They say…

Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor



Des de Moor, London, May 2015. Pic: Luke Doyle.

Des de Moor, London, May 2015. Pic: Luke Doyle.

I’m a beer writer, tour guide, walk leader, tutored tasting host and Accredited Beer Sommelier based in London.

I’m the author of The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars, the award-winning definitive guide to drinking beer in London. “Probably the best book about beer in London” — Londonist. For more about the book including update information see the London page.

I’m a contributor to numerous other books, magazines and websites, including providing the UK listings for The Pocket Beer Book (pre-order the 3rd edition, published November 2017).

Why not join me on one of my regular brewery heritage walks or tutored tastings. Or I can provide an informal private London heritage pub walk and tasting for your group, or a tasting for your event, alongside various other beer-related services. For more see the Beer Tours page.

Elsewhere on the site are numerous blog posts and beer reviews, many of them archiving material that’s already appeared elsewhere but with some exclusive pieces. Scroll down to see the latest posts, or try these:

I also blog about walking at London underfoot: London’s walking trails under the microscope.

The ultimate beer measures table

This really was an idle moment, prompted by a Twitter discussion about the meaning of various words for beer measures. Self-explanatory, I hope, and comments and suggestions very welcome.

l ml fl oz US pt UK fl oz UK Measure Use
0.029574 29.57353 1 0.052042 1.040843 1 US fl oz Sample measure at Great American Beer Festival and other US beer festivals
0.1 100 3.381402 0.175975 3.519508 10 cl Sample measure at Zythos beer festival (Belgium) and some other mainland European festivals
0.142065 142.0653 4.803799 0.25 5 1/4 Imp pint, gill Archaic Imperial fluid measure, not legal for draught beer in UK
0.147868 147.8676 5 0.260211 5.204214 5 US fl oz Small measure used for strong beers in US specialist bars
0.15 150 5.072103 0.263963 5.279262 15 cl Sample measure at many Belgian and Dutch beer festivals
0.18942 189.4204 6.405066 0.333333 6.666667 1/3 Imp pint, nip Smallest legal measure for draught beer in UK, historically also used for bottled strong beers
0.2 200 6.762805 0.351951 7.039017 20 cl, fluitje (NL), Stänge (Köln), Seven (Aus) Smallest customary draught beer measure in Germany, Netherlands, Australia, other countries
0.236588 236.5882 8 0.416337 8.326743 1/2 US pint, cup Small customary draught beer measure in US
0.25 250 8.453506 0.439939 8.798771 25 cl, 1/4 litre, pintje (NL/BE) Usual measure for everyday draught beer in Netherlands, Belgium and some other countries, also for everyday bottled beer in Belgium
0.284131 284.1306 9.607599 0.5 10 1/2 Imp pint Most common small measure for draught beer in UK, legal measure including multiples, occasionally used for bottles, also found in Ireland, formerly for cans in Canada
0.285 285 9.636996 0.50153 10.0306 Middy, half (Aus) Standardised Australian metric equivalent of Imp half-pint for draught beer
0.3 300 10.14421 0.527926 10.55852 30 cl Typical bottle size for everyday bottled beer in Netherlands, common draught measure in some countries including New Zealand
0.33 330 11.15863 0.580719 11.61438 33 cl, 33’er (NL/BE), ≈ 1/3 litre Usual measure for draught and packaged speciality beer in Belgium, NL, France, also common for packaged speciality beer in many other countries incl UK, Ireland
0.354882 354.8824 12 0.624506 12.49011 12 oz Standard small beer bottle and can size in US and Canada, also sometimes used for draught measures
0.375 375 12.68026 0.659908 13.19816 37.5 cl, 1/2 wine bottle, stubby (Aus) Small bottle size for Belgian lambic and other beers from Belgium and elsewhere in wired cork bottles; also standard small bottle size in Australia
0.378841 378.8408 12.81013 0.666667 13.33333 2/3 Imp pint, schooner (UK) Recently legalised measure for draught beer in UK, often used for ‘craft’ beers
0.4 400 13.52561 0.703902 14.07803 40 cl Canned and draught beer in France, also draught in Germany and elsewhere
0.425 425 14.37096 0.747896 14.95791 Schooner (Aus) Common Australian draught beer measure
0.44 440 14.87817 0.774292 15.48584 44 cl Mainstream canned beers in UK and some other countries, sometimes also used for craft beer
0.473176 473.1765 16 0.832674 16.65349 US pint Customary draught measure in US, also used for some canned beers
0.5 500 16.90701 0.879877 17.59754 1/2 litre Standard bottle size in Germany, Czech Republic, UK, Ireland, also used in many other places, customary draught measure in many parts of Germany, Austria, Czech Republic.
0.568261 568.2612 19.2152 1 20 Imp pint, chopine (Can) Customary (and legal) draught measure in UK and Ireland, occasionally used for bottles, also sometimes used in US and Canada
0.57 570 19.27399 1.00306 20.0612 Pint (Aus) Standardised Australian metric equivalent of Imp pint for draught beer
