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News, nuggets and longreads 13 August 2022: Good day sunshine

There’s been plenty of great writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from longform reflections on the place of pubs in our culture to nuggets dug up from deep storage.

UK breweries FourPure and Magic Rock were acquired by multinational Lion in 2018 and 2019 respectively, but it seems it didn’t ‘take’. Lion announced a while ago that it intended to resell its two acquisition and now they have a buyer – Odyssey Inns. No, us neither. It seems to be a relatively new UK outfit and is led by Stephen Cox, co-founder of Devon’s Utopian Brewing. This interests us because we’ve wondered for a while whether UK craft breweries might consider combining as an alternative to selling up to international corporates. This is sort of that, by a roundabout route. Let’s see how it goes.


The Southampton Arms

For Pellicle David Jesudason has written about The Southampton Arms, a North London pub that appears near the top of many lists of must-visit London pubs:

All things considered, this Parliament Hill-slash-Kentish Town boozer is a god-tier London pub. And it owes its success to its locals of both corners, the regulars who love to gaze at its stunning wooden bar, and its landlord Nick Bailey, who sees himself more as a “custodian” with a “steady hand on the tiller.”… The Southampton Arms was bought in 2009 by Pete Holt, founder of Hackney Wick’s Howling Hops Brewery… “The pub [before] was quite dangerous,” Nick says. “There wasn’t this Victorian style. It was dark. But one of the remarkable things is that some of the people who drank there stayed.”

Completely by chance, we made our first visit in a decade to The Southampton Arms this week so it was interesting to read more about its history and significance. It is a great pub and one that’s worn in well, too.


SOURCE: Bar Corto/Katie Mather.

Veteran industry journalist Phil Mellows has spotted a trend: growing beer scenes in smaller towns in the north of England. For British Beer Breaks he writes about Clitheroe, mainly, but also expands his view:

The craft beer revolution was something that happened in the big cities, really, but in these less obvious destinations you can find some amazing stuff going on, and the modern mingles somehow more comfortably with surviving traditional pubs, and all within walking distance… Take Wirksworth, a quiet market town in Derbyshire. The Royal Oak, a small stone-walled terraced pub opposite the boutique Northern Light Cinema, has long championed good cask beers. And now the Feather Star, a local micropub and record shop, has moved into one half of the town’s old coaching inn, the Red Lion. It has created a quirky, inclusive, modern pub with a craft beer wall behind the handpumps. And when you’ve ordered your pint, or two-thirds, you can carry it carefully across the gateway where the coaches used to head to the stables at the back, and into the Umami Restaurant, a separate, yet complementary business.


An Edwardian pub on a busy junction.
The Three Horseshoes, Southall, in 2016.

Guess what? It’s a double Jesudason week. For Good Beer Hunting he’s also written a long, wide-ranging, heartfelt piece centred around Southall in West London. It’s about pubs, his relationship to alcohol, racism, murder, riot and family – a tough but compelling read:

I walked over to the Scotsman nearby. There, we met local resident Gurlochan Brar, who was more than happy to talk about the Hambrough Tavern, permissiveness in Southall, and his daily alcohol consumption  he got the bartender to confirm that he does indeed drink 20 pints of beer each day before hitting the vodka and Cokes. Luckily, we caught him on his first of the day… Brar, who is also called Terry or Tosh, was about 18 years old when the riot sparked outside the Hambrough. The Hambrough Tavern was a white pub in those days, he said, but Brar would go in because most of his mates weren’t Asian, and it wasn’t uncommon for other Brown people to drink in there. But that accord was disrupted on the day of the 4-Skins gig… “As the skinheads were walking to the pub, they spat at a little Sikh boy and he went home and told his brother,” he said. “Word spread like wildfire, and the next thing you know it’s all fucking kicked off. The police tried to crack down on it but some guys [stole a] police van and drove it into the Hambrough Tavern and that’s when it caught alight.”

(Our money’s on David for Beer Writer of the Year, if we can say that without jinxing it for him.)


