Category Archives: Beer

“More honey for the same expenditure of material”

That’s Pappus of Alexandria, one of the last Greek mathematicians, commenting on why the hexagons of the honey-comb are so efficient. Just one of the infinite interpretations of bees in our language, literature and general culture.

There’s a lot of bees around at the moment, and I’ve just had to respond to a question about why they are so prevalent in the context of Manchester. And Manchester is currently on all our minds, and tongues.

I first saw Manchester — oh! — over sixty years ago. I was not impressed. I instantly made the mental association with Dickens’s Coketown:

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.  It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.  It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.  It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

In retrospect, I’d qualify that: Manchester might once have been Coketown; but its great days were already passing. To be absolutely correct (and here comes the teacher of Eng. Lit.), Dickens probably had Preston in mind, where he had visited to give a reading in early 1854 (serialisation of Hard Times began in April), just after a cotton workers’ strike.

Today, Manchester still wears the masonry of the industrial centre it had been. Now it is buffing up, the air is breathable, new buildings are in-filling and are as uniformly and crassly modern as anywhere else. It does have, to its credit, a developing and efficient mass-transport system.

One enters Alfred Waterhouse‘s vast Town Hall, and walks on bees:

That same bee turns up world-wide in the punning trade-mark for Boddington‘s beer: now a gruesome fizzy, frothy concoction brewed way-out-of-town, but once a staple for the cotton workers. Both brewery and employment long gone.

Dickens’s “black canal” has been bourgeoisified: it is now couth and well-scrubbed-up. When I’m through Manchester (and its our closest international airport of substance), I would head for The Wharf. The full address is Slate Wharf, Castefield, thus linking the industrial pedigree to a somewhat-imaginative Roman castra. The Wharf will offer as many as a dozen decent brews, not fizzy, but real ale, and several of them local. There’ll be no cotton-workers in sight: today this milieu is all professional and media types. Manchester may not make as much in the way of physical goods, but it sure knows how to make money.

So the bees buzz everywhere.

They are on the coat-of-arms of Manchester University (as right). They are featured on the crest (as left) of  HMS Manchester. The first (well, actually the second, if we include the down-market supply ship of the Napoleonic wars) of that name had a short, but spectacular — even controversial — life in the Second World War. The name was sufficiently re-habilitated to be applied to a Type-42 destroyer which did its bit in the Falklands and the Gulf.

There is another connection.

The co-operative movement started in Rochdale, just down the road from central Manchester, in 1844. The symbolism of “co-operation” meant that bees were carved on the buildings of the Co-ops. And remain a symbol to this day.

I’d reckon Pappus would approve.

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Filed under advertising., Beer, Britain, travel

Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig

Sounds a good definition of what I expect in a decent beer.

It’s the motto of Amsterdam, by the way.

Which is where my diary says I’m spending the next weekend, doubtless with Jacques Brel as ear-worm:

After that, up yours, David Bowie (I award a beat-plus), John Denver (a good gamma for sheer effort, but far too sweet), and lesser lights.

My other problem is the eternal Interbrew/InBev crisis.

orval-mugOne of my Red Lines is to avoid anything from that Leuven monster. So no Stella (as if …), Bud (snarf, snarf!), Boddingtons (the froth of “Manchester” — now fizzed somewhere out in Lancashire) or Bass. Only the last of those four is any great loss. Leffe: hmmm … but I’d prefer any genuine Trappist, especially Orval (I’ve still got the pot mug, bought 1967, and awarded originally to Dear Old Dad).

What’s going to make Amsterdam easier is I’m hearing good things about some new boys:

  • the Amsterdamsche Stoombierbrouwerij (an in-house brewery in De Bekeerde Suster, Kloveniersburgwal 6-8, Amsterdam);
  • Butcher’s tear, who allegedly do a sequence of seasonal beers, with the winter Ex Voto coming particularly recommended;
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ, down by the docks, again with seasonals and a formidable triple Zatte.

