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The William the Fourth, Staple Hill. Here’s a thing: the perfect Bristol pint doesn’t have foam. It comes up to the very brim, and the merest  hint of scum might draw a tut.

At least that’s what we’ve been told by several different people on several different occasions that this is the case, and that Bristol historically likes its pints ‘flat’.

Flat Bass is how they served it largely in Bristol.
Lovely pint 30 + years ago.

— Glen Young (@GlenYoungBRFC) July 11, 2018

A few months ago we had to negotiate heads on our beers with a member of staff in a pub more often frequented by elderly men who angled the glass and trickled the last inches with great care: “Look, I agree with you, but I’ve been working here for a while and this lot have got me trained to serve it flat.”

At which point, an interruption from a grey-hair with a sad-looking decapitated pint: “Yeah, proper Bristol style, we’re not up north now.”

To Jess, this idea doesn’t seem so alien: she recalls a general preference for completely headless pints in East London before about, say, 2005.

There, it often seemed to be tied to the question of value, and a refusal to be at all influenced by the superficial: foam’s a marketing trick to make mug punters pay for air, innit?

In Bristol, we wonder if it’s a combination of that, plus the influence of scrumpy cider drinkers, whose pints are froth-free by default.

But we can’t say that in practice we’ve encountered many flat pints in Bristol, though, and one of the few handy sources, Fred Pearce’s 1975 guide to the pubs of Bristol, features plenty of shots of white-capped glasses.

Maybe we’re having our legs pulled, or perhaps this is more complex than we’ve realised  – maybe only certain brands or styles get the millpond treatment – but either way, it would be a bit sad if a genuine bit of local beer culture has been lost.

Even if it’s good news for us as drinkers who very much prefer a bit of dressing around the top of the mug.

As you might have guessed, this is really our way of flushing out more information. Do comment below if you can tell us more.

Bristol, Where Headless Pints are a Feature, not a Bug originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog

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You can’t have cops without robbers, or Batman without the Joker, and so the story of the revitalisation of British beer needs its bad guys too. Enter Watney’s.

Watney’s (or Watney Mann, or Watney Combe Reid) was the Evil Corporation which sought to crush plucky small brewers and impose its own terrible beer on the drinking public. It acquired and closed beloved local breweries, and it closed pubs, or ruined them with clumsy makeovers.

Its Red Barrel was particularly vile – a symbol of all that was wrong with industrial brewing and national brands pushed through cynical marketing campaigns.

This, at least, was the accepted narrative for a long time, formed by the propaganda of the Campaign for Real Ale in its early years, and set hard through years of repetition.

But does it stand up to scrutiny? What if, contrary to everything we’ve heard, Red Barrel was actually kind of OK?

This long post was made possible by the kind support of Patreon subscribers like Matthew Turnbull and David Sim, whose encouragement makes us feel less daft about spending half a weekend working on stuff like this. Please consider signing up, or just buy us a pint.

What We Want is Watney’s

We’ve been writing about Watney’s seriously since 2012. At first, we were interested because it was the ‘baddie’ in the origin story of the Campaign for Real Ale, which we were attempting to tell in Brew Britannia.

But then we began to find Watney’s fascinating in its own right, as an example of the kind of company that dominated Britain in the 20th century: big and acquisitive, sure, but retaining a quirky, paternalistic tendency at least up until the 1970s.

CAMRA, and Christopher Hutt especially, regarded its consistent, pervasive brand style as a problem – identical pubs, with identical fascias, in the same shade of red, wherever they were in the country. A visual manifestation of the uniform blandness of Watney’s beer, and the keg bitters of the Big Six more generally.

To those less engaged in the politics of beer, however, that brand is something to celebrate – a mid-century classic. Conceived with input from the Design Research Unit, an organisation with a cult following of its own, it has featured in gallery exhibitions and books as an example of the best 20th century design had to offer.

A page-spread from Design Research Unit 1945–1972, Koenig Books, 2011, via A Practice for Everyday Life.

