News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 August 2017: Breakfast, Blackness, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything in beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from breakfast boozing to totalitarianism.

For Vice Angus Har­ri­son asked a very good ques­tion that yields inter­est­ing answers: who exact­ly are the peo­ple you see drink­ing in Wether­spoon between break­fast time and lunch? Knee-jerk assump­tion has it that they are trag­ic alco­holics liv­ing chaot­ic lives out­side the rules of soci­ety but, of course…

You per­haps would­n’t notice the pub was full of fin­ished night-work­ers if you’d just walked in, but as soon as you know what to look for, it becomes obvi­ous. The bar­man ges­tures to a table in the cor­ner where six blokes in bat­tered den­im and dusty T‑shirts sit hunched over pints. Upstairs, three jour­nal­ists who have just left the news desk drink lagers before head­ing home for a sleep. In the smok­ing area out front, a mem­ber of Stanst­ed’s lost lug­gage team tells me he often pops in around this time, on his way home from the air­port.


Illustration: a pint of beer with Van Gogh textures.

For Eater Lau­ren Michele Jack­son writes on a sub­ject that feels espe­cial­ly top­i­cal, this week of all weeks – the thought­less, polit­i­cal­ly charged, over­whelm­ing white­ness of ‘craft cul­ture’ in food and drink:

Craft cul­ture looks like white peo­ple. The founders, so many for­mer lawyers or bankers or adver­tis­ing execs, tend to be white, the front-fac­ing staff in their cus­tom den­im aprons tend to be white, the clien­tele sip­ping $10 beers tends to be white… The char­ac­ter of craft cul­ture, a spe­cial blend of bohemi­an­ism and cap­i­tal­ism, is not mere­ly over­whelm­ing­ly white — a func­tion of who gen­er­al­ly has the wealth to start those micro­brew­eries and old-school butch­er shops, and to patron­ize them — it con­sis­tent­ly engages in the era­sure or exploita­tion of peo­ple of col­or whose intel­lec­tu­al and man­u­al labor are often the foun­da­tion of the prac­tices that trans­form so many of these small plea­sures into some­thing art­ful. A lie by omis­sion may be a small one, but for a move­ment so vocal­ly con­cerned with where things come from, the pro­pri­etors of craft cul­ture often seem strange­ly unin­ter­est­ed in learn­ing or con­vey­ing the sto­ries of the peo­ple who first mas­tered those crafts.

(Via @robsterowski.)


Beer hall: German student society c.1897.

On a relat­ed note, Alan McLeod at A Bet­ter Beer Blog AKA A Good Beer Blog has been too pre­oc­cu­pied with the anx­i­ety-induc­ing glob­al polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion to write much about beer, until the two sub­jects came togeth­er in these notes on moments when fas­cism, com­mu­nism and racism col­lide with our favourite drink:

Ear­li­er this year, Hun­gary wit­nessed a bit of a polit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sy over the appear­ance of Heineken’s red star – which Hun­gar­i­an law con­sid­ers a total­i­tar­i­an sym­bol… In 2016, a brew­ery in Bavaria was accused of offer­ing a Nazi friend­ly lager named Grenz­za­un Halbe, or Bor­der Fence Half… Then there are the old boys who, you know, just say those sorts of things…


Closed sign on shop.

For the US mag­a­zine Draft Zach Fowle gives a sub­stan­tial treat­ment to a sub­ject we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly prod­ded at here on the blog: why exact­ly do brew­eries fold when they fold? It’s hard to get peo­ple to talk about this because it’s so raw, even humil­i­at­ing, but Fowle elicit­ed some great frank respons­es:

For us, it was real­ly a pro­duc­tion restraint. It’s sim­ple math. Over­head was too high for the amount of beer we could pro­duce in the space we had. There were all kinds of things that were always lim­it­ing: pump space, floor space, com­bined with the big cost of the space, the peo­ple we work with, and we were also a shared facil­i­ty host­ing sev­er­al oth­er brew­eries. That was some­thing we were real­ly pas­sion­ate about, but these brew­eries are tak­ing 20 per­cent of the space but not pay­ing 20 per­cent of the over­head. We were basi­cal­ly land­locked in a very expen­sive build­ing… I learned in this process that what­ev­er mon­ey you’re rais­ing, dou­ble it. Maybe triple it.


