Saturday 30 June 2007

Today's custom colour scheme

Today's custom colour scheme comes courtesy of my elder son Andrew. I told him could choose whatever colours he wanted. After he settled for black on black, I added the stipulation than the text still be legigble.

I'll be honest, I still wouldn't accept his first choice, It hurt my eyes too much. This was his second, well third if include the illegible one, attempt.


London Lager

My blog hasn't been living up to its title. There's barely been a mention of Barclay Perkins so far. My apologies. I aim to put things right today. I did start telling my kids about early British lager, but they preferred to do their homework. You'll have to do. It's fascinating stuff. Really.

To those of us used to piss-weak British lagers with pseudo-Germanic names brewed from adjuncts in Northampton, Barclay Perkins pioneering efforts between the wars may come as a surprise.

Barclay Perkins picked an odd time to start experimental lager brewing: during WW I. Which could be why, rather than coming up with some fake German name like Grunhalle, they called their beer London Lager. I was shocked to find lager mentioned in the London publicans' price-fixing agreement of 1917.

Here are the shocking features of lagers in the 1920's and 1930's:

  1. They were all malt. At a time when grists of their standard Bitter and Mild were 10% maize and 20% sugar.
  2. They weren't all pale in colour. Barclay Perkins brewed three lagers: Pale Draught, Pale Export and Dark or Munich.
  3. They were the same strength as continental lagers. Pale Draught: 1044; Pale Export: 1050; Munich: 1057. These are comparable to their equivalent draught ales: XLK (Bitter) 1046, PA (Best Bitter) 1053, KK (Burton) 1056.

Though initially the quantities they brewed were quite small (see table of lager production to the left), only about 2,200 barrels in the first year of serious production, 1921, it quickly increased and was already up 6,500 barrels a year later. As Barclay Perkins were brewing around 200,000 barrels a year in total, it only amounted to around 3% of their production. But remember, at the time lager's share of the market was 1% at most.

It's surprising how much effort they went to both in brewing and marketing their lager. A special brewhouse was contructes and a Danish brewer brought in to supervise operations. Their in-house magazine (The Anchor) is full of adverts, like the one at the top of this post. They must have seen a big future for lager in Britain. When ale brewing stopped at the end of the sixties, following their merger with Courage, lager continued to be brewed at the Park Street site for several more years.

If you want to see exactly how the lagers were brewed (I admit there are likely to be very few of you), here are logs for the Draught and Dark lagers. Interestingly (however inappropriate for most of you the use of the word in this context) the Dark Lager was coloured using roasted barley. The low fermentation temperatures - 25 to 30º F cooler than for their ales, and the secondary ferementation just above freezing, are indications of the level of authenticity. I would love to be able to make a comparison with the production methods of modern Carling or Tennent's. How long do you think they lager them? A week? Do they even bother?

Friday 29 June 2007


No, I haven't switched to an agricultural theme. I'll let Charles Booth explain:

  • Ida street has 5 public houses three of which are fully licensed: many rough women about and many women in the pubs. Monday is recognised as ladies day: in Carr Street it is known as "cowshed" day and probably here also; poor women being known by their husbands and male neighbours as "cows". Monday is their drinking day because they still have a little pocket money left: they drink in public houses which become in consequence "cowsheds".

Wags, eh, those cheeky, chirpy cockneys. Very Alf Garnett.

"Who is this Charles Booth?" That's a good question. He was a socilogist who undertook an enormous survey of ordinary life in London during the 1890's. Hi interviewed hundreds of people with different trades and asked them about their work. Images of his original handwritten notebooks are on the web. Don't worry about trying to write some academic's crappy handwriting, because I've transcribed the most interesting bits. Strange taste I have in reading matter, eh?

Here's some more of what he has to say about cowsheds:

  • Speaking of women´s drinking Flanagan said that the King´s Arms was the "cowshed" par excellence of the district. The King´s Arms is in the High Street, it is an old establihed house and has lately been done up. This was confirmed by Mr. Young one of the guardians for the parish who has a perambulator shop nearly opposite. He said 11 AM and between 6 and 8 PM were the great hours for women´s drinking. All classes go in, no one seems in the least to mind being seen. Their tipple is gin. He has watched a butchers stall just opposite and noticed that every buyer of a joint was taken off there for a drink. Monday is the chief cowshed day. Sometimes in a poor street you will hear an old woman say to a young married woman "Come along my dear, you just put your husbands clothes away, he will never find it out, besides every one does it." That is how the women of the lower classes begin drinking. As factory girls they don´t indulge themselves at all regularly in this way.