Even now, more than 40 years after the DRU brand design was abandoned, it is possible to recognise an old Watneys pub by remaining scraps of lettering and, if you’re prone to nostalgia, to feel moved by the direct connection to a brief period, roughly between the Festival of Britain and the Wicker Man, when bold modernism was baked into everyday life.

As for the red barrel itself, it truly deserves that overused description ‘iconic’. Whether in the form of a keyring, in perspex over the back door of an abandoned pub, or sitting as decoration on the bar of a bar with retro tendencies, it prompts recognition, delight, or derision.

The sticking point, though, is the beer – a byword for the horrors of 20th century monopoly brewing, the butt of endless jokes. But can it really have been that bad?

The Badness of Red Barrel

“They can’t have set out with an intention for it to be vile”, wrote brewer Henry Bealby in an email last week.

He is a childhood friend of beer historian Ron Pattinson and his brewery, Cat Asylum, based in Newark, specialises in historic recreations, including a cask ale based on a 1963 recipe for Red Barrel.

The history of Watneys Red Barrel, which also happens to be the story of keg beer in Britain, has been told a thousand times, but here’s a short version: it was launched in 1931 as an alternative to cask beer for venues not equipped to dispense it and then, after World War II, became a flagship product, marketed nationally in print and on television.

Detail from a 1961 national press ad for Watney’s Red Barrel.

In 1970–71 the beer was reformulated and relaunched under the name Red. This is the beer, evidence suggests, that really did turn people against Watney’s, being sweeter and fizzier again. A contemporary internal training film unearthed by Nick Wheat put a positive spin on the change, but acknowledged it nonetheless:

What we’ve done is to give the beer a new smooth pleasant taste. We’ve also given it a much better head and altogether a more attractive appearance. Gone is any suggestion of bitter after palate; instead, there is a pleasant malty mealiness.… We’ve studied flavour, studied people’s reaction to flavour, and produced experimental beers, testing out all the variations we can think of in such things of sweetness or bitterness.

A pervasive advertising campaign that drew on the imagery of totalitarianism didn’t help either.

It was at this time that Watney’s became the focus of the nascent Campaign for Real Ale. Christopher Hutt, CAMRA’s second chairman, boosted CAMRA’s profile by engaging in a battle with Watney’s head of PR, Ted Handel, on the letters page of the Financial Times, and the first edition of the Good Beer Guide advised drinkers to ‘Avoid like the plague’.

The Watney’s Red (Barrel) brand was finally all but retired from the UK market in the late 1970s, a move widely seen as a retreat in the face of CAMRA’s relentless battering. It lingered on as an overseas brand, though, in markets where the politics of ‘real ale’ were less potent.

When we were researching Brew Britannia we spoke to many veteran drinkers and observers and few had kind words to say about Watney’s beer. One exception was Nick Handel, Ted Handel’s son, who even more than 40 years on bristled at the rough treatment his father, and the beer he represented, got at the hands of CAMRA in the early 1970s:

My father was working for a go-ahead brewing concern at a time of changing tastes and consumer needs. The battle with CAMRA was a small part of everything he had on his plate, but I did get the impression they were a bit of a pain. I think they used Watneys as a platform for their own propaganda and he had a tricky old time with them.

We also filed away a letter to the journal of the Institute of Brewing magazine (brought to our attention by Ed Wray) from a veteran brewer annoyed at what he regarded as lazy repetition of the myth of Red Barrel’s awfulness:

I have just read my copy of the October 2013 edition of B&DI The article which describes Watney’s Red Barrel as ‘infamous’ is truly crass. I worked for Watney in the late 60s and early 70s and remember that brew as a decent bitter, albeit in keg form… At Mortlake laboratory, we taste-testers prided ourselves in being able to detect which brewery the Red Barrel came from; all had characteristic nuances. A touch of diacetyl from Norwich, a hint of SO2 from Trowbridge or a slight whiff of DMS from Manchester. Alfie Gough’s Brighton version was as well hopped as Tamplin’s use to be, in true Sussex style.