Melbourne in the 1850s. SOURCE: Australia’s Defining Moments

It’s a bit of a raw genealogical research dump but the latest post from Martyn Cornell, about a rogue member of the Guinness family, is well worth picking through. For one thing, it reminds us how big the world used to be, and how easy it might be to disappear:

Arthur and his family arrived in Melbourne, Victoria in October 1853. The city was in the middle of a boom, after gold had been discovered in Victoria. By the middle of 1856 Arthur Benjamin Burke had found a job as a brewer at the Union Brewery… Allen & Co. decided to use Arthur Benjamin’s family links by cheekily renaming its premises the Guinness Brewery, Melbourne, and announcing that it had engaged as a brewer “Mr A.B. Burke, nephew of the famous Arth. Guinness, Esq, and who for many years was assistant brewer to the firm of Arthur Guinness, Son and Co of Dublin.” As a result, the brewery declared, it could “with confidence offer an article similar to Guinness’s Dublin Stout.”… Presumably Burke and the brewery owners felt that, since they were almost 11,000 miles from Dublin in a straight line, 14,000 miles by sea, they were far enough away that no one at St James’s Gate would notice they had stolen the Guinness name.


The Beer of the Future surrounded by atomic light.

Stan Hieronymus has been rummaging again. This time, he found a set of predictions for the future of beer from 1998 which were actually pretty good – especially a couple of ‘out on a limb’ suggestions:

8. Great availability of craft beer in cans

9. Non-alcohol craft beers


Finally, from Twitter…

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 6 August 2022: people power

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from remote pubs to craft malt.

The price of a pint, and public perception of the price of a pint, is an important metric for the industry. A new survey by CAMRA suggests that beer feels less affordable to people now than it did even a few years ago:

In 2019 42% of respondents to a YouGov survey for CAMRA said the cost of a pint at the bar was unaffordable – but that figure has jumped to 52% when the survey was repeated last week… It comes as the nation’s pubs are facing rising prices, skyrocketing energy bills and a dip in consumer spending power – prompting CAMRA to issue another plea to government for action to save the UK’s pubs.


Malt
SOURCE: Lutz Wernitz/Unsplash.

For Pellicle, our old pal Alistair Reece has written about craft malting in Virginia, USA, and how a tweak to the law triggered the birth of this new industry:

In 2012, then Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, signed into Virginia law a bill with the ever-so-memorable moniker of SB604. The law was to be a watershed moment in the growth of the craft beer industry in the US state, as it brought brewery taprooms into line with wineries by giving them the freedom to sell their wares by the glass… The ability to go to a brewery and have a pint of beer, rather than simply a flight of samples, lit the touch paper on the explosion in breweries throughout Virginia. Prior to the bill passing, there were fewer than 30 breweries in Virginia; today there are nearly 300. Many of them able to operate purely because they can sell pints directly to consumers through their taprooms.


Handpainted signs on The Rhubarb.
The Rhubarb.

The Bristol Cable is a Bristol community newspaper with a radical bent that typically takes the side of the underdog. This week, it turned its attention to endangered pubs with a piece by Alex Turner on the campaign to save The Rhubarb, our (currently closed) local:

[When] the Rhubarb closed in summer 2020, its last landlords claimed the business had become unviable. That’s a position the owner, London-based Mona Mogharebi, reiterates to the Cable… Her company Natan submitted plans to redevelop the site into 14 flats – eight in a new building in the garden – before withdrawing them early this year. They were replaced by a fresh application offering the possibility of reopening a pub on the ground floor, while still converting the upstairs and building flats in the garden… 


Text illustration: IPA.

Jeff Alworth makes a sharp observation about how most people – people not obsessed with beer – make sense of the descriptors supposed to distinguish one style from the next:

It is my strong belief that people inside the craft beer bubble vastly overestimate the public’s knowledge and interest level. The word “session” is a great example. It’s an English word, but not an American one. You have to understand British pub culture and then be able to apply the sense of the term to a low-ABV beer in a way the British never did (until they started brewing American-style IPAs)… When I launch into the explanation, I get maybe half a sentence. “Well, in the United Kingdom, drinking culture revolves around…” Nope, I’ve lost them…  “It means ‘low-alcohol.’” That’s what they want to know… The query “What’s an altbier?” is meant to elicit “a malty brown ale,” not “In German, alt means old, and this refers to the 19th century style called bitterbier…”


A person isolated in a vast landscape of hills and moorland.
On the way to Inverie. SOURCE: Kristóf Vizy/Unsplash.

