About flares

I am a critic and researcher of sf, with interests in queer theory, postmodernism, psychoanalysis and other long words. I have various blogs.

Amateur Night

New Year's Beers

New Year’s Eve, like Christmas Eve, is amateur night, only more so. Those people who only drink once or twice a year, who therefore haven’t put in the requisite training, come out to drink. The bars are too crowded, too many people don’t know how to get served, there’s an air of desperate fun.

And then, once oblivion has been almost reached, a long walk home through cold and ice and fog and…

I’ve done my fair share of New Year’s Eves and, whilst I often fear we jinx each year, the thought that the hangover on 1 January marks the point from which things can only get better is not reassuring.

I have in a Angels and Demon’s Racing Tiger 4.2%, a Gaddis Black Pearl Oyster Stout 6.2%, a Canterbury Belgo Russian Imperial Stout 9.1% and a ‘t Kolleke Jheronimus 7%, with Crème de Cassis, sloe gin and a run of whiskies if that doesn’t do the trick.

And nibbles. And the bedside lamp already on.

The Cremorne of Plenty

Rob and I have been going through an old document which lists pubs, trying to pin down every location we can. There are clearly mistakes — repetitions, a confused name (probably). Not only have most of them gone, but their streets have gone too — I reckon a dozen were on the ring road, with the Flying Horse the last to go (it is now The Corner House).

In one case, the handwriting defeated us. It begins Cre–, but after that, I’m not sure.

After a bit of head scratching, I wonder if it might not be “Cremona”, as in violins. The duchy was conquered by the French in 1701, before becoming Austrian. Is it a pub name commemorating a battle?

And then googling around, I stumbled across the word “Cremorne”.

As it happens there is a pub of this name in Sheffield, The Cremorne, on London Road.

There was a horse, Cremorne, who ran twenty-races 1871-73, but was based at Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire.

There was also a clipper, The Cremorne, active from 1863 and missing in 1870 en route to Liverpool.

But, more to the point, there were pleasure gardens in London (and Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney) called Cremorne Gardens. They were painted by Whistler and little survives. I recall mention of pleasure gardens attached to one of the Canterbury breweries, then located within the abbey grounds and one witness writes:

The tea-gardens connected with the public-house adjoining the brewery, and part of the sacred building of St. Augustine, on Lady Wootton’s Green, presented, at the time I am referring to, a kind of Cremorne on a small scale. The tea-gardens connected with the public-house adjoining the brewery, and part of the sacred building of St. Augustine, on Lady Wootton’s Green, presented, at the time I am referring to, a kind of Cremorne on a small scale.

I don’t think we have an address, I haven’t found any other mention yet, but I wonder if this is it.

Alternatively, The Cremorne was a porn magazine published in 1882. You never know.



Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know

Over the years most of my research has been about science fiction and related genres, or film, and whilst this has required researching new topics or periods, a lot of information has just seaped in over the years.

Whilst this project is not entirely from scratch, there’s an awfully lot of things I feel that I need to know even if it is never relevant (although I have various facts already acquired):

  • pubs (taverns, inns, alehouses, beerhouses)
    • locations, names, publicans, ties of specific pubs
    • licensing laws
  • ale/beer
    • types
    • duty and excise
    • legislation
  • hops
    • species, cultivation, harvest
    • transportation
    • hop exchanges
    • storage
    • Wye and hops
  • malt
    • species, cultivation, harvest
    • transportation
    • regulation and taxation
    • malt houses
  • water
    • sources
    • Burtonisation
  • yeast
    • types
  • breweries
    • location and ownership
    • products
    • markets
    • marketing
    • estates
    • mergers

photo (9)

  • railways
    • links to London
    • links to coast
  • Canterbury
    • economic context c. 1750-present
    • paper
    • leather
    • tourism
    • revisions to town plans
    • 1930s planning
    • Post-World War II rebuilding
    • ring road development
    • relation to Kent
    • Kent and Canterbury identities
  • overseas markets
    • Baltic states/Russia
    • Napoleonic Blockade
    • Africa
    • India
    • Australia

A Beginning…

I’ve been claiming I’ve been researching beer and breweries for at least four years now, and I’ve probably spent more time in meetings about !impact! than I have doing yer actual research.