All this only deepened our fascination: could there ever be a way to establish with any objectivity – that is, from sources without their own axes to grind – how Red Barrel tasted?

And then, one day in September 2014,such evidence did arrive, in the form of a black ringbinder: the Watney Mann Quality Control Manual.

For more than 40 years, this document had sat in the personal collection of Stewart Main, a retired brewer best known for his time in charge at Shepherd Neame. We had emailed him hoping for a few titbits of information, little expecting that he would have in his possession the motherlode.

The binder was packed with tables, lists, recipes, diagrams and detailed notes on how to brew and package each beer in the Watney’s portfolio circa 1965. What’s more, it came with a sheaf of loose-leaf additions bringing the manual up to date for the 1970s.

At last we had something concrete to go on.

Unfortunately, we are not brewers, or even terribly technical, so it took every ounce of our concentration to derive anything at all from the raw data. It certainly seemed to support the idea that the beer itself, the basic recipe, was perfectly respectable.

Red Barrel, Watney’s Keg, c.1966
OG 1038 | FG 1009 | c.3.8% ABV | 30–32 IBU | 27 EBC

Pale malt 89%
Enzymic (acid?) malt 1%
Crystal malt (variable, for colour) 4.5%
Malt extract (in mash) 3%
Invert 3 (sugar, in boil) 2.5%

We scanned the document and sent a copy to Ron Pattinson hoping that he’d be better equipped to interpret it than us, which he was, and did, most notably in this article for Beer Advocate.

Cross-referring to a set of brewing logs from the Watney’s (Usher’s) brewery in Trowbridge, he reached a startling conclusion – that Watney’s was in the habit of dumping stale beer into fresh beer to maximise profits:

I’ve seen thousands of brewing records from several countries, but these were the first to shock me. And the first where I haven’t thought, “I’d really like to try that beer.” CAMRA was right to tell readers to “avoid like the plague” in the first Good Beer Guide. Because Watney’s products were up to 20 percent muck: beer returned from pubs, sludgy stuff from the bottom of tanks and other crap lying around the brewery.

In the same article, though, he admits to having little firsthand knowledge of how Watney’s beers tasted “having taken CAMRA’s advice to heart”. Keen to hear from some people who had tasted Red Barrel, and/or Red, and hoping that perhaps 40+ years might offer some fresh perspective, we emailed some of the veterans in our address book and asked them one simple question: was Red Barrel as bad as everyone says?

Roger Protz, beer writer

I don’t think I ever sampled Red Barrel. It was the revamp, Watney’s Red, that I drank. I was working on a newspaper in East London and had two pubs nearby, one selling Young’s Bitter, the other Charrington IPA. I was bowled over by Young’s Ordinary and it turned me into a cask beer devotee. When ads for Watney’s Red were plastered all over London I thought I should try it and went to the nearest Watney’s pub. I thought it was dreadful and later described it as “liquid Mars Bars” – ‘sweet, gassy and lacking any noticeable hop character. In fairness to Watneys Red, I think Tartan Keg was worse!

Sue Hart, campaigner and pub crawler

In reality, it was no worse than Double Diamond or Whitbread Tankard, but it appeared to be everywhere and much more visible with its trademark than the others. They also did a beer called Starlight which was also keg but a tad more drinkable. It may even have been top pressure rather than keg.

James Lynch, chairman of CAMRA in 1978

In truth it was neither any worse nor any better than any of the other national keg brands. Bland, brown, devoid of any character and ridiculously fizzy. That said, I can clearly remember – just like I can remember where I was when I heard the news of JFK’s assassination – where I was when I first decided, after just one mouthful, that I was going to drink no more of a particular pint. That was in London in 1964. That wasn’t because of the condition it was in because, as a keg beer it would have consistent, albeit consistently characterless, but because it had nothing to offer. And that wasn’t Red Barrel but Double Diamond.

