Beer Tinted Spectacles was originally posted to Posterous, which closed suddenly and made life irritating for a while. Some of the blogs were lost, recently found and are republished here.
Events can sometimes seem like ribbons of consciousness that weave and wend their way through time, like the pennants of rhythmic gymnasts as they lithely dance across a mat. The ribbons tend to diverge, in the quest for new ideas and the latest thing, or less occasionally, converge, and ideas that once were dominant have their time again. So it has been in the Tinted House of late: a number of related themes coming together in a series of fortunate co-incidences.
It started with Pete Brown, unaware though he will be. I first met Pete before he became a writer (or at least, before he published his first book). He was the advertising planner at an agency we had chosen to be in a pitch for a beer launch we were doing. A thoroughly down to earth bloke (Barnsley, like), both he and the whole agency did a great job and only lost the work on the toss to another agency. We next met again over a curry¹ when he was researching for his book ‘Hops & Glory’, as a colleague of mine had responsibility for the White Shield Brewery, along with the acclaimed brewer, Steve Wellington, who were going to be brewing his circumnavigational ale. Anyway, this passage was not supposed to be glorified name-dropping but rather an introduction to the fact that I have just read his latest work, ‘Shakespeare’s Local’. And in it was one of these ribbons of convergence.
Next, introducing James, now an Operations Manager at a large brewing business, who I’ve known for a decade or so. James has a talent that he is loathe to admit – a very curious & observant person… he works in the pub trade, but he doesn’t just go out and ‘do his job’. He questions things; he investigates; he makes links; he asks why. That’ll be the top class training he received from yours truly, then, **cough, cough**. James spotted the rise of Pale Ales and IPAs three, four, maybe five years before they exploded. And this isn’t just as simple as spotting that ‘craft brewers seem to be doing OK’ – it was more specific. This was about Pale Ales. The logic was simple – lagered beer, he reasoned, has been tarred by the same brush; there’s a generational effect of people wanting something different to the previous ‘generation’ (well, from people a few years’ older than them) and the simple fact that functionally, many pale ales offer taste, refreshment and sessionability. To James it was a bit of a ‘no-brainer’ – and he was right.
So when James makes an observation, normally gently put, I listen… “Have you been to The Cock, in Hackney?” was the question. And no, I hadn’t, indeed haven’t, yet. James told me about it: it’s an alehouse. Not an inn; not a gastro pub; not a chain or managed pub; an alehouse – somewhere that primarily concentrates on, and sells, ale (and drink) and isn’t distracted by the haughty charms. Like the Rake in Borough, or The Cooper’s in Burton , or the Yew Tree at Cauldon Low. And here was the point of convergence then: Pete’s book, and the alehouse. The George, that he was writing about, was definitely an Inn. Of course, it sold beer, sack (sherry) and wine…even coffee before Costa Coffee Express franchises were invented, but more than that, it housed lodgings for travellers, hop merchants, assorted hawkers and traders. In Coalition Government parlance, it was its very own Industrial Enterprise Zone. It had respectability; definitely an Inn. Alehouses were something else – retailing intoxication and therefore definitely something that you wouldn’t want to be seen in (hence the ‘Snug’, with its high frosted glass or wood partitions, to shield inquisitive eyes from your supping habits). Funny that, over time, the pressure has been unrelentingly against them – either because of the comparison with ‘gin houses’ or simply because, at different times, different Governments wanted to cut down on excessive drinking. And funny that, only now perhaps, is the trend working its way back towards them.
But to me it makes sense. When British brewers are buying coffee shop estates; when major pub retailers declare themselves, ‘Agnostic to drink because we’re restaurants’, you know that at some point, something has to change. For ‘tis written: ‘For every trend, there’s a counter trend’. For every pub, masquerading as a gastro pub but buying its vacuum sealed food parcels from Brakes’ Brothers, for every lamentable style bar or ill conceived sports bar², showing Sky Sports, there’s a pressure to resist. Sure, our homes today have comforts that our forebears couldn’t have even dreamt of – warmth, water, cold food storage, on tap entertainment (that’s TVs with quadraphonic sound, not kids singing ‘Glee’ songs into fake microphones) – sure. You’ve even got food retailers like M&S doing ‘Gastro Pub’ meals to peel the lids off and stick in the oven at home. But it’s not same.
No, the time of the alehouse is overdue. The informal, friendly bar, where you can enjoy interesting ales; where you can sit in comfort and put the world to rights; where you can hatch plots for global domination or just slag off your boss; where you don’t have to worry about whether you are going to have starters, or worse, whether any part of the wretched place is set aside for people not eating. No, the circle is coming around, and for the enlightened, behind the ‘pub closure’ and ‘Binge Britain’ nonsense headlines, it will be an exciting times for Britain’s pubs and a more exciting time for British drinkers. You heard it here first.
¹The Manzil, Burton on Trent, 01283 _________. Nice new premises, opposite the National Brewery Centre, and unlike the old place, it doesn’t have concrete cancer (or a wrecking ball coming through the wall).
² Why is it that in the US, showing sport is just accepted? It almost doesn’t matter what sort of bar it is, there will be TVs on the back bar, they will be showing ‘Monday Night Football’ and everyone just gets on with it. Here we seem to try so hard and get is so wrong.
© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013