News, nuggets and longreads 8 August 2020: politics, pool tables, Palestine

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs from the past week that grabbed our attention, from the the Himalayas to South London.

We’ll start with a lovely piece from Owen Amos at the Beeb about how the world’s smallest and most remote Irish theme pub at Namche Bazar, Nepal:

The pub’s pool table was brought in this way. “And ours is an old, classic Indian table, with huge marble slates,” says [pub-owner] Dawa [Sherpa]… “Three or four slates, each one weighs maybe 120kg. We can’t hire mules or yaks because the paths are too fragile. It’s all carried by porters – humans – with great carefulness.” They even import Guinness, expensively, via Singapore.

Berliner Kindl Weisse.

Ben Palmer is an interesting chap. He’s British but has been studying brewing in Germany and recently took a role as student research assistant at the brewing research centre VLB in Berlin. Moving to a new city has prompted him to fire up his blog and begin recording his impression of its pubs and bars:

Berlin is the craft beer capital of Germany, probably. I am too lazy to count but the city is probably home to about 20-30 breweries and numerous craft beer bars and bottle shops etc. Some brewing companies have their own production facilities with tap rooms, whilst others adhere to the “Kuckoo”, or contract brewing model. But frankly, I’m less excited about internationalised beer culture these days. I don’t really want to drink IPA in a dimly lit bar in Kreuzberg surrounded by English-speaking expats. So I have set myself the goal to seek out some authentic Berlin pubs, beer gardens and brewpubs and gain an insight into local beer culture.


News, nuggets and longreads 1 August 2020: civil war, wort, Watney’s

Here’s all the best reading about beer and pubs from the past week, from notes on Marxist beer to memories of Watney’s in its pomp.

First, a reminder that we in the UK have it relatively easy. Various forms and degrees of lockdown have affected beer businesses around the world but South Africa’s brewing industry has had it especially hard with the imposition of total prohibition. Now, though, as Lucy Corne reports, they’ve found a way to keep the lights on:

Homebrewing has never been more popular in South Africa. Since people can’t legally buy beer, they are choosing to make their own at home. But not everyone wants to invest in homebrewing equipment and not everyone has the time to brew a batch of beer from scratch. Luckily, the homebrew suppliers and craft brewers of South Africa have come together to bring you the absolute easiest way to make beer at home… Breweries around the country are now offering customers the chance to purchase wort. It’s a perfect solution that allows you to legally produce beer at home (it is not illegal to homebrew in South Africa as long as you don’t sell it) and also offers a way to support your local brewery. They can’t sell beer at this time, but they can sell wort, which is a non-alcoholic product.

Blueprint of the Windsock.

SOURCE: Geoff Quincy/Wilson Smith and Partners.

At his blog dedicated to one of the most striking pubs of the 1960s, Geoff Quincy gives us part two of his epic history of its construction:

Large buildings often consist of a steel girder skeleton which is bolted into place before the floors and walls are added afterwards. These walls and floors can be made from a variety of materials such as metals or wood, composites of plastics and also concrete… However due to The Windsock’s shape and design this technique of building could not be employed. There was no centre or skeleton in the design to bolt everything onto. Instead the building would be interlinked by a series of columns which would need to be constructed to their full height of around 30ft in the air, the height of the second bar floor, before the main building would then begin to be built around them, joining the columns together in the process.

This is no ordinary pint.
Detail from a 1961 national press ad for Watney’s Red Barrel.

John Lowrie used to work for Watney’s and has written a post gathering some of his memories and reflections. As long-time Watney’s watchers we were especially interested in his account of the launch of Red in 1970:

Watney’s decided to re-launch the brand, dropping the ‘Barrel’ and calling it just Watney’s Red. The laboratory and marketing boys had co-operated, done their research. They’d booked the TV slots and advertising hoardings. The first brews were brewed ready for delivery. Chairman Mao’s face was salivating in anticipation. In celebration, they told the boys in the brewery – and me – to try it. Next morning they realised there was something amiss in the chemical concoction. Quite a few boys reported diarrhoea! Unfortunately it was too late to correct. So the brand new Watney’s Red was in fact the same old Watney’s Red Barrel. No-one noticed. The joys of keg beer.


Women at a brewery.

Women maltsters at Bass, 1917.

Now, something to explore: the National Brewery Centre’s new online archive has launched. At present, there doesn’t seem to be much online – it’s primarily a catalogue – but there are some gorgeous photos, like the one above.

The sign of the Victoria, a Fuller's pub in Paddington.

Al Reece at Fuggled has been tasting and thinking about a specific beer, Fuller’s London Pride. Here are his notes. We enjoyed reading them.