GBBF handpumps in action.

In the week fol­low­ing the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Great British Beer Fes­ti­val there has been, as ever, much debate about whether it works in its cur­rent form. Tan­dle­man, who works there as a vol­un­teer, says, broad­ly, ‘Yes’:

A great atmos­phere, beer qual­i­ty has nev­er been bet­ter, I met lots of peo­ple I knew on trade day and enjoyed talk­ing to them, our bar was excel­lent­ly staffed by old friends and new and I had a real­ly good time.  It is just as impor­tant to enjoy your­self as a vol­un­teer as it is as a cus­tomer. Us vol­un­teers would­n’t come back oth­er­wise and then, sim­ply, the show would­n’t go on.

But in a com­ment on that same post retired beer blog­ger John West (@jwestjourno) pro­vides a mea­sured and typ­i­cal­ly elo­quent counter-argu­ment, sug­gest­ing that GBBF is ‘under-curat­ed’. He ref­er­ence Ben­jamin Nunn who on his own blog, Ben Viveur, expressed his dis­ap­point­ment at the event:

Nor­mal­ly, I’d put that down to mid-life-cri­si­sism, post binge-drink­ing come­down and my gen­er­al­ly bleak out­look on life. But a few con­ver­sa­tions with oth­er atten­dees seem to con­firm a pret­ty wide­spread view that this real­ly was the most lack­lus­tre GBBF for some time… There are always a few folks (I hes­i­tate to gen­er­alise but very often old­er peo­ple from oth­er parts of the coun­try) who whinge about the GBBF pric­ing. This year they have a point…

(Dis­clo­sure: we got free entry to this year’s GBBF because we were sign­ing books and are fre­quent­ly paid to write for CAMRA.)


ILLUSTRATION: "Kill the Bill".

We feel no shame in includ­ing our own 4,000 word post on the rise of the lager lout in Britain in the 1980s, which we stu­pid­ly post­ed last night when every­one was in the pub:

In 1988 the British gov­ern­ment faced a now for­got­ten domes­tic cri­sis… Pre­vi­ous­ly placid towns, vil­lages and sub­urbs up and down the coun­try were sud­den­ly awash with mob vio­lence – the kind of thing peo­ple expect­ed in for­sak­en inner cities but which seemed new­ly ter­ri­fy­ing as it spread to provin­cial mar­ket squares and high streets… In Sep­tem­ber 1988 at an infor­mal press brief­ing John Pat­ten MP, Min­is­ter for Home Affairs, point­ed the fin­ger: the chaos was a result of ‘the Sat­ur­day night lager cult’ and ‘lager louts’.


And, final­ly, here’s an illu­mi­nat­ing nugget from Joe Stange:

Appy Meal

The carpet at the Imperial, Exeter.

We’d noticed Wetherspoon pubs pushing their order-at-your-table phone app but didn’t feel moved to download it until Bailey’s parents started raving.

They first used it in Exeter the oth­er week and rang us up to tell us about it, so excit­ed were they. Bai­ley’s Mum:

The bar was six deep and we were knack­ered and then we saw the thing on the table adver­tis­ing the app, so I down­loaded it. We ordered drinks and food and they arrived in min­utes, no queue! Bril­liant.

Then, dur­ing the house move, we end­ed up in Spoons with them a cou­ple of times, where they kept up the pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign. Bai­ley’s Dad seemed puz­zled as to why we’d keep putting our­selves through the mis­ery of queue­ing at the bar when such a won­der exist­ed.

And that’s a good ques­tion – what had stopped us?

