Category: Uncategorised

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Dammit, I can’t wait.

The new website is going to take a while thanks to the appalling state of my finances after not having done any admin while working on new books.

One of my favourite lines in movies is from The Princess Bride, when one of the characters offers our hero the immortal advice, “Never start a land war in Russia, and never play cards with a Sicilian.” To that, for any aspiring writers out there, I would add, “Never agree to write two books simultaneously for two different publishers, especially at the same time as you’re supposed to be launching and promoting a third.”

Anyway, I’ve finished them now and am re-emerging into the real world. For the first time in two and a half years I’m not on a screamingly urgent deadline, and I have an itch to start blogging again, as well as going out, seeing friends, watching TV, and all the other normal stuff I’ve pretty much forgotten how to do.

The fruits of my labours mean it’s going to be a busy year.

In the UK, May 19th sees the launch of the Welsh Perry and Cider Guide I’ve co-written with cider photographer and blogger Bill Bradshaw for the Welsh Perry and Cider Society. Wales has come from nowhere in little over a decade to become one of the most important cider making regions in the UK, and now it gets its own guide. I’m married to a Welsh and spend a lot of time there. To see the country again through a cidery lens was truly special. Even if you don’t like cider – or Wales – this should give you pause to re-evaluate it.

On 6th June the paperback version of Shakespeare’s Local comes out – perfect for those who don’t like shelling out on hardbacks or who have weak wrists!  I’ll be doing a lor of events to support this and will list them here.

And then Mid-October sees the launch of World’s Best Cider, again co-authored with Bill. Those big coffee table beer books have slipped into a fixed format since Michael Jackson wrote the first World Guide to Beer on the mid-1970s. There are shelves full of them, but not as many as there are for wine, and there are similar books on whisky, cocktails, tea, coffee – you name it. Except cider.

Everyone who makes and drinks cider thinks it’s just them that does so, and there’s never been a global look at cider until now. Cider makers in Britain, US, Germany, Spain and France have only just really started talking to each other in the last few years. And because cider is seen as rural and rustic, and so few people have compared the various styles around the world, it remains arguably the most misunderstood drink there is.

We were lucky enough to be commissioned by the company run by the woman who edited Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer. Our World’s Best Cider won’t be quite as good – not least because Michael put seven years research into that book and publishing no longer works on such luxurious timescales – but if it does even a tenth of the job for cider that Michael’s book did for beer, we’ll be very happy indeed.

I also get my first ever official US publications this year.  Shakespeare’s Local – rebranded ‘Shakespeare’s Pub’ – is launched in the US and Canada next month.

And in October, World’s Best Cider gets its own release in a country where cider has the same levels of excitement and wild experimentation that craft beer had twenty years ago.

So there’s so much else to blog about. I will be doing my update on the whole Bondi beer thing very soon, as that is well overdue and quite interesting. There’s lots of travel to write about. And this blog will increasingly feature content about cider as well as beer. Beer will always be my first love, but there is so much in cider that so few of us know anything about. It’s really exciting.

But first – later today if I have time – in true Pete Brown’s Beer Blog tradition, I have a cracking story about Stella Artois and a mischievous Swede…


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Hi, my name’s Pete Brown. You may remember me – I used to be a beer blogger round these parts.

No? Not ringing any bells?

I’ve kind of been getting busier. Two and a half books in eighteen months with three different publishers whose schedules have no reason to coincide. Blogging has faded away to nothing – for about a year there it was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

As I come out of isolation and look at the mountain of interesting stuff I have to blog about – a year’s worth of travel, trips, escapades, learning and reaction to what’s happening in the world – this ol’ blogger format is looking tired.

So given that this blog is almost defunct, this seems like a good time to do a long overdue upgrade.

My new website will be launching soon. It will still have a revitalised blog at the heart of it, but it will also collect together a lot of stuff I’m writing elsewhere, and have permanent content such as information and sample chapters from my books, up to date details of events, photo galleries, and all sorts.

As my focus expands from beer to include cider and more general writing about social history and stuff, it will be less overtly beery, but beer will no doubt still make up most of the content.

I can’t wait to get started on it.

See you soon.

