Just tastes fruity, like it should do’
3. Popped down the cellar to check whether it was the bottom of the barrel (it wasn’t)
And, finally, those who enjoy being appalled at the antics of those wacky craft brewers will enjoy this intel from Joe Stange:
TIL that Préaris (Vliegende Paard) made a gose with Katsuobushi. That's smoked, fermented tuna.