In the pub, standing is part of the fun

In a really lively pub, not everyone is going to get a seat.

If you do get a seat, there’s no guarantee you’ll have the table to yourself, or that someone won’t end up stood over your shoulder bumping you with their hip and yelling, laughing or otherwise existing out loud.

We found ourselves thinking about this as we worked our way around the pubs of Kelham Island in Sheffield on a busy Saturday night.

There, parties of people in smart Going Out Clothes seemed happy to stand about, cascading into spaces between tables even where there hadn’t seemed to be spaces moments before, and crowding the corridors.

“Can I just squeeze through there, pal?” Well, not really, and yet somehow, yes, and all without touching. (A British superpower.)

If you’re mug enough to wear a coat, you’ve either to swelter, to hold it, hope to hang it, or throw it on the floor. The tendency to hit the town in shirtsleeves makes sense in this context – cold between pubs, sure, but unencumbered once you get there.

That’s not to say that people aren’t keeping an eye on the availability of seats. There’s a way of glancing sideways: how near is this lot to finishing? How empty are their glasses? Is anyone making a move to buy another round, or have they started picking up coats and handbags? There are prime hovering spots, and sharp elbows are sometimes unleashed: “Some people’ll jump in your bloody grave!”

One party leaves (a gust of cold air, dead leaves across the carpet) and another group comes in. The crowd flows fluid to make way as hands reach over to lift pints from the bar, as scotch eggs are eaten from plates balanced on the mantelpiece, as giggling people sit on laps, or the arms of chairs.

These pubs are healthy. This pub culture is healthy. Life is good.

And those lovely, tranquil pubs where you always get a seat? Perhaps worry about them.

John Smith’s Modern Pubs in the North, 1967-69

This is another in our series of posts sharing photographs and details about post-war pubs from mouldering magazines. This time, it’s John Smith’s of Tadcaster and the magazine is The Magnet.

We’ve only got three editions — we’d love more — but they’re packed with good stuff if, that is, your definition of good stuff is profiles of plain-looking modern pubs on housing estates in places like Sheffield and Doncaster.

The Flarepath, Dunsville, South Yorkshire

Exterior of The Flarepath.

The headline for this piece in The Magnet is A ROYAL AIR FORCE PUB — The Flarepath, which opened in November 1967, served RAF Lindholme, near Doncaster.

The sign of The Flarepath.

The name refers to an illuminated runway used by bombers returning from night-raids over Germany during World War II. (Again, another wonderful name squarely of its time.)

The Lindholme Lounge at The Flarepath.

The carpet in the lounge was specially woven and featured a Lancaster bomber taking off and the bars were decorated with RAF squadron crests. There were photographs of various types of bomb, again from the Imperial War Museum archive, on the walls.

Mr & Mrs Varley.

Its first managers were Joyce Varley and her husband Arthur, late of the Magnet Hotel, Bentley.

Is it still there? Yes, with John Smith’s signage outside, too.

Continue reading “John Smith’s Modern Pubs in the North, 1967-69”

Tetley’s Post War ‘Estate’ Pubs in The North

We’ve just acquired a couple of editions of Tetley’s in-house magazine from the 1960s and thought we’d share some pictures of the then state-of-the-art modern pubs featured.

We usually scan these things and effectively thrown them away on Twitter but thought that we ought to put them somewhere a bit more permanent in case they’re interesting or useful for other researchers, or just for the enjoyment of people who might recall the pubs in question as they were in their heyday.

The first batch of photos are from The Huntsman for Autumn 1964. This picture is on the front cover:

The Cup & Ring (exterior).

Explanatory text inside says: ‘The Cup & Ring, the new opened Tetley house on the edge of the moors by Baildon. It is almost certainly the only public house in the country with this name — taken from the cup and ring markings carved by Early Bronze Age people on certain stones of Baildon Moor.’ Today the pub is — obviously, of course, it goes without saying — gone.

The Earl Francis, Park Hill, Sheffield -- exterior.

Next up is The Earl Francis at Park Hill in Sheffield of which the magazine says:

[The] third Tetley ‘pub’ in the vast comprehensive area of Corporation flats which will ultimately house 10,000 people, was named as a reminder of the local historical association with the Shrewsbury family… The first two of these three Tetley houses were each an integral part of the ground floor of the block of flats in which they were situated. The Earl Francis differs in that it is a separate building. To ensure harmony with its background of flats the shell was built by the Corporation; but the main entrance and canopy, the internal planning and structure, and all fixtures and fittings were dealt with by The Company.

Continue reading “Tetley’s Post War ‘Estate’ Pubs in The North”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island

There’s been plenty of good reading this week from intelligence on the latest AB-InBev manoeuvring  to memories of 1970s Sheffield via a Sober Island.

First, the news headlines: AB-InBev have taken over Spanish brewery Cervezas La Virgen, as reported by Joan Villar-i-Martí at Birraire:

A rather peculiar move, in my opinion, if we compare it to the Belgian brewing giant’s recent operations, especially in Europe… La Virgen was born as a product designed for the Madrid market, and until a year ago it was basically focused on it. As a company, it has never quite been in the circles of the national craft movement, appearing in few festivals and without a significant presence in specialised bars. On the contrary, it has successfully penetrated the market with a craft-labelled product that delivers a similar experience to the ‘usual’ beers.


Fishing boats on Sober Island.
‘Sober Island’ By Dennis Jarvis from Flickr under Creative Commons.

For Mel magazine Angela Chapin gives an account of the dispute over the name and location of Sober Island brewery, which is not currently brewing on Sober Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, as the name might suggest:

One of the locals most excited about her plan was [Rebecca Atkinson’s] friend Trevor Munroe. He and his wife run an oyster farm on Sober Island, and the 43-year-old thought the brewery would be great for the community. Not to mention, it was to be a mutually beneficial relationship: Munroe wanted to help Atkinson find land; she wanted to use his oysters in her beer. Better yet, they planned to team up to attract tourists to the island with tours that would end with cold beer and fresh oysters… But the relationship began to sour when Atkinson delayed the construction of the brewery and started brewing beer at her mom’s place instead.

The story highlights all kinds of issues around provenance, marketing, and the meaning of local — is Atkinson exploiting the island’s quirky name or is she sincere in her stated intent to eventually move production there?

(Via @PivniFilosof.)

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island”

A Brief History of Beer Weeks

It’s Sheffield Beer Week this week (14-22 March) which got us thinking about beer weeks in general — where did they come from, what are they for, and where are they going?

In the UK arguably the original beer week is Norwich City of Ale, which first took place in May 2011. It involves mini-festivals in pubs across the city featuring breweries from the region, and special events designed to create a buzz such as tasters of beer being given out in the street. It was the brain-child of lecturer Dawn Leeder and publican Phil Cutter, AKA ‘Murderers Phil’. As Dawn Leeder recalls there was no particular inspiration except perhaps, obliquely, Munich’s Oktoberfest. Its launch was covered by an enthusiastic Roger Protz in this article for Beer Pages which concludes with a call to action:

It’s an initiative that could and should be taken up other towns and cities in Britain with a good range of pubs, craft breweries and a public transport network. Nottingham and Sheffield, with their tram systems, spring to mind.

Red Routemaster bus with Norwich City of Ale livery.
Norwich City of Ale promotional bus, 2013. SOURCE: Norwich City of Ale website.

Glasgow’s beer week first ran in 2011. It was inspired equally by US beer weeks and by the Glasgow Beer and Pub Project organised by Eric Steen in 2010, a six-week arts and culture event which culminated with a home-brewing event in a pop-up pub. Glasgow Beer Week co-organiser Robbie Pickering recalls some of the difficulties faced by amateur volunteers:

We had our disasters, like the time we managed to schedule a meet-the-brewer in a pub where a live band was playing on the same night. I am very lucky that brewer still speaks to me. I am still proud of some of the events we put on even if hardly anyone came to them. We did the first beer and cheese tasting in Glasgow and the first UK screening of the US Michael Jackson documentary, and got Ron Pattinson over to speak about British lager together with people from the Scottish Brewing Archive Association. And I have a lifetime’s supply of beautiful letterpress beer mats with a spelling error.

It ran for three years the last being in 2013:

I think GBW collapsed in the end because of lack of interest. After the first year most of the other people involved had moved away and I was left running around on my own… I announced the dates for 2014 before deciding not to go ahead with it. Nobody ever asked what had happened to it which kind of suggests it was the right decision.

From our distant vantage point it also seemed to bring to a head tensions in Glasgow’s beer community with expressions of ill-feeling still being expressed via social media three years later.

Robbie Pickering sees some positives in it, however: the kinds of events that the Beer Week was built around now occur organically and frequently in Glasgow negating the need for a special event.

In 2012, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) ran a London City of Beer celebration piggybacking on the surge in visitors to the capital during the Olympic Games. But it was two months long, not a week, and didn’t turn into an annual event.

The next British city to get a beer week proper was Bristol. It launched in October 2013 when, having bubbled under as a beer destination for a few years beforehand, the city was just on the cusp of a boom in specialist bars and breweries. The initial idea came from Lee Williams who was born in Bristol but lived in the US for ten years where he ran a blog, Hoptopia, and wrote a guidebook called Beer Lover’s Colorado. When he returned to Bristol to work in the beer industry he brought with him experience of several US beer weeks and suggested the idea of running something similar to a friend and fellow beer blogger, Stephen Powell.

Bristol Beer Week featured more mini-festivals, talks, tastings and special one-off beers brewed in collaboration with beer writers who duly plugged the event.

Continue reading “A Brief History of Beer Weeks”

Reflections on our Northern Tour

Revitalisation beer pump clip.

Last week’s visit to the north of England (Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield) was actually as near as we’re getting to a holiday this year.

We figured that, even if we didn’t get chance to plug Brew Britannia, we’d at least have fun drinking decent beer in great pubs and bars, and seeing the sights. But, as it happened, we were invited to appear and/or speak at a few venues.

psbh

At Port Street Beer House on Sunday afternoon, we were in competition with blazing sunlight which had turned Manchester into a dead ringer for Barcelona. Nonetheless, several people turned up to share a beer with us and buy advance copies of the book.

It was great to meet everyone, but we have to admit that we were especially pleased to make the acquaintance of Len, a reader who usually ‘lurks’, and who settled our nerves with a few kind words in the first few minutes.

We also found ourselves thinking that someone — maybe us — ought to write a proper portrait piece about 6TownsMart, whose commitment to, and first-hand knowledge of, Belgian beer is awe-inspiring. ‘Brewers as rock stars’ is a well-worn angle, but dedicated drinkers deserve some attention too.

At North Bar in Leeds on Monday, we got to try the Kirkstall Brewery beer Revitalisation, thoughtfully developed by Matt Lovatt from some vague thoughts we put in an email. We drank lots of it, and it prompted plenty of conversation among the Leeds crafterati, as well as finding favour with a few of the locals with more conservative tastes. We’ll write more about it in a substantial post about Boddington’s to follow in the next week or so.

We did our best to give a reading, but our puny voices struggled a bit against the non-stop partying which characterises the venue. Someone made us drink tequila, and Ghost Drinker plied us with wonderful, wonderful gueuze. We signed and sold a lot of copies of the book, which saved us lugging any back to Manchester, though the 20 copies of The Grist we acquired were heavier and more awkwardly shaped.

We had two engagements in Sheffield. First, at the Thornbridge-owned Hallamshire House, on Wednesday night. This was the first actual ‘talk’ we gave. Forty or so people, many of them actually there for a German student’s birthday drinks, listened politely as we spoke about the origins of the term ‘craft beer’. Some sidled up with questions, including, to our delight, the German birthday boy, who wanted to know why porter was so hard to find: “Ah,” he said on hearing our off-the-cuff answer. “This is the same as with Dortmund Export.”

We were delighted to meet Jim Harrison, one of the founders of Thornbridge — he is a very charming man — but cringed as we watched he and his wife read what we’d written about them in the book from across the room. They didn’t take offence, but seemed perhaps a little hurt that we’d portrayed them as ‘lordly’: “I came on the bus tonight.”

As the crowd thinned, we were joined by Thornbridge brewers Rob Lovatt and Will Inman, who indulged our naive questions about processes and yeast, and politely disagreed with a couple of our thoughts on Thornbridge’s beer. Very civilised.

The cafe next door to the Hop Hideout.

We finished on a real high note with a ticketed talk at the Hop Hideout on Abbeydale Road in Sheffield. It is a tiny but lovingly-managed specialist beer shop in the corner of a larger unit selling vintage… stuff, so the talk actually took place in the cafe next door. With blinds drawn, it felt like a lock-in or speakeasy, and talking to a crowd who wanted to be there was a real treat.

Over the course of a couple of hours, we tasted:

  • John Smith’s Bitter — a ‘palate cleanser’ and reminder of the ‘bad old days’.
  • Chimay Rouge — the first ‘world beer’ to hit the UK, in 1974.
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale — highly influential on the use of hops in British brewing.
  • Marble Dobber — the kind of beer British brewers made once they’d ‘got’ New World hops, and with a tentative connection to Brendan Dobbin.
  • Camden Hells — exemplifying the post-1990s trend for ‘craft lager’, and exploring questions of provenance.
  • Wild Beer Co Ninkasi — exploring the ‘outer limits’ of diversity in British beer, and finishing on a showstopper.

Most people seemed to agree that Chimay was cruelly overlooked these days; that SNPA was still a really good beer; that Dobber was on fantastically good form; and that Ninkasi was extremely complex and interesting. Watching someone smell the Cascade aroma of SNPA for the first time was a treat, too.

We’ll be in London in the week commencing 16 June and will hopefully be able to announce a programme of appearances in the coming days. We’re also at Beer Wolf in Falmouth, Cornwall, on 28 June from 4pm. Come and see us somewhere, at some time!

Bars and Pubs and Clubs

Dada bar in Sheffield.