I’ve downloaded articles on real ale and I put together a list of Canterbury breweries — which was superseded by the Kentish Brewers and the Brewers of Kent volume — and I wandered around Canterbury in search of evidence of those breweries. I borrowed volumes of writing by Habermas to understand some of the critical frameworks and … renewed them and returned them. I tried to understand Kentishness (and ishness of Kent…(

The problem seems to be that with research topics overflowing on science fiction and the daily grind of teaching, I keep finding the headspace to find out what I want to research. Given I tend to work by stuffing my brain and finding what gloms together, it is slow work.

And now I’ve been offered some money to employ someone to do some research for me — mainly to find things I need to research — although what with it being the end of the year the last thing I need is more work…

Still, in April Robert Mcpherson and I put together a poster comparing two pubs and their drinking styles for a conference and the ideas are beginning to flow.

I note, in no particular order:

  • the cultivation of barley in Kent and in particular Thanet;
  • the likely first use of hops in Kent outside mainland Europe, the tradition of Kent(ish) hops and the (former) Wye hop research centre;
  • the end result of mergers and closures that left Shepherd Neame as the only brewery in Kent by about 1978 and the microbrewery renaissance post-2000;
  • the micropub movement which began near Canterbury and seemed to be centered on East Kent (but I see has spread);
  • the urban myth that Canterbury had a pub for every day of the week.

I think in the long term that I want to explore ideas such as:

  • local vs global;
  • connoisseurship vs binge;
  • craft vs mechanisation;
  • heritage vs innovation;
  • festival vs session

in relation to real ale and real ale drinkers in the Canterbury area.

In the mean time, I want to get a historical context. I’m putting 1800 as a starting date as a point at which the industrialisation of brewing is likely to have increased, with steam power and railways coming along in the 1830s.* There is the Continental Blockade from 1806-14 that damaged the trade with Baltic ports and led to new markets being sought. It is likely to cover the rise and fall of breweries and pubs.

I started a week or so back, with a map of Canterbury from the 1870s and started to note the locations of pubs — some still there, some repurposed, many missing with no trace. I found the locations of some of the breweries and malt houses. TwoThree of these even seem to survive (ETA: the one behind the Maiden’s Head survives only as I single wall, I suspect, if that).

And I set Rob off looking at catalogues of archives.

The first port of call, of course, is the cathedral and its archive and a bundle that looked of immediate use. First, of course, I needed my CARN card:


This makes me feel like a proper researcher.

And so we spent several hours, making notes of scores of pubs, building up the picture piece by piece. I’m hoping that I’m going to find a name for every pub on my map. And there are clearly nuggets of gold to be panned for.


* A little knowledge, of course, being a dangerous thing.



There’ll Be Blue Anchors Over…

imageimage[Pictures to follow]
I spent last Friday morning reading articles on extreme episodic drinking before going to get drunk in a much more respectable way in Dover.

I suspect the last time I went to Dover was for last year’s White Cliffs Festival of Winter Ales, one as I recall was delayed in getting to by teaching commitments. And I think I went to the one before that — but it gets a little fuzzy. The sales pitch of the festival is that all of the beers are 5% or more when I guess the majority of ones we drink are between 3.7% and 4.5%. In other words, a number of them are twice the strength of session drinking.

