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I’ve downloaded articles on real ale and I put together a list of Canterbury breweries — which was superseded by the Kentish Brewers and the Brewers of Kent volume — and I wandered around Canterbury in search of evidence of those breweries.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

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.

 

 

Unnecessary Defensiveness

I was stood in Tenterden, Kent, in search of decent local beer. More precisely, I was in search of Abigale, and had jumped on a bus to Ashford on a well-timed whim, electing to stay on the bus to Tenterden. Of the four or so pubs I found in Tenterden, all but one were Shepherd Neame – which I dislike – and one was serving some nice beers, but none of them from anywhere closer than the New Forest. It seemed to be odd to be more or less surrounded by hop fields and to not be able to drink anything from Kent. Aside from the Sheps. A supermarket was selling Rother Valley Blues, but that’s not the same as a draught beer.

I had counted something in the region of twenty breweries in the Kent area, a third or so of them relatively new, and it occurred to me that there was something interesting in local produce and small enterprises. There’s something to be researched. I am surrounded by hops, a key ingredient of beer, and I am a few miles from Wye, a centre of hop research.

I’d recently had a bit of a health scare, and was on a diet, and had to cut down drinking so … it made sense to try and make each pint count. It occurred to me I knew little about beer – it had yeast and hops and malt and water and came in pints, and some I liked and some I didn’t, and there were once six big companies which had been broken by the revision of the laws about tying pubs to breweries and … that was about I. I liked Theakstons and Youngers and Timothy Taylor, and would regard myself as a Northern drinker, stranded in Enemy Territory.

Growing up I would have shandies with Watney’s Red Barrel or Watney’s Pale Ale, and occasionally sampled and disliked Home Ales and Shipstones, the two Nottingham breweries; I later tried and didn’t like Mansfield Bitter. My underage drinking was lager, which I found hard to drink because it was gassy. Then, at a theatre club, I was bought a pint of Theakston’s XB. By a cop. I was seventeen. It would have been rude to refuse. It was awkward to point out he’d broken the law. I stayed with beer.

But I never really thought about what I was drinking.

This is a place to think about it. Because, after all, I think about films and books and photographs and art and god forbid I live an unconsidered life.

This is my space to find out about beer – and teach myself, and no doubt state the bleeding obvious. And to find out how to write about beer. And work out precisely what I want to research about beer. I note that I am supervising a PhD student, who is researching binge drinking, so the sociology of drink may come to the fore at some point.

I don’t know where it is going.

I’ve had two bottles today – an Old Dairy Snow Top and a Wantsum Figgy Pudding, both from Kent Breweries, bought from Wild Ferment. Now I’m on a beer from further afield, an Anarchy Brew Company Sublime Chaos, a startling 7% and described as a breakfast stout. It’s thick black, or very dark brown, with no head to speak of, very burnt bitter flavour, with a touch of espresso coffee on a rich roast – Ethiopian coffee beans apparently, Guji – and New Zealand hops. I’d expect it to be much sweeter, given the percentage, but the beans hold it down. There’s a back of the throat, warm oaty taste, which is pleasant, but you wouldn’t want a third bottle.

Time to investigate breakfast stout…