Category: Books

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Lockdown Book Project Week 6: Available for Pre-Order!

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: shit just got real.

Word count at the start of this week: 43,530

Week six: the end of this week will be the halfway point in this project. And after the terrible doubt I wrote about last week, I believe I’m going to hit my completely arbitrary and self-imposed deadline.

There have been many important developments over the past week. The first is that Evan Rail, one of my favourite fellow beer writers, gently reminded me that in 2016 he self-published a short e-book called The Meanings of Craft Beer. I thought I had come up with this title, but clearly I was subconsciously remembering Evan’s. So my book is now called Craft – An Argument. If you are working on a writing project of you own, I strongly suggest doing an Amazon search of your proposed title before settling upon it.

Evan’s book starts off in a similar place to mine but then goes on a quite different journey around the topic – which is a huge relief. If you can’t wait until 25th June to read a thoughtful exploration of craft beer, please buy Evan’s book first.

Up to now, this series of blog posts has covered the process of writing. But alongside that, there’s a whole other work stream going on. My wife Liz normally runs the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. That isn’t happening this year, for obvious reasons, so this project is about giving her some structure as much as me.

She’s been busy.

Liz designed a range of possible book covers using Canva, and we settled on the brilliant design above. It’s free and easy to use, and even has some rights-cleared photography that you can use publicly if you pay a whopping 99p. You can of course use your own photos if you took some good enough ones pre-lockdown, but we didn’t.

This week we also bought ISBNs for each edition of the book: ebook, audiobook, and print-on-demand. You can publish a book without an ISBN, but if you buy one it allows the book to be tracked accurately and greatly increases you chance of third-party sales. In the UK, ISBNs are £89 for one or £164 for a pack of ten.

Having done that, we were able to upload the details of the ebook to Amazon and make it available for pre-order! This was a hugely exciting moment. It always is. It’s the first real manifestation of something that begins life as a thought in your head having a separate, tangible presence of its own in the world. It can now start doing things without you being there, interacting with other people without your knowing. Coming at this stage, just when the writing got so difficult, it’s a massive boost. The writing this week is fast, passionate and joyous. This is why I do it.

People often ask me how I feel about people buying my books through Amazon. We will be exploring other platforms and I’ll share details of these when we sort them. But for all the issues surrounding it, I wouldn’t have a career as a writer without Amazon. We uploaded the book to Amazon.com, and with a few clicks, it’s available anywhere in the world, through every manifestation of the site.

I’m hoping to finish the first draft this week. I’m about a week behind where I wanted to be, which is not too bad. Reading through the parts I’ve completed, they need so much more work on them. Bits I agonised over for days are flabby and confused on a first read. But it’s important to ignore that for now and just press on. Once the first draft is complete, I can relax, have a breather, then start again. This time next week, I hope to be able to share the joys of the editing process.

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to amazon.co.uk but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Beer, Beer Books, Beer Writing, Books, Craft Beer, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Lockdown Book Project Week 5: Hitting The Wall

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: what happens when you lose your way.

Word count at the start of this week: 40381

Word count this morning: 38345

There’s a point when you’re running a marathon where you hit a wall – or so I’ve been told. And if writing a feature or blog post is a sprint, writing a book is a marathon. The wall is waiting here too, halfway through. Everything stops. Your confidence runs like piss down your legs. You’re a fucking idiot for even trying this. What were you thinking, you deluded twat. Go home. Get under the covers. Never show your face again.

I try to achieve something different, something more, as a writer with each book I write. I go to different places. I wrestle with how much of myself to put into the text. It’s always difficult – I make sure of that. My last book was my most personal yet, in a subject area I hadn’t really written about before. It got really tough in the middle. At one point I turned to Liz and said, “I don’t think I can do this. I’ve taken too much on. I can’t deliver the book I promised to the publisher. I think I’m going to have to pay back the advance. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do. I’ve never felt like this before.”

She looked at me steadily and said, “Lovely, you’ve said that in the middle of every single book you’ve written.”

This time is different, but of course it always is. This time there’s no advance, and Liz is the publisher. The motivation to keep going has to come entirely from within.

This project was designed to provide structure and purpose to our lives during an indefinite period of lockdown, and also to provide a source of income at some point in the near future. It’s a buttress against the stress we all feel around Covid-19, but yesterday the fear and anxiety got through.

I had a bad day.

I bet every single one of us is having bad days and good days. Yesterday I heard some grim projections about the future for pubs – even grimmer I should say – and became very pessimistic. I compartmentalise as a way of dealing with negative thoughts, and yesterday the bulkheads went and they flooded in.

This happened when I was already struggling with the book itself. Last week I talked about thickets. I’ve been in a really big one. People often say to me, “Ooh, you write just how you talk!” It’s the biggest compliment anyone can give me, because it shows I’ve succeeded in hammering the subject into my style. But because my style is easy and open and readable, people sometimes think it must therefore be easy to write like that. It really isn’t. Especially when you’re dealing with complicated topics that are new to you, and you’re trying to understand academic writing, retain it in your head, put your perspective on it, and then get the whole thing down in your own tone of voice and make it look simple and conversational.

I’m currently writing about the history of work, division of labour, and scientific management. I’m lightening this with reminiscences of going through the round window on Play School, and the enduring popularity of The Good Life, then trying to round it off with the story of a car advert from 1979. At the end of this bit in my notes, there’s 2500 words on tools and machines and their relationship to craft and craftspeople. It doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t belong anywhere. But it’s really important that it goes in somewhere. I can’t find where it fits, but it has to. Whether it goes here or not, I need to link either it or the car ad directly to the meditation on nostalgia that follows, which then jumps to a bit about Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider, before coming back to nostalgia again in a craft beer-specific context via a discussion of pricing. In other words, despite all my careful planning, it’s a fucking mess.

I don’t think I can do this. I’ve taken too much on. I can’t deliver the book I promised. I’ve reached the limit of what I can do. I’ve never felt like this before.

I can of course, because I have nine times before. As a source of – not comfort exactly – but bitter, empty strength, I remember my favourite line from Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” I pissed away yesterday afternoon playing Warhammer Total War, drank too much, slept through my alarm this morning, got to my desk two hours late.

And then I sat down, said goodbye to the 2500 words that had been blocking me, and started writing again. It’s going quite well. I wouldn’t have had the energy to stop and procrastinate and write this instead if it wasn’t.

It happens to all of us. The difference between people who want to write a book and the people who have written books is the stamina to get through this wall.