Festivals take a bit of working out how to work — often you pay to get in, you pay a deposit of a pint glass and you pay money for tokens. At the Kent Beer Festival there’s a variable price per pint, between £3 and £4 typically, so the tokens come in £1, 20p and 10p combinations, typically leaving you with loose paper. The price tends to reflect the ABV — the stronger the beer, the higher the price. Dover, on other hand, charges £1.50 a half, allowing a chance to try more beer. At CAMRA organised festivals I’ve been to, CAMRA members get in for free, but there’s still a queuing up. Last year I had a big of trouble as the senior citizen on the welcome desk didn’t seem to know what I wanted, but eventually I was given my entry card. Then you have to go to the other end of the row of barrels to pick up tokens and a glass — here it was £9 for a glass and four tokens, but you can then buy additional glasses.

The festival is held in the Maison Dieu, a clearly ancient building that has been a hospital and a town hall, and from our point of view has a long space with tickets, barrels, food, folk music and some circulation space, and a bigger room with four long tables and about twelve round tables. At one end is the CAMRA tombola where an annoying horn is sounding every time a win is achieved and a bookstall.

But that is to get ahead of ourselves.

First you need beer.

Some festivals publish a list of beers ahead of time, but this isn’t one of them, and you’ve only just got the details. Each barrel is labelled, and it takes a while to work out what’s what. Here the beers are alphabetical by brewery, aside from all the Kent beers that are under K and Sarah Hughes is under H. (This does make sense, as many brewers are named for the family, but drop the first name.) You want a beer — but you are aware of the room filling up and the need to get served.

At this point I panic.

I noted a couple of Mordue, their IPA and their Pandazilla, both of which I’ve had in bottle form and preferred the Pandazilla. It would be interesting to try on draft, although of course it’s 7%.
Tactically I always feel it’s best to start with a lower percentage and work up — partly it’s a sense of limbering up, partly a sense of trying to control the intoxication (and this is lunch time drinking, don’t forget) and partly that the lower ABVs taste deceptively watery after 7%.
And frankly I think Pandazilla is better in a bottle — or perhaps was being poured wrong in the south, although barrels are I’m assuming less different than hand pumps with or without sparklers.

So, having found a table, and joined by a couple of strangers with which there could be some random chat, I perused the list and became more cautious. Derby Old Intentional, Sarah Hughes Sedgley Surprise and Portobello American Pale Ale were all 5%; I’ve had Derby and Portobello before and enjoyed, but these were just ok, and I’ve failed to get the Hughes before but it wasn’t great. Then a slow move up — Blue Anchor Spingo Middle (5.1%), Black Hole Cyborg (5.5% – as always a name more seductive than the beer), Beowulf IPA (7.2%) and Fyne Ales Ragnarok (7.4%).

There was a Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes (10%) but I decided to be wise.

My experience is that the stronger the beer, the sweeter it is likely to be, tending sometimes to treacle. As Steve says, these can be chutney beers. Some of the stronger beers have what I think of as a machine flavour, something chemical, in some cases even oily (a Brodie Mocha Stout had a taste of MDF; Brodie’s pale ales tend to excellent though). And I suspect that in a barrel in a room is not the best way to keep beers — have they settled enough? So whilst I had some good beers, there were no great ones.

The gents toilets — I can’t speak to the ladies — are down a flight of steps and put me in mind of a 1930s cinema. The walk is a little tedious, not to say a little dangerous, and there’s the increasing need to do so.

Looking around, you can’t help but note that the crowd is overwhelmingly male and over fifty, if not sixty. This may be the fact of it being an afternoon session — there were some student types but nit many. There were some women, but probably only one in thirty at most. I wasn’t aware of any people of colour. Certainly I’ve been to real ale and craft ale pubs where I’ve been the oldest person there, so real ale isn’t just greying, but the day time weekday session was clearly a maturer crowd.

 Last year we then went on to the Rack of Ale micropub, but I decided to go straight home and pass out. There is of course the worry that the passing out will happen before the destination station is reached; here extra fun was had by the train announcement lying about where we were. I do need to go back — there are a number of micropubs to be checked out.