A palm in Colombia.

Source: Christian Holzinger on Unsplash.

The North American Guild of Beer Writers blog, Reporter’s Notebook, has an interesting piece by Miriam Riner on a former FARC member who has become a brewer:

In 2016, the FARC signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government, formally ending over 50 years of war. One of the challenges to lasting peace is finding productive legal employment for ex-guerillas who often lack secondary education or formal work experience… Jaramillo Cardona belongs to a group of ex-guerillas that hopes beer is their path to peace. The 30-member cooperative makes La Roja, or The Red, an Irish-style red ale. The name and label are a nod to their Marxist revolutionary ideology.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this reminder of why you should follow your local archive, library service and museums:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 25 July 2020: beer duty, Babbity Bowster, brettanomyces

Here’s all the reading about pubs and beer that caught our attention in the past week, from heavy duty politics to pubs in 3D.

First, more on the week’s big news: announced, but not quite final, changes to small brewers’ duty relief:

  1. A summary of the story for Good Beer Hunting by Jonny Garrett.
  2. Further impassioned commentary from Jim at Beers Manchester.

More news: in what feels like a sign o’ the times and a taste of things to come, Beer Ritz in Headingley, Leeds, is closing. (Though the online store is to continue trading.) It was one of the earliest specialist beer shops and played a key part in giving Leeds its thriving beer scene a decade or so ago.

Sign: "mild ales".

Something short but sweet from Ron Pattinson next: when exactly did the phrase ‘dark mild’ emerge?

In the first half of the 19th century there would have been no need for the term. Because Mild Ale was all relatively pale, being brewed from just pale base malt. Only when some Mild Ales began to darken – sometime at the end of the 19th century – would there be any need for it… [Google Books] turned up the first mention: in 1897.

A brain.

Jordan St. John has been thinking about beer social media, Marx and Baudrillard:

In a world where there are tens of thousands of breweries making hundreds of thousands of beers, the representation of any product through your social media presence becomes, of necessity, a matter of jockeying for position. Hundreds of thousands of ways to say “Look at what I have” and intimate that your status is higher than that of other people because they don’t have what you have. Social or cultural status always comes at the expense of someone else’s social or cultural status because at least in the community that values an individual signatory fetish item, there is an ever more minute and rigid hierarchical system in which objects jockey for position on the basis of people’s estimation. It’s why people ask, “what’s the best beer in the world?”

Babbity Bowster sign

The newest blogging micro-genre of the summer of 2020 is ‘I went back to the pub after several months’. Robbie Pickering has contributed a low key but evocative account of a pint of Landlord at Babbity Bowster in Glasgow:

Babbity Bowster dates from the mid-1980s when legendary publican Fraser Laurie took on the then-derelict eighteenth-century building and turned it into something quite new for Glasgow. Though decried at the time as a yuppie pub, it has developed into an institution with a formidable reputation… It seems much the same on entering, less regimented than some pubco establishments and I just have to fill in a slip of paper and put it in a plastic tub, then sanitise my hands. I choose to sit outside and my pint is brought out to me. I pay in cash because the machine isn’t working yet; I think this is the first time I have used cash since March.

Bruxellensis label.

For Beer & Brewing magazine, Joe Stange has written about the evolution of funky, wild, Brettanomyces powered Belgian beer, providing us with an updated shopping list:

Brettanomyces bruxellensis, after all, is named after Brussels. It also lends its name to a beer from that city called Bruxellensis, brewed by the Brasserie de la Senne. It’s a dry, bitter pale ale that gets some Brett for conditioning, developing pronounced notes of leather and pineapple… In an example of influence vectors that cross the Atlantic and come back again, Senne brewery’s Jester Zinne is a mixed-culture collaboration with Jester King, whose house blend of yeasts and bacteria comes to the forefront with age.

(It’s actually a couple of weeks old but we only spotted it this week.)

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this mesmerising video of a pub in 3D:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 18 July 2020: Depeche Mode, Digbeth, Deutschland

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from reopening to riots.

How quickly we went from worrying about overcrowding in newly reopened pubs to worrying about their lack of customers. The Guardian reports that sales are down about 40% on this time last year – hardly surprising when capacity is down by at least the same amount in most pubs. Some pubs have found themselves worryingly empty. All things being aligned, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, we think we’re going to go to a pub tomorrow.

A shuttered pub.

For The Social, poet and writer Will Burns concludes a series of posts on lockdown life with a piece about the reopening of the ‘village’ pub:

In the Lantern, the seating has been re-organised, spaced out, more tables set up outside. Hand-sanitiser on a small round table by the gents, behind the bar. Bottles of disinfectant to hand. The dray has delivered its first beer since the closure all those weeks ago, the cellar organised, the whole place as clean as I can remember it being. The rooms have taken on something of their old aspect, seem to anticipate the coming of people, of conversation, of the obscure meaning communal spaces somehow communicate. Chairs are back behind tables, the evidence of our domestic life here moved back upstairs, back out of sight.

Digbeth, Birmingham.

For PellicleChris Smith has spoken about the reinvention of Digbeth, a former industrial district in Birmingham, as part of the city’s food and drink scene:

A scattering of small businesses—a furniture workshop, an electronics store and a 3D candy printer—sit among graffiti tags, metal shutters and numerous “To Let” signs. Stepping over a cobbled pathway in Birmingham’s historic manufacturing district, I arrive at Dig Brew Co. It’s the area’s first and only craft brewery and a new cornerstone of an area undergoing widespread renewal.


As a former marketing man, Pete Brown is well equipped to sniff out bullshit and this week turned his attention to AB-InBev’s claims about the origins of the name of Brazilian lager Brahma:

[A] made-up story, that doesn’t make any sense and has no foundation in historical records, falsely claims a Swiss brewer working in Brazil named his business after a bloke from Barnsley, on the grounds that he invented something that doesn’t exist, because it was getting confused with something he is often credited with inventing, but in fact never did… AB-InBev’s skill in layering bullshit upon falsehood upon ignorance upon misunderstanding is almost admirable.

Munich in the 19th century.

Beer historian Brian Alberts is a great addition to the regular roster of writers at Good Beer Hunting as this piece on the Munich beer riots of 1844 demonstrates:

One chilly November morning in 1843, Bavarian gendarmes—police—noticed a crowd standing conspicuously on the Isar River Bridge. Scores of journeymen and day laborers crossed that bridge daily, which connected central Munich to the Au, Haidhausen, and Giesing—working-class neighborhoods technically outside the city limits… Someone had tacked a paper note to one of the bridge’s stones, and those workers had taken notice. There was no signature. The script was untidy, reflecting an undereducated hand, but the message was clear. Beer was too expensive.

Depeche Mode in a pub.
SOURCE; Dublin by Pub/Adrian Boot.

Who can resist a good detective story? The team at Dublin by Pub got obsessed with identifying the pub in a promotional photo of a member of Depeche Mode from 1983. Stopping at nothing, from tracking down the original magazine in which it appeared to stalking the photographer on Facebook, the key to the mystery eventually came with the recent death of football legend:

Ireland is set into grief and mourning upon the announcement of the death of Jack Charlton. I’m watching the news that night and in the middle of one of the many reports on Jack, they roll a clip of him holding a trophy on front of a pane of very familiar looking stained glass… I pull the image down from the RTE Player to compare it to that from 1983 and find that Jack’s one unarguably has only the 2 initials – J and C. No sign of a T to be seen. And it appears to be in a house, as opposed to a pub. So, I google Jack Charlton Stained Glass and the glorious floodgates open.

Men in a beer garden.
SOURCE: St Louis Magazine/Missouri History Museum.

A visual treat: for St. Louis MagazineChris Naffziger compiles photographs of a 19th century German-style beer garden:

The longtime residents of St. Louis were apparently surprised at the arrival of German immigrants that began around 1840 and their habit of public drinking outdoors in large gatherings, as this 1857 Republican newspaper article attests. But these beer gardens were not simply about drinking their new lager beer; for German immigrants, these new social gathering places were critical components of politics and culture.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.


News, nuggets and longreads 11 July 2020: Neverspoons, Sunak, Windsock

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from pub chains to Betjeman.

It’s always interesting to us when we hear about a development in our field from friends who are less geeky about beer and pubs than us. In this case, our pals were all abuzz about Neverspoons, a new app designed to help drinkers find independent pubs and avoid chains. It’s made the front page of the BBC, too:

The Android app Neverspoons has been downloaded nearly 18,000 times in its first week – more than Shane Jones expected from the first six months. It is currently top of the free app chart on Google Play. The name is a pun on the pub chain Wetherspoons but Mr Jones said he just wanted to give smaller pubs a boost. Mr Jones admitted that “a handful” of other chain pub venues had already crept on to the app and he said he planned to “weed out” those people had complained to him about – including one from the Slug and Lettuce chain and a few Greene King and Firkin franchises.

(Firkins? In 2020? Intriguing.)

