News, Nuggets & Longreads 25 August 2018: Bibles, the Blue Bell, Mr Bigot

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from skittle alley rats to Jesus.

Well, most of the past week, as we wrote this on Friday morning and scheduled it to post at the usual time. And it’s a bit lighter than usual, too, perhaps because August is when everyone disappears on holiday.


First, for VinePair Cat Wolinski investigates how American churches are using the appeal of craft beer to engage in their communities:

“We’re not trying to force a message on people,” Spencer Nix, CEO and co-founder of Reformation Brewing, says. “We’re trying to live out our values and our vision.”

Jeff Heck, CEO and co-founder of Monday Night Brewing, agrees. “Our posture going into a neighborhood is not like, ‘We’re going to be the savior of this neighborhood.’ Instead, we’re coming in and we’re trying to ask the question, ‘What does the neighborhood need?’”


John Pybus

We visited The Blue Bell in York for the first time earlier this year and added it immediately to our mental list of Proper Pubs — distinctive, worn-in, intimate and warm. Now for York Mix Nick Love brings news of a threat to its existence, or at least its character:

[The] charismatic landlord John Pybus, who’s made the Blue Bell such a success, is facing an uncertain future… He has been served a Section 25 notice by the pub’s owners to end his tenancy and force him to leave his business and his home… He’s become collateral damage of a widespread strategy by the UK’s largest pub companies (pubcos) to resist and indeed to legally circumvent new pub laws that were introduced to try and make the industry more equitable.


Michael Collins

From Martyn Cornell comes one of those posts that uses beer as the sugar to help a dose of history go down: did Irish revolutionary Michael Collins drink a pint of Deasy’s porter on the day in 1922 when he died?

One source says that Collins actually “loathed the sight of porter”. However, he certainly did drink Deasy’s most famous beer on occasions. When he came home to Cork from Frongoch prison camp in North Wales in December 1916, after the British government released the surviving prisoners taken at the end of the Easter Rising, “the Big Fellow” spent three weeks, in his own words, “drinking Clonakilty wrastler [sic] on a Frongoch stomach,” before returning to Dublin. But Collins’s preferred drink actually appears to have been whiskey: “‘a ball of malt’ was his usual,” according to one biographer, and another named Jameson’s as his favourite.


Pub sign advertising a tasting tray of Irish beers.

One of our favourite new blogs, An Seisiún, this week told the story of what happens when a pub’s owners insist on offering things the pub doesn’t want anything to do with:

The biggest question of all however: would my social anxiety and acute sense of embarassment allow me to go up to the bar and ask for a f***ing tasting tray of f***ing Smithwicks of all things? In what can only be called the biggest victory against my shyness since the first time I asked someone out for a date, I did just that. And just like then, it couldn’t have went worse.


Vintage photo of a man and woman sitting in the sun with a pint of beer.

Kirsty Walker at Lady Sinks the Booze has gathered some memories of family holidays, many centred around pubs and beer:

In Stogumber, Somerset, we had a local pub which advertised its skittle alley, but we were dismayed to learn that it was in an outbuilding that was full of tractors. The landlord promised to clean it out if we came back the next day, and sure enough we played skittles in a barn with a row of tractors staring at us and rats scuttling about whilst my nana screamed to God to save her from these unholy minions.


The march at Stone, 3 November, 1973.
The march at Stone, 3 November, 1973, with Christopher Hutt at dead centre.

Roger Protz has dug out a copy of his very first beer book, the fascinating Pulling a Fast One from 1978, and used it as the starting point for
an extended reflection on the changes in British beer 40 years have brought
:

Of course, beer choice is demonstrably better today as a result of the rise of the craft beer movement. But let’s not kid ourselves. The global brewers and their pubco pals dominate the market and charge wickedly high prices for their products.


Finally, here’s an interesting nugget from Twitter which suggests the direction AB-InBev’s craft beer adventures might be taking: breweries, distributors, media in every region, all interlinked and cross-promoting.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 August 2018: Bartram’s, Belgium, the Barley Mow

Here’s everything published on beer and pubs in the past week that grabbed our attention, from teetotal tendencies to the extraordinary nature of ordinary pubs.

First, some trademark thoughtful reflection from Jeff Alworth at Beervana who asks ‘What If We Just Stopped Drinking?

[What] if we just keep drinking less and less until we’re consuming it like our old auntie, who only pulls out the sherry for special occasions? This won’t happen immediately, but the trend lines are pretty clear… A dirty little secret of the alcohol industrial complex: it relies on very heavy drinkers, many of them alcoholics, for the bulk of sales. Among drinkers, the median consumption is just a couple drinks a week. That’s the median–some “drinkers” basically don’t drink at all. That means, of course, that someone’s doing a lot of drinking…


A Belgian Brown Cafe.

