Monday 3 June 2024

Kafka and The Dead

I haven't read as much as I normally do so far this year for various reasons, but yesterday I got round to something I probably should have before, James Joyce's short story The Dead, from his 1914 collection Dubliners.

As well as his novels, I've read other short stories from Dubliners, my favourite being Ivy Day in the Committee Room with its famous scene of bottles of stout being opened in the absence of a corkscrew by placing them in front of the fire and waiting for their stoppers to pop out (The Dead has a few beery references too: "three squads of bottles of stout and ale...drawn up according to their, with brown and red labels").

One of the things that struck me about The Dead is its almost Kafkaesque atmosphere, its plot resembling in some ways that of the short story A Country Doctor (a journey by horse-drawn cab through a dreamlike snowbound landscape late at night, awkward encounters with servants, and an epiphany about life and death).

Apart from being leading figures in modern European literature, Joyce and Kafka share a surprising number of similarities once you start thinking about them: born within just over a year of each other, in countries at the edge of multi-ethnic empires and with a growing national consciousness, expressed in both politics and culture, which would see them become independent states after World War I; writing in a language imposed by the colonial power rather than that of its native people; from prosperous middle class backgrounds, which they later largely rejected; plagued by health problems; a more prominent posthumous reputation than when they were alive; and having complex and ambivalent relationships with their fathers, women and religion.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Another Walk on the Mild Side

I've just completed another Mild Magic challenge, the annual trail round pubs drinking mild and collecting stickers organised by my CAMRA branch, Stockport and South Manchester (it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it).

I ended up going to fourteen participating pubs this year, almost all of them in south Manchester (Chorlton, Didsbury, Rusholme, Withington) and the city centre, and drank milds from six breweries including local independents Holt's and Hydes, who sponsor the event, nearly all of them dark with just a couple of lighter ones. I voted for Hydes Light Ale as the best mild and the City Arms, Manchester, as the best pub.

The promotion runs until 19th May so there's still plenty of time to take part (you can download a sticker sheet for it here).

Monday 15 April 2024

Looking for Leverkusen

On my first trip to Germany back in 2009, I spent a few days going round brewpubs in the Rhineland, some of which became favourite drinking spots that I would revisit numerous times in the following years. Catching a train from Düsseldorf to Cologne which passed through a rather anonymous looking town about halfway between them, I was surprised to see on a platform going past the carriage window a station sign for Leverkusen.

Like most non-Germans I suspect, I'd only heard of the place because of its football club Bayer Leverkusen, who won their first ever Bundesliga title this weekend, and had lazily assumed that it was somewhere in Bavaria (Bayer does mean someone from Bavaria, but is also a fairly common German surname, like London, York or Kent in English I suppose, and was that of the founder of the pharmaceutical company which owns the club,  who came from the nearby industrial town of Barmen, birthplace of fellow factory owner Friedrich Engels of Salford and Communist fame, which is now part of the linear city of Wuppertal that I would visit on a subsequent trip to the Rhineland).

Bayer Leverkusen are apparently not well liked in the rest of Germany, partly because of their corporate ownership in a country where at least a degree of fan control is the norm through membership schemes which give matchgoers a voice at board level. That seems a bit harsh given that they have played in the same town since their foundation as a works team sponsored by the company in 1904 and are not a recent creation for publicity purposes or part of a franchise chain like another Bundesliga club, RB Leipzig.

Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso celebrated the title win with a large glass of Bitburger, a mass market Pils that you see on sale throughout the Rhineland.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Dunkles for Goal Prosts

The Foreign Office warning before this summer's Euro 2024 football tournament that beer in Germany is stronger on average than it is here got me thinking about the different varieties that the fans heading there will be able to enjoy. Looking at the ten cities hosting matches, six give their name to distinctive beer styles: Berliner Weisse, Dortmunder Export, Düsseldorfer Altbier, Kölsch from Cologne (Köln), Leipziger Gose, and Münchener Helles and Dunkles (not to mention pale and dark Bock, Märzen and Weißbier). Away from the more touristy parts of the Rhineland and Bavaria, it's not that far to either Franconia to sample a smoked Bamberger Rauchbier or Thuringia (where England will have their training camp) for some stout-like Schwarzbier.

Germany is obviously a bigger country than Britain, and has a much more recent history of being divided into separate states, both before unification in 1871 and the reunification of East and West in 1990, but still seems to have a much more regional beer market than us. It's no doubt a product of local chauvinism as well as for historical reasons (I can still see the look of disdain when I told the regulars in a Düsseldorf pub that I'd not only been to Cologne but had drunk Kölsch there), but even with the most popular type of beer, Pils, there doesn't seem to be a national brand that leads the market like Carling does here, and relatively large areas of the country, especially in the South, where it hasn't become the dominant style (the only other place in the world I can think of where that's still the case is Ireland).

Monday 19 February 2024

Only Connect: Manchester United

I wrote here about the connection between Robinson's Brewery in Stockport and a local farmer, and here about that between the singer Nico, who once lived in north Manchester, and the Päffgen Kölsch brewery in Cologne. I've just come across another, between football and beer in Manchester, thanks to a group I'm a member of on Facebook.

In histories of the club, JH Davies, the man who rescued Newton Heath FC from financial difficulties, renamed it Manchester United and oversaw the construction of Old Trafford, is often referred to as a local businessman, but it turns out that he was actually a brewer, chairman of Salford's Walker and Homfray, which later merged with Wilson's of Newton Heath.

Davies lived at Bramall Hall in Cheshire, which he bought from the aristocratic Bromley-Davenport family, who gave their name to a nearby pub, Robinson's Davenport Arms in Woodford.

Monday 22 January 2024

Winter Beers

The Christmas season coincided with the finish of Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA's Winter Warmer Wander at the end of December. I went to twenty participating pubs over the course of the six week sticker trail, split pretty evenly between Stockport and Manchester, and drank an almost equal amount of stouts and strong ales, the styles that it aims to promote. Local breweries Joseph Holt's and Robinson's, which sponsors the event, also produced seasonal Christmas beers alongside their strong ales Sixex and Old Tom, although I didn't see any of them myself in the pubs I went to (the only beer I had which specifically referenced the time of the year was RedWillow's Festive Treat).

I drink stouts and strong ales throughout the year, but they are particularly enjoyable in the cold and short days of winter. Thinking about the bottled beers I drank over the festive period, they were all at the stronger/darker/maltier end of the brewing spectrum too: Fuller's 1845, Schlenkerla Rauchmärzen, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, Sam Smith's Imperial Stout, Robinson's Old Tom, Ayinger Winterbock and Augustiner Maximator.

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Beers of the Year

I've visited seventy-two pubs this year, compared to thirty-eight in 2019, the last "normal" year before Covid, ten in the first three months of 2020, and just four and six in 2021 and 2022. I've been to three new pubs, the relocated Runaway Brewery in Stockport and the Victoria Tap and North Westward Ho in Manchester city centre, and made it to a few others I've never got round to before, including the Sun in September and Reasons To Be Cheerful in Burnage, Ladybarn Social Club, the Grove in Clayton and Davenport Arms in Woodford. It's no coincidence that my top two months for pub going, April (fourteen) and November (eleven), were when Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA was running its Mild Magic and Winter Warmer Wander sticker trails.

I've scored nearly all the beer I've drunk this year as Good, with just a handful of pints found to be Average or Poor, and have not hesitated to return almost all of the latter to the bar as undrinkable, apart from half a Doom Bar unwisely ordered on a weekday afternoon in a suburban chain dining pub, where no one else was drinking cask beer, that I couldn't be bothered to take back. Lesson learnt.

I've given just one pint a Very Good score in 2023, Vocation Bread and Butter Dry Hopped Pale Ale at the Archive Bar in Cheadle Hulme, so by default that's my beer of the year.