The Best of Us in 2017

The idea behind this round-up of the best of our own writing from 2017 is, as much as anything, to remind ourselves of what we’ve pulled off.

We forgot we’d written some of this stuff at all, while other bits we had in mind were were from last year, or maybe the year before.

It’s been a hectic time what with moving from Penzance to Bristol and the publication of a second book but, despite all that, we kept up a fairly steady flow of posts — about 240 in all. Of course that includes plenty of throwaways, weekly links round-ups, and our Month That Was summaries. Still, we reckon it amount to about 160,000 words of original writing — enough for another two books.

This is probably a good point to say that if you appreciate our output and want to encourage us to keep doing it, ad-free, and mostly outside any kind of paywall, please do consider subscribing to our Patreon. It’s dead easy, and for as little as $2 per month you can help pay for all this, and also get some bonus stuff there. (We’ve unlocked a few posts over the course of the year so you can see for yourself.) That people have signed up has been a major source of encouragement but, you know, there’s always room for a bit more.

Now, down to business. We’ve decided to limit ourselves to ten that we especially like but have also included by way of a footnote a second list of the stuff that actually got all the traffic, which is not always the stuff that’s most fun or interesting to write. First up, its…

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Service Update: Moving House

Stingo delivery van.
From 1951.

Right, we’ve done pretty well at keeping things ticking over up to this point but, to paraphrase Hildegard Knef, from here on it gets rough.

We’re in the process of moving from Penzance to Bristol which means several long train journeys, lots of disruption, computers in places without internet, and internet in places without computers. And who knows where all the books and yellowing pamphlets will be.

This disruption shouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks and we’ll still hopefully manage to get the odd blog post out — we’ve got some half-written that just need polishing up when we can catch our breath, and others we can probably just about manage to type with crabbed fingers on phone screens.

In the meantime we’ll definitely keep up the Tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming, and of course there’s a ten year backlog of stuff here you can check out if you need something more substantial. Top tip: the ‘Related Posts’ widget (to the right on desktop browsers and down below on mobile) is a good way to discover stuff you might have missed.

Related posts widget.

And also, here’s something to think about: once we’re settled at the other end we’re hoping to put together a follow-up to ‘The Good, the Bad and the Murky’, which was itself a follow-up to Brew Britannia. If you’ve got thoughts on the kind of things we ought to include — major trends and developments in British beer since 2015 — drop us a line ( or leave a comment below.

Ten Years

Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey album.

Well, there you go: we made it to ten years.

To mark the occasion we’ve relaunched the page where we list some highlights from the blog — just twelve posts this time, all things of which we’re particularly proud, or at least fond. Do have a look, especially if you’re a new follower-reader.

Newsletter subscribers will know a bit more about the ups and downs that have got us here so we won’t go over that again but thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, encouraging and sharing over the years.

Second decade, here we come.

Status Update: Bona Fide Travelling

Window at the Old Pack Horse, Chiswick.

Today and tomorrow we’re on the road visiting some pubs and interviewing some people for research purposes so there won’t be a News, Nuggets & Longreads links round-up tomorrow.

If you’re desperate for a Saturday morning fix keep an eye on our Twitter timeline tomorrow — we’ll share a few things there instead of here.

And, as they say at the BBC, other links round ups are available, e.g. Stan Hieronymus’s regular Monday morning post which, this week, had some particularly juicy stuff.

(The title of this non-post is a reference to a quirk of UK licencing law that we wrote about here, by the way.)

Home Brewing Mojo

Homebrewing yeast, book, notes and bottle.

We had a bit of a wobble when it came to home brewing, hardly touching the kit for more than a year, but now the magic seems to be back.

What went wrong? A couple of batches that didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. A load of lager that froze because we made a stupid mistake with a fridge. A few late starts because we didn’t have a bit of pipe or a tap, which in turn led to tired out, late finishes. And, of course, the increasing availability of the kind of beer we wanted to drink at reasonable prices on the high street.

A 25kg sack of malt went untouched until we decided it was probably past its best and, anyway, might start to attract vermin, so we threw it away. What a waste.

The kit literally gathered dust.

Then, last October, we gave ourselves a stern talking to and ordered just enough stuff for a single brew. If it wasn’t fun, and the beer was rotten, we’d made no serious commitment.

Amazingly, it went better than ever. Having had a break, somehow the routine had embedded itself as habit and we suddenly knew what to do without panicking, rushing or repeatedly consulting guidance online. Water was heating before breakfast, recipe formulated over a plate of scrambled eggs. We didn’t make any stupid mistakes — forgetting to fit the hop strainer, leaving taps open, breaking thermometers in the mash — the kind of thing we used to do all the time.

Giving up on liquid yeast and just pitching dry yeast straight into the fermenting vessel seems to have removed one entire level of stress, too.

Even cleaning seemed easy. (Bar the frustration of trying to buy thin bleach which is apparently on its way to extinction.) We were done by lunchtime leaving the afternoon free for a session in the Star Inn.

The resulting HLA wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t bloody bad either and we achieved exactly the kind of lower bitterness, high aroma Proper-Job-type hop character we were aiming for.

Since then we’ve managed to not screw up a batch of lager, not screw up another HLA and, today, (tempting fate) we’re in the process of not screwing up a Victorian porter.

With less anxiety, brewing leaves plenty of long gaps for reading, watching films, undertaking errands, so that it feels like a kind of productive loafing. We’re glad to have it back in our lives.

From Us To You

We’ve decided to party like it’s 1999 and start an email newsletter.

The first one goes out tomorrow (Friday 16 January) with content we won’t be sharing anywhere else, and we’ll aim to send one a month from here on. Here’s a taste of the contents:

  • Machines for drinking in — an update on our research into post-war pub buildings.
  • Beers from 1999 and 1981 from a head brewer’s private stash.
  • A brief rant about Dry January but probably not the one you’re expecting.
  • Highlights of the last month on our blog…
  • …and some essential reading elsewhere in the world of beer writing and blogging.
  • Plus some bits and pieces: a new camera; another award; and notes and queries.

Sign up here, or using the little form which should appear over there → and up a bit on desktop PCs or down there ↓ near the bottom on mobile devices.

UPDATE 16/01/2015 13:45: The newsletter has gone out. If yours hasn’t arrived check (a) your spam folder and (b) in Gmail, the tabs across the top — some people are telling us it’s been automatically filed as an Update/Promotion/Social. There’s still time to subscribe today — we’ll send another batch at the end of the day.

We Won An Award

We’d like to play it cool but the fact is that we’re delighted to have been named beer writer(s) of the year for 2014 by the British Guild of Beer Writers.

As it’s part of our M.O. to keep a bit of distance (literally, since moving to Cornwall) we’ve never joined the Guild but, laudably, the awards are open to everyone, free of charge, and with no especially restrictive rules. We figured that if we were ever going to win anything, 2014 would be the year, and so we entered ourselves in two categories for both the blog and book.

Winning what insiders call ‘the big gong’ was an incredible surprise made all the sweeter because the panel included people with whom we haven’t had had any dealings and who aren’t in ‘the beer bubble’. In other words, they don’t owe us anything, and if they liked Brew Britannia, it is presumably because it stood on its own merits.

We don’t know what happens next. We’d like to write another book, though we haven’t yet found a topic which is both exciting to us and to potential publishers. We don’t really want to write a list book or beginner’s guide, although we have given some thought to whether there might be any new and genuinely interesting angles from which to approach such a project.

Mostly for fun, we’re going to keep chipping away at the subject of lager, and might follow up Gambrinus Waltz with an ebook about Skol and Carlsberg in the 1960s and 70s.

We’re also going to keep up the quarterly #BeeryLongReads, perhaps using the next one (28 February 2015) as an opportunity to start filling in details of the Brew Britannia story. For example, we didn’t have space to write about Williams Bros in the book, but their pioneering 1990s experiments with unusual ingredients is very much ‘proto craft’ and deserves a bit of attention.

Our fortnightly columnettes for the Guardian Guide are set to continue for the foreseeable and, for Christmas, we’ve been asked to expand it to a comparatively luxurious 200 words.

And, of course, we intend to keep spouting off here on the blog as near to every day as we can manage, five years of which, learning to string sentences together and accumulating knowledge, preceded us even thinking about putting pen to paper at book length.

UPDATE 05/12/2014 12:55: it turns out we also came second in the online communications category, behind Martyn Cornell. Blimey!

The Introvert and the Pub

Saloon Bar sign.

By Bailey

I can’t find the original quotation, but Ian Nairn once described the pub as something like ‘the perfect place to be alone with other people’.

A few weeks ago, Ron Pattinson asked this question on his blog: “Why bother going out at all if you don’t want to interact with anyone?” I bristled slightly, but let it go. Then, this morning, ‘py’ said something similar in the comments on this post by the Pub Curmudgeon, and I thought I ought to try to explain myself.

When someone explained the idea of introversion to me a few years ago, I felt greatly relieved to have been ‘diagnosed’. Here are two simple ways I’ve heard it expressed:

  • If faced with a choice of spending eternity alone or with a group of strangers, the introvert will choose to be alone.
  • Extroverts gain energy from interacting with other people, while introverts spend it.

I’m an introvert through and through, but that doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly or socially inept. I turn it on when I have to, and there are plenty of people who seem to enjoy my company.

But when I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough. I sometimes feel exhausted the next day, too, as if I’ve got a hangover, and need to be alone for a day or two to recharge my batteries.

Where does the pub come in? Well, sometimes — and it might only be every four or five weeks — I feel an urge to be around other people. If I’m feeling really full of beans, I’ll perch at the bar, say hello, and hope to get included in the conversation. Usually, though, the operative word is around — I like hearing the murmur of conversation without actually wanting to have one. I find a corner, read a book or a newspaper, drink a pint or two, and go home with my need for company nicely topped up for another month.

And I don’t think I’m doing the pub ‘wrong’ because I’m doing it differently to you.