There ought to be a PhD thesis in here somewhere, how the emergence of monopolies leads inexorably to a re-emergence of better, smaller rivals. Despite the heavy hand of InBev, the Low Countries have a flourishing small brewing industry. It happened, too,  in East Anglia, when Watneys took over both the remaining Norwich breweries (Bullards and Stewart & Patteson — the latter’s winter Old K-ale being another lost national treasure). As sure as night follows day, lesser lights eventually shone through the gloom — Woodforde’s of Woodbastwick do a more-than-decent winter ale, the Norfolk Nog.

And after Amsterdam, in almost weekly slices, the Black North of Ulster (highlight: back to Bushmills) and Prague (conveniently, but not accidentally, close to Novoměstský pivovar — The New Town Brewery).

Gezondheid! Guid forder! Na Zdravi!

It’s a hard life, this retirement business.

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Filed under Beer, Belgium, Europe, Northern Ireland, travel

A fluid correction

Anyone from the era when we had to bash typewriters will have had a small bottle to hand. If you were as bad a typist as I am, you needed it in industrial quantities.

Tippex

That’s the brand I remember, because that was the product my college bought (and I could thieve from the cupboard). And — strewth! — didn’t over-indulgence (i.e. mine) clog up any typewriter.

So, one Friday evening, recovering from a hard week at the chalk face, I was into my second, or even third pint of Courage Directors (not yet a Charlie Wells brew). My location was the John Baird, Muswell Hill. Now, three pints at 4.6% ABV ought to have some effect, especially when imbibed against the clock (the Lady in my Life would be doing Sainsbury’s shop down the road). If you like, this was my six-o’clock swill.

Suddenly the side door from Prince’s Avenue opens to admit a bevy of very buxom belles (doubtless chosen for the parts). The white tee-shirts all boost the slogan: Sno-pake covers all your boobs.

Somehow that sticks in my mind.

Then this happens:

Correcting fluid

Apologies to all concerned. But forty years on —

Girls, you still warm an old man’s cockles.

 

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Filed under Beer, blogging, Muswell Hill, pubs

Cor! S’well!

Most Guido Fawkes rhetorical questions are either malicious or born-between-wind-and-water (we’ll come back to that one). Or both.

Then there’s this:

Carswell

Actually, old chap, that does look very like party colours. Just not the Kipper ones.

So, there are four possibilities here:

  • Carswell is doing the right-and-proper thing. He is offering himself to his constituents, regardless of party affiliation. I’m no fan of things Kipper, but — if one must — Cardwell is about as couth as they come.
  • He, or whoever laid out that sign, has some concept of design. It doesn’t look too bad, which is a step up from most things Clactonesque, Here, on a busy day, is Station Road, Clacton:

Clacton

Red brick and plastic fascias, banks, building societies, charity shops, nick-knackeries, a large branch of Sports Direct, geriatric aids and letting agencies — one of which is now Carswell’s office.

  • Carswell is looking to a near future when he severs links (or is severed) with the Kippers, and is welcomed back into the Tory ranks. His parliamentary activity is that of a TIABuN (Tory is all but name). Independent-minded he may be: parliamentary “independent” he is not.
  • Fawkes, as is usual with that source, is making it up.

Now to more interesting matters

Between wind and water are we born is the epicene version of (not, despite Internet sources) Saint Augustine’s Inter faeces et urinam nascimur. A better author may be St Odo of Cluny — but even that is in doubt, for that attribution depends on Gershon Legman.

A Malcolmian literary aside

The expression appears in a different context. In the days of sailing ships, the area exposed by heeling away from the wind was “between wind and water”. Damage there — in this case from a cannon shot — would not be immediately obvious.

MrMidshipmanHornblowerC.S.Forester uses this device in the (chronologically but not as published) first of his Hornblower stories. Midshipman Hornblower has been given his first command, a brig loaded with Louisianan rice, and told to Take her into any English port you can make.

