Will you buy us a drink if we tell you?

There’s a famous photo of the Fitzroy Tavern in London which is full of lovely details, including a sign that reads ‘WYBMADIITY’.

We got to know this photo quite well because for many years, it was blown up across one wall of the Fitzroy itself – very meta, a pub whose theme was its own history.

It was taken by Margaret Bourke-White in 1939 and you can see a nice high resolution version via Google’s Arts & Culture portal.

For years, we tried to work out what WYBMADIITY stood for, in the days before everyone had Google on their phones. We got as far as ‘Will you buy me a drink if I _____ you?’

What ITMA, Max Miller, Round the Horne naughtiness might that missing word suggest?

Then we left London, the pub got refurbished, and we forgot about this unresolved mystery.

It popped back into our heads as we read Eoghan Walsh’s piece about a Belgian café preserved as art, with its overwhelming collection of tat. The WYBMADIITY sign would fit right in.

And, of course, having let our brains stew on it for a decade or so, we immediately realised what it stood for: ‘Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?’

At this point, we also got the joke.

Imagine one dozy punter after another seeing that curious sign.

“I say, what does WYBMADIITY stand for?”

“Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?”

“Well, OK – what’ll you have?”

It was apparently a stock, standard gag in British pubs, American bars, Australia, South Africa… everywhere – and of a similar ripeness to ‘Please do not ask for credit because a smack in the mouth often offends’.

Another variant was apparently the more specific ‘Will you buy me a double if I tell you?’

One newspaper article from the 1940s connects it with the craze for acronyms such as SWALK (‘sealed with a loving kiss’) on correspondence between servicemen and their sweethearts but the earliest reference we can find is in a London restaurant review from 1935.

Which brings us to our blogging challenge for November 2020, or, rather, blogging challenges.

First, what’s something about beer or pubs that’s always puzzled you?

Now’s the time to find out, and write a quick blog post or Twitter thread sharing your newfound knowledge. Let us know and we’ll do our best to share whatever you write.

Or ask us and we’ll do it – we like answering questions.

Secondly, we’re going to dig deep into the world of pub tat. We’ve already explored pump clips, beer mats, coin stacks and bell pushes, but what about all that crap gathering dust on the back bar and useless shelves? The stuff that gives a pub texture.

What springs to mind when you think of pub tat, cheap gags and advertising junk?


News, nuggets and longreads 19 September 2020: aerosols, Anspach & Hobday, Out and About

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the past week, from unmalted grain to boozers on film.

First, something about the Dreaded Plague that helps understand exactly why we need to be clear-headed about pub-going, and especially sitting indoors surrounded by others. In this piece, Dana G. Smith summarises what we know about how the virus is transmitted, several months in. Good news: you probably don’t need to be terrified by passing close to someone in the street, or disinfect your bananas. Bad news:

Being outdoors is the ultimate ventilation, and for months public health officials have recommended that people socialize outside rather than in. However, with winter and colder temperatures coming, indoor air filtration and adherence to masks will become even more important… “The important thing on the public side is air handling, reducing the number of people in enclosed indoor spaces, and wearing a mask,” says Bhadelia. “[Aerosol transmission] explains why indoor settings are so much more important and contribute so much more to new infections than outdoor settings do.”

Related: there’s been a change in the rules around contact tracing that we missed and, it seems, many pubs may have also have overlooked. Venues now need to take details for every individual in a party, not just one contact per group.

Anspach and Hobday

It’s always a good week when there’s new Will Hawkes to read and this time, we got two pieces together:

  1. A profile of London brewery Anspach & Hobday for Pellicle which made us think we ought to give them another look, having filed them away as fine based on previous experiences.
  2. Notes on the persistence of cask ale in pubs in South East London and Kent at a time when you might expect them to be quietly dropped.

Barley & Malt.

Apparently having run out of other people to fact-check, Martyn Cornell has turned inward, questioning a claim he has made himself:

It’s an excellent idea for a historian never to make a claim that cannot be backed up with actual evidence. In particular, it’s a terrible crime to assume, without verifying. Forgive me, therefore, Clio, muse of history, I have sinned: for many years I have been asserting that British brewers were banned from using unmalted grain when Parliament introduced a malt tax in 1697 to fund William III’s wars against the French. Alas: when I finally got round to doing what I should have done at the start, checking the actual statute, there was no such clause.

