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News, nuggets and longreads 17 April 2021: Beer gardens, Cloudwater, black IPA

Here’s all the beer and pub news, commentary and history that caught our attention in the past week, from beer gardens to beer in Tesco.

This week has been defined by the reopening of pubs in England – or at least of pub gardens. Monday was apparently a good day for the trade, at least in terms of takings. Some have reported seeing crowded venues with little evidence of social distancing which, after a year on high alert, might understandably cause some anxiety amongst people who’ve been living on high alert for more than a year. With our own eyes, we’ve seen outside drinking areas full and lively but looking very much under control. There’s no reason to believe that socialising outdoors is particularly risky – especially when you consider how many people of all age groups now have antibodies compared to three months ago, and the current low community prevalence of cases. We’re certainly enjoying all the lovely photos of pints on social media – tempered with sympathy for those living in places where this feels a way off yet.


Supermarket beers

Manchester brewery Cloudwater made two announcements this week. The first was that they would be supplying a range of standard beers contract-brewed by BrewDog through Tesco supermarkets. This feels like something of a U-turn on previous commitment to independent retailers and cold-chain supply but, more importantly, it signals that Cloudwater is taking an important step on the Beavertown path. It’s not inevitable they’ll reach the same destination, of course, but it’s a series of compromises that will get you there.

Yvan Seth, owner of beer distributor Jolly Good Beer, speaks calmly and eloquently on behalf of the indie trade – “the gross margin on core Cloudwater sales covers the wages of perhaps as much as 2 whole JGB employees.. [and we] are now going to lose sales volume to Tesco”.

The second announcement concerned a Tesco-exclusive four-pack of beers produced in collaboration with minority-owned brewing companies and, again, contract-brewed at BrewDog. The owners of those businesses were understandably excited at this opportunity to get their brand names and ideas in front of mainstream consumers. Lily Waite of The Queer Brewing Project explains:

Why does this matter? Craft beer as a sector has prioritised diversity and inclusion as a topic of discussion for about as long as I’ve been working in beer, though efforts beyond discussion aren’t as common as the industry would like to believe. Craft beer is still overwhelmingly white, male, able-bodied, straight, and cisgender. It is inclusive perhaps in spirit, though not so much in practice, and its audience and consumer base reflects this… By stepping outside of the common routes to market with this collaboration pack, we’re putting beer brewed by people underrepresented in craft beer in front of a different audience—an audience that may feel excluded by craft beer’s homogeneity, or by its insularity. Not only are we putting great beer in front of different communities, we’re also providing visibility and representation on a bigger scale than we’ve ever worked at before.

Stacey Ayeh of Rock Leopard, one of the few black-owned breweries in the UK, has little time for grumbling about independence or Cloudwater’s business practices when, as he sees it, only Cloudwater has actually done anything other than talk about diversity:


Brewdog bar.

Speaking of BrewDog, for Vinepair, Dave Infante has summarised various issues bubbling up around the Scottish brewery with regard to its track record on LGBTQ+ issues:

“I really feel like BrewDog is intentionally deceptive to its employees about this,” Jordan Dalton, another of the Indy ex-employees in question, told me. “We had to go through an orientation that was a lot of hyping up of BrewDog and also James Watt and the other founder specifically … so for me to kind of do some digging and find something so shocking and disgusting to me, it definitely made me want to pursue this further.”

“If I knew about those things, I would have never gone to this company, being a trans woman myself,” added Kyrrha Myers, another fired worker. “I’m sure BrewDog and James Watt didn’t want us to know about that. It’s not a good look for BrewDog, and now it comes back to … I see why people have issues with BrewDog.”


Reserved sign

Now, back to the reopening of pubs: for the Guardian James Greig mourns the loss of spontaneity as booking becomes the norm for everything from a morning swim to an evening cocktail:

I don’t believe the advance bookers really enjoy going to the pub at all. It’s just an activity, a day out, an opportunity to socialise with their loved ones after several months of enforced isolation. For me, on the other hand, it is a way of life. They merely adopted the pub; I was born in it, moulded by it (note: I was not born in a pub). I have nothing against these people, this demographic I’ve just invented, but the point is they are already life’s winners. They already have so much. Can’t they leave the rest of us to our grotty, spontaneous little nights out?


Question marks

Now, yet another heavy question: “What if the craft beer story is wrong?” asks Jeff Alworth at Beervana:

While a myth can give events a structure, it also edits out discordant information. In choosing a myth, we reject other factual arrangements. By selecting a framework of craft beer that echoes the frontier myth, we miss other stories right in front of us. After hearing the story of how Jack McAuliffe “started the revolution” at New Albion dozens of times, I was so struck in hearing about his partner—a woman. In so many ways talking only about Jack follows the contours of that old myth: a man with a singular vision, irascible, irrepressible—maybe even a little unlikable—defies all convention to build the first brewery and change beer forever. Except that the story is really one of two founders, Jack and Suzy Denison. Suzy’s story is not Jack’s. She was the junior partner, yet she was very much a partner. And remarkably, it illustrates how early women were a part of craft brewing. Her part in that story may complicate the narrative, but she makes in far more interesting.


Black IPA

We’re not sure how it happened but our RSS reader decided we didn’t want to read Jonny Garrett’s story for Good Beer Hunting on the origins and history of black IPA. We did but only spotted it via Twitter too late for inclusion in last week’s round-up. So, a bit late, here it is:

Black IPA was arguably the first viral craze of the craft beer revolution. While beers like the American Pale Ale and IPA gained traction over decades, the Black IPA went from regional curiosity to global phenomenon in a relative blip. There were more breweries around the world than there had been for a century, and for a time, the style spread unabated—then fizzled out nearly as quickly… That’s because, despite being common in brewery core ranges from roughly 2008 to 2014, the style had a persistent image problem. How can an India Pale Ale even be black, detractors wanted to know? Don’t roasted malts clash with fruity hops, or add excessive bitterness? And if a heavily hopped Dark Ale is a Black IPA, then what’s a Cascadian Dark Ale—and where does that leave Export India Porters?


Finally, from Twitter, what actually amounts to a bonus article, from satirical literary magazine (is that what you’d call it?) The Fence, on the mediocre pubs of London:

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 10 April 2021: Abbeydale, Argentina and the Pale of Settlement

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially amusing, entertaining or educational in the past week, from real ale to Russian imperialism.

First, the main story: pubs (some of them) open (kind of) from Monday and people are understandably very excited about it. A quick recap of the state of play, then:

  • up to six people, or two households, can meet;
  • it’s exclusively outdoor drinking for now;
  • those sheds obviously don’t count as outdoors;
  • it’ll be table service only;
  • you need to mask up when you go to the bog;
  • and every member of the party will have to register with track and trace;
  • but you won’t have to eat a ‘substantial meal’;
  • and most pubs are taking bookings rather than walk-ins.

On that last point, our local CAMRA branch has helpfully reminded us that it will be annoying to turn up at a place that’s booking-only demanding to be squeezed in when pubs will already have plenty of challenges to deal with.


An Abbeydale Brewery glass.

It’s always good to see a detailed profile of one of those fixture breweries – the type whose beers you see everywhere but who otherwise keep a low profile. For Pellicle Martin Flynn has written about Abbeydale, a Sheffield staple:

Pat Morton’s home address has always been within the same Sheffield postcode, and his links to the Steel City’s heritage extend to his former job in his family’s scissor-making business. But when he launched Abbeydale in 1996, he and Sue were fans of beer from further afield, particularly Belgium and the USA. They also shared a dislike of the flavour of crystal malt, which was utilised in many “brown beers” then popular in the UK from established brands like Tetley’s and John Smith’s. Pat and Sue’s intention for their new brewery was simple: “Make pale beers which were very highly hopped for the time.”

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News, nuggets and longreads 3 April 2021: käsityöläisolut

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from track and trace to the wonders of the Finnish language.

As the reopening of UK pubs grows ever nearer, with all the trendlines currently pointing in the right direction, everyone is watching anxiously for details of how it might work in practice. This week’s big story was the news that everyone will be expected to sign in when they go for a pint, probably until as late as September:

All customers will have to sign in on entry, not just one member of the group like before. It is also unclear whether payment at the bar will be permitted… UK Hospitality said it would burden struggling pubs and staff and risk customers deciding not to go out… The government said it was providing as much flexibility as possible to venues… It also said it had removed other unpopular requirements such as drinking curfews.

Perhaps because we’re not in the habit of going to the pub in groups larger than, say, six, this doesn’t seem outrageous to us. And by autumn last year, signing into pubs had become really quick and easy anyway – a 20-second job.


When we wrote about our perception that some breweries had experienced a better 2020/21 than others, Ed Wray promised to investigate and provide further data. He’s now done that, offering notes on the four breweries based at the site where he works:

All of the breweries have done badly financially. For the two that are parts of larger companies I’m sure it’s a drop in the ocean compared to their overall financial performance (which will also be down lots for both). I don’t know any details about their money situation but both breweries are or will be soon increasing beer production, so don’t look like they’re having the plug pulled on them. The brewery that exports to the states definitely lost a chunk of cash but I believe now has a new importer so hopefully will be able to continue as before in the future. And as to my employer, it’s had to defer payment on some things (which will of course still become due for payment later) and take out a loan. Expansion plans have slowed, but not stopped entirely. One of the things put back is getting a canning line. Cans have done well during lockdown so there’s now a shortage of them and it doesn’t make sense to install a canning line if you can’t get cans.


For VinePair Evan Rail has written about the different meanings of ‘craft beer’ around the world, according to those in the trade:

It’s not easy to find the right equivalent for “craft beer” in Finnish, according to Suvi Sekkula, a journalist, service designer, beer lover, and the chair of Kieliasiantuntijat ry, a Finnish trade union for language and communications experts… “The question is a tricky one in Finnish, as there is no strong consensus,” Sekkula says. Currently, she says, three competing terms are being used in her country: pienpanimo-olut, meaning “beer from a small brewery,” käsityöläisolut, or “beer made by a craftsperson,” and erikoisolut, which means “speciality beer.”


At Oh Good Ale Phil has been blending Orval with Harvey’s Imperial Stout – a great, if terrifying idea. He seems to have enjoyed the experience:

That word ‘blending’ is the key: it seemed to combine three quite distinct flavours (none of them very ‘beery’), but in a way that seemed perfectly natural and without any incongruity. Full-bodied – almost but not quite to the point of drinking its strength – and smooth; really very smooth… Was it worth it? A cautious Yes, I think: the 3:1 and 1:3 mixes were terrific, even if the 1:1 left something to be desired. At least, it was worth it as far as the IEDS was concerned. The stout was very much in charge throughout: even at 3:1 Orval to IEDS, you’d never mistake what you were drinking for a pale beer. The ‘black and tan’ effect – where two very different beers effectively shave off each other’s sharp edges – took the roughness out of the IEDS, making it drink smoother and sweeter; but the Orval wasn’t smoothed so much as muted, losing the Brett and some of the bitterness.


For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Siobhan Hewison offers a handy summary of trends around nitro beers – something, we admit, we know relatively little about, though we do have one on the fridge waiting to be drunk right now. She says:

[Many] brewers have been attempting to ‘hack’ the chemistry of getting nitrogen into their beer without using widgets, by dosing the beer and/or the packaging with liquid nitrogen. This does however rely on drinkers using the ‘hard pour’ method in order to get the best drinking experience. This is a very specific way of pouring a nitro beer, which asks you to forget everything you’ve been taught about gently pouring your beer at an angle into your glass – you must first invert the can or bottle a few times (but don’t shake it!) to get the bubbles flowing, let it sit for a few seconds, then crack it open and angle at 180 degrees so the beer pours aggressively into your glass. Let the beer rest and the velvety, luscious head form, and voila! The perfect nitro beer, right in your hands. 


Last week, Kelly from Good Chemistry highlighted a post we’d missed, from (we think) Chris Rigg, landlord of The Bay Hop micropub in Colwyn Bay. It’s a detailed account of the ups and downs of the past year, including some really interesting details:

At the beginning of 2020 we had come up with a vague plan to expand the number of keg lines from three to five. While lockdown seemed like a strange time to expand the range of products, it made sense to bring those plans forward. Keg doesn’t have the same short shelf life of cask, and it would allow us to continue to provide a varied selection of beers throughout without worrying about wastage. So, with the first of the Government grants in our pocket we took the leap. Looking at what we needed to provide the same styles punters were used to on cask, we decided to go for seven lines rather than the original planned five. Mike Cornish of Beer Care was called in and the job was completed in just a couple of days… It is fair to say that increasing the keg lines was the best decision we have made in the past year. There is no doubt that it has made the takeaway service worth doing, and that without it we would have not operated at all or – in the worst case scenario – not been here at all now.


Finally, from Twitter, news of a podcast about pubs that might be worth a listen, with the first episode due in a week or so:

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 20 March 2021: Culmbacher, culture, counting

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from brewery numbers to Belgian postmen.

First, a bit of news that slipped out while we weren’t looking, but was picked up by our pal Darren Norbury: the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group (APPBG) has launched an enquiry into the health and future of the UK cask ale market. Now, this sounds a bit more exciting than it actually is – the APPBG doesn’t have huge clout; it’s basically the Parliamentary branch of CAMRA. But, still, they’re calling for evidence, will be debating the issue seriously, and should at least be able to ensure this issue gets five minutes of the Prime Minister’s attention at some point. To have your say, submit written evidence to Paul Hegarty, honorary secretary of the APPBG (paul@beergroup.co.uk) before 31 March.


Assorted brewery logos.

Another interesting story: The Brewers’ Journal reports that there are now more than 3,000 UK breweries, according to data from UHY Hacker Young, with many opening during 2020, despite the economic impact of the pandemic. This line is especially interesting: “The firm adds that the attraction of starting a brewery business in recent years has been influenced by the continuing stream of craft breweries being purchased by multinationals.” We don’t doubt that’s true.

Leeds-based brewer Mike Hampshire isn’t sure about those numbers at all, however, and cautions us not to interpret this as a sign that all is well in the world of brewing:

I expect like we saw last summer, people won’t be immediately rushing back to the pubs in numbers like we had before the pandemic, which means many publicans will opt for a “safe” and perhaps limited draught beer range. This means guest bar space for micro-breweries will be restricted for a while… In separate conversations with some of Leeds’ smaller brewery owners, they are already feeling squeezed out of bottle shops as more breweries compete for shelf space. This includes larger regional breweries who perhaps weren’t so bothered before… An interesting twist on the number of new breweries opening is that some are being run part-time, where owners and some employees have personal income from elsewhere. It’s a different kind of challenge for the full-time owners who will feel more personal financial pressure as well as the trading difficulties …My fear is, that although we have 3,000 breweries now, we will see many closures in the coming 12 months.

A pub offering a 'warm welcome'.

For Burum Collective Ellie King expresses a certain frustration with the lazy view that ‘pubs are for everyone’ or naturally welcoming, asking ‘Whose culture is pub culture?’:

The pub has long been considered a cornerstone of British culture… For the last year the simple pleasures of a pint have been stymied by covid as the crisis has wreaked havoc across the food and drink industry. Many of us are eagerly counting down the days until pints can be shared with loved ones, or enjoyed alone… However there are many people for whom a trip to the pub is not an enjoyable, comfortable or safe experience. Whilst I am hugely looking forward to that first pint of cask ale when pubs reopen, there are some never-to-be-forgotten anxieties I am not keen on facing again… As a woman drinking and working in pubs over the last 2 decades I have been patronised, ignored, gawked at, subjected to unsolicited physical interaction and been told to smile and wear something shorter/lower/tighter.

This is such a complicated issue and one we tried to tackle in the conclusion to our book 20th Century Pub. If what makes you feel relaxed and comfortable makes others feel on edge, and vice versa, are pubs doomed to be exclusive and excluding? Gawd, we hope not.