    In the lower middle classes he thinks the drinking habit is started in the courting days. A young man now always takes his young woman into a public house, so does the young married man. Young married couples will often spend many hours of the evening at the public house, it is dull at home but bright and amusing out. Then the taste is acquired which afterwards becomes a habit. (Flanagan was a police inspector interviewd by Booth. The pub still exists: 18 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, E8 2JP)

  • Women´s drinking has certainly increased whereas men´s has if anything has diminished. Men drink beer but women more often spirits. It is beer upon which the working man gets drunk. Factory girls drink but it is more often the young married woman and middle aged women who indulge too much. It is in these latter that Flanagan has noticed the increase; not by any means only among the women of the poor, it is more noticeable among what would be the "middle class of a district like this". They have no shame at going into a public house either during or after their shopping, between 4 and 6 of an afternoon are their hours. Grocers licenses have not had much to do with it because it is away from home that the women indulge. In this district there is nothing in the allegation that women buy spirits and charge them to groceries to their husbands accounts. "Why should they? It is the immediate stimulus they want and they have no shame at going into a public house."

The Victorians and Edwardians didn't half get in a tizzy about women of the lower orders drinking. At least the "respectable" members of society - politicians, clegymen, magistrates and the like - did. Not that it bothered the member of the lower orders themselves. They saw nothing wrong with their womenfolk indulging in the odd nip of gin. Which illustrates how much our view of Victorian society - seen through the eyes of the higher classes - is a distortion of the reality. The attitudes of the London poor seem remarkably modern, compared to the pompous, often hypocritical morality of their "betters".

London as usual, was ahead of the game in social change. In other parts of the country, entering a pub was tantamount to proof of being a fallen woman.

  • I remember too that we had visits from some Chief Constables from towns in the North of England, including Newcatle and Durham, who had come to tell the Control Board of a serious increase in drinking among wome in their towns, which was, they emphasized, a growing evil one non-existent before the war. . . . In the old days few decent women would go into a public house at all, and now they were walking in "bold as brass", putting their money down and calling for beer . . . they feared that it might continue after the war. I had, of course, known that women in ordinary times used public houses much less up north than in the London district, but I was not aware until then how wide was the difference. It seemed to me strange that leading police officials ahould be so troubled at what in the south was a quite normal custom. (From page 106 of "70 Rolling Years" the autobiography of Sydney Nevile, who worked in the brewing industry between 1888 and 1958)

What are things coming to, when women can walk ito pubs and ask for beer? Is it any wonder the world is in such a mess?

You can find more transcripts from Booth here. London pubs were already making enormous prices in the 1890's and paying the local plod standard practice for publicans. And why did pubs really swap over from pewter tankards to glasses?

Thursday 28 June 2007

A First

Life is all about first times. Your first kiss. Your first great beer. (For me they we were the other way around). I had an admittedly rather odd first today. I took photos of a pub that I won't publish on the web.

Why? I'll explain. I have kids. They never look at my website, because kids wouldn't, would they? But if they by any weird chance did, there are some things I wouldn't want them to stumble across (like the contents of my wardrobe - clothes no-one with a fixed address would wear). A Kama Sutra bar back is a bridge too far for me, as a parent. But don't let my bourgeois hangups hold you back. Ogle away.

It's a shame, because Diva's is a cracking pub with some wonderful - if risque - artwork. All the better because I chanced upon it totally by accident. I was following the shortest route from Maasstraat to Stalinlaan and suddenly, there it was. A hippy pub. Just what I'd been looking for.

I've always claimed the photograph in my first passport was a fake, but now I confess - it's true: I did used to be a . . . hippy. Or pretended, very badly, to be one. Punk gave me a good excuse to make a radical break with my hirsute past. I would provide photographic evidence, but, true to my Stalinist beliefs, I eschew personal idolatry.

As usual, I digress. I would ramble further on but I'm trying to prove a point about Mongolian mounted archers to my son. That I lack time to wander aimlessly around the wasteland of unfinished metaphors on this blog, highlights the deficencies of my tactics. Alexander the Great I am not. I was aiming to be Genghis Kahn, but I've ended up Frank Spencer. Oh er, Betty.

Back to Diva's They sell Chouffe at a pretty decent price. Quite friendly, too. Oh and the gents are a scream, with the dartboard target in the urinal - I got all bullseyes, honest.

Thank you serendipity.

I used to live this way. Never used to drink in any of the pubs, mind. My loss.

Waalstraat 48,
tel: 020 - 662 70 56

Opening times: Mon -Sat 11:00 - 01:00, Sun 13:00 - 01:00

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Pub of the day (part two)

Keeping my finger on Amsterdam's throbbing jugular is a fulltime occupation. My wife doesn't care that much for pubs. My kids even less (except when cheese or crisps are available). So you're about the only one I can tell about my new pub discoveries.

Today it isn't a new pub I'm going to talk about, but a pub reborn. A pub rising, thing-like out of that charred black substance you get when things, er, burn. God I'm eloquent today. But that's enough about me, let's get on with today's pub.