That offers some evidence, then, that Red Barrel was hard-done-by. And, as it happens, we have another data point to offer: we have tasted a version of Red Barrel ourselves – two versions, in fact, one pasteurised, the other not.

They were brewed for us in 2016 by Ed Wray, a professional brewer who, at the time, had access to a small pasteurising unit. He followed a recipe derived from the Quality Control Manual and handed over the finished products during a brief encounter at Paddington station.

Tasting those beers, with due ceremony, in the appropriate vintage glassware, was among the most thrilling experiences we’ve had in our many years beer-geeking. Of course it should have been kegged, not bottled, and Ed didn’t add slops, or drive the beers around the country in tankers, but, still, it was hard to find fault with either version:

It was delicious like a nice sandwich, not like five courses at the Fat Duck. Chewy, satisfyingly malty, fresh and definitely on the right side of the bland-subtle border. There was a slight cooked flavour, we thought, although maybe that was down to the power of suggestion. We imagine warmer, or if left sitting around in a pub cellar for six months, it might get a bit nasty. But, like this, we’d happily drink it every day.

With similar curiosity, Ron Pattinson approached his old friend, Henry Bealby, with a worked-up recipe for Red Barrel as it was c.1963. We didn’t get to taste that version but Henry shared some thoughts by email:

It was a beer I hardly ever drank in the 70s, except perhaps in a Party 7 can, but it fitted well with our mission of bringing back beers from the dead. I figured that they can’t have set out with an intention for it to be vile and thought the original recipe also might reflect the southern bitter style of the times. And indeed it did, reminding me and others of our first impressions of bitter when we strayed away from Nottinghamshire into the southern half of the country… There was a lot of scoffing about our intention to brew it but it all sold. Double Diamond next?

Revival of the reviled

Henry Bealby isn’t the only brewer risking ridicule by dabbling in these dark waters: in 2016, Brands Reunited, which specialises in acquiring expired brewery names and applying them to contemporary products, brought Watney’s back to market.

When the news broke, the reaction was mixed. Some either remembered Watney’s grim reputation, or remembered it indirectly through folk memory, and were appalled. Others found the idea hilarious, regarding it as a distinctly provocative, mischievous move at the height of a craft beer revolution led by the likes of BrewDog, and two fingers up at CAMRA at the same time.

The interesting thing is, though, that the new Watneys is using the name and the stag logo, but not the red barrel, or any of the DRU typography. And among its roster of beers, there is no Red Barrel – only a set of modern pale ales, brewed at Sambrook’s.

In an exchange of emails with Nick Whitehurst, one of the co-founders of Brands Reunited, we asked about the challenges of promoting beers with such a (sorry John Palmer) infamous name attached:

It’s true that Watneys had a bad rep in its latter years, but if you go back a bit further you find an amazing brand that was innovative and market leading… Many under the age of 40 haven’t heard of Watneys so they evaluate us like any new brand, many over 40 remember the brand as something their dad or grandad drank and remember it fondly, and some even worked for Watneys back in the day and remember it as a great business…

And is there any chance of Red Barrel making a comeback?

It’s not in our immediate plans but you never know… I think if we do we need to get it absolutely spot on as we will be inviting the world to judge us. For now, we are a small business trying to prove ourselves and to establish Watneys as a credible craft brand in a very competitive market… One thing we have just done is made some Red Barrel memorabilia. I get more requests for keyrings than anything else so we have just made some of those, and some Red Barrel pin badges.

There’s a tension in the way Brands Reunited markets its Watney’s branded beers: on the one hand, it wants to capitalise on nostalgia, but on the other it recoils from the negative connotations of the old name. The slogan “We’re back…. And taste nothing like we used to” is intended as self-aware self-deprecation but betrays doubt: is it proud of its heritage, or ashamed of it?

It’s fascinating that almost 50 years since anyone last ordered a pint of Red Barrel, a beer that probably wasn’t so dreadful in itself, that the brand still has a stink about it.

Watney’s Red Barrel – how bad could it have been? originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog

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Here’s everything on beer and pubs we felt the urge to bookmark in the past seven days, from coolships to kask kontroversy.

Joe Stange is now writing for Craft Beer & Brewing and has announced his arrival with an excellent piece on Franconia which succeeds in finding some new angles on this much-written-about beer region:

Here is another thing you can see upstairs, in the attic: a wide, riveted copper coolship… Or rather: You can see it, until the boiling-hot wort hits the pan—littered with a surprising amount of hops pellets for a burst of aroma—and opaque steam rapidly fills the attic. After that, it’s difficult to see anything in there for a while. This coolship is the kind of thing you might expect to see in a lambic brewery, or in an ambitious American wild-beer brewery, or in a museum. Its original purpose, however, has nothing to do with sour beers. It is simply an old-fashioned way to cool wort. Andreas Gänstaller uses it every time he brews lager… “The wort streams out really clear,” he says. “The beer is much more clear because all the bad stuff goes away in the steam.”

If you’ve ever fancied organising a bottle share, or wondered exactly what a bottle share is, then you’ll find this primer by Rach Smith at Look at Brew useful. In in, she explains how the bottle share she runs in Brighton works, and offers tips on setting up your own:

Think about the order in which you’ll be pouring. If there are pale/low abv beers for example, start with them and leave the big, bold Imperial stouts for last so you don’t completely destroy your taste buds early on… [And] don’t judge. It’s not about who can bring the rarest beers, it’s about socialising, learning a little bit along the way and having a damn good time.

An interesting point from Ed – could the reason cask beer numbers are down be because we lost a few big brands that made up the bulk of the numbers, such as Boddington’s?

With #FlagshipFebruary in mind (see last week’s round-up) Kate Bernot has written about consumer promiscuity for The Takeout:

“I say this whole idea of promiscuity and no brand loyalty is grossly misdefined,” says Lester Jones, chief economist for the National Beer Wholesalers Association. “It was pretty easy 25–30 years ago to find a brand that you liked and trusted and had relations to. I don’t think people have changed, I think it’s just taking longer to sift through the multitude of choices.… Instead of accepting the fact that their job is a lot harder, it’s easy for brewers to turn and say ‘The consumer is fickle. He doesn’t know what he wants.’ No, the consumer knows what he wants and the consumer is tasting to find what he wants, but given so many choices, it just takes longer,” Jones says.

All this is well and good but what people really want to know is this: where’s the beef at? Well, Jessica Mason wrote this piece arguing that the embrace of cask beer by the likes of Cloudwater signals a resurgence in the health of its image…

[Cloudwater’s Paul] Jones [says] that a lot of traditional breweries up and down the country are ‘complete pros and legends’ within cask beer, even if they’re not turning their hands to more modern beer styles. ‘I think something of a hybrid offering from us really ought to diversify what cask beer is and what it could be in the future.’

Wild Card’s head Brewer Jaega Wise, who recently won the title of Brewer of the Year, will be relaunching its cask-beer offering next year. However, she stresses that it will be on the brewery’s terms, reminding how modern brewers are reiterating cask’s relevance, but are not willing to bow to outdated stereotypes.

…which prompted this comeback from Tandleman:

So we need modern craft brewers to show us the way and revive cask? These are the same people that give you cask beer that looks like chicken soup and undermine the work done by brewers for many years to ensure clean, clear, bright beer with distinct flavours.We’d more or less lost the “It’s meant to be like that” nonsense until craft got its hands on cask. Now it is back with a vengeance, as overturning the orthodoxy has given bar staff the right to say it once more, even if the beer looks like a mixture of lumpy fruit juices and smells like Henderson’s Relish.

More point/counterpoint than beef, really, but it’s fascinating how the fault lines (cultural, generational) continue to reveal themselves in new forms.