At first Hornblower is alerted by the lack of water in the bilge. Then the captain of the captured brig:

… seemed to be feeling the motion of the brig under his feet with attention.
“She rides a little heavily, does she not?” he said.
“Perhaps,” said Hornblower. He was not familiar with the Marie Galante, nor with ships at all, and he had no opinion on the subject, but he was not going to reveal his ignorance.
“Does she leak?” asked the captain.
“There is no water in her,” said Hornblower.”
“Ah!” said the captain. “But you would find none in the well. We are carrying a cargo of rice, you must remember.”
“Yes,” said Hornblower.
He found it very hard at that moment to remain outwardly unperturbed, as his mind grasped the implications of what was being said to him. Rice would absorb every drop of water taken in by the ship, so that no leak would be apparent on sounding the well—and yet every drop of water taken in would deprive her of that much buoyancy, all the same.
“One shot from your cursed frigate struck us in the hull,” said the captain. “Of course you have investigated the damage?”
“Of course,” said Hornblower, lying bravely.

Hornblower has himself lowered to find out:

Now he was waist-deep in the water, and when the brig swayed the water closed briefly over his head, like a momentary death. Here it was, two feet below the waterline even with the brig hove to on this tack—a splintered, jagged hole, square rather than round, and a foot across. As the sea boiled round him Hornblower even fancied he could hear it bubbling into the ship, but that might be pure fancy.
He hailed the deck for them to haul him up again, and they stood eagerly listening for what he had to say.
“Two feet below the waterline, sir?” said Matthews. “She was close hauled and heeling right over, of course, when we hit her. But her bows must have lifted just as we fired. And of course she’s lower in the water now.”

A Biblical observation

Notwithstanding 5th-century St Augustine of Hippo and 10th-century St Odo of Cluny, or not (one, ironically, the patron saint of brewers, the other of rain — which suggests together they patronised Watney Mann), the Ob/Gyn truth of the observation must predate either.

When I was sitting, pre-adolescently bored, in the choir-stall of St Nicholas, Wells-next-the-Sea, with only a hymnal and a prayer-book for diversion, I began to realise there was a certain earthly and earthy humour in Joshua bar-Joseph’s utterances.

Try this one, in the light of “wind and water”:

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

All that’s missing is the chuckles of the knowing Jews in the audience.

Oh, and one last thing …

In June 2004 the biographer Edmund Morris had a piece in The New Yorker:

Perhaps the best of Reagan’s one-liners came after he attended his last ceremonial dinner, with the Knights of Malta in New York City on January 13, 1989. The evening’s m.c., a prominent lay Catholic, was rendered so emotional by wine that he waved aside protocol and followed the President’s speech with a rather slurry one of his own. It was to the effect that Ronald Reagan, a defender of the rights of the unborn, knew that all human beings begin life as “feces.” The speaker cited Cardinal John O’Connor (sitting aghast nearby) as “a fece” who had gone on to greater things. “You, too, Mr. President—you were once a fece!

En route back to Washington on Air Force One, Reagan twinklingly joined his aides in the main cabin. “Well,” he said, “that’s the first time I’ve flown to New York in formal attire to be told I was a piece of shit.”

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Filed under Beer, Guido Fawkes, Literature, New Yorker, pubs, Quotations

Twenty gone. How many more?

York has many good pubs. Some provide for locals. Many inside the walls are more for the tourists and day-trippers. Many new venues have opened: occasionally the new opening is “older” than what it replaces:

This week the York Press has a feature on a score that have been lost over the last two decades. It is currently the “most shared” item on the site.

Nostalgia isn’t enough

To be honest, many of these lost pubs look as welcoming as a bucket of spit. Saying they are “greatly missed” takes hyperbole to new levels. They closed because their trade had gone. Story: end of.

What is equally depressing is that, when pubs are demolished for housing, the replacement buildings have all the architectural merit of yet another concrete block.

