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Sat, 22 Dec 2012

Man Walks Into a Pub, by Pete Brown

There are lots of books about beer, but most of them are about how it's made, or about beers (and places to drink them) that are currently on the market. This book is far more interesting, a history of we English and our beer.

Some of it will be well-known to many people, but much of it, especially how our drinking habits have changed over time and more importantly why they changed and what were the social motivators for those changes will not be familiar to many. Brown makes legislation and the economics of beer and drinking interesting, and I would recommend this book based on that alone.

But he does a lot more, skewering several sacred cows and roasting them for us: he makes sense of pub architecture and provides what I think is a very fair view of CAMRA who manage to be at the same time both champions of great beer and enemies of innovative beer; champions of the great pub and enemies of any attempt to design pubs relevant to modern lifestyles and economic circumstance.

If there is one significant problem with the book it is that its coverage of the Beer Orders and the changes resulting from them is woefully incomplete, for which I deduct one star. There is little, for example, on how pubs' supposedly free choice of "guest" beer are now limited by shady discounting tied to rent. At least some of this shadiness was apparent by 2003 when the book was first published, although its effects have become even more prevalent in the succeeding decade. But then, I write that with the benefit of hindsight. Writing the history of what has only recently happened is always tricky because you can't tell what's a significant long-term change and what's just a minor abberation that will disappear shortly. I read the first edition. There is now a second edition (published in 2010). I have made a note in my diary to look for a third edition in about 2020.

Posted at 15:51 by David Cantrell
keywords: beer | books | pubs
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Thu, 11 Jun 2009

Pub review: The Woolpack Inn, Eskdale

I'm on my way to Oop North, and decided to take a rather round-about route via the Lake District. This was partly because driving over Wrynose and Hardknott passes is Fun, and partly Just Because.

After coming over those passes, I arrived at the Woolpack Inn, and the western end of Hardknott pass, in the late afternoon, gagging for a pint, and after ascertaining that there was a room available for the night I went to the bar. Now, one of the reasons that I stopped at the Woolpack instead of carrying on into the village of Boot was that the Woolpack has its own brewery - the Hardknott Brewery - advertised in big black letters on the pub and easily visible from the road. Surprisingly, they only had two of their own beers on tap, although there's one more in bottles. Of the two I tried, the Mild was somewhat disappointing, but the "Wooly Fusion" I tried next was really very special indeed. It's a light hoppy bitter with a bit of ginger in it - very nice indeed to drink outside in the sun. Unfortunately it's not available in bottles. If it had been, I'd have got a crate of the stuff to take home with me.

The bar has ten hand pumps, all of which were selling beers I'd not seen elsewhere, from local breweries, and those others that I tried were all very good. In particular the "Stout Ollie" from the Ulverston Brewery is excellent. While there are three lager taps, they're all tolerably decent lagers - none of the usual Fosters/Carling swill here. The soft drinks are also somewhat unusual - Fentimans lemonade, for example, instead of the usual carbonated sugar-water, and there's Dandelion and Burdock.

There's also a fairly extensive whisky menu. None of the bottlings are particularly unusual - although it's good to see a non-Scottish malt on the list (Connemara, from Ireland) and the only recently available Ben Riach - but there are a lot of them. 29 of them.

And finally the food. The menu was short and sweet, concentrating on local produce served in imaginative ways. For example, as a starter I had smoked trout with a herby sorbet. Yes, sorbet. It was very nice, and I shall try to replicate it when I get home. For dessert I had a Thing which had a biscuit base, with a generous helping of a local mild blue cheese on top, all coated in dark chocolate. That's another that I shall try to replicate, and will also see if I can figure out a way of serving it with the cheese hot. I knew I'd find a way of using a soldering iron in the kitchen! You may notice that I don't have much to say about the main course - it was competently done and well-presented, but not as special as the others. That's not to say that it was bad, merely that it was only good compared with the very good starter and dessert.

Can you tell that I liked it? I commend this pub to you!

Posted at 22:48 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | beer | food | pubs
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