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Author: Bearded Housewife

Children in Pubs

Children in Pubs

tl;dr- a look at some of the arguments, and counter-arguments, for and against children in pubs

Given the bifurcated nature of this blog, it’s perhaps inevitable that I would tackle the thorny issue of ‘Children in Pubs’. The fact that I’ve prevaricated this long before attempting a tackle, though, may give an indication of quite how spinose an issue it is. It seems to bubble spasmodically to the surface of debate, jog round in increasingly wearisome circles, and diffuse cholerically without any degree of resolution. This last, I suspect, is largely because most of the most vocal antagonists are largely indifferent to actually solving the problem, or, indeed, of establishing if there even is a problem.

Overall, the debate never seems to go anywhere because most people worth listening to state their position as something adjacent to “I don’t have any problem with children in pubs, if they’re well-behaved”. This position is so unarguably reasonable that it’s never really questioned, and everyone leaves with their own vastly divergent, and unchallenged, mental picture of what ‘well-behaved’ actually constitutes. I shall address this in greater depth further down, but first I’d like to pick out and exclude certain arguments that don’t have merit.

 

Now, as a rather confessional aside, I should state, for the record, that I have a slightly disgusting personal habit. Well, more of a compulsion, really, and the disgust it engenders is both violently emetic in nature and exclusively generated in me. Sometimes, usually when I’m feeling rather more buoyant and well disposed towards the world than is generally my mien, I’ll remind myself of the dark and pessimistic horror that is life on Earth by trawling through Below The Line comment sections and forum message boards in which the denizens are encouraged to Speek Dare Branes on the many and various issues of the day (as Mitchell and Webb brilliantly put it, “you may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you ‘reckon’ something”) and it was into this filth that I crawled on hands and knees, sieving squidgy examples of reckon from the mire, to sample a range of opinion that is almost certainly biased and unrepresentative and, incidentally, makes me a bit sad to be alive. These opinions can be sifted into a number of broad categories.

First of all, there are two extremes that, I think, can reasonably be excluded from consideration.

1. Hates children

Firstly, there are those that resolutely hate children. These can be easily identified by their assertion that they don’t hate children. That’s not an invalid opinion, in and of itself, but hating children in pubs is merely a subset of hating them in general. Just as vegetarians don’t get a say in how steak should be cooked, they don’t get a say in this. They will frame their objection as being against kids in pubs but, overtly stated or not, it’s clear that they don’t want to see kids anywhere. Some examples include:

  • It’s not just pubs. Some parents treat supermarkets or DIY stores as playgrounds for their children, who run around out of control. I don’t have any problem with kids that are kept under control, but too many parents simply have no idea how to control their kids.
  • To be honest I don’t think children should be allowed in Starbucks let alone pubs.
  • Sadly, modern parents don’t use any form of discipline to keep their kids in check. Ban children. Ban them now. Ban them forever. Even my grandson.
  • Why should a Child have a greater right than a Cigarette to be in a Pub? 

Another quote posited the mind-boggling assertion that ‘children are everywhere these days’. Most also seem to run with a strong theme of ‘parents can’t control their kids these days’, which pops up fairly frequently even in more reasonably-stated positions. Given that people have been complaining about this since Plato, it seems unlikely that they’re suddenly correct now.

2. Hates everyone except children

The other dismissable-out-of-hand position is on the other end of the scale. While much, much rarer than people would have you believe, there are those who believe that their children can, and should, go anywhere and do anything and that attempts to hinder or restrict this are tantamount to abuse. Since this is much more often used as a strawman argument than anything else it seems disingenuous to consider it, but it did rear its head once or twice:

  • The U.K is anti familys and hates children, Pubs landlords who are fussy about the customers, should have they lincence to sell alcohol taken off them
  • Pub is short for “public house”. Get it? PUBLIC house. So leave our kids alone. In the years to come they’ll all be paying for your pensions!!!
  • how sad. I can imagine what a sterile place [a pub with no children] is – and definitely a sad old people’s pub where you can get away with talking about things you don’t want kids to hear.

3. Defends pubs by slagging them off.

Paddling hard for shore, we come back to more reasonable statements, although many seem perversely self-destructive. Principle amongst these are those who seek to preserve the sanctity and integrity of the pub by explaining how utterly terrible they are. These generally start with pronouncements along the lines of “Why would you even want to take a child into a pub, you monster!?” and bolster this by painting a picture of a pub right out of an Irvine Welsh novel. There’s three possibilities I can see here: That they believe all pubs are the kind of horrific Hogarth/Heironymous Bosch nightmares that make Mos Eisley look like Eastbourne; That parents are so addled by the narcotic effects of breeding that they’re incapable of telling which pubs are nice and are heedlessly leading their precious offspring into nefarious, gangland, spit-and-sawdust stab-arenas; or, that children themselves possess such rarefied and gossamer natures that the mere sight of adults drinking and conversing will shatter their fragile mind-tank like a bubble in a hurricane. Whichever the case may be, though, the position is absurd. Pubs are not that terrible, and children are not that delicate, and even if either were true then, absent of any genuine (rather than supposed) risk, it is still the parents themselves who are best placed to make the decision.

  • Do you really want to sow the seeds in yer kids heads that the pub is a place to hang out during the day – especially a weekday? Ah well, at least you are doing your bit to create the next generation of alkies, which will help to save our dwindling stock of pubs. Top notch Kojok.
  • Why take children into a pub? A pub? OK, if it is really the ONLY place to get something to eat, if there are no cafes or coffee shops around in your tiny hamlet then fine – take them. But if you are in a decent sized town then there must be alternatives, where people are not drinking.
  • We actually wanted them to have a childhood without being subject to dingy bars smelling of stale alchohol. Weird aren’t we?

4. The Prohibitionists

Closely related to the previous category, with a heavy dose of ‘wont someone please think of the children’, and a thick vein of class-based vitriol. In this case the evil isn’t mortared into the very fabric of the building, or redolent in the degenerates therein; instead the contagion springs from the devil’s water served in such establishments. It’s not even that these people are necessarily against alcohol, but they ascribe it such fearsomely destructive properties (often, it is implied, amongst the other classes, not our sort obviously) that children being around it, or around those who have consumed it, is a case of abhorrent abuse. The absurdities are also closely related: pubs are not perpetual Bachannalian debaucheries (I haven’t been able to find the ones that are, at any rate) and parents are still sentient human beings and are as capable of picking up a bad vibe in a pub as anyone else. Still, since one of the many reasons pubs are closing at an alarming rate is the preponderance of people drinking at home, perhaps we should be keeping children safely in the shed?

  • But adults in pubs with children, if they are drinking alcohol they are not in a state where they can be responsible for their kids, either that or they just ignorant.
  • Pubs can be a dangerous place for Children – moreso since Adults are becoming intoxicated there. Nobody can deny that alcohol does bring out the WORST in SOME drinkers – including the criminally-minded.

5. The Circle Jerks

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that, until workshy wasters like me got in on this sweet, sweet deal, child-care and child-rearing was an exclusively female arena. Thus, any place or activity that limited or restricted children did the same to women and, frankly, with regards to pubs, it’s hard to see that as an entirely unintended consequence. Much of the spluttering and posturing about children in pubs reflects that seen in issues around women in certain clubs, professions, sports and workplaces, that it’s simply not suitable for them, bless them, we’ll have to stop swearing and tidy up! There’ll be doilies, for God’s sake! Doilies!

This attitude ties into a broader theme amongst some people who are intent on maintaining pubs as an exclusive space. Although who exactly they exclude varies around one, some or all of gender, race and class (and children as a whole may or may not be interdicted en mass), the important thing is their sort are kept out of our pub. Well, tough shit. Time to move over.

  • The pub, once an escape from the drudgery of family life, has become just the opposite.
  • Pubs were invented to get away from moaning women and whinning brats
  • You know the sort, sat there hunched at the table, scruffy, shouting in vain to stop their darling brood from rampaging, screaming and hollering around other customers whilst, elbows on the table, they crane scampi n chips down their knecks.  And moreover swilling it down with all that Eurofizz stuff. And that is just the mothers…..

 

So, after cutting the crusts off it’s time to get to the meat of the argument, if you’ll excuse a slightly mixed metaphor. The bulk of the rest of the argument against allowing kids into pubs basically boils down to two main streams:

A – ‘Kids are bad for pubs’.

Essentially: Children are annoying, and I dislike being annoyed. Hard to dismiss the prima facie case, really, and the rejoinder is not, as it is for 5 above, simply ‘suck it up, your time of dominance is past’. It’s not unreasonable to wish to remain un-annoyed, but it probably is unreasonable to expect large swathes of strangers to circumscribe their lives to avoid the possibility that you might be. To which, of course, many will reply ‘You should have thought of that before you had kids’, but since that contains the implicit assumption that any restriction is reasonable if you knew about it beforehand, it obviously belongs in the ‘Ignore the Stupid’ section above.

The validity of the argument, though, rests largely on a fair assessment of how annoying kids really are. On a ranked list of public house annoyances would the presence of children (or, more accurately, the possibility of the presence of children) really feature that highly? More than short measures? More than badly kept cask? More than incoherent and disturbingly touchy drunks? More than wanky beer bores who try to tell you there’s no such things as pilsners? Are kids in pubs even that common, and do the problems caused by some warrant an outright ban?

By way of analogy, Crate brewery in Hackney Wick handed out notices at the beginning of the football season effectively banning West Ham fans before and after games at the nearby stadium. A fair amount of consternation ensued, with many making the fairly reasonable point that it’s deeply unjust to sweepingly ban significant segments of the population based on their association to people who may or may not cause trouble in the future. Of course, certain West Ham fans made this a rather more difficult argument to advance by trashing the stadium a few weeks later but if we can reasonably say it’s unfair to preemptively ban football fans, how can it be reasonable to do the same in the case of children, when the numbers involved, and potential risks, are much smaller? I’ve never heard of pre-schoolers tearing up chairs and glassing opposing toddlers. Rather like the lift at Canary Wharf station that demands that you not obstruct the doors before you’ve even got in, it’s the automatic assumption of bad behaviour that’s galling.

B – ‘Pubs are bad for kids’

Pretending pubs are unconscionable dens of sin and depravity gets your opinion relegated to the discard pile under clause 3 (above) because it’s observably untrue, but it’s entirely possible for a clear-eyed and unbiased observer to nonetheless conclude that they’re inappropriate places for children. After all, their principle product, and reason for existing, is illegal for children, and they can sometimes be crowded, loud, confused and full of people neither expecting, nor explicitly accommodating, children. The difficult corollary to this is that, since pubs are not for children, taking them to one is selfishly placing one’s own enjoyment over theirs. I refute this, obviously… but then I would, wouldn’t I? After all, the pleasant days-out I list in a previous post could be just as easily accomplished without the pub at the end and wouldn’t it be even nicer to do double playground and skip the beer entirely?

Part of this, I suspect, is linked to an implicit (and often explicit) undercurrent that runs through much of the discussion around parenting and children’s issues, that one must utterly ablate one’s personal hopes, life and desires on the altar of childrearing; that anything less than complete sacrifice in service of your children is not only an degrading insult to those putative children but also, chillingly, to those people who can’t or don’t have children of their own. I exaggerate slightly, but only very slightly. From this perspective, taking your children to the pub, an ostensibly (although, I contend, not exclusively) adult space, when you could be whimsically and organically crafting organic whimseys (or whatever it is ‘good’ parents are supposed to do), is absolute anathema.

To this, and to the slew of other related attempts to make parents feel inadequate, I say ‘Oh, do bugger off’ while feeling guilty and resentful. I’m not going to make the children the orbital centre of our familial solar system, partly out of bloody-mindedness, partly because the adults need to preserve their own identities and partly because I don’t think it’s actually good for the kids. While they obviously require a huge (huge!) amount of accommodation, too much seems likely to set them up for a fall. There will be a full spectrum of activities in their lives, in varying hues of suitability, appropriateness and enjoyability, and at some point they’ll have to contend with them all.

 

In summation, we can return to what I think is the central, almost unassailably reasonable assertion, as succinctly stated by The Pub Curmudgeon (whose status as a curmudgeon probably behoves a certain species of opinion on this topic):

…. and who can argue with that? Well, let’s see.

Firstly, on the surface of it, it’s almost unhelpfully tautologically, tantamount to saying annoying things are annoying. The concept of bad-behaviour, for all practical purposes, is defined by how it relates to and impacts on others, in that it’s the fact that it causes you, or others, to be annoyed, distressed or uncomfortable that makes it bad behaviour…. if a toddler has a tantrum in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, is it still bad behaviour?

Secondly, it’s such a broadly reasonable statement that it seems strange to limit it to children. Why would we not say badly-behaved people are a big minus point? Is it that we assume bad behaviour on the part of children is inevitable? Is it that we, perhaps subconsciously, exclude children from the set of ‘people’? If the former, the statement starts to lose a portion of its unassailability… unless your benchmark for bad behaviour is absurdly low, it’s not reasonable to avoid pubs on the basis that any children in them are likely to be, or become, badly behaved, any more than it’s reasonable to avoid, en mass, pubs with football fans because you think they’re likely to kick-off. People do, obviously, and people are welcome to define for themselves the criteria that define a pleasant pub-going experience, and yet I sense that the beer and pub community as a whole are much more comfortable challenging the second presumption than the first.

Thirdly, as alluded above, it leaves the question of what constitutes bad behaviour unanswered. This is the facet of the debate that worries me the most, as it involves me trying to perceive people’s perceptions, a trick of cognitive executive function I’ve never comfortably mastered. My children are, the overwhelming majority of the time, adequately well-behaved in pubs and I would, and have, taken them out if they weren’t… but, again, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Is my ‘well-behaved’ sufficiently well aligned with yours? They don’t charge around the places, they don’t scream, they don’t throw raucous tantrums on the floor, but they might be a bit loud, might sing a bit, might wander, might leave toys on chairs. Is that enough? Because the arbitrary, undefined, tautological and variable entry requirements we seem to have set for children in pubs would put even the Home Office to shame and, unless pubs make a small effort to make their position clear, are likely to deter all parents without an appreciable degree of self-confident fortitude.

Good, you might say. You might not want children in the pub anyway, so you’re probably unconcerned that the centuries of social feedback that have taught us which behaviours are acceptable in which particular pubs are not there to guide children and parents, but let me finish with this thought: A mild to moderate antipathy towards children in pubs seems to correlate with a strong position against the smoking ban and a horror at the consequent drop in people visiting pubs. The feeling is that pubs are so valuable that anything that threatens their existence by driving customers away must be resisted. I was in Howling Hops a few weeks ago on a weekday afternoon. Not a busy time, in general, but there were a dozen or so customers. Every single one of them had come with a child.

So, frankly, you can’t eat your cake and have it. You can’t bemoan the slow asphyxiation of pubs and decry a potential breath of air. Smoking in pubs is gone forever (although the populist political horror show that would restore it seems less implausible by the day) and, in my opinion, we can embrace the opportunities that affords or watch pubs, perfectly and eternally unadulterated, slowly sink. 

And this is not a big ask, either. No one is demanding Fruit Shoots on draught and a ball pit where the fruities used to be. All it requires is a small amount of tolerance and forebearance on one side and some awareness and restraint on the other, and there is, potentially, a large demographic putting money over the bar, often at times that would otherwise be completely dead. Not everyone wants to go to cafés, after all. Is that so desperately intolerable?

Children and Pubs in East London

Children and Pubs in East London

tl;dr – Taking kids to pubs is a good idea (yes, it is) and these are some you can take them to around East London

It seems strange to me that the issue of taking children to pubs is even an issue. That’s not because I am infused with an adamant sense of entitlement in this regard (or, at least, not exclusively), but because the people with whom I regularly interact seem to have absolutely no problem with the idea. Of course, obviously, there’s selection bias here, plus the general reticence of the British public to tell anyone to bugger off and take their squawking brood with them, but it surprises me to see that, for some, this is a pernicious and contentious issue. I’m going to look in to some of the arguments and assertions around children in pubs in a later post, but for now I’m going to assume (as is the wont of almost everyone in this debate, and most debates like it) that you agree unreservedly with me.

One of the biggest impediments, I find, if you are so inclined, is that it’s very hard to ascertain, with a new or unfamiliar pub, exactly how amenable the staff will be to you bringing in your offspring before you actually attempt to do so. Some sort of sign on the door would be nice but, while ‘Family Friendly’ chalkboards do exist, it’s rare, although not unheard of, to see pubs explicitly state their opposition to children, as that sort of thing is really only going to play well to the avowedly misanthropic crowd.

I’ve got no problem with some pubs banning children, incidentally. Sometimes it’s just not appropriate, for the feel of the pub as much as anything, to have kids there. For instance, I once had a bit of time to kill in central London and tried to take the progeny into the Harp, near Covent Garden. As I attempted to wrestle the buggy back out the narrow door after being politely rebuffed by the staff, I wondered what I’d been thinking. It’s hard to elucidate clearly why exactly this would have been a bad idea, but children in a pub like the Harp is an incongruous conjunction, like a rave in a library, not bad in the sense of wrong, or selfish, or unjust, but rather more like an uncomfortable juxtaposition.

As a rough guide, then, what sort of signs and portents should one be looking for when appraising a prospective pub? Obviously, these are extrapolated entirely from my limited experience, greased with a large dose of blind generalisation and exceptions can, and assuredly do, exist but the following are aspects I’ve found to be indicative of at least a grudging acceptance of your tiny non-drinkers.

  • Brewery taps
    • Notwithstanding the points listed below, brewery taps are almost always a good bet. Except when you physically can’t fit in them, I’ve not visited any that have presented a problem. Particularly good examples include Camden Town, who had a nicely appointed kids corner for their Oktoberfest tank party a few years ago (we couldn’t even get near it this year, despite the rain), Howling Hops and Tap East.
  • Beer gardens
    • Another semi-certainty, insofar as no one can really complain that you brought kids if they’re not even in the building. If the weather’s not up to that, though, it tends to follow that the pub itself will be amenable to you sheltering the younglings indoors. A classic example that has, if anything, gone far too far the other way is the Royal Inn on the Park, which becomes a writhing mass of underage humanity on pleasant Sunday afternoons. It doesn’t take a lot, thankfully, as we’re not exactly replete with spacious beer gardens round here; even a small paved outdoor area, such as at Mother Kelly’s, is enough to give you some good options.
  • Chains
    • To stop the kids running around, eh, amiright!?  Although chain pubs in general are more likely to be constrained by an over-arching and, most-likely, ‘family friendly’ policy, this mostly refers to ‘spoons which are, with some exceptions, generally pretty good at letting kids in. Comparatively few in this part of the world, though.
  • Food
    • It almost seems like the provision of food beyond the ‘sandwiches and pickled eggs’ level almost makes a pub beholden to families and, consequentially, children, so their acceptance in such establishments can sometimes veer towards the begrudging but, generally speaking, menus on the table, all other things being equal, are a pretty good sign.
  • Wide doorways
    • If you can’t physically manhandle your buggy into the premises you sometimes have to wonder if that’s not entirely accidental. Not definitive by any means and, often, the other leaf can be unbolted, but it’s generally worth checking behind the bar; not least because it seems a rather brazen act to wrestle out the massive bolts that generally restrain one half of the door without at least acknowledging the staff. The Lord Tredegar in Bow exemplifies this kind of entry-way embuggerance, and negotiating the bar and tables just inside is equally taxing, but struggling through rewards you with a large open back room and a surprisingly large beer garden.
  • Space
    • Both people and furniture can crowd you out of pubs and, sometimes, it’s worth recognising when it’s simply not worth the aggravation. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in tiny, cosy, dimly lit little pubs is behind you, I’m afraid, and what you want now is a bit of openness. Not, I hurriedly add, to fill with the delightfully vivacious personality of your toddler, but to avoid abutting anyone else’s space too closely. And by ‘you’, I mean ‘me’. And by ‘delightfully vivacious’, I mean ‘talking loudly about who has a penis’.
  • Age
    • Of the pub, rather more than the clientele, although that can be a factor. It’s a tenuous correlation, but the young-modern-trendy pubs (or bars, I suppose) tend to be more complaisant about kids than your old-historical-traditional pubs. Exceptions abound, of course, The Prospect of Whitby is pretty good with kids, as is Spaniards Inn, and there aren’t many older than that.

 

Moving from the general case to the specific, there are certain pubs and bars around East London that really round off a nice day out with the little ones. When these days work really well, they’ll generally include something interesting for them to do, hopefully something tiring, followed by a nice half somewhere pleasant (which, incidentally, vehemently excludes those ghastly ‘Family’ pubs with sticky tables and terrifying swing/slide combos made from a fibreglass tree). It’s important, for us at least, that it works this way. I’ve no intention of merely dragging the sproglings to a pub and trying to keep them quiet for as long as possible, that’s a scenario primed for conflict. Going to the pub is a nice thing, a mini-treat, and it’s important that we three all see it that way, as something to be looked forward to, a cosy, almost conspiratorial, diversion that ends before it becomes boring, frustrating or stressful for any of us. As a policy, it’s not a universal panacea, of course, and sometimes we may have to beat a hasty retreat when the day is not going our way, but generally we seem to mitigate at least some of the snivelling, whingeing and attention seeking behaviour. And the girls are better behaved, too.

  • Tap East

    • For someone who professes to abhor vast shopping centres such as Westfield, I appear to spend an inordinate amount of time there. These things aren’t built by morons, and they seem to know that making it kid friendly tends to keep people handing over their disposable. There’s some nice touches in this one; a couple of smallish playgrounds which, while nice, emphatically do not deserve the epithet ‘Playworld’, decent changing facilities, and quiet rooms where you can actually sit down on a comfy sofa to feed the baby. Small touches, perhaps, but welcome. That said, it’s not what I’d call a day out, but Alpha normally professes herself fully satisfied with the trifecta of wandering around, pointing at people and demanding to know where they’re going or where their mummy is, and charging up and down the slide for a bit.
    • Nestled incongrously amongst the cold, bright tedium, like a boozy Rivendell, opposite a shop selling New Age nonsense to gullible fools, and next to a mini restaurant dispensing a different world food each time I visit, is the place that makes Westfield worthwhile – Tap East. There’s a small outside space, next to a large traffic free plaza (although they looked to be building a playground there, oh frabjous day!), and a couple of sofa’s and low chairs inside. The rest of the seating is high stools, so not desperately appropriate, but we don’t go when it’s busy anyway. Which is good, because it fair heaves on occasions, particularly if there’s an event on at the stadium/pool/velodrome/other thing. Their own beer is good, an excellent mild springs to mind, and they have quickly rotating guest beers and a fairly impressive bottle range. It’s not that they expressly invite kids, exactly, but we go there a lot, and they’re always pretty good about it.

      img_20160411_163950
      Something of a rite of passage for us
  • Mason and Company

    • I’ve taken to considering the canals in East London our own private, traffic-free highways to cool places and amongst these are undoubtedly the parks and playgrounds around the northern edge of the Olympic park. The Tumbling Bay playground is a brilliant example with sand, water, pumps, diggers, slides, bridges, climbing and building; the opportunities for really messy exploring are extensive. As such, this is very much a Sunny Day playground, as well as being a Change Of Clothes playground and Thorough Rinse When You Get Home playground.

      img_20160930_135316
      Wet and sandy
    • Mason and Company are pretty new. They’re by the canal, but with enough intervening grass that you can give the elder sprogs a bit of a long leash without having to halfheartedly listen for a splash. The beer list is pretty extensive and carefully thought out, and ranges from good stalwarts to the unusual and esoteric. They sort of do food, as well. In fact they seem to have phagocytosed one of those gourmet food vans, like some vast bacteria, and now a mini-restaurant lives a happy, symbiotic life inside them dispensing delicious Italian/American food. On our visits so far, though, the kids have not just been accepted, but actively welcomed. Staff have actually gone out of their way to their little lives a little bit nicer… it doesn’t take much, a sticker and some colouring pencils, but it’s very much appreciated, and shoots Mason and Company way up my decision-making flowchart.

      It's important to have your supplies to hand
      It’s important to have your supplies to hand
  • Howling Hops and Crate

    • Astute readers might have noticed that all of these are in or around the Olympic park. Frankly, it’s our favourite place to go at this stage of our lives and this combination is, perhaps, the classic, nay defining, example of the playground/pub combo. Just outside the Olympic stadium is a fountain, one of those ‘jets spraying in the air’ affairs that you can run about in. Alpha, who will fight you tooth and nail to avoid a shower at home, will cheerfully waterboard herself for hours at a time in this fountain. Since activities that involve water will magically make children up to 75% more tired than running-around alone, there’s a strong possibility that, by the time you strap her back in the buggy and cross over the canal, she’ll be soundo.

      Drowning oneself by inches
      Drowning oneself by inches
    • Howling Hops and Crate are breweries that occupy a single light industrial site in Hackney Wick. Frankly, I think Howling Hops do better beer and, furthermore, serve it straight from the conditioning tanks. Crate pizzas, on the other hand, are amazing, and you can sit right by the canal if the fancy takes you. Both are pretty good with kids; if you get Howling Hops when it’s not busy there’s a fair bit of room to move around in without getting in anyone’s way, which palliates the ‘stay in your seat’ battles that never end in a win for anyone.

      Room to breathe
      Room to breathe
  • Mother Kelly’s

    • The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is one of life’s nailed-on certainties. Unlike many of the other activities listed here it is weather independent and persistently attractive to kids over time. Every age range is served, from coloured lights and textured surfaces, through play houses, to interesting displays on a wide range of toys, there’s enough here to keep everyone below ‘truculent teenager’ at least mildly diverted. There’s even staff-led crafting sessions on occasion. The ground floor includes a cafĂ©, for when your karma’s at a decent level, and a gift-shop, for when it isn’t.

      Much less scary than real horses
      Much less scary than real horses
    • Bethnal Green is replete with excellent bars and pubs but, personally, I wouldn’t attempt most of them with kids. Mother Kelly’s has a nice outdoor area and a beer list that is almost proverbial in nature. Inside is fairly open-plan, very much of the New York post-industrial section of the catalogue, and not too furniture-crowded so it’s worth a go if it’s not too busy. Frankly, this one isn’t perfect for kids but the staggeringly good beer selection makes you want to put in that little extra effort.

      That's not my child
      That’s not my child
  • People’s Park Tavern

    • This is the second of our usual options. Our standard day out is either to go up the Lea to Olympic park, or up the Regent’s Canal to Victoria park, and this is the latter. Victoria park is, I’d contend, the best park in London. I normally avoid sticking my neck out on this blog, but I’m prepared to leave it all out there for this one. Not only is it beautifully laid out, with large, pleasantly open spaces, but it has three awesome playgrounds, which we refer to as the Little Playground (so named, because the apparatus there seems more for smaller kids), the Bridge Playground (because, well, there’s a large rope bridge) and the Water Playground, which has recently been redeveloped. We’ve yet to see the latter at it’s full glory, but it works on a similar principle to the Tumbling Logs, sans sand. Pumps and fountains create streams and puddles of water which can be blocked, emptied or diverted by opening and closing gates. The Bridge playground does have sand, as well as old-fashioned hand pumps which, to the children’s amazement, actually work, and allow them to create messy sandy lagoons. There’s also little play-houses, which are Alpha’s current favourites, the eponymous bridge and a few really rather large slides.img_20161018_150540
    • The People’s Park Tavern sits on the northern edge of the park and is almost unique in this part of the world for having a large beer garden. Through a confusing relationship with Laine’s they technically brew on site, although the beer can be a touch hit and miss. On the welcoming children scale, they’ve always seemed to me to be significantly above indifferent, but despite this and the outdoor space, I’ve not seen it overrun with children in the same way as the nearby Royal Inn on the Park. They also get bonus points for setting their stall out clearly. Children welcome till 7pm. Says so right on the gate.

      A rare confluence
      A rare example of coordination
  • Prospect of Whitby

    • Every so often we like to go to the beach, as we euphemistically call it. The Thames has actually got really nice over the years, and it’s very pleasant to sit on the pebbles, watch the boats go up and down and poke around looking for shells and bits of pottery, without the possibility of turning up anything repellent. Apparently there are salmon now. Someone told me that. I’ve no idea if it’s true, but the water is generally pretty clear, for a river. Again, this is a walk we can make on almost exclusively traffic free routes and, for a lot of it, you can walk right beside the Thames. Of course, the whim of developers trumps the petty and insignificant habits of mere residents so, quite often, there will just be a huge building blocking the path, you’ll have to go back to the street and walk around it, then rejoin the path for the next 200m before someone’s peremptorily put up a fence. Still, you can get a long way along the Thames Path, with it getting harder towards the west and more open downriver, but we tend to stop at the Prospect of Whitby.

      None of these are my child
      None of these are my child
    • This is a pub, like many in the Wapping area, that palpably oozes history and, like many, you’re never quite sure how much is true. It’s a delightful place, though, and the balcony overlooking the river makes the whole thing worthwhile on it’s own. In terms of kids, there’s a walled beer garden which is very nice (it allegedly contains Britain’s first fuscia. I’m not sure about this. I don’t really know how long plants live for. I’m also not sure what a fuscia looks like). The garden can be accessed by a side door, so you don’t have to drag the buggy through the pub, which is useful. The Prospect does a rotating range of around three cask ales and slightly-above-average pub food, although it gives the impression that it’s got popular more quickly than it would prefer. The food is sometimes not the best and, often, something will go wrong with the order or delivery, especially when it’s busy. It’s also become something of a running joke that at least one pint in a session will be a touch dodgy, generally on that awkward cusp of ‘not bad enough to send back’ and ‘not good enough to properly enjoy’. Still, these tribulations come and go, yet the pub remains and is definitely worth checking out.
  • Old Brewery

    • The National Maritime Museum is another sterling Bad-Weather option. The exhibits are interesting enough for older children and big and shiny enough for the youngers, many are of the hands-on, interactive persuasion and they’ve recently added a nautically themed childrens area-cum-softplay that goes down very well, and is probably worthy of a visit in its own right. It may not be universal, but models of boats seem to have a broad appeal. Saying that, though… Alpha’s not scared of much, but she wouldn’t go near the figureheads for her bodyweight in ice-cream.
    • The Old Brewery used to be Meantime’s base before they moved to larger premises up the road. Frankly, it was a bit better before it was acquired by Young’s as it doesn’t really seem to have found its place yet. Still, there’s a very nice beer garden, situated in a very nice park, right next to the river, so who can argue with that?
Old Brewery, Greenwich
Large garden, that still gets busy on nice days

 

Laid out bluntly like this, it’s a touch sobering to realise that these small joys… a swing, some sand, a half of mild… represent some of the best days of our short time as a familial unit. As I found myself repeating above, though, it really doesn’t take much. Taking joy in the small things seems to be a trait inherent in toddlers, although as adults we often, perversely, hasten its inevitable waning with BigAmazingExcitingPresentsTripsSurprises. Plenty of time for that later, I don’t doubt.

Still, it makes it awkward when the answer to the question “What have you done all day?” is “Well… we found these stones…”

Some child-related thoughts

Some child-related thoughts

This blog seems to have got quite brewing heavy recently, so I’ve corralled a few non-sequiturs on the matter of children, and the raising thereof.

 

On updating blogs

It’s something to do in your spare time. Bitter laughter.

 

On having two children

One is enough.

 

On potty training

Just when you’re adding up the cost of a lifetime supply of nappies, and subtracting the tuition fees they’re clearly never going to need, they suddenly get it.

 

On emotions

Three years ago, I was an cold, emotionless husk, and fiercely proud of it. Now, having offsprung two offspring, I find myself angrily cuffing my eyes at all manner of shallow pap including, I’m thoroughly ashamed to say, an advert where a guy loses his jumper. Most recently, I came dangerously close to losing my stoic equilibrium watching this exemplary display of sportsmanship – and lost it entirely when Alpha told Alistair Brownlee “Oh, well done lady… Good helping!” (She doesn’t really know what ‘lady’ means)

 

On living dangerously

We managed to get rid of the kids for the weekend; and spent it putting up Ikea furniture. We remain on speaking terms!

 

On the approbation of strangers

Occasionally, while out and about, randoms will tell me admiringly that I clearly have my hands full or that I’m doing a great job. This is kinda nice, because I totally do, and totally am, but do they say the same thing to women with two kids? Do they balls.

 

On housekeeping

I’ve developed a sort of shuffling gait that ploughs aside the mantle of toys on the floor, so I don’t trip while carrying Beta.

 

On privacy

It would be nice to defecate without supervision but the round of applause afterwards is quite nice.

 

On parenting styles

We’re trailblazing a pioneering new parenting style called ‘Toddler-led weening’. It involves Alpha trying to jam carrot sticks into Beta’s face. Hopefully, we can make non-adherents feel bad about themselves, which is obviously the end-goal of all these sorts of things.

 

On SilverCross prams

If you suddenly find you desperately need to talk to dozens of harmlessly crazy old ladies about how things ent what they used to be, then you need to get a SilverCross pram, quick.

Silvercross
Ooh, you don’t see many of them these days!

On self-esteem

*Me: Singing along to Sam & Dave*

*Alpha, witheringly: No daddy. You’re not a soul man*

 

On sick days

It’s often stated that no-one cares if you’re sick in this line of work, but if you’ve got a kind toddler you may get an endearing five minutes of sympathy and, if they’re into pretending to be doctors, you could even get your uvula assaulted with a plastic otoscope. The fact is, though, I’m sick much less often these days. I suspect this may have something to do with not having my will to live relentlessly ground down by punitive education reforms, vampiric senior managers, shifting goal posts, unspoken and arbitrary demands and pointless, unremitting, redundant, sisyphean paperwork. Bitter? Yes, please, and a whisky chaser.

Polotmavy – semi obscure

Polotmavy – semi obscure

tl;dr – I still don’t know what polotmavy is. But, in my defence, no-one else seems to either.

Beer list at Hradfest
Beer list at Hradfest

Summers for our small conjugal unit are generally spent in the Czech Republic, from whence, through the matrilineal line, the offspring derive their Slavic legacy. There are many strong advantages to this, for me as somewhat of an outsider, and, of these, one of the best is undoubtedly the staggeringly good beer, drunk in pleasingly large quantities, and purchased for shockingly little money.

This summer, in particular, I’ve devoted to exploring the intricacies of the Czech style known as PolotmavĂœ, or semi-dark. Unfortunately, I’ve come away rather more confused than when I started.

 

In his comprehensive and detailed description of the history of Czech beer styles, Ron Pattinson makes a compelling case that Czech PolotmavĂœ is a direct descendent of the Vienna Lager being made by Anton Dreher. It would therefore predate its more famous Pilsner cousin and its position as a traditional beer style would seem incontrovertible. It’s practically a beer of historical and cultural importance. One would think it would have it’s own little blue plaque somewhere.

And yet that’s very much not the impression I get from people here. When I try to talk to děda about polotmavĂœ pivo I get the wry smile and dismissive wave of the hand that signals his genial but baffled tolerance of the seemingly endless inconsequentialities that exercise those in the decadent West. PolotmavĂœ is a modern affectation to him; a symptom of the strange, baffling and, probably, foreign-derived desire to drink beers that aren’t Pilsner. He doesn’t remember the style being a notable presence in the recent past, nor in his youth in the 60s.

TmavĂ© pivo, dark lagers, they’re fairly well known, albeit widely regarded as being mostly for girls, but polotmavĂœ simply doesn’t appear to be considered a style, let alone a traditional style, let alone a culturally important style. It’s not really sold in pubs or bars, you can’t usually get it bottled, except in specialist shops, even large breweries like ČernĂĄ Hora or Starobrno don’t have a polotmavĂ© pivo. Overall, the perception is that of an endangered, if not almost extinct style.

 

And yet
 and yet…

Firstly, they clearly do exist. Ron Pattinson states that amber beers make up seven and a half percent of beer sales in Czech Republic. That may not sound so much but, Real Ale only makes up eight percent of beer sales in the UK and one would hardly describe Real Ale as insignificant unless one was on something of a wind up.

Secondly, people do at least know what you’re talking about. In a country that’s fantastically parochial about its beer, in a land that has been developing and perfecting exactly one style of beer to the exclusion of all others, where even young, upstart, forward-looking breweries still pronounce it ‘Eeepa’, almost everyone will recognise what you’re talking about, even if they couldn’t say when they last had one.

So, palpably a ‘thing’ then, but what manner of thing? Another layer of confusion settles gently on the issue. At the aforementioned ČernĂĄ Hora brewery, I was propositioned by the efficient waiting-staff before I’d had a chance to properly study the beer list (as an aside, there should be a name for this phenomenon, and for the consequential despair that comes from ordering hurriedly and spotting on the boards a beer you’d much rather have, just as it becomes socially awkward to change your order. This invariably happens when you’re only nipping in for a hasty half) and asked, while reading, if they had any polotmavĂ©. This was greeted, to my intense surprise, by a shrug and a “Yes” that was very much of the “Yes, of course, why would you even ask” species of affirmatives. What they actually had turned out to be that curious Czech creature, the ƘezanĂ©, a half-and-half mix of pale and dark lager that I ordered to excess the first time I visited Czech republic, for the sheer novelty, and haven’t really touched since.

No polotmavé, but you can get a pork knee the size of your head.
No polotmavé, but you can get a pork knee the size of your head.

More purpose-brewed examples are hardly more definitive, though. From the sweet, cloying cola-y Staropramen Granat to the full and malty VyĆĄkovskĂœ Ƙezak, the only one I found that came close to what I’d think of as a Vienna lager was the JantarovĂœ stojĂĄk from the small Pivovar Bylnice. Overall, it was rare to find two similar beers, let alone examples that could form the nexus of a distinct style.

 

There are a number of threads that may help knit this small conundrum, though. The sample, of course, may not be exactly representative. We’re here in Moravian Wallachia, an area of the Czech Republic that is rich in forests, mountains, rivers and beautiful scenery and entirely innocent of the kind of cosmopolitan centres around which beer culture accretes. This isn’t Bohemia; things may be entirely different all the way up there, but round this way people tend to stick with their familiar desĂ­tka. It’s entirely possible that polotmavĂœ maintains a vibrant existence in other parts of the country.

What finally clarified it for me, though, was an encounter with a guy from Pivovar Kocour (a long way from their home by the northern German border), running a beer tent at a small music festival at the local castle. We’d got there early, and custom was slow, and I was trying to talk about the extensive beer list in my halting and barely comprehensible Czech. Six different beers practically counts as a beer festival on its own in this part of the world, and they were listed by name rather style. Half-picking up on something he said, I asked if a particular beer was tmavĂ©, and he said no, it was polotmavĂ©. Cracking, I thought, just what I’m after. Taking a hearty swig, I practically gagged.

Epiphanal
Epiphanal

It’s not that it was bad, it was
. Maybe some background might help. My mum likes roast parsnips, but when we have Sunday Lunch, she insists they’re cut lengthwise. If they’re cut in chunks, she contends, there’s a chance you could bite down on what you think is a roast potato, that actually turns out to be parsnip. Nice as parsnips are, if you’re expecting a potato the shock could easily cause all manner of strange and debilitating conditions. The beer he’d given me was a rather pleasant American IPA, but the huge dose of tropical hops and bitterness when I was expecting sweet and malty caused a kind of sensory dissonance. In that moment, though, two things I’d known all along but hadn’t really understood finally coalesced for me.

 

One, was that you can’t necessarily use the very Anglo-centric notion of beer styles to accurately describe how beer is perceived and consumed in different countries.

The other was that polotmavĂœ is the colour of beer. I knew this before I’d started, read it on Ron Pattinson’s site before I’d even touched down at Brno LetiĆĄtĕ , but I hadn’t really understood it. The style is not named after the colour of the beer, it is the colour of the beer. The guy from Kocour didn’t tell me the beer I ordered was polotmavĂ© to trick me or because of a misunderstanding, it was because the beer was amber. The taste of it, the hopping, the IBU, the malt balance, all were rather immaterial, the beer was polotmavĂ©, because it was lighter than a tmavĂ© and darker than a svĕtlĂ©. Simple as that.

From a historical point of view, this makes perfect sense. The svĕtlĂ© was made entirely from pilsner malt and was pale, the tmavĂ© from roasted malt and was dark and the polotmavĂ© from Vienna malt and was amber. When those are the only three beers in your world, why would you describe them by anything other than the colour?

Of course, this will all start to change, even in Moravia, as the world, and the world of beer, becomes an inevitably smaller place but for now, for me, the conclusions are pretty clear. Firstly, meditate on the point above – the way I describe beer does not, necessarily, have any relevance for anyone else. Secondly, when Ron Pattinson tells you something, try to understand it.

Pilsners

Pilsners

tl;dr – There aren’t pilsners.

Vyskovske

After Boak and Bailey’s intriguing premise for their round of The Session caught my attention, I didn’t think I’d necessarily be writing anything for the next spin of the wheel. However, Alistair Reece at Fuggled has asked people to write on the subject of Pilsners and, since I’m actually in Czech Republic, right now, immersing my progeny in their Slavic legacy, I felt it would be inopportune not to write a few hundred words on the matter.

Which is lucky, because a few hundred words is probably all I’ve got.

I’m not an expert on Pilsner, I don’t think, despite frequently coming to Czech republic and drinking almost nothing else. I’m still working on developing the palate, on being able to identify flavours when someone hasn’t prompted me to expect them, on moving beyond the binary ‘”yes, I like it” or “no, I don’t”.

 

Pilsner, pilsener or pils is widely considered the most popular beer style in the world, reproduced to greater or lesser worthiness in almost every beer drinking nation, producing pale imitations in abundance and influencing, even if only tangentially, the most-drunk beer in almost every country on Earth. The original call to arms acknowledges this, asking people to compare and contrast the myriad varieties produced over an extensive array of countries.

That is not how things are perceived here, though, in rural South Moravia. There is only one pilsner here, the orginal source, PlzeƈskĂœ Prazdroj or, in its more familiar German, Pilsner Urquell. This isn’t merely a matter of locality or origin though, in the same way that a beer must be brewed in Cologne to be truly called Kölsch. Gambrinus is brewed in Pilsen and isn’t considered a pilsener. Primus is also brewed in Pilsen, and isn’t considered fit for human consumption. In its homeland, there is only one meaning to the term ‘pilsner’. The idea of an ‘American Pilsner’ is nonsense.

However, this strangely reductive approach to beer is peculiar to the Czech people, and hardly helpful to other people considering similar beers elsewhere in the world. Czechs usually call beers in this style ‘SvětlĂœ LeĆŸĂĄk’ and, outside fancy metropolitan areas, it’s pretty much the only beer style in the world. Other countries might produce a range of styles, but Czechs have chosen one, and they’ll keep working on it till it’s perfect. They’re pretty close, too. It’s a bugger to spell, though, and even harder to pronounce. I can’t see the name catching on.

Still, I bet you know someone who smugly tells you it’s not Champagne unless it’s produced in Champagne… he’ll probably say Pilsner at some point, and you can tell him.

Mass Observation

Mass Observation

tl;dr – Observations of two very different pubs, on a weeknight 2000-2200, followed by a brief discussion.

Written as part of The Session hosted by Boak and Bailey

Pub One

IMG_20160621_210544

The pub is on the corner of a small pedestrian arcade between two busy roads in Central London. It is next to a very wine-focused winebar and opposite an Italian restaurant. It’s a warm evening and a large crowd of around ten people occupy most of the five outside tables in an area cordoned off from the rest of the arcade. Most of the facade is comprised of large windows and there are three entrances. Inside is subdued lighting, high wooden tables with stools and large, darkly evocative Lowry-esque prints. The bar protrudes like a villus into the pub, almost separating it into two rooms. Around 30 people are inside, and all the tables are taken, although none are full. Most are in pairs, or threes, although there’s a large group of seven that gives the impression of a work leaving do. Most people seem to have come from work, and a lot of the conversation seems at least tangentially business related, although none are the ‘suits’ or typical after-work crowd you’d expect in pubs and bars in Canary Wharf, or closer to the City. There are a few pairs that may be dates. Except for me, there is no-0ne on their own. I am entirely ignored.

Of the 15 people on the other side of the bar, six are watching Spain versus Croatia on a small television high up on the wall. Most appear to be supporting Croatia; there are intermittent cheers for a Croatian goal and a saved Spanish penalty. Others on that side of the bar give their attention at key moments, but aren’t following the game. The television is switched off after the game. There is music, but it’s light, non-confrontational and low enough to be difficult to discern. There is a loud murmur of conversation, like a large school assembly before it’s called to order. The overall noise is low enough to hear glasses being stacked at the bar, but not enough to easily make out the conversation of people more than a metre away.

The bar has an extensive range of craft beers on cask and keg, six lines of each terminating in chrome taps protruding from the wooden wall of the bar. The names of the beers are chalked above the taps, along with the brewery and brief tasting notes. Along with Beavertown and Redemption, ‘out of London’ breweries, such as Marble, Redwell and Ilkley are more well-represented than one might expect. There are also two Czech lagers on keg, including the uncommon PernĆĄtejn polotmavĂ©, and a keg cider. They also offer a small range of cocktails. Three young men are working the bar, occasionally joined by a man around 30 in chef whites, ostensibly in charge of the kitchen, but mostly taking out rubbish. They’re kept reasonably busy, but not so much that they’re rushed.

Around three quarters of the pub population are drinking beer, mostly pale, although lager or ale is difficult to tell. The rest, the majority of which are female, are drinking short mixed drinks or white wine. A few are eating pizza or chips, the pub has a limited menu. Clothing is fairly uniform, on the ‘business casual’ part of the spectrum. There are no shorts or joggers here, nor suits. Some have buttoned shirts, but ties are rare. There is a reasonably rapid turn-around. No one seems settled in for a long session, most will have two or three drinks and leave. Towards the end of the observation, there were noticeably fewer people.

Overheard:

“Sick of the referendum” – “Pros and cons to Brexit…” – “Too risky”

“If you take their second squad, they’re still better than half the other teams”

“What have you got that’s light” (at the bar)

“What’s a whisky mac?” (at the bar)

“What are you drinking?” – “Beer” – “Which one?” – *shrugs*

*Much animation within a group* “That! Is! Awesome!”

“They do three stages, introduction, core negotiation & advanced negotiation”

“The guy who’s running the training, he’s a really nice guy. He’s Mormon.”

“The European brand manager is coming over from Geneva”

Pub Two

The pub is moderately small and situated next to an unused light industrial unit in one of the un-trendy areas of East London. The dilapidated exterior displays two England flags and a Union jack, as well as five meters of England bunting. The display is unrelated to the ongoing football tournament, the flags are weather-beaten and bedraggled. A broken down picnic table is squeezed apologetically between the wall and the pavement.

The interior is exposed brick in the 70s style, and dimly lit. A long bar takes up three quarters of one long side and is crowned by more England flag bunting. 3 touch-screen betting terminals, one used intermittently, and an unused dart board complete that side.  The other wall comprises a large projector-and-screen television and a completely unused fireplace. A pool table dominates much of the free space. There are three four-person tables and some bar stools. There is an impression of other furniture moved aside to create a bit more space. The far end opens on to a surprisingly large beer garden, an unexpected feature. A jukebox plays sing-along rock and indie at a high volume, conversation is possible with people near you.

The bar is comprised exclusively of keg lines and the usual spirits. Guinness, Fosters, John Smiths, Carlsberg and Strongbow. Most people are drinking light lager, probably Carlsberg, with two or three people drinking Guinness in a manner that suggests no deviation from their purpose.

There are around ten people in the pub, all male, although there is frequent coming and going, particularly amongst a group of young men, mostly in shorts and sports wear, who’s numbers vary between around four and seven. They’re drinking very little, playing pool, and will frequently leave, make phone calls, come back with others, speak briefly and leave again. It gives a strong common-room feel. Three older gentleman drink at the bar, with the quiet and understated determination of people settled in for a long night. Two young men are drinking together, wearing the functional but smart work clothes of people who do skilled manual work and one, wearing jeans and smart t-shirt, sits at the bar watching the football, he has a bet on Poland to beat Portugal. There is one barman, wearing shorts and t-shirt. The demand at the bar barely taxes him, and he spends a fair amount of time playing pool or chatting. Everyone seems to know each other on a first name basis, and will chat or call out comments to acquaintances, although the groups stay roughly consistent. I am very much the outsider, but there is no animosity or even detectable curiosity. Although one of the pool-players referenced my appearance (large beard!) with a comment when I entered, it did not seem harshly meant.

Overheard:

“Look at him watching me! Beady eyes, watching me cheat” (young man playing pool)

“Fucking hell… bloody poofs” (football player dives)

“Who do you fancy in this one?” (discussing football game)

“He done ‘im! Yes! Fuck ‘im up!” (football game)

“Ooooh! Count them…. 2! 4! 6! 7! Aaaaaah!” (on a comprehensive pool victory)

“What’s this ‘es put on!? More my era than his!” (on jukebox selection)

“I can’t! It’s not me, it’s him… I’ll get in trouble!” (Barman demurring a firmly but quietly made request)

“I’m in the block of maisonettes by the school. Been there since I was 3… can’t afford anywhere now” (young man to older gentlemen)

“Another one of those.” “Nah, yer fucked, I’m not serving ya!” (Barman ribbing a regular)

 

Discussion

This was a deeply uncomfortable thing to do, both in the nature of the thing, and the specifics. Boak and Bailey themselves have succinctly pointed out both the worth of this sort of exercise and the horror of doing it. It’s not so much the watching people, or even, really, the taking notes, it’s the premeditation of the whole thing, the going equipped to the scene of the crime, the subconscious idea that you’ve got out your red pen to mark other people’s use of the pub. Eavesdropping was particularly difficult, both in terms of compunction and practicality, both pubs were pretty noisy. The quotes I’ve recorded seem, in retrospect, incredibly pat, almost cliched, a stereotype of the pub. I’ve made no attempt to account for Observer bias, or Availability error, but those are genuine utterances made in my hearing.

As to the worth, though, I think this is highly valuable. I talked before on this site of an attempt to recreate a medieaval ale and, despite the efforts of much better men than me there is scant evidence available, largely because it wasn’t considered important enough to be recorded. The everyday doings of everyday people is the very definition of mundane, but after a certain point, really not too far in the past, it becomes the most fascinating aspect of history.

Apart from the discomfort involved in the deliberate observation of other people this task involved a much deeper and more personal discomfort, one that may touch on the secondary part of the brief about ‘The Pub and The People’, and my place within both pubs and peoples. It may get slightly confessional. My apologies.

It wouldn’t take a very deep reading of my observations and previous posts to conclude that Pub One would very much be my milieu, should I ever get one and be confident what it was. It’s a pub I visit quite regularly, generally on my own, in the course of other activities in the area. I go, have a couple of halves of good beer, do some work, chat to the bar staff a little bit and leave. It brightens my week, frankly.

Pub Two is a pub I…. well, not avoid, as such. I’ve been there a few times but, since it’s a pub and less than 50m from my house, once or twice a year probably counts as avoidance. On the one hand, I feel guilty about this. It’s a ‘proper’ East End local, the kind I would be sad to see disappear and may have to. On the other hand, by every sense on my personal barometer of ‘rough’ pub, it simply screams at me; the England flags alone would be enough to make me walk on by. A hasty and unfair prejudice, perhaps, but one I’m not alone in. When I told people what I planned to do, they were aghast. I shouldn’t go alone, I shouldn’t openly take notes in a notebook… but I’d done both these things with Pub One, and it wouldn’t have been a fair comparison if I’d changed. Getting hassled would have been an interesting data point… an interesting, terrifying data point. In the end, I was simply begged not to mention Brexit.

Of course, in the end, it was fine. In both pubs I took notes while ostensibly doing some homework (I’m learning Czech). In Pub One, I suspect, this passed entirely unnoticed. In Pub Two this was probably noted, and the subject of comment after I left, but was never even the semblance of an issue. I was entirely left alone, except for a few pleasantries from the barman.

In the end, it comes down, as so many things do, to class and, in this instance, my own tortured relationship with it. Politically and philosophically, if not in every day practice, I consider myself working class, but the assumptions and attitudes I’ve displayed in this instance loudly proclaim the old trope of an effete liberal elite condescending to rough it in some sort of patronising urban safari.

Gentrification is undoubtedly a problem in this part of London, and I’m undoubtedly part of that problem, tiny though my individual role may be. The obvious solution, or at least minor redress, is to engage with the community you fear you’re displacing, to shop local and use local services. Generally, in this area, this isn’t difficult or onerous, more a pleasure than a duty, but Pub Two is far from the sort I would seek out. The beer selection alone is like some 90s nightmare, the kind you invoke to scare young beer geeks round the campfire, where Guinness is far and away the best choice. Deliberately and dutifully attending on a regular basis, like a secret atheist at Mass, seems faintly hypocritical and not a little patronising, a bizarre mix of atonement and arrogance, as if my patronage is the only thing keeping this tiny oasis of ‘realness’ from being swept away.

Thankfully, Pub Two doesn’t seem to need my conflicted and poorly thought-out support. For a weekday evening, trade seemed fairly brisk and it regularly seems to host parties and events where it fair heaves at the seams. This Pub undoubtedly has its People, and I’m not one of them. I imagine I could be… to be honest I’d quite like to be, it’s got a very pleasant communal atmosphere. Maybe if I were tied to it in some way, as an after-work pub, or the meeting place of a club, or darts team (if I were any good at darts), but simple geographical proximity isn’t enough.

Maybe I’ll content myself with merely observing.

Bread Beer

Bread Beer

tl;dr – You can make a beer using 90% waste bread. Maybe more.

Overview

Two key changes to the normal brewing process were used to overcome the difficulty in creating fermentable wort with high proportions of bread: Enzymatically active wort and a long beta-glucan/gelatinisation rest. This resulted in a higher than expected original gravity and a lower than expected final gravity, improving the efficiency of the process.

 

Background

According to the charity Feedback, almost half of all bread produced in Britain is wasted. In order to promote an alternative use for unwanted bread they are developing a concept called Toast Ale, based on a similar project in Brussels, that encourages the use of bread as an adjunct in brewing. A representative from the charity came to a meeting of London Amateur Brewers to discuss issues relating to the development of just such a beer, and to ask for advice and opinions.

The most obvious problem with this plan is that bread (although mostly made from wheat, which is often used in brewing) has no diastatic power, which means there are no enzymes available to turn the starch into fermentable sugars. This isn’t an uncommon problem, of course; many adjuncts used in brewing have low or no diastatic power and generally you just mash them with something that has diastatic power to spare. Generally speaking, most people wouldn’t use much more than 20% of their grain bill as these kinds of adjuncts.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really address the issue the charity are trying to press. Bread as an adjunct doesn’t have many apparent benefits; it doesn’t give colour and roasted flavour like dark malt, it doesn’t improve mouthfeel like oats, it doesn’t even provide an easy source of fermentable sugar like rice. It’s eminently possible that benefits exist, if used in the right way, but as it stands I get the impression that the cost-benefit wouldn’t favour the use of bread, even if breweries were given it for free.

The other option is to try and push the limits. Make a Bread Beer, rather than a Beer with bread. With that in mind, I attempted to find out how much bread it was possible to use in a brew.

 

Method

Normal malted barley has enough enzymes to convert itself and between two and three times as much adjunct, which gives us a theoretical ceiling of 75% bread. However, a very interesting article on Braukaiser talked about using enzymatically active wort to increase attenuation.

The enzymes that convert starches to sugars during the mash work best at temperatures around 60-65°C, but are then destroyed when the sugary wort is boiled. The principle of enzymatically active wort involves saving some of these enzymes during the mash and adding them to the fermenter after the rest of the wort has been boiled and cooled. Fermentation temperatures of around 18°C aren’t ideal for these enzymes, so they work slowly, but they have up to two weeks to slowly convert starches to sugars while fermentation is taking place.

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In this case, the mash consisted of:

  • 95% bread, mixture of brown, white and wholemeal, dried and loosely broken into small lumps, between 1cm and 5cm.
  • 5% Marris Otter, in the main mash to provide some diastatic power (theoretically enough to convert around 20% of the bread)

The mash schedule for the main mash involved a 20 minute beta-glucan rest at 45°C and a 60 minute gelatinisation rest at 55°C. Earlier experiments indicated that extended rests in this temperature range resulted in a much higher specific gravity being achieved. It’s unlikely, of course, that this increase in specific gravity is the result of dissolved sugars, but rather suspended starches and other similar molecules due to the breakdown of starch granules and the breaking of intermolecular bonds.

  • 5% Marris Otter, mashed separately from the rest of ingredients at 62°C for 60 minutes.

The liquid was decanted off, pasteurised for 2 hours at 70°C, and added to the fermenter.

The main mash was lautered and boiled for 60 minutes with a small amount of Hallertau hops. After cooling, a small amount was set aside as a control, and the enzymatically active wort was added to the rest. California Ale yeast was pitched as it’s generally a good attenuator (and it was what I had to hand). Fermentation was for two weeks at room temperature, followed by force carbonation.

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Discussion.

It’s important to note that this was principally a test to see if it’s possible to make a beer from 90% bread, not whether that’s at all desirable or even advisable. In that respect, it can largely be considered a success.

Due to a miscalculation, the original gravity was much lower than intended, at 1.027 from 1.25kg of bread, which gave a respectable PPG (points per pound per gallon) of 32. This is an improvement over previous test mashes, without extended low temperature rests, that resulted in around 22PPG. Of course, it’s unclear whether this is as a result of the temperature or a much longer overall mash.

Nonetheless, the fermentation with enzymatically active wort finished with a final gravity of 1.003 (89% attenuation), compared to the control fermentation at 1.015 (44% attenuation). As such, I think it can be said that long gelatinisation rests and the use of enzymatically active wort in the fermenter are effective methods for overcoming the difficulties in brewing with bread. In fact, it could be said that the proportion of bread could be increased.

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that change in specific gravity is only a proxy measurement of alcohol production and, while almost always true in most cases, it’s possible here that the change in specific gravity is due to other factors such as, for instance, settling out of suspended unconverted starch molecules.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that it wasn’t a particularly nice taste, although, in my defence, that’s not what I was really aiming for. Clarity was poor, which could have been due to a range of issues, perhaps residual starch molecules. There was also a strong salt taste, that was common to all the beers produced with bread, which will have to be addressed before a truly good beer can be made this way.