Out and about logo.

Burum Collective continues to do great work giving a platform to fresh voices, this week sharing an interview with Heather and Michael who run Out and About, a non-profit in Sheffield dedicated to making beer more friendly and inclusive LGBTQIA+ people:

Michael: We realised that we weren’t really getting anywhere by just going to the same places that we already knew like places that were already inviting and friendly. So we have to get start going to different pubs and make sure that there’s not just four pubs in Sheffield that you can go to if you’re queer.

Heather: I wouldn’t put somewhere on that list that neither of us had been to or had no experience with because I wouldn’t want to take the risk and have people going to an event there. If something did happen, it would be on our backs. But even by getting to different parts of the city and stuff and having the pubs that might be a risk seeing what we’re doing in other pubs… it might help perpetuate a culture.

Michael: What we’re really keen to do at some point is have a bar at Pride in Sheffield, that serves proper beer, not just corporate lager and Guinness.

An industrial brewery.

Here’s an amusing snippet from Barm/@robsterowski, adding to the evidence for the argument that the craft v. industrial argument has been going on in beer since long before CAMRA turned up:

The steam-powered breweries increase constantly in number and it seems they shall quite soon squeeze out the other breweries, or force them into imitating them. As in so many other [trades], the machine seems to make manual labour almost redundant in the brewery. The question must be asked: which beer is preferable, that produced by steam or by hand? Experienced beer conners prefer the latter.

Beer cans in a supermarket.

Jeff Alworth has been thinking about the language used to market beer and reached an interesting if unsurprising conclusion: the names breweries give to beers matter, and people are drawn to ‘cool’ words more than dorkily technical terminology. For example, even ‘hoppy’ may be a turn-off:

Very simple terms like “ale” and “lager” exist at the outer edges of most drinkers’ knowledge. Hop and malt varieties, unusual style names, foreign beer terms—most of these fly over the aver drinker’s head. Ingredients and process, used routinely on labels, are murky even among avid drinkers. Beer is incredibly complex. Hops offer bitterness—but so does roast malt. They are fruity, sweet, and aromatic, but so are fermentation compounds, and sometimes malt, too. Put “hoppy” on a label and you invite confusion. The result, of course, is that the beer doesn’t sell. Some adventurers seek the unknown, but most drinkers will opt for something familiar.

And finally, from Twitter, a quick run through the portrayal of pubs on film – a favourite topic of ours.

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


Everything we wrote in August 2020

This was a relatively light month for us because we treated ourselves to a week off when we visited London. We managed a few interesting bits, though.

We started the month with some first-hand observations of the malice-free but frustrating resistance to following the simple rules laid down by pubs trying to comply with COVID-19 distancing. This prompted a bit of subtweeting here and there from people who hadn’t seen any such worrying behaviour – your mileage may vary, and so on.

In London, we saw a whole range of systems in operation, some more successful than others, and generally managed to have a pretty nice time visiting different bars around Stratford and Hackney over the course of week.

As the Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme kicked in, we fretted about how it might make things worse for wet-led pubs already struggling with decreased business. As it happened, we had chance to talk about this with a publican who confirmed that trade dropped off for them in August.

Ray read Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes and was delighted to find, amid the Gothic castles and murder, a portrait of a rural Scottish pub where the temperance battle is played out.

Nosing around in the British Newspaper Archive we found mention of a German-style Bier Keller in Coventry which, as we tugged the thread, led us to reflect on another time when people and staff were nervous to go to the pub – the mid-1970s when the IRA was running an active bombing campaign in England.

Yesterday morning, we asked for your help identifying a pub in a brilliant archive film from 1955.

And finally, this morning, we had some thoughts about the advantages of ordering by app in bars with extensive beer lists.

There were five editions of our regular Saturday news round-ups with plenty of good stuff, including from some sources new to us:

Patreon subscribers got some bonus bits, too including thoughts on the difficulty of telling it like it is; some beers of the weekend notes; pub life observations; an audio reading by Ray of a piece from last year; and a brief comment on the tell-tale Bacchus which gives away a former pub.

We put out a 1,000+ word newsletter with thoughts on London pubs and news on what’s been keeping us busy beyond beer. Sign up for next month’s here.