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The Pub Trade in 2013

Just before Christmas I was asked by leading pub trade mag The Publican’s Morning Advertiser to give some predictions for what will happen in the UK pub trade in 2013.  They had to edit for space, and killed one or two jokes in the process, so here is the full thing.
Apologies if it’s a bit cliquey for those not working in the UK pub trade – I didn’t have time to do proper predictions here.  Normal blogging will resume just as soon as I’ve finished writing my next book, World’s Best Cider, in about a month’s time.
A beer blogger from Wrexham works out a definition of ‘craft beer’ that nobody has a problem with. She is subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The rate of pub closures rises.  Everyone in the industry panics.
A saboteur switches George Osborne’s weak Ovaltine for Timothy Taylor Landlord, and the chancellor unexpectedly tastes beer for the very first time.  He uses his budget statement to issue a heartfelt apology to the nation’s brewers and immediately freezes beer duty.
The negativity on the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s online forums reaches such an intensity that it creates a black hole just outside Crawley.  Professor Brian Cox is called.
Brew Dog releases a 4.1% ABV premium bitter brewed with moderate amounts of Fuggles and Goldings hops. Beer bloggers declare this to be a stroke of subversive genius. The Portman Group slams it as stupid and irresponsible.
The royal baby is born.  Various brewers create commemorative ales. The Daily Mail accuses brewing industry of trying to give booze to babies.
The Crawley Black Hole disappears. The nation celebrates. Brian Cox reveals he did it by showing cute pictures of puppies to PMA forum contributors until they cheered up a bit. And points out that this took THREE. FUCKING. MONTHS.
Brew Dog’s 4.1% bitter wins Champion Beer of Britain.  Beer bloggers declare this to be a stroke of subversive genius. The Portman Group slams it as stupid and irresponsible.
The rate of pub closures falls.  No one says anything about it.
The editor of Observer Food Monthly commissions the first article about beer in the magazine’s thirteen-year history.

Just kidding.

Shortly after releasing his blockbusting autobiography in time for the Christmas rush, Greg Mulholland MP flies to the jungle to appear on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.  And obviously wins it.  Because he’s AMAZING.
Wells & Young’s revives Young’s Christmas Pudding Ale (come on, guys, take a hint).
See you soon.

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Beer Awards

I hate the Beer Writer of the Year awards.

It should be a special occasion where you just socialise with all your mates in the industry.  Instead, if you’ve entered your work, you sit there with a snake writhing in your guts, desperately anxious that your work be recognised, and when somebody else wins you have to be happy for them and try to hide the self-doubt and jealousy that try to consume you.

The year I won Beer Writer of the Year for Hops & Glory was actually the worst, because I was so anxious about winning.  I felt I’d given the awards my best shot, and if I didn’t win that year I would never win. So I could hardly eat anything, and when I was announced as the winner I’d managed to get myself into such a state that my only emotional response was relief.

What an idiotic way to live.

But I don’t think I’m the only person trying to make a living from writing who is an idiot, emotionally.

Last night was this year’s Guild of Beer Writers dinner and Beer Writer of the Year awards.  And for the first time I managed to work out a more grown up approach to it.  I didn’t have a book out (Shakey’s Local would fall into next year’s awards) and I’ve only ever won a category with a book before. There was a record number of entries.  While I thought I’d written some good stuff, I was aware that there has been so much beer writing and communication this year that I was able to go to the dinner for the first time with no hopes, expectations or anxieties about winning, and just enjoy the night.

When I got runner-up in online communication for this blog, I was happy but knew that was it – the rules are you can only win one category,  and only category winners go through for the final award.

So I was happily texting my wife when my name was read out as winner of the Trade Communications category for my column in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, and I was genuinely shocked when chairman of judges Ben McFarland started reading out one of my blog entries in the run-up to his announcement of Beer Writer of the Year 2012.

I’m very happy and proud to win this award for my journalism, because somehow it feels easier with a book – it creates a bigger splash.

And I’m gobsmacked given what else was in contention this year.

I hadn’t realised Tim Webb and Steve Beaumont’s World Atlas to Beer was being entered this time – I thought it would be next year.  When it was announced as winner of the Travel Category, I texted the wife to say it was obvious now that it would win overall.  I’ve been meaning to review it for ages.  Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer set the bar for beer writing.  It takes balls to try to measure up to that book.  And at the same time, anyone trying to do so needs to make a case for why they should even bother trying.  Do we really need another beer coffee table book, especially when the information at its core is precisely the kind of stuff that now fills beer blogs and websites?  This book answers the call brilliantly.  There’s easily enough knowledge and authority between the two writers to make it worthwhile.  This sings through in the text, which acknowledges the changes that have happened since Michael was writing, updating this style of book for the twenty first century and the state of craft brewing today.  It even acknowledges mainstream beer, with the brilliant term ‘convenience beers’.  And it looks great.  You should obviously have my new book on your Christmas list, but if you can stretch to two, you need this one as well.

Tim Hampson does a great deal of work behind the scenes as Chairman of the Guild of Beer Writers and rarely gets any credit publicly.  His book on beery days out was runner up to Tim and Steve, and would have stormed the category any other year.

What a year for beer books though. On top of these two there was Roger Protz’s History of Burton which scooped Gold in the award for national writing (Roger was also runner up in trade for his PMA column) and Melissa Cole’s book Let Me Tell You About Beer – a book aimed at the beery novice rather than the geek – which would also have been a worthy winner.

Dan Saladino’s Food Programme is evidence that beer is being taken seriously on a wider scale and finally making inroads into mainstream media consciousness.  And Will Hawkes’ Craft Beer London app, which deservedly beat this blog to the online/social media top prize, demonstrates the new possibilities open to beer writing.

Martyn Cornell showed he can write about matching beer with food as well as he can its history, and Alastair Gilmour, who has won the top gong about a zillion times for his regional journalism, won that award again for his own magazine about beer and pubs in the north east, which should make any other region jealous that it doesn’t have something similar.  And props to Simon Jenkins for being runner up in that category, proving his triumph a couple of years ago was no one-off.

Ben McFarland says the final choice of Beer Writer of the Year was an incredibly difficult decision.  From that line up, I’m not surprised.

So yeah, I’m well chuffed.

In explaining the decision, Ben mentioned my obituary to Dave Wickett and then, to the consternation of some in the room cos it’s weird), read out an extract from my review of the Guinness film on the excellent Roll Out the Barrel DVD.

I’m delighted that both these pieces gained recognition.  I know I can sometimes be overbearing, facetious, irritating or just plain wrong. I know not everyone likes my style or the way I approach beer. But thanks for reading my stuff.

Check out the links to the rest of the work mentioned above too.  I don’t think there’s ever been so much good stuff being written about beer by so many different people.

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Bondi Beer

For the first time in the history of this humble blog – OK, this blog – I’ve had to take down a post after having been threatened with legal action.

Ross Bennie is a real person, and he’s not at all happy with what I wrote about his beer.

There was one big factual inaccuracy in my post about Bondi Beer which I am more than happy to correct: Bondi Beer, which is now being launched in the UK and other markets, has absolutely nothing to do with Bondi Blonde, the now-defunct Australian beer that Paris Hilton and a gaggle of bikini-clad lovelies were associated with.  Completely different beer, completely different business.

Ross agrees that the advertorial on which my piece was based was awful.  He claims it was savagely edited, a process that cut out a lot of the information I thought should have been in there.

He also claims that the advertorial ran with a full page ad opposite, which would have given me the information I needed.  As you can see here, this is not true. Maybe it ran with an ad in other editions of The Grocer, but not the one I saw:

Ross also says that when I claimed the URL for Capricorn Brands ( wasn’t even registered, I’d made a basic schoolboy typing error and that – with a hyphen – was indeed the fully functional website for his company.  It turns out that this is true, and that the website contains some useful information about the beer.  I would be extremely annoyed with myself if I’d made such a basic error.  However, in the advertorial:

There’s no hyphen.  It’s not my error.  The advertorial is carrying an incorrect URL for Capricorn Brands.

This really is one of the worst advertorials in the history of advertorials.

But Ross was most unhappy with the hyperbole I used at the beginning and end of my post.  I went over the top – intentionally so – for comic effect. Ross, whose livelihood depends on this beer, is not laughing.

I still believe there was nothing libellous about this, and that it was no worse than stuff you might read in columns by critics like Jay Rayner or Charlie Brooker.  Ross believes it was defamatory.  I believe it was harsh, but not libellous.

This is not what persuaded me to take the blog down.  If I were being threatened by, say, AB-Inbev in this way, I would happily invite them to bring it on.  But they don’t do that kind of thing, secure in the knowledge that a little blog like this can have no effect whatsoever on their business.

Bondi is different.  It’s a start up, and is fully independent.  Ross owns the brand and employs fifteen people.  It’s a small operation, and Ross clearly believes in his product.  If it is a good product, then my blog was unfair.  This is just a beer blog, for your entertainment, and I have no desire to put people’s jobs at risk.

I’ve agreed to meet Ross Bennie, hear about the beer, and taste it.  (It’s stocked by the Porterhouse in Covent Garden, and Peter who runs that place doesn’t stock shit beer).

If after doing this I still stand by my original blog post, I’m going to put it back up.  If the beer tastes great I will say it tastes great.  And if there are good plans in place for its launch I will share these with you.

I suspect what I’ll be reporting back is that I did a disservice to the beer itself, which does sound like it’s pretty good, but that I still won’t be happy with language such as ‘craft-styled’ in its promotion.  And that while this opens up Bondi to some justified criticism (someone surely must have signed off on that advertorial?) the net result will be that my original blog was unduly harsh.  And if that is the case, I will apologise.

We’ll see.

Given the sensitive nature of this issue, for the first time ever I won’t be opening this post to comments.

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Come to dinner with India Pale Ale – 3rd December, Meantime Old Brewery

Barry the Barrel of IPA on his way to India. Or so he thinks.

IPA may be the most beloved beer style of craft brewers.  It may be the beer style that has driven the craft beer revolution around the world.  But it is also the most mythologised, debated, controversial and misunderstood beer style in the world.

Some people become incensed, possessed by violent rage, at what they perceive as falsehoods or inaccuracies in IPA’s history.

Others scream about commercial brands using ‘IPA’ in their name when they are not ‘proper’ IPAs.

When I discovered various new facets of the history of IPA while researching my book Hops and Glory, some people simply dismissed my claims out of hand if they didn’t fit with their own story, ignoring facts I had discovered from primary research among original nineteenth century documents.

IPA is a cipher for all the various points of view and debates within brewing and beer fandom.

But it’s also a spectacular beer style that has at some point inspired pretty much everyone who loves craft beer today.

So when Meantime Brewing asked me to host a beer and food matching dinner as part of a regular series they hold at The Old Brewery in Greenwich, and asked if I would perhaps like to do this with an IPA theme, I leapt at the chance.

IPA has been around for well over 200 years.  Over that time, it has evolved, as tastes and brewing techniques have evolved.  We can’t say exactly what old IPAs taste like but we can infer things from various surviving recipes, contemporary accounts and recreations.  What we may not consider to be a ‘proper’ IPA today may have been universally understood to be the only valid interpretation of IPA sixty or a hundred yeas ago.

English troops enjoying Bass IPA, Bengal, 19th century

So what we’ve attempted to do is compile a list of beers for a tasting and then dinner which reflect how the style has evolved over the years, decades and centuries, and how it has reached a point in the last decade or so where it has developed into an extraordinarily broad range of different tastes and versions. I’ll be talking about each beer and more generally about how the style has evolved.

It’s not meant to be a point scoring exercise or a workshop in coming up with the definitive truth about IPA.  It’s meant to be a thoughtful look at arguably the greatest beer style, and an awesome evening of beer and food flavours.  Here’s the menu:

The evening starts at 6.30pm on Monday 3rd December, at the Old Brewery in Greenwich.  Tickets are £50 per person which includes all beers.  As of now it’s about 75% sold out but you can buy tickets by phoning 0203 327 1280 or by going to the Old Brewery website here.

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If the numbers don’t fit, make them up – sorry, who is being irresponsible here?

So it’s National Alcohol Hysteria Week – sorry, Alcohol Awareness Week, and the papers are treating us to the usual parade of stories demonising drink and drinkers (accompanied, natch, by images of people drinking beer, especially cask ale).

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the information being released by anti-alcohol groups and swallowed without question by newspapers who simply don’t have the budgets or staff to do proper investigative journalism any more.

But I couldn’t let this one go after it was brought to my attention.

If I were going to be very naive, I’d say that Alcohol Awareness Week would be the perfect occasion to draw attention to the fact that, while there is still undoubtedly a problem with alcohol abuse in the UK (there always will be, so long as it is on sale, and if it were not on sale that problem would manifest itself elsewhere, in more dangerous substances) the scale of that problem is abating – at a dramatic rate.

This is great news for the country as a whole. It’s great news for health professionals and the burden on the NHS, and it’s great news for groups who are potentially at risk, such as young people who may drink more than they want to thanks to peer pressure.

But it’s bad news for groups like Alcohol Concern, because it undermines their case for even greater restrictions on the sale and availability of alcohol, particularly their poorly thought-out and badly substantiated argument for a 50p per unit minimum price.  That’s why they have now begun to ignore the statistical data gathered by the government and the NHS, and create their own.

They do this, and they dare, they have the gall, to say that it is the alcohol industry that is behaving irresponsibly.

All sides in any debate use spin. Everyone takes stats and puts the best interpretation on them to help make the case you want to make.  But to take the moral high ground and then simply IGNORE the official figures is quite simply immoral and irresponsible behaviour.

With binge drinking plummeting among among adults, neo-prohibitionists initially focused on drinking among the over 65s. But being unable to find any stats whatsoever to support their argument, they’re now attempting to hit the nation in the heart – by making us worry about children and young adults.

Today’s headlines are all about children as young as 13 getting drunk, and how it’s cheaper to get drunk than it is to go to the cinema.

Well, where do we start?


In 2001, a survey with far greater sample size, reliability and impartiality than Alcohol Concern’s own research suggested that 26% of children under the age of 18 had had a drink the week before the interview. By 2010 that number had fallen to 13%.


As this does not suit Alcohol Concern’s argument, instead they looked at ESPAD – the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which surveys behaviour among 15-16 year-olds.

Obviously, anyone who has the slightest interest in truthful and honest reporting would make sure they were using the very latest numbers available. Alcohol Concern chose not to – they chose a five year old, out of date survey, instead of using the 2011 ESPAD survey which they knew to be widely available.

Why would they do that?  Why would they knowingly, deliberately use out-of-date, inaccurate figures?  Oh, here’s why:
Percentage who are drunk at least once a month:
1999 – 49
2007 – 32
2011 – 26
Percentage drunk at least three times a month:
1999 – 24
2007 – 10
2011 – 8
Percentage drunk at least ten times in the last year
1999 – 28
2007 – 13
2011 – 7
Percentage drunk at least twenty times in their life time
1999 – 29
2007 – 13
2011 – 8
These figures show, across the board, a sharp decline in drunkenness among 15-16 year old students – even if you use the out-of-date figures.
Which is why Alcohol Concern decided to supplement this research with some of their very own.  
Now, market research used to take up a big part of my day job.  There are some basic principles for how you use it accurately.  
Firstly, if you want to produce a meaningful, nationally representative sample, you have to do research in different parts of the country – habits in London are different from those in Scotland, Wales or Manchester, for example.
So can you guess what Alcohol Concern did?
They went to Newcastle – which, as Alcohol Concern knows, has the worst reputation in the country for under-age drinking in the UK.  And they presented their findings from Newcastle as if they were an honest representation of the UK as a whole, when they know they are not.
Secondly, with research, you have to use the right techniques for the job. There are two different kinds of research: qualitative and quantitative.  With qual, you dig deep into people’s habits and motivations, but you can’t use any statistics from it because you’re only talking to a small group of people – there simply aren’t the numbers to make it reliable. For that, you use quant – talking to large numbers of people in a way that doesn’t allow you to dig into detail, but gives you a statistically significant number.  Best practice is that you use one to help the other – developing hunches in qual and validating them in quant, or spotting trends in quant and exploring what’s behind them in qual.
So again, can you guess what Alcohol Concern did?
They did a couple of qual groups that totalled nineteen – NINETEEN – teenagers, and presented their findings as if they were statistically valid.  
They weren’t even valid for Newcastle, let alone the rest of the country.
If I had done something like this in advertising I would have been fired, and rightly so.  If it were not cynically designed to be deliberately misleading, it would be breathtakingly incompetent.
There’s more that is wrong with this so-called research. It’s little better than a pack of lies.  It does, off-hand, admit that there has been a ‘slight’ fall in overall alcohol consumption. 20% down in nine years? A fifth of the volume of booze drunk in this country on a yearly basis has disappeared in less than a decade and you call that ‘slight?!’
As the true story continues to improve, Alcohol Concern is getting increasingly desperate in its attempts to convince us of the existence of an entirely fictitious moral panic.
Shame on them.

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Dickens, Chaucer, Scoundrels, Scallywags, Sugababes and a lock-in involving Princess Margaret: the astonishing history of one legendary pub.

Here’s the official press release for my new book, out next week.  At the bottom is a list of talks and readings I’m giving over the next six weeks or so. Amazon is already shipping the book.  It’s also available on Kindle, but you miss out on some seriously beautiful design work – just ask the first reviewer…
Chaucer, Scoundrels, Scallywags, Sugababes and a lock-in involving Princess
Margaret: the astonishing history of one legendary pub.

Pete Brown, author of three best-selling
social histories based around beer, returns to the pub with his latest book Shakespeare’s Local, which hits the shelves on 8th November. It has also been selected as
BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week in the week before Christmas, guaranteeing its
place in the stockings of book-lovers around the country.
Shakespeare’s Local: Six
Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub
is the story of the George Inn, Southwark,
the last surviving galleried coaching inn in London.  It reveals how the
pub, as well as playing a key role in the development of Elizabethan theatre,
was also close to the birth of English literature (Geoffrey Chaucer’s Tabard
stood just next door) and has its own dubious poetic claim, having been
immortalised by the leading (possibly only) exponent of Stuart-era Fart Poetry.
 The George also counted Charles Dickens among its many fans.
“At a time when pubs are getting shafted from all
sides, I wanted to write a perfect case study of how important pubs have been
throughout our history,” says Brown.  “This was helped by the
fundamental truth that a good boozer always has a few interesting characters
propping up the bar.  Take a look at five or six hundred years in the
history of one pub, and the characters you discover pretty much do the job for
However, it’s a small miracle the book got finished at
all. In a stroke of supreme irony, Brown was nine months into the project, with
25,000 words written (but not backed up) on his laptop when it got stolen – in
his local pub.  “I had to start again from scratch with four months
left before my deadline,” says Brown. “People ask me if having to
rewrite every word to that point has made it a better book.  Being chosen
as Book of the Week suggests it has, but I still wouldn’t recommend leaving
your laptop unattended in a busy pub for four hours as a technique for any
aspiring writer.”

About the book
Sit down for a pint with Chaucer,
Shakespeare and Dickens in the most extraordinary pub in British history with
‘the beer drinkers’ Bill Bryson’. 
Welcome to the George Inn near
London Bridge; a cosy, wood-panelled, galleried coaching house a few minutes’
walk from the Thames. And consider this: who else has stopped to drink, gossip,
do business and relax here over the last 600 years?
Chaucer and his fellow pilgrims probably
drank in the George on their way out of London to Canterbury. Shakespeare will
have popped in from the nearby Globe for a pint, and Dickens was a regular.
Mail carriers changed their horses here, before heading to all four corners of
Britain — while sailors drank here before visiting all four corners of the
The pub is the ‘primordial cell of
British life’ and The George is the perfect case study. This pub has seen it
all, from murderers, highwaymen and ladies of the night to gossiping pedlars
and hard-working clerks. Pete Brown takes us on a revealing historical tour as
buildings and the capital’s fortunes rise and fall around this one
extraordinary local and its colourful cast of regulars.
About the author
Pete Brown is an influential
drinks writer and commentator, with columns for London Loves Business, the Publican’s
Morning Advertiser
In 2009 Pete was named Beer Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer
Writers.  He has recently been a judge
for the BBC Food & Farming Awards and the Great Taste Awards, and this year
has appeared on a number of high profile radio and TV programmes including Great Train Journeys with Michael
Portillo, Radio 4’s Food Programme, Sky News and BBC4’s Timeshift. He’s the
author of Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer; Three Sheets to
the Wind
and Hops and Glory,
which saw him dubbed ‘The Beer Drinker’s Bill Bryson’ by both the TLS and
The Independent.  Pete’s
award-winning blog is at
For further information please contact Dusty Miller on
020 7014 6188 or email

Tour dates confirmed so far: more to follow

Monday 5th November – Windsor & Eton Brewery
As part of the Thames Valley History Festival, in association with Waterstone’s, we’re doing an event in this excellent brewery, which I’m sure will be offering some of their brilliant ales and lagers to taste.  
7.30pm. Tickets £6

Tuesday 6th November – Stoke Newington Bookshop
My N16 launch at my local bookshop.  Hope to see the crowd from the Jolly Butchers and White Hart at this one!  There may be beer.  And we’ll carry on afterwards in a local hostelry.
6.30pm.  Free admission.

Sunday 11th November – The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle
A late Sunday afternoon gathering in one of Newcastle’s best pubs.
Final details TBC

Monday 12th November – The Rat Inn, Anick
A chat in this beautiful pub near Hexham, Northumberland, with New Writing North.
7pm. £5, fully redeemable against book purchase.

Tuesday 13th November – The Portico Library, Manchester
In association with the Urmston Bookshop, I’m told this is a stunning venue.  And I love Manchester.
6.30pm. Tickets £7 

Wednesday 14th November – Caught by the River at Rough Trade East
I love Caught by the River and everything they stand for.  Ditto Rough Trade East.  Thrilled to be doing an event with them in this amazing music shop just off Brick Lane.
7pm. Free admission

Thursday 15th November – Big Green Bookshop
Delighted to be finally doing an event with one of London’s coolest independent bookshops.
Final details TBC.

Wednesday 21st November – Richmond Literary Festival
An event in a beer shop.  And not just any beer shop –’s HQ is beer paradise.  Very proud to be doing this as part of the Richmond Literary Festival.
7.30pm. £10 (includes beer tasting)

Thursday 22nd November – Exmouth Arms with Clerkenwell Tales
Another great pub in conjunction with another wonderful, inspiring independent bookshop.  
Final details TBC

Monday 26th November – Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London 
Proud to be asked to be part of a series of lecture’s on people’s history.  I think mine may be a little more frivolous than some of the others.
5.30pm.  Free admission

Thursday 29th November – Literary Death Match!
This is not a normal reading.  This is authors fighting to the death.  Literally!  Well, literarily.
Final details TBC

Tuesday 4th December – The George!
And finally, I bring the book home.  This one will be special – talking about the book inside the pub itself, with a somewhat Dickensian Christmassy theme
Free admission on the door

Wednesday 12th December – Romford Library
Only just confirmed so no details as yet, but this library is passionate about author events and has hosted some great people – more info asap.

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‘Shakespeare’s Local’ and the Austrian Tyrant – preview and extended scene from my new book.

It’s just two and a half weeks now till my new book, Shakespeare’s Local, hits the shelves.

Officially out on 8 November, you might get it a few days earlier if you pre-order on Amazon.

It came back from the printers yesterday and I’m very excited.  Whatever you think of the writing, it’s a beautiful object, with wonderfully reproduced maps and plans, some of which I’ll post here soon.

I’m also overwhelmed that BBC Radio 4 has chosen the book to be Book of the Week for week commencing 17th December.  The week before Christmas, there’ll be an abridged 15-minute reading from the book each day of the week.  For a book that we all hope will make a nice gift, it couldn’t be better timing.  I’m waiting to hear who will be doing the reading!

I’m lining up more dates when I’ll be reading it at various events around the UK.  Additional ones will be announced shortly.  In Ilkley a couple of weeks ago I debuted an illustrated, scripted hour-long talk about the pub and the book, which seemed to go down very well, and I’m looking forward to polishing and refining this over the next few weeks.

The only problem with the talk is I need it to be 45 minutes long and I got cut off, nowhere near the end, after an hour.  This is a common problem for me: I overwrite.  My two previous books were 50% too long.  The first time I tried to cut words out of Hops & Glory, I actually managed to increase the word count by 5000.

I wasn’t nearly as bad with Shakespeare’s Local – five opinion columns a month for the last couple of years has taught me to write to length much better, but there were still a few flabby bits.  And while this is a book that is based on the principle of pub-style conversational digression, some of these digression, while interesting, were taking us too far away from the main thread for too long.

To whet your appetite for the book, I wanted to post one of those here.  The George Inn, the subject of Shakespeare’s Local, was for much of its existence within spitting distance of the famous Anchor Brewery, and in my first draft I ended up writing a detailed history of that brewery, most of which has rightly been edited out of the finished book.

My favourite story from this history is about what happened when a murderous authoritarian bastard turned up for a brewery tour and got more than he bargained for from the good people of Southwark.  This story is still in the book, but it was originally about twice the length, so in the hopes of whetting your appetite, here’s the full length version.

A bit of background: the Anchor brewery, now better known as Barclay Perkins, was so vast and successful that it had become one of the most famous breweries in the world.  It was a tourist attraction regularly visited by heads of state – among others…

By 1810 the Anchor Brewery was churning
out a whopping 235,000 barrels a year.  Victorian
authors couldn’t resist pouring the brewery’s celebrated porter into their
books. There are many references to Barclay’s beer in the novels of Charles
Dickens, for example: In The Old
Curiosity Shop
Dick Swiveller claimed that there was ‘a spell in every drop
against the ills of mortality’, and in David Copperfield Mr Micawber had a job
at the brewery in mind when he was ‘waiting for something to turn up.’
Although heavily damaged by fire in
1832, the brewery was impressively rebuilt and thereafter became a notable
London tourist attraction.  Dr William Rendle
commented: ‘Except perhaps the very centres of government and trade, no spot in
London might so worthily excite feelings of curiosity and wonder as these few
acres.’  Nineteenth century visitors included
the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), Napoleon III, and Otto von
Bismarck.  But in 1850, one visitor was
given a reception that fell somewhat short of traditional British
In 1848, political revolution swept
through Europe as people started demanding troublesome things like democracy, basic
human rights, and freedom from tyranny. 
One such revolution happened in Hungary, where the populace rose up and
demanded independence from Austrian rule. 
They almost achieved it until Austria called in Russia’s help, quashed
the uprising and received the formal surrender of Hungary’s thirteen top
generals, who were then executed by the Austrian Marshal Haynau.[1]  Haynau hated the revolutionary cause, so he
had no problem with overriding the conventions of war and butchering officers
who had surrendered in good faith.  He
went on to hang well over a hundred people, despite orders to show leniency from
his superiors and outrage from the international community. Neither did Haynau
have a problem with flogging women: he brutally put down an uprising in the
Lombard city of Brescia, leaving maimed and wounded men lying in the
streets.  He ordered that any women going
to the aid of the wounded should be whipped. 
Even his own army hated him.  A
former commander of his wrote that Haynau ‘knows the rules of military service
but seeks glory in sharpening those rules so that he could proceed against men
he doesn’t like.  These men he torments
with calculating hatred… Because of his moral failings everybody in contact
with him wishes to see him go, for no one likes to be in his company on
military service.’
When the army finally succeeded in
getting rid of Haynau, he decided to do a bit of travelling.  This was to prove a bad idea for possibly the
most hated man in Europe.  After narrowly
avoiding being lynched when he was recognised in Brussels, he came to England
and on 4th September 1850, paid a visit to Barclay Perkins with an
aide de camp and a translator. 
Accounts about what exactly
happened next are mixed and conflicting. 
An eyewitness account in the London
Daily News
the next morning said that ‘a rather unusual crowd’ had gathered
outside the brewery gates, because word had spread that Haynau was inside.  When he emerged, after being ‘entertained
with surprising forbearance by those who task it was to receive his visit’, he
was greeted by a chorus of boos and hisses from the assembled crowd.  ‘The gallant woman flogger looked about him
in evident surprise,’ writes our correspondent, ‘forgetting probably that he is
now in a land which, with all its faults, bestows on its citizens the privilege
of free thoughts and speech, and teaches them to denounce the tyrannies of a
butcher like Haynau.’  When the writer
left the scene, the marshal was being followed down the street by the mob and
he eventually took refuge in a stable yard.   
But directly below this is another
account ‘from other sources’, which is far more sensationalist and
dramatic.  Perhaps inevitably, it is this
unattributed account that was picked up and repeated word for word by
newspapers across the country the following day.
According to this source, the three
visitors arrived, one of them sporting very long moustaches, and signed the
visitors’ book before being escorted across the yard for the start of the
tour.  The brewery clerks looked at the
book, and saw that the fellow with the long ‘tache was none other than Marshal
Haynau.  Word spread around the brewery
in less than two minutes, and ‘before the general and his companions had
crossed the yard nearly all the labourers and draymen ran out with brooms and
dirt, shouting out “Down with the Austrian butcher,” and other epithets of
rather an alarming nature to the marshal.’ 
The men gathered around him as he was inspecting the mash tun,
continuing to hurl abuse.  And when one
man dropped a bale of straw on his head, this acted as a signal for a more
physical attack.  Haynau was flogged with
brooms so hard that one broke across his back. 
His clothes were torn from him. 
His companions ‘defended themselves manfully’, but the brave marshal
fled, only to find that the aforementioned mob had gathered in the street
outside.  They surrounded him and dragged
him down the street by the moustache.  A
woman threw a pair of scissors out a window to cut off his famous whiskers.  He tried hiding in a dustbin, but was dragged
out of it by the beard.  He was pelted
and struck ‘with every available missile’. 
And worst of all, some cad ‘struck his hat over his eyes’.  Finally, he managed to run and hide… in the
Imagine my surprise and delight,
dear reader, upon discovering that the George Inn had a starring role in this
caper.  Imagine my incredulity that no
previous chronicler of the old inn had placed this account front and centre in
their work.  And imagine my inconsolable
grief when I read: ‘He ran in a frantic manner along Bankside until he came to
the George public-house where finding the doors open he rushed in and proceeded
upstairs into one of the bedrooms, to the utter astonishment of Mrs Benfield,
the landlady’. 
The George Inn isn’t on Bankside
(though if you Google ‘George Inn Bankside’ you do get our George).  And the George Inn never had a landlady
called Mrs Benfield.  But census data
from 1851 shows Mr and Mrs Benfield running the George public house on Bankside. 
There was another George in Borough.  Right next to the Anchor on Bankside. 
And it was in this George that the
‘Hyena of Brescia’, the ‘Hangman of Arad’, frightened Mrs Benfield (“I thought
he was a madman”), asked Mr Benfield for a brandy via his translator (“I’ll be
damned if he have any brandy here!”) and cowered in a bedroom until Inspector
Squires of the Southwark police came to rescue him, borrowed one of Mr
Benfield’s old hats in a lame attempt to disguise him, and rowed him across the
Thames in a police boat to the safety of Somerset House, jeered by the crowds
on Bankside.
How the Illustrated London News covered the brave Marshal’s retreat.
The public flogging of the Austrian
Butcher instantly became both an international incident and a touchstone for
the emerging class warfare of the Victorian era.  The Austrian ambassador demanded an apology.  The Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston,
refused, defending the brewery men whom he felt ‘were just expressing their
feelings at what they considered inhuman conduct by a man who was looked upon
as a great moral criminal.’  Only after the
intervention of a furious Queen Victoria was a more conciliatory letter sent,
but the Austrians remained so offended that they sent no representative to the
Duke of Wellington’s funeral in 1852.
The day after breaking the story,
the editorial in the Daily News read:
We rejoice that he escaped without
serious injury, but we do also sincerely rejoice that such a manifestation of
British feeling, so honest, so popular, and so spontaneous, as well as so
energetic, goes forth to the world of Europe to mark in what estimation the
deeds of Austria in Hungary are regarded by the intelligent of our industrious
The Morning Post, however, took another view.  ‘There can be but one feeling in the breast
of every Englishman worthy the name, as to the outrage perpetrated on the Baron
the other day at the brewery of Messrs Barclay and Perkins,’ it thundered.  The mob that accosted him on the street was
‘reinforced by the all the choicest specimens of the rascalry of the Borough’,
who shouted things to the poor man ‘which are wont to garnish the conversation
of low Liberals.’  Yes, the whole thing
was a left-wing plot, because ‘British Liberalism is determined, as far as it
can, to divest Great Britain of its long-standing reputation for hospitality.’  The paper expressed its hope that that nice
Mr Haynau wouldn’t judge us all by the standards of those ‘dastardly ruffians
who assaulted him in the Borough’.
also expressed the view that the whole thing must have been a leftist
conspiracy.  Why, we were talking about
stupid brewery workers, the thick working classes.  Ignoring the steady rise of both the international
workers’ movement and the tales of woe told by terrorised Hungarian refugees
who, like all refugees, had settled safely in Southwark, the Times believed that these people were
too stupid and ignorant to have even known who the Marshal was without the
sinister organising influence of ‘foreigners’ – a euphemism at the time for
The Standard pointed out that Haynau’s greatest injury was to his
pride.  He escaped the flogging with no
serious physical injuries, despite being dragged through the street.  If the crowd had meant him serious harm, as
the right-wing press claimed, they ‘had the opportunity of inflicting serious
injury, and they that they did not inflict any such injury, is proof that they
designed none.’
A week later, a public meeting of
the ‘National Democrats’ was held at Farringdon Hall, for the purpose of
celebrating ‘the noble conduct of the workmen employed at Barclay and Perkins
brewery, in having given expression to the feeling of detestation felt towards
the assassin and woman-flogger, Haynau, by all true Englishmen’.
Hundreds were turned away because
the room was so crowded, and there were even ‘a sprinkling of women present’.
The Italian Marsellaise was sung by
some Hungarian refugees. Messages of solidarity were received from as far
afield as Paris and New York.  At one
point, the crowd was addressed by Friedrich ‘Citizen’ Engels, a man
delightfully described in the report of the meeting as ‘one who has fought for
freedom in many lands, and wore a long beard’.
Fourteen years later, when the
Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi visited England, he insisted on going
to Barclay Perkins to thank personally ‘the men who flogged Haynau’. 
Even the lovely Dr William Rendle,
a man so kind-hearted he hardly killed anyone in all his years as a surgeon, remember,
said it was ‘a cruel punishment no doubt,’ but that it was also the perfect
example of the term vox Populi, vox Dei.  ‘Moral homeopathy’, the ‘cure of cruelty by
cruelty, or more mildly, that which is know as poetical justice, administered
by a mob’. 

A plaque marking the incident stands in Park Street on the site of the Anchor Brewery.

[1] If you’re ever drinking in Hungary (which I can
heartily recommend) never try to clink glasses with the locals – it’s a social
faux pas.  As the Hungarian generals were
being murdered on Haynau’s orders, the Austrian officers were allegedly
drinking beer and toasting each other by clinking their mugs together.  Hungarians declared that they would therefore
never clink their own glasses together again.