Everything we wrote in the perfectly normal month of March 2020

Because March 2020 has been totally normal – perhaps the least remarkable month on record? – we managed to turn out a decent number of posts, albeit with an odd emphasis on the past.

We kicked off with a write-up of a remarkable document from 1944: the Mass Observation projects notes on young people’s attitudes to alcohol, with bonus commentary on how the sex lives of young adults in London revolved around pubs. It’s full of stuff like this:

The Saloon Bar is packed with young people some 60—100 strong. To order drinks people just elbow their way to the counter. Nobody minds the pushing and shoving. Lots of young girls, very well-dressed and heavily made up, come into the pub unescorted. Soldiers and Sailors are present, but it is mostly a young civilian crowd. 17—18 age group, although a small percentage of older people (not more than 30-40 years) are present. The room is hot and the fat man at the piano looks hotter still. The room is too packed for dancing, but girls hum the melodies the fat man plays.


Moving back in time, Jess wrote about her great-grandfather and his run in with the great London brewery Barclay Perkins:

There’s an interesting insight into how these things worked: my great grandad bought beer from the brewery and also paid a royalty of 2d per dozen bottles of non-company beer sold. They were rather sniffy about his business generally; “…[Company] purchases were small and the royalty only amounted to some £12 per annum”. Also, the implication in the minutes is that Barclay Perkins would probably find another site and trade the licence.


Another piece from Jess was this reflection on the recent rise in the number of breweries in Walthamstow, east London, where she grew up, with input from Des de Moor and Jezza:

When I was young, Walthamstow wasn’t really a big drinking destination. It was somewhere young families settled. You might have a few in The Village or The Goose or whichever local pub tickled your fancy but, generally, people went up town for serious nightlife… And there were no breweries at all, not one, in a borough with about a quarter of a million people. The Essex Brewery closed in the 1970s and the Sweet William brewery at the William IV, later Brodie’s, didn’t come along until much later.

Continue reading “Everything we wrote in the perfectly normal month of March 2020”

Everything we wrote in February 2020

Will February 2020 go down as the most exciting month in this blog’s history?

Probably not. But we somehow managed to post 14 times, around side projects and day jobs, so not bad, all in all.

And we expect to hit our 3,000th post in March or April, by the way – bonkers, that.

Anyway…

We had Belgium on our brains in February and started the month with a post about the appeal of Belgian beer and Belgian beer culture to people just starting to get excited about beer:

When you first encounter Belgian beer, there’s an impression of boundless choice. Even the most basic bars have lengthy beer lists, usually with enough options to offer something different throughout a weekend city break. The beers on offer range from brain-dissolvingly sour to syrup sweet, and often come with tantalising, almost romantic descriptions.


Perhaps because storms kept us stuck in the house a bit more than usual, we spent a fair bit of time digging in online archives in the past few months, which is how we stumbled across an 1856 survey of London pubs. Apart from pointing people to the book, we wanted to highlight in particular the stats on mid-Victorian pub names:

“A wonderful display of tapsters’ ingenuity occurs in such signs as Blade Bone, Coffee-pot, Essex Serpent, Knave of Clubs, Lilliput Hall, Naked Boy and Woolpack, Old Centurion, Pickled Egg, Prospect of Whitby, Tippling Philosopher, Widow’s Son, Valiant Trooper, Sun in Splendour, Running Footman, Experienced Fowler, Good Man, Kentish Wag and World Turned Upside Down.”


You can’t judge a pub on one visit, we argued, perhaps with The Portcullis in mind, of which more later:

We think this is why it’s easier to judge places that have an identifiable guv’nor or guv’nors – that their personality, for good or worse, sets a fairly consistent tone for the place. And you can tell a lot by the regulars that they gather around them and the behaviours that are and aren’t allowed.


We shared details of a 1963 document from Guinness setting out the itinerary for a carefully managed press tour, including briefing notes on questions likely to be asked:

How can you expect to do well with beer now that wine and spirit drinking is a “done” thing?
It is true that wine sales are going up quickly but only a comparatively small amount is drunk by a particular section of the population.

What about failure of Common Market Negotiation?
This has not changed our picture. Our main trade within the European Common Market is with Belgium and France where Guinness has always been regarded as a speciality drink commanding a higher price than regular beers.


