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I’ve downloaded articles on real ale and I put together a list of Canterbury breweries — which was superseded by the Kentish Brewers and the Brewers of Kent volume — and I wandered around Canterbury in search of evidence of those breweries.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




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.