Last week, we interviewed the founders and owners of North Bar in Leeds, arguably the first ‘craft beer bar’ in the UK, and, in the course of our conversation, asked: ‘So, what makes this a bar rather than a pub?’ After much head-scratching, they had to admit defeat: they didn’t know. ‘But we know a bar when we see one.’

Here’s a quiz, then: are the following bars, or pubs, or something else?

  1. Dada, Sheffield
  2. Craft Beer Company, Islington, London
  3. Craft Beer Company, Clerkenwell, London
  4. The Parcel Yard, Kings Cross, London
  5. any branch of All Bar One.

A pub has to sell beer, but then so do most bars. A bar is more likely to sell cocktails, but some don’t, and some pubs do. Pubs are more likely to be brown, while bars will have white/cream/grey walls, but white-painted pubs and brown bars do exist… no, this isn’t getting us anywhere.

In the introduction to her 2002 book Bar and Club Design, Bethan Ryder defines bars as follows:

They are modern, spectacular forums, underpinned by the ideas of display and performance, rather than utilitarian, more casual places in which people meet, drink and gossip — such as the pub…

We’re not sure that works — North felt pretty casual, for example, but is definitely a bar. She also, however, says this in attempting to define the nightclub: ‘…to a certain extent they have always been whatever a… pub is not.’ Now that, vague as it is, might work as a definition of a bar.

As, perhaps, might this: a pub should always feel as if it is in the British Isles; whereas a bar should feel as if it is in Manhattan, Stockholm, Moscow or Paris.

If you think you’ve got it cracked, let us know in the comments below.

Our answers would be 1) bar; 2) pub; 3) bar; 4) something else; and 5) chain pub with pretensions.

The Hay-on-Wye of Beer?

Kelham Island Tavern (sign), Sheffield

Hay-on-Wye is a small market town on the border between England and Wales famous for its thirty or so bookshops. Since the 1970s, those bookshops, and then the literary events they’ve attracted, have helped Hay prosper. Without them, it would receive a fraction of its current number of visitors.

We don’t think there’s quite an equivalent ‘beer town UK’, but Sheffield springs to mind as a possible contender.

It has more than its fair share of great pubs and breweries: we’ve found that, there more than any other UK city we’ve visited, an ordinary looking pub chosen at without prior research will turn out to be selling something we can get excited about.

Has anyone measured the impact on beer tourism on Sheffield’s economy? Has the City Council considered actively promoting Sheffield as a destination for beer lovers?

With a little work, it could it be Britain’s Beervana. As it is, anyone visiting the UK looking for good beer should certainly aim to spend a day or two there.

Let us know if there are other candidates we’ve missed. Burton, perhaps, has a greater entitlement.

Mid-morning crowds at the bar

It was 11:45 in the morning at the Sheffield Tap and we couldn’t get served.

Two harassed bar staff — one of whom was a woman with a moustache (Movember) — were trying to deal with a four-deep crowd of football fans and beer geeks at the bar. One bloke wanted to taste a few things. The bar staff were patient about it but the punters behind him weren’t. A couple of low-key rows broke out: “Don’t let that bloke push in front of you! You were there first!”; “No I wasn’t, you nobhead. Shut up!”

Eventually, squeezed into a corner with our Thornbridge Pivni (“Possibly the best breakfast beer in the world” — Reluctant Scooper), we wondered whether, when this pub first opened a couple of years ago, anyone ever expected it to be this busy at any time, let alone before midday.

The market for craft beer bars isn’t saturated yet. If there’d been another one a few doors down, we reckon that would have been full, too.

Tasting notes (all Thornbridge): Pivni (3.7%3.2%) was delicious — how we falsely remember Summer Lightning tasting; Black Harry (3.9%) was one of those milds that’s coy about it, pleasant enough, but lacking oomph; Sequoia (4.5%) was our favourite, light-bodied and exotic-tasting — what Ewoks would drink; and Versa (5%) was a Schneider-alike with big banana aromas and lots of toffee flavour.

Every beer gets a second chance

Both variants of the Brooklyn/Schneider Hopfen Weisse in their beautifully designed bottles

We hated Schneider Hopfenweisse when we tried it a couple of years ago and I almost turned my nose up when offered it on draft at the Devonshire cat, Sheffield. Nonetheless, I got my half (a mere £2.80…) and gave it another go.

It’s always a good idea to give a beer a second chance. Wowzers, Penny. I take it all back. It’s wonderful.

It’s like a turbo charged wheatbeer with crisp, almost tangible hops; bubblegum cut with grapefruit. Truly extreme and fabulous for it. Oddly, the German-American parentage gives this a very Belgian aroma (booze + spice) which really adds to the pleasure.

Boak