We put into words our feelings about The Portcullis, which at first we thought was a peculiar pub but eventually realised was actually a misplaced eccentric Belgian cafe:

On Saturday evening, we sat at a shelf, facing a canvas print of Prince, against a backdrop of red-rose boudoir wallpaper… We drank Belgian beers chosen from a printed menu, each served in correctly branded glassware – Chimay, Straffe Hendrik, Orval, De Ranke, with more on offer… Pink Floyd played softly in the background.


Next came a piece directly inspired by our visit to The Portcullis, on which we drank more than our physical limits would usually permit, but which, miraculously, we got away with:

Not too bad.

No instinctive shying from the light.

There doesn’t seem to be any nausea, although you won’t really know until you try to get up and do something.


We didn’t think we’d ever want to write about the origins or meaning of the term craft beer again but, having noticed conversations about it on Twitter, lately, felt the need to provide some raw information for reference. The post takes the form of a timeline running from 1883 to 1995, by which time the phrase was in regular use.


Molly Figgures lived and worked in the same Gloucestershire village pub for 50 years. Fortunately for we booze historians, she was given a nudge to write a short memoir – an eccentric volume full of amazing details. For example…

Sometimes the spittoons were turned into a form of entertainment when a well-known character, who had served in the Navy, would go down on his knees and slide them around the floor accompanied by an appropriate song. This was known as Holy Stoning.


We also produced five editions of our regular Saturday morning round-ups of news and links:


We posted some bits and pieces on Patreon, including a pub life vignette and notes on the controversy around people asking for samples in pubs. Do consider signing up.


Our newsletter was a whopper, covering our plans to index What’s Brewing, the necessity of nicheing and more. To get next month’s, sign up here.


And on Twitter, there was a bunch of stuff like this:

Now then – let’s crack on with March.

Everything we wrote in January 2020

We did not have a dry January. (Not that we’re criticising those who did.) We went to quite a few new pubs and even made it as far as Stockport for a weekend away.

In terms of blogging, that produced 12 posts in total – about standard for us these days.

We started the month with notes on a crawl around the pubs of Filton on the outskirts of Bristol, from chains to council-owned oddities:

The Ratepayer’s Arms is… an odd place. If you look towards the bar, it feels much like any other social club with plenty of charming clutter, pickled eggs, rolls and drinkers clustered round the bar. Look the other way, though, and it’s all blank walls and municipal fixtures and fittings… Still, the welcome was notably warm, nobody paid us the slightest attention – just how we like it – and we enjoyed the buzz of local gossip and, inevitably, bitter criticism of the quality of Boeing aircraft these days.

Continue reading “Everything we wrote in January 2020”

Everything we wrote about beer and pubs in November 2019

We managed a respectable fourteen posts in November, with an emphasis on pubs, community and gentrification, but with the odd tasting note and bit of history, too.

The first proper post of the month wasn’t about beer and was a solo flight for Ray on the subject of pies, and specifically whether they need to have a pastry base:

You are here for deprogramming. Everything you thought you knew about pies is wrong. Listen to me – listen carefully: even if it has no pastry base, it is still a pie. You might have a preference for a pie with a pastry base. That might be how your Mum made pies, or how the speciality pie of your hometown is made. But none of that means ‘stew with a lid’ is anything other than a legitimate pie.

This generated some attention from outside our friendly bubble – turns out pie people are passionate and partisan as beer geeks.


For our own satisfaction, we (mostly Jess) set out to discover exactly when British brewers started putting the ABV on beer packaging and at point of sale:

[We were] able to establish that a change in the law was proposed in 1987 by the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in response to an EEC (European Economic Community) directive… And that was our first surprise – we had assumed it happened as a result of either consumer or CAMRA pressure, or as a result of one of the many government enquiries going on at the time. But it looks like it was actually just an all-but automatic implementation in the UK of European wide legislation.


Cinema Open

The first of our pieces on pubs and gentrification was a reflection on the relaunch of The Fellowship at Bellingham, south east London, which we last visited in 2016 when it was semi-derelict:

We visited shortly after opening on a Sunday when it was fairly quiet but with a good number of reservations for lunch later in the afternoon. They had had a busy night before, too, as suggested by the dry pumps and confirmed by the staff behind the bar: “Well, we did have Don Letts here last night.”… We were really impressed with the transformation, or rather the comparative lack of it. While it definitely clean and contemporary the original wooden panelling was visible throughout, barely even retouched or varnished in some places.