And finally, there’s this reminder of how many opportunities for disaster are built into the cask ale supply chain:

The quality of cask beer is hard enough to maintain in trade without crooked wholesalers extending shelf life by forging cask labels!This label looks amateurish & the beer probably tasted poor. How dare they try and ruin our reputation. We need to name and shame! @CAMRA_Official pic.twitter.com/hxBSo6tqzD

— Dan Scott Paul (@BlackSheep_DSP) January 14, 2019

As ever, for more links, checkout Stan on Mondays (usually including lots of stuff beyond beer, but still about beer) and Alan on Thursday (generally threading links together to make some sort of point).

News, Nuggets and Longreads 19 January 2019: Bottleshares, Boddies, Brand Loyalty originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog

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The Grenadier is one of those celebrity pubs, a London institution only a rung or two down from Buckingham Palace, on a par with the inflated walrus at the Horniman.

It’s in every vintage pub guide you can think of, from Green & White to Taverns in the Town by Alan Roulstone.

The story (which we haven’t checked in any detail) is that it was built as a mess for officers in the First Regiment of Foot Guards, became a pub proper in 1818, and has been trading ever since.

And yet, we’d never been.

The last time we attempted a survey of the hidden mews pubs of Belgravia, the Grenadier let us down: being tiny, and being famous, somebody had decided it needed to close while the Winter Wonderland event was taking place in nearby Hyde Park.

It nearly defeated us this time, too, concealing itself in one of those folds in Google Maps that send you walking round a place without ever finding it. Readers, we may have bickered, but eventually an alleyway appeared that hadn’t been there moments before, and we slipped through the portal.

Three Americans, one shirtless, were bellowing at each other: “Bro! Dude! There’s a freaking bug on my back! Dude!” One of his friends poured the remains of a pint over his head and called him a pussy. They staggered away into the night. The scene was set.

The mews was quiet, but the pub was throbbing, steaming, taut and ready to pop. We struggled through a gap in the door and through a gap to the bar and ordered a round of astonishingly expensive but very decent Timothy Taylor Landlord, served with businesslike efficiency.

We squeezed through the crowd to a relatively less densely packed corner and leaned against two inches of shelf over the heads of a group of American students, two lasses and two lads, all too tall to fit their knees under their tiny table.

Nearby, a party of nine Dutch students (conspicuous flashes of orange) had somehow gathered around a table for two and were forced to part like the tide every time a fresh party came steaming towards the dining area, and then away from the dining area once they’d realised it was a dining area.

Scowls all round: this pub would be perfect if everyone else would just piss awf.

There is a perfect pub here, beneath the overpopulation. Like others nearby, it hasn’t been given a corporate makeover, or tidied to blandness. The corners are still gloomy, the surfaces are dinged and rubbed, and every flat plane, including the ceiling, is covered with tat. (Superior tat, mind – earnest, well-earned militaria, rather than plastic clocks.)

Wax jackets, rugby shirts and piles of shopping bags.

Expensive perfume mingled with wet dog and hot gravy.

Conversations weaving together, encrypting each other as they pour out into a hot fog around the lightbulbs.

We did not see Madonna or Prince William.

News Pub and Old Favourites #4: The Grenadier, Belgravia originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog

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We can’t quite call the Bricklayers in Putney an old favourite because we only made it there once, about a decade ago.

On that occasion, we were delighted to find a pub in London with beer from Timothy Taylor. Not just the then ubiquitous Landlord but the full range – Golden Best, Ram Tam, dark mild, and more.

But then we moved to Cornwall, and while we were away, the pub changed, losing its unique selling point and becoming just another London pub with a ‘great range of real ale’. People stopped talking about the Bricklayers, and we forgot it existed.

Then before Christmas, the buzz began again: Taylor’s was back at the Brickie.

We went out of our way to visit in the week between Christmas and the new year, despite Google’s insistence that the pub was closed on Fridays. As we approached along the quiet backstreet we felt reassured: the lights were on, figures were moving behind the frosted glass.

