News, nuggets and longreads 12 October 2019: silly stout, Somerset cider, sad stories

Here’s everything on the subject of beer, pubs and (this month only) cider, that caught our attention in the past few days, from lost friends to last beers.

Between us we’ve encountered Roger Wilkins of Wilkins Cider a few times over the decades. When Ray was young, his Dad used to buy cider from the farm every now and then. And until a year or so ago, Wilkins used to supply the Drapers Arms so the sight of Mr W himself steaming through a crowded pub, sweating and huffing, with a jar of pickled eggs under each arm wasn’t uncommon. Now, for PellicleNicci Peet has given him the full profile treatment:

I hear Roger before I see him, his laugh bellowing from inside his barn. It’s as big and as bold as his reputation. Locally, and to some internationally, he is known as the “cider king,” making proper, traditional farmhouse cider… Roger offers two ciders: dry and sweet. Both sit in big wooden barrels with taps ready for you to serve yourself and there’s no fixed price—you pay as you feel. If you’re after a medium simply mix the two. Then sip your cider in the barn or in the orchard, the way Somerset cider has been enjoyed for centuries. Even how he sells his cider is old school, as you have to ring him directly if you want to make an order.

Drawing: a pub bar.

Mark Johnson paints a picture of pub life with an emotional twist in a post about the accidental Thursday Club, dry roasted peanuts and a man called Colin:

Mostly we just meet at the bar. First by chance. Then increasingly “by chance.” Then it became Thursday club. Then Wednesday was added into the mix too. And of course we are always here Friday. And the odd quick pint on a Monday has been known to turn into five hours of putting the world to rights – or at least his beloved City’s back four… I’m not sure I’ve ever socialised with Colin outside of the pub… And he is too bloomin’ generous. Annoyingly so. I have to fight to even pay for a drink. I’m sure I’m about 20 pints behind now. I don’t think I’ve ever bought the bags of dry roasted.

Chelsie's last beer.
SOURCE: Chelsie Markel.

Chelsie Markel didn’t know she was drinking what might be her last beer when she checked it in on Untappd during the summer:

While I was drinking my very last full pour of beer while visiting Tree House Brewing Co. in July, I had no idea I had the disease. I had no idea that ‘Hurricane (with Peach)’ would be my last beer selfie that I ever took. That the beer I rated a 4.5 in Untappd and everything I had hoped for as a tasting experience would be the beginning of the finale… Even though a few years back a friend of mine had been diagnosed with Sjogrens and I thought “Wow! I have a lot of these medical conditions and symptoms thoughout my life. But stop being silly! Your doctors would have connected the dots and tested you if they thought this was a real concern. Stop self-diagnosing.”

Various books and magazine from the last 40+ years of CAMRA.

The Campaign for Real Ale keeps doing interesting things. The latest eyebrow-raising move is to tender for a not-the-usual-suspects writer to tackle an official 50th anniversary biography of the campaign group:

We would like this perspective to come from someone who is not perceived as having a close association with CAMRA. The brief is for a c.50,000 word authorised biography of CAMRA, to be researched and written in 2020, with the text due at the end of the year, ready for publication in March 2021 in time for the Campaign’s birthday celebrations. Exact outline, terms and fees to be negotiated.

Cult Czech brewery Kout na Šumavě is in trouble, it turns out:

Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake (label).

Steve Body, AKA The Pour Fool, has put together a typically impassioned defence of ‘crazy’ beers:

We have to have this sort of “craziness” for craft beer – nothing says we have to like every dickhead idea or style that shambles onto the brewing scene – to continue to evolve and progress as the paradigm-changer it has become. There is NO other path. The surest way to murder innovation and creativity is to slap blinders on those doing the work. There is an old saying, “Out of experimentation comes synthesis.” Never heard that? Apparently, I just made it up. Google gives me no hits on that axiom. But it’s the truth: we try crazy shit, watch some or even most of it fail, and pluck the nuggets, the pearls, out of the chickenshit.

Sam Smith logo from beer bottle.

We can’t resist these Humphrey Smith stories: the head of Samuel Smith’s brewery in Tadcaster has reached a new high this week by shutting down a newly opened pub because he heard a customer swearing. Here’s the story as reported by the Independent:

[Smith] was visiting the Fox and Goose in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, seven weeks after it opened… But when the 74-year-old heard another drinker dropping the F-word while telling his wife a joke, he decided to immediately close the place… [leaving] landlord Eric Lowery, who lives in a flat above the pub with wife Tracey, looking for both a new job and somewhere to live.

Finally, from Twitter:


News, nuggets and longreads 5 October 2019: sessionability, Spam, the seventies

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading we’ve found especially illuminating or enjoyable in the past week, from Monty Python to pensions.

When you’ve been at this game for a while, you start to see the same conversations cycle round. This week, it’s time to talk about what ‘sessionable’ means again. First, for VinePairLily Waite argues that it’s impossible to pin down

The most common use of ‘session” in beer contexts is as a qualifier. It means the beer in question contains low enough amounts of alcohol that several, or even many, can be consumed in one drinking ‘session.’ The term ‘sessionable’ is commonly used to suggest something is easily drinkable, light, refreshing, or any combination of the three… But even those airy definitions leave a lot open to interpretation. As all beer drinkers are different, with individual sizes, appetites, tolerances, and preferences, how can we say what ‘session” or ‘sessionable’ even means?

In response, Martyn Cornell, who Waite cites in her article, says, no, actually – it’s not difficult at all:

I saw a tweet yesterday from someone talking about “a sessionable 5.5 per cent smoked oatmeal stout”, and the world swam and dissolved before me as I plunged screaming and twisting into a hellish, tormented pit of dark despair… Let me make this as clear as I can. This is an egregious and unforgivable total failure to understand what the expression ‘sessionable’ means, is meant to mean, and was coined for. A 5.5 per cent alcohol beer is not, and cannot be, ‘sessionable’. A smoked oatmeal stout, while I am sure it can be lovely, is not and cannot be ‘sessionable’. Nobody ever spent all evening drinking four or five, or six, pints of smoked oatmeal stout.

Stella Artois
SOURCE: Brussels Beer City.

One of our favourite blog posts of last year was Eoghan Walsh’s literary pub crawl around Brussels. Now he’s back with Part Two:

Nobody exemplified the writer living unhappily in Brussels better than Frenchman and serial flâneur Charles Baudelaire… Leaving behind Victor Hugo and the Chaloupe D’Or café on Brussels’ Grand Place, my walk follows the well-worn tourist path out of the square and into the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. These glass-ceiling shopping arcades were a first in Europe when they were built in 1847 and immediately they became a meeting place not only for the city’s bourgeoisie but also for its writers and artists. It was here that the Lumière brothers showed off their cinématographe for the first time outside of Paris, in March 1896. Victor Hugo’s mistress, Juliette Drouet – Juju – has an apartment above what is now the francophone Tropismes bookshop. French poet Paul Verlaine once purchased a revolver here with his mother. And, living a couple of streets away while escaping debts and debtors back in Paris, Charles Baudelaire was a frequent visitor.

Bass logo.

Roger Protz has written a portrait of a London pub famous for its Bass, as it has been since 1921:

The Express Tavern on Kew Bridge Road is that rarity – a London pub that regularly serves Draught Bass. The Bass red triangle trademark adorns the exterior and the famous triangle also declares itself on a pump clip on the bar… Two regulars seated at the bar nodded in salutation when I asked for a pint. “You’ve come to the right place for Bass,” they said. “That’s what we’re drinking.”


Dave at Brewing in a Bedsitter offers a brief reinvention of a famous moment from Monty Python’s Flying Circus:

Waitress: Evening!

Man: Well, what’ve you got?

Waitress: Well, there’s IPA with mosaic and simcoe; IPA with mosaic and centennial; IPA with mosaic and citra; IPA with mosaic, simcoe and citra; IPA with mosaic, simcoe, centennial and citra; IPA with citra, simcoe, centennial and citra; IPA with citra, mosaic, citra, citra, simcoe and citra, IPA with citra, vic secret, citra, citra, mosaic, citra, centennial and citra;

Hipsters (starting to chant): Citra citra citra citra…

Homebrew beer mat.

John Harry has been interning at the National  Museum of American History and as part of an initiative to record US brewing history has researched and written about the birth of the modern home-brewing movement:

After graduating from college in 1972, [Charlie] Papazian moved to Boulder, Colorado, to try to figure out his life plans. Some people there discovered that he knew how to brew beer and asked him to teach a class on homebrewing at the local community free school. The classes were incredibly popular and attracted many curious local residents… As word spread through newspaper articles, administrators grew concerned that the classes might be attracting the wrong type of attention. “After about the third year…those classes became notorious,” Papazian recounted. “One time at registration for the class, the administration contacted me, and said, ‘You know… there’s a guy, who’s registering for this class. He may be from the ATF.’” The ATF is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms—the law enforcement agency in charge of regulating activities such as homebrewing. As Papazian started the class, a man walked in wearing a dark pair of slacks, a white shirt, and a skinny black tie. Papazian suspected he was the ATF agent right away.

The Cask Report.

The latest edition of Cask Marque’s Cask Report is out, edited by Matt Eley and with contributions from people like Pete Brown and Adrian Tierney-Jones. We haven’t had chance to digest yet but the key message is that cask ale could be about to have a moment if it can reinvent itself as a specialist, premium product:

The whole industry has to work together to improve the consistency and quality of cask. This will enable it to be positioned in a more premium manner on the bar, reignite wider interest and ultimately bring cask back to growth. It might not quite be cask’s moment yet, but it feels like it’s coming and pubs should be fully prepared by embracing it now.

The cast of We Anchor in Hope.
SOURCE: The Bunker Theatre.

We Anchor in Hope, a play set in a pub – a fully-functional pub reconstructed in a theatre – sounds interesting:

The two have thought a lot about the pub that the Bunker is becoming: a quiz every Tuesday, karaoke on Thursdays and a disco on the weekend. The space will be open an hour before the show for people to get a drink, with Sonnex himself pulling pints alongside his general manager, Lee. In the world of the play, the pints in the Anchor pub will be pulled by Pearl, the play’s only woman. “In the current climate, and rightfully so, you should be looking at the ratio of men to women and making sure there are really good opportunities for female actors,” Jordan tells me. But in order to stay true to the pubs she spent time in, which were “overwhelmingly male spaces”, We Anchor in Hope has “one female character and four male characters – which is something we both thought about and talked about”.

Finally, here’s a nugget from Twitter:

For more links and news, check out Stan Hieronymus on Mondays and Alan McLeod on Thursdays.

News, nuggets and longreads 28 September 2019: language, complexity, taprooms

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from The Good Beer Guide to the language we use.

First, here’s a substantial piece by Jonny Garrett for Good Beer Hunting which attempts to unpick the language used in the conversation around beer:

Character limits and fast-scrolling mean we’re getting more creative, but we’re also reducing the words we use to mean the same thing. On an Instagram post or Untappd check-in, why list guava, mango, and pineapple when a simple “juicy” cuts to the chase?

You might quibble with some of his conclusions – the origins of the terms ‘craft beer’ and ‘craft brewery’ are hotly debated, for example – but there’s plenty of food for thought.

Instagram likes.

For CañaBeth Demmon gets stuck into a complex question: if sexist imagery on beer packaging is a problem, what about when social media influencers in beer gain leverage by presenting themselves as sexy? Is it empowerment, or perpetuation?

I tend to be less than thrilled when men decide to police women’s bodies. But as a woman covering the craft beer scene, I also struggle with the residual impact that hypersexual content from beer influencers has on how the world may view me in the same space. With more and more conversations covering the troublesome history that beer has with women while acknowledging the potential damage this new genre of social media interaction can have on all women, I’ve come to realise one important truth: it’s complicated.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 28 September 2019: language, complexity, taprooms”

News, nuggets and longreads 21 September 2019: Catalonia, cask, cans

Here’s a week’s worth of reading about beer and pubs, from Catalan hops to cask ale.

For Birraire, Joan Villar-i-Martí has written at length about Jordi Sánchez of Lupulina, a hop-growing business in Catalonia, Spain, that specialises in serving the growing craft beer movement:

At a time when there were around 15 factories with brewing license in Catalonia… Jordi decides to combine his growing passion with his experience and training in biology, developing in 2013 a pilot plantation with 150 hop plants of 10 different varieties… His vision: to accompany the craft beer movement by supplying raw material, with the will to regularly provide producers with good value locally grown hops… “The thing that makes a craft brewery different is its attitude, but also its raw materials”.

Casks in a pub yard.

Jeff Alworth continues his tour of the UK with a visit to Manchester where he offers an outsider’s perspective on the health and future of cask ale, and a throwaway judgement on sparklers:

[A] pint of cask bitter is… one of the world’s best drinking beers… But man, has it got a branding problem. This perception was heightened by spending most of my time in Manchester and London, two modern cities with large populations of young drinkers. Americans revere the English pub because it drips with romance and nostalgia. The wood panelling, the old pictures on the walls, the fire in the corner, the low lighting, the nooks, crannies, and snugs. But cask’s problem is that it is so tightly fused with the environment in which it is served.

The Marble taproom.
SOURCE: The Ale in Kaleigh

On a related note, Manchester-based writer Kaleigh Watterson has visited Marble’s new taproom in Salford:

I thought the space was exactly what a brewery taproom should be; you can see inside the brewery but it feels comfortable and separate, somewhere you could settle in for a few hours… It was obviously a big decision for such brewery so associated with the city of Manchester to move over the border into Salford, but with the uncertainty around the future of railway arches, the size constraints of their old site and the great space they’ve built shows it was the right one for them.

The Fleece Inn
SOURCE: Beer Compurgation

Mark Johnson has a new project (it’s always good to have a project) focusing on the football clubs and pubs:

My first trip was on Saturday 31st August to Seel Park to catch Mossley AFC taking on Kendal Town in the Northern Premier League Division One… Growing up in neighbouring Stalybridge, Mossley was always considered the debauched and ostracised cousin. The people had their reputation and so did the pubs. We were painted the picture of a rundown, smog filled town that hadn’t changed since pre-Peterloo days… As you mature you realise that such reputations in any town are fictitious localism; that the residents there view your area with similar disdain and fantasy.

Map of Lee High Road
SOURCE: Running Past

At Running Past this week (via @untilnextyear) a portrait of a lost London pub – The Sultan on Lee High Road, demolished 20 years ago:

Sometime during 1993, I had been into Lewisham with my toddler son in a buggy and was confronted by a low-speed car chase – the pursued car had come out of Clarendon Rise, had mounted the pavement in a vain attempt to evade the traffic backing up at the junction of Belmont Hill and Lewis Grove. The narrow pavement was busy so the driver slowly inched towards the Clock Tower… I took evasive action and pushed the buggy into the Sultan’s lounge… The Sultan wasn’t the most inviting pub lounge I’ve ever been in – dark and a fug of smoke so thick that the bar was a little indeterminate in outline. Outside the excitement swiftly abated; the police pursuers had quickly arrested the driver who had come to a halt when a lamppost blocked his path.

Felinfoel cans
SOURCE: Chiswick Auctions

The owner of Felinfoel Brewery in Wales has just paid £2,250 for two sealed cans of beer from the 1930s, for somewhat understandable reasons:

The cans of Felinfoel pale ale, which were brewed before the Second World War, are thought to have become the most expensive ever – each can cost the equivalent to 270 pints… The yellow cans were bought by Philip Lewis (corr), the managing director of the Welsh brewery where the ale was first canned in 1936… Miraculously, one of the cans is still full of beer, while the ancient brew is slowly evaporating out of the other’s slightly damaged seal.

What we really like is the blurb, in what look like Gill Sans: “Canned beer is better because the goodness is sealed in and the flavour preserved. It is also protected from the harmful effect of light. Unbreakable. Lighter to carry. Takes up less space. No deposits; no returns. More hygienic – used only once.”

Finally, from Twitter, a new turn of phrase that we suspect is already featuring as a key ‘buyer persona’ in marketing plans up and down the country…

For more links and news, check out Stan’s round-up from Monday and Alan’s from Thursday.

News, nuggets and longreads 14 September 2019: racism and railway arches

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

First, a couple of updates on stories from the past few weeks.

1. Lars Marius Garshol was curious about the origin of a particular packaged yeast thought to derive from a Norwegian farmhouse strain; he now has an answer.

2. Last week, Wetherspoon reduced the price of one of its cask ales in an odd Brexit propaganda moment; in the aftermath, SIBA ticked Tim Martin off and he responded, as summarised at Beer Today.

3. Tandleman continues his survey of Samuel Smith pubs, this time with a cameo from Humphrey Smith himself.

Illustration: "Odd One Out".

When Chalonda White (@afrobeerchick) received a racist email saying that black people “do not belong in this industry” she shared it on Twitter. An outpouring of support and protest developed around the hashtag #IAmCraftBeer. For ViceBeth Demmon summarises the story, and what it means:

This incident is an acute reminder of the racism and discrimination still deeply embedded in the craft beer industry. The Brewers Association, the United States’ leading non-profit group dedicated to promoting craft beer, recently released the study “Brewery Diversity Benchmarking: A Foundation for Change,” which outlines racial and gender demographics of those employed in the beer industry… The numbers confirm what most already know: Craft beer is overwhelmingly white and male. Based on their data, 88.4 percent of brewery owners are white, with only 1 percent of brewery owners identifying as Black.

Sign from the Eaton Cottage.
SOURCE: BBC/The Eaton Cottage

The new CAMRA Good Beer Guide is out and this story from the BBC highlights how important inclusion/exclusion can be to publicans, and how emotional the response can be:

A landlord has criticised his customers after his pub failed to make it into the Good Beer Guide… Philip Birchall put up a notice in the Eaton Cottage in Norwich offering a “huge sarcastic thank you” to members of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra)… As a result of the pub not featuring in the guide Mr Birchall said he had decided to gradually reduce the number of real ale pumps… “People like drinking here and removing the pub from the guide is tantamount to a demotion.”

La Tans
SOURCE: Brussels Beer City/Eoghan Walsh.

This piece on the relationship between beer and food in Brussels by local expert Eoghan Walsh should have made the round-up last week but we missed it:

It’s a sticky Friday night in inner city Brussels, and the footpath on Rue de Lombard is jammed. It’s the eve of the BXLBeerfest beer festival and visiting beer tourists have decamped to Nüetnigenough, loitering in front of the restaurant’s sinewy art nouveau entrance. The restaurant doesn’t do reservations, and those hoping to get a spot have gathered into hungry clumps around the door, beer and menu in hand, sweating and waiting… This has been the rhythm at Nüetnigenough… since Olivier Desmet opened it a little over a decade ago. The restaurant has been a base for him to proselytise for beer as a legitimate accompaniment to a good meal. In the Brussels of 2019 this may seem an unnecessary struggle, but for much of the restaurant’s short life it was an exception, not the rule.

Mother Kelly's
SOURCE: Beervana/Jeff Alworth.

American beer writer Jeff Alworth is in the UK. If you enjoy, as we do, seeing Britain through the eyes of an outsider, check out this post on breweries and bars in railway arches – something we take quite for granted but which, now he mentions it, is odd:

Brewing, accordingly, is a space-intensive business that requires substantial capital investment. For underfunded start-ups, this can be daunting. A solution chosen by about a fifth of London’s breweries is the railway arch… Train lines crisscross the city, many of them elevated on old Victorian viaducts. They’re as wide as a city street, raised 15-25 feet above the ground, and supported by a repeating line of arches. As space became tighter and tighter in London (an old problem in a city once the capital of a global empire), people began to make use of provisional spaces. Decades ago, some clever entrepreneur identified those viaduct arches as a huge source of real estate and began leasing them.

Finally, from Twitter, pushing back the date of the earliest German theme pub in the UK that we’re aware of…

For more reading and links check out Stan Hieronymus on Monday and Alan McLeod on Thursday.