That Time of Beer

I gather that today is National Beer Day. It seems to have been started or is being run by Jane Peyton, founder/principal of the School of Booze, whatever that is. There is an information pack and apparently at 12.15 there was a national cheers to beer. I didn’t hear it.

Apparently it is today because of the anniversary of Magna Carta and all that (although it is neither of the two truly memorable dates in history). And beer, apparently, is mentioned in the Magna Carter:

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russet, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.

Pushing it, me thinks.

But maybe have a beer tonight, anyway.

Fancy a Brú?

It began with a decision, a couple of years ago, to drink something appropriate for 17 March. Or, if you’re one of those idiots who likes Pi Day, March 17. St Patrick’s Day is one of those difficult days, like Christmas Eve and especially New year’s Eve, that brings out the amateur drinker who’s not put in the requisite limbering up.

but it was harder than I thought it would be to drink something Irish and to be honest I’ve lost track of whether I was successful two or three times. At some point I visited the excellent Bottle Shop in the Goods Shed; one year I bought an An Brain Blásta and the next year they went down to their basement and found me a Porterhouse Oyster Stout, which I have to say was a bit … fishy. Perhaps it was the East Goldings Hops.*

The following year … nada.

The problem is that whilst they have lots of interesting British beer and import American and European beer, there’s no call for Irish.

Apparently the Irish don’t drink beer.

Not to worry, I thought, I’ll visit the Porterhouse pub in London and ask to buy a bottle of their beer. They looked at me blankly. They denied they make bottled beer.


I had called or visited two or three specialist beer shops in London and got the same answer — there’s no demand.

Apparently the Irish don’t drink beer. And we don’t drink Irish beer.

I suppose, at a push, there’s wotsit… Caffrey’s, but that’s part of Coors. As Irish as apple pie, perhaps.

Brú Rua

Brú Rua

This year, however, I hit pay dirt in a newsagents in that most green of cities, Brighton.** On a shelf that included a number of interesting beers from Sussex and beyond, there were two types of Brú Brewery beers, Brú Rí (an IPA) and Brú Rua (an Irish Red Ale). Daire Harlin and Paddy Hurley set up Brú Brewery in Trim, County Meath, July 2013 and are producing what they are calling craft beers. This is a contested term, but they say their water is naturally filtered and lacks nasty ions and the malts are Irish. I’m not clear where their hops are from, but they are using full cone hops — as opposed to the pellets that some breweries use I guess

The IPA wasn’t fantastic, to be honest, but there’s the Brú Rua in my future tonight.

And so, next year, who knows? How can I drink Irish beer?

* These are local to me and I believe are used by Shepherd Neame. I try not to drink Shepherd Neame.

** I’d give you the address but I don’t know it. On your right on the road down from the station. There are a couple of newsagents and this was, I think, on a corner. I was looking for peace poppies at the time and was getting increasingly angry.

Caffrey’s Irish Ale/New York

I’ve used, on and off, for years an advert for Caffrey’s Irish Ale to talk about semiotics. http://youtu.be/zj8b0aQvwgU

You probably remember it: reflections of a New York street, four guys walking down it, tenement blocks, metal fire escapes, yellow cabs, and then a heaving bar where people talk and argue and drink and one of them orders a beer whilst the others play pool. One of them knocks back a pint, and the camera pans around him and there’s a shift from the noisy bar to a green landscape with an abandoned boat, a long-haired woman, a priest leading a group of hockey players, old men in a bar, a skinny horse bolting down the street past a laundrette, bicycles abandoned in a ginnel,.. And back in the bar the young men look at each other.

Get a room.

There’s a shift in the music, too, from House of Pain’s “Jump Around” (1992), with its sampled fanfare and screeches, to something more Irish, more “Danny Boy”. As Brown notes, “Caffrey’s Irish Ale amalgamates cutting-edge brewing technology with cod-Celtic iconography to concoct a brand new old-fashioned beverage” (Brown 2001, 461). There’s more to this than meets the eye.