0.650618 650.6177 22 1.144927 22.89854 22 fl oz, bomber Large bottle size common in US particularly among craft brewers, also can
0.75 750 25.36052 1.319816 26.39631 75 cl, 3/4 litre, wine bottle, long neck (Aus) Large bottle size for many Belgian speciality beers and others from elsewhere, especially when in wired cork bottles; common large bottle size in Australia
0.946353 946.3529 32 1.665349 33.30697 Howler Customary smaller measure for take-home draught beer in US and elsewhere
1 1000 33.81402 1.759754 35.19508 1 litre, Maß Large draught measure in Germany and some other countries, particularly associated with München Oktoberfest, also for take-home draught beer and some packaged beer
1.136522 1136.522 38.43039 2 40 Quart, 2 Imp pt, pinte (Can) Former common UK/Irish measure for draught and bottled beer, still used for takeaway “hopper” cartons, still customary measure in Canada
1.892706 1892.706 64 3.330697 66.61394 Growler Customary measure for take-home draught beer in US and elsewhere
2 2000 67.62805 3.519508 70.39017 Metric growler Common measure for take-home draught beer in Germany, also used in US and elsewhere
2.273045 2273.045 76.86079 4 80 1/2 Imp gallon Relatively common size of container for takeaway draught beer in UK
3 3000 101.4421 5.279262 105.5852 Jeroboam Large champagne-style bottle occasionally used for beer, especially in Belgium
3.785412 3785.412 128 6.661394 133.2279 US gallon Large size container for takeaway draught beer in US and basis of other bulk measures
4.5 4500 152.1631 7.918894 158.3779 Rehoboam Large champagne-style bottle occasionally used for beer, especially in Belgium
4.54609 4546.09 153.7216 8 160 Imp gallon Large size container for takeaway draught beer in UK and basis of other bulk measures
5 5000 169.0701 8.798771 175.9754 Minikeg, minicask Measure for pre-packaged take-home draught beer particularly popular in Germany, also elsewhere in Europe
6 6000 202.8841 10.55852 211.1705 Methuselah Very large champagne-style bottle occasionally used for beer, especially in Belgium
9 9000 304.3262 15.83779 316.7557 Salmanazar Very large champagne-style bottle occasionally used for beer, especially in Belgium
10 10000 338.1402 17.59754 351.9508 10 l, minipin (UK) Small size of draught beer keg intenationally, also used for keykeg and bag-in-box
12 12000 405.7683 21.11705 422.341 Balthazar Very large champagne-style bottle occasionally used for beer, especially in Belgium
15 15000 507.2103 26.39631 527.9262 Nebucadnezzar Very large champagne-style bottle occasionally used for beer, especially in Belgium
18.92706 18927.06 640 33.30697 666.1394 5 US gal, Cornelius keg Slimline keg devised for soft drinks though in wide use internationally by home brewers and occasionally craft brewers
19.55796 19557.96 661.3333 34.4172 688.3441 5 1/6 US gal, sixth barrel Common small size of draught beer keg in US
20 20000 676.2805 35.19508 703.9017 20 l, polypin (UK) Common size of draught beer keg internationally, also used for keykeg and bag-in-box
20.4574 20457.4 691.7471 36 720 4.5 Imp gal, pin Smallest size of draught beer cask in UK
29.33694 29336.94 992 51.6258 1032.516 7 3/4 US gal, pony Common size of draught beer keg in US
30 30000 1014.421 52.79262 1055.852 30 l Most common size of draught beer keg internationally
40.91481 40914.81 1383.494 72 1440 9 Imp gal, firkin Most common size of draught beer cask in UK
50 50000 1690.701 87.98771 1759.754 50 l Large size of draught beer keg internationally
58.67388 58673.88 1984 103.2516 2065.032 15 1/2 US gal, half barrel Large size of draught beer keg in US
81.82961 81829.61 2766.988 144 2880 18 Imp gal, kilderkin Large size of draught beer cask in UK
100 100000 3381.402 175.9754 3519.508 Hectolitre (hl) Standard international brewers’ bulk measure, rare as an actual container
117.3478 117347.8 3968 206.5032 4130.064 31 US gal, US barrel Standard US brewers’ bulk measure, now rare as an actual container
163.6592 163659.2 5533.977 288 5760 36 Imp gal, Imp barrel Standard UK brewers’ bulk measure, now rare as an actual container
245.4888 245488.8 8300.965 432 8640 54 Imp gal, hogshead Traditional UK bulk beer container, now obsolete
490.9777 490977.7 16601.93 864 17280 108 Imp gal, butt Traditional UK bulk beer container, now obsolete
981.9554 981955.4 33203.86 1728 34560 216 Imp gal, tun Traditional UK bulk beer container, now obsolete

Love beer hate pubs?

Here’s a challenge to the pub resurrectionist: The Spanish Steps, Woodpecker Road, London SE14, derelict for many years.

Anyone taking an interest in the discussion around beer and pubs in the UK over the past few years must surely have experienced cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, there’s a steady stream of gloomy pub closure stories and predictions of the death of the pub. On the other, there’s the astonishing surge in brewery numbers, now at around 1,700 or so, reflecting an unprecedented rise in popularity of specialist and ‘craft’ beer. According to statistics, since the early 1980s the UK seems to have lost 17,000 pubs while gaining a good 1,500 breweries.

