Tag: Man Walks into a Pub

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“Shakespeare’s Pub” – and my other books – now available in America

Good morning America!

Over the years I’ve been asked by many North American readers of this blog if my books are available in the United States. As of now, they all are!

Today the first ever US-bespoke edition of one of my books is published. My last book, Shakespeare’s Local, hits American shelves today as Shakespeare’s Pub: A Barstool History of London As Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub – The George Inn. (I’ve noticed on my trips to the States that you guys LOVE a long subtitle).

It’s published by St Martin’s Press, the US partner of my UK publisher, Pan Macmillan, and there’s a bit more information about them and the book on their website, along with a really quite lovely gallery of the photos and illustrations used in the book.

The thing about your long subtitles is that it kind of tells you everything you need to know about the book (there’s actually a riff in Shakespeare’s Pub about the Stuart-era fashion for even longer subtitles and their similarity to those movie trailers that give away the whole plot.) But I’ll elaborate a little for those who don’t know.

The pub has been hailed as ‘the primordial cell of British life’. For centuries, pubs have provided the glue that holds communities together. They are more than shops that sell drink, different from bars in that people feel a greater sense of ownership and belonging than in any other commercial establishment.

Today the great British pub ranks second or third in any survey of what visitors from abroad wish to experience when the go to the UK. And yet the pub is in crisis, with an average of 26 closing their doors for good every single week.

Against this backdrop, I wanted to tell the story of ‘one pub and everyone who has ever drank in it’, and the George emerged as the best candidate thanks to its unique combination of survival and location. There were perhaps more significant pubs historically, but they are no longer with us. And there are older pubs, but one reason they have survived is that they are tucked away in corners of the country where nothing much happens – meaning there is a less interesting story to tell.

The story of the George involves the three leading lights of English literature – not just Shakespeare, but also Chaucer and Dickens. The latter was definitely a regular at the George, but I have to warn readers that there is no firm documentary evidence that either Chaucer or Shakespeare definitely drank in the George. In Shakespeare’s case that’s because there’s hardly any documentary evidence of him doing anything at all. But circumstantial evidence that he drank in the George is very strong indeed.

As well as these guys, the story involves a wide-ranging cast of villains, prostitutes, beggars, thieves, merchants, brewers, highwaymen, prime ministers and royalty – making the George the perfect case study of the democracy and inclusiveness of the pub – qualities that make any obituary for pubs very premature indeed.

Shakespeare’s Local been my most successful book launch in the UK to date, having been serialised on BBC Radio 4 and included in several ‘best picks’ of books of 2012. It’s a book about pubs, but it’s my least beery book so far – it’s much more about broader social history, and aims to please a broader audience.

(Note to UK readers: the only things that have changed for the American edition are the cover and title and, I guess, maybe some Americanized spellings. In any and all other respects this is the same book as Shakespeare’s Local).

My previous books were way more beery. Last time I looked, aged ago, they were not available anywhere in the US, but I’m delighted to discover that all three are now listed on amazon.com at non-import prices, in paperback and kindle editions. For anyone not familiar with them, here is a brief recap:

My first book looks at the history of beer (and pubs) mainly from a UK perspective.  It’s still my bestselling book overall as it keeps up steady business as an easy, accessible, general introduction to the world of beer. If you’re a beer geek looking for something more thorough and rigorous, track down anything by Martyn Cornell, or check out the Oxford Companion to Beer. What I tried to do here is discuss beer with both the irreverence and respect it deserves, offering entertainment as well as education to anyone who enjoys a good beer, but still packing in enough historical fact and trivia so that even the most knowledgeable beer geek might find something knew not just about beer, but the context it sat in, why it was there and how important it was, and still remains. This edition was updated in 2010. When people ask me which of my books is best, I tell them this is the most popular.

Breaking out of my UK perspective, for my second book I went on a world tour of important beer drinking nations. At a time when the idea of ‘craft beer’ was really happening in the US but wasn’t that well known in the UK, I compared different brewing traditions, beer styles and ways of drinking, from Europe to the US, from Portland to Prague, from Milwaukee to Melbourne, Australia, including Paddys’ Day in Ireland, Oktoberfest in Munich, and around 500 bars across thirteen countries. When people ask me which is my best book, I tell them this is the funniest.

India Pale Ale is the flagbearer of the craft beer movement, the most popular beer style among beer geeks and brewers. Everyone involved in that scene knows the legend of the beer brewed to be shipped to British garrisons in India, and the supposed transformation it underwent on the voyage. But no one knew what really happened. My third book charts my attempt to take a cask of traditionally brewed IPA from Burton-on-Trent to Calcutta by its traditional sea route around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time in 140 years. It cuts between the most detailed history of IPA there is, and my own journey on a variety of vessels. It didn’t quite go according to plan. When people ask me which is my best book, I tell them this is the best-written.

So that’s how I spent the last ten years of my life. I’m very proud to have all four books now on sale in the US and I hope American readers can cope with the slang and English vernacular* and enjoy them as much as my British readers.

Cheers, America!

*And the irritating over-reliance on footnotes. 

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Big week in Pete Brown Beer World

* Long self-indulgent post alert – I beg your forgiveness, but this one’s been years in the making… *

It’s the week of ‘The Beer Trilogy’.  Pan Macmillan have released rejacketed, shiny new editions of my three books.  And it’s also Stoke Newington Literary Festival Week – the event organised by the Beer Widow which, perhaps inevitably, I’m speaking at, and perhaps more inevitably, the event I’ve spent the last month or so working full time co-organising.  I’ve got a bit of a taste for it to tell the truth, though with only four days to go my organisational skills are starting to unravel.

So this week I’m going to do a shameless sales plug for each of the three books – shameless but honest, so you can decide if you need to buy them (again) or not.  And I’m also going to reveal more about my events at the festival.  Somewhat astonishingly, although the session with Tony Benn being interviewed by Suzanne Moore sold out last week, and Stewart Lee reading from Arthur Machen is about to sell out any second now, there are still tickets left for both my events.
So what to talk about first?
Let’s start with this one:

Man Walks into a Pub was my first book.  I’d wanted to write books since I was nine years old.  When I was 25 I won a short story competition run by Time Out.  I thought this would be the first step on the road to literary stardom, that the phone would ring off the hook with agents asking if I had a novel, and I’d reply “Why yes, here’s my coming of age novel about a bloke who went to university in St Andrews and now works in London in an ad agency and fucking hates it.  Totally fictitious obviously.”

The phone didn’t ring.  Worse than that, Time Out cancelled the short story competition and have never run it since.  But I used the laptop I won – my first ever – to finish the novel, flog it until one agent was kind enough to tell me how bad it was instead of giving me polite refusals like all the others, wrote a few short stories that got better and better but remained stubbornly unoriginal, and finally bought a bigger computer, discovered real time strategy games and stopped writing for a couple of years.

Nine years after the Time Out short story, Man Walks into a Pub was published.  Lots of people bought it, and continued to buy it over the years.  At first it had this cover, the idea for which me and Chris came up with in the pub:

That’s me at the bar in the background – that’s how long ago this was.  When I did readings and events and interviews, any women present struggled unsuccessfully to hide their disappointment that I wasn’t the bloke in the foreground.  CAMRA felt this cover was ‘yobbish’ for some reason, when they slated the book, and WHSmith didn’t like it either.  But I did.

Then, when we moved from the posh ‘trade paperback’ edition to the ‘mass market’ paperback, it had this cover, which I hate beyond reason, and snarl at whenever I see it:

The first time I saw it I said, “Hmm, not sure about the rough; when do we see the finished design?”

“This is the finished design,” replied my editor.

“It can’t be.  I could do better myself on PowerPoint.  The image looks like a piece of clip art, for God’s sake,” I said.

“Well WHSmith say they love it and with this cover they’ll order seven thousand copies,” said my editor.

“I love it,” I said, “It’s a fantastic cover.”

And so we went with it, and then Smith’s changed their minds and didn’t take a single copy, and we were stuck with it for six long years.

Not many authors get the chance to do a revised second edition of their books, but you lot kept buying it, and it continues to make a bit of money for Macmillan and a much smaller bit of money – about the price of a cheap holiday – for me each year.  But as time went on, it wasn’t just the shit cover I felt guilty about.

MWIAP narrowly beat Martyn Cornell’s Beer: The Story of the Pint onto the bookshelves (something for which I think Martyn may just about have forgiven me).  They’re two very different books on exactly the same subject and I’d urge you to buy both if you haven’t already done so.  Mine is definitely the easier read.  But one of the reasons for that is that I simply repeated all the tall stories that have been handed down through beer books over the last century or so – everyone says it, they were saying it in that book in 1912, it must be true.  But we live in an age when that’s no longer good enough.  The blogosphere, especially writers like Martyn and Ron Pattinson, pinpoint myths and bullshit and destroy them with forensic analysis.  The start of that – for me at least – was reading Martyn’s book and realising that key parts of mine were inaccurate.

On top of that, the world moved on.  Man Walks into a Pub was finished before Progressive Beer Duty caused an explosion in microbrewing, before most beer fans in Britain were aware of the stunning beers coming out of the States, before the rise of neo-prohibitionism, before beer duty hikes and the smoking ban, before the Licensing Act and the liberalisation of pub opening hours.  It was badly out of date.

Finally, it was my first book – and it was trying too hard to please.  The tone and overall voice of the book was still right, but occasionally the footnotes grated and some of the ‘jokes’ made me wince on rereading them.

So: new cover that pisses all over the previous two and provides an essential addition to any beer fan’s book shelf aside, if you’ve bought/read MWIP before, do you need to buy it again?  Here’s a list of changes.  Depending on your level of interest and sanity, you can decide for yourself:

  • Overall, a general read-through correcting bits that were factually inaccurate, removing the jokes and footnotes that didn’t work, changing bits that were just too gauche or naive.  
  • A new preface to the second edition which expands on the story of how I went from Stella ad man to beer writer, and the thinking behind the new edition.
  • Some newer, more clearly thought-out stuff on the origins of beer and what early beer was like.
  • A completely new section on the origins and history of Porter, which owes a debt of thanks to Messrs Cornell and Pattinson.  And the admission that the most often quoted bit of the first edition – the Meux Brewery disaster – was a load of bollocks.  I’ve tried to atone for this by offering the most detailed, factual account so far of what really happened on that fateful day in 1814.
  • A new section on IPA – a very brief precis of the story in Hops and Glory.
  • A more accurate and expanded version of the origins of Pilsner.
  • A fully updated and revised version of the chapter on CAMRA.  I first gained notoriety with this book by being the first beer writer (that I knew of) to slag off CAMRA in print.  Since then I think I’ve changed and I think CAMRA have changed – for the better in both respects (my recent spats notwithstanding).  I set out to cut down the slagging bit and write a new section on how the organisation has progressed over the last decade.  That part is present and correct.  But I wasn’t quite as successful in cutting down the criticism as I’d hoped.  OK, I admit it, the critical bit is even longer than it was.  But it is balanced by fulsome praise where it is due.  I hope it also comes across that I no longer slag CAMRA as one homogenous organisation: some bits and people do great stuff, other bits and other people do silly stuff.
  • A fully revised and updated version of the chapter about big lager brands.  Gone are the pages of praise for Stella.  I’m not recanting my admiration for the brand of ten years ago, merely documenting its rapid fall from grace, as part of the account of the decade when big lager brewers simply ran out of ideas, and the craft beer revolution took off.
  • A fully revised and updated version of the chapter on the recent history of pubs, taking in the PubCos etc, and all the shit that pubs now face, the impact of licensing reform and so on.
  • Finally, a new last chapter on the rise of neo-prohibitionism.  This is not a rant.  Nor is it a forensic analysis of the bullshit claims of the neopros like I did in January on this blog.  It’s a history of binge drinking as a media and political phenomenon, which demonstrates that the current case against drink is built on a tissue of bad science, political expediency and media bollocks.

Apart from that, large sections of the book – the core story – have not changed.  But only one chapter out of fourteen has had no revisions at all.  I’d say 15-20% of the total text is different.  

The official release date is Friday (4th June), and Amazon is still showing the horrible old cover.  But the new editions are already in my local bookshop and if you look closely, the version on Amazon is the revised edition.  We just need to get the visual changed.

If you haven’t read it before, I really think you should order it right now.

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Books and that

It was a proud day for me yesterday when I found out these had arrived in the warehouse:

The paperback release of Hops and Glory is joined by re-releases of the other too, both with new covers from Neil Gower, the wonderful artist who broke the mould with the Hops and Glory design last year.
As far as text goes, H&G and Three Sheets are unaltered, but Man Walks into a Pub has been extensively rewritten and updated.  I’ll talk more about that in a few weeks – they’re officially released on June 4th.
But anyone living in the North West who wants a copy can be the very first people to get their hands on one!  I’m doing an event at the Southport Food and Drink Festival this Saturday.  Scarisbrick Hotel, Southport, 2pm, I’ll be doing a group tasting of some of the beers from the festival, and trying out a new talk about beer and my adventures through it, drawing from all three books.  I’ll be announcing more festival dates throughout the summer once I’ve got this talk right, but I will have the new books to sell as a special sneak preview.
In other literary news, fans of The Beer Widow may have noticed that she’s been a bit quiet of late.  That’s because she’s organising the first ever Stoke Newington Literary Festival, June 4th-6th, bringing the stars of the literary firmament to our corner of North East London (actually, a lot of them already live here, hence the idea for the event.  
I’m doing two events, each of which will be a little different for me:

Saturday, 2pm: “Eat Your Words”: Niki Segnit, Pete Brown, Alex Rushmer and Ian Kelly
The White Hart

There are only a handful of words that really describe taste and flavour, but collectively we have a seemingly limitless appetite for reading and writing about food and drink.  The author of The Flavour Thesaurus, Britain’s leading beer writer, a Masterchef finalist and the biographer of Anton Careme, the world’s first celebrity chef, discuss their struggle to pin flavour to the page.
Sunday, 3pm: “What’s so great about the Great British Pub?” Pete Brown, Paul Ewen and Tim Bradford
The White Hart
£4 (with free beer)

Beer Writer of the Year Pete Brown hosts an event in his local, The White Hart, getting the beers in and talking to one-man ‘Campaign for Surreal Ale’ Paul Ewen, and local writer and chronicler of small town England Tim Bradford, about what makes the pub such a unique and enduring cornerstone of British culture.  
Very excited about these – My mate Niki has written something that will be essential for anyone who enjoys cooking and wants to move beyond just following recipes, it’ll be cool to meet ‘Food Blogger Alex‘ from this year’s Masterchef, and Ian’s biographies look interesting.  The following day I’m fascinated to see what Paul Ewen is really like after enjoying his book a while back (I reviewed it here) and you’ve got to fall in love with Tim Bradford when you read the Amazon review he got from his mum!  Tickets should be available any second now from here, but in the meantime can be booked by phone (details on the festival website) or bought from the Stoke Newington Bookshop.  
We all take our place well down the running order behind people like Shappi Khorsandi, Phill Jupitus, Danny Kelly, John Hegley, Jeremy Hardy, AC Grayling, Stewart Lee and the legendary Tony Benn.  Come and make a weekend of it!  It promises to be fantastic.  
Check out the festival website for more details on the bill and how to book tickets, and follow @StokeyLitFest on Twitter and on Facebook for up to date news about the line up etc.  Liz has never organised anything like this before and the literary community is amazed at the quality of the line-up she’s managed to pull together for the first year.  But she’s having sleepless nights about the whole thing, so please buy tickets for stuff!

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Dropped out of circulation for a few weeks there while I was rewriting Man Walks into a Pub. Just got final rewrites off to the editor and am now resuming normal service.

Apologies if you entered the Budvar/Publican Why Beer Matters competition – it’s a month since closing date and it’s very remiss of me not to have done the judging by now. I’ll be resolving that asap.
Lots of great stuff happening over the next few weeks though – I’ll be posting about my recent trip to Denmark, the Welsh beer revolution, lager, and plans for Cask Ale Week over the next week or two.
In the meantime, here’s a column I did for the Publican when I was out after the Liverpool Beer Festival last week.