For one thing, we had some eth­i­cal qualms – won’t this put bar staff out of work? Isn’t full self-ser­vice automa­tion the next stop? (Prob­a­bly not.) At-table order­ing via apps and touch­screens has been tak­ing off in US fast food chains in recent years (prob­a­bly where Mr Mar­tin got the idea, being a known McDon­ald’s wor­ship­per) and sim­i­lar debates have been under­way there, too.

More self­ish­ly, we had our doubts about how well it might work for fussy drinkers like us – would it make order­ing guest ales eas­i­er, pre­sent­ing them in a neat list with all the info, or sim­ply give the basic core drinks list?

I kept think­ing about all this, per­haps because I had some respon­si­bil­i­ty for procur­ing and main­tain­ing elec­tron­ic point of sale sys­tems (EPOS) in my last job, and so, on Wednes­day, I cracked and gave it a go.

My cho­sen test­ing ground was The Impe­r­i­al in Exeter, a beau­ti­ful build­ing so vast that (first hur­dle) the app kept warn­ing me I was 142 yards away from the pub when I was actu­al­ly sat at one end. The app down­loaded in sec­onds over the pub­’s own free wi-fi and was incred­i­bly easy to use – it was clear­ly test­ed thor­ough­ly on real peo­ple before roll out. For order­ing food, it worked bril­liant­ly. Being on my own, with work papers and lap­top, I loved the idea of being able to get served with­out the usu­al anx­ious glanc­ing back and forth from bar-staff to table, wor­ry­ing whether my stuff was about to get half-inched.

As sus­pect­ed, though, it fell down on drinks. The Impe­r­i­al has two bars each with dif­fer­ent ales and the app ought to be a way to show picky ale drinkers every­thing on offer in one neat list. As it is, I could only order the cross-chain stan­dards (Doom Bar, Abbot, Rud­dles) so I end­ed up hav­ing to do the anx­ious bar dash any­way.

And, unless I’m miss­ing some­thing, there’s no way to apply the CAMRA vouch­er dis­count. Prob­a­bly a deal break­er for many, but prob­a­bly also on the project plan­ner for a future ver­sion: e‑vouchers with a pin code, sav­ing on all that glossy paper, per­haps?

As I sat there, Bil­ly no mates, I pon­dered those eth­i­cal ques­tions and con­clud­ed that, frankly, if you’re in a Wether­spoon pub, you’ve already crossed the line – Spoon­s­land is a realm of pure cap­i­tal­ism, for bet­ter or worse. There’s also some­thing pleas­ing, not to say amus­ing, about the idea of Tim Mar­tin, arch Euro-scep­tic, qui­et­ly intro­duc­ing some­thing like Con­ti­nen­tal-style wait­er ser­vice to Eng­lish pubs.

Over­all, I was impressed, and can imag­ine using it for order­ing the chick­en wings to which I’m addict­ed, if not drinks. While that’s not quite the sci-fi future they promised us it’s pret­ty aston­ish­ing all the same.

Fur­ther read­ing: this arti­cle on the pros and cons of the app from the Inde­pen­dent, pub­lished back in March, is an inter­est­ing read that takes a bal­anced view.

The Young Ones

Wetherspoon's engraved glass "Est 1979".

Young people might not go to pubs but they certainly go to Wetherspoon’s.

A dis­cus­sion about this broke out in com­ments a few months ago. Our posi­tion then, as now, is that peo­ple should­n’t be too pes­simistic: the pub is too ingrained in our cul­ture to be aban­doned overnight, and peo­ple are often drawn to it as they get a lit­tle old­er. But we have been observ­ing with this ques­tion in mind and it’s true: ‘prop­er pubs’ (small­er, char­ac­ter­ful, brown, bor­der­ing on grub­by) do tend to be dom­i­nat­ed by peo­ple in their for­ties or old­er.