Not many figures, though: we walked into an almost empty pub, and the people at the bar were into the last inches of their pints, making their long goodbyes.

It’s an exciting sight, a line of pumps with Taylor’s clips, especially when rarities such as the porter are there alongside the big names.

There’s been a little controversy about this brewery lately. Depending who you listen to, it’s either overlooked and underappreciated, or over-hyped and newly trendy, but we like the beer and have liked it for almost as long as we’ve been paying attention.

This time, there were some hits and misses. Landlord was off – a tribute to the power of the brand, we suppose – and the dark mild was simply muddy. Knowle Spring was sadly bland. The porter we’d been so keen to try seemed like a squirt of cheap cola.

But Ram Tam! Oh, Ram Tam. Another best mild, we think, and though people keep telling us it’s just Landlord with caramel… It doesn’t taste like Landlord with caramel. Perhaps we’re mugs being fooled by the optics, perceiving flavours that aren’t there, but we are perceiving them, so who cares.

A mother and father with moody teenage son arrived, made small talk, and agreed to try a mix of Golden Best and dark mild that the local CAMRA crawl had apparently enjoyed on its sweep through.

A regular arrived, concealing his drunkenness expertly until he’d been served, and then staring dumbfounded at a pint he didn’t really want. “I tell you what, I’ll have a whisky,” he said, but didn’t get one.

The fire flickered.

The boards creaked.

Faces appeared against the frosted glass, scattered into pink points, features scrunched in consideration. To come in from the cold, or walk on? They walked on.

New Pubs and Old Favourites #3: The Bricklayers Arms, Putney originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog

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Here’s everything we thought bookmark-worthy in the past week, from beer with bite to Double Diamond.

First, a quick stop at the BBC, where the recent ONS report on pub closures continues to generate stories: we know some areas have suffered particularly badly, but where are pubs opening? Where have the numbers risen? The Highlands of Scotland, it turns out, is one such region:

Since 2008, almost a quarter of pubs in the UK have shut according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis… But the study shows that in the Highlands there are 14% more pubs than there were 10 years ago… Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said a major factor behind the growth was that the pubs had done well catering for tourists.

This week’s must-read is Will Hawkes account of the brief rise and rapid fall of London brewery Brüpond, which makes 2013 seem like a million years ago.

I spoke to investors like Jan Rees, who put £500 into Brüpond: “I’m not really in to beer at all, but it was a great pitch and David came across as super confident & capable,” he told me over email – but also that, after this experience, “I would avoid the microbrewery sector completely because there are just way too many start-ups with no realistic hope of a decent investment return.” But I never heard back again from [Brüpond’s founder David] Brassfield… Until a few weeks ago, when a message popped up on my email. It took me a few moments to register the name, but the message was unequivocal. “Hey Will! I know it’s 4 years later… You still want to talk?”

This piece is also notable because it announces the arrival of Mr Hawkes’ own website, which we suspect will come to be a goldmine of stuff like this which, frankly, is too interesting for newspapers.

London-based beer blogger,and beer sommelier Natalya Watson knows what she wants to be drinking in 2019: boring, brown, bitter beer. But those commas matter, as she explains:

No, I don’t mean the traditional English bitter. (Sorry.)

I suppose “bitterness” is probably a more fitting term here. And a good, clean bitterness at that… While I have enjoyed a few of the hazy IPAs I’ve tried in the past year, I’ve found that too many brewers have taken their dry-hopping a bit too far, making the beer astringent and unpleasant to drink. Sure I enjoy the enhanced hop character on the nose and palate, but I don’t like it when my beer bites back.

Meanwhile, in the US, Jeff Alworth does want a beer with bite, or rather with teeth, and essentially agrees with Ms. Watson:

In the bar’s dim light, it sparkled a molten gold. Clarion bright, as if to spite fans of haze. From it arose the scent of forest—shall we say spruce just to be interesting? The first taste was all teeth. It was biting back. It is a beer from before this decade, when people expected hops to sting rather than seduce. The flavors are definitely arboreal, I decide as I drink, and I’m sticking with spruce—Sitka spruce, like the ones that grow old and wide near the sea air. The prickle of bitterness can further chill an icy night, but it can also crackle in the mouth like fire. After half a glass, I see that this Ecliptic is a warmer, even without much malt. Such a strange sensation, bitterness, so close to heat and cold.

There’s clearly something in the air: Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont seems to have casually launched something called #FlagshipFebruary with a view to focusing attention on standards and classics such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, in a world of one-offs and oddities. Some people are excited and on-board; others not so much.

Our reading: all of this is about where those individuals are in the cycle, rather than signalling a trend. Still, Cloudwater making a virtue of the clarity and bitterness of a new IPA is an interesting development.

For Good Beer Hunting British beer writer Lily Waite has done some deep digging into how the conversation about sexism in beer works when a cult Belgian brewery such as Cantillon is the focus:

In 2018… the Zwanze Day events that Cantillon co-hosted at Moeder Lambic—one of Brussels’ most popular beer bars—overshadowed the beer itself… After an introduction by Cantillon owner Jean Van Roy, Colette Collerette, a burlesque dancer who performs with Brussels’ Cabaret Mademoiselle, began to disrobe in front of the bar. The show culminated when Collerette—wearing just nipple pasties and a thong—shook two bottles of beer and sprayed the foam over her nearly-naked body… The live video was posted to Facebook by the venue shortly after the performance, and quickly divided opinions. Some criticized Cantillon for crude and sexist marketing tactics, while others defended the artistry of the performance. Even months later, the resulting firestorm is still smoking.

A couple of bits of news:

Finally, here’s a splendid vintage advertisement with a jingle we’d only just got out of our heads from last time we heard it:

When you’ve had a hard day wandering around a library in a suit, you need refreshment. pic.twitter.com/Ayt7ro4ET5

— CFB Clips (@CFBClips) January 11, 2019

For more reading check out Alan’s links on Thursdays, Stan’s every Monday, and a new addition to our list, Glass of Beer, which is a weekly round-up of just five handpicked links (@beerglassof on Twitter).

News, Nuggets and Longreads 12 January 2019: Bitterness, Brüpond, Burlesque originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog

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Graham Turner’s fascinating 1967 book The North Country paints portraits of towns and cities from Wigan to Durham, often stopping off in pubs and clubs on the way.

You might remember us quoting from it before, on the subject of Pakistani migrants attempting to integrate into pub life in Bradford in the 1960s.

The rather less politically charged extract below, from a chapter called ‘Over the Top’ about Saddleworth Moor, grabbed our attention for a couple of reasons.

No group of people in the valley are in more demand than the members of the Boarshurst Silver Band. George Gibson, a large, enormously jovial man with a great red face who plays the ‘basso profundo’ and also teaches brass in the local schools, reckons to be out either playing or teaching ‘very near every night’… [He] said over a pint at the King William [that] finding players was not any particular problem – “you find me twenty-four instruments and I’ll find you twenty-four kids”. The King William, incidentally, is one of the pubs in Saddleworth which has treated itself to wall-to-wall carpeting, an extravagance which [local character] John Kenworthy thinks has changed them from forums of discussion into mere drinking places. At one end of the bar were a group of the men we had been drinking with the night before at the Gentleman’s [Club], now deeply engrossed in a catholic selection of racing papers. At the other were half a dozen men in overalls.


  1. Carpets were seen as taking pubs downmarket, somehow? Making them more frivolous?
  2. A reminder that pub carpets aren’t a great old tradition – they’re a relatively new development.
  3. And, carpets aside, a reminder of how class segregation can happen even without physical boundaries.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, the William IV is still there, and still trading as a pub.

Saddleworth Pub Carpets, 1966 originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog

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