Boak and Bailey, Brew Britannia: second thoughts

Although I liked Brew Britannia a lot, it wasn’t long before I started noticing – and noting down – things which, I felt, the authors had got wrong. I hasten to add that I’m not talking about factual errors, or anything that could be added to their scrupulous Errata. There’s ‘wrong’ as in ‘you spelt my name wrong’ – category 1 wrong, with no room for opinion; then there’s category 2 ‘wrong’ as in ‘this beer tastes wrong’, which is a statement of fact filtered through opinion (some people may like the taste of a beer that’s sour, full of yeast or both); finally, there’s category 3 ‘wrong’, which is pure opinion (as in ‘serving bitter in thirds is just wrong’). When I say B&B have got something wrong I’m mostly talking about category 3, with a few excursions into category 2. I also kept a list of things the authors had left out. This is a bit less challenging as a concept, although we should note that the list of things not included in any book is infinite; obviously when I say that a particular topic was left out, I’m saying it should have been included – or that leaving it out was… er… wrong. In some sense.

More from Philosophy Today next week. In the mean time, here (without much editing) is my list of omissions:

History of brewing industry consolidation/ introduction of keg skated over.

Earlier drinking clubs – much more!


CAMRAIL story starts to get political and is immediately dropped

Top pressure – at least tell us what it is!

Long history of brewpubs – next to nothing. (Blue Anchor – nothing at all!)

Golden ales – again, nothing about how ‘brown bitter’ came to be dominant, or the brewing techniques involved

Craft beer – not exactly a gap, but the subject is dropped very quickly (though not without a decent attempt at a definition). Crops up later in the context of Crafty Dan, Brains etc – could really do with a definition by that stage

Could have done with much more (than one paragraph) on Spoons

Ditto on present-day CAMRA

And here’s my list of things that I thought were… other than right, in whatever way.

Prologue: is this what it was all for? Mark Twain (Eiffel tower)

Any real connection between Victorian Society etc and SPBW?

Any real connection between CAMRA and CHE etc? Boston green/”real food” campaigning connection underplayed by contrast. Frustratingly, they get this in Ch 4 but treat it as spin (“pure, virtuous beer”)

Marches and TU alliances against brewery closures – loss of “political neutrality” – ? (This was 1973-4)

Big Six reintroduce cask: authors assume this is a cunning plan to undermine CAMRA, despite informants not saying anything of the sort. Surely a retreat and as such a victory for CAMRA.

Lager explained by 60s social mobility, in turn explained as a generational shift, leading to the conclusion that “People liked lager, and the fact that CAMRA did not made the organisation seem rather parochial and backward-looking.”

“Cask-conditioned ale was never again to be the everyday drink of the people, but CAMRA could claim to have ‘saved it’ as a niche product” – fighting talk!

Firkin thrived because of higher prices? Bears investigation

Beer Orders – could unintended consequences have been avoided?

Mash, Belgo, North Bar – is this a history of the bar scene?

“whether a beer is kegged or cask-conditioned makes very little difference to its flavour in itself” – ???

“A little more carbonation and a slightly cooler serving temperature” – as distinct from being ‘cold and fizzy’ – “has a distinct intrinsic appeal: it is more ‘refreshing'” Quite a contentious point, and what are those scare quotes doing there?

“some people have a strong preference for one, while others are able to appreciate both”

“There are young professionals … who think nothing of spending £8 on a pint of beer” Are there?

Thirds taken up by “CAMRA-ambivalent ‘craft beer bars'” Really not convinced by this narrative – look at Font

Wild – are they using wild yeasts or not?

I’ll pull together these thoughts in a third post. For now I’ll leave you with the quote from Mark Twain which I referred to above. For background, the Prologue features a thumbnail sketch of a street in Bristol with three (count ’em) separate craft beer joints, each one craftier than the last. (“We shake our heads in disbelief and ask, ‘How the hell did beer get so hip?'”) Take it away, Mr Clemens:

Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; and anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.


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