(Research for our forth­com­ing book sug­gests that it has always been that way, real­ly, despite repeat­ed efforts by brew­ers to make pubs appeal to younger drinkers who they feared los­ing to the cin­e­ma, cof­fee bars, burg­er restau­rants, dis­cos…)

The rea­sons for that seem obvi­ous to us. It’s part­ly a mat­ter of atmos­phere but more impor­tant­ly, we’re cer­tain, one of cost, with pints of even quite ordi­nary lager or ale cost­ing between £3.50-£5. Peo­ple on min­i­mum wage part-time jobs, liv­ing off stu­dent bud­gets, or even pock­et mon­ey, can’t afford to spend £15 before they even start to feel mild­ly mer­ry. A few weeks ago a young cou­ple (per­haps 19 or 20-years-old) sat next to us in the Farmer’s Arms and made a half of bit­ter each last an hour while they lis­tened to the band, rolled their own cig­a­rettes, and count­ed cop­pers for their bus fare home. It did­n’t look all that much fun.

But there is one kind of pub where we’ve noticed the clien­tele skew con­sis­tent­ly youth­ful and that’s the Wether­spoon’s chain. It’s odd, that, in some ways, because it does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly match the stereo­type of a ‘Spoons drinker, and there are cer­tain­ly plen­ty of old­er peo­ple there, too. But from what we’ve seen, and dredg­ing our own 20-year-old mem­o­ries, it does make sense.

Spoons is an easy place not to drink, for one thing. The younger drinkers we’ve noticed are often on hot choco­late, frothy cof­fee or pound­ing cans of ener­gy drink. A typ­i­cal par­ty, sat near us about a fort­night ago, between them had one pint of bit­ter, two of lager, a can of Mon­ster, and a pint of Coke. They were all eat­ing, too, treat­ing it almost like a din­er.

Which is anoth­er point in its favour. The menu is large, var­ied, and makes eat­ing out, at a table with cut­lery, acces­si­ble in towns like Pen­zance where oth­er­wise it’s a tourist-price ‘bistro’ or Domi­no’s piz­za with not much between. We’ve quite often seen groups of what must be sixth-form stu­dents hav­ing their tea togeth­er, per­haps pri­or to the cin­e­ma or some oth­er activ­i­ty.

It has room for the packs in which young peo­ple like to roam, too. Groups of six, eight, ten, with piles of rug­by kit, or gui­tars, or cos­tumes for a par­ty, rarely strug­gle to find three tables to line up in ban­quet­ing for­ma­tion.

And, being huge, it is rel­a­tive­ly anony­mous. They can shout, squeak, flirt and gen­er­al­ly mess about with­out actu­al­ly being the cen­tre of atten­tion, which they cer­tain­ly would be in most oth­er pubs in town. When Boak used to drink in the Wal­nut Tree in Ley­ton­stone in the mid-1990s this was the main rea­son – because it felt safe and mixed, because she and her friends could sit in a cor­ner and not be both­ered.

If you’re a young par­ent, south of 25, ‘Spoons also seems to work. It is big enough and suf­fi­cient­ly noisy that your kid’s shout­ing and cry­ing bare­ly reg­is­ters, and there’s plen­ty of room for push-chairs, colour­ing books and all the oth­er accou­trements.

The ques­tion is, does all this breed new pub-goers, or only new ‘Spoons-goers? And that’s part of a big­ger ques­tion about whether Wether­spoon pubs are real­ly pubs, or only some strange, pub-like fast food out­let. It must be heart­en­ing, sure­ly, that young peo­ple are out at all. If it was pure­ly about cost, they’d be at home or in the park drink­ing super­mar­ket beer which is cheap­er again but, no, there’s an irre­sistible pull towards a shared pub­lic space.

QUICK Q&A: Which Was the First Wetherspoon Pub in the Good Beer Guide?

Questions & Answers -- 1906 magazine header graphic.

A week or so ago David Martin asked: ‘Rumour has it that Wetherspoons Milton Keynes was the first JDW pub to get in the GBG. Any idea if this is fact?’

