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Session #113 (Observations) roundup posted

The SessionBoak & Bailey have posted the roundup for The Session #113. A pretty good turnout, including one “observation from outside the European-American axis.”

Lots of good reading, so head that way for the links.

Spoiler alert, here’s what they learned (from this admittedly small sample):

1. Vaping in pubs, which we saw lot of in Newcastle and a bit in Birmingham, isn’t as universal as we’d expected.

2. Pubs are pubs are pubs — there’s nothing in the descriptions above that made us think we’d be unable to cope with any of those venues, even Suzuki Drink, which sounds the farthest from our experience.

3. A major football tournament doesn’t necessarily dominate pubs even when they’re showing it.

4. That looking closely at even the most familiar pub can reveal intriguing details.

5. Observations without narrative can seem rather dry… But anyone looking back on these in a hundred years time (digital decay and pending apocalypses permitting) will find plenty to enjoy in every entry.


The Session #113: A few pub observations

The SessionThis is my contribution to this month’s Session, “Mass Observation: The Pub and The People.” Now that I have read host Boak & Bailey’s post I would give this a C-. I already knew that I would receive a lower mark because I did not anonymise (or with a z) the pub, but their report makes it clear I could have collected much more data that would be of use to a twenty-second century athropologist. They also raise the question of how the presence of an observer may affect what is being observed. For instance, there are questions I would have liked to have asked Will Gilbert, but that’s not what I was there to do.


This was not the best time to observe what might be called typical at Riley’s Pub in the Tower Grove East neighborhood of St. Louis.

During a commercial break for the Jeopardy, the TV game show everybody had come in to watch, a man found an opening at the bar and squeezed in to order two more glasses of Urban Chestnut Zwickel. “This is the busiest I’ve seen this place, like busier than the World Cup,” he said.

Urban Chestnut beers, Zwickel and STLIPA, as well as Guinness (because it was Thursday) were just $3.50 a pint, and Riley’s set out free snacks. That’s not why both rooms of the pub were full. Friends and neighbors had come to see Will Gilbert, like them a regular at Riley’s, compete on Jeopardy. Of course he was at the party, because the show is taped in advance.

A bartender at Riley's Pub tends to the tapsAt 4:15, 15 minutes before the program would start, there were still seats at the bar. They quickly disappeared by the time the bartender poured a Zwickel, a Zwickel, a Harp, another Zwickel, opened the Guinness tap, slid a can of 4 Hands City Wide across the bar and filled two glasses of water before returning finish the Guinness pour.

“Do you know Will?” one man asked as they made their way toward the less crowded second room. “I’ve played trivia with him,” said the second.

Sometimes trivia means the same thing in St. Louis as in most cities — something bars offers on a week night to attract customers. But St. Louis also has a unique trivia culture, found in churches on Saturday night (and beer is welcome). So it was a big deal when Gilbert landed a spot on Jeopardy.

Although Riley’s is sometimes grouped with other “Irish pubs” (like seemingly everywhere, St. Louis has plenty), I’d simply call it a neighborhood tavern. It’s the only commercial establishment in the immediate neighborhood. It’s the kind of place that holds fundraisers for the local high school and invites customers to sit quietly during televised political debates.

Last Thursday the draft choices were Civil Life American Brown, Civil Life Rye Pale Ale, Guinness, Smithwicks, Harp, UCBC STLIPA, UCBC Zwickel, and Schlafly Pale Ale. They don’t change very often.

When Gilbert’s picture appeared on the screen (there were two televisions in the bar area, another in the adjoining room) at 4:24 a cheer went up. The place went silent when the competition began, but low level conversations returned quickly enough. Mostly cheers followed, sometimes when he got an answer right, other times when one of his competitors got one wrong. Once in a while a chant — “Will! Will! Will!” — broke out. Wearing a T-shirt decorated with a St. Louis city flag and holding an Urban Chestnut ceramic mug Gilbert settled at one end of the bar, a step outside most of the madness.

He commented occasionally, without raising his voice, like any other afternoon when he and friends were watching the show, as they do often at Riley’s.

“This is the one, Patrick. It is your fault I didn’t know this.”

“I knew this one. I was pissed.”

He led going into Final Jeopardy (for those unfamiliar with Jeopardy, this is how it works), but got the final answer wrong. It took a moment for his friends to understood what he knew long ago. “Will! Will! Will!” they chanted, then applauded long and hard.

In the 45 minutes between the time I got a seat at the bar and Jeopardy ended I saw the bartender, sometimes with a bit of help, pour 18 glasses of Zwickel. Perhaps the price was a factor, but it was also a Zwickel sort of day, the temperature hitting 97 degrees and the heat index topping 100. She drew five glasses of Guinness, two of Schlafly Pale (plus a pitcher), two Civil Life Browns and two Rye Pale Ales, one UCBC STLIPA, and one Harp. She also handed out six bottles of Stag, three cans of City Wide, one bottle of wine (chilled in a Bud Light bucket) and one single glass, and mixed (about) six drinks made with spirits.


Session #113 announced: Pub observations

The SessionBoak & Bailey are asking bloggers to “take a notebook to a pub or bar — any one you fancy — and write a note of what you observe” for the 113th gathering of The Session (July 1).

Their inspiration is The Pub and The People, published in 1943.

What should you be looking for?