When I was writing Man Walks into a Pub, one Saturday morning I heard the thwack of something heavy hitting the doormat. It was an A4 brown envelope which contained – I think – the fifth round of changes requested by my editor. “I can’t do this,” I said to Liz. I threw the envelope and its contents in the bin. I said “Fuck it. For the first time in six months, I’m going to read something that isn’t about beer. Maybe I’ll try again to be a novelist instead!”

I went to the book shelf and picked up a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. I got as far as the dedication, which said something along the lines of “To my editor, for saying this is not good enough. Again, and again, and again.” I went to the bin, too out the envelope, and got to work.

That stage is still to come – Liz has promised me she will be as tough as she needs to be when she assumes the role of editor. So this is not the last wall. But it is the first. I think I’ve got over it. Or through it. Now I just need to go on.

My new book The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. It really bloody well will.

| Beer Books, Beer Writing, Books, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Lockdown Book Week 4: Open Road, Thickets and Rabbit Holes

I’ve set myself the task of writing and publishing a book during lockdown, and sharing my experience with anyone else thinking of doing the same, especially if it’s the first time you’ve tried. This week, we’re finally deep into the main part: getting the words down.

Word count at the start of this week: 31832

Before I had my own first book published, I used to have a whole shelf of books with titles like ‘How to become a published author.’ I’d read the blurbs on the back cover and they’d invariably say something like “xxxxx is a global bestselling author who has written 18 books, and now they share their secrets!” And I’d think “Well how come I’ve never heard of you then?”

Then, one day, I spotted Stephen King’s On Writing. I’d never read any of King’s books at that point, but I thought, “He’s one of the best-selling writers in the world. I bet he knows what he’s talking about.”

He does. I reread King every time before I start a book. Full or practical advice, it’s also inspiring and makes you want to write.

Wanting to write is the most useful bit.

Actually sitting down and getting the words out is the hardest part of being a writer. There are bits where it feels like your brain is trying to climb out of your ear and make a run for it. Times when you look at the page and you just know that completing a sentence is beyond your powers. Yesterday I wrote 280 words in a day, and they are shit words that will need to be rewritten at some point. Today so far I’ve written 1800, and I feel like I have more to come if I can get other chores finished and still have some energy left.

Most writers I know have a specific time of day when it works best. Only you know when your time is. Bruce Robinson, writer of Withnail and I, wrote in the small hours of the morning, drinking red wine as he did so, until he was wankered by the time his family get up for breakfast. I used to enjoy my attempts at writing fiction in the evenings. But doing what I do now, the hours between 7am and 11am are precious. If I try to write all day, by the end, 80% of what I’ve done happens in that time slot.

For some writers it’s about a word count rather than a time slot. I don’t fetishise my wordcount as much as I used to, but it’s still the measure of success I use in a first draft. Once the words are down you can move them, cut them, change them, polish them. I massively overwrite, and then rely first on my wife, and then my editor, to help me rein it back in. (On this book, that’s the same person.)

Some novelists start writing not knowing how the story is going to turn out. For a heavily researched non-fiction book, you can’t do that. That’s why I spend so much time doing the planning I’ve spoken about in previous posts. I see the research and planning as laying road, and once the road is down, I can run along it. There are various adventures along the way.

I wrote the last thousand words I did today in less than an hour. There was a bunch of italicised notes sitting between chunks of finished text I wrote last week, and whenever I wrote those, for some reason this but wasn’t happening, so I left it to come back to later. I refer to these bits as ‘thickets’. They’re usually caused by me having to synthesise several different lines of research, or link one big point to the next in a smooth way. They can hold me up for hours.

One useful way of getting through them is to switch from typing to trying to write out what I want to say longhand. It seems to call on a different part of the brain that looks at the writing in a different way.

If this doesn’t work, the trick is to leave it and move on to something else, which is what I did last time I got stuck on this part. The brain continues to process its way through the thicket at some deep level, or maybe you were just so close to it you couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Coming back to it today, it was suddenly clear again, a stretch of open road that I galloped down for about a thousand words before I needed a breather.

My other main hazard on the open road is the rabbit hole. This is when I’m running along and get tripped up by something seemingly small and innocuous. Last week, I wanted to write two sentences which showed that, craft beer notwithstanding, there was a general preference among a large number of people to buy from small, independent businesses rather than large corporations. So I googled these words and immediately got a hit on an American study that showed trust in both big and small companies was high, but trust in smaller companies was higher. Then the hit below that was from another study that showed only 30% of people trusted large corporations. Both studies were by reputable organisations with large sample sizes. The discrepancy might have had something to do with how the question as asked – it often does – but apart from that I wanted to find some UK stats for comparison, and soon I’d spent an hour getting increasingly frustrated researching something that will be a maximum of two sentences tossed off in passing, and may even end up being edited from the final manuscript.

So the next couple of weeks are about hitting the open road, getting the words down, and remembering to leave thickets and rabbit holes and come back to them later, as part of what builders refer to as ‘snagging’ at the end of a job.

To paraphrase Eric Morecambe, it’s about getting the right words down – just not necessarily in the right order yet.

My new book The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June.

| Beer Books, Beer Writing, Books, Craft Beer, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Writing a Book in Lockdown, Week 3: Here Come the Hard Yards

I’m writing and self-publishing a book during lockdown, and sharing my experience with anyone else thinking of doing the same, especially if it’s the first time you’ve tried. This week: getting closer to the real words.

Every book has its own reading list

Word-count at the start of week 3: 21581

I started this series of blog posts by showing how I plan a book on my wall using post-its. To show what happens next, I need to jump back a bit.

This book was inspired by my having read one book in the stack above: Cræft, by Alexander Langlands. As the idea took shape, and grew from a rough talk to a scripted slideshow presentation, and then to a long essay and finally into a book-length treatment, so my reading expanded. I think this is only the second time I’ve had a book idea directly as a result of reading someone else’s, but even if a book I telling the story of me taking a physical journey, I always do a lot of desk research before I set off. My reading for this project has been going on for about a year now.

The first few weeks of the process are great fun. I usually start off with one book, or maybe a Wikipedia entry, and check the sources and bibliography for other titles. Certain books are mentioned again and again, and you soon realise these are the pre-eminent books in their field. I tend to be a bit of a generalist with my own books, covering a broad area, so I’m never that worried about finding someone else who has done exactly what I’m aiming to do.

Once I have a list of every book I need, I can pick them up pretty cheaply. If you haven’t come across it, AbeBooks is an aggregator of thousands of bookshops around the world. Unless one of the titles you’re looking for is particularly rare, you can usually pick up any book for less than a fiver, including postage. If you’re looking for something old and out of copyright, there’s a good chance you can download a PDF or kindle of it for free from sites such as the Gutenberg Project.

The above photo shows the main pile of books I’ve used on this project.

Once I have my books, I have a fairly laborious research process that I would love to improve upon, but haven’t been able to. I read each book with a pencil in my hand, marking the passages I think I might want to directly refer to, and writing any thoughts that occur to me while reading in the margin. After I’ve finished each one, I sit with the book at my desk, and write up a set of notes, each book in a separate word document, copying out the marked passages and either paraphrasing them or typing them as direct quotes. I write up my marginalia in italics so I can see what were my own thoughts and insights and what I’m taking from the text itself. At a certain point, when I think I have enough research (and it’s never easy to drag yourself from the research to the writing phase) that’s when I go through all my notes and generate the famous wall of post-its, to which I add much more of my own material, notes from travel if I’ve done any for the book, and so on.

I detailed last week how I get from a wall of random post-its to an outline of the book in a word document. At this stage, I would love it if I could just start writing, referring back to my notes as and when I need to. On an article, that would be easy. But for a 50,000- to 100,000-word book, the scope of it, the expanse of it, is simply too much for me to keep in my head at this stage. I think this is why so many people who would love to write a book are daunted by the prospect: how do you keep any kind of coherence over such a long slog?

By the time I’m close to finishing writing a book, the whole thing is alive inside my brain. I know where every key point is, almost down to the page number. I can almost see the shape and structure of the book in my head, and turn it in virtual space to look at it from all angles, checking the joins and the flow. But when I’m in that state, there’s no room for anything else in my brain. If my wife pops her head round the door and asks if I’d like a cup of tea, I forget my name and what day it is, and find myself completely unable to answer. This is not a good place to be for any longer than a week or two. So to get to that state at the right time, I have to use more tricks.

(By the way – if you’re writing a book that’s more of a reference or guide, you don’t need to worry about any of this. If you know you’re writing a guide to, say, the best 300 beers from Belgium, you know how long each entry has to be and what information has to be in it. It’s no less of a slog, and the monotony of it brings its own special endurance challenges, but at least the route is clearly marked out for you. With a long-form narrative – fiction or non-fiction – you have to lay down the road before you can travel upon it.)

So here’s what I’ve been doing over the last week.

My notes from books gave me my post-its, and the post-its gave me my outline. But by the time I’ve written the outline down, I can’t remember who said what or where most things come from. At this stage, I have no option but to go back to my notes and go through them in detail to start fleshing out the outline.

I’m learning a lot of new stuff here, in a subject area I haven’t explored before. I’m not yet quite confident enough with the fine detail. The structure is different from anything else I’ve written in that it’s not a story – chronological or based on a journey or whatever – it’s an argument. So I know the book falls into parts 1, 2 and 3, and that part 2 itself splits into an intro and three main sub-parts: (o), (i), (ii), and (iii). So I go through every page of my notes, and mark up which part of the book each point belongs in.

As I write or cut and paste each point across, I put a line through it.

Often, as I’m copying a point across, or I put two previously separate bits together, it will spark a thought and I’ll write a sentence, a paragraph, or even a page or two. Every single rush or spark of inspiration is precious, so I let it run its course before going back to transcribing the notes. Anything that’s cut and pasted joins the italicised outline, to distinguish it now from my own text in the main font.

I’ll be honest: this bit doesn’t feel like proper writing. But by the end, I know that, say, part 2(i) is all about the nineteenth century Arts & Crafts movement and that every point I have about Arts & Crafts is in part 2(i) of the document, in approximately the right order. I now have a 20,000-word manuscript, some of which has random outbursts of writing which hopes to make it to the finished text, the rest of which still needs to be rewritten and joined up into a proper narrative.

So that’s the boring bit out of the way. I have nearly everything I need in the document that will eventually become the book. Next task: actually write the bastard, in my own words.

The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why the term ‘craft beer’ is completely undefinable, hopelessly misunderstood and absolutely essential, which be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June.

| Beer Writing, Books, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

Thinking of writing a book on lockdown? Here’s how I start mine.

I’ve set myself a task of writing and self-publishing a new book in 13 weeks. I’m sharing the process in case it helps anyone else who is thinking of spending lockdown starting a book they’ve been wanting to write. Here’s how I plan the structure of my first draft.

I posted some slightly psychedelic images on Insta a couple of weeks ago. From 13th March I was in quarantine in my study and our spare room, and you could have been forgiven for thinking it was sending me mad. But this is how I’ve started every book since Shakespeare’s Local.

As readers of my narrative books will know, my style tends to be rambling and discursive. But it does have a method. When I write about beer, I want to link it to the wider world and place it on context. For me, a good book (of mine) should contain some history, some storytelling, some personal experience and insight, and various other elements running through the book like threads. I think this multi-faceted approach raises the chances of it being more relevant to a wider group of people. You probably wouldn’t want every beer book written in my style, but it works for me.

When I did Shakespeare’s Local – the story of one London pub over 600 years – I realised pretty quickly that the history of the building itself – which the books was supposedly about – was not book-length and was only really of interest to students of architecture. The book couldn’t just be about the building – it had to be about the area and why the pub was there, and why it was so important. It had to be about the people who drank in it – but just listing the famous people who may or may not have drunk there wasn’t enough. To tell the full story I had to talk about commerce, theatre, the River Thames, the Guilds of the City of London, the evolution of pubs more generally, and much more that helps contextualise the pub and explain why its existence is significant and interesting to read about.

One option could have been to have a chapter on each aspect. But I wanted to tell a chronological story where each chapter had all these different themes running through it. This was a complex undertaking, and trying to plot and plan how to do it would bring me out in a cold sweat. So I adapted a method I started using when writing Dungeons & Dragons scenarios as a teenager and mixed in some techniques from strategy workshops in my advertising days – I’m not sure which of those two admissions I should be most ashamed of – and came up with this.

As I’m reviewing and finalising my notes, I put each key point I want to make on a post-it. I use different colours for different themes. For Shakespeare’s Local it might have been green for the local history of Southwark, pink for the history of pubs generally, yellow for my lame jokes and so on. For The Meanings of Craft Beer, pink is how the craft beer industry works, orange is the history of craft in a broader sense, green is an insight or idea I might have had myself while reading, pale yellow is stuff on the nature of work, blue is about the definitional problems of ‘craft beer’, and on it goes. Over a period of weeks, as I’m working, the post-its gradually populate the wall. The image above was taken when I’d almost finished, when I was nearing the cut-off of what I was going to read and explore before I stopped putting off writing the thing.

The next step is to look at all the post-its and start to group the ones that seem like they belong together in a narrative sense. That takes a couple of days, and this time it ended up looking like this:

Most of these post-its moved many times over the couple of days I was doing this – connections can be made in different places. This is the bit where I stare at the wall and pretend to be a DCI in a crime show. Often I just stare for hours. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get things to connect. Other times your brain does a lot of sub-processing and eventually sees the pattern. If you’re old enough to remember the brief, strange craze for ‘Magic Eye’ pictures in the early 1990s, and you were one of the people for whom it worked, it can be a bit like that.

I don’t think this one works, by the way.

While I was sorting and grouping, I had a breakthrough which you can see from the three big post-its, which I added afterwards – the book naturally fell into three parts, as I outlined in my previous blog. That hasn’t happened before – usually I get six, or seven, or eight or ten clouds of post-its and have to work out what order they go in. This time, as I was shifting things around, the structure emerged and I realised it was a linear argument: break something down, learn a lot of new stuff from different sources, use the new material to build it back up again.

That’s when I knew I had the overall book here. Then it was a question of refining. A day later, it looked like this:

I’ve now got each point in order. I can see just from looking at it that the first part, the left-hand column, is mainly about definitional semantics. I can see the middle column is the main part of the book, which starts by explaining broader themes of craft and then brings in more beer stuff, and I can see that, rather pleasingly, part three is a mix of all areas.

When I’m happy that everything is in the right order (with a few points that don’t belong anywhere on the far right, probably to be dropped from the book) I take them down carefully in order to my desk, and then write up an outline of the book in note form. When I finished this, I had the first 3000 words of the book down. One of the hardest parts in writing any book is looking at the blank page and summoning up the courage to start. Sneaking around that is just one advantage of this method.

That was two weeks ago. I’m now up to 13,000 worlds as I start to flesh out the structure out and do the actual writing. The quality of the writing is not yet good enough. But I now know what I want to say and where I want to say it, so I can now concentrate on rhythm and tone, and focus on finding the right words.

I’ll post again with how that’s going, and more thoughts on what might be helpful if you haven’t done this before. I’m also planning a live webinar to chat through the book-writing process if enough people are interested. But now, the word count is calling…

| Beer Books, Beer Writing, Books, The Meanings of Craft Beer, Writing

The Meanings of Craft Beer: My lockdown book, out 25th June

I’ve set myself a 13-week project: to write and self-publish a new book that I’ve been wanting to write for the last year. Here’s what it’s all about.

I find myself between jobs. Between assignments. Between books. We have no household income for now. Being a freelance writer is precarious enough at the best of times. Being a freelance writer in the first industry to be completely shut down by Coronavirus is pretty absolute.

Lockdown is psychologically tough for everyone. The thing is… back in the olden days I used to pay good money to hire a cottage near the sea where I could be on my own, not speak to anyone, and rarely leave the house. It’s something I do at least once, if not twice, in the process of writing a book. I get the most insane amount of work done in those writing weeks. So now I’m presented with similar circumstances (albeit without the sea, sadly) the sensible thing to do would seem to be to write a new book. So yesterday, I took to social media to gauge interest in a self-published e-book and audiobook (the lead times on paper books are much longer) and the response has encouraged me to make it happen. So here goes!

This is an idea that grew out of a short, ten minute talk, into a longer 25-minute talk, and then into an hour-long slideshow presentation. I was expecting people to be annoyed by it. Instead, the audiences of those shows asked me when the book was coming out. When I said there was no book, they told me in no uncertain terms that there should be.

It’s fair to say that it’s a niche topic and both my agent and the usual publishers I work with have no interest in it. But publishers work in one country at a time and the niche audience who will be interested ion this book on a global scale os pretty big, hopefully. So digital self-publishing is the way to go.

OK Pete, but what’s the frikkin’ book ABOUT? I hear you ask. OK, here goes.

A year or so ago, I picked up this then-newly published book:

It mentions craft beer once on the first page, and then never again. Instead, it puts forward an argument for working with your hands and reviving skills that our technological age has seemingly deprived us of.

It made me realise that the word ‘craft’, when shackled to the word ‘beer’, has had its meaning changed quite substantially. It also made me realise that one big reason there is no satisfactory definition of ‘craft beer’ is that in order to have one, you need to have the definition of the word ‘craft’ fairly locked down. And it isn’t. It’s a word that shifts meaning and struggles against being pinned down.

From here I went off on a journey exploring the concept of ‘craft’ in its broadest sense: the difference between craft, art and science; the artificial separation of manual work and intellectual work; the difference between learned knowledge and innate knowledge and how craft unites the two. I explored the Victorian Arts & Crafts movement and visited William Morris’s house in Walthamstow. I read books by hippie furniture makers, Victorian wheelwrights and professors of linguistics. Each book I read had something important and life-affirming in it. It was a diverse selection of voices, but each one spoke about what makes work, and ultimately life, more meaningful.

Coming back to conversations around craft beer with this broader perspective on craft, I realised that we’re talking about the wrong things. Craft beer is – or can be – an important, meaningful and nourishing concept. In fact it is. When I’ve been speaking to drinkers and makers of craft beer about some of the ideas I’ve explored, they recognise them from their own experience, instantly. But our conversations aren’t framing that experience in a useful way, and that’s why all those debates around the definition of craft beer are so fruitless and infuriating.

So at the moment, the book is called The Meanings of Craft Beer: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ Is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood, and Absolutely Essential. Like most of my books, it’s totally about beer, and at the same time, kind of not really about beer at all.

The book falls into three three parts:

Part One: ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable

I kick of by looking at the evolution of the concept of craft beer, analysing and demolishing attempts to give it a concrete, technical definition, and exploring why this is an impossible task.

Part Two: ‘Craft Beer’ is Hopelessly Misunderstood

Here, in the main part of the book, I explore the broader concept of craft and, where relevant, give examples from beer. I look at the definition of ‘craft’ itself, before going into detail around what I see as three key times when interest in craft spiked, and why:

i) The Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century, in response to the industrialisation of work (when brewing was going through its own industrial and technological revolution.)

ii) The craft revival of the 1970s, in response to the automation of manual labour and the growth of big brand corporations (when CAMRA appeared in the UK and what would later be called craft brewing emerged in the US.)

iii) The craft revival of the 2010s, in response to online existence, the absolute dominance of corporations, and the deskilling of white-collar work (when the craft beer boom went global.)

Part Three: Craft Beer is Absolutely Essential

Having destroyed definitions of craft beer, then looked at the world of craft more broadly, we come back to ‘craft beer’ and rebuild it using what we’ve learned. I’ll argue that even if it can’t be technically defined, it remains a meaningful and important concept, and focus on the issues that make it so. I finish by looking at alternative terms and dismissing these too, before suggesting a tongue-in-cheek solution for what we should in fact call it.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, keep checking in here, where as well as writing the book, I’ll also be going through my process, sharing my thoughts around it and talking about how I work, in case that’s useful for anyone else who is considering using this strange time to write that book you’ve always wanted to write.

I’m currently weighing up different options for publication, looking at the pros and cons of Kindle, Patreon etc. I’ll share my experience of this side of things too. My intention is to publish an e-book and audio book (with me narrating) on 25th June, retailing at somewhere between £5 and £7.

I hope you’ll buy it.

| Bass Ale, Beer, Beer tasting, Hops & Glory

Happy Birthday Ratcliff Ale – tasting pretty good at 150 years old.

I got invited to a birthday party in Burton-on-Trent that was quite unlike any other – a mass tasting of six legendary beers known as the ‘Bass Corkers’.

On 16th December 1869, Ratcliff Ale was mashed in at Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton in Burton-on-Trent to celebrate the birth of a son to the Ratcliff family. It was a fairly common tradition in brewing families for such beers to be brewed ready for when these scions reached their majority at the age of 21. The story I heard was that young Master Ratcliff never made it that far, so the beer was never opened. 

On 16th December 2019, I’m in Burton to drink some Ratcliff Ale on its 150th birthday, along with five other variations on these beers designed for ageing, know to connoisseurs and collectors as the ‘Bass Corkers’. 

Bass fan and Burton beer historian Ian Webster, ably assisted by passionate fellow Burtonian beer collector Gary Summerfield, wanted to commemorate Ratclliff Ale’s anniversary, and put an appeal around Burton. Burton responded, with people donating scores of bottles – a total of 75 beers are opened for tonight’s audience of 100 or so people. This is an incredible act given that some of these bottles trade on EBay for £300 or more. I thought I knew these beers well, but I’m astonished to find there are pint bottles and quart bottles, with the occasional ultra-rare magnum. 

The way these strong ales were made was to boil the wort for twelve hours, reducing the liquid to create a very high concentration of fermentable sugars. This led to an alcohol content of around 12% ABV which, aided by heavy hopping rates, vastly reduced the chances of microbial spoilage as they aged, according to Burton Brewer and Chairman of the National Brewery Heritage Trust, Dr Harry White. Harry explains the difference between the effects of microbiological spoilage – infection that means the beer goes ‘off’ – and the effects of ageing, which is all about oxidation. 

Oxidation as ‘a complex series of interactions’ that begin with whatever oxygen is left in the bottle when it is sealed. There’s always some, and a bottle-conditioned beer needs it to start its slow, secondary fermentation. The yeast mops up the oxygen during this process, but then, when there’s nothing left for it to eat, it dies. When beer is a few years old it can taste stale, papery, or wet doggy. But there’s not a straight line into old age and decrepitude – other reactions continue to happen, and various different aspects of the beer come and go in a process John Keeling, when he was head brewer at Fuller’s, likened to sine waves, during vertical tastings of Fuller’s Vintage Ale. Those tastings were truly memorable – but even the most venerable Vintage Ale – from 1997 – is fifteen years younger than the most youthful Bass Corker, which is…

Prince’s Ale, 1982

Starting with the youngest first, the idea is you get some kind of progression. This 37-year-old, brewed to commemorate the birth of Prince William, tastes more like a three-year-old barley wine. There’s chocolate and caramel on the nose, some fruity notes reminiscent of ruby port, and no hint of papery oxidation at all. It tastes different rather than old, with a hint of meaty umami character, some acidity, but mainly a warming, welcoming fusion of malt character, alcohol and microflora. 

Princess Ale, 1978

This has a much paler caramel colour than its younger sibling. It’s much lighter on the nose, toffeeish, with hints of spice and incense. On the palate it’s lighter again, with a bitterness that’s curiously tannic rather than hoppy. Overall, it tastes old and woody – not as engaging as the beer four years younger, but just as drinkable. Maybe it’s something to do with Princess Anne having mashed the beer in, given that she doesn’t like beer.

Jubilee Strong Ale, 1977

This is much darker again, chocolate-coloured. There’s a little tartness on the nose, which reminds me of Rodenbach, and a bit of smokiness. On the palate, it’s sweet, sour and bitter – I swear there’s still a bit of hop character to it – and something that is not directly derived from hops, barley, Burton water OR Bass ale yeast.

I’m on a tasting panel with Roger Protz and a selection of former Burton Brewers. My old friend Steve Wellington – another former brewer and the man who recreated A 19th century Burton IPA for the voyage to India I recounted in Hops & Glory – is in the audience. Steve once told me that when you taste aged beers, you get a different reaction from professional brewers than you do if you assemble a broader panel of taste experts – and so it proves with this beer. The brewers up here speak of mild infection, of something getting into the bottle that shouldn’t be there. Whereas I’m thinking that Brettanomyces means ‘British fungus’, so named because it was originally associated not with Belgian sours, but vatted strong British ales. This beer reminds me that Rodenbach – one of the finest sour beers in the world – took its original inspiration from none other than Greene King. 

Prince’s Ale, 1929

Why was there a jump of fifty years between this beer and the previous (or rather, subsequent) one? I don’t know. The war was an obvious factor, but why was there not one for the Queen’s coronation? I can vaguely remember her Silver Jubilee and the incredible wave of patriotism that came with it. It was also around the same time that a large stash of the 1902 Kings Ale was discovered in Bass’s cellars, so maybe that inspired the idea for the start of the second wave of corkers that ran from 1977 to 1982.

But now we’re on to the end of the first wave, mashed in by Edward, Prince of Wales, who went on to become king for a few months before abdicating to marry an American divorcee. It had the shortest brew length of all the corkers, and is therefore the rarest. Apparently, it was still on sale in 1945, for £5 a bottle. or over £200 today – one for people who moan about ‘modern over-priced craft beers’ to think about. 

Well, if I had a spare £200, I’d pay that for a bottle today. The nose is of dried fruit – dates, prunes, figs and currants – with a hint of church incense again. The fruity character is intense, combining the complex sweetness of dried fruit with the sourness of overripe fruit. Then there’s an umami meatiness that some of my colleagues on the panel describe as marmite. 

I’m not so sure.

There’s a moment of panic whenever you’re trying to taste something with the aim of identifying that taste and communicating it to others. It’s the moment when your taste buds and olfactory bulb all flash with sensation and send blind signals deep into your cerebral cortex, and your brain seeks to contextualise what you’re experiencing versus your established knowledge and memory. When you’re primed to expect a particular flavour – when you know what you’re drinking and what it’s meant to taste like, or when someone asks you to look out for a particular flavour note – the brain usually identifies it straight away, or thinks it does. ‘Marmite’ is a common flavour note for aged beers, and if you know this, you can detect it and tick it off – flavour successfully identified. But if you didn’t know this, I’m not sure Marmite is what you’d pull out here. I’m conscious that I’ve already used it as a flavour note myself, but Marmite is a shortcut, an easy port of call, similar to when we categorise and tick off the complexity of lambic beers with the term ‘horse blanket’. It often stops us from probing further. This is spicier yet subtler than Marmite, the meatiness just one component of something broader. 

King’s Ale, 1902

The danger with the Bass corkers is you can never be quite sure how well the contents stand up. If the wax seal around cork has broken, it’s probably not worth it, as the beer will have been assaulted by oxygen over the years. So you look for the wax seal – but how do you know it wasn’t broken, and then resealed by someone decades later? When it comes to the Kings Ale, brewed by Lord Bass’s mate Edward VII, there’s an easy way to tell: the original bottlings came with a lead seal, and that’s what we’ve opened tonight. 

I opened a bottle of Kings Ale in 2009, to celebrate winning Beer Writer of the Year for the first time. There’s a blurry video of it on YouTube somewhere. My bottle didn’t have a lead seal. It poured with the look and consistency of gravy and tasted like of cork, marmite – for real this time – and death.

Tonight’s is… better than that. There’s a big waft of balsamic vinegar on the nose, and a surprisingly yeasty element. Umami here is not marmite, but porcini mushrooms. There’s chocolate, acidity and fruit on the palate. It tastes like an older, raggedier version of the Prince’s Ale, which makes sense.  But still, it’s far from unpleasant.

Ratcliff Ale, 1869

These bottles were originally sealed with red wax, so if your wax is black – like one of mine at home is – that means the contents may not be good. This one smells really clean, and pours bright and clear, like Madeira. The now-familiar incense is there, and it smells like Christmas cake. There’s bitterness and acidity, coffee and spice, alcohol heat, Madeira wine, and elements I simply don’t have the vocabulary for. It tastes like nothing else. 

By the end, I’m surprised how much I’m feeling the effects of drinking a flight of 12% ABV beers. I’ve often heard that the alcohol decays and loses its potency in beers like this. My intense desire for sleep, and the spidery handwriting in my notebook, suggest otherwise.

I’ve tasted beers that are alive and vibrant, and I’ve had beers that taste dead and decayed. The beers we’ve tasted tonight are somewhere between, having visited both poles before embarking on their own, unique journeys. There’s far more here than the effects of oxygen-driven ageing: these beers are complex processes. Tate two different bottles of the same beer, and their character can be quite different. It reminds me of the ‘generative music’ experiments created by Brian Eno, where a few simple elements are fed into a randomising system to create something that is ever changing, never quite repeating. Here, tiny differences in the microflora in each bottle can lead to ever-widening variations over time, magnified by the conditions in which each individual bottle matures – temperature, humidity, whether it’s stored upright or on its side, and so on. 

Will there be more Bass corkers? Could there be?  Well, the Queen’s Ale for Brenda’s 50th Jubilee was bottled in 500ml with a crown cap, but is still well worth seeking out. Apart from that, around ten years ago, Steve Wellington invited me to brew a new batch of Bass No.1 Barley Wine – the original recipe for Ratcliff Ale. We loaded an incredible amount of malt into the mash tun and left it for its 12-hour boil. A curry and a few hours’ sleep later, we were back in the brewery and running off a thick, dark wort that looked and smelled amazing. A few weeks later, Steve, almost tearful, informed me that it had been so long since the Bass yeast had had to contend with such a mighty wort, it simply hadn’t been up to the task. Fermentation hadn’t taken place, and the batch had had to be poured away. 

And that’s not the only problem.

In the complex world of corporate beer trademarks and ownership, the archive of Bass recipes is now owned by a different company from the people who own the Bass brand. Anheuser Busch-Inbev continue to commit many travesties with Bass, but ABI has more than one face and more than one set of opinions. Mike Siegel of Goose Island is genuinely passionate about recreating old beers from the past, as evidenced by his recent collaboration with Ron Pattinson and Wimbledon Brewery’s Derek Prentice, the wonderful Obidiah Poundage. Mike recently asked Molson Coors – owners of the Bass archive – if he could gain access to old Bass recipes with a view to reviving something akin to these legendary corkers, and was given a pretty categoric and final refusal.

Earlier tonight, Harry White made a heartfelt plea to the audience for the archives to be used much more. 

Come on guys, it’s Christmas – let’s join the dots. And could whoever currently owns the famous Bass yeast get it to some kind of yeast gym in the New Year?      

| Books, Cheese, Pie Fidelity

Long Read: A Tale of Two Cheeses

My new book, Pie Fidelity: In Defence of British Food, is finally published today after two-and-a-half-years’ hard work. To celebrate, here’s another off-cut that didn’t quite make the main text. One of the main themes of the book is that we don’t celebrate our food culture in the UK as much as other nations celebrate theirs. When I started researching the book, I realised I’d first written about this back in 2010, when I did a bit of research into European Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) – the regulations that stipulate where and how something must be made if you want to give it a particular name, such as champagne, cognac or Cumberland sausage. I found the differing stories of Wensleydale and Roquefort to be quite staggering in what they reveal. The Roquefort part below is intact on the book, but I went on to write at length about cheddar, so there was no room for my nine year-old story of Wensleydale. Here it is then, in its original form.

‘The term culture … includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people; Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, 19th-century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar. The reader can make his own list …’

TS Eliot,Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, 1948

One of France’s most celebrated cheeses is produced in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the south of the country. The town’s cheesy fame allegedly dates back to Pliny the Elder, who supposedly lauded it in his CE79 work, the Natural History

Pliny was certainly a fan of cheese generally, writing, ‘It is a remarkable circumstance, that the barbarous nations which subsist on milk have been for so many ages either ignorant of the merits of cheese, or else have totally disregarded it’. But what fans of Roquefort don’t tell you is that Pliny’s mention was ambiguous, and not exactly complementary. In a chapter where he details all the fine cheeses available in Rome, ‘where the various good things of all nations are to be judged of by comparison’, he says, ‘Goats also produce a cheese which has been of late held in the highest esteem, its flavour being heightened by smoking it. The cheese of this kind which is made at Rome is considered preferable to any other; for that which is made in Gaul has a strong taste, like that of medicine’. 

What we now understand to be Roquefort cheese is not smoked, and is not made from goat’s milk. When Pliny says this cheese was made in Gaul, that could mean anywhere in a region that today encompasses France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. And anyway, Pliny didn’t like it that much because it tasted of medicine. This could mean he’s referring to the chemical hit of a ripe blue cheese, but even if that’s the case, it’s doubtful Roquefort cheese was unique in this. But never mind all that: if you’re marketing a food icon, when the legend becomes fact, we invariably print the legend.

Prehistoric cheese-making colanders have allegedly been discovered near the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, and what is undeniable is that it has the perfect conditions to make great cheese. The region is honeycombed with caves formed by faults in the mountain cliffs, and these faults channel a gentle flow of air into the caves that creates a fairly constant temperature of between eight and twelve degrees and keeps the humidity high. These are perfect conditions for the growth of a mould known as Penicillium roqueforti. This mould, plus reliable access to salt from the Mediterranean, led to the evolution the soft, blue, salty, cave-aged cheese we now know as Roquefort. 

The cheese was popularised by local Benedictine monks from the 11thcentury, and soon other monasteries in the area were buying caves to make their own. In 1411, Charles VI granted the town of Roquefort a monopoly for the ripening of the cheese in these caves – the first ever appellation d’origine– meaning only producers in the town could use its name. In 1961, a landmark ruling decreed that while similar maturation methods could be used across southern France, only those whose ripening occurred in the natural caves of Mont Combalou were permitted to bear the name Roquefort. On top of that, the milk must be whole and raw, the sheep it comes from must be Lacuane dairy sheep, and they must be fed on pasture.

Today, much of the economic activity in the region centres on the production and distribution of the cheese. A visitor’s centre run by the Roquefort Caves Society illustrates the process of making Roquefort cheese, gives a guided tour of the caves, and offers guests free samples and a chance to buy cheese. Despite still only being produced locally, Roquefort is enjoyed around the world and considered one of the best blue cheeses ever made. 

It’s a great story, a fantastic cheese, and a symbol of how food and drink can come to define a region, or even a nation. Now let’s compare that story to one of Britain’s most famous cheeses.

French monks also seemingly brought the art of cheese making to Wensleydale, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, when they settled in the region around 1150. The cheese they made was originally blue and made from sheep’s milk, allegedly because Norman nobles wanted a local equivalent to Roquefort. When Henry VIII dissolved their monastery at Jervaulx in 1540, the monks passed on the art of Wensleydale cheese making to the wives of the local farmers who had supplied their milk. In 1897, local merchant Edward Chapman became the first commercial Wensleydale cheesemaker when he opened a creamery in the village of Hawes. 

Wensleydale is now made mostly from cow’s milk with a little sheep’s milk added for flavour. The Hawes creamery in Wensleydale still makes a blue cheese among others, but since the 1930s the cheese we now think of as Wensleydale has been white and hard. It has an open, welcoming aspect to it, a crumbly texture, with a mild, clean, flavour that has faint hints of lemon and honey. It gets these characteristics from the local milk, delivered fresh to the creamery within a few hours of milking, from cows grazed on rich, wildflower meadows down in the valleys, and heather moorlands further up the slopes. The cultures used to make the cheese go through a unique and complex system that combines mother cultures of different levels of maturity.

Through the twentieth century, Wensleydale gained a reputation as one of the best British cheeses, and a hallmark of what is great about British culture. In his essay ‘In Defence of English Cooking’, Orwell wrote, ‘I fancy Stilton is the best cheese of its type in the world, with Wensleydale not far behind’, while TS Eliot proclaimed Wensleydale ‘the Mozart of cheese’. 

Wensleydale is therefore comparable to Roquefort in many ways. They taste quite different: Roquefort is rich and salty and creamy and probably not to everyone’s tastes, while Wensleydale is straightforward and friendly and perhaps a little plain for cheese aficionados. But both are famous cheeses acknowledged as some of the best in their style. Apart from flavour, they differ in one more important aspect: while Roquefort was the first ever cheese to be given a protected designation of origin, Wensleydale was never given any kind of protection or formal acknowledgement at all until it was almost too late. 

During and after the Second World War, with milk production commandeered by the government, the Wensleydale creamery in Hawes began to struggle. In 1966, it was sold to the Milk Marketing Board, which in 1980 separated off its milk processing division to become Dairy Crest, which in turn floated on the Stock Exchange in 1996. By the time of its flotation, Dairy Crest was a business with a broad portfolio of dairy-based products, with little place for historical tradition and local terroirin its brand marketing save for imagery and loose claims that focus-grouped well. In May 1992, the corporation closed down the Wensleydale Creamery with the loss of 59 jobs, and announced their intention to transfer production of Wensleydale cheese out of Yorkshire and into a factory in Lancashire. They were both just cheese factories after all, so why would that matter? And it’s not as if there was any kind of historical rivalry between the two counties that meant the move might upset people. 

As it turned out, there was quite a lot of resistance to the move, and six months later a management buy-out succeeded in bringing Wensleydale back home, hiring eleven former members of staff to ensure the cheese was on sale again by Christmas. But sales refused to pick up, and Wensleydale continued to struggle.

Film-maker Nick Park had no idea of any of this when he made his animated films A Grand Day Out (1989), The Wrong Trousers(1993) and A Close Shave(1995), featuring cheese-loving Wallace and his resourceful dog Gromit. In the third film, Wallace falls in love with Wendolene Ramsbottom, a shopkeeper. But at the end of the film, with evil robot dogs vanquished and sheep saved, Wendolene reveals that she doesn’t like cheese. “Not even Wensleydale?” cries Wallace. No, it brings her out in a rash. The relationship is doomed, and Wendolene leaves. 

Park only chose the word ‘Wensleydale’ because he thought it would be funny to animate Wallace’s mouth saying it, as he put it, ‘nice and toothy’. But this whim had a dramatic effect. Demand began to pick up, and the creamery asked for and was given permission to launch a tie-in cheese using the characters’ names and likenesses. Sales soared. Wensleydale opened a new creamery in 2015, modernised but still using traditional techniques and local milk, and it now employs over 200 people. Oh, and ‘Yorkshire Wensleydale’ successfully acquired a European Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in 2013. It requires the regional qualifier that ‘Aveyron Roquefort’ does not, because our historic disinterest in denominations of origin means that Wensleydale – like cheddar – has become too generic to enforce. This PGI is not quite as stringent as the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) that Roquefort has held since 1925, but it’s a start. 

Like the difference between Champagne and Bass Ale, the differing fortunes of these two wonderful cheeses illustrates a wider gulf in how the British and French care for and view their food and drink. (I find it telling that, as I write this, whenever I type ‘Roquefort’, my ‘UK English’ spellcheck function is fine with it, but flags up a red, wavy line under every ‘Wensleydale’.)  The European system of geographic protection for foods came into operation in 1993. This means that within the area in which the scheme operates (and in countries with mutual agreements) regionally produced food and drink is protected from competitors passing themselves off as the same thing. At the time of writing in 2018, Britain has a total of 65 products with protected status. France has 217, Italy 267, and Portugal 125. Breaking that down, Britain has 16 protected cheeses, the French 52, the Italians 47. To be fair, this is a slight improvement from 2010, when France had more cheeses enjoying protected status than Britain had for all its products together. 

But now, that might not count for anything. The rules that protect Britain’s iconic foods are part of the European Union’s regulatory framework. When Britain leaves the EU, Wensleydale, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Stornoway Black Pudding, Cumberland black sausage and Cornish pasties will all lose the European-wide protection that means no one else can falsely claim theirs to be the real thing. 

Pie Fidelity is published by Particular Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
ISBN: 9781846149597
Length: 352 Pages
RRP: £16.99


| Books, Pie Fidelity, Pies

Where were you while we were getting pie?

In case you hadn’t noticed, this week is British Pie Week. It’s also just four weeks until my next book, Pie Fidelity, is published. Pie Fidelity is about a lot more than just pies: it’s a celebration of all that’s great about traditional British food. But to celebrate British Pie Week, here’s another off-cut from the main book that tells the story of when I witnessed the closing together of two great Yorkshire legends: Tetley Dave, and Percy Turner’s pork pies.

Pic: wikipedia commons

I’m back in Barnsley, to help celebrate the fifth birthday of Acorn Brewery, which has resurrected the legendary Barnsley Bitter decades after the brewery that created it has been closed down. A few friends, customers and media folk have been invited to the brewery to sample the beers and have a chat. As a beer writer who grew up in Barnsley, I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of Acorn since I first met founder Dave Hughes a few years previously, and he’s asked me up here to do a talk to the throng. 

One of the customers is publican and local legend ‘Tetley’ Dave Parker. Tetley Dave runs the Shoulder of Mutton in Castleford and is what’s known in the trade as a ‘character’. He reminds me of the late Jim Bowen, presenters of Bullseye, only Dave is funnier and more confident. As soon as he enters the room, he seems to be in the middle of every single one of the various conversations going on around it. He has a quip or gag to answer every point anyone makes. He’s in the audience today, in the middle of the third row of chairs, and yet somehow he’s centre-stage throughout the entire thing. He’s not scheduled to give a speech, but Tetley Dave doesn’t do schedules.

When I take the stage to share some thoughts about cask ale and tradition and Barnsley’s place within it, it quickly becomes clear that this is going to be a dialogue rather than a speech. Tetley Dave sits with his arms folded, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, sometimes with nothing much to add, but he adds it anyway. I’ve dealt with hecklers before, and I’ve dealt with aggressive people who want to interrupt and take control. This is different. Tetley Dave is not being difficult; he’s just being Tetley Dave. He simply doesn’t recognise the conventions of public speaking, the implied contract between speaker and audience. There’s no such covenant when he’s behind the bar in the Shoulder of Mutton, when everyone just piles in and the sharpest tongue wins. I think he genuinely doesn’t realise that there are situations that behave differently from the pub. Why should they?  

After the formalities, the brewery unveils lunch, the kind of beige buffet the beer world seems to subsist on, and is at least as much to blame for my middle-aged weight gain as the beer itself. There are plates full of small pork pies, two or three bites worth, still warm from being freshly baked this morning, the jelly still just about liquid, the meat around body temperature, slightly gamey, pink and glistening rather than the dead grey of the cellophane-wrapped supermarket pie. They’re insanely good. I ask Dave Hughes where they’re from.

“Percy Turner’s in Jump,” he says. ‘Had to queue for ‘em for half an hour this morning.”

It turns out that Dave Hughes’s experience is not uncommon. There are queues outside Percy Turner’s shop in the village of Jump, just outside Barnsley, most mornings. The queues of several hundred people on Christmas Eve have become a bit of a celebrated meme on the unofficial Percy Turner’s Pork Pie Appreciation page on Facebook, unaffiliated with the butcher’s itself, with over 4,000 likes. Other shops in town have A-boards outside giving an estimated time when their consignment of Turner’s pies will arrive. There’s a spoof M&S ad one admiring fan made for YouTube, but I’ve failed to find any official recognition for the best pork pies in the world. Percy Turner is too busy making pies to bother with a website, entering competitions, or indulging in any kind of promotional activity. But then, he hardly needs to.

Something’s not quite right in the room. The atmosphere is oddly muted. The silence extends from seconds into minutes. And then I realise: Tetley Dave has stopped talking. 

I go back to the buffet for a second pork pie, and am alarmed to see that despite a ratio of pies to people that was at least 4:1 ten minutes ago, they’ve almost disappeared, so I nab a third. Still the room is quiet. No one speaks at all. After ten minutes of this bustling brewery doing as pretty good impression of a Trappist monastery, the final evidence of Percy Turner’s pork pies ever having been here is been eradicated from the room.

Ten seconds later, Tetley Dave’s voice rises from the centre of the throng: “Nice bit o’ growler is that.”

Pie Fidelity is published on 4th April by Particular Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.