Also this week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered something he insisted wasn’t a mini-Budget, but which smelled a lot like one. It included several measures intended to support jobs and stimulate British consumers to get out and about, from discounts on restaurant meals in August to a VAT reduction for hospitality and leisure. What it didn’t included, however  – in fact, almost pointedly excluded – was anything to help the brewing or pub industries. For example, the VAT cut doesn’t apply to alcoholic drinks. From where we’re sitting, we see people trying to stay chipper, but struggling. What can be done? Other, that is, than force yourself to go to the pub even if, like around 60% of Britons, you don’t feel quite ready to do so.

Detail from a Whitbread Tankard beer mat.

For Ferment, the magazine that accompanies beer subscription boxes from Beer52, Hollie Stephens has produced a fascinating piece on the history of beer tankards:

One winter day in 2007, in a field in near Newport, Wales, a local man was searching the ground with a metal detector. Among his findings that day were two bronze bowls and a bronze wine strainer dating to the Iron Age, which were pronounced treasure. Other objects were buried alongside these, in what is assumed to have been a religious offering, including a wooden tankard deemed to be 2000 years old, making it the oldest tankard ever found… The artefacts are thought to have been placed in the ground around the time that the Roman army was launching a campaign against the Silures tribe of the Iron Age, sometime around AD 50.

The Windsock, Dunstable.

Geoff Quincy is obsessed with one particular pub – the architecturally remarkable Windsock in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. He’s embarked on a full and complete history of its conception, construction, life and demolition with part one appearing this week:

Picture the scene: it’s a cold dark February evening in 1969 and a planning application meeting is about to commence in the chambers of the Bedfordshire County Council… [The] committee are asked to review an application from Watney Schooner, the newish bar/restaurant division of the omnipresent brewery Watneys… The drawings within the application show Watney Schooners proposal to redevelop a plot of land on the corner of Whipsnade Road and West Street in Dunstable. This plot is currently occupied by a rather worn out looking pub at the tattier end of Watneys portfolio. Its fair to say that the committee have never seen a building like the one proposed in these drawings before.



Brussels roadworks.

For PellicleEoghan Walsh has written an argument for considering Brasserie de la Senne’s Zinnebir as the single best expression of modern Brussels in beer:

Zinnebir never quite goes full Le Corbusier, opting instead to be a more sensuous, more humane, more playful beer. If Zinnebir echoes something of Brussels’ skyline, then it’s the work of the city’s home-grown high priest of art nouveau, visionary architect Victor Horta. Unesco described Horta’s buildings—famed for their sinewy ironwork and evocation of the forms and patterns of nature—as “the brilliant joining of… curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building.” You could almost say the same about Zinnebir.

Turnpike, Manchester.

There’s been a bit of grumbling online in the past week about post-lockdown price rises at both Wetherspoon pubs and those owned by Samuel Smith of Tadcaster – both businesses built on offering startlingly good value for money. Tandleman, who has become our go-to commentator on the strange motions of Humphrey Smith, has thoughts:

Given the odd way Humphrey operates, like an East German holiday camp, he attracts a certain kind of customer… Now if you are paying bottom dollar for your ale, you may well be minded to put up with all this, but if a price rise take your pint to broadly in line with elsewhere and you realise that five pints cost you a fiver more, I dare say many won’t. After all, why pay £3 a pint to put up with Humphrey’s lopsided world, when you can go elsewhere and won’t have to? Whichever way you look at it, this is a gamble and it signposts, the end of a unique business model, but if it backfires, it may also be the last blast of Humph’s reign.

The Criterion, St Pauls, as photographed by Colin Moody.

It’s great to have an update from Use it or Lose ItColin Moody’s project photographing pubs in Bristol, with text by Annie McGann, via The Bristol Cable:

Together they have begun to chart the pubs that are real, amazing community hubs, some struggling, some with long traditions in diverse communities. At the heart of the story are people, and here are some of the people they have found so far… Some are finding inventive ways to keep their locals open, like the drinkers in the Windmill in Bedminster, who recently started up a fundraiser to do a community buy-out of the pub. “We say that the community spaces are there already if they are not pushed out by property speculation,” says Colin. “Venues need protective status, investment and stability. Use it, and please don’t take it away so we lose it.”

The bar at the Royal Oak pub.

Veteran trade journalist and licensing historian Phil Mellows has written about the value and meaning of pubs as “a cultural space where you can just be”:

The state must recognise that pubs are not just businesses but cultural, social spaces essential to our well-being. Their survival cannot come down to a matter of profitability any more than the life of human beings should depend on the profit they contribute to the economy… Pubs are units of capital that at the same time provide a space where the pressures of neoliberal subjectivity, that nagging push to be useful and profitable the whole time, is suspended.

Finally, from Twitter, here’s Betjeman on beer bores:

For more good reading around our favourite barley-based booze (#SecondMentions) check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.