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; (c) 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”