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.

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.

Linked In Lincoln

I effectively had three chances to drink in Lincoln – with the back up of a bottle of Stokey Brown from Pressure Drop. I’d come to the impression that Cathedral Heights had gone out of business and I can’t seem to locate anyone selling Poacher’s, but there were claims of a off license on the high street that was purely Poacher’s. This is a fair trudge from the hotel, and was a wasted journey. The surviving off licence on the High Street had a reasonably interesting selection of bottles – once more I mourn my dislike of Sheps – and I picked up some Bateman‘s, just in case. I went down to the Green Dragon, which has eleven handpumps but recent reviews suggested that enthusiasm be curbed. A chalk board outside promised delights, but the board inside apologised for the lack of draught ales, but real ales were available. Well, ish. A Wychwood Dirty Tackle was okay. A CAMRA magazine for Lincolnshire pointed me to a couple of possibilities, but I checked the Witch and Wardrobe first – who knew Mansfield was still brewed, albeit by Marston’s? – and then moved off to the The Jolly Brewer on Broadgate. Half a dozen pumps, and regretting that pint in the Green Dragon when a half would have done. I tried the Oldenshaw Mowbray Mash, which got me into the county. Clearly a pub to come back to, although its publicity spiel claims it’s “reputed music venue”. Is it a music venue or not? Then it was time to go to the restaurant for a meal, during which I stuck to tea, and then a bottle of Tom Wood’s Lincoln Gold, which would have been nicer warmer I suspect.

After the conference and conference meal, I led the way to the Tap and Spile on Hungate, with four or five handpumps, and a traditional boozer. Nothing local, alas, but there was Great Newsome Frothingham Best, from Hull, and an old time’s sake Theakston XB.

Saturday had more time for a wander – a lunch time drop in the Strait and Narrow, for a pleasant Grafter’s Lovely Jubblies and an interesting stouty Springhead Drop o’ the Black Stuff. Several hours later I returned to The Jolly Brewer, and investigated their third pints to tick a few boxes: Dark Horse and Ernest George from Welbeck Abbey (a collaboration between the abbey estate and Kelham Island?) and Idle Dark Black Abbot. A puzzled local asked me if these were all the same – the beers were all dark – and scanned my beer notebook. All very confusing. I wandered from here up the hill to the Stugglers Arms, behind the castle, which had an attractive range of beers: Kelham Island Pale Rider – deliccious as always – Derby Mischief – and then tactical mistakes: Salamander Best Intentions, rather dull, and Holden‘s Black Country Special, very nice indeed. It was rather confusing to be asked as I wandered back to the b&b if there was a Wetherspoons around, when there were several decent boozers. I told him he needed to go down the hill, but he still looked confused.

So, a few Lincolnshire ticks, and a few more from the East Midlands and Yorkshire. A boozy weekend, topped off by failing to have time to buy a bottle at St Pancras. This was probably just as well.





Kentish Updates/Updates of Kent

Abigale seems to have ceased production.

New boys:

I thought there was one more – in Medway – but it’s resisting my googlefu (unless it’s Brupart, Cuxton, Rochester). I’ve read about so many in the county recently I’m forgetting what’s current and what’s gone. There’s Pig and Porter, but that’s Sussex, still to be listed.

Ah, I was right: Kettledrum, Rochester, with no web presence I can yet spot. There is talk of the Phoenix, Canterbury, setting up brewing.

Canterbury – 1838

A listing thanks to Edward Wilmot’s Eighty “Lost” Inns of Canterbury:

  • George Ash (36 Watling Street)
  • William Beer (St Augustine Brewery and 65 Burgate)
  • John Saunders Bennett (Longport Brewery)
  • Charles Benham (St George’s Place)
  • Flint & Co (Stour Street)
  • George Fortune (35 Watling Street)
  • George Hacker (Watling Street)
  • William Rigden and Harriet Delmar (Hawkes [sic? Hawks?] Lane)
  • Francis Saunders (North Lane)
  • William & George Wall (Northgate Brewery, Duck Lane)
  • Flint & Kingsford (St Dunstan’s Street)

I think Flint & Co is the only premises surviving – there’s a business centre called The Old Brewery Business Centre (or similar), with a first floor with slats that looks as if it could be a hop-drying room, and a courtyard.