We pret­ty quick­ly estab­lished that this could­n’t be true – beer and pub peo­ple are ter­ri­ble for invent­ing and embell­ish­ing this kind of lore, unfor­tu­nate­ly. But we could­n’t rest until we’d answered the implied sup­ple­men­tary ques­tion: which was the first Wether­spoon’s pub to make it into CAM­RA’s annu­al Good Beer Guide?

There was no way to answer this oth­er than plough­ing through old copies with a list of ear­ly Wether­spoon pub names at hand. That, in itself, is hard­er to come by than you might think: there’s no offi­cial mas­ter-list with dates and many are no longer owned by JDW.

But we think we’ve got there, thanks in part, once again, to the won­der­ful pubology.co.uk. The first Wether­spoon pub in the GBG was, we can say with some cer­tain­ty, Dick­’s Bar at 61 Tot­ten­ham Lane, Lon­don N8, which made the edi­tion for 1983.

We can be sure because in 1982 when this vol­ume of the GBG was com­piled there were only three Wether­spoon pubs: the orig­i­nal Marler’s/Martin’s/Wetherspoon in Crouch End (1979); this one, Dick­’s Bar (1981); and J.J. Moons on Land­seer Road, Hol­loway (1982). This is from Novem­ber 1982, about when the GBG for 1983 would have been wrap­ping up to go to print ready for a launch in Feb­ru­ary:

Advert from the London Drinker, 1982.
SOURCE: The Lon­don Drinker, Novem­ber 1982, via West Mid­dle­sex CAMRA.

So, that was a lot of work for a whole heap of Who Cares? but at least that itch is scratched. It’s inter­est­ing, we sup­pose, that it hap­pened this ear­ly.

Oblig­a­tory pre-emp­tive plug: there’s a chap­ter giv­en over to the his­to­ry of the J.D. Wether­spoon chain and the rise of the super­pub in our forth­com­ing book 20th Cen­tu­ry pub: from beer­house to booze bunker. Watch this space and all that.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 25 February 2017: Babylon, Oldham, Cologne

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer- and pub-writing in the last week, from memories of a glamorous landlady to, yet again, the question of sexism in beer.

It’s true: when any archive releas­es a new batch of dig­i­tal con­tent, pub­lic domain or oth­er­wise, it is a beer blog­ger’s duty to search that col­lec­tion for ‘BEER’. That’s how Alan Mcleod came across a Bably­lon­ian cuneiform tablet from the 1st Mil­le­ni­um BC con­tain­ing infor­ma­tion on beer:

How is it that I can read a Mesopotami­an clay tablet and pret­ty much imme­di­ate­ly under­stand what is going on? If it was about reli­gion, gov­er­nance or astron­o­my I wouldn’t have a clue. But beer and brew­ing are not strange. They are, in a very mean­ing­ful way, con­stant. You can see that if we go back to col­umn 2 where you see words for 1:1 beer, 2:1 beer, 3:1 beer and even triple beer. The ratio is the rela­tion­ship of grain input to beer out­put.


Public Bar etched on a Manchester pub window.

For the Guardian Rachel Rod­dy uses a recipe for cheese and onion pie as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rem­i­nisce about a child­hood spent in and around an Old­ham pub:

A good slice of my child­hood was spent at my granny’s pub, The Gar­den­ers Arms: a large, red-brick Robinson’s pub at the bot­tom of Durham street… I remem­ber her both in her house­coat buff­ing the brass tables and flush­ing out the pipes – good bit­ter comes from a clean cel­lar and clean pipes – then, lat­er, when reg­u­lars had tak­en their place, com­ing down the stairs ready for the night. ‘You look a mil­lion dol­lars Al,’ my grand­pa Ger­ry would say, Bob Seger curl­ing out of the juke box in agree­ment: ‘She was look­ing so right, in her dia­monds and frills…’

(Via @phil55494)


Fuller's Vintage Ale 2016.