I’ve always wanted the students to pick at the signifiers, to gauge the indexicality of the various details and above all to note the two contrasted paradigms, New York and Ireland. And what a cliched Ireland it is, “an ersatz amalgam of Yeats’s Celtic Twilight, Ford’s The Quiet Man and Flatley’s Lord of the Dance (Brown 2000, 143). What precisely have they put in his beer? It should be a familiar enough pattern State A is transformed into State B via product X. Flattery, fear, transformation. Gain these qualities.

Except, of course, a curiosity as to which state is preferable. Some of the students seem to prefer New York, despite the bustle, the violence, the barely repressed homosexuality… and meanwhile that horse was clearly destined for glue and what is that priest up to and who fell off their bikes? Anthony Patterson, Stephen Brown, Lorna Stevens and Pauline Madaran, academics in Northern Ireland, all viewed the advert and analysed it, coming to rather different readings. the two women “place the city and the lads tenderfooting around it in a subtopic context” (Patterson et al 1998, 742), whereas the men wanted to experience New York.

And that Irish music… it’s familiar but it’s not “Danny Boy”. It’s a cue by Carter Burwell for the Irish-American gangster pastiche Miller’s Crossing (Coen brothers, 1990). Not authentic Irish at all. So…

Nicholas Caffrey established a brewery in Dublin in 1776, not that far from the Guinness premises on the Liffey. A descendent, Thomas Richard Caffrey, went to a brewery in Belfast, once owned by Clotworthy Dobbin, to learn the trade and married the late owner’s youngest daughter. The brewery was rebuilt on Glen Road, Andersontown, West Belfast, and passed through a number of Caffreys before the brewery was sold to the Ulster Brewing Company in 1950. In 1964, the Ulster Brewing Company was acquired by Charrington United Breweries, which itself merged with Burton-on-Trent’s Bass in 1967. The Irish Ale was launched in 1994, and proved to be remarkably successful, selling as much as could be brewed.

The Caffrey family had thrived in Ireland when it had been part of the United Kingdom, with the existing brewery staying in the United Kingdom with the establishment of Northern Ireland. Glen Road is close to the Falls Road, one of the epicentres of the Troubles. I’ve no idea what the politics of the Caffrey family were, but the faux Irish identity drawn on by a company based in the English Midlands is awkward.

In 2000, when changes in the law over brewing and pub ownership came in, Caffrey’s was sold to InterBrew. In 2001 it was sold on to Coors, who in 2001 acquired the American import rights from Carling. Coors was an American company, Carling Canadian, so again there is a mix of faux Irish and American in the brand’s history. Meanwhile, Coors eventually shifted emphasis to Killian’s for their Irish beer of American choice; in effect this boosted Guinness sales.

There are clearly national connotations which Caffrey’s wanted to associate itself with – maintaining an ambiguity as to whether drinking it will make you nostalgic for an Ireland you were never really part of or aspire to a hip New York you could never be part of.

I still wonder what the pint must have been spiked with to make him have such a vision.


  • Brown, Stephen (2000), “Tradition on Tap: the Mysterious Case of Caffrey’s Irish Ale”, The Marketing Review, 1(2), pp. 137-63.
  • Brown, Stephen (2001) “Marketing for Muggles: Harry Potter and the Retro Revolution”, Journal of Marketing Management, 17(5-6), pp. 463-79.
  • Patterson, Anthony, Stephen Brown, Lorna Stevens and Pauline Maclaran (1998) “Casting a Critical ‘I’ Over Caffrey’s Irish Ale: Soft Words, Strongly Spoken”, Journal of Marketing Management, 14(7), pp. 733-748.

Kent Beer Festival: 40 Favourite Ales

In the run up the the fortieth CAMRA Kent Beer Festival, they called for people’s nominations for favourite beers. Forty beers were chosen, and it’s an often depressing list. I’m thinking that I can probably only sample five or six pints, so there’s no point having something I could drink elsewhere. I’m also aware the poltical background to some of the breweries, so some might leave an ideological aftertaste…


Adnams: Broadside; Southwold Bitter

These are fine, but pretty universal – my objection is that I’m someone who would rather try something new. Ghost Ship is better than either of these.


