A post shared by Liz (@lostpubs) on Mar 8, 2018 at 10:13am PST
We spotted the above post one one of our favourite Instagram accounts the other day and thought it ought to be a doddle to track down the history of the Rock House Tavern. Well, it wasn’t, but we think we’ve got there, and the solution offers an intriguing glimpse into the past.
First, yes, Liz is right– there is no useful information online, or in our copy of the 1975 pub guide, or in newspapers archives. Searching for mention of pubs around that location in more general terms, though, did point us to a 1986 book called City Pit: Memoirs of a Speedwell Miner by Fred Moss. It might surprise some people to discover that Bristol had coal mines but it did. Fred Moss was born in 1906 and started work as a miner in 1921. Here’s what he has to say about drinking, on p.37:
[Let] me tell you about “The Long Bar”. This consisted of a lane running from Deep Pit Road to Holly Lodge Road. There were just a few houses in Holly Lodge, only a couple of miners lived there. Now about half way up this lane there was a pond called the “Lilly Pond”. It was a pool consisting of water pumped from the nearby pit. In this lane there was also a single railway track, which was used to carry trucks of coal from Speedwell Pit to the main Great Western Railway line and of course the Midland Railway line. The track was also used to take trucks of small coal to the coke ovens and washing plant.
Now, near this lane there was an off-licence beer house. The afternoon shift miners would buy beer at this off-licence and on a nice sunny day would to to this lane and have a chat and a drink before descending the pit…. There would be twenty or thirty men either sitting on a grass bank of leaning against a wooden fence drinking and chatting before working and when the morning shift came up from work, some of them would buy a drink and stand or sit in the lane before going home. Yes! I would say that was the longest bar in the world.
We find this fascinating — another reminder that people enjoyed beer in all kinds of ways in the past, not only in what we would now recognise as pubs, and following all kinds of patterns dictated by their work.
Fred’s memoir gives us some hard information to work with and we are blessed in 2018 with easy access to historic maps, satellite imagery and Google Street View which means it’s quite easy to pin all this down.
Here’s the lane we think Fred is describing as pictured in an OS map from the immediate post-WWII period, via Know Your Place:
The Rock House is at the very bottom left corner, marked “BH” for beerhouse; the lane is Brook Road which runs off immediately opposite passing a reservoir (the pond Fred mentions?) and crossing a small railway line on the way to Holly Lodge Road, which also fits with Fred’s description. One small wrinkle: there is another beerhouse marked on the map, also near the point where the lane spits out, so maybe he didn’t have The Rock House in mind. But we still reckon all this, especially the BH designation on the map, explains why The Rock House is so obscure: though it may have started as a proper drink-in beerhouse c.1830, it probably became a purely take-out premises in the wake of the 1869 Licensing Act.
But that’s just somewhat informed guesswork. If you know otherwise, drop us a line or comment below. We’ll keep an eye out in books and archives as we go and, as Google Maps satellite imagery suggests the lane is still there and now a public footpath, we’ll also go exploring and see what we can see.
Main image, top: Bristol miners c.1906 via City Pit.
The other day we encountered a hazy pale-n-hoppy beer from a local brewery that was decent in its own right, and certainly well on trend, but something about it bothered us: it simply seemed indistinguishable to quite a lot of other beers from quite a lot of other breweries.
Maybe this has been on our minds because our attempt to pin down the definition(s) of ‘craft beer’ resurfaced again lately. The first definition we provide there, with reference to Michael Jackson and Roger Protz, includes the word ‘distinctive’ as a key characteristic — a sense that an experienced palate could not easily mistake that beer for any other.
Now, there aren’t many beers that really fit that criterion, and we’d probably struggle to tell, say, Bass from St Austell Cornish Bitter tasted blind on most occasions, but, still, perhaps it has got harder still in recent years. When there were a few hundred breweries in the UK, each making a handful of beers, there were plenty of unique selling points to go around: this one does lager, that one uses Cascade, there’s one down the road making an imperial stout that smells of puke to a sort-of-historic recipe, and so on. Now, with going on for a couple of thousand, it’s obviously harder to come up with anything completely new that is also likely to sell in any volume in pubs, i.e. that is not completely bonkers.
Even so, we do wonder if the tendency to rely on the same handful of commercial yeast strains, the same broad families of hops, and to look to the same few highly-rated beers for inspiration, isn’t leading into a cul-de-sac.
What is your thing? What makes your beer different, and better, than Bloggs’s? If you can’t answer that then you probably won’t convince a pub or shop to take your beer over one that’s 85 per cent identical but twopence cheaper, or with nicer packaging. You probably won’t convince drinkers to develop any particular loyalty to your brand either.
‘The Other Fellow’s Job No. 10: The Maltster’ by Richard Hilton, House of Whitbread, Spring 1955, with photographs by P.M. Goodchild.
“In these modern times, when machinery has largely replaced the hands of the craftsman, one might think that the ingredients of beer are largely subjected to numerous mechanical processes in the course of their evolution. And many of them are — but the malting process is one that has stood the test of time, and remains the secret of the craftsman who transforms the corns of barley into that most valuable ingredient of all — malt.”
“C. McCabe carries the barley in a specially designed malt barrow.”
“When a new load of barley arrives at the maltings, the first men to handle it are the granary hands. It is their job to dry the barley to about 12 per cent of moisture so that it can be kept in bulk without deterioriation; next, they clean and ‘screen’ it to extract the small or broken grains… Typical of the granary hand at the Whitbread maltings in East Dereham in Norfolk is Chris McCabe. An Irishman, 64-year-old McCabe started with Whitbread’s eleven years ago, and takes great pride in his work…. Before he came to East Dereham he worked in large maltings in Ireland.”
“As foreman of the East side of the Dereham maltings, Walter Lambert has many responsibilities. Here, he is adjusting the oil burner on one of the barley kilns.”
“The job of the maltster begins where the granary hand leaves off, with a process known as ‘steeping’. This simply means that the grain is soaked in water in a special cistern or steep for forty-eight hours. During this time the water is changed and aeration may take place. Then the barley is allowed to drain in the steep for another few hours, after which it is generally ‘couched’ in a frame — to enable heat to accumulate quickly…. Sometimes the couching is dispensed with, and the grain is laid directly out on the malting floor, where the process of germination begins.”
“‘Young Ted’ Brunton ‘ploughs the piece’ with a skill born o f 20 years’ experience in the East Dereham maltings.”
“At 59, S. Guymer has served 35 years with Whitbread’s.”
“To begin with, the ‘piece’, as it is called, is laid out about nine inches thick in order to accumulate heat and start germination. As soon as this happens, the pieces is thinned out and spread over more floor. At the same time it is turned daily to prevent undue root growth, and, from time to time, ploughed, or loosened by means of a large rake…. The foreman works exactly according to his own judgement based on long experience.”
“Making up the kiln fires is an integral part of the maltster’s job. C. Sizeland is here seen taking a turn with the shovel.”
‘The Other Man’s Job: The Maltster’ by A.R. McPherson, The Deerstalker, Mitchells & Butlers, December 1958, photographer uncredited.
“The re-drying drum at Kennett.”
“No doubt methods of malting in ancient days were very primitive, and even up till about fifty years ago, there has been very little change in the process, and much of the malt for brewing purposes is still hand-turned…. However, in more recent years improvements have been effected, such as the replacement of flat-bottomed cisterns by hopper-shaped ones, which are self-emptying, by the introduction of elevators and conveyors for handling grain, by the use of mechanical hoists instead of hand-operated winches for raising sacks or skips, and the mechanical turning of the grain on the kilns.”
“[In the last decade] the intake of the harvest has become a major problem owing to the ever-increasing use of combined harvesters, which cut and thresh the [barley]corn in one operation, so that the majority of the grain floods on to the market as soon as it has been harvested…. This means our buying period has been reduced from about six months to about two months, which has necessitated providing additional storage and ‘seating’ facilities to cope with the influx of barley at approximately three times the former rate.”
‘Our Automatic Bulk Malt Handling System’, anon., The Magnet, John Smith’s, April 1969, photographer uncredited.
“At our South Milford Maltings the bulk transport vehicle is loaded with eighty quarters of dressed malt which has been prepared the day before and stored in one of three new silos.”
“Whitsun 1968 marked the end of yet another era for John Smith’s when the last sack of malt was delivered from our Maltings at South Milford to the brewery at Tadcaster… Having installed bulk malt handling facilities at the Maltings and at both our breweries the transporting of malt now follows the pattern of modernisation seen throughout the Group.”
“At the brewery at Tadcaster the lorry unloads into a small underground hopper from where it is conveyed and elevated into the storage building where it is held in silos holdings two hundred quarters each.”
“Underneath the storage silos where the flow of malt from above is controlled by pneumatic slides and air seals as it falls into the ‘blow line’ in which it is transferred to the mill room at the top of the brewery.”
“The central control panel….”
“The two new 45 quarter per hour malt mills which are controlled from the central panel.”
Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, covering everything from Pink IPA to Gothenburgs.
First, a blast of pure raving enthusiasm to cheer everyone up as Steve The Pour Fool Body waxes lyrical about the “new rock-star flower-bomb” hop variety that “makes your beer taste like LemonHeads candy”. It sounds good; we want to try it.
Now on to the problem story of the week, BrewDog’s Pink IPA. We considered providing a round-up of all the ‘hot takes’ but decided instead to point to one really substantial, thoughtful post by Oli (@CraftBeerCommie) guest posting at Craft Queer. It expresses a counter view to ours (“the idea itself doesn’t seem so dreadful even if the execution is terribly clumsy”) and puts this specific incident into a broader context of BrewDog’s behaviour over the years:
Brewdog as a company has a long history of misunderstanding (some might be so bold as to say abusing) social commentary as a marketing tool…. [In] the company’s earlier years, the bad humoured, unapologetically offensive tone and actions of the company’s founder-owners was able to shelter beneath the veil of an appropriated revolutionary language and DIY punk ideology…. After this, however, it seems that, as with so many other companies, Brewdog intentionally courts controversy as a means of marketing itself. The search for an initial, perhaps viral reaction of offence before the secondary “A-ha! Here’s the punchline” is yet again delivered in a manner that relies as much on customer enragement as it does engagement.
For more on this subject check out Alcohol by Volume where the opinions of women in and adjacent to the beer industry have been collated.
When the presentation displayed a complaint about a beer (Wye Valley Brewery’s Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout) which had been reported for breaching section 3.2 (d) of the code (a drink should not… “suggest any association with sexual activity or sexual success”) this was greeted with disbelief by the audience…. [How] could this not be in violation of the code? The answer is that the code in its current form mentions sexual references on beer packaging only within narrow margins: a product should not suggest that it makes the consumer more attractive or that it leads to “sexual success” which is actually quite an unpleasant sounding, masculine phrase. Possibly even a little dated.
The Dean Tavern in Newtongrange is one of very few surviving Goths and perhaps the last to operate the principles in so much as it is owned by a Trust that distributes profits back into the community. And, great joy, it now appears for the first time in the Good Beer Guide…. Dating from 1898 but with some more recent additions, it must be the only pub in the Guide with a Temperance Lounge and reflects well the history of the village. Pithead baths were only introduced at the Lady Victoria Colliery as late as 1954.
[There] was good news this week when latest figures released, revealed that despite the number of wet-led pubs having fallen by almost 20 per cent in the last five years, the rate has slowed from 6 per cent in 2014 to 3 per cent in 2017…. So, are our wet-led establishments showing signs of a revival? Is this sector of the market bottoming out? In 2014 there were 1,604 wet-led pub closures. This figure was reduced dramatically in 2016, when 664 called last orders.
David Thieme…. lives in Lafayette, Indiana, where his descendants founded the once-prominent Thieme & Wagner Brewing Company. At its height in the 1890s, Thieme & Wagner produced more than 40,000 barrels annually for thirsty Hoosiers. But like many breweries, it never recovered from Prohibition. For more than two years, Thieme has worked to re-establish the brewery’s presence in his Midwestern home, starting with a bar on Main Street, decorated with Thieme & Wagner memorabilia…. Still, Thieme knows far less about the family business than he’d like to…. The brewing logs, meeting minutes, and sales receipts that might help him answer basic historical questions about the brewery—what states it was sold in, for instance—have all been lost.
A reminder: if a book you’re sure is in the public domain is not fully viewable at Google Books, just click the link that says ‘Where’s the rest o this book?’ and ask them to review it. We do it all the time and have invariably been successful. You might start with those other editions of the Brewers’ Guardian listed at the bottom of the page linked above, if you fancy a mission.
With urgency I am calling upon all brewers who are members of SIBA to reject the motion asking for the membership to be enlarged to take in the biggest PLC brewing businesses. If this motion succeeds we can be sure that SIBA will move even further way from the interests of the current membership…. Proxy voting has been made particularly difficult it seems. Couple that with a gagging order on us talking about the issue shows clear intent to subvert the course of this particular democratic process. It is your duty to ensure you get your proxy vote set-up up with urgency…. For this reason I have decided to break ranks and ignore the embargo, hence this blog.
This story about CAMRA’s Revitalisation project in the Herts Advertiser isn’t especially interesting in its own right but take a look at the headline: COULD CAMRA START SUPPORTING LAGERS? A taste, there, of how the mainstream press might interpret this if communications aren’t managed carefully.
And finally, here’s what we would be doing if we were in or near Manchester this weekend:
We asked our Patreon subscribers to suggest some beers for us to taste and Chris Gooch chose this one: “I’m dying to know what the De Molen Not for Sale Ale is like. An initiative that deserves a lot of support.”
It’s a hazy yellow beer with high carbonation. The aroma is a back-and-forth of straightforward citrus hop and pungent, funky, overripe fruit. There’s perhaps a bit of vegetable or leafy herb in there, too.
It tastes of green apple, orange pith and brown bread, before seguing into the kind of bitterness that hangs around, feeding back on itself until there’s no bandwidth left.
We liked it a lot, with only some very slight nitpicking reservations about those vegetal notes. It’s bright, full of flavour and character, and quite distinctive. If we had to compare it to another beer it would be the single-hop Cascade ale brewed by Castle Rock for M&S a few years ago (and, what do you know, De Molen does use Cascade in this beer) except it’s quirkier and dirtier, in the best possible sense.
Is it a lager? In technical terms, no. It’s even less like lager than our experiments in brewing Helles with Goldings and Maris Otter — more fruity and funky, in fact, than many packaged and pacified British ales. But in terms of how you might use it? Yes, it fits in the lager slot. It tastes great cold, bites at the back of the throat, doesn’t demand your full attention, and tastes primarily of malt and hops. And, at 4.7% ABV, you could probably tackle a few in a row if you had the taste.
We’d definitely buy this again even if 100 per cent of the profits were going into somebody’s pocket. It’s our kind of beer.
It’s International Women’s Day which seems like a good reason to share this collection of pictures of women working in breweries and pub we’ve been bookmarking in old brewery magazines.
There’s an editorial choice being made here, of course: to find these pictures of cool women doing cool stuff we had to wade through a lot of photos of secretaries sitting on men’s laps, booth babes, hop queens, cheese maidens, and bikini competitions. Don’t think from what you see below that Whitbread, Watney’s or any of these other firms were bastions of feminism.
You’ll also note that the pictures back up what we said in the post we wrote on women in British beer a few years ago: there’s not much evidence of female brewers in the post-war period, women being generally confined to administrative functions, bottling lines and laboratories. In fact, why not start in the lab?
Angela Davies (foreground) makes up slides while Mavis Bradley checks beer samples at the Guinness kegging plant in Runcorn, c.1971.
Staff from the Whitbread laboratory: Mrs M Collin, Mrs J.V. Crisp, (F. Briden), Mrs A. Caffell, Miss B. Lever and Miss A. Steward, at the 1954 sports and social club dinner.
Miss L. Hutchins examining yeast cultures at Watney’s Stag Brewery, c.1955.
There’s a whole story wrapped up in this next picture: Miss A. Ames joined the staff at Whitbread’s Norwich depot in 1920, following her father who was a foreman there. She was a member of the bottling gang and then, during World War II, stepped up to become ‘forewoman’, firewatching and sleeping in the shelter in the bottling depot. Then after the war, bottling ceased and she became a cleaner and tea lady.
Women posing beside the bottling machine at Mitchells & Butlers bottling depot, Birmingham, c.1950.
A reality check from the Mitchells & Butlers social club, 1951.
Gillian Holloway, a typist in Watney’s free trade department, practised judo at the Butokukwai in Trowbridge and had an orange belt.
But Mrs G. Digby went one better: she worked in the laboratory at Morgan’s in Norwich (a Watney’s subsidiary) and literally wrote the book on Judo for Women.
While Mrs R.E. Tarry, secretary to the technical director at Phipps in Northampton, another Watney’s takeover, preferred fencing.
Mary Land, licensee of the Manor Inn at Grimethorpe, won a national darts competition in 1969 and was presented with her trophy by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Italian-born Antoinette Hannant, landlady of the Jolly Butchers, Norwich, sang blues, jazz, calypso and gospel for her customers, and also played the drums from time to time.
While Doreen Chadwick, landlady of the Magnet Hotel, Oldham, played Hammond organ between gigs on BBC radio.
Florence Gosling (centre) ran the New Theatre Hotel near Granada Studios in Manchester, with her team of mostly women serving drinks to everyone from Marlene Dietrich to the cast of Coronation Street.
Mrs Mercedes Griffith of the New Inn, Warwick, who filled her pub with antiques, raced cars and horses before she entered the pub trade. She also boasted of having driven a steam train after stowing away.
Ethel Usher ran Watsons Wine Vaults in Banbury, where she hosted and promoted boxing and wrestling matches.
Emma Cluer, licensee of the Hatchet and Bill, Yaxley from 1909, still working behind the bar at 85 in 1966: “If I could live my life over again, I would live it in a pub.”
At the 1955 Whitbread Hop Festival Annie Gorman is presented with a garland of hops to mark her 69 years of hop picking.
About two years ago, when we still lived in Penzance, we were approached by the editor of Devon Life magazine. He wanted to introduce a monthly beer column and reckoned we were the right people to do it.
We pushed back: we didn’t know Devon well, although Ray spent some time there as a kid and we’ve often visited; and the fee they were offering would barely cover the cost of researching the column. Still, he was insistent, and there was something interesting in the idea of focusing on one county and ferreting out what there was to be ferreted. So we said yes.
Over the course of 20 months we wrote about notable pubs, breweries, bottle shops, nuggets of history, and specific beers. We made special trips to Cockington, Exeter, Exmouth, Newton Abbot, Plymouth, Tavistock, Teignmouth, Tiverton, Topsham and Totnes, and convinced people from various other places to come to us at The Imperial, AKA our Exeter office. We don’t claim this makes us experts — you have to live in a place, ideally for years, before you can really say that — but it did give us a deeper sense of what is going on than we’d otherwise have acquired.
When the column came to an end at Christmas, we took a bit of time to reflect on what we learned, and to draw some conclusions.
Full-bore, full-on craft beer peters out beyond Bristol. In Devon, you’ll find individual outposts in Plymouth (Vessel), Exeter (Hops + Craft) and Newton Abbot (Teign Cellars, The Maltings) but you need to be mobile to manage anything like a crawl. If you think brown bitter is endangered, spend more time in Devon. Time after time we spoke to people who expressed mild frustration at the conservatism of the county – at the aversion to things pale, bitter or aromatic – and of the need to dial things back and down if they want to sell any of it in local pubs. There are too many potentially interesting beers that feel compromised, and too many brewers who know it.
Cask still rules. One of the more interesting case studies for us was a brewery based just outside Exeter, which we wrote up in November 2016:
Powderkeg followed in the direct footsteps of Scottish brewery BrewDog which went keg-only in 2012 and whose punk-inspired rhetoric was echoed in John Magill’s statement at launch that Powderkeg wanted to ‘sow a few seeds of rebellion among our friends and customers’.
And yet, a year and a half on, Powderkeg produces cask-conditioned beer as well as keg. What led to this compromise?
‘It’s Devon being not quite ready for the keg revolution,’ says John Magill with a verbal shrug. ‘I looked at London and Bristol and thought there was probably room in the market for a keg-only brewery but, like any business, you go in with a plan and then adapt as you go along.’
As a consequence, some of the most interesting beer in Devon is bottled. We’ve offered measured praise to Moonchild, a brewery run by a Belgian, Fred Caure. Not every beer is perfect but many we’ve tried have been very good indeed, and they are certainly always interesting, neither West Country real ale nor BrewDog-style craft beer, but strange and characterful in a different way. But good luck finding them in a pub – it’s delicatessens, bottle shops and restaurants, or nowt. (The fact that Devon has two Belgian-style breweries is a particular oddity; the other is Buckland Brewers run by Frits Takken who moved to the UK from the Netherlands in the late 1970s.)
But lager is a ‘thing’, too. One of the very best beers being brewed in Devon today (with advice from Adrian Tierney-Jones, we gather) is Otter’s Tarka, a draught lager inspired by Jever. We’re not big fans of Otter’s cask ale but really love this one. Powderkeg’s Cut Loose is great, too – flowery and sulphurous. Bulletproof in Plymouth is a small outfit – very small, literally a garden shed when we last checked – focused on producing lager, with ambitions to be the next Camden. You might think this is somehow inappropriate but remember Exeter had a lager brewery as far back as the 1880s, the remains of which you can still see today.
It’s harder to drink local than it ought to be. The best beer in Plymouth might be Bass. Exeter’s pubs are controlled by Greene King, Marston’s and Young’s, though St Austell are making moves. There are no established Devon family/regional/trad breweries to compete with these outsiders and there seems to be very little free trade for anyone to play into. When we did stumble upon Devon beer in random pubs it was too often lifeless, bland, rough-edged, or some combination of the three.
It’s a region where Spoons comes into its own. We had a dreary time trudging round Teignmouth out of season until we found the brand new Wetherspoon pub, bright and cheerful, with a line-up of guest ales from Devon and beyond. This experience was echoed in Tiverton and again in Okehampton. And we’ve long said that Exeter’s best pub is The Imperial – a strange and (yes, let’s commit) regrettable state of affairs.
Tuckers Maltings beer festival at Newton Abbot is as good as they say. It feels like a carnival, a major event in the town calendar, attended by dignitaries and locals as much as travelling CAMRA firms. People nagged us to go for years and we never got round to it, but writing the column gave us the necessary push, and we had a great time. (Disclosure: we paid our own way except that Guy Sheppard, co-organiser, arranged free entry for the second session.)
And the Bridge Inn at Topsham also deserves its reputation. It’s one of a handful of magical pubs that don’t feel like they really belong in this century:
On our visit during the dregs of winter we found it aglow with warm light, dim in the corners, with an arcane culture all of its own. There are the signs, for one thing, a passive-aggressive laying down of the law: ‘Nothing ever changes at The Bridge – we are still No Smoking! (Including e-cigs.)’; ‘Please remember this little parlour is not a public area and is regarded as our family sitting room.’
There is a bar, just about, but most people were being served in the corridor, hovering by the door of the aforementioned parlour which leads directly to the cellar where pints are not pulled but poured direct from the cask.
Beer geeks wanting advice on where to stay in Devon should know that, though there is no equivalent to Falmouth, Totnes does have a couple of breweries, several interesting pubs and bars, and even a brewery tap room.
A prediction: when micropubs come to Devon in earnest, they’re going to turn things upside down. There are a few already (albeit strange variants) but it feels as if there’s room for many more, and they really will fit perfectly — not too trendy, and ideal for small towns and large villages which might struggle to support bigger pubs, or whose bigger pubs are the kind of seasonal sunshine beasts too often deserted or even closed in winter.
In summary, we love Devon, but more for its landscape, history, culture and fresh air than for its beer. If you can find pleasure in a passable pint in a passable pub (we often can) you’ll be OK; if you absolutely must have a double IPA, don’t expect to stumble upon it – do your research before you go, and be prepared to trek a bit beyond the tourist centres.
* * *
It has half crossed our minds to write some sort of beer guide to the West Country covering Bristol to Scilly but knowing that we haven’t been to every single village and tasted every single beer holds us back. What do you reckon? Would you find it useful for your next holiday out that way?
BrewDog today announced the launch of Pink IPA, a product identical to their standard Punk IPA except for a bright pink label, and the fact that it will be 20 per cent cheaper for women in BrewDog bars, in reference to the gender pay gap.
Satirically dubbed Beer for Girls, Pink IPA is BrewDog’s clarion call to close the gender pay gap in the UK and around the world and to expose sexist marketing to women, particularly within the beer industry. This is our overt parody on the failed, tone-deaf campaigns that some brands have attempted in order to attract women.
The collective reaction to this, it’s probably fair to say, averages out to something like a pained groan.
Criticism ranges from suggestions of rank cynicism — they knew this would annoy people, thus generating coverage — to a sense that BrewDog (to whom the nickname BroDog has occasionally been applied) is the equivalent of “that lad from your A-level politics class who makes ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes but it’s OK because he’s being ‘ironic’ and is actually a ‘feminist’”. (@alys_key) It’s juvenile, it’s tone deaf, it’s an attempt to co-opt a serious campaign to sell beer. And so on.
Now, from our point of view, the idea itself doesn’t seem so dreadful even if the execution is terribly clumsy. Yes, it might be time for them to admit that a very large, very successful business is not a great vehicle for social commentary or satire — the phrase, we believe, is ‘punching down’ — but we suspect this is intended sincerely, or as sincerely as a marketing stunt can ever be. We believe there are people in management at BrewDog, which remember is very much more than Watt & Dickie these days, who care about these issues and really are trying to find a way to use the company’s clout for good.
But those who are more troubled by this than us (and we don’t question their right to be) find themselves in a quandary. Do they ignore it, thus giving BrewDog a pass? Or do they call it out, thus giving BrewDog publicity?
We’ve long suspected that BrewDog’s marketing strategy is to embed itself into the minds of people outside the beer bubble because that’s the only way to make sense of some its more surprising decisions. We daresay they’d have preferred to go viral today because the reaction to this stunt was positive, but they’ll probably cope with the hurt feelings by reflecting on how they trended on Twitter, got parodied by other monster brands, and were the focus of comment after comment after comment in the global mainstream.
To put that another way, people might be saying, “BrewDog — what a bunch of wankers!”, but at least they’re saying BrewDog, over and over again.
A Scrapbook of Inns by Rowland Watson, published in 1949, is a cut above the usual ‘quaint old inns’ hack job, its snippets of old books and articles acting as an effective index to beer and pub writing from public domain sources.
It’s not rare. We picked our copy up for £3.99 in a charity shop, still in its dust jacket, and with a dedication to ‘Sydney, with best wishes from Rhode & all at Bedford, Christmas 1954’. There are plenty of copies for sale online at around the same price and we’ve seen multiple copies in secondhand bookshops in the past year.
We think — assume — the author is the same Rowland Watson best known as a literary editor, born in 1890, and who died in 1968. He doesn’t have much to say about himself in the foreword, using those two brief paragraphs to hammer an important point: this anthology is not a collection of the usual quotations from Pepys, Dr Johnson and Dickens, but rather of obscurities bookmarked during decades of reading, mostly from the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Now, of course, most of this stuff is quite easy to find in full, with searchable text, via online libraries (Google Books, Hathi Trust, Gutenberg, Archive.org) and newspaper archives. Even so, this book has directed us to lots of things we would never otherwise have thought to explore, such as George Borrow’s 1862 book Wild Wales which betrays the author’s proto beer geekery with tasting notes on Llangolen ale (great) and Chester ale (so disgusting he spat it out of a window). There’s arguably now so much digitised material online that finding the good stuff can be a challenge, and this collection works as a kind of sift, pointing straight to the gold.
It is organised in two large sections covering (a) London and (b) the country, with extracts grouped at the next level down as tales of publicans, food and drink, curiosities, ‘high jinks’ and so on.
There are also lots of illustrations, all except one in black and white, ranging from quarter- to full-page. The paper is nice, too, and we bet more than few copies have been cannibalised to provide framed pictures for pub walls.
By way of a taster of the contents, if we were still writing our Devon Life column we’d definitely take a look into ‘Ashburton Pop’, for which the small town was “as famous…. as London is for porter” according to a quotation from the 1838 Table Book of William Hone:
I recollect its sharp feeding good taste, far richer than the best small beer, more of the champagne taste, and…. when you untied and hand-drew the cork, it gave a report louder than a pop gun, to which I attribute its name…
And the horrific account of the preparation of turtles for eating at The Bush, Bristol, c.1796, equalled only grimness by the tale of the Boscastle inn which served roasted baby seal with potatoes, suggests an interesting line of research into grotesque pub foods of the past. (Farthing pies at The Green Man, AKA The Farthing Pie House, on Euston Road in London sound much more like it.)
In short, if you come across a copy of this for the price of a pin, grab it. Casual dippers will find plenty to enjoy, while scholarly types will almost certainly find a source or two new to them, or the seed of a story waiting to be told.
Keg beer dispense quality is not often talked about in the UK, at least in contrast to the perpetual hand-wringing that goes on with regard to cask ale. But it deserves to be a very big issue, because a huge number of pubs and bars in the UK are not set up to serve craft keg beer in the best condition…. That’s because most keg dispense equipment in the UK has been designed to suit low-carbonation, sterile-filtered big-name lager brands, which are relatively easy to look after. But modern craft beers come in a bewildering variety and they need individual treatment, be that a higher temperature of serve or a different gas mix.
I knew I had mere hours with a man I didn’t know. But with a hundred questions in my head none of which could be answered by someone intent on impressing me, I would need to put my questions aside and make him feel at ease enough to remove his veneer. But how would I do that? Strangely enough, I did know. I needed just two simple props: a pub table and some beer.
Reines and I are sharing a quiet moment at the after-party of the town’s homebrew competition and festival, which he organizes. Things are getting a little philosophical because, well, we’ve been drinking since lunchtime. We’ve just spent a half hour kneeling on the floor in front of his new sound system, listening to Nordic heavy metal at a volume I was sure would echo across the fjords and all the way back to my home in England.
Our favourite thing? Fritz the bucket. (Oddly misnamed Franz in the text.)
I am fully aware and appreciative of the costs involved in creating beer and I am in no doubt that prices are fair (for the most part). I just know that I’m not flush enough. So what am I suggesting here? That breweries should make no-frills beer for us poor people too? That there should be a pay-it-forward scheme involved? No, of course not. I’m just highlighting the fact that keeping up with trends in craft beer is exclusionary in it’s nature and there should be some awareness of this. Not everybody can take part. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who can’t or don’t take part are any less enthusiastic about beer than the people collecting new cans like Pokémon cards.
There’s been a fair bit of news on the sexism-in-beer front this week:
Brewers! You will want to get your hands on the new e-book by Andreas Krenmair, Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer. He’s undertaken lots of painstaking research to come up with recipes for everything from Dreher-style Vienna lager to Mannheimer Braunbier. We bought a copy and have already found lots to chew on even though we don’t have any immediate plans to brew.
Here’s something a bit different: from the BBC World Service programme Outlook, some audio, on the subject of Rwandan ‘banana beer’. Christine Murebwayire grew up in a family of banana beer brewers and then, many years later, used it to drag her family out of poverty:
“A lot of people like to drink banana beer but some educated, smart people feel uncomfortable drinking it because it’s not a very sophisticated drink. So I thought, if I could make a smarter drink to drink on social occasions, it will appeal to a bigger market….”
(We think you should be able to listen to this worldwide; apologies if not.)
This week we’ll finish not with a Tweet as usual but with a film trailer: Walk Like a Panther is a real sign of the times — a Full Monty style comedy about a community banding together to save the local pub from closure.
Walk Like A Panther | Official Trailer #1 | 2018 - YouTube