And there were bunch of Tweets like this photo of a pub door on a hot day.



Everything we wrote in May 2020

Another funny old month. Busy at work, distracted by distractions, but still drifting back to our keyboards to type up the conversations we have over pints in imaginary pubs.

This month, a lot of our energy went into a single post – 2,000+ words for #BeeryLongReads2020 on Usher’s of Trowbridge:

Usher’s is a brewery and brand that had all but disappeared from the market by the time we started paying serious attention to beer. It’s not one you hear people swooning over, either, unlike, say, Boddington’s or Brakspear… What caught our eye was the lingering signs – literally speaking – of its once vast West Country empire. Wherever we went, from Salisbury to Newlyn, we’d spot the distinctive shield on the exterior of pubs, or see the name on faded signs.

We rounded up all the other entries here.

We also joined in with Al Reece’s revival of The Session with notes on how we were handling what was then a much stricter lockdown:

At first, it seemed some version of normality might be possible. The Drapers Arms was open, sort of, selling takeaway beer, and we could still ‘pop in’ to Bottles & Books, our local craft beer shop. (Remember popping into places?)

You can read Al’s round-up of the other entries here.

After a prompt in our email inbox, we got curious about whether any historic recipes for Bass might be in the public domain:

We know it has an ABV of 4.4%. According to this commercial wholesaler’s catalogue, it uses Golding, Fuggles, Progress, Challenger, Styrian Golding, Hercules and Admiral hops – can we assume this information came from the brewery? And from drinking it, we know it’s, well, brown – somewhere around 10 SRM according to analyses by home-brewers.

This prompted Ron Pattinson to share more details from his collection of Bass specifications.


Jess wrote a piece that’s been brewing for a while. There’s something about the way she and other knitters manage their stashes of wool that has echoes of how people think about beer:

…specifically that sense of not wanting to knit/drink what you have, because it’s either not exactly what you want, or because it’s too precious to use up… Yarn, like beer, might be a limited edition – you may never be able to get that exact same colour/recipe again.

The Samuel Whitbread
The Samuel Whitbread as pictured in a 1960s architectural magazine – we’ve lost our notes on exactly which issue, though.

In 1963, Egon Ronay published his first guide to English pubs, covering London and the South East. It’s a fascinating historical document, for many reasons:

It’s taken us a little while to pick up a copy of this book, having encountered later editions, grubby and broken-spined, on the bookshelves of pubs. We suppose most copies were thrown away in around 1967, or were left in the glove-boxes of cars sent to the scrapheap.

As the month wound-up, we reflected again on our ways of coping with lockdown, specifically the absence of pubs. Our solution involves a kind of self-hypnosis, and lashings of Jarl:

A clean glass, a rush slowing to a trickle, and 40 seconds or so later, there we had it: a perfect, pub-like, sunshine yellow pint of one of the best beers in the world… Over the course of the weekend, as we got through both mini-kegs, we never stopped saying ‘Wow!’ That prompted us to ask ourselves the tough questions: which is better – Jarl, or Thornbridge Jaipur? On this evidence, Jarl, being both more delicate and less lethal.

And, uh, just now, Jess posted a piece on pub cricket, a game she played with her family on long car journeys as a child.

We also put together our usual Saturday morning round-ups of news, nuggets and longreads:

On Twitter, we shared a lot of stuff like this, our most popular Tweet of the month:

We also put together 1,000+ words of fresh stuff for our newslettersign up here!

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Brooke Clear Kennett and other delights in 1830s London

The novelist and historian Walter Besant’s 1888 book Fifty Years Ago is an attempt to record the details of life in England in the 1830s, including pubs and beer.

Of course this doesn’t count as a primary source, even if 1888 is closer to 1838 than 2020. Besant was himself born in 1836 and the book seems laced with rosy nostalgia – a counterpoint, at least, to contemporary sources whose detail is distorted by temperance mania.

