Everywhere is beer town now
The Boak & Bailey beer blog newsletter for May 2023
Everywhere is a beer city now
Because the change is gradual, and because we tend to notice closures more than openings, it’s easy to overlook the extent to which breweries really have sprung up everywhere in the past two decades.
Where “everywhere” means most towns and cities bigger than, say, Swindon.
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Our impression on arriving in Milan, for example, was that it is a city with too many breweries and craft beer places to manage in one short visit.
But in 1995 (as far as we can tell from the level of research possible on a laptop in a hotel room) there were no micro/craft/indie breweries at all.
Parma, where we are now, is a much smaller city, about the size of Northampton, but even it has two breweries in town and a bunch of bottle shops and bars.
Italy is way off our beat, though, and we’re muddling through here. Let’s think about Bristol instead.
These days, there’s the East Bristol Brewery Trail and the general sense of it being a destination city for craft beer. But when we first visited with beer in mind, in 2009, we didn’t find much at all.
Looking at food more generally, it feels to us that there’s one big difference between now and 30 years ago: the internet.
Back then, if we wanted to know where to eat or drink in a given town, we’d have to buy an Egon Ronay book, take notes from the Sunday supplements, or read the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
Now, the internet makes it possible to “eat like a local” – to find out about places that tourists might previously have overlooked. You can see photos, watch videos, read aggregated and averaged customer reviews… There is very little risk.
Which makes planning a weekend or a week in a strange town more fun, or less fun, depending on your point of view.
It also means that breweries or bars with a decent reputation, and a decent online presence, which are connected to the various networks (again, we’ll mention the East Bristol Brewery Trail) no longer have to rely entirely on local business.
So, we think this beerification of everywhere (or, at least, anywhere you’d go for a weekend break) is a permanent change. As permanent as anything can be in a world where economies and the climate are wobbling so badly, anyway.
Taking better photos of pubs
How do you take a photo of the interior of a pub that actually captures what pubs feel like?
We often see photos of pubs that feel wrong to us. That’s often, we think, because they’ve been taken with a camera or phone which has decided on ‘auto’ how it thinks the scene ought to be lit.
It’s too bright and the lights are fuzzy blobs (overexposed). Everything is the same brightness (the magic of ‘high dynamic range’ processing). Everything is bright orange (the white balance is off). And, crucially, there’s no contrast between light (windows, lamps, candles) and dark (the corners where we like to hide).
That last is, for us, a defining feature of pub atmosphere. it’s what makes The Prince Albert feel conspiratorial and cosy on a rainy afternoon, or gives The Red Lion the glamour of a spy novel.
There’s a term in art that might be useful here: ‘chiaroscuro’. When you see a painting that is mostly dark but with light picking out the faces of a gathered crowd, that’s chiaroscuro in action.
How do you achieve that effect with your phone, if you’re not a technically-minded photographic type? It’s actually relatively easy.
Point your camera at the scene.
On the touchscreen, dab your finger on the brightest source of light, such as a window.
Take the picture.
This will create a darker image overall but probably one which feels more natural.
For more control, you’ll also find a brightness (exposure) slider in most phone cameras.
In the Android camera app, tap the screen and it’ll appear at the top of the display. Move it right for a darker image, and to bring out detail in bright areas.
You might not want to create a moody photograph, of course. You might just want to show the fixtures, fittings and general layout.
Even so, there are also a couple of things you can do to make your photos more pleasing.
First, straighten them up. Look for straight edges in the image – columns, walls, bar rails, and so on – and aim for neat vertical and horizontal lines.
Another good trick is focusing on details. Our eyes and brains are good at picking out details and making them seem bigger and more prominent than they really are.
If you make those details the subject of your photos, you’ll often get more evocative images than just pointing the camera at the general scene.
Or, you know, whatever.
This is what works for us.
Do what works for you.
We’re always happy to see photos of pubs even if they look like they were taken with a brick from a moving train.
Catch up on the blog
We didn’t post much in the past month because (a) exhausted, ready for a holiday; and (b) the holiday (work in progress).
We did, however, ask whether beers that taste like fruit juice, which are undoubtedly ‘accessible’, help people get into beers that taste otherwise.
We also observed a possible scam in action in a pub in Bath. Since posting this, off the back of conversations with various people, we’re more convinced that it was a cheeky move by the two blokes in question.
And the big post for the month – one that took us days to put together! – was a tour of the lost pubs of the lost centre of old Bristol. Next time you’re in town, between boozers and breweries, do take a minute to wander round Castle Park and think of The Raven.
Almost as time intensive was this piece on pub carveries, a weird relic of the 1980s that has been all but done for by the squeeze on margins in hospitality. We got some good comments on this one, including from Ray’s mum who pointed out that in the early days, the price would include the cost of pudding. (“Apple pie or a slice of death by chocolate, sir?”)
And that’s it, until next month. In the meantime, you can stay in touch via Twitter, Mastodon, Instagram or — if you feel like buying us a pint — Patreon.
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