The Old Forge at Inverie on Scotland’s Knoydart Peninsula, Britain’s most remote mainland pub, is a favourite of travel writers and this isn’t its first appearance in one of our round-ups. Still, we’re always happy to be taken there, especially when there is news to report. For BBC Travel Daniel Stables writes:

Around 120 residents lived here at the last count, spread across 86 square miles (that’s approximately the same population density as Alaska). The majority of those brave and hardy souls live in Inverie, and now, after a community buyout in March 2022, most of them own a stake in the Old Forge… In the decade prior, the pub’s legendary status had waned, with the previous owner closing for six months each winter when tourists were few. The pub’s community spirit was lost; so too its status as a year-round sanctuary for tired, thirsty hikers. Even to summer visitors, impressions were often not good. “This place used to be jumping,” reads one of the many unflattering online reviews from this dark period. “Now it is like a morgue.”… When the Old Forge was finally put on sale in February 2021, a community buyout was quickly proposed and the response was emphatic… In a little over a year, in April 2022, the pub re-opened, this time in the hands of the community.


An elaborate, sprawling pub-hotel building with a thatched roof.
The Thatched Barn. SOURCE: Elstree & Borehamwood Museum.

The blog of Elstree & Borehamwood Museum this week featured a post about a lost building – The Thatched Barn roadhouse:

Commissioned in 1927 by a ‘Mrs Merrick’, of which not much is known, it was opened in 1934 on the A1 or the Barnet By-Pass. In the style of an American ‘roadhouse-motel’ but with an English twist with its thatched roof, it was ideally suited for ‘stars’ from the flourishing studios nearby to take their companions. With a large dining area, chefs, a swimming pool, and other facilities located a short drive from the expensive areas of north London it became a well-known attraction.

For more context on roadhouses check out this post of ours from a few weeks ago.


Finally, from Twitter, an interesting development:

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 23 July 2022: Endless Summer

This week’s round-up of good writing about beer and pubs is brought to you from a hotel room in Birmingham and includes tomato beer, solo drinking and Mr Blobby.

First, though, a recommendation: if you haven’t explored the BBC’s new Rewind archive website yet, get stuck in. There are thousands of clips of local news and documentary programmes including many which touch on beer and pubs. It’s currently only available in the UK.


Toit Brewing in Bangalore. SOURCE: Burum/Rashmi Narayan.

At Burum Collective Rashmi Narayan provides an overview of the craft beer scene in Bangalore in southern India which, she tells us, “is often referred to as the country’s beer capital”:

Back in the 1980’s Bangalore’s eminent pubs such as Guzzlers and Pecos were like trendy tourist attractions, where on weekends many would drive from neighbouring cities such as Mysore, Mangalore and Chennai merely to go pub-hopping. The most characteristic of them all was Dewar’s, which was a regular haunt for British soldiers in the 1940’s and survived decades in its dilapidated condition before closing its doors in 2013. There was no music played, frail wicker chairs were scattered about on its red oxide floors and photos of gods and goddesses adorned its walls.


Zero

For Good Beer Hunting Jerard Fagerberg is tackling a big, uncomfortable topic: alcohol addiction, soberness and the challenges of making beer your hobby, or your living. In this first post in what is set to be a series he talks to a former beer writer who gave up writing about beer, and has had ups and downs in his attempts to give up beer:

When you’re a beer writer, alcohol is almost a secondary intoxicant. There’s also the access. As [Norman] Miller says, the service. Each sip of beer is a duty to an audience. That’s why Miller’s wherewithal inspires me. Discontinuing his column meant that Miller had to sacrifice a piece of his identity. This was a man who was stopped in the streets and addressed as “Beer Nut.” People bought T-shirts with his face on them. Wormtown Brewery named a Chocolate Coconut Stout after him… When my dad quit drinking, he immediately threw himself into another obsession: coffee. Most alcoholics get caught in these replacement cycles. For Miller, he’s taken on a hobby of collecting spices. He drinks seltzers (mostly Polar) with the same omnivorous curiosity that drove him to beer 16 years ago. He’s reading horror novels at a rate that wouldn’t be possible with nights spent bellied up at the newest taproom.