These apparently conflicting trends don’t only cause confusion, they also sometimes provoke acrimony and misunderstanding. Judging by some of the strongly-worded postings on social media, pub campaigners are frustrated with what they perceive as the indifference and complacency of many on the beer scene, including beer bloggers and even CAMRA, to the supposed crisis facing pubs. Surely, runs the argument, if you care about beer you must also care about pubs? The two self-evidently go together, right?

Well, not necessarily. Of course, there is a link between pubs and beer, but that link is an accident of history, and has never been exclusive – so long as there have been pubs in the way we recognise them today, there have also been ways of enjoying beer outside them. And the link is now being loosened still further by the same changing patterns of consumption that have reduced the customer base of many pubs.

Failing pub rescued: Jolly Butchers, London N16.

Historically beer was predominantly a bulk product, consumed on draught in a social space outside the home. The pre-eminence of draught beer in the consciousness of English beer campaigners has been bolstered by two other noteworthy features of the local brewing industry. One is the tied house system, which developed in the second half of the 19th century and ensured that by the start of World War I, most pubs in England and Wales (but not in Scotland, nor in most other European brewing nations) were owned by brewers. While some were directly managed by breweries, many were leaseholds – independent businesses obliged to source beer and sometimes other drinks too from the owning brewery in exchange for a discounted rent.

The second, not unrelated to the first, is the importance of cask beer, which, if you ignore the minor niche occupied by the mini-cask and the polypin, is exclusively a bar-based product. Cask only makes sense where there is sufficient demand to ensure a relatively large quantity is consumed quickly. This is the reason always given for why CAMRA, by origin a campaign for better beer, has also campaigned almost since the beginning for better pubs. If you want cask, then you need pubs to serve it.

But beer in individual-sized portions – ‘packaged beer’, as it’s known in the industry – has been around a long time too. Samuel Pepys was enjoying bottled ‘Hull ale’ in 1660. Two centuries later, new technology made mass production of bottles possible, and by the end of the 19th century – over about the same period the tied house system developed, as it happens – bottled beer became an everyday commodity rather than a luxury.

Pub? bar? bottle shop? Just a great place to enjoy great beer. Mother Kelly’s, London E2.

In the early 20th century, some in the industry predicted that draught beer would soon be rendered obsolete, replaced by bottles and cans in the ‘on’ as well as the ‘off’ trade. Before the rise of pasteurised keg beer in the 1950s and 1960s, many brewers actively promoted packaged beer, which compared with cask offered higher margins, a longer shelf life and increased stability and consistency. Packaged beer may have long been the secondary format but sales were nonetheless substantial: 36% of all sales by volume in 1959.

Back then, the breweries and their tied houses dominated both sides of the trade. This was the age of the ‘jug and bottle’, when beer to take home was typically bought in a physically separate section of a pub designated for off-sales, with its own entrance from the street. The range on offer was as limited as the range in the main part of the pub. That changed in the later part of the 20th century, first with high street off-license chains offering a wider range of drinks, especially wine, and then with the rise of supermarket alcohol retailing. By 2015, 51% of beer was sold through the off-trade.

But bottles and cans aren’t just for home consumption. They also enable other outlets, perhaps open limited hours or with relatively low volumes of beer sales, to offer a choice of beers economically. One phenomenon often overlooked in discussions of pub closures is the spread of great beer beyond the pub, to restaurants, coffee shops, specialist food shops, entertainment venue bars, farmers’ markets and one-off events, in packaged and sometimes in ‘craft keg’ form’.

The development of more diverse routes to market, including direct sales through brewery shops and taprooms, partly explains how new breweries manage to flourish in an age of declining pub numbers. And of course, there’s nothing to stop pubs themselves stocking a wider range of packaged beers, as a way of offering variety while reducing the risk of being left with unsellable stock. While there’s a historic resistance in the UK to drinking bottles in pubs, this is beginning to change along with many other aspects of our beer culture.

Still, if you care about the retention of cask as a format, which you should if you care about beer, then you should still care about the maintenance of a healthy on-trade sector with enough turnover to keep cask viable. A quality beer in an appropriate style served in good, fresh condition from the cask, cellar-cool and with a definite but relatively gentle carbonation, offers something that still can’t be replicated in any other format.

While a good brewer should be able to ensure the perceived differences between the ‘same’ beer in keg and packaged form are minimal, the same can’t be said of cask, as drinkers of bottles branded with big cask names soon discover.  Even bottle- (or can-) conditioned beer normally has a higher level of carbonation, which can’t be released until the package is opened.

Great beer in unexpected places, including this Hackney market.

So should beer lovers be concerned with pub closures? On the face of it, yes. British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) figures show the total number of UK pubs has dwindled from 67,800 in 1982 to 50,800 in 2015, a reduction of 25%. CAMRA reports the rate of pub closures has slowed over the last couple of years, from 27 a week at the end of 2015 to 21 a week six months later, but this is still a substantial number which if sustained over the next decade would reduce the overall total to around 40,000.  It’s worth underlining that CAMRA says these are net figures, also taking account of pub openings.

Why is this? Pub campaigners tend to point the finger at public policies such as the smoking ban, high alcohol taxation and a regulatory framework that has led to the big pub operating companies, or pubcos, dominating the market. But evidence of the impact of the smoking ban either way is inconclusive, and alcohol taxes apply to both the on- and off-trades so don’t entirely explain why the latter is apparently flourishing at the expense of the former.

