News, Nuggets and Longreads 9 March 2019: Politics, Tokenism, Firestarters

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that prompted us to bookmark, favourite or ReTweet in the past week, from US politics to the politics of beer culture.

First, an important and eye-opening post from Craft Beer Amethyst on the subject of tokenism in the world of beer:

Reading Wiper & True’s Vic Helsby in the Independent saying that International Women’s Day risks becoming tokenistic unless diversity and inclusion become a reality in the industry really hit home with me, because I see this as the most important and under-addressed problem in beer and beyond – how to transform the cultural space into a place where we no longer need words like diversity and inclusion because everyone is seen as completely equal and no less or more deserving of special attention? How do we reach a point where we stop talking about women in beer and minorities in beer and just talk about beer?


A bottle of Cloudwater V 10 enveloped in steam.

Now things are a little less raw Will Hawkes has taken a moment to reflect on last week’s Cloudwater beer festival hoo-ha, observing (as did we) that reactions to the threat of the event being cancelled were mixed, and revealing:

On the one hand, there were people who felt understandably aggrieved at having coughed up £60, plus train fares, for an event that didn’t seem to be happening; On the other, there were people who felt the first group were being a bit neggy, and should just, you know, chill… It’s obvious that many people feel craft beer is a community… The problem is that not everyone feels this way. For those whose interaction with beer is less intimate, for those who earn their crust elsewhere, this idea of community can be a problem. After all, who benefits from the notion that a commercial relationship is also a friendship? Breweries, definitely. Pub landlords, Bottle-shop owners, distributors, yup. Drinkers? Only in the most nebulous sense.


Letter from America.

For Bloomberg Joshua Green reports on research into how the politics of American drinkers manifests in their choice of alcoholic drinks:

Democrats will be heavy consumers of cognac and brandy, both favored by African-American drinkers, who overwhelmingly lean left. Mexican beers such as Corona, Tecate, and Modelo Especial are also popular with Democrats, especially those who don’t turn out regularly on Election Day—that is, they’re popular with young people, whose turnout numbers lag behind older groups. And because Heineken drinkers are concentrated in the Northeast—not friendly territory for Republicans—they, too, skew Democratic… Republicans have an entirely different alcoholic profile. “They’re big bourbon drinkers,” [researcher Will] Feltus says…


Betty Bowes

A new source for us, television history website Rediffusion, offers an archive article from the defunct independent broadcaster’s in-house magazine from 1958 by Peter Ling, about Betty Bowes, manager of the studio social club:

In Television House, Betty has to know people. Not always their surnames, perhaps, and probably not their jobs — but she knows a thousand faces, and can fit a Christian name to most of them. Best of all, she knows what they like to drink. Mostly it’s straightforward; the Studios come in thirsty and hot, needing beer; the Fourth Floor splice the mainbrace with something stronger; a Third Floor customer might occasionally ask for a Pimm’s Number One… But the Fifth Floor demands — and usually gets — anything and everything: “I think I know most drinks by now.” Betty Hashes a smile as bright as a new penny. “A ‘Cameraman’s Kick’, for instance —That started with the camera-boys from Wembley; it’s a lager-and-lime, but lots of other people besides cameramen have taken it up now.”


Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

The Guardian saved us the trouble of digging in the archives ourselves this week by resurfacing a piece by Peter Corrigan from 1988, about the drinking culture of Fleet Street:

[The pub] was something more than an extension of the newspaper: for some a home from home, for others an air-lock between the desk and suburbia. A man could get the bends going straight from one to the other. Not all journalists get on with each other, so each office pub would have a few satellites to accommodate political overspills. Most of the Daily Mail staff, for instance, use the Harrow, while others frequent the Mucky Duck, as the White Swan is traditionally known, or the Welsh Harp, which once housed a glum group of Mail men known as the Fingertip Club, because that best described how they were hanging onto their jobs.