Red tomatoes against a green background.
SOURCE: Unsplash.

The Beer Nut has been doing his bit for the war effort by drinking Ukrainian beer, providing the usual entertaining tasting notes as he goes:

First is Rebrew, who have a tomato gose called Pomo d’Oro. From the artwork on the can it looks like there’s chilli in this one too. I mean, how could I not? It looks like a tomato cocktail in the glass, pale and murky brownish-red, but with a lively sparkle too. The aroma is very herbal, like a heavily basiled pizza sauce. A glance at the ingredients tells me there is indeed basil, as well as rosemary, coriander and paprika. Still, the savoury tomato is at the centre of the flavour, with the pepper and herbs seasoning it around the edges. It’s not sour, however, and even shows a touch of lemonade sweetness. You don’t need me to tell you this isn’t a beer to be taken seriously.


The Avenue Pub, New Orleans (detail). SOURCE: Courtney Iseman.

In her Substack newsletter Hugging the Bar this week Courtney Iseman reflects on the specific things bars and taprooms can do to make solo drinkers, and especially solo women, feel comfortable and welcome. Built around observations from time spent on holiday in New Orleans, its conclusions are remarkable practical:

I felt better [at Port Orleans] because the layout there was pretty lovely… with cozy touches and featured lots of pockets and corners to take refuge in. There was bar seating at NOLA Brewing, so I felt quite at ease. I also felt super comfortable at Brieux Carré, where one of the beertenders spotted me exiting my Uber and waved… My time exploring the city in general was good proof that tone goes a long way, and even a brewery without the space or resources to make a perfect taproom space can make up some of that by intentionally welcoming guests… And my time exploring breweries was good proof that the simplest design decisions go a long way, like smaller table options and/or bar seating if it’s possible.


A beer garden with a viaduct in the background.
The Rising Sun, Pensford.

We enjoyed Shonette Laffy’s guide to country pubs near Bristol and will be doing our best to visit as many as possible, assuming we can get to them on public transport or on foot. The Druid Arms at Stanton Drew sounds especially exciting:

Thought a viaduct in a pub garden was impressive? How about a series of stone circles dating from 2500 BC? The Druids Arms can probably boast the most historic pub garden features in the country, if not the world. The pub itself has a cosy fireplace to warm yourself in winter, or the aforementioned garden to enjoy in summer.


Finally, from Twitter…

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 16 July 2022: Heatwave

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, including notes on dirty water, funky yeast and an old man’s socks.

First, a nugget of news: Cain’s Brewery in Liverpool has reopened. It’s one of those brands for which people have a particular fondness but which has been taken over, shutdown, restarted, shutdown multiple times in recent decades. We always enjoyed the beers from its 00s incarnation and were sad when it folded in 2013. Beers under the Cain’s brand are now being brewed by the Mikhail Hotels & Leisure Group and are apparently pretty good.


Low resolution image of a glass of water.

Martyn Cornell asks a big question: is there anything in the idea that people in the middle ages drank more than water?

The usual argument for debunking the Great Medieval Water Myth is that water sources in the Middle Ages were, in fact, generally perfectly safe to drink, and numerous accounts from the time say so. But there’s far better evidence to prove that the idea of peasants only ever drinking ale is total nonsense: the irrefutable fact that England simply could not grow enough grain for that to be even remotely possible.


A can of Stone Cali-Belgique.