We have come a long way in the twenty years the Press feature covers. The choice of beers has improved enormously — many York pubs have half-a-dozen on hand-pump — a favourite of mine (though it’s the other side of the Ouse, and a fair stroll) is the much-touted Brigantes.  One of its more positive features is that it isn’t on the most beaten track from station to centre. It is personable, and does a good job. Long may it and its like prosper.

We even have our own York Brewery (and its excellent Terrier and Guzzler brews).

Food is now the norm — and often of decent quality. As the clientele has changed, so have the facilities, the seating, the … err … ambiance.

If pubs have to work harder for their custom, that is no bad thing.

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Filed under Beer, pubs, York

Out with “outage”

So says John Rentoul, adding it to his ever-expanding “banned list”:

The Committee has been in emergency session. Added: “To sandbag” (protect property with sandbags) & “power outages” (cuts) #BannedList

Now outage is a word with some history. Let’s go to the OED:

1. U.S. The amount of something lost during transportation; (also in early use) a charge compensating for this; (now usually) the loss of liquid by evaporation or leakage. Also: the amount by which a container falls short of being full. Cf. ullage n.

2. orig. and chiefly U.S. A period or state in which an apparatus or system (esp. an electrical one) is not operating; power failure; a power cut.

Ullage

As the son and grandson of publicans (and, doubtless, sinners), I know ullage was significant in the days when brewers took back and rebated waste, dregs, or ullage, in the bottoms of barrels.

It’s also a venerable word, going back to the Thirteenth Century, when it was borrowed from Old French ouillage. Thus it confirms my understanding of class division in English feudalism: cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and deer had good English names as long as they were on their legs and cared for by the natives; but once they arrived in the lord’s kitchens they transformed into Norman French beef, pork, mutton, capon and venison.

The first of those two OED definitions goes back to the mid-Nineteenth Century. The second, surprisingly, has this first citation:

1900   Elyria (Ohio) Republican 21 June 1/3   By resolution the night police were instructed to report on outages of electric lights.

9780521449717Then we can add a third definition, revealed by John and Adele Algeo in Fifty Years among the New Words, where it means “naming names”, as in the sense of outing someone “from the closet”. The Algeos date this from a 1990 appearance in Advocate.

The OED does not seem to know of outage in that sense, but is happy to have outing, meaning 8 of the word, from the same year:

orig. U.S. The disclosure of the undeclared homosexuality of a prominent public figure, originally as a tactical move by gay-rights activists

1990 Time 29 Jan. 67/1   Discussion about who is ‘in the closet’ has generally been held to a discreet murmur… That consensus is fast breaking down with the spread of a phenomenon known as ‘outing’.

The “word of the year” thing goes back to 2003 with Merriam-Webster, and 2004 with the OED. Doubtless outing would have been a runner for 1990.

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Filed under Beer, History, Oxford English Dictionary, reading

The gasman goeth …

As with buses and slow trains (a particular favourite in these parts), Flanders and Swann hit the note.

Except it was Tuesday evening.

Soon after this gasman departeth, it was clear the house had no heating, and no hot water.

Despite repeated application of the reset knob, and multiple expletives, nothing availeth.

Misery me! The choice was freezing to death or — ta-dah! — a rapid departure to the Hole in the Wall to be warmed, fed and watered.

Back CameraAs to watering, that would be an unfair imputation against Jennings Cumberland Ale. The alternative was Morlands (which is a Greene King brew, and serially well-tested across southern England).

And so to bed.

And to rise with the lark, or rather with Radio 4’s Today programme [note how none of these literary flights of metaphor and reference quite reach their correct destination].

Solved!

The arrival of experts (builders, preparing for the new kitchen installation) on Wednesday morning had the matter solved and resolved in moments.

The gasman had left the main gas-cock turned off.

All of which casts a new glimmer on Hilaire Belloc’s little ditty:

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.

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