Rigdens also had premises on Beer Cart Lane. There are a couple of surviving buildings with first floor hatches – assuming this is a clue to their use – but I don’t know enough about brick work to judge age. One of them has a CJW 1865 stone on the side. The former George & Hoy inn closed in 1918 (Wilmot 31) and was pulled down to make way for an electricity substation. The premises were run by Beers (George? Alfred?). Next to this is the Beer Cart Arms and on the other side of the road is 1970s-vintage former council building.

Would it make sense for the Beer Cart Lane brewery to back onto Rigden and Delmar on Hawks Lane? There’s one building surviving that looks faintly industrial, but the frontage is more reserved, as is everything on that side of the road until the corner (the restored Capital House, I think once a pub, the City of London, but I’m not convinced).

I need to spend a few days going through city directories and city centre maps (I’m sure I have an OS map for Canterbury from the nineteenth century) – I also need to go to Duck Lane to see if I can spot anything there. There seem to be most breweries in the Whitefriars quarter of the city – the tannery takes up the Greyfriars, of course.

Beating Around the Bush and Cheers to Chiswick

Having gone east, now west, to Westfield Stratford’s eviler twin, Westfield London in White City/Shepherd’s Bush. We’ll skip over Manet exhibition as irrelevant (absinthe?), and the walk via the Haunch of Venison to Bond Street underground and the Central line. Indeed we’ll skip over the greasy spoon breakfast I’d been aching for for a couple of weeks.

The main thing is a long walk in dusk through to Goldhawk Road – which enduring Googlemap and iMap fail as I could quite orientate the map with the territory and went three quarters of the way around a major roundabout. I’d planned to walk to Notting Hill and Chiswick, clearly not smart to do from Shepherd’s Bush, so settled for an off-license that sold Mocada (Notting Hil) and the long walk to Chiswick. I have a vague memory that I would be paying homage to The Falls. So be it.

The Duchess of Cambridge appears to be always on the point of becoming a brewpub – the opposite of always already – and have still not reached it, but have a number of handpumps and a CAMRA discount. Whilst Sambrook’s is local, and Marlow Rebellion is tasty, I ended up with a Shardlow England, marking some sporting event. Okay, but not great. Quite a large pub, I suspect several rooms knocked through.

Darkness settled as I left Goldhawk Road for Stambrook Road, and the left turn at Turnham Green, that revealed, as I feared, that the District Line was out of action, but at least gave me the opportunity to check out an Oxfam Bookshop. The offle, an Oddbins, had a range of Moncada, so I settled for a Notting Hill Golden Blonde. I need to return here in daylight, to check out the Hogarth and his Dog statue, and perhaps another look at the Lamb, hidden away down Barlew Mow Passage. This is an L-shaped bar, part devoted to food, and the brewery at the end closest to Chiswick High Street. A row of empty pumps didn’t inspire confidence, nor did two or three Shepherd Neame brews, but there was a Lamb Dark Ale. I wasn’t impressed, I have to say.

I worked out that I was two hours’ walk from Victoria, and whilst I could walk back to Shepherd’s Bush, it made more sense to walk to West Kensington for the District Line. I had an increasingly insistent bladder, but the toilets were closed in the shopping centre I found. It was a relief, as it were to find Hammersmith was open for the Picadilly Line, and I got back to Victoria, missing a train by a minute.

Time, then, for the Cask Pub and Kitchen, a pint of Redemption Urban Dusk – dark, smoky – and Redwillow Faithless XVII – a beetroot stout, of all things. Still, I’m no stout fan. Plenty of time for a stroll back to the station, and a bottle on the train. Next up either north or south – Highgate or Herne Hill… Although Haggerston is tempting.