Because Jeff Alworth has been watching and thinking about the US beer scene for so long it’s always interesting to hear his perspective on long-term trends. In the wake of the takeover of Stone by Sapporo, he’s been thinking about the lifecycle of a typical American craft brewery:

Roughly speaking… successful breweries go through something like this: Honeymoon periodCool phaseEstablished phaseAwkward phase. I don’t know a single elder brewery that hasn’t gone through an awkward phase, though they can look very different. Some breweries may suffer declining quality or a lack of the kind of invention that marked earlier stages. They may get awkward in the way dads do—using slang (or marketing pushes) that are cringey. Maybe they don’t even shift what they’re doing much, but their relevance slides and they don’t seem to have an answer. (This describes Stone.) It happens to super cool little breweries and big breweries alike. No brewery can age without hitting a wall eventually…. Death, sale, or revival. Breweries can weather the awkward phase, but it’s a dangerous point.

This maps pretty well to UK brewing, too, we think. Try running BrewDog, Cloudwater or Tiny Rebel through those steps and see how neatly they fit.


Malt
SOURCE: Lutz Wernitz/Unsplash.

At Daft Eejit Brewing Andreas Krennmair digs into a small but important detail: when a historic brewing source mentions an ‘English kiln’, what does it mean?

English kilns are mentioned in the context of Anton Dreher (who personally witnessed British malting techniques), and the Burghers’ Brewery in Pilsen, nowadays better known as Pilsner Urquell, is also often mentioned as having used one since 1842… But what is usually not answered is: what actually was an English kiln? Any kiln designed or built in England, or rather a specific type, and where does the association with England come from anyway?… I was very surprised to find an 1785 book about fuel efficient stoves with a description of what is called an English malt kiln (“englische Malzdarre”), including technical drawings. Essentially, this English kiln used hot air to kiln the malt, and it generated this hot air by directing its hot smoke through a maze of pipes that would transmit the heat to the air, without the smoke ever touching the malt itself.


The Crown Inn, Stornoway.
SOURCE: Pubmeister.

Duncan Mackay, AKA The Pubmeister, has been to Stornoway where he found plenty of local character as well as, perhaps surprisingly, evidence of broader trends:

The Criterion was a classic old-fashioned local. Surprisingly they had Brewdog Punk IPA on draught here but we were told this was coming out soon due to low sales. An old man with incredibly filthy clothes sat on the same table and growled at us before taking his shoes and socks off. Even the pub dog recoiled.


Text illustration: Kveik.

At Quare Swally Roy provides notes on three Northern Irish examples of beer fermented with Norwegian kveik yeast – one of those fascinating little signs of the times:

An inviting floral aroma wafts around my nostrils and while I believe that kveik yeast isn’t really supposed to taste of anything, this one’s a bit drier and funkier than the others. Belgiany. Farmhousey. Add lemon and grapefruit tartness into the mix and I’m surprised. For a brew hopped with Azacca and Citra, I wasn’t expecting something so different to the previous two beers…


Finally, from Twitter…

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 9 July 2022: Notes from home

We’re meant to be on our way to Germany about now but, guess what? Our second bout of COVID-19. But that means you get a round-up this week, like every other Saturday. This week, we’ve got brown ale, Bradford pubs and bad pints.

First, some news from Northern Ireland. A couple of years ago we had a tiny glimpse into its complicated, restrictive licensing laws as we got updates on the attempts of a former regular at The Drapers to open a micropub in his hometown. Now, the BBC reports that recently introduced rules on on-site sales (for taprooms, essentially) are so restrictive they aren’t working:

Bullhouse Brew Co opened its new permanent taproom in east Belfast in June, with Boundary Brewing due to follow by September… But both companies opted to go through the lengthy process of obtaining a traditional pub licence.

“The local producers licence is very restrictive,” said William Mayne from Bullhouse Brew Co… You are only allowed to open them twice a week basically – 104 times a year – but only from 16:00 to 22:00 and you can only sell your own products… People come in looking for other products – guest beers – or we do collaborations with breweries in England and we want to bring their beers over and we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”


Advertisement for Newcastle Brown Ale from the 1960s
Newcastle Life, 1968.

Articles that tell the story of specific significant beers are right up our alley. For Pellicle Emmie Harrison-West has written about Newcastle Brown Ale, a huge global brand with a complicated history:

To locals it’s known as “Broon” or “ah bottle ah dog” (pronounced “derg”) – lovingly named after the saying “I’m off to walk the dog,” which naturally meant “I’m off to the boozer,” instead. To everyone else in the UK who felt a fool for attempting to imitate the Geordie dialect (trust me, you can’t) it was a bottle of “Newkie”… The pub I was in was my dad’s favourite—Newcastle’s former Union Rooms, in a renovated French chateau-style building. The listed building dates back to 1877 and was home to Newcastle’s Union Club. You couldn’t walk 10 yards of the swirling yellow-and-burgundy-carpeted local without being stopped by one of my dad’s friends, telling you they hadn’t seen you since you were “this high,” and gesturing with an outstretched palm.


The Empress Hotel in an old black-and-white photo.

Pub historian Paul Jennings, author of The Local, has written for the Telegraph & Argus about a long-lost Bradford pub:

[The Empress] was a magnificent example of a late Victorian gin-palace style pub and its opening in June was featured in detail in the local papers. The Bradford Illustrated Weekly Telegraph, for example, describing it as ‘equal in its kind to any in the country’ and ‘modelled in the style of first-class London houses’, no expense having been spared… The classical exterior featured granite columns and stained-glass windows. The chief entrance led through a vestibule and thence to a broad passage with mosaic floor, tiled walls and archway. The first-class bar had counter and cabinet work in Spanish mahogany, walls decorated with Japanese paper and deep red Lincrusta dado. In the saloon bar, in addition to the mahogany woodwork, were mirrors, coloured glass and electroliers giving ‘a very bright effect’.


A pint of Guinness.
A good pint of Guinness at The Star, Fishponds.

An interesting nugget via the Pub Curmudgeon – apparently Guinness monitors the @shitlondonguinn Twitter account:

Last weekend there was a Channel 4 programme in the ‘Inside the Superbrands’ series looking at Guinness. I can’t say I was expecting too much from a rather tabloidy format, but in fact it turned out to be surprisingly insightful… One thing that took me by surprise was that it featured the Shit London Guinness Instagram and Twitter account… which highlights poor examples of Guinness served around the capital – see photo above. You might have thought this was bad publicity, but in fact a Guinness representative said that “as soon as we see a post on that account, we aim to be round there within four hours”. It’s performing a valuable quality control function… And I couldn’t help thinking that cask beer wouldn’t half benefit from quality control that even remotely approached that standard.


An old map of Brussels.

He’s done it – Eoghan Walsh has given us 50 posts telling the story of Brussels beer through its objects. The final post in the series is about the city’s newest coolship:

In December 2021, Brussels Beer Project publicly announced what was both the worst kept secret and the most unexpected recent development in Brussels beer: they had started brewing Lambic. They did so in a quintessentially Brussels Beer Project manner – by wheeling one of their coolships onto the Grand Place and parking within a couple of metres of the Brouwershuis, the centuries-long seat of brewing power in Brussels… This would all have sounded preposterous to a Brussels beer drinker in 2012 still acclimatising to the city having not one but two local breweries. But a lot can change in ten years, and within a decade of Brasserie de la Senne’s arrival in 2010, the city’s new brewers were confident enough in their métier to take on the city’s native brewing tradition.

A book compiling these posts is out next week and we’ll certainly be buying one, and taking it with us next time we go to Brussels.


Two pints of beer aboard the QM2. SOURCE: Paul Bailey.

Did you know there’s a traditional English pub on board the Queen Mary 2 transatlantic liner? Paul Bailey (no relation) provides some notes on his long-running blog:

There was a bar at one end, which customers could sit, and drink at if they wished, and leading off towards the bow, were a number of alcoves, furnished with comfortable, leather-type, bench seating, and each with its own table… Named the Golden Lion, and complete with its own hanging sign, the pub was a popular part of the ship, providing not just a place where passengers could sit and relax, whilst enjoying a drink, but also somewhere they could be entertained…


Finally, from Twitter, another beautifully crisp historic image from one of our favourite local accounts…

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