Worries about pubcos are perhaps more firmly founded. They are the legacy of the last major public policy intervention in the industry, the 1989 Beer Orders, which were supported by CAMRA and many other pro-beer and pro-pub activists at the time. The regulations restricted the number of brewery-tied pubs and forced breweries with big pub estates to allow their leaseholders a guest beer. The industry responded by dismantling the tied house system, with many old-established breweries splitting their pub owning and brewing businesses and withdrawing from either one or the other.

Most formerly brewery-owned leasehold pubs have ended up in the hands of a small number of pubcos which don’t brew but still retain their exclusive right to supply beer. They can negotiate favourable bulk deals with brewers then sell the beer on at a substantial mark-up, often charging leaseholders half as much again and occasionally even twice the price free-of-tie pubs pay when buying from the brewery directly.

Perhaps more damagingly, pubcos are controlled by financial rather than brewing interests, whom critics allege have no real interest in pubs and brewing except as abstract financial assets. Rather than investing in pubs as ongoing viable businesses, they are more likely to sell them off for conversion to other uses and make a quick return for shareholders and creditors. There are numerous stories of pubs being deliberately run down so a pubco can justify closing and selling them.

So there are certainly problems with the pubco model, which has distorted the market and has doubtless resulted in the loss of at least some well-used and well-loved pubs. On the other hand, there are numerous flourishing pubco pubs, and supporters of the system argue that, thanks to the reduced rents, it offers a low-cost way in to the business for aspiring licensees. Pubco leaseholders are grownups who should know what they are getting into. The latest regulatory attempt to address some of the issues with pubcos is the Market Rent Option (MRO) introduced last year as part of a new pubs code. This gives leaseholders the right to free themselves from the tie by paying a higher rent, as agreed with a regulator – though its implementation has been slow and dogged by controversy.

Micropub: a 21st century reinvention of the alehouse. The Long Pond, London SE9.

But even if the problems with pubcos were fixed, I’m not convinced this would reverse a broader social trend that has been going on for much longer than many contributors to the debate acknowledge. At the start of the 20th century the UK had almost 100,000 pubs and aside from an upward blip after World War II the numbers have declined ever since. The most obvious correlate is the decline in overall alcohol consumption over the same period. Despite moral panics about binge drinking, we are a much soberer society than we’ve ever been. When we do drink, we’re more likely to be discriminating about what we drink. Given the potential harmful effects of excessive or inappropriate alcohol consumption, that can only be a good thing.

The social patterns of drinking and pub use have correspondingly changed. One reason working class communities once patronised pubs so enthusiastically was that they were much more attractive – brighter, warmer, better-furnished and less boring – than the home. And the fact that even people on low incomes now generally live in much better conditions and have access to a much more diverse range of entertainment and culture than their predecessors of even fifty years ago is also a good thing.

Pubgoing has changed from being an everyday habit to a special occasion treat, and people’s expectations have risen as a result. They’re more likely to want decent food, a high standard of service, a good variety of quality drinks, comfortable surroundings and other attractions like events and activities. They’re much less likely to default to the ‘local’, and instead will seek out destination pubs which meet their requirements.

A closer inspection of the statistics bears this out. CAMRA’s 2016 figures showed that, while over 50 pubs a week were closing in the suburbs, high streets were losing only one pub a week, while “the number of branded food pubs and modern style pubs and bars have seen an increase”. In 2015, I researched the fate of 12 pubs named as the best in London in a 1967 book, and was surprised, given the prevailing discourse around pub closures, to find 10 of them still open, with one closed back in the 1970s. But then in 1967 these were already pubs extraordinary enough to feature in guidebooks. The same didn’t apply to the dozen or so former locals within a few minutes’ walk of my flat in a relatively deprived part of southeast London which are now flats, bookies and convenience stores.

Cutting out the middleman in the brewery taproom. Hammerton brewery, London N7.

Some pub campaigners claim that, given a fair deal and some tender loving care, any pub can be viable. But while there are certainly some remarkable examples of pubs that have been turned around by investment and good management, often by putting a special focus on beer and/or food, I doubt that all those 17,000 lost since the 1980s could have remained in business. The hard truth is, as a society we need fewer pubs than we once did, and we need different things from our pubs too, rendering many of the existing ones unfit for purpose.

You don’t have to look too hard at the rhetoric around pub closures to understand that the concerns of many campaigners are at least as much to do with resistance to the social change the loss of pubs represents than with the loss of the facilities and services they provide. That’s why discussion is often couched in terms of tradition and heritage, quoting commentators from the first half of the 20th century like Hilaire Belloc (“But when you have lost your Inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England”) and George Orwell as if they are obviously relevant to contemporary concerns.

Typically, pubs are identified as “a uniquely British institution…and a vital part of the British way of life,” though with no convincing explanation as to how they differ from their equivalents in other countries (including in Scotland, where ‘British’ pub culture takes a noticeably different form). That is, unless you’re convinced by the claim on CAMRA’s website that people talk to each other more in British pubs than in Belgian beer bars because the latter offer table service. It’s no great surprise to discover UKIP has its own Save the Great British Pub campaign, fronted by ex-leader Paul Nuttall.