There’s a new links round-up in town: Breandán Kearney at Belgian Smaak has put together a rather wonderful rattle through all the Belgian beer and bar news from the last few months. How can you resist a 15 item list including such headers as CHINESE HOEGAARDEN and BEAVERTOWN GOES BELGIAN?


The mad collection at the Prince of Greenwich.
SOURCE: Deserter

For Deserter the pseudonymous Dirty South gives an account of a day spent trying to entertain a sullen teenager in the cultural pubs of South London:

The Prince is run by Pietro La Rosa, a Sicilian who has not only brought Italian hospitality and splendid Italian food to SE10, but opened a pub full of curios that he and his wife Paola have collected from their travels around the world. An enormous whale’s jaw bone hangs over various objets d’arts, a rhinoceros’ head protrudes above an antique barber’s chair, surrounded by artwork from afar.

‘It’s mad,’ concluded Theo.


The Bridge Inn, Clayton.
SOURCE: John Clarke.

Here’s something we’d like to see more of: veteran CAMRA magazine editor  John Clarke dusted down a pub crawl from 30 years ago and retraced his steps to see how time had treated the boozers of Clayton, Greater Manchester:

The Folkestone was closed, burnt out and demolished. New housing now occupies the site. The Greens Arms struggled on and then had a brief existence as the Star Showbar… The Grove also continues to thrive as a Holts house and the war memorial remains on the vault wall. No such luck with the Church.


The Barley Mow, London.
SOURCE: Pub Culture Vulture.

Ben McCormick has been writing about pubs on and off at his Pub Culture Vulture blog for a few years now and a recent flurry of posts has culminated with what we think is a profound observation:

[The Barley Mow] must be the best Baker Street boozer by a billion miles… I was on the point of writing there is nothing special about the place, but stopped abruptly on the grounds that’s complete horseshit. There ought to be many, many more examples of pubs like this dotted around central London and further afield. But there aren’t.

Any pub, however, ordinary, becomes extraordinary if it resists change — that makes sense to us.


A bit of news: Bartram’s, a brewery in Suffolk, seems to have given up brewing (the story is slightly confusing) which has given the local newspaper an opportunity to reflect on the health of the market:

Now Mr Bartram is currently no longer looking to export overseas, and is not producing any beer. “There are about 42 breweries in Suffolk – when I started 18 years ago, there were just five,” he said. “There is a lot more competition. The market is saturated, it’s ridiculous.”

Another Suffolk brewer, who declined to be named, claims overcrowding in the marketplace is true of the cask ale industry that Mr Bartram is part of, but not the key keg ale market.

Also unclear: the key market for keg ale, or the keykeg ale market? Anyway, interesting.


If you want more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up and Alan McLeod’s regular Thursday linkfest.

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars

Here’s all the beer and pub related news, opinion and history that’s grabbed us in the past week, from kids in pubs to Never Gonna Give You Up.

First, money. As part of the publicity around its Great British Beer Festival (last day today) the Campaign for Real Ale published the results of a survey suggesting that the majority of British drinkers who expressed an opinion find the price of a pint of beer unaffordable.

Cash Money Pound Signs.

There were various bits of interesting commentary around this, from musings on the question of value from Katie Taylor

Affordability is quite an abstract concept, isn’t it? In my experience as someone who’s lived in extreme poverty and in relative comfort and all the incremental stages of debt, exhaustion and erratic spending in-between, things like pints come down to how much you value them. They’re not essential – unless you have an addiction – and yet as part of our culture they’re a central point of our social lives.

…to Richard Coldwell’s reflections on the difference between affordability and priorities:

I think there are many who are making the choice between going out for a pint and other things… Simple choices like; Sunday afternoon at the local pub with the family or a full day out at the beach with sandwiches and maybe an ice cream and a few bob on the amusements. I reckon it’s about 50 miles from our house to Scarbro’, so the biggest cost of the day is fuel… Round here, the price of the first round of say, a pint, glass of prosecco, three soft drinks and a few snacks would just about cover the fuel costs of a return journey to the seaside. The second round would more than pay for the picnic and sundries and we’ve only been in the pub for about an hour, max.

Jonny Garrett, meanwhile, is unimpressed with this focus on price which he regards as ultimately damaging to the image of cask ale:

Perhaps the greatest step CAMRA could take toward restoring growth in cask beer would be to invest in training and equipment for pubs that show loyalty to cask and price it fairly. For some reason, this call for quality brewing falls on deaf ears at CAMRA, who this week lamented how expensive pints have become. The party line of championing cask above all else appears to include the millions of cheap, dull, vinegary pints poured across the UK each year. Some of them even at their own festivals.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 August 2018: Alcohol, Mirages, Contracts

Here’s everything to do with beer and pubs that struck us as bookmarkable in the past week, from alcohol guidance to estate pubs.

