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I’ve downloaded articles on real ale and I put together a list of Canterbury breweries — which was superseded by the Kentish Brewers and the Brewers of Kent volume — and I wandered around Canterbury in search of evidence of those breweries.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:

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.

 

 

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London Desperation

I’ve found half a dozen interesting pubs in London, mostly in the King’s Cross area, a couple London Bridge, but I’ve hit the probably-need-something-for-the-journey-home stage of incipient alcoholism. There’s Sourced Market at St Pancras and Uto Beer at Borough Market, but neither are convenient for central London if I’m wandering around Oxford Street. There must be other places to buy bottled beer, right?

Waitrose seems to have a local beer – so there’s Meantime – and you’d think the food halls of Selfridges or Fortnum and Mason would help. A couple of Camden Town ales and something new that I forget right now (Rocky Head Pale Ale) in the former, and what I bought didn’t have a bar code so led to all kinds of till chaos.

So, off licenses. Yesterday I dropped into about twenty of them, or food and wine shops, and the selection is generally Hobgoblin, Badger, Newcastle Brown, Spitfire, Brakspear Oxford Gold and that’s about it. Three food and wine shops in a row, exactly the same stock. Wines from all over the world, but no local beer. Last week I found a whole shop devoted to Adnams, but I’ve yet to find anything within, say, the Circle Line. More research is needed, but I know a lot of the brewers in London do sell bottles.

There’s an old Time Out listing – but, again, none of these are central. Am I missing anywhere – aside from buying a take out at a pub itself (a Partizan Pale Ale from new brewery Partizan with citra, pacific jade and cascade hops, and very nice, too, since you ask)? Or are the economics of central London such that its own heritage is not available?

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery

I make it twenty-seven or twenty-eight or twenty-nine breweries in Kent, depending on where precisely you draw the boundaries, and I suspect that this is a number which has grown by a third in ten years. When googling breweries, I keep finding newspaper stories of hobbyists who want to take it to the next level, and I sometimes wonder if the current apparent boom in brewing (a thousand different breweries) is sustainable. Do people who like beer and have cash glimpse a gap in the market and invest unwisely? A boom will bust. What is now trendy will become old hat.

Thus spake Eeyore.

There has been a long history of takeovers and buyouts, so that what appear to be different brands are in fact Marstons or Whitbreads, and choice of beer has been more limited than it has appeared – Fuller’s or Gales’? Same difference? Plus it’s one thing to supply your own pub (The Black Cat, The Foundry, Farriers Arms etc), quite another to scale up to supply several pubs or produce sufficient beer for TesMorrRoseBury’s.

I don’t know precisely what is going on with The Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery, but a Facebook post this morning stated “the brewery is currently shut. I have several options for the future of the brewery which I am pursuing. Plans are to be back up and running in due course.” I’m hoping that the brewery can continue.

The brewery is based in Tunbridge Wells (obviously – but then Whitstable isn’t in the Bubble) and started in 2010 as a collaboration between Simon Lewis and retired brewer Ian Dormon, from the previous Royal Tunbridge Wells brewery, closed 1983.

I’ve had a number of their beers – I think there was a green hop, but I’ve also had a Dipper (3.7%), a Royal (4.1%), a Beau (4.8%), a Helles (5%) and, most recently, a Golden Ticket (5%), I think my favourite. I hope they can continue in some form.

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