For those whose main interest is in saving the pub as a vaguely-defined cultural institution that somehow speaks to Britishness, it’s no comfort to know that failing pubs have flourished by becoming food-led, that bottle shops are installing draught lines and adding on-licenses, that micropubs are mushrooming in market towns, that the majority of newly-opened breweries are welcoming drinkers to taprooms, nor that the local gourmet restaurant is doing a roaring trade with the local microbrewery’s bottles and cans. The only pub worth saving is the ‘wet-led’ pub of the popular imagination, where drink accounts for the lion’s share of sales, in a purpose-built building, with wizened regulars glued to the bar stools and a scattering of preserved Victorian fixtures and fittings.

The problem is that, like most institutions claiming to have centuries of unbroken tradition behind them, this conception of the pub soon withers in the glare of a historical perspective. Pubs are commercial enterprises that have survived by adapting to changing social circumstances. Pubs today are not really anything like the alehouses, inns and taverns of earlier times, and even if they preserve ancient physical fabric – which is rare, as nearly all of them were mercilessly and unsentimentally torn down and rebuilt for commercial reasons at the end of the 19th century or later – they are no longer used in the same way.

As Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey’s recent book 20th Century Pub shows, even in the past century pubs have reinvented themselves many times over. The food-led pub, for example, is not a new thing but has a precedent not only in the inns of the 18th century but in the improved pubs and roadhouses of the early 20th. Today’s ideal of a traditional pub is I suspect a product of the rose-tinted memories of the first wave of modern beer and pub campaigners in the 1970s. As often with ‘tradition’, our nostalgia doesn’t stretch back more than a couple of generations.

Pub as architectural exhibition: the magnificent Warrington, London W9.

That doesn’t mean that the physical fabric of purpose-built pubs isn’t worth saving. I’m as delighted as anyone at spotting a late Victorian neo-classical carved oak back bar or some stained glass from the ‘Brewer’s Tudor’ period. But this is about preservation for aesthetic and educational reasons, in the same way we should approach other aspects of our built heritage. While it’s a good thing that at least a few pubs with multi-room layouts survived the great levelling of the 1960s, they are no longer used in the way they were intended to be. And that too is a good thing, unless you’d like to see a return to the days when factory workers were obliged to use the public bar, only bosses were allowed in the lounge and the ladies’ room meant what it said on the engraved glass door.

Of course, pubs aren’t just places for drinking. As campaigners are fond of pointing out, they are community spaces too, public places for talking and meeting, whether informally or for organised activities from sports and games to political meetings. But the idealised view of the inclusive community pub of the past, where everyone was welcome, is not only contradicted by the facts of physical segregation in pubs at least up until World War II, but by the lived experience of anyone who found themselves outside the prescribed normality of the communities that used them.

I reached pub-going age in the second half of the 1970s. I wasn’t yet out as a gay man, but I was mildly unconventional and decidedly non-macho. Most pubs in the small Home Counties town where I lived, far from being welcoming and inclusive places, were off-limits to me and anyone like me, on pain of anything from tacit hostility to actual violence.

And I was at least white and male. There were very few pubs where women could go on their own and expect to be treated decently, and I can’t think what it must have been like for the small minority of non-white people who formed part of the community at that time. Pubs openly displaying ‘No travellers’ signs could be seen in England into the 1990s. In the days when large scale industry dominated the economy, when social conformity was seen as essential to efficient capitalist production, pubs were one of the spaces where the working class policed itself.

What happened in practice was that as communities became more diverse and heterogenous, some pubs pillarised themselves into catering for subgroups – gay pubs, Irish pubs, West Indian pubs – or people found alternative spaces to fulfil the social functions of pubs, such as cafés, community centres, places of worship or even the street. One obvious issue, often cited negatively in some of the less savoury commentary on the decline of pubs, is that even with the best of intentions, venues centred around selling alcohol have a limited appeal to those from cultures traditionally disapproving of its consumption. As The Economist points out, the London Borough of Newham, where 35% of the population is Muslim, has lost more than half its pubs in recent years. But that doesn’t mean the local community is any less engaged or coherent.

Community pub for a changing community: Ivy House, London SE15

As the makeup of communities has changed, so the ‘community pub’ has adapted to suit them. One often-cited example of a successfully rescued community pub is the Ivy House in Nunhead, London SE15, the first English pub registered as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) and now owned by a coop with 371 shareholders. It’s a splendid place with a very good beer offer where I feel quite at home, but the way it looks and works today is inescapably a reflection of the gentrification of the surrounding streets by young professionals and workers from the creative industries. The campaign to save it was boosted enormously by the involvement of several local lawyers. I’m sure a Rotherhithe docker transported through time from the 1950s would be given a friendly welcome, but I doubt he’d feel entirely comfortable.

The term ‘pub’ or ‘public house’ derives from a licensing category: a place selling beer and other alcoholic drinks to the public for consumption on the premises, without the need to eat, stay overnight or become a member. If this is what we mean by ‘pub’, and not some mythical ancient institution, then what we are witnessing is not the death of the pub, but another chapter in the lengthy story of its evolution. As always, the new forms that emerge may not please everyone, but I’m confident that so long as there is a demand for drinking beer in a social space, there will be pub-like establishments to cater for it.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that keen beer drinkers have never had it so good, particularly those in metropolitan areas. Though there are ongoing issues with cask quality, there are more pubs serving an astonishing variety of great beer in all formats than ever before. Even many chain and pubco pubs now offer something of interest, and that’s before considering the many new and non-traditional places with great beer in stock. In contrast, I doubt most of the dozen or so closed pubs near my flat offered anything more interesting than the occasional bottle of Nigerian Guinness.

In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that doom-mongering about pub closures fails to resonate with many beer lovers. For those of us primarily interested in the continued and growing availability of great beer, the focus must be on matters like beer quality (cask and otherwise), educating the consumer to make informed demands, raising standards of service and staff training, and issues of labelling and provenance. There are also good reasons to oppose the pubco tie, contest the increasing political influence of neo-prohibitionists and support reductions in alcohol taxation.

But if what we’re being asked to do is something different, and more about preserving a supposed cultural institution than ensuring outlets for good beer, then let’s be honest about that. If pub campaigners believe that everyone who loves beer should also love the ‘Great British Pub’, then they need to set out the case for our support, not simply assume they are entitled to it.

From the archive: Van Steenberge Bornem Dubbel

Van Steenberge Bornem Dubbel

Van Steenberge Bornem Dubbel

ABV: 8% (now 7.2%)
Origin: Ertvelde, Oost-Vlaanderen, Flanders
Date: 16 April 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

The beer is still in production, though at a slightly lower strength. It’s an Erkend Belgisch Abdijbier, brewed under license from the Sint-Bernardusabdij, a Cistercian monastery in Bornem. Re-reading my tasting notes, I would guess this bottle was unintentionally infected with lactic bacteria.

A disappointing dark abbey double from one of Belgium’s medium-sized independents, also known for brown ales and other abbey beers such as the well-known Corsendonk Pater/Monk’s Dark. The beer is lively, with a deep claret colour with a good dense head and a winey, creamy, yeasty aroma.

Initially the taste is promising, combining classic double richness with the sweet-sour flavours found in the brewery’s brown ales like Vlaamse Bourgogne: nutty malt flavours mix with hints of treacle, banana, chocolate and leather, with a tingly hoppiness mixing with chocolate on the finish.

So far so good, but after a few swallows things go wrong, with unpleasantly bitter orange-peel flavours and a mineral-like iodine quality starting to dominate, making for a slightly sickly effect when coupled with the sweetness and the unusually high strength.

The beer seems to have the makings of something good, but strongly-flavoured products often tread dangerously on the border between exquisiteness and unpleasantness, and in this case the risk doesn’t pay off, for me at least. Or maybe I had a bad bottle.

From the archive: Maximiliaan Meibock

Brouwerij Maximiliaan, Amsterdam

Brouwerij Maximiliaan, Amsterdam

ABV: 6.5%
Origin: Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands
Date: 16 April 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

The Dutch beer scene has changed hugely since the first small crop of microbreweries in the 1980s and 1990s. Among these pioneers was Amsterdam’s Maximiliaan brewpub in Kloveniersburgwaal, which opened in 1992 in a heritage building on part of the site of the Bethany monastery or Bethaniënklooster on the city’s Oudezijd or Old Side. Its name referenced the fact that Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I was also ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands in the late 15th century.

Despite some success, Maximiliaan closed not long after I wrote this review, in 2002, unable to afford a rent hike by the building’s owners, the not-for-profit heritage management foundation Stadsherstel Amsterdam. Thankfully the site wasn’t lost to brewing: the owners of the Beiaard specialist beer pub chain took on the business including the brewhouse and reopened it in 2004 under the name De Bekeerde Suster, or ‘converted sister’, a reference to the former religious community on the site. It’s still open today though the current Meibock uses a different recipe.

This is a strong spring beer from one of Amsterdam’s two micros, the Maximiliaan brewpub in the heart of the red light district. I didn’t sample it on home territory, however, but in Café Belgique, a tiny but welcome retreat hidden away within spitting distance of the madness of Damplein, which prides itself on supporting local independents as well as the Belgian imports suggested by its name.

The beer is a fine golden colour with a beautiful thick head and an aromatic hoppy aroma with a hint of lime and a lychee-like spiciness that suggests Alsatian Gewürztraminer wine. The palate is firmly malty with a creamy texture; then assertive bitter hops emerge, mixing with aromatic fruity hints. Further hops develop in the finish, but
soon soften to pineapples and cream. A serious beer with a sense of fun and a great way to welcome the spring.

From the cellar: Salopian Gingersnap

Salopian Brewery

Salopian Brewery

ABV: 4.7%
Origin: Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
Date: 16 April 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

Salopian is something of a survivor, reinventing itself several times since being founded by Martin Barry as Barry’s Brewery in a brewpub in the Snowdonian village of Gellilydan in 1992. Known for a while as the Snowdonia Brewery, it became Salopian when Martin relocated to Shrewsbury in 1995. Unusually for a British micro of the time, during this period and as referenced below it concentrated on bottled beers in unusual styles for outlets like Oddbins and Safeway, a strategy which in retrospect seems way ahead of its time.

