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 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: