Monday, 8 March 2021

When I'm 94

I've been kicking around a though in my head for the last few days. What sources would I use if, 30 years from now, I decided to write a followup volume to "Austerity!".

Initially, foremost in my mind were concerns, such as, would the RateBeer information be available? And would any breweries have bothered archiving their brewing records? Would archived versions of brewery websites be accessible?  (I assume that the British Newspaper Archive will continue to exist in some form.) Then I couldn't help starting to think about the details of exactly how I'd do it.

1971 to 2021 is far too long a period.It would need to be split into two books. The first kicking off with the foundation of CAMRA. Where to end it, though. What's a meaningful, break point? 

I pondered that for a couple of days. It was obvious, really. When the Big Six crumbled into dust. 2000 - 2001. Which followed on logically from my decision to call the book "Cask!". And the one after "Evil Keg!".

Digging an ever larger pit for myself, I wondered how much material I already have. For 1971 to 1980, a reasonable amount. Some brewing records. Not enough, but some, at least. Whitbread Luton records must have survived. They'd be interesting to look at. I'd need a shitload of others as well. Thousands of hours of work.

For the whole period I've OGs or ABVs from the Good Beer Guide. Usually only one of the other. Making them much less useful than Whitbread Gravity Book entries. Better than nothing.Big problem: only cask beers. I've far less information on keg and bottled beers. Not sure where I could find that. A bit of scanning and OCR work. Nothing too crazy. A couple of hundred hours, maybe.

I've statistics galore, courtesy of the BBPA Statistical Handbook. Beer production, % sales by style, number of breweries, number of pubs, imports, exports. Everything I could possible need. Maybe more numbers on tied estates. Very little to do. I could use the Good Beer Guide scans to harvest tied house numbers, which were often included in brewery entries.

Far too much for me to even contemplate taking on anytime soon. I haven't finished writing about the periods I have researched fully. More or less. 

I already have my next few books planned out. Should I ever manage to finish "Blitzkrieg!". 

First is "Free!" covering the Golden Age of UK brewing - 1880 - 1914. 

Moving back in time to 1830 - 1880. I can't remember if I thought of a title for that one. "Beerhouse!", perhaps. 

Finishing at 1780 - 1830. About as far as I dare go back, cowardly time-traveller that I am. Plenty of time to think about what I'll call that, given how long it's likely to take me to complete the other two.

I'm hoping "Free!" won't take anything like as long as "Blitzkrieg!". Despite covering a far longer period, much less was going on. Wishful thinking, probably.


Ed said...

Looking forward to Free!

Dennis King said...

would love a book 1971-1980 my era

Anonymous said...

I have to assume at some point brewers switched over to spreadsheets or databases, and I'm curious how this might have improved record keeping, as well as if the built in constraints meant important errata has been lost.

At some point ought to be feasible to do a lot of the grunt work of digitizing old records with a lot less human intervention. AI is getting capable of taking hand written tables and deciphering and formatting them, and getting a lot better based on context at figuring out what abbreviations mean. I can't imagine it would happen without a lot of hand holding, to be sure.

Ron Pattinson said...


I'm not sure electronic systems necessarily improve record keeping. Made them more vulnerable, in many ways. A hefty brewing ledger is much harder to misplace than a floppy disk or memory stick.

As for electronically digitising written brewing logs, we're quite a way from that. It's a complex task, not just reading the handwriting, but working out what it really means. With a shitload of guesswork and interpretation. Very specialised, too. I'm sure it could happen, eventually. Just not soon enough to be of any help to me.

Rob Sterowski said...

I am fairly sure that a large number of the tiny breweries now dotted around the UK will live and die without any trace of their existence being archived anywhere, except possibly their payments to HMRC. For many there is nothing actually unique about their beer, but nonetheless they could be of statistical interest at least.

At the Scottish Brewing Archive some of the first generation of microbreweries in the 1980s have left no records whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

There is a huge amount of debate and back and forth over digitizing medical records, which covers a lot of the same issues as brewing records, I'm sure. You're right that it's awfully complicated, more than a lot of people thought at first.

I think the biggest help is in the grunt work of first transcription and additional ordering, but there is always going to be a need for human eyes. I think one thing that AI will be good for is simply flagging things which a human could take a look at once the machine is done. And they're getting better at making suggestions and recognizing deeper patterns, even when they sometimes make some ridiculous ones.