But that did remind us of a similar piece from the US, from half a century earlier, by H.L. Mencken, that we’d come across in the back catalogue of the New Yorker:

Between 1899 and 1904 there was only one reporter south of the Mason and Dixon line who did not drink at all, and he was considered insane. In New York, so far as I could make out, there was not even one. On my first Christmas Eve in the newspaper business but two sober persons were to be found in the old Baltimore Herald office, one of them a Seventh Day Adventist office boy in the editorial rooms and the other a superannuated stereotyper who sold lunches to the printers in the composing room. There was a printer on the payroll who was reputed to be a teetotaller—indeed, his singularity gave him the curious nickname of the Moral Element—but Christmas Eve happened to be his night off.


And finally, a short but evocative tale of pub life featuring the late Prodigy front-man Keith Flint:

For more reading check out Stan Hieronymus on Mondays and Alan McLeod on Thursdays.

Plum Porter: Dividing Opinion

A plum.

We were a bit excited to come across Titanic Plum Porter in the pub last night, a beer many people worship and others despise.

We can’t say we’ve drunk it often enough to form a really solid view on how it is meant to be but have always enjoyed it. The first time we recall encountering it (that is, when we were paying attention) was at the Castle Hotel in Manchester where it struck us a heavy, rich porter with a fruity twist. At the Wellington in Bristol it seemed lighter in both colour and body and more like a British answer to a Belgian kriek or framboise — tart, and dominated by the hot crumble flavours of bruised fruit. Even at five quid a pint (yikes!) we had to stop for a second round.

When we Tweeted about it, acknowledging what we understood to be its mixed reputation, here’s some of what people said in response:

  • “When it’s good, it’s very good; when it’s bad, it’s horrid. Consistency seems dubious.” — @olliedearn
  • “WHAT?! In what world is it divide opinion? Everyone I know loves it.” — @Jon_BOA
  • “My bete noire, was always dubious about it (even though I love other Titanic brews) – perhaps I need to revisit…” — @beertoday
  • “Having lived in Stoke + covered the Potteries beer scene I’d say it’s a good advert (flagship, I dare say!) for local beers, despite flaws.” — @LiamapBarnes

So, pretty balanced, from Ugh! to Wow!

Over the years we’ve seen yet harsher comments, though, some of which struck us as more about Titanic’s place on the scene than about this beer in particular. In general, we find Titanic’s beer rather middling — not bad, not great — but it is nonetheless a major presence in the Midlands and North West, and on supermarket shelves nationwide, and ubiquity breeds contempt. For some time, too, its owner Keith Bott was chairman of increasingly controversial industry body SIBA, so perhaps the beer tastes a bit of politics, the nastiest off-flavour of all.

This made us think about other beers that strike us as fundamentally decent but whose reputations might be similarly weighed down. Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, for example, is a beer we’ve always enjoyed — good value, straightforward, but with a bit more peachy zing than some others in the same category. When we expressed this enthusiasm a while ago, though, there seemed to be a suggestion that we shouldn’t enjoy it because the brewery has engaged in some complicated and newsworthy business practices.

And St Austell Tribute is a beer we’ll always stick up for. At the Nags Head in Walthamstow c.2009 we drank tons of it and found it every bit as good as, almost interchangeable with, the exemplary Timothy Taylor Landlord sold in the same pub. (Further reading: ‘The Landlord Test’.) But these days, even though Tribute is probably  better than its ever been in technical terms, it elicits groans from many enthusiasts. That’s because it’s become one of those beers you find in pubs that aren’t very interested in beer, pushed into the wrong bits of the country by keen sales teams and big distribution deals; and on trains, in hotel bars, under random rocks you pick up deep in the woods, and so on. That in-your-face national presence is not only annoying in its own right but also makes it harder to find a pint that has truly been cared for. But, as a beer, on its own terms… It can still taste great, and interesting with it.

The flipside of all this, of course, is that some mediocre or even bad beers get a free pass because the people that make them are good eggs, or underdogs, or have a good story to tell; or because they’re scarce, so that nobody ever really gets to know them, and is too excited when they do find them in the wild to be objectively critical.

It’s impossible to be objective, obviously, but it’s good to try — to attempt to blank out everything else and have a moment where it’s just you and the beer.