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.