A German beer hall in New York

For Good Beer Hunting Michael Stein has investigated the history of Culmbacher, an obscure American beer style of the 19th century deriving from, but not the same as, German Kulmbacher:

According to source material, the original, Old World Kulmbacher was a dark beer. It had a pronounced malt flavor and a sweetish taste. For American brewers, it had Bavarian characteristics, in that it was brewed along the lines of a Bavarian Lager, with a strong starting gravity. Perhaps the greatest variation between the German original and the American adaptation is that U.S.-made Culmbacher was sometimes brewed to be a near beer—that is, high in extract and low in alcohol… But for all the ways that Culmbacher reflected the push-and-pull of German-American beer culture and identity, the style was not to last. Ultimately, the nativism and xenophobic sentiment that sprung up around World War I meant that German beer traditions began to fall out of favor.


A postman sorting post.
SOURCE: Ashley Joanna/Belgian Smaak

For Belgian Smaak Ashley Joanna continues a series of brief portraits of Belgian brewers, introducing us to Mario ‘Bolle’ Jates:

When Mario finishes his shift as a postman, he changes from his B-post attire to a collared shirt, one on which the logo “Bollecious” is embroidered on the upper left side. Bollecious is Mario’s side hustle beer business. The name comes from the nickname his friends gave him at University: Bolle. The nickname originated in the title of a song from a German band, J.B.O. – sometimes known in their home country as James Blast Orchester—the lyrics of which describe how you can turn negative situations into something positive and laugh through life even when times are tough.


Copies of the Good Beer Guide.

Duncan Mackay, AKA The Pubmeister, has decided to mark the 50th anniversary of CAMRA with some number-crunching with bonus boundary debates:

A while ago I mentioned that a crack team of analysts were mapping every pub ever to have appeared in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide… Capturing every pub ever included is harder than you might think so the final figures may still be subject to minor tweaking. Early editions were often vague about the precise location of pubs, usually a name and the briefest of description was provided. A pathological resistance to postcodes didn’t help – they were not incorporated until 2004, fully thirty years after their universal adoption… Local authority boundaries have also changed over the years so, for example, a batch of pubs placed in Berkshire in the 1974 Guide moved to Oxfordshire following enactment of Ted Heath’s local government act. The legislation also created new and largely unloved authorities such as Avon, Cleveland and Humberside that later disappeared.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more interesting reading check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up. (Is anyone else doing a round-up we should know about? A few have come and gone in the past year.)

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News, nuggets and longreads 13 March 2021: pubs, hops, apps

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that struck us as especially noteworthy in the past week, from The High Numbers to Ian Nairn.

First, something beautiful to look at and play with: David Fletcher makes photorealistic 3D models of pubs using photogrammetry. We’ve featured a few of these over the past year or so but now he’s collected them all together. Go and have a look, spin ‘em around, zoom in and out. It’s great (bittersweet) fun.


SOURCE: Belgian Smaak/Ashley Joanna.

At Belgian Smaak Ashley Joanna provides a portrait of Axel Brück, a security guard who runs a brewery on the side:

Twenty-five years ago, prompted by a love for saving older, storied, country homes, Axel moved from the German speaking municipality of St. Vith in Belgium to a seventeenth century house located 15 kilometres to the south in the tiny village of Richtenberg… As he began to meet and befriend the other twenty-three inhabitants of the village, he was inspired to create something special for those in his new home. The Richtenberger beer was born, a Belgian Blonde Ale of 6.2% ABV brewed with pilsner malt and wheat malt, the addition of coriander and bitter orange peel, and hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand.


Fuggles illustration.

For Good Beer Hunting Mark Dredge has written about the continuing importance of Fuggles and Golding hops from Kent worldwide, even – especially – in the age of craft beer:

Fuggle and Golding have defined British Ale since the Victorian Era… As a result, Fuggle and Golding have a somewhat old-fashioned reputation, resigning them—almost—to their role in traditional Bitters, and not in exciting IPAs. Only they are in your IPAs… Look at the hop family tree. The direct descendants of Fuggle and Golding—the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—include Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Nelson Sauvin, and so many others, meaning that almost every beer you drink will have something in it that leads back to these two hops.