At the time I wrote this review, the bottling activity was tailing off — as mentioned below, this beer might even have been contract-brewed at Brakspear — and Salopian became much more of a conventional British micro, brewing cask beers in traditional styles largely for the local market. There were several changes of ownership, with Martin leaving in 2004, but also fairly consistent expansion. The current phase began in 2008 when a new sales manager, Jake Douglas, spotted a trend and helped guide the brewery in a more hop-forward direction, with beers like Darwin’s Origin and Oracle.

This strategy has triggered further expansion and in 2014 Salopian moved to a bigger site outside Shrewsbury in Hadnall. The range is now very different and Gingersnap has long since disappeared.

In the late 1990s, this Shrewsbury-based brewery became a mainstay of British off-licence chain Oddbins’ forays into fine beer, with an imaginative bottle-conditioned range that gleefully mixed British tradition with a taste for wheat, fruits and spices inspired by continental models. Oddbins’ involvement apparently saved the brewery but then the retailer seemed to lose some of its enthusiasm for beer and Salopian slipped from its lists.

Having snapped up and enjoyed every Salopian bottle I’d encountered in my local Oddbins, I was pleased to see the brewer still making a showing at specialist retailer Bottles, though according to the current Good Beer Guide its bottled product is now brewed at Brakspear in Henley.

Gingersnap is typical of the brewery’s eclectic verve: a wheat beer flavoured with root ginger. The basic beer is more in the German style, brewed with malted rather than unmalted wheat, and is a deep reddish-copper colour with a reassuringly Germanic firm rocky head. It is, however, only slightly cloudy, and probably would have been even less so if I’d noticed the label’s instruction to pour British-style, without the sediment, before I’d sloshed it into the glass.

The aroma is dominated by ginger, with some hops, and the ginger continues in the mouth, but never overwhelms what turns out to be a beer with a complex, wheaty fruit character that remains crisply dry, aromatic and slightly herbal. In the finish the ginger proves beautifully warming, and the beer lingers with bitter-hop flavours and some spicy, zesty fruit. A thoroughly delicious and successful experiment that should be much more widely available.

From the cellar: Iceni Norvic Ale

iceni-w300ABV: 4.4%
Origin: Ickburgh, Norfolk, England
Date: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Iceni is still around, now one of the longest-surviving 1990s microbreweries, though Norvic Ale was retired a long time ago.

This Norfolk micro is well-known for a commitment to bottle conditioning and a flair for unusual and experimental brews. Norvic Ale adds mustard to the list of oddities the more adventurous brewers have been using to perk up their malt and hops in recent years: the rationale is to pay tribute to the city of Norwich, home of Colman’s world famous mustard factories, and the name is the name of that city in its earlier Danish form.

There is no indication of how the spice is added: presumably it goes into the boil as seeds. Its presence is not immediatly obvious: the dark golden beer pours with a nice foamy head and the fresh scented aroma is lightly flowery.

The flavour develops well, at first clean and slightly creamy but always dry, then with more tangy tastes emerging, including, arguably, mustard and aromatic lychee-like fruit. A lengthy bitter development finishes the beer, rounding out to a citric tang. Pleasant, without being especially remarkable.

From the cellar: Liefmans Jan van Gent

Liefmans Jan van Gent

Liefmans Jan van Gent

ABV: 5.5%
Origin: Oudenaarde, Oost-Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen
First published: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

Liefmans owner Riva went bankrupt in 2007, and the brewery is now owned by the Duvel-Moortgat group. The new owners have understandably concentrated mainly on raising the profile of its celebrated brown ale, and Jan van Gent didn’t survive the upheavals, perhaps because it’s too close to other beers in D-M’s extensive portfolio.

Jan van Gent, incidentally, is the Dutch name of Plantagenet nobleman and military leader John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-99). He’s an appropriate namesake for a beer with both Flemish and English influences as he was born in Gent: ‘Gaunt’ is an archaic anglicised rendering of the city’s French name Gand. But gent is also ‘gannet’ or ‘gander’, and  Jan-van-Gent is the Dutch common name for the seabird Morus bassanus, known in English as the Northern Gannet. It’s this bird that’s depicted on the label.

A newish line from Liefmans of Oudenaarde, East Flanders, now a subsidiary of Riva. It’s quite unlike the distinctive brown ales for which the brewery is justly famous, and a little disappointing.

A pale ale shading to blond, it is nicely fresh and bottle conditioned, slightly creamy and phenolic, but otherwise a very unprovoking combination of malt palate and tangy hops. Maybe I had a bad bottle – near the end of its declared shelf life – but I was left wondering why they didn’t just stick to brown ale.

From the cellar: Interbrew (Artois, AB InBev) Campbell’s Christmas Ale

AB InBev Campbell's Christmas Ale

AB InBev Campbell’s Christmas Ale

ABV: 8.3%
Origin: Leuven, Vlaams-Brabant, Vlaanderen
Date: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

Campbell, Hope & King’s Argyle Brewery in Edinburgh’s Cowgate was founded in 1710 or before, and when it was closed by Whitbread in 1971, it was reported as being the oldest brewery in Scotland. Interbrew, one of the predecessors of today’s world’s biggest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, acquired the brand through its long association with Whitbread, the brewing interests of which it bought outright in 2001. Interbrew seems to have discontinued this particular brand in the mid-2000s.

