The Black Cat, Weston-super-Mare: micropub or craft beer bar?

We’d be wanting to visit The Black Cat, Weston’s year-old micropub, for ages and then, with the promise of glorious sun the weekend before last, a trip to the seaside became irresistible.

Even as we approached The Black Cat, we got a sense of what it was about: quirky, some­where between hip and Goth­ic.

Inside, the first thing that struck us was the mid­night vibe: indi­go walls, black porce­lain cats, and a mur­al that seemed to hint at The Rat & Raven.

Then we noticed the craft beer bar trap­pings: tealights, posh pick­led eggs, £2‑a-bag crisps, a com­pli­cat­ed menu of beers in dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories, bare wood and bare brick – well, sort of: it was actu­al­ly, odd­ly, brick-pat­terned wall­pa­per.

Outside the Black Cat.

This strange hybrid is a thing we’ve seen a few times, now, in towns appar­ent­ly not quite big enough or hip enough to sup­port both a microp­ub (real ale, con­ser­vatism) and a craft beer bar (keg beer, trend-chas­ing). Son­der in Truro springs to mind as anoth­er exam­ple.

It sounds a bit chaot­ic but we imme­di­ate­ly felt quite at home, as appar­ent­ly did the cus­tomers: a hand­ful of old­er men grum­bling about foot­ball and a young cou­ple with see-through frames on their specs grum­bling, in plum­mi­er voic­es, about the dif­fi­cul­ty of mak­ing a career in The Arts.

Details from the Black Cat.

We strug­gled, in truth, to land on a beer that we real­ly loved, which hap­pens some­times in pubs with rotat­ing beer ranges. But­combe Under­fall Lager (think Cam­den Hells) was very wel­come giv­en the heat, though, and Wylam Gala­tia (a 3.9% pale ale) was cer­tain­ly good enough to war­rant a ‘same again’.

The main sell­ing point was the atmos­phere and the chap behind the bar, Rich, who could not have done any more to make us feel wel­come, help us nav­i­gate the menu, or accom­mo­date off-menu requests for (a) cups of tea; (b) instant cof­fee; © a sur­face on which to play cards.

Ray’s dad, who is fussy about pubs, left with a loy­al­ty card in his pock­et and plans to come back.

It’s not the kind of pub we want to drink in every time but it’s cer­tain­ly a good addi­tion to West­on’s beer cul­ture.

News, nuggets and longreads 24 August 2019: Greene King, Kveik, Wellington Boots

Here’s everything on beer and pubs from the past seven days that struck us as especially noteworthy, from Suffolk to Thailand.

The big news of the week – or is it? – is the takeover of Eng­lish region­al brew­ing behe­moth Greene King. Roger Protz, who has been writ­ing about brew­ery takeovers for half a cen­tu­ry, offers com­men­tary here:

In every respect, this is a far more wor­ry­ing sale [then Fuller’s to Asahi]. Asahi will con­tin­ue to make beer at the Fuller’s site in Chiswick, West Lon­don. It’s a com­pa­ny with a long his­to­ry of brew­ing. CK Asset on the oth­er hand has no expe­ri­ence of brew­ing and its main – if not sole – rea­son for buy­ing Greene King will be the own­er­ship of a mas­sive tied estate of 2,700 pubs, restau­rants and hotels. The Hong Kong com­pa­ny, which is reg­is­tered in the Cay­man Islands, is owned by Li Ka-Shing, one of the world’s rich­est men. He has a war chest of HK$60 bil­lion to buy up prop­er­ties and com­pa­nies through­out the world.

This did­n’t make quite the splash the Fuller’s sale did for var­i­ous rea­sons: it was­n’t a brew­ery-to-brew­ery sale, for one thing, so is hard­er to parse; and Greene King is far less fond­ly regard­ed by beer geeks than Fuller’s.

We’re anx­ious about it not because we espe­cial­ly love Greene King but because it’s poten­tial­ly yet anoth­er sup­port­ing post knocked out from under British beer and pub cul­ture. See here for more thoughts on that.


Mystery yeast.

Lars Mar­ius Garshol has been try­ing to get to grips with a mys­tery: is the yeast strain White Labs sell as Kveik real­ly Kveik? If not, what is it?

If this yeast was not the ances­tral Muri farm yeast, what was it doing in Bjarne Muri’s apart­ment? It very clear­ly is not a wild yeast, but a mix of two domes­ti­cat­ed yeasts. It does­n’t seem very plau­si­ble that the air in Oslo is full of those. On the oth­er hand it does­n’t seem at all plau­si­ble that this was the ances­tral Muri yeast… Two things seem clear: this is a domes­ti­cat­ed fer­men­ta­tion yeast, and it’s prob­a­bly not the ances­tral Muri yeast. The lat­ter sim­ply because it does­n’t seem well suit­ed for that par­tic­u­lar brew­ing envi­ron­ment.


A tea room.
Lyons Cor­ner House, 1942. SOURCE: HM Government/Wikimedia Com­mons.

Not about pubs, but adja­cent: Thomas Hard­ing has writ­ten an account of the his­to­ry of his fam­i­ly’s busi­ness, J. Lyons & Co, which is reviewed in the Guardian by Kathryn Hugh­es. We became fas­ci­nat­ed by Lyons while research­ing 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, because of this kind of thing:

From the 1920s you could pop into a Lyons tea shop to be served by a “nip­py”, a light-foot­ed wait­ress got up like a par­lour­maid. If you were a work­ing girl of the newest and nicest vari­ety – a sec­re­tary, teacher or shop assis­tant – you could eat an express lunch on your own in a Lyons with­out risk­ing your respectabil­i­ty. If you were feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly smart, you could go up to “town” and stay in the art deco-ish Strand Palace or Regent’s Palace hotels, ver­nac­u­lar ver­sions of elite insti­tu­tions such as Claridge’s or The Savoy. In the evening you might ven­ture out to the “Troc”, or Tro­cadero, in your best togs, where you could enjoy a fan­cy din­ner and dance to a jazz band.


Wellies
SOURCE: Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

Mark John­son has writ­ten an account of a week­end spent at Thorn­bridge Brew­ery’s Peak­ender fes­ti­val with a typ­i­cal dash of acid:

I just can’t under­stand any­body being dis­grun­tled about a lit­tle mud. We have worn our wellies on our last two vis­its to Peak­ender and not need­ed them. We wore them in 2019 because, guess what, it is still a fes­ti­val and this time we hap­pened to need them. Wad­ing through the show­ground site for two days was not an issue to us at all. Maybe it is because of where we live, I don’t know, but when I see peo­ple mut­ter­ing to them­selves about the state of the ground, whilst try­ing to make it to the toi­let wear­ing FLIP FLOPS… heav­en for­bid… I don’t know…


Buffy's Bitter.

Paul Bai­ley (no rela­tion) has some inter­est­ing notes on the demise of Buffy’s Brew­ery (one we’d nev­er heard of) and the prob­lem with ‘badge brew­ing’:

The clo­sure was blamed on there being too many brew­eries in Nor­folk, and with over 40 of them all com­pet­ing for a slice of a dimin­ish­ing mar­ket, some­thing had to give. Like many indus­try observers, I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised to learn that Buffy’s had gone to the wall, but Roger Abra­hams, who found­ed the brew­ery, along with Julia Savory, claimed that the micro-brew­ing sec­tor was close to sat­u­ra­tion point, and that com­pe­ti­tion between brew­ers “had become very aggres­sive.”


We don’t know any­thing what­so­ev­er about brew­ing in Thai­land but it turns out to be a com­plex busi­ness, accord­ing to this arti­cle from the Bangkok Post:

No one but the ultra rich are allowed to brew beer for sale in Thai­land. The law is as unjust and out­ra­geous as that. And no law­mak­er has suf­fered the bit­ter taste of inequal­i­ty in the brew­ing indus­try quite like Future For­ward Par­ty MP Taopiphop Limjit­trako­rn, who in Jan­u­ary 2017 was arrest­ed for brew­ing and sell­ing his own craft beer… On Wednes­day, Mr Taopiphop, 30, took Deputy Finance Min­is­ter San­ti Prompat to task over his min­istry’s reg­u­la­tion that stops brew­ing start-ups from exploit­ing the grow­ing thirst for new flavours.


Final­ly, much to the amuse­ment of British com­men­ta­tors, Amer­i­can pop super­star Tay­lor Swift has been writ­ing about Lon­don, includ­ing a pass­ing men­tion for pubs:

 

There are more links from Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day most weeks and from Alan McLeod on Thurs­day.

Everything we wrote in June 2019

Despite a ten-day holiday at the start of the month we managed to write a little more in June than in May. Or, rather, to find time to type up some of the things we’ve got on the big list of stuff to blog about.

We start­ed the month with a reflec­tion on the unwrit­ten rules of round-buy­ing which seemed to sneak out­side of the bub­ble and got shared by a few peo­ple who aren’t beer geeks but are, pre­sum­ably, inter­est­ed in how Britain works.


Next, Ray went solo with some thoughts on The Win­ches­ter, the pub from the 2004 zom­bie com­e­dy Shaun of the Dead:

It has an added res­o­nance for me in that, for sev­er­al years in my own flat-shar­ing twen­ties, I lived around the cor­ner from The Win­ches­ter… And, to be clear, I don’t mean that I lived near a pub that was like The Win­ches­ter: the actu­al pub you actu­al­ly see in the actu­al film was about four min­utes walk from my house in New Cross, South Lon­don.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Every­thing we wrote in June 2019”

News, nuggets and longreads 18 May 2019: ratings, lager, and lager ratings

Here’s everything that struck as particularly interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from Carlsberg to Cambridge.

First, some news: those Red­church rum­blings from the oth­er week are now con­firmed – the brew­ery went into admin­is­tra­tion and is now under new own­er­ship. This has prompt­ed an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about crowd­fund­ing:


More news: it’s intrigu­ing to hear that Curi­ous is expand­ing. It’s a brew­ery you don’t hear talked about much by geeks like us – in fact, we’re not sure we’ve ever tried the beer – but it does turn up in a sur­pris­ing num­ber of pubs and restau­rants.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 18 May 2019: rat­ings, lager, and lager rat­ings”

The Best Beer Writing of 2018, Sez Us

Beer magazines are in trouble and the Session is dead but, still, most weekends for the past year we’ve found between five and fifteen interesting things worth linking to.

From per­son­al reflec­tions to his­tor­i­cal analy­sis, from por­traits of pubs to pro­files of peo­ple, the depth, breadth and qual­i­ty of beer writ­ing only seems to increase.

The fol­low­ing list is our per­son­al selec­tion of the very best, with a bias towards ‘prop­er’ blogs over paid out­lets, and also towards voic­es we think deserve a sig­nal boost.

We’ve omit­ted some great stuff that rather lost its pow­er when it ceased to be top­i­cal, and there are some blogs which are best approached as bod­ies of work rather than through indi­vid­ual posts, so this is by no means every­thing we liked in the past year.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Best Beer Writ­ing of 2018, Sez Us”