Still, there are lots of interesting details, and lines of research that beg to be chased down. Take this note on beer styles for starters:

Beer, of course, was the principal beverage, and there were many more varieties of beer than at present prevail. One reads of ‘Brook clear Kennett’— it used to be sold in a house near the Oxford Street end of Tottenham Court Road; of Shropshire ale, described as ‘dark and heavy’; of the ‘luscious Burton, innocent of hops’- of new ale, old ale, bitter ale, hard ale, soft ale, the ‘balmy’ Scotch, mellow October, and good brown stout. All these were to be obtained at taverns which made a specialité, as they would say now, of any one kind. Thus the best stout in London was to be had at the Brace Tavern in the Queen’s Bench Prison, and the Cock was also famous for the same beverage, served in pint glasses. A rival of the Cock, in this respect, was the Rainbow, long before the present handsome room was built.

It doesn’t take much digging to find Besant’s source for this passage which was a guide to London nightlife published in the 1820s. The original contains this wonderful line which recalls Michael Hardman’s description of drinking bitter in the 1970s: “[In] many of the inland counties, the good folks like a hard, severe, cut-throat beverage”.

But what was Kennett Ale?

Our immediate thought, being based in the West Country, was that there must be some connection with the Kennett and Avon Canal.

And, sure enough, here’s the entry from an 1835 topographical dictionary for the Wiltshire village from which the canal takes its name…

This place, in Domesday book called ‘Chenete,’ was anciently a distinct parish, and was held by the church of St. Mary at Winchester. The village, which is pleasantly situated on the road to Bath, is noted for the celebrated Kennett ale, which is brewed only at this place, not from the water of the river Kennett, as is generally supposed, but from a fine limpid spring on the premises, which is soft to the taste, and slightly impregnated with magnesia. This ale first came into repute in 1789, and many thousand barrels of it are sent annually to London and to all parts of the country.

Looking in the newspaper archives, we find a reference from 1848 to “The Crown Tavern, and noted Kennett Ale house” at Pentonville, which suggests that there were indeed multiple pubs in London famous for serving this particular country brew. (Morning Advertiser, 14 June.)

In fact, The Crown even inspired a ballad, quoted in an article in 1874 but described as being from the 18th century:

Will you travel with your Bill
To the Crown at Pentonville,
Bonnet-builder, O!
Where the cove sells Kennett ale,
Which, like you, looks very pale,
I like it best when stale,
Bonnet-builder, O!

From 1845, there are also adverts for ‘Allsop’s & Butler’s Kennett Ale in find condition’ – had it, by this point, become what we’d now call a beer style, divorced from its geographic roots, being brewed in the Midlands? Butler’s, which we assumed is the same brewery that later became part of Mitchells & Butlers, was still producing a Kennett as late as 1868.

The recipe

Right, let’s keep pulling this thread – can we find more detail of what Kennett Ale might have tasted like, or what made it distinctive other than the source water?

Well, here’s what purports to be a recipe, from 1853:

Take 1 quarter of good amber malt and 8 lbs. of brown hops. Three liquors to make two boilings. First boil for ½ an hour— second ¾ of an hour. Use in the first wort in the copper when boiling 1½ oz. of coriander seeds and ½ an oz. of chillies. First mash set at 170°, with a barrel and a half of liquor: the second at 182°, with the same quantity of liquor; the third at 156°, with 2 barrels of liquor. Set it to work at 64°, and cleanse it at 74° with a good head; this will make rather more than 2 barrels. This much resembles Burton ale, but is not so strong.

Coriander and chillies!? Now, let’s take this with a pinch of salt (figuratively speaking – we don’t want to make this recipe any more complicated) because these home recipe books are often a bit peculiar, being based on guesswork more than insight.

Let’s assume, though, that the author of this recipe was trying to capture a certain spiciness that the beer seemed to have.

The most useful nugget, in fact, is that bit at the end which gives us a sense of how Kennett might have fit into the scheme of things, being rich and sweet but not overwhelmingly boozy.

From Reading to Ohio

There’s more to the thread yet: the above recipe is actually billed as ‘Kennett/Reading Ale’. What’s the story there?

And then there’s the Cleveland connection:

“The beer style originated in the Kennett/Reading area in England and came over here with some immigrant brewers,” [brewer Andy] Tveekrem said. “It was brewed by a few local breweries in the Cleveland area but I have yet to find anything on it being brewed elsewhere in the U.S. … although I haven’t really tried too hard.”

Before we keep pulling and digging, do let us know what you know about Kennett or Reading Ale in the comments below.