Canterbury Brewery: Red Rye

I like this, but I can often get it at the mother ship, the Foundry. Do try it if you have the chance.


Black Sheep: Best Bitter

Offshoot of the Theakston’s family. It’s ok, but not great.


Brains: SA

Fairly well distributed, but I’ve never had a great pint of it


Brakspears: Bitter

And the same. From the Marston’s stable.


Bristol Beer Factory: Independence Ale

Now you’re talking. I’ve had bottles from this brewery, but I want to try this


Burning Sky: Devil’s Rest

A new-comer, from the ex-head brewer of Dark Star. For what was meant to be fairly limited, this is getting in all the good pubs. I’ll give it a miss for now. (I prefer Plateau and Aurora.)


Butcombe: Bitter

Had a pint of this last night. Likable.


Dark Star: Hophead

Yes, please, but perhaps over familiar.


Fullers: ESB; London Pride

Fairly universal, but the parent company’s attitude to austerity means it’d have a sour taste. The potable is political.


Goachers: Fine Light Ale; Gold Star; Real Mild Ale

I don’t get Goachers as often as I like – more west Kent? Tempting to go with the Light Ale.


Greene King: IPA

Seriously? Andy in the New Inn keeps a fine pint of this, and it’s his bestseller, but I wouldn’t pay to go to a beer festival to drink it. Plus, Greene King’s attitude to tax is … awkward.
Harveys: Sussex Best Bitter

An old fashioned beer, faitly universal in the south east.


Hopdaemon: Golden Braid; Green Daemon; Incubus; Skrimshander

I used to drink a lot of Hopdaemon, but not recently. These are all fine.


Sarah Hughes: Dark Ruby Mild

I’ve always missed this brewery when I’ve been to pubs that Perfect Pint or the GBG claim have it – very tempting but I’m not a mild fan. One for later in the evening.


Oakham: Bishop’s Farewell; Citra

I think one of the earliest Citra beers. I’d happily drink either of these.


Old Dairy Brewery: Blue Top

My first Old Dairy was a Blue Top and it wasn’t good, but I’ve had better since and better Blue Top. Tempting.


Portobello: VPA

I like these beers. VPA is great, but I’ve had it a lot recently.


Ramsgate: Gadds No 5; Gadds No 7

Fairly common round these parts – again, I’d be wasting a pint to have one but they are good.


St Austell: Proper Job; Tribute

Fairly common in the New Inn; I think I prefer the Tribute, but again, too common.


Sharps: Doom Bar

Really? Seriously? You’d buy this at a beer festival? Yawn. I’d start ranting, but save it for…


Shepherd Neame: Master Brew Bitter; Bishop’s Finger

Fifty percent of pubs in Kent and Sussex must be Sheps. If you want to drink this, stay in your local. Bishop’s Finger is the better of the two.


Skinners: Betty Stogs

People rave about it, but I guess I’m not buying into the Cornish marketing. I’ve leave it for those who appreciate it.


Timothy Taylor: Landlord

An old favourite, but I’ll pass this time.


Thornbridge: Jaipur

Tougher to get than it used to be, one of the best beers ever. Fairness would make me squint at the link from the brewer’s owner Jim Harrison to the former CEO of A4E, Emma Harrison. Tough call. I may well be swayed, but my guess is it’ll go quickly.


Tonbridge Brewery: Rustic

I don’t see Tonbridge that often; tempting.


Wantsum: Hengist

Wantsum is frustrating, a bit hit and miss. Tempting.


Whitstable: East India Pale Ale

A former regular, which I’ve not had for a while. Very tempting.


Woodfordes: Wherry

Another old-fashioned beer, but is often at the New Inn.