  • How many people are drinking?
  • Which beers are on tap, and which are people actually drinking?
  • What are they eating?
  • How are they passing the time?
  • What are the topics of conversation?
  • How is the pub decorated?
  • How many TVs are there and what are they showing?
  • Are there pot plants, parrots, spittoons?
  • How many smokers are there? And vapers?
  • Is there a dartboard, pool table or quiz machine, and are they in use?

And the point? “As a chaser, after your observations, write whatever you like spurred by the idea of ‘The Pub and The People’. Really, whatever you like, as vaguely related to theme as it might be. Or instead of making any observations, even.”

Monday beer links: Sahti, hyperlocal, millennials, hoplore


Sahti – What Can We Learn From a Farmhouse Brewer?
There’s a lot here. For instance: “Since house strains for baking and brewing could have been the same, I have been testing how the traditional sourdough starters ferment sahti. So far I have been able to revive one functional brewing strain from a at least decades old baking strain. This particular strain delivers surprisingly neutral malty taste. I will continue to hunt and test traditional baking strains and hopefully in future I encounter more distinctive strains.” [Via Maltainen, h/T @larsga]

Two Brewers Admit Their Methods for Haze.
On the subject of sourdough strains, the “wild” strain at Scratch Brewing in southern Illinois is in fact its sourdough starter. To use it directly means adding a bit of flour to beer, which sometimes settles out (with time) but other times does not. But I am having a problem wrapping my head around the idea of adding flour to beer for the sake of appearance. Haven’t they heard of Tanal A? [Via BeerGraphs]

We’ve seen the future, and it is hyperlocal craft beer.
This leaves me wondering how hyperlocal and the Next Big Thing coexist. “The whole craft beer market has taken on a certain Silicon Valley (or Kendall Square) vibe. You can see the parallels in Lamplighter. They’ve spent years building their product in dorm rooms and basements. Their market is young, desirable, and growing. They think their product — the sours and Brett-fermented beers — has the potential to be the Next Big Thing. And, without having tasted a drop of their beers, droves of hopeful employees are e-mailing them about job openings, happy to start at the bottom if it means a toehold in the industry. In other words, they sound like your typical new Cambridge business: a hot, young startup.” [Via Boston Globe]

Is It OK Not To Be OK With Brewery Takeovers in 2016?.
So after the hyperlocal brewery that captured your affection grows into a local brewery, then a regional brewery, and then a regional brewery big and popular enough to be acquired . . . what next? The straw man that Boak & Bailey mention, that might be me. At least sort of. I am less focused on whether the beer changes than on what happens to the local connection. [Via Boak & Bailey]

Your Handy Guide to Explain Why Millennials Are So Important to Beer.
If you don’t understand why brewing companies big enough to have marketing budgets want the attention of drinkers of prime consumption age then this is an excellent primer. Ultimately, at least we hope, there has to be more than a marketing message. And if people who have been assigned to this demographic put value on local (there’s that workd again), racial diversity, religion, gender equality, those are things that are hard to fake. [Via This Is Why I Am Drunk]

Living in Isolation: How Elitism is Alienating Macro Beer Fans.
This may be true: “Craft beer fanatics are now considered so insufferable as to have developed into a recurring punch line on television shows. Want to signal to the audience that a character is an unbearable jerk? Put a six-pack of fancy beer in his hand as he walks into the party. Worse yet, have him try and offer one of his high priced beauties to another character and then watch him get flatly rejected.” But television is not real life. And I’m not convinced that it is the “Bud bashing” that offends real people, but the whole idea that beer is so frigging important, because it isn’t to them. [Via Beer Advocate]

Hoplore, a defense of stories.
The question that Tiah Edmunson-Morton asks here isn’t that different from one journalists also need to consider. “There is a bit to pause and think about here: being a participant observer. For her that meant participating in the Agrarian hop harvest as a volunteer and being hired by Agrarian as a paid employee, but also working at Independence Heritage Festival and and doing a community survey. I often feel this same distance as an archivist working with living and evolving social, cultural, agricultural communities. I go to festivals or on tours, but I always have a certain ‘documentarian’ distance. I might attend, but as the curator of this archive do I actually participate?” I wrote about Tiah has year for DRAFT magazine, and in reporting the story I talked to Paul Eisloeffel of the Nebraska State Historical Society, who is an advocate for proactive collecting. “It is important for archivists to be able to look at what’s happening in a culture and start collecting now,” he said. But the act of collecting itself has the potential to change what happens going forward. Tricky balance. {Via thebrewstorian]

The five tribes of US wine buyers and the ROI of social media.
Are beer tribes any different? [Via Harpers]


The Session #111 recapped, #112 announced

The SessionHost Oliver Gray has recapped The Session #111 in two parts (one and two), and in the process noted that rather than calling what he was experiencing a mid-life crisis perhaps it should be called a mid-hobby crisis.

And host Carla Jean Lauter has announced the topic for The Session #112 on June 3 will be “The Other Beer Economy.”

Growing alongside of the boom of breweries are many small businesses that are supporting, or supported by the craft beer industry. Maine is now home to a malt processing facility, and several hop farms. There are multiple beer tourism-focused businesses that help connect visitors to the state’s best beer offerings. There are companies that create beer-related apparel for beer fans, some that have designed unique bottle openers and manufacture them in-state. Maine is also home to a company that manufactures and installs brewing equipment, and another whose sole mission is to clean the lines that serve up that beer to thirsty beer fans.

I would suggest that Ben Keene, managing editor at Beer Advocate, might be mining Session #112 for ideas. BA has an occasional “Will Work for Beer” feature (disclosure: I’ve written a couple) that covers basically the same territory.

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