Continue reading “Everything we wrote about beer and pubs in November 2019”

Everything we wrote in October 2019: Apples, pubbiness, the perfect pint

We managed to post slightly more in October than in September, only thrown off course by the usual combination of day jobs, other hobbies, autumn sniffles and weather-triggered ennui.

Having said that, we did also manage to complete a long-planned project, from graphic design to printing, which feels, it must be said, FANTASTIC.

Anyway, here on the blog, we kicked the month off with a hangover from September in the form of notes on The Black Cat, a quirky micropub in Weston-super-Mare:

This strange hybrid is a thing we’ve seen a few times, now, in towns apparently not quite big enough or hip enough to support both a micropub (real ale, conservatism) and a craft beer bar (keg beer, trend-chasing). Sonder in Truro springs to mind as another example.


Then, getting into October proper, we declared Cider Season 2019, and committed to trying to get to understand a beverage popular in the West Country but about which we know woefully little. That took us to The CoriTap, down the rabbit-hole of cidermaking and into quite a few cider-focused bars and pubs:

Has this month turned us into cider drinkers? Probably not. While we have much more appreciation for the variety that is out there, and will definitely continue to have the occasional cider session, it’s difficult to conceive of us choosing cider when beer is available. We find it hard to session on and hard work rather than refreshing.


Excited by the arrival of the new edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide we were inspired to put together a respectful additional list of Bristol pubs that we reckon GBG believers might also enjoy:

Selection processes vary from district to district, as we understand it, but the Bristol branch has clearly documented processes which seem to be about as thorough and democratic as is possible to be, but obviously will still favour pubs that are popular with active CAMRA members… We’re not really sociable enough to contribute to this sort of thing so of course we don’t get to complain if we don’t like the entries. And actually, in Bristol, there isn’t much to grumble about from our perspective.


The Rising Sun

Continuing the theme, we wrote up an extraordinarily productive day of #EveryPubInBristol ticking in Bedminster and beyond, from The Assembly to the Star & Dove:

There’s something about this particular approach, every pub, that really makes sense of the scene as a whole and how things fit together. Posh pubs are uphill, less fancy ones at the bottom; chains are sometimes where the action is; and there’s almost no pub that’s not OK for at least one round on a Saturday afternoon.


How much foam is the right amount of foam? Having been served what felt to us like the perfect pint, we wondered if it might help us prove a rule: that regardless how much head is on a beer, someone on Twitter will tell you it’s the wrong amount. We ran a poll and everything:

[About] 90% of poll respondents thought it looked fairly spot on, the remaining votes were split between too much and not enough, with a slight bias towards too much.


We finally shared our embarrassingly dorky system for deciding whether a place is a pub or not using a spreadsheet. So far, responses have tended to amount to either:

  1. this kinda works
  2. you’re overthinking it.

If you’ve had chance to have a play, we’d love to know the results.


If you wanted to put together a gift-box to help someone new to beer get their heads around the different styles fairly quickly and easily, what would be in it? Here’s our suggested line-up.


We also put out the usual round-ups of links and news each Saturday:

5 October 2019 | sessionability, Spam, the seventies

12 October 2019 | silly stout, Somerset cider, sad stories

19 October 2019 | Lancashire, language, local

26 October 2019 | Westminster, Witbier, white men



Then there was the email newsletter, with notes on apples rolling in the gutters of Bristol, the annoyance of unasked for advice, motorway pubs and more. Sign up for next month’s here.


For Patreon subscribers we gave weekly round-ups of the best beers we encountered over each weekend, shared an original short story with a beer bottle at its heart, gave lots of sneak previews of the van Klomp project in progress and an advance look at the Beta version of the ‘Is it a pub?’ spreadsheet. We’ve also spent the past week sending out free copies of the PVK zine to subscribers. Sign up!


On Twitter, there was loads of this kind of thing:

Now then, November – let’s do this.

Everything we wrote in September 2019: Belgium, scary pubs, The Vodi

With a ten-day holiday at the start, September got off to a slow start on the blogging front, and we only managed 12 posts in total.

Mind you, we did post on the Patreon feed every day from Belgium, amounting to about 5,000 words in total. The first entry, written on arrival in Ostend, was on open access, too, if you fancy a taste.

When we got back to the UK, we distilled all that lot into one long post capturing our impressions of the country, its cafes and its beer:

Two bar staff are dancing and miming along to ‘Dolce Vita’ by Ryan Paris as they wash glasses. A man with a shopping trolley, dressed head to toe in custom embroidered denim, lumbers in and raises a hand at which, without hesitation, he is brought a small glass of water; he downs it, waves, and leaves. On the terrace, two skinny boys in artfully tatty clothes eat a kilo of pistachios and sip at glasses of Pils. A group of Englishmen in real ale T‑shirts arrive: “Triples all round is it, lads? Aye, four triples, pal.”


Delighted to be back home, we headed straight to The Drapers Arms and pored over the latest edition of Bristol CAMRA’s magazine Pints West. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to give it a shout out on the blog:

In general, there’s an openness about it that shows CAMRA at its best. All breweries are covered with enthusiasm and honesty, regardless of their particular cask-ale credentials. Licensed premises of all kinds get a look in and there are heartening tales of local activism to save apparently doomed pubs.


John Braine’s 1959 novel The Vodi has something in common with many other British books from this period: it reeks of beer and pubs. We highlighted some of the most interesting bits, like this:

[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.


A raven in deep shadow.

From novels, we moved on to films, specifically the invention of a particular myth of the English pub created in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s:

Consider 1943’s Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, one of the better entries in the run of Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, which gives us The Rat & Raven… The film is set in Northumbria, not that you’d know that from the cast of assorted Brits, Antipodeans, Irishmen and Americans, all speaking stage cockney or Transatlantic English… The pub, which appears 35 minutes in, is located in the country town of Hurlstone – instantly recognisable to students of horror film as the standing ‘European village’ set at Universal Studios, built c.1920 and reused endlessly to stand in for everywhere from the Western Front to Wales to the fictional ‘Visaria’ where Frankenstein’s monster rampaged in his later post-Karloff career.


We approached the end of the month with a couple of related items:

  1. It can really difficult to leave a pub when you’re having a good time
  2. …but sometimes pubs make the choice for you and aren’t always polite about it.

Then, way back in the mists of, uh, this morning, we flagged a story from 1966 about a piece of pop-Freudian analysis of British drinkers and their attitude to beer.


We also put together our usual round-ups of news, nuggets and longreads:


There was also a 1,000+ words newsletter (sign up!), a handful of other bits and pieces on Patreon and lots of Tweets, like this:

Next month: cider, apparently. More about that later in the week.

Everything we wrote about beer and pubs in August 2019

A bit of a low score this month – just 13 posts in total, although, to be fair, one of those was an absolute whopper.

Leeds has played a pivotal role in the evolution of British beer, as covered in our first book, Brew Britannia. We kicked off last month with an in-depth, in-their-own-words look at the city’s beer scene, featuring insight from veterans such as Barrie Pepper and relative newcomers like Gareth Pettman. This piece ended up running to 3,000 words and seemed to meet the general approval of Leodensians, to our great relief.

An update: Antony Ramm at Leeds Libraries (@rammalibrary), who first suggested this article, is working on an archive project around beer in Leeds in the past decade or two. If you’ve got original memorabilia or ephemera – leaflets, flyers, programmes, papers and so on – he’d love to know about them for possible inclusion in the collection.


We also did some pondering on beer scenes more generally – what makes a scene as opposed to just… some good pubs and beer? This prompted some prickly but interesting reactions, both below the line and on Twitter.

Continue reading “Everything we wrote about beer and pubs in August 2019”

Everything we wrote in July 2019

This was a pretty good month in terms of productivity with more posts than we’ve managed in a single stretch for some time.

We started with a hangover from June and a report on our week in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands:

The tricky thing about running a pub in a town like Fort William is that for half the year, there’s too much of a particular type of business: tourists who often don’t know how it all works and probably want dinner… Then, for the remaining six months, there’s not enough business. You’re left with a handful of locals rattling round mostly empty pubs, if they can afford to go out at all given the seasonal nature of the employment market.