First, a bit of news from the other side of the world: Lion, which seems to be on a spending spree, has just bought pioneering New Zealand ‘boutique brewery’ Harrington’s, founded in 1991.

Meanwhile, in Australia, AB-InBev (via it’s ZX Ventures investment wing) has acquired online beer retailer BoozeBud, to go with similar purchases worldwide such as Beerhawk here in the UK.


 

Illustration: poison symbol (skull and crossbones)

For the Guardian philosopher Julian Baggini reflects on the essential problem of alcohol guidance in the UK: the entanglement of scientific evidence-based advice with matters of morality.

[We] like to think in clean, clear categories of good and bad. With our puritanical Protestant history, alcohol has always fallen on the dark side of this divide. So when the truth turns out to be complicated, rather than accept this maturely, we refuse to acknowledge the good and carry on as though it were all bad. Because drunkenness is sinful, moral condemnation of it trumps any other redemptive qualities it might have.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 August 2018: Alcohol, Mirages, Contracts”

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 28 July 2018: Blackburn, Belfast, Banked Bass

Here’s everything in the world of beer and pubs that caught our eye in the past week, from the colour of pre-WWI beer to the mysteries of fermentation.

First, though, an admission: we put this together on Thursday evening and scheduled it to post automatically. If anything exciting happened on Friday it might not be reflected.

Right, down to business.


Blackburn

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for subscription service Beer52, Katie Taylor has written about the pubs of Blackburn, Lancashire:

“If you asked anyone in here what craft beers they enjoyed, they’d probably think you were on about bottles,” said [bar manage] Hilary [Carr]. “And they don’t drink those.”

I ask what a local drinker would call a beer brewed in a local microbrewery. She answers: “Real ale.”

So with all this love for good, local real ale, what’s stopping northern craft beer brewers from moving in? I ask Hilary to join me for a sit down and she brings her coffee mug – it says “Prog Forever” on it.

“It’s the price,” she says. “All our beers are £2.50 a pint. Nobody will pay more than that and to be honest, they don’t need to!”

(This is actually from last week but we missed it then.)


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

For Good Beer Hunting Stan Hieronymus writes about the fermented food guru Sandor Katz and how his evangelism is leaking into the world of beer:

“Mixed culture is probably the most annoying buzzword right now,” says Todd Steven Boera at Fonta Flora Brewery in North Carolina. “And we use it on our menu boards, labels, everywhere. If you asked 10 random people, I think you would get 10 different answers what it means.”

Mixed culture may not tell consumers as much about what to expect in a glass as Boera would like, but it makes sense in the context of the first of two beers Boera and Katz collaborated on.


The John Hewitt pub in Belfast.

At An Seisiún Mac Siúrtáin (a pen name) has written a long piece about the experience of trying to drink any stout other than Guinness in Belfast:

Before independent beer was a thing in Northern Ireland (prior to this decade, the only independent breweries were Hilden and Whitewater)’ Guinness was my session beer of choice. It had a hint of satisfying roastiness, there were no evil flavours or wateriness like you’d get in macro lagers and the nitro serve – while it stripped some flavour out – meant it went down smoothly without making you feel gassy and bloated like the carbonated beers. It’s therefore the ultimate session beer – enough taste to be morish but not enough to be sickening, and the nitro means it goes down easier and leaves room for more. While Yardsman and Belfast Black are objectively better beers with more flavour, they are not quite direct substitutes in terms of the purpose they serve the drinker.

There’s a fascinating little ‘ouch’ in there for craft beer advocates, too: what if the craft clone of your favourite big brand beer isn’t an improvement but merely the equivalent of supermarket own-brand cornflakes?


A clear pint of Bass pale ale.

On his travels in Stockton-on-Tees Martin Taylor found the tradition of ‘banking Bass’ alive, if not quite well:

“Do you still sell Bass ?”  I squeaked.

“Of course”  Next time I’ll ask if they’re actually open or something daft like that.

I was directed to the other side of the bar.  But where was the famous bankers fridge ?

Still there, but with just four bankers cooling down, rather than the twenty of a decade ago.  Still looked the business though.


Beer glasses.

Just in case you missed it when we Tweeted it last week, do check out this magnificent find by Gary Gillman (@beeretseq): a chart from the period before World War I depicting in full colour various types of European beer, each in their typical glassware. (Detail above.) Gary has now tracked down the source of the image in the Toronto library and found that it came with a table of figures.


If you want more, check out Alan McLeod’s thoughts from Thursday and Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up.


Finally, here’s one to provoke some thought: