How Many Brewers Are Actually Happy To Leech Off Ron’s Research?

This comment was left on FB by what looks like the owner of maybe the 4573rd most important brewery in the USA and I find it just stunning:

Ron Pattinson I recently brewed an AK recipe I believe you posted on Beeradvocate. We are a brand new brewery and I tagged you on social media in an attempt to point people in the direction of the great work you do. I did respond “guilty”. But I’m not so sure. Do you want to sell books or do you want to sell recipes? Is Barclay Perkins or the myriad other breweries getting a cut of your book sales? Is Eldrige Pope getting any of the ad revenue per click for their 1893 recipe? That nod I gave to you was out of respect. Not guilt. Rethinking that.

See, Ron is exploring how to get at least a cut of all the money he makes for others who use his brewing records research. He just put up a payment button which he stated was for those needing to atone for their guilt. Over a decade ago I realized there was no money in writing well about beer. And I’m lucky to be otherwise employed. But for years, I have encouraged his efforts in this respect and he has had some success. But only some. Do you like historic beer recreations? You owe a debt to Ron. Do you buy or sell beers styled as gose or a number of forgotten styles… even if the given beer is an abomination of the style? Thank Ron.

Ron is one of my favourite people who I’ve met through beer. Been lucky enough to have been out with him on three blurry weekends if I recall correctly. His work in brewing history speaks for itself. I actually don’t think of him as a beer historian so much as the chief archivist of the entire good beer movement. So, when some dope writes the sort of thing I cut and pasted above, it’s not only depressing. It’s a bit disgusting.

My next recommendation is that Ron hide his actual research for brewers, post about his findings but offer the details only to subscribers. It’s the least he deserves. Frankly, why the guy isn’t on long term consulting contracts for big craft brewers is beyond me. Except this is beer. Par for the course.

Struggling With 1600s Derbyshire Strong Ale (Pt 1)

I was thinking I needed to write a post about Derby ale. The other week when I wrote this post with a bit more information about some of the other great 1600s strong ales Margate and Northdown and Hull and Lambeth, I knew I needed to have a look at Derby.  I even had this lovely map, above, of the road to London from Derby* of the era, John Ogilby‘s atlas of 1675 working on the premise that it was going to tell me about how the beer got from Derby to London. A lovely map.

But then I began to read more and realized that I needed to understand more about the roads and the river Trent, the fuel crisis from 1550 to 1700 and period barley varieties. This is because, it strike me, Derby ale might just be the combination of at least three unique elements coming together as opposed the factors which caused its competition. It might actually be quite unlike them altogether – an ale named for a municipality which is not necessarily the municipality in which each example was brewed.

Then after a week of assembling the post and hitting 2500 words, I realized I need to break this down into manageable bits. So, in this post I am going to discuss factors related to Derby ale in the 1600s related to transportation and malt kilning while leaving other factors to another. Hopefully this will be more helpful even if, as Stan commiserated with me, after viewing yet another text “getting it wrong” I am also well aware no one much reads the history posts. Which is fine.

Factor One: Goods and Navigation on the Trent and Derwent

For a beer to be worth the cost of transportation, it is reasonable to expect that it had to have an advantage making that cost worthwhile. Advantage is key. We know that the poet Andrew Marvell obsessed, in his side gig as a Member of Parliament for Hull from 1658 to 1678, over the effect taxation was having on his constituency’s brewing industry. Given its 1600s southerly competition were all much closer, any imposition on the price of Hull ale would affect the position of Hull ale exports to London greatly.

The same is true for other great beers of the pre-Georgian era. In this post, I discussed how the opening of the Trent in 1711 by, George Hayne made the Trent navigable to the southwest of Nottingham leading to, in issue 383 of The Spectator from 20 May 1712, the early journalist Addison notes going out for the day in London with his pal Sir Roger to drink Burton ale. New and improved transit makes for new an improved drinks choices for the wealth drenched.

The city of Derby sits on a tributary of the Trent, the north to south flowing river Derwent** near where the rivers meet. Historically, the Trent was not navigable or at least not safe or perhaps reliable upriver from Nottingham, 13 miles to the east of Derby. According to this source, the Derwent was opened to navigation from Derby to the Trent at Wilden Ferry in 1721 under an Act passed the previous year. After the 1600s. In 1699, the same source states that the authority to open the Trent from Wilden Ferry to Burton was granted by Parliament to Lord Paget*** but only exercised, as noted above, in 1711. Again, after the 1600s.  So, following what might today be a 16 miles portion of the A52, goods would have been carted from Derby to Nottingham for loading on watercraft for London.

But would they? It is clear Derby ale is well known in London in the 1600s well before the opening up of the Trent and Derwent. Pepys drank it in the 1660s. The fame of Derby ale has been argued to be tied to the development of coke during the English Civil War in the 1640s. Hornsey, too, describes in his now ten year old History of Beer and Brewing how Derby produced fine ale by the mid-1600s. So before the rivers were made open in the 1700s, Derby ale was known. Meaning it had to have been, at least, moved by a mix of transport modes.

Notice, too, the scale of operations. As Martyn pointed out in a 2009 post, the historian RA Mott, writing in 1965, said of the town:

“In 1693, when there were 694 family houses, there were 76 malt houses and 120 ale houses, so that malt-making and brewing must have been the dominant occupations. A list of those occupied in the wool, leather, wood, metal and stone trades and the normal supply occupations left room for some 200 maltsters and brewers. Much malt was carried to the ferry on the river Trent, five miles away, whence it could go by water to London; 300 pack-horse loads (each of 6 bushels which each contained 40lb) or 32 tons were taken weekly into Lancashire and Cheshire.”

Which, if you think about it, is interesting. Pre-aggregation. If there are 76 malt houses, there isn’t one central mammoth Derby Malting Co. Similarly, there are 120 ale houses, not one or five big breweries. What is going on is cottage industry production. One alehouse or malt house for every 3.5 households on average. A large number of small operations coming together to make one product. This is different from, for example, the contemporary competition out of Northdown which depended on the reputation of one brewer, the “inventor” Mr. Prince.

Wikipedia tells us that stone barns and warehouses still exist at Shardlow, described as an inland port developed before the improvement of navigation on the Trent. Shardlow sit on the north side of the Trent “about 6 miles southeast of Derby and 11 miles southwest of Nottingham.” It is just to the west of where the Derwent enters the Trent. This is a heritage listing for a 1700s Shardlow barn which sits on “the London Road.” Here is another in the parish of Shardow on Wilne Lane, Great Wilne which sits to the east of Shardlow itself. This is a survey of bats living at another.  The regional tourism development agency describes the key feature of Shardlow today thusly:

Shardlow is one of the best-preserved inland canal ports in the country… A walk along the canal towpath brings you into contact with many of the old buildings of the Canal Age. Mostly now used for different purposes, but still largely intact: the massive warehouses that once stored ale, cheese, coal, cotton, iron, lead, malt, pottery and salt; and the wharves where goods were loaded and unloaded. 

A district with period barns and warehouses for storing bulk grain, malt and other goods indicates something. That it was a hub of storing bulk grain, malt and other goods. A point of aggregation.

Click on the thumbnail to the right. Notice the lay of the land. A narrow winding river in boggy land to both sides of the Trent Canal and the river itself. The Derwent also twists away to the north. No wonder getting goods through this area was difficult. No wonder statutes of Parliament and great investments were needed to get the goods out of the district in the 1700s.

So, to get out of town and down to London, Derby ale had to be transported and transported along a long road or a boggy river yet to be improved. Which, like the extra distance Hull ale needed to cover, is a cost that apparently Londoners were willing to bear.

Factor Two: Coke, Straw and Pale Ale

Derby ale is known to be an early adopter of coke kilned malt. Derbyshire, along with being the valley of the Derwent, is part of a fairly southerly coal mining district. A canal was finally constructed in the 1790s to get the coal out. Hornsey also describes in History of Beer and Brewing how Derby produced fine coke by the mid-1600s due to the particular purity and hardness of the region’s coal. Even so, coke was not immediately or universally accepted as a replacement for wood or straw.

Note that, I said above, the generally accepted date of coke being used for the kilning of malt is in the 1640s. But in 1977, an article in Scientific American states “[b]efore the British (sic) civil war of the 1640s, coke was introduced for the drying of malt in connection with the brewing industry.” Before. This appears consistent with contemporary records. In 1637, Charles I of England received the following petition:

61. Petition of John Gaspar Wolffen, his Majesty’s servant, to the King. Your Majesty gave leave to petitioner to make trial of his invention for brewing with a “charked” sea coal, which, as your Majesty has seen yourself, yields no smoke, and will do as readily, and within a little as cheap, as the ordinary way of brewing. Prays licence for brewers of Westminster and other places, questioned about smoke, who are willing to embrace the said invention, to continue in their brewhouses without molestation.

“Charked.” Made dark as if charcoal. Sea coal. Not Derby mined coal. Sea coal is coal gathered on a beach. It was gathered until at least ten years ago in some parts of Britain. An opportunity to make coke with that coal was suggested earlier by a decade. This is an interesting thing. It’s the sort of thing that was interesting to Martyn back in 2009 when he wrote this about coke kilning and Derby ale:

Coke was invented in the North of England (it appears to be a North Country dialect word, originally meaning “core”, as if the “coakes” were the “core” of the coal), apparently in the 17th century. Its use to make malt was first taking place in Derbyshire in the early 1640s, according to John Houghton, an apothecary and part-time journalist, who issued a weekly bulletin in the 1690s and early 1700s, price two pence, called A Collection for Improvement of Agriculture and Trade. In one issue in 1693 he talked about the coal miners of Derbyshire, and added:

The reason of Derby malt being so fine and sweet, my friend thinks is the drying it with cowks, which is a sort of coal … ’tis not above half a century of years since they dried their malt with straw (as other places now do) before they used cowkes which made that alteration since that all England admires.

Note one more thing about that passage from Houghton which Martyn quotes. Coke is the successor to straw. Not to coal. Not wood. Not even charcoal – aka “charked” wood. We have established, in this post from three years ago, that straw had been used for yoinks to kiln lovely pale and un-smoked malt. As Houghton stated in the 1690s: “’tis not above half a century of years since they dried their malt with straw…” Coke is the next fuel, not the first. We need to accept that pale malts either – sun dried and straw kilned – were a thing well before coke. Why wouldn’t there be? Cheap and effective and no one was sitting around glum waiting for the future when coke was going to be invented.

We know that ale was popular, pale and not smokey in the 1690s after coke was introduced as a kilning fuel as Martyn showed in 2009:

[A]nother late 17th century writer, Mr Christopher Merret*, “surveyor of the Port of Boston”, fills the breach, though writing about Lincolnshire, not Derby. In a paper called “An Account of Several Observables in Lincolnshire, Not Taken Notice of in Camden, or Any Other Author”, presented to the Royal Society in 1695-97, he wrote:

“Here Cool are Charred and then call’d Couk, wherewith they Dry Malt, giving little Colour or Taste to the Drink made therewith.”

Pale ale was definitely being made in Lincolnshire in the 1690s from coke-dried malt. Yet earlier than that point, paleness and purity of taste was not created by coke. Over 100 years earlier a similar observation was made, well before the invention of coke by William Harrison, a scholar clergyman, who published his book A Description of England in 1577. Here is a full copy of the text posted by Fordham University in which you will find this:

The best malt is tried by the hardness and colour; for, if it look fresh with a yellow hue, and thereto will write like a piece of chalk, after you have bitten a kernel in sunder in the midst, then you may assure yourself that it is dried down. In some places it is dried at leisure with wood alone or straw alone, in others with wood and straw together; but, of all, the straw dried is the most excellent. For the wood-dried malt when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke.

Chalk is, you will note, pale and also that smoke is associated with wood. Straw kilned malt has the best of both. This was long remembered. In the seventh edition of the The London and Country Brewer from 1759, this is stated under the heading “The Value of Coak”:

It is a most sweet Fuel for drying Malt, the pale Sort in particular, but is best made from the large Pit Coal, which has supplanted the Use of Straw Fuel; and, when it is made to Perfection, it is the most admired Sort of all others.

This passage is in Chapter IX “Of the Fuel to dry Malt, of Malt, &do.” In that chapter, there is a description of techniques and a variety of fuels in a number of English locations including an unnamed town (ie “…in this Town of ____…“), Warminster, Ispswith, Oxfordshire as well as Derbyshire. A number of fuels are described such as aged wood, Welsh coal, coke, fern after a good shower of rain, wheat straw and “Newcastle Coal burnt in a Cockle-Oast.” A successful malt kilning is described as forcing “a quicker Fire to crisp the Kernel, and thereby save Fuel, Time and Labour.” Which means that even as late as 1759, the driving forces behind making malt are financial efficiency through use of available local resources. Standardization of malt kilning fuel has yet to be imposed through full scientific industrialization. Coke is not yet king.

The chapter also includes a specific discussion of Derby ale:

Mr. Houghton’s Observations of Malt-Making – The Reason, he says, why Derby malt does not make so strong ale as formerly, now they make the pale Sort, is because they lay it too thin on the floor to come, by which a great deal is not malted and the rest only Barley turned. Now in Hampshire, he says, the Barley, which is much smaller and thicker skinned,  is laid thicker on the Floors, and consequently heats, and all becomes rich Malt and makes stronger Beer with the same Quantity.

The Mr. Houghton being quoted is John Houghton (1645–1705), member of the Royal Society, a newsletter publisher writing in the 1680s and 1690s and an apothecary – as was Louis Hébert in Quebec in the first half of the same century. Proto-scientists. The passage above referencing Houghton from the The London and Country Brewer in the 1750s is looking back to Houghton’s opinion in the last two decades of the 1600s by which time Derby ale is already on the downturn, less than it once was. 

We will leave it there for now. This one has hit about 2650 itself. So more in another post soon. Derby ale was something that was worth getting out of the hinterland into the capital. It was made with coke and, before that, straw. Straw was still being used side by side with coke after the new technology was initially introduced. And, whatever it was, Derby ale was already on the way down at the end of the 1600s.

*Which I think is now part of the A6.
**I know “-by” is town so I presume “-went” is river and both relate to “the Der” – whatever that is.
***Another ambassador to Constantinople like Sir John Finch who loved Northdown.

Ontario: Patricia, Stone City Ales, Kingston

A beer with subtitles: autumn saison, brewed with sweet potato and squash. I bought two bottles of this a few Fridays ago from the retail counter at Stone City, a short march up the hill from work. The first bottle gave me a bit of pause. This was an example of something. An excellent beer thoughtfully made that I liked but, still, one that I was not sure about.

And my uncertainty was fuelled by my own uncertainty as to why I am uncertain. So I am glad I bought two. This is a fabulous beer. The base saison is white peppered and dry. The gourd and rhizome quite restrained. On this warm Sunday afternoon in the middle of this strangely warm autumn, it tastes like the rich earthy air flowing in through the wide open windows. It is a clever timely release with adjuncts which are right up my alley. I grow squash and we even have use the nickname Swee Apado around the house, given we eat so much of it. So what is wrong?

Clouded vintage gold ale under a lacing fine white head. On the nose, it is classic saison in the Dupont style. Not the DuPont one, if you know what I mean. Backing it up is the dirt-tang of sweet potato. In the mouth, immediately dry and twiggy herbal with an very pronounced opening of flavours in the swallow followed by a long long hot herbal finish that resolves into the squash. The vegetable elements hide, show, hide then show.

I worry that my problem is this beer is cleverer than I am. Rustic and elegant. I can personally only claim the first. In my mind, I am searching for a place to put the beer. Pigeon hole it. I want to have it with spurting hot venison sausages. In a coconut curry. Or pork shoulder roasted on a bed of parsnips. I want a balancing fattiness. But is that fair to the beer in itself? Yeats spoke about loving something, someone for herself alone.  I have never claimed to be all that nuanced in my tastes but this may well be suggesting, strongly, that I revisit my limitations. I don’t like to not get the point of something this good.

So… I consulted Keats and his poem Ode to Autumn. The subtitle asked me to, no? And this explains everything. This is not the autumn of mists and mellow fruitfulness in the glass. That’s the autumn of back to school. A month ago. This beer speaks to a later point – the brittle leaf pile, warm welcome corduroys. Early sunsets and chilly walks back up Cobourg Road to get to college, to happy hour. Soccer practice with freezing knees. Remembrance Day and singing “Abide with Me” down at the Grand Parade.

We are not there yet. Here the leaves are still on the tree and I am picking cherry tomatoes off the vine a month after the equinox. I mowed today. Soon it will be six months to May. Four to March. This will be a short winter if autumn still is a ways off yet.


Gord Downie And Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel”

I love this poem so was delighted, on the day of his passing, to discover that our local lad Gord Downie had recorded his version of Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel” in 2011 or so. It is a great way to understand Ontario-ness. Once upon a time, I had the poem posted on the former version of the blog. But I was asked to remove it by Purdy’s publisher by way of one of the nicest cease and desist letters ever written. I also received an email over ten years ago from the late Roy Bonisteel, another famous Canadian, forwarded by a family member friend and colleague who wanted to clarify one point:

I like the beer blog….it’s very good. An interesting fact that a lot of people don’t know is that although Bellevillians are very proud of Al Purdy‘s poem about the Quinte Hotel…it is not the Belleville Quinte.  It is the Trenton Quinte…now called something else…where Purdy drank. At this same time I had a room at the Quinte when I was driving cab and working at the Courier. At that time we didn’t know each other…but year’s later over many a beer, talked about the fact that we had both been there at the same time. Tell your friend I’ll keep up with his blog.
Cheers,  Roy

One thing I love about that is that the bar is called a hotel in the title but a tavern in the text of the poem. I call any place a tavern or, better, a tav until I learn otherwise.

“Nipperkin” In The 1790s New York Press

I love me a good collection action by beer bloggers and today B+B published initial results on the meaning of nip and nipperkin after a bit of a Twitter discussion yesterday. Ignoring for the moment the question of why I am writing so much about their ideas while entirely ignoring the debacle of the BA’s most recent PR botch, let’s just understand one thing if nothing else in this makes sense – when a man loves a pottle then can a nipperkin be so bad?

To the upper right is a poem published in New York City’s Columbian Gazetteer of 9 January 1794.  The content of the poem is wallopingly inappropriate to our eye in how it essentially says “let thinking, more pies and drinkin!'” but there it is… stingo by the nipperkin. Can I apologize and promise in atonement to make a pie or pudding myself and read my wife something in Greek before making a toast? I shall try and might report back.

A bit of a survey about the databases tells me there is was not a lot of use for either word in the press for the time, though a poem on the role of stingo in flips appeared later that same year on the New York Daily Gazette of 25 August 1794.  Click on the image to the left. The recipe for flip is quite extraordinary: rum, maple syrup, hopped beer and pumpkin. But it is drunk by the mug into which a hot poker was plunged. Not by the tiny nipperkin.

A brief entry. Go add anything you find and report back to Boak and Bailey.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 2)

This is a difficult review to write. Even if it is only part two so therefore half a review. I don’t like to come across as all fawning… but I have a hard time finding anything other to write other than I think this is the best book about beer I have ever read. See what I mean? How dull is that? Think of Jesus in Paradise Lost. That dull. How can I illustrate this problem in such a way that is actually helpful to you, that bit of the reading public who stops by here from time to time? Let’s see.

First, voice. One of the most interesting things about this book is how at quite specific points – but only at quite specific points – the writers breach what in TV is called the fourth wall. In sitcoms and crime dramas, we all assume, unconsciously sitting in our rec rooms on our sofas, that we are a camera, in a room with the actors and that the view of the lens is the view of the person viewing at home but somehow also in the room. Or when we read a book we forget we are interacting with an author and get lost in the suspension of the disbelief that one hope a good book offers as we are brought along by the storyteller’s pace. As is fully the case with this book – except when the authors interject themselves into the commentary about either the subject matter or the process of writing at certain points. It is deftly managed. Interspersed amongst long passages of excellently research and absorbingly described history. The authors are not there in view until they are and only when it is helpful.*

Second, structure. One of the most appealing things about this book is now it is not derivative. Beer books too often take the structure of other beer books** and maybe event a large part of its content and replicates it with a supposed update in terms of geography or the passage of, say, 18 months since the publication of a book roughly on the same topic. How many intro style manuals, food and beer pairing texts or geographical guides have come out? How many more will? Many.*** But structured histories leading through an important period? Few. THEN, add into the fact that it leads up to and creates the theoretical foundation for understanding many of the drinking establishments you have ever visited – more likely the case in the UK but not at all dislocated from the modern North American experience given how this micro brewing era began in the late 70s and early 80s in large part as an homage to UK brewing traditions. This gets a bit shocking as you realize you are reading whole chapters organized around disassembling elements of social patterns you just accepted were there. Consider just the chapter on gastropubs. It’s good enough on its own to be something you might read in that magazine that accompanies the Sunday edition of The New York Times. It also explains the milk paint in certain pubs and craft beer bars, where all the out of pattern plates and dishes came from and why a pile of salad is next to your shepherd’s pie – or more likely not shepherd’s pie but something a bit nicer. I actually looked up when I was done the chapter and thought to myself “what a good chapter” which is about as high a level of praise as I give out, chapterwise.****

Third, detailed research. Using primary sources contemporary to events! Footnotes. We get so numbed by fictive influencers, promoting pundits and the otherwise compromised that original research comes as a surprise. But there it is. Especially heartening is the presence of original transcriptions or newspaper interview of people who are – wait for it – still alive. Which means the authors have consciously made the determination that records contemporary with an occurrence are to be preferred to the recollection of the occurrence many years later. They got themselves into public libraries and perhaps even private business records. This is something which the entire history of craft beer in North America does not seem to have come to grips with yet. While oral history projects are certainly valuable, have we an effort out there to archive original records related to US craft in the 1980s? At the moment I am more confident that we could create a documented understanding of the state of American brewing in the 1880s. Not so now with the 20th century English pub.

Fourth, envy. This book is extremely appealing in its simple presentation of a well researched topic pushed along by a compelling narrative. Having co-written books myself, I was even thinking of how I might allocate bits to being more Boak than Bailey but gave up almost immediately. I have to be honest with myself. I have hacked away at this writing stuff for years. In relation to just beer about 26.6% of my life. I like to think what I have written is useful and entertainingly stated***** but, holy moly, is this stuff both strong and subtly put. As I recall, there is no more than two pages on how US black servicemen were received in English pubs during WW2 but it is so well placed and quietly left that you can’t help but contemplate the implications. Conversely, the massive and loud noise that was imposed on the UK market by the creation and expansion of that which is J.D. Wetherspoons is presented in great detail but without any bluster. Another well controlled, satisfying chapter.

So, there you have it. I have little more to add. A very solid bit of work.  I told you it was good. And it is. Get it.

*There. That’s not too fawning. I think I am off on the right track. This book is not just a patched together bunch of blog posts. It’s a book.
**They themselves first nicked from wine.
***Yes, we know that it is all publishers want but really.
****Fine, yes… fawning. Fine. Still true.
*****Especially this stuff about beer and brewing from the 1600s which I am not sure you are all appreciating as much as you should.

The Two Year Dead “Craft” Is Still Dead And Might Be Expecting Company

This graph… err… table to the left right was posted on the internets today by Jeff Alworth. It is tied by him to the piece in GBH by Bryan Roth about the meaning of IPA – which has the wonderful and likely most accurate thing about IPA or even craft I have read: “IPAs are what people want from me, you kind of have to give them what they want…” Jeff posted a piece himself on the now stone cold demise of of “craft” – an event I sent my funeral wreath and condolences in relation to over two and half years ago. Oliver Grey wanted it put out of its misery even further back.

The main point to focus on today, however, is not the disutility of the terms but the disutilty of the graph. It goes to a notion of abstraction and levels of abstraction. The graph offers a fabulous illustration of the failure to align levels of abstraction. You will see, yippee, that IPA wins in the race to top the craft beer style race.  The problem is not whether this is correct or not as we all know people who know nothing about craft beer who ask for an IPA. It’s the chardonnay of white wine circa 1999 in that respect. Code for (i) something that the drinker will like (ii) that the bartender will understand (iii) because the bar likely stocks it. Because “…you kind of have to give them what they want…”

The problem is that IPA is an umbrella term, even if a useful one. Consider the other terms in the list. “Craft Scottish,” “craft porter,” “craft dark beer” and even “craft amber” might for the average person reasonably all fit into “craft brown beer” as an umbrella term. “Craft IPA” on the other hand is known to include unspecified styles like IPA itself, DIPA, TIPA, BIPA, WIPA and any number of other Franken-styles designed primarily to ram the three letters “I” and “P” and “A” onto the label to ensure that the code speaking person in the bar orders one thus making the sale. Does this mean IPAs are not the most popular category? No. Does it mean I always know what I will get in the glass when I order one? The answer, compared to say pilsner, is also no.

As the ripples on the lake into which “craft” was flung a few years ago spread out to their limit and fade, we should be aware of how its fate was tied to it becoming an abstract concept prone to influence, interest and malleability. For me, IPA is half way down that same slippery slope.* I look for other words to guide me beyond the relative hop intensity flag that it waves. As has happened over and over, hop intensity itself fades as either or both an offering or a preference. You see it starting in the fruity murk that I have been, frankly, fooled a few times into ordering. As in the past, what is an IPA might be now or in the future be quite forgotten for the very reason that graph unintentionally demonstrates.

*…because, see, before badly used words are flung into the lake they slide down a slippery slope. Presumably there is a ramp involved near shoreline.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 1)

It should be no secret that I have looked forward to the publication of 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey ever since the project was hinted at on their blog. The feeling reminded me of the release some years ago of Pete Brown’s Hops And Glory which I reviewed over four blog posts in 2009. What I think I find most similar between my expectations for these two books is the anticipation of work by authors who have proven themselves to be creative and committed in their previous books. I am only half way through 20th Century Pub but it has already exceeded even these expectations – so much so that I want to jump queue to tell you about their methodology and why I think you should just to email them and buy this excellent bit of work.

This book reminds me a bit more of their neither long nor short work, 2014’s Gambrinus Waltz: German Lager Beer in Victorian and Edwardian London than their perhaps more well known first book, later that same year’s Brew Britannia. I say that because the historical narrative is driven a bit more by the greater context of society than just the players involved. One of the odd things about the history of micro brewing and later craft beer is how personality drives the discussion. That is fine for early days when there were a few people (although sometimes not necessarily the same few people, the successful survivors, who self-identify) who were the actual pioneers. And, to be fair to those involved, the early days of craft appear to not have generated as many records considered worth retaining as we keeners today might have wished.* However, while it is fun to learn about these people and (as sometimes occurs) associated vicariously with them, it is far more interesting to understand how brewing and beer and pubs and taverns actual existed and exist in the greater context of society based on records which were created contemporaneously. For larger events it is best to seek out authority elsewhere.

Thankfully, their tale of micro brewing and craft’s origins in the UK, Brew Britannia, did just that and relies on primary documents from the time in addition to interviews of persons involved looking back from three decades later.  This book repeats that process and explores the subject matter from the wider range of sources. This is detailed and time consuming work – and the work undertaken shows in the result set out on these pages. An example. I have just read the chapter on 1950s estate pubs. To understand what an estate pub is you need to understand estates and to understand estates you need to understand British municipal planning principles of the first two-thirds of the 1900s.

I am somewhat familiar with this. I am a municipal lawyer. And some of you may have picked up that I am a dual national, Canadian and British. Many of my UK family when I was young lived in what we here in Canada would call “public housing” but in the UK the word for much of it was “estate” and they look at lot like what we might consider a condensed post-WWII subdivision when it wasn’t a low rise apartment building. My grannie, aka Bailee M’Leod aka Dad’s mother, as a municipal Labour politician was actually involved actively in the 1930s to 1950s in destroying slum neighbourhoods of the 1840s and building these sorts of forms of public housing. These events fed my bedtime stories, tales of the old country when they were not about Nazi bombings of the Clyde.**

Knowing that bit of the background, I am able to trust the point being made. Placing the particular point in its context is one of the great successes of this book. Boak and Bailey weave the the meaning of estate as they explain the estate pub, a somewhat sterile slightly spare Scandinavian set up that were allocated strategically through these new living spaces by municipal planning processes. Likewise, earlier in the book they contextualize the end of the Victorian gin palace and how it was responded to by the State Management Scheme of pubs introduced after WWI without the too common uninformed slag upon slag over the temperance movement. Judging from a seat in the future is one of the worst faults of a historian. Almost as bad as disobeying chronology. The authors here simple gather up sources and then unpack the narrative. Fabulous stuff. And not that simple at all.

I am taking my time, reading slowing. I am in the chapter on theme pubs, which related to the photo at the top of the page. In 2012, I wrote about the politician’s mother, my paternal great-grannie who goes by “Grannie Campbell” in our family. She loved drink and pubs and apparently she most loved the Suez Canal pub in Largs,*** which was coincidentally my mother’s hometown. The image I am guessing is from the 1940s and the bartender was former world boxing champ, Jackie Paterson. Given the book is about English pubs and not British ones, my submission of the photo did not make the cut. Saddened I was but then heartened by the rigor being imposed by the authors.

Buy this book.

*Somewhere I have an email discussion with Stan about the lack of records even from the early GABF days. Can’t find it. Probably deleted it.
**Including the story of the cousin who claimed Hitler saved his life when the air raid sirens woke his family up, got them running to the shelter only to witness the building explode before the bombs started dropping. Apparently someone had left the gas on.
***I only have one quibble with the book so far in fact – a Largs based quibble. B+B claim that the first espresso machine came to Britain in 1951. Being a child of a child of Largs I am well acquainted withe Nardini’s which opened in 1935. Uncle grew up as pals with Aldo. His Dad had a famous run in with one of the owners over an invoice for pebble dash. Italian ice cream parlours and cafe’s were an established thing even in 1935. Pretty sure they would have had espresso from day one given it also had an American soda bar and an electric dish washing machine.