The Gordons-branded ‘Scotch’ ales, referenced below, are no longer brewed in Edinburgh for export, as their former home, McEwan’s Fountain Brewery, was closed by Scottish Courage (now Heineken) in 2005. Instead they’re brewed in Belgium at John Martin’s brewery at Genval, Brabant-Wallonie.

One of a number of products that satisfy the Belgian predilection for strong, malty ales in broadly the Scottish 90/- or wee heavy style. This quirk of Belgian taste, particularly pronounced in winter, allegedly dates from World War I, when Scottish regiments were stationed in the country. Some brews in this style are made in Scotland for export, often in stronger versions than are generally available in the UK, but this is one of a number that are now brewed locally.

It’s a product of Interbrew’s vast Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, but, as proclaimed on the label, is brewed ‘under the supervision of Whitbread plc, London’, an arrangement that long predates Interbrew’s takeover of the British megabrewer: presumably Campbells was a Scottish brewery that was long ago taken over and closed by Whitbread, and certainly the brand is no longer familiar in the UK domestic market.

The beer, which is not bottle conditioned but still very lively and was already past its best before date when consumed, is a very dark ruby with a notably rich aroma featuring glacé cherries, marzipan, cake and leather. The palate is also very full with cake and marzipan and burnt dried fruit, but also a cherryish sourness and a warming whisky-like whiff of alcohol.

A smoky, slightly chocolatey bitterness emerges in a rich finish, with petally notes developing as the beer settles.  Given all this, my rating may seem ungenerous but there’s something missing here: for all its richness, the beer seems strangely bland, especially when compared to genuinely Scottish examples like Gordons Highland Scotch (brewed in Edinburgh by Scotco/Kronenbourg. Nonetheless, worth lingering over on a winter evening.

From the cellar: Prignon Fantôme La Dalmatienne (Blond)

Prignon Fantôme La Dalmatienne

Prignon Fantôme La Dalmatienne

ABV: 8%
Origin: Soy (Erezée), Luxembourg, Wallonie
First published: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Like all products from this brewery, availability and consistency can be erratic, and a dark version has been more familiar in recent years.

Another interesting beer from an innovative micro in Belgian Luxembourg, from a range stocked at Bottles in east London. The brewery’s flagship product is the difficult-to-categorise Fantôme: for background notes, see my review of that beer.

Here they seem to have set themselves the difficult task of brewing a bone-dry beer to a high gravity, and boy, have they succeeded. The contents of the champagne-style bottle are a delicate blond, and the bottle-conditioned beer pours lively with a good head, forewarning of its hoppiness from the start with its intense hop aroma that also includes other herbal hints, like savory and sage.

The palate, apart from being very slightly phenolic and a little yeasty, is utterly, unforgivingly and astonishingly dry, all 8% of it without a shred of sweet malt, and I suspect that there’s another bitter herb in there as well as hops. The beer finishes with an overwhelming grapefruit bitterness that lingers long way back in the throat. This is a very different bitterness to that found in, say, hoppy beers from the US, much more austere and less floral in character.

I must admit it was too intense for me, and arguably overbalanced – I took a very long time to finish the bottle – but if you enjoy bitter spirits like Jägermeister you would probably appreciate it more. The brewery’s trademark jolly ghost on the label is overwhelmed by dalmatian-dog style black spots, but I’m still trying to puzzle out the significance of the name. Any ideas?

From the cellar: Kitchen Carrot Cruncher

Good for improving your eyesight, better to spot those rare beers.

Good for improving your eyesight, better to spot those rare beers.

ABV: 4.4%
Origin: Huddersfield, Kirklees, Yorkshire, England
First published: 26 March 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Kitchen went into receivership later in 2001, perhaps not surprisingly given the beers sounded so unappetising no matter what they tasted like (the turnip and nutmeg beers referred to below were dubbed Tormented Turnip and Mystic Nutmeg). The clear glass bottles didn’t help either.

This British micro, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, was founded by a former chef keen to experiment with ingredients more normally found in a kitchen: other brews feature turnip and nutmeg. The beers, including this one, picked up at the Pitfield Beer Shop, come in clear glass bottles, not an ideal form of packaging for a fine beer as it offers little protection from light and heat, but in this case it is presumably to reassure customers that the contents at least looks beer-like and doesn’t resemble carrot juice or vegetable soup.

There is no explanation, either, as to how the additional ingredients are used – with carrots, which contain some sugars, I would hazard a guess that they go into the mash to up the level of fermentables. There’s a suspicious whiff of gimmickry about all this, so it’s interesting to see how the beer measures up: not badly, as it turns out, though you’d be hard pressed to spot the healthy Vitamin A-laden root vegetable in the finished product, except perhaps for a very faint carroty hint in the aroma and a toffeeishness that might just about resemble caramelised carrots or carrot cake.

Otherwise this is a lively amber brew with a smooth but not generous head, announcing its bottle conditioning with a thick sediment clearly visible through the glass.  The aroma, apart from the carroty notes, is sharp and hoppy, the texture slightly oily, and the palate well-balanced, with toffeeish malt soon offset by hoppy bitterness that persists in a sharp finish.  It’s pleasant and refreshing, if not terribly complex, and you wonder how much contribution the carrots actually make, other than to the labelling and promotion.