We shared some notes by J.B. Priestley on the pubs of Bradford and the bleakness of English towns on Sundays before the war:

Priestley’s pub crawl is depressing. He finds the first one he visits very quiet with ‘five or six hobbledehoys drinking glasses of bitter’ and bothering the barmaid. ‘Nothing wrong with the place’, he writes, ‘except that it was dull and stupid.’

Continue reading “Everything we wrote in July 2019”

Everything we wrote in June 2019

Despite a ten-day holiday at the start of the month we managed to write a little more in June than in May. Or, rather, to find time to type up some of the things we’ve got on the big list of stuff to blog about.

We started the month with a reflection on the unwritten rules of round-buying which seemed to sneak outside of the bubble and got shared by a few people who aren’t beer geeks but are, presumably, interested in how Britain works.


Next, Ray went solo with some thoughts on The Winchester, the pub from the 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead:

It has an added resonance for me in that, for several years in my own flat-sharing twenties, I lived around the corner from The Winchester… And, to be clear, I don’t mean that I lived near a pub that was like The Winchester: the actual pub you actually see in the actual film was about four minutes walk from my house in New Cross, South London.

Continue reading “Everything we wrote in June 2019”

Everything we wrote in May 2019: Guinness, pubs, tea gardens

Oof, this was not a highly productive stretch… Let’s just say we were running low on energy in the run up to the holiday we’re now on. Anyway, slim or not, the month was not without interesting stuff.

First, there was a long piece actually published at the end of April, but after the cut-off for our last monthly round-up: the story of Guinness’s brewery at Ikeja in Nigeria told through an interview and archive research. One reader kindly wrote to tell us it was ‘far and away the best beer blog of 2019’ and that it reflected his own experiences of working in Africa (not in brewing) in the 1980s, which was nice.


We announced our new bookBalmy Nectar, which we’re pleased to say has been selling quite well. If you haven’t bought a copy, do take a look; and if you have, please leave a review.


Several months ago, someone asked us if we knew the origins of an apparently unique pub name from Leicestershire and after weeks of digging, we think we’ve cracked it. Spoiler: freemasonry!


One of those periodic debates about sparklers popped up on Twitter and, watching the conversation play out, we thought we’d achieved clarity: they’re neither good nor evil, it depends on the underlying condition of the beer.


We picked some bits of about beer from a 1945 magazine for British armed forces stationed in India, like this:

Advertisement for Dyer Meakin Breweries and their Solan brand beers.


We finally made it to Beese’s Tea Gardens, a Victorian institution on the outskirts of Bristol, where you can drink beer in the shade of ancient trees on a riverbank:

Last Saturday, we approached from Broomhill, cutting from a council estate into a sloping park where teenagers flirted on the climbing frame next to a basketball court. A short walk down a wooded path brought us to a gate that might have been transplanted from Bavaria…


Camden Hells didn’t seem that big a deal in 2011; we’ve now come to realise that there was a time before Camden, and a time after, and the post-Camden beer scene is an alien planet:

What we should have paid more attention to was that our friends who weren’t especially interested in beer – who would turn pale if you accused them of being beer geeks – seemed to like Hells a lot. They were switching from Foster’s, Stella, Peroni, and (perhaps crucially) drinking Hells just as they’d drunk those other beers: by the pint, pint after pint.


The cover of 'Pub', 1969.

Osbert Lancaster was an illustrator and writer with strong opinions about pubs, especially Victorian ones, as set out in a 1938 book:

In the earlier part of the nineteenth century it was assumed, and rightly, that a little healthy vulgarity and full-blooded ostentation were not out of place in the architecture and decoration of a public-house, and it was during this period that the tradition governing the appearance of the English pub was evolved.


Another mid-century writer and illustrator, Geoffrey Fletcher, set out similar views in his book The London Nobody Knows in 1962. We picked out a few choice lines, like this:

The architects of the late Victorian pubs and music-halls knew exactly what the situation demanded – extravagance, exuberance, and plenty of decoration for its own sake.


We also put together our usual round-ups of news and good reading from beer blogs, newspapers and magazines:


At Patreon we gave $2+ subscribers rundowns of the best beers of each weekend plus a few extra nuggets, such as an account of a (no-injuries) car crash outside a pub that turned into a serious spectator event.


Our monthly newsletter was a proper whopper with notes on tea in pubs in the 1920s and links to archive footage of pubs in action. Sign up here.


We Tweeted a ton, too, especially from Tewkesbury: