News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars

Here’s all the beer and pub related news, opinion and history that’s grabbed us in the past week, from kids in pubs to Never Gonna Give You Up.

First, money. As part of the publicity around its Great British Beer Festival (last day today) the Campaign for Real Ale published the results of a survey suggesting that the majority of British drinkers who expressed an opinion find the price of a pint of beer unaffordable.

Cash Money Pound Signs.

There were various bits of interesting commentary around this, from musings on the question of value from Katie Taylor

Affordability is quite an abstract concept, isn’t it? In my experience as someone who’s lived in extreme poverty and in relative comfort and all the incremental stages of debt, exhaustion and erratic spending in-between, things like pints come down to how much you value them. They’re not essential – unless you have an addiction – and yet as part of our culture they’re a central point of our social lives.

…to Richard Coldwell’s reflections on the difference between affordability and priorities:

I think there are many who are making the choice between going out for a pint and other things… Simple choices like; Sunday afternoon at the local pub with the family or a full day out at the beach with sandwiches and maybe an ice cream and a few bob on the amusements. I reckon it’s about 50 miles from our house to Scarbro’, so the biggest cost of the day is fuel… Round here, the price of the first round of say, a pint, glass of prosecco, three soft drinks and a few snacks would just about cover the fuel costs of a return journey to the seaside. The second round would more than pay for the picnic and sundries and we’ve only been in the pub for about an hour, max.

Jonny Garrett, meanwhile, is unimpressed with this focus on price which he regards as ultimately damaging to the image of cask ale:

Perhaps the greatest step CAMRA could take toward restoring growth in cask beer would be to invest in training and equipment for pubs that show loyalty to cask and price it fairly. For some reason, this call for quality brewing falls on deaf ears at CAMRA, who this week lamented how expensive pints have become. The party line of championing cask above all else appears to include the millions of cheap, dull, vinegary pints poured across the UK each year. Some of them even at their own festivals.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars”

Pints and Halves: Statements and Pragmatism

Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Everything we do sends signals — even something as apparently unimportant as the size of the glass out of which we choose to drink our beer.

I (Jessica) hit my teenage years during the era of the ladette when drinking beer, and especially drinking beer in pints, was a way for women to stake a claim on blokes’ territory. Big boots, no make-up, pints, swearing — don’t tell me what’s ladylike or how to behave! Up yours!

For as long as I’ve been interested in beer one of the annoying minor manifestations of sexism has been the tendency to assume I’ll want a half, or a fruit beer, or whichever of the two drinks we’ve ordered is (as decided by a whole set of complex subconscious calculations) the ‘girly’ one.

I realised a few years ago, though, that most of the time I do want to drink halves. I’m not very big; don’t have a great gut capacity; and even at the peak of my pissed fitness could only handle so much beer by volume before I made myself sick, which only seems to be getting worse as I slide into middle age.

Sometimes, though, I find myself ordering a pint because I can’t face another crappy, scratched tumbler, full to the brim with no head. Sometimes it’s because I’ve had a tough day and I know that I’d only be back at the bar after five minutes otherwise. And sometimes it’s the teenager in DMs rearing her head, making a point.

* * *

I (Ray) used to drink halves more often because there were so many exciting beers to taste and it was the only way to get through them all; and, honestly, because I was being an awkward sod in response to male friends refusing — literally refusing — to buy me halves because they thought it compromised my masculinity and, more importantly to them, theirs.

As I’ve drifted out of five status and into a comfortable seven, I’ve come back to pints. I drink a pint in about the time it takes Jess to drink a half. I like the feel of a pint glass in my hand, and the rhythm it gives to drinking.

My hangover limits are higher, my gut more elastic: my four pints to Jess’s two over the course of a session leaves us in about the same place.

But perhaps I’ve also just reverted to my deep programming: in my family, a bloke ordering a half is sending a signal that he’s not planning to stick about, or isn’t fully committed to the session.

I sometimes order a half just to remind myself I can and I always think, “I should do this more often.”

* * *

Ultimately, what we’d both like is this:

  1. To be able to order whichever beer we fancy in whatever volume we feel like at that particular moment without assumptions or comment, and without having to explain the reasons.
  2. For halves to be treated with as much reverence by pubs and bars as the sacred pint — nice glassware makes such a difference.

We were prompted to think about this by various things but most important the recent report from Dea Latis on women’s attitudes to beer. Do give it a read.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 August 2016: Ribbeltje, Gasholders and Serebryanka

Here’s all the writing about beer, pubs, beer glasses and gasholders that’s caught our eye in the last week.

Barm (@robsterowski) breaks the oddly sad news that the company behind Stella Artois is to cease serving its premium lager in so-called ribbeltje glasses in its native Belgium, going over instead to the fancier chalice design:

As is widely known, despite the brewer’s attempt to punt it in other countries as a ‘reassuringly expensive’ premium beer, in Belgium Stella is the bog standard café beer, with a basic, proletarian glass to match. This, of course, is precisely why the marketers hate the glass so much. It’s not chic enough for their pretensions.


Dandelion saison in the glass.
SOURCE: Ales of the Riverwards

With a cameo appearance from just such a glass, Ed Coffey at Ales of the Riverwards has been reflecting on foraged ingredients and his idea for dandelion saison is simple and, we think, rather brilliant. Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 August 2016: Ribbeltje, Gasholders and Serebryanka”

Dimple Glasses

dimple.jpgIn yesterday’s post, what I didn’t mention was that the Old Monk is serving its real ale in old fashioned handled dimple glasses. I gather that a couple of would-be trendy pubs in the Islington area have started to do the same thing.

This is an interesting affectation which seems designed to appeal simultaneously to the old school beer fan and the retro-ironic hipster. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of it about.

I gather the reason for their demise was that they were relatively expensive to make, prone to breaking, and hard to stack. Those arguments hardly hold up now that fans of German wheat beers or Belgian obscurities are getting their favourite tipples served in ever-more elaborately shaped and printed glasses, some of them a foot tall, others as delicate as egg shells.

Mild in particular tastes a little bit nicer out of a dimple — well, it does to me, anyway, because that’s how my grandad used to drink it. Let’s hope that by May, when every decent pub in the land will have a mild on, the dimple has made its triumphant comeback everywhere.

Picture from h-e-d.co.uk, who also sell dimples if you fancy a few to use at home.

Bailey

German pub in London

Zeitgeist at the Jolly Gardeners, Vauxhall, South London is absolutely bizarre and absolutely brilliant.

We frequently get “homesick” for Germany, despite being from the UK. When we heard about Zeitgeist through Metro, the free newspaper they give away on London Underground, we got very excited. Tonight was our first visit. It won’t be our last.

It’s run by two expat Germans from Cologne and offers 36 German beers, with at least 10 on tap. They took over in October 2007 and reopened the pub in November. Some of the reviews on Beer in the Evening paint a picture of a pub in the middle of a terrifying council estate. Having grown up on a terrifying council estate, I’m less scared of working class people than some, but the fact that you can almost see Big Ben and MI6 from the pub makes it even less of a worrying prospect. It seemed like a perfectly nice area to us.

The pub itself was excellent. Definitely a pub, but equally surely a small piece of Germany 15 minutes from Westminster. The landlord and landlady were both dressed in German football shirts and the barmaid spoke to us in German — that’s the default language. During our stay, the place filled up with expats keen to watch the Germany/Austria match on a big screen.

What about the beer? Well, here’s the menu. Nothing staggeringly exciting for any tickers out there, but all are in great nick, and with most of the common German beer styles represented. We were especially excited to find a decent Koelsch on tap (Gaffel). If you want to know what the fuss is about Koelsch but can’t get to Cologne, here’s your chance to try the real deal nearer to home.

We were amused to see British customers getting full glasses with tiny heads, plus an apology the glass wasn’t completely full, which German customers were served tiny glasses with towering, frothy ice-cream heads. What’s the German for: “I’ll take mine like a native, please”?

The food was good, too. The menu divides it up by region. Notably, there are at least twelve schnitzel dishes on offer, as well as Nuernberger sausages and Cologne potato pancakes.

In short, we’ll be back. This pub deserves to be a big success.

Notes

Zeitgeist is also known as the Jolly Gardeners, and is at 49-51 Black Prince Road, Se11 6AB. Map here. Closest tube stations are Vauxhall, Kennington, Lambeth North, and Westminster.

Bailey

Quick pre-Christmas plug for Quaffs

quaffslogosmall.jpgAll you London beer-lovers will no doubt already know about Quaffs. It’s a market stall within Spitalfields market, 5 minutes walk from Liverpool Street Station.

I was there yesterday, buying beer for Christmas, and I can heartily recommend the selection and the service. Good to see a wide range of glasses too – perfect for making up gift sets. Who wouldn’t want to receive a hand-prepared selection of Brasserie Ellezelloise (with the fabulous Hercule Stout) with one of their nice chalice glasses?

I bought enough beer to get a free carrying case/bag/suitcase. Very good marketing trick that!

Oh, and I forgot to tell them Stonch sent me. Would I have got a discount if I did?

Boak

Notes

Details of beers in stock, opening times and how to get there are available on the Quaffs website here. It can be difficult to find – it’s sort of opposite the entrance to Canteen, backing onto where the food market is going to be.

Christmas gifts for beer lovers

What do you buy a beer lover for Christmas, other than beer?

jacksonbook.jpg1. The late Michael Jackson’s new book, the Eyewitness Guide to Beer — probably an update of his 1998 Dorling Kindersley book Ultimate Beer, but looks interesting anyway.

2. Some glassware. You can pick up branded Fuller’s glasses for around £4 in most of their pubs. Many supermarkets are selling gift sets with branded glasses from Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Old Speckled Hen and other well-known brands. Or, you can go posh — here’s a selection online. I like the look of these but could also do with one of these to drink imperial stout from.

beermachine.jpg3. A homebrewing kit. There are some basic, gimmicky automatic brewing machines, which look like fun. Or, you can buy a decent beginners kit from these people and pay less for it. But don’t forget to get a decent book to go with it.

4. More homebrewing stuff. If your loved one is already brewing, why not help them take it to the next level with some fancy kit like a

pubinabox.jpg5. There are all kinds of “pub at home” kits and accessories, from the cheap and cheerful to the ludicrously elaborate and expensive. If you don’t fancy having any of that in the house, what about the shed…?

6. Some rare and, erm, beautiful breweriana from Ebay might go down well. Not sure I’d want a load of old bottle tops for Christmas myself, but who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men.

7. What about the ludicrously named World’s Best Bottle Opener? Or even a nice traditional one. You can never have too many. Like umbrellas, they have a habit of disappearing. Just don’t buy a Homer Simpson novelty bottle opener. Believe me, the novelty of hearing “mmmmm, beer” wears off after, ooh, two bottles or so.

8. What about some food to accompany beer, or a combination of the two? O’Hanlon’s port stout and stilton; almost anything Belgian with some chocolate; or some pork scratchings…

9. CAMRA membership!

10. goodgift.jpgGood gifts are increasingly popular. If there’s too much junk in your house anyway, and you don’t want to encourage your loved ones to get fat and drunk, why not buy a brewery in Tanzania on their behalf?

11. And finally, if you are going to buy beer — and, let’s face it, it’s probably your best bet — choose them with a theme such as strong stouts, Christmas beers, German beers, or whatever, and package them nicely.

Beer Glasses

SAHM’s tradition gobletWilson’s comment on the beer glass we used for the photo of our blackberry wheat beer yesterday got me thinking: is everyone else as weird about beer glasses as us?

We’ve got boxes of different glasses stacked around the house. The idea is that we’ve got the right style of glass, in the right size, for almost anything that gets chucked at us. In a lot of cases, we’ve even got glasses with the right branding.

I think, as a bare minimum, you need:

  1. Two half-pint stem glasses — for sharing 500ml bottles.
  2. A straight-sided pint glass.
  3. A “goblet” for Belgian beer.
  4. A tall wheat beer glass.
  5. A half-litre “krug” for drinking German stuff.
  6. A litre stein for drinking German stuff in the summer…

Optional extras would be a tiny US pint glass; a koelsch glass; a tall “pils” flute… I could go on.

Of course, like a lot of people, I have a favourite glass that I use more than all the others. Mine’s a nice, sturdy, straight-sided pint glass from the George Inn, Middlezoy, Somerset, which honours the Queen’s Golden Jubilee with an inscription in Comic Sans. Ha.

So, who else is fussy about their glassware? And if so, do you know where I can get a Marston’s glass…?

I hate hi-ball glasses

tumbler1.jpgThe Greenwich Union – Meantime Brewing’s “brewery tap” – serves half pints in clean, simple, “tulip” stem glasses. Fuller’s recently introduced similarly elegant glasses for Discovery and Honey Dew. They serve everything else in tall, fairly narrow tumblers, with room for a head. The Pembury Tavern in Hackney Downs, again, used taller than normal half-pint glasses, with room for a head.

Not all pubs are doing this kind of thing.

I’m really getting fed up of ordering a half and getting what looks like a tooth glass, full to the brim, with a grey scum instead of a head. The pints in these pubs look fine, so it’s not the beer, or the technique – just the glass.

I’m kind of used to that with ale, but last night I was served a half of Meantime’s Helles lager in a straight, short, half pint tumbler, with no head. It tasted fine, but looked dreadful. Like urine, frankly.

This wasn’t a dodgy pub next to a railway station, with fly-blown windows and an incident board outside: it’s in the good pub guide.

Landlords – get nicer glasses!

Photo from glassware supplier barmans.com

Heineken UK relaunch

Today’s issue of Marketing Week carries a story about Heineken, who are apparently relaunching in the UK with a more “continental” image. They want people to drink Heineken in smaller measures, with a thicker head, as a “premium beer”.

This won’t do anything about the actual taste of their beer – it’s still “cooking lager” – but it is an interesting step away from British lager culture.

Marketing Week also points out how badly Heineken goofed when they relaunched last time, putting their beer’s ABV up to 5% just when everyone got upset about binge-drinking. They spent a fortune on announcing “new, stronger Heineken”, and then a year or so later their competitors were all announcing, for example, “new, weaker Becks”, or Stella, or Carling.

They’re also announcing a new “draught keg” for home use. Er… Party Seven?