And here’s a worrying footnote from Eddie Gadd, a Kentish brewer and advocate of local hops:

One result of lockdown has been plummeting beer sales, resulting in plummeting hop usage. And since hops are grown seasonally, in advance, the world hop markets are now stuffed to overload, contracts are getting ripped up and prices are teetering on the edge of financial disaster. And all this came barrelling home yesterday with the devastating news that our local hop grower, and dear friend, is shutting down and ‘grubbing out’ his plants. We’re all in a state of shock, and the very soul of our brewery is taking a battering.


The beer list at the Wellington pub, Birmingham.

Last week’s piece about Untappd at Good Beer Hunting prompted some interesting follow-ups. For Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer it triggered a memory of how Untappd’s parent company, Next Glass, started life:

Next Glass 1.0, circa 2015, was something different. It was one of several drink recommendation apps that came and went about that time. Some got tagged as the “Pandora for beer.” For First Glass, that made sense because it took a scientific approach similar to Pandora when collecting data… Next Glass mapped the chemical makeup of individual beers, forgoing any effort to quantify a beer based on its descriptive characteristics. The app used an algorithm to blend the attributes of the beer in question with what it knew about each consumer and assigned a number predicting how much the consumer would like that beer.

Keith Greywood at Bacchanalian, meanwhile, presents a British gloss on Kate Bernot’s original piece:

Local to me is the Hop Stop Bottleshop… I thought Hop Stop’s bar used a display which showed Untappd ratings, but after speaking to owner Mike, he revealed it is an in-house solution. Although they did use Untappd’s premium service for bars, this has lapsed as they’ve shut the doors of the bar for lockdown… I asked Mike if they’ve used apps like Untappd to select beers, and he said they mainly use it as an information source for their weekly order form. Hop Stop stocks a wide range of styles and beers from different regions, including lots of great lager and classic English ales – both types of beer which are not too hot on the Untappd global rating lists… There’s a difference between buzz, hype, perceived popularity and actual popularity and how important a beer really is. A crazy, unusual beer which has 100 beer geeks foaming at the mouth to give good scores is not really comparable to a good quality lager that is sold by the caseload – both in terms of drinkability, profit or in actual impact on a wide scale.


SOURCE: Stephen Marland.

At Manchester Estate Pubs Stephen ‘Modern Moocher’ Marland provides notes on and photos of The Victoria Hotel, Urmston, “a brick and wooden shuttering box, the most austere of Sixties architectural styling”:

“The ‘crazy piano’ phenomena is coming to Manchester for the first time with the launch of The Boogie Piano Bar… Party-goers throughout the globe have taken to the new-style piano bars for a good sing-song to the latest tunes, as well as classic tracks, and now Britain’s second city will have its first crazy piano venue… ‘You have live music and can enjoy a crazy sing-along… it’s not what people think of from a stuffy old school piano venue.’”


The sign of the William IV pub in Leyton.

Here’s a type of article or blog post we’d love to see more of: Alan Wells is in his 70s and has produced a personal recollection of the pubs of Leyton and Leytonstone for the Leytonstoner website. Why is this important? Because people tend to undervalue their own experiences and memories, so they don’t often write them down. And because pubs aren’t Important, so they disappear both physically and from the collective memory – and that’s especially true when it comes to the cultural aspects of pub life. Fortunately, thanks to Alan, we now have nuggets of information like this:

Our first local was The Greyhound on Lea Bridge Road. The building is still there, although it hasn’t been open for over twenty years… I recently walked past and suddenly thought about the last drink I had there with my dad, who died forty years ago this year. There was also a seafood stall outside – and I can still smell the pots of cockles and whelks beloved of my many aunts, a little tipsy a couple of drinks in… Over in E11, I was lucky enough to catch The Who, then called The High Numbers, in the room on the top of The Red Lion in Leytonstone High Road in the early 1960s. They only made one single as The High Numbers, ‘Zoot Suit’, which is worth a bit now on the rare singles market. (No, I don’t have a copy.)

(Ah, the Red Lion…)


Finally, from Twitter, something truly amazing – a piece about pubs by Ian Nairn from 1962 that we’ve never seen before, with fantastic illustrations.

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