Last year I spent the best part of a day trekking almost to France to drink Rodenbach Foederbier in Roeselare. Seven hours of travel for 45 minutes of drinking. If I had waited a little, I wouldn't have needed to go to all that trouble. Foederbier is now available in Amsterdam. Along with Boon Oude Lambiek and unfiltered Palm.

Usually when a largish, ambitious brewery takes over a pub, you fear the worst. So imagine my surprise when Palm not only didn't bugger up Engelbewaarder, they actually made a serious imporovement to its beer selection. Well done Palm. There's something I never expected to say. But it's only fair. Providing these interesting beers and going to the trouble of installing a separate low-pressure nitrogen dispense system for them is to be applauded and admired.

  • Engelbewaarder used to be a beer café, so I remember reading. Well, it isn't any more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it isn't worth visiting. Just don't expect a beer pub, OK?

    I was truly gob-smacked when I realised why I had never noticed this pub before: I had never walked down this bit of the canal before. It sounds crap doesn't it? "Not walked along this bit of city centre street, ha ha ha. How dare you report on Amsterdam, sir." It's a lot harder than you might imagine, tramping every single yard of pavement in this city. You try it.
    . . . more . . .

I promised you numbers

I apologise for yesterday's post. I promised you numbers and all you got were bad jokes and dodgy photographs. I'll try to do better today.

Though today is a Barclay Perkins day, courtesy of Stonch, who provided the photo of an example of their signage.

I've just finished going through the draught Pale Ale entries in the Truman's Gravity Book (see yesterday's post for unfunny gravity jokes). Fascinating stuff. I'll be more precise: fascinating stuff for me. But as I'm only writing this blog for my own amusement, that's good enough.

These are the edited highlights, with an emphasis on beers that were still around during my drinking lifetime. (Sorry about the huge blank spaces. I haven't quite mastered this blogging yet. Keep scrolling down to find all the loverley numbers and perhaps even a crap joke.)

You'll see the effect of a big rise in duty in the early 1930s (80 shillings to 114 shillings per 36 gallon barrel). It was reversed in 1933, though it seems many drinkers switched permanently to the cheaper (and weaker) Bitters introduced to negate the effect of the tax increase. The same thing happenned with draught Mild, with Barclay Perkins introducing a new beer - XX - at the gravity their X Ale had previously been, and dropping the X down to 1035.

If you've had the patience to read all those dull statistics, I feel I owe at least one joke. This is from my younger son.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" "To get to the Burger King Fox." Don't ask me what it means. Look, I just promnised you a joke, not a good quality or even vaguely amusing one.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Not just Barclay Perkins

I'm an untidy git
We should get to know each other better. Here's where I work. The photo to the left shows my computer, piles of books and other accumulated junk that covers my desk.

Somewhere under that lot there's also a synthesiser. Don't ask me why I have a musical instrument amongst all my beer stuff. It's a long and not very interesting story. A bit like this blog, I suppose. Pointless, obscure and a little bit sad.

Of course, that isn't anything like my full book collection. It's just the ones I'm currently using.

No jokes today
I promised you bad jokes and numbers. Today it's going to be the latter.

I like to think that I know Amsterdam pretty well. As with much else, life often demonstrates just how misguided my self-belief is.

Last week whilst wandering the top end of the Oudezijd, I stumbled across an odd indoor book market of whose existence I had been blissfully ignorant. My attention was grabbed by a stall with a food and drink theme. You should be able to guess which section I headed for.

My collection of books on a beer theme grows ever larger. I have all the obvious ones and not-so-obvious ones, most of the really not obvious at all and some that are downright obscure. So I was delighted to find three books that I didn't already own. Very reasonably priced, too. I'm so used to internet shopping that I rarely enter bookshops, except to buy the Radio Times. I assume they won't have anything of interest (apart from when Dr Who will be on).

Hard leers is a great Dutch expression. There really isn't a precise English equivalent. A shame, because it describes me perfectly. I'll try to explain the meaning. If you're "hard leers", it implies not just that you're slow to learn, but actively resisit assimulating new information. I should have realised that the many second-hand bookshops of Amsterdam would have something for me.

"What were those books and where are the numbers you promised?" Don't worry. They'll be along soon. (If you're lucky, I may even throw in an unscheduled joke. I'm not promising anything, but I'm in a good mood today.) Academic books, whilst usually a bit short on humour, are often goldmines of facts. And figures. True to form, "Een Studie over de Biermarkt" ("A study of the Beer Market") by H. Hoelen isn't full of laughs. But it does have some interesting numbers.

This table won't have you rolling on the floor in uncontrolable fits of laughter. Or heartily guffawing. Let's be honest, no-one without access to nitrous oxide will crack a smile. It shows the decline in the number of Dutch breweries in the first half of the 20th century. Note the collapse around WW I, when Dutch beer production plummeted. Although not directly involved in the war, the disruption of international trade (sorry this next bit is going to be deadly serious so if you were expecting me to transform this dull sentence into a triumph of wit, you're going to be disappointed) it entailed had consequences for The Netherlands. Interruption of the supply of grain hit brewers hard.

No. breweries50344025721915614814013612512312011711498
Year 1939194019411942194319441945194619471948194919501951
No. breweries98989593928783797672706056

If that's whetted your appetite, you can find even more numbers relating to the Dutch brewing industry here.

Well that should have discouraged 99% of you from ever checking this blog again. It's not going to get much better. Tomorrow, I plan revealing some choice extracts from one of my all time favourite documents, Truman's "Gravity Book". I hope you don't have a sleepless night, restless with anticipation at the prospect of the revelation of a unified field theory. It isn't that sort of gravity the book discusses. But if you ever wondered how strong draught ordinary Bitter was in 1949 and how much it cost per pint, you're in for a treat.

In case you can't wait until tomorrow, here's a quick preview. Fascinating stuff, eh? I have about 50 pages photographed. Don't worry, I'm not going to pester you with the lot. There's one that isn't all that interesting. The other 49 will keep me in blog material for the next ... er, let's work that out . . . . 47 days . . . . where's my calculator? . . . . 50 days, that's it, for the next 50 days.

You could always just look at the rambling collection of numbers and old documents I call "Beer, Ale and Malt Liquor", a title almost as bad as this blog's. Never been my thing, titles. It took me 7 or 8 years to come up with "European Beer Guide". Dys-something I guess you would call it. Sorry, rambling again. There are summaries of the Gravity Book entries for Porter, Stout, Mild and Strong Ale. If you can find them. I used the adjective rambling, but incoherent might have been more appropriate. Links would help. So I might include them tomorrow. But feel free to search yourself.

Pub of the day

Not being able to keep up with a changing world is a sure sign of age. Just call me Mr. Wrinkly. New pubs are popping up so quickly in Amsterdam that even a dedicated pub-crawler like me struggles.

Here's one - Dwaze Zaken on Prins Hendrikkade - I came across recently. It's one of a growing number of Amsterdam pubs that falls somewhere between a proper specialist beer cafe and a bog-standard boozer.

  • "Am I getting old or is the city changing quicker than ever? (When I were a lad you could buy six pints of beer, a three course meal, take a taxi home and still have change from a guilder.) Dwaze Dagen - unusually, as most Zeedijk pubs are fiercely traditional - belongs to both groups one and two. Oh - I almost forgot a third group that seems to be growing in size exponentially: very expensive pubs." more
Expect more sightings of new places to drink in Amsterdam. I have a mission: to get 100 pubs in my Amsterdam guide. It's going well. Especially now that I've managed to get rid of my job. Loads more time to investigate. I may even have enough time to get to the Westelijke Eilanden.

Monday 25 June 2007

Why is your blog called that?

Hello. I'm Ronald. This is my new blog. I hope you like it.

What is a blog? I see it as a way of saying everything that my friends, family, acquaintances, blokes in pubs, my children, fellow tram passengers and the homeless guy outside the supermarket don't want to hear. Hence the title.

My interest in beer has - I like to think - both breadth and depth. And heightth. I would name more dimensions, but sadly most don't have names. If I knew what they were all called, I would claim my mind-thingy was big in their way. If you see what I mean. (If you find the next to last last sentence confusing, vague or just plain bollocky, don't waste your time on this blog; it's unlikely to get much more coherent.)

The internet. That's where sad loners, their heads full of words no-one wants to hear, feel at home. Hi! Great to be here. I'm sure we're going to get on really well.

Barclay Perkins. Barclay Perkins. How liberating it feels to say those two forbidden words out loud. It isn't allowed here. How many times have I heard Andrew or Alexei say: "Shut up about your stupid Barclay Perkins."

It's weird. My kids have no interest in the changes in Mild grists between 1880 and 1890. What's wrong with them? Have I taught them nothing?

Books. I have piles of books. I can provide photographic proof if necessary, but believe me, the piles are just about up to my elbow. I blame the interent. It's just too easy to buy the most obscure publications. Once I have them, I have to read them. A compulsion, you could call it. "Dad. Can you please stop reading that old crap." That's a view from the kids.

But, once you've plucked out the juiciest sweetmeat of knowledge, where's the fun if there's no-one in whose mouth to drop it? The solution is obvious: join with the unemployed and unemployable in the blogsphere. Share with my peers the weird bits up crap I've unearthed.

I hope you like it. I really do. I promise many clumsy attempts at humour. And lots of numbers. I like numbers. They are my friends. And I want to share my friends with everyone.