Mar­tyn Cor­nell wants to know where the hell all the 2016 Fuller’s Vin­tage Ale has gone:

Fuller’s is being tight-lipped about why the 2016 is now impos­si­ble to find: there are rumours that some­thing went ter­ri­bly wrong with the pack­ag­ing, but no one seems will­ing to say. It’s a great pity, because the 20th iter­a­tion of Vin­tage Ale since it was first brewed in 1997, is a love­ly, love­ly beer, already, at approach­ing a year old, deep and remark­able.


Shipping container: KOLN.

Barm has been in Cologne and paints a won­der­ful­ly evoca­tive pic­ture of a busy ses­sion at a pub with a cult rep­u­ta­tion:

When we arrive at 1620 there are already 60 peo­ple wait­ing for the pub to open at 1630. By the time the doors open the crowd has swollen to 80 or more. Thir­ty sec­onds after the doors open, every seat inside is tak­en… Because there is no choice, the beer pours con­stant­ly, nev­er becom­ing flat or warm. One wait­er is ded­i­cat­ed to pour­ing beer. Clack-clack-clack go the small glass­es as he rotates the round tray under­neath the tap.


An example of the iceman pour.

We’ve been ignor­ing the so-called ‘Ice­man Pour’ – a weird trend among a small group of drinkers on social media that has some beer folk growl­ing with irri­ta­tion – but we could­n’t resist Richard Tay­lor’s attempt to explain its ori­gins and appeal:

Users like theiceman13 and benhur345 love noth­ing more than run­ning out of room in their glass­ware, push­ing the lim­its of flu­id dynam­ics by leav­ing a gen­tly con­vex beer sur­face cling­ing to the tops of their Tekus. The rest of us look on in bemused won­der think­ing that in our day some­thing hand­ed over like that would result in a trip back to the bar for it to be be-frothed once again. Although when the menis­cus is wob­bling like a week-old jel­ly it takes some skill to take the glass any­where with­out it drib­bling down the sides. As I dis­cov­ered for myself.

After all, if in 50 years time we’re all drink­ing our beer this way, Richard’s blog post might end up being an impor­tant his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment.


Wetherspoons sign: All Ales £1.69.

If you’ve been try­ing to find an excuse to wrig­gle out of boy­cotting Wether­spoon pubs over CEO Tim Mar­t­in’s vocal sup­port for Brex­it Hen­ry Jef­frey’s has you cov­ered in an arti­cle for The Spec­ta­tor:

This seemed to me the def­i­n­i­tion of cut­ting your nose off to spite your face; imag­ine turn­ing down cheap beer because of the EU! But it also dis­rupts one of the fun­da­men­tals of a lib­er­al soci­ety: that you do busi­ness even with those whom you dis­agree. Voltaire mar­velled at this con­cept on his vis­it to the Lon­don Stock Exchange: ‘Here Jew, Mohammedan and Chris­t­ian deal with each oth­er as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infi­del to peo­ple who go bank­rupt.’


There’s been a fresh flur­ry of arti­cles about sex­ism in beer late­ly but John Holl, edi­tor All About Beer, is doing more than mere­ly talk about the issue:

We will not be qui­et about this impor­tant issue. We want to do our part so that the next gen­er­a­tion of beer drinkers can focus on the fun, the fla­vor­ful and the future. Beers that demean women or pro­mote rape cul­ture will not be reviewed or pro­mot­ed in this mag­a­zine or on AllAboutBeer.com.

A lot of angry com­ments fol­low the arti­cle – ‘Take this left­ist PC garbage and shove it.’ – and it is pos­si­ble All About Beer will lose some read­ers and sub­scribers over this. But maybe it’ll gain some too.

(DISCLOSURE: We are occa­sion­al­ly paid to write for AAB.)


Green Bottles Standing on a Wall

Not hap­py about UK craft brew­eries switch­ing over from 500ml pack­ag­ing to 330ml? It’s only going to get worse, said Ed. And then, as if on cue, Weird Beard made an announce­ment


And, final­ly, here’s an inter­est­ing nugget of news: