Tuesday, 24 May 2016

French past imperfect

I've been reading a lot about French politics in the nineteenth and early twentieth century recently.

As well as The French Right Between the Wars, I've gone back to the beginning of Émile Zola's Rougon-Maquart series of novels about the French Second Empire of Napoleon III (1852-70), having unknowingly jumped into the middle of it as a teenager and read a couple of the later ones since. The first novel in the series, The Fortune of the Rougons, is about Napoleon III's coup d'état in December 1851 which led to the proclamation of the Second Empire a year later.

The thing to get your head round about French politics is that as well as the left-right spectrum, political parties are (or at least were) divided by their attitude to the monarchy and the Church, so there were liberal monarchists (like the Orléanists, supporters of the Duc d'Orléans from the junior, cadet branch of the French royal house who wanted a constitutional monarchy), conservative ones (Legitimist followers of the Bourbons, and later Bonapartist followers of Napoleon III), and conservative republicans, both clericalist (Fédération républicaine) and secular (Alliance démocratique).

I'm wondering whether I should brush up my schoolboy French and read some of these books in the original...

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Back in time

In the last decade or so, microbreweries and home brewers have recreated historic beers using recipes found in brewery archives, as have some bigger brewers.

I'm a fan of Fuller's cask and bottle-conditioned beers, especially ESB and 1845, and have enjoyed XX, Double Stout and Old Burton Extra from the Past Masters range brewed in collaboration with Ron Pattinson of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. Some historic beers are now being revived in the North West.

Boak and Bailey report on the reappearance after forty-six years of beers from the Bolton brewery Magee and Marshall, whose brand names someone has bought the rights to, and next month, as part of Manchester Beer Week, the Smithfield Market Tavern will host the launch of four historic beers, including a 1903 XXX, a 1951 "C" Ale and a 1952 Stout from the brewing records of Middleton brewery J.W. Lees, an event at which Ron will be speaking. I'll be going and am looking forward to trying beers my (great-)grandfathers might have drunk.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Cumberland lap

I blogged the other day about the Hairy Bikers, Dave Myers and Simon King, coming to Manchester as part of their national pub tour on BBC2. Last night, they were in Carlisle.

The first half of the programme was about the State Management Scheme which ran pubs and brewed beer in Carlisle from the First World War to the early seventies, when Ted Heath's Conservative government privatised it, with the presenters saying how odd it would be if the State ran your local and made the drinks served in it. They then met a group of older drinkers at a bowls club who said that they liked the State Management Scheme pubs and that the beer had been both good and cheap.

Perhaps something for Comrade Corbyn to think about...

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The art of cellarmanship

I'm reading Cellarmanship at the moment, a book published by CAMRA about, would you believe, cellarmanship.

I was prompted to pick a copy up after re-reading this post by Stonch from back in 2008, and the comments which followed it. The book confirms a lot of what he and the others say, that to serve a decent pint you only really need four things: properly-handled barrels of fresh beer, a dry, cool cellar, clean lines and a swift turnover.

Those things apply to both keg and cask beer but, and this is pertinent to CAMRA's current Revitalisation Project, it's only with cask beer that the higher arts of cellarmanship, including spiling casks differently according to the beer they contain, allow the expert to bring a pint to perfect condition.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Mild thing

I've just completed Mild Magic, the annual event organised by Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA to promote mild ale.

Since Robinsons of Stockport stopped brewing their two milds last year, Hydes have taken over sponsorship of the event. Hydes brew three milds: the light 1863, mid-brown Mild and dark Old Indie.

Two things have become clear on the way round a dozen pubs:

1. Your best chance of finding a pub selling mild is one tied to a regional family brewery, which in Manchester means Holt's and Hydes (I'm not sure about the availability of mild in those tied to the other independent in the Manchester area, J.W. Lees of Middleton).

2. For microbreweries, mild is a dark beer: the only light milds I've drunk have been from a regional brewery (Hydes) and a national one (Banks's).

Monday, 25 April 2016

All The World's A Stage

I saw quite a bit of the BBC's output marking the four hundredth anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare this weekend.

I enjoyed watching the poet Ian McMillan brew a hopless Tudor ale and laughed at the programme guidance note for Arena's compilation of Shakespeare film clips which warned viewers that it contained adult themes. Well, yes, I thought, murder, adultery, the odd suicide or two.

I didn't do any Shakespeare at school, a 1980's comprehensive, but did get taken to see some of his plays as a teenager by my English teacher Dad. Like many people, I struggled with some of the language and plots, but watching the live Shakespeare show from the RSC in Stratford on Saturday night I was surprised by how accessible and witty his work is. I suppose that's an appreciation which only comes with maturity.

And of course, we all use Shakesperian expressions - "in my mind's eye", "melted into thin air", "wild goose chase", "pitched battle" - without even realising it.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Prince of Pop

The singer Prince, who has died aged 57 at his home in Minnesota, drew on a number of musical genres as sources of inspiration.

The son of a jazz musician, I'd guess he was influenced by that, as well as by funk and rock (his stage act always reminded me a bit of Jimi Hendrix's). As a teenager in the mid-80's, his songs were everywhere and appealed to me more than those of his contemporary and fellow African-American singer Michael Jackson who I always found overly produced and commercial.

It's interesting how American popular music gets categorised, firstly by skin colour, with black performers tending to be called rhythm and blues artists when they'd be classed as rock or pop if they were white, and also African-American music itself, which is somewhat arbitrarily divided, generally by white critics, into secular (blues, jazz, soul, R&B) and religious music (spirituals, gospel), despite numerous artists spanning those sub-sets, including Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Etta James, Sister Rosetta Tharp and Aretha Franklin. There are also many examples of people from one genre influencing another, with clear similarities (and claims of plagiarism) between soul singer James Brown and blues harpist Junior Wells, and fusions such as soul-blues and jazz-rock.

One of the funniest things I've ever read are the liner notes to Muddy Waters' Folk Singer album in which the producer Ralph Bass muses as to whether Perry Como is a soul singer!