News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island

Pub sign: 'Bass on Draught'.

There’s been plenty of good reading this week from intelligence on the latest AB-InBev manoeuvring  to memories of 1970s Sheffield via a Sober Island.

First, the news headlines: AB-InBev have taken over Spanish brewery Cervezas La Virgen, as reported by Joan Villar-i-Martí at Birraire:

A rather peculiar move, in my opinion, if we compare it to the Belgian brewing giant’s recent operations, especially in Europe… La Virgen was born as a product designed for the Madrid market, and until a year ago it was basically focused on it. As a company, it has never quite been in the circles of the national craft movement, appearing in few festivals and without a significant presence in specialised bars. On the contrary, it has successfully penetrated the market with a craft-labelled product that delivers a similar experience to the ‘usual’ beers.


Fishing boats on Sober Island.
‘Sober Island’ By Dennis Jarvis from Flickr under Creative Commons.

For Mel magazine Angela Chapin gives an account of the dispute over the name and location of Sober Island brewery, which is not currently brewing on Sober Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, as the name might suggest:

One of the locals most excited about her plan was [Rebecca Atkinson’s] friend Trevor Munroe. He and his wife run an oyster farm on Sober Island, and the 43-year-old thought the brewery would be great for the community. Not to mention, it was to be a mutually beneficial relationship: Munroe wanted to help Atkinson find land; she wanted to use his oysters in her beer. Better yet, they planned to team up to attract tourists to the island with tours that would end with cold beer and fresh oysters… But the relationship began to sour when Atkinson delayed the construction of the brewery and started brewing beer at her mom’s place instead.

The story highlights all kinds of issues around provenance, marketing, and the meaning of local — is Atkinson exploiting the island’s quirky name or is she sincere in her stated intent to eventually move production there?

(Via @PivniFilosof.)


Pt. Bonita lager can with Ruhstaller's in the background.

We haven’t bothered with a dedicated predictions post this New Year but Richard Taylor‘s for The Beercast look pretty smart to us: bigger cans, packs of beer designed for blending and hops in drinks other than beer all sound highly likely, and not at all unappealing.


Birkenhead Lager.

Meanwhile, still looking back to 2016, Phil Cook provides an interesting summary of what’s been going on in the New Zealand beer scene:

I don’t believe for a minute that we have ‘too many breweries’ — but I often suspect we do have too many companies with a shortage of anything-much interesting to offer and an oversupply of confident opportunism that leads them to gracelessly try to run before they know how to walk. Birkenhead started out by shamelessly lifting the logotype of the more-familiar-BBC and awkwardly dressed their beers in Māori imagery before equally-awkwardly removing it. The labels are full of clunky historical and geographical irrelevancies that talk up a heritage they don’t have and only mention the beer itself in agonisingly shallow terms. The whole business model seems to hinge hugely on leveraging ‘brand NZ’ and flogging beer in China…


Tetley sign, Sheffield.

A real highlight of the week for us was Frank Curtis’s memoir of drinking and working in Sheffield pubs in the 1970s, written for Total Ales. It’s full of small details and vignettes and makes us wish everyone would take a minute to record their memories, even if they might not seem significant in the bigger picture. This is the kind of thing that too easily gets forgotten:

I still remember my very first shift in the lounge bar of The Beehive. The landlord had spent hours teaching me how to serve a full pint with a tight, creamy head, forced through a sparkler – the only way his customers would accept it he assured me. He then made me practice on the other students in the saloon bar for days before I was exposed to the elite customers next door. My first order in the lounge bar came from a group of seven ‘middle managers’ – all wearing collar and tie – from the Sheffield steel works. ‘Seven pints o’ Tetley’s please’ was the order. My serving technique was scrutinised closely and rewarded with the comment ‘not bad for a student’. The group then proceeded to order a further six rounds of seven pints each, over the course of about an hour, then all left together.


Beer style guide 1901

For The Malting Floor Claudia Asch reflects on beer styles, awards programmes and the dialogue between brewer and customer:

One of my favourite style-related stories is perhaps the tale of Fuller’s Extra Special Bitter. Introduced in 1971, it has since won many accolades, including a Gold medal at the 2006 World Beer Cup. Four years later, at that very same competition, the same beer was ‘disqualified… as not being to style (p. 134).’ The mind boggles. Fullers is ESB, ESB is Fullers. A glimpse into the absurdity of style management.


Craftwork point of sale materials at Wetherspoon's.

It turns out, as Jeff Alworth at Beervana reports, that market analysts are already distinguishing between beers that are ‘true craft’ and ‘mass craft’:

 Within the craft segment (however you define it), there are emerging sub-segments. The vast majority of craft beer is still just a few brands–Lagunitas IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Blue Moon and so on… There are millions of barrels of interest in what beer geeks now deem boring beer. If a brewery wants to appeal to this, ahem, mass market within the craft segment, they can’t hope to do it with a brett-aged saison.


Growlers from Zach Fowle's collection.

Just as UK bottle shops and bars have started to install growler-filling machines for takeaway draught beer comes news from Zach Fowle at Draft that in the US that trend is, like, so totally over:

‘A growler is just a big glass, essentially, and I don’t think drinkers know that,’ [Chris] Quinn says. ‘Brewers can put a tag on the glass saying ‘drink within 48 hours’ and so on, which I think is good, but I think that people still consider growlers to be as good as bottles—and maybe even better, since they got them right from the source. But if you think there’s no difference, open up five bottles or cans of a beer, put them in your fridge, and just drink through them one by one. That’s essentially what you’re doing with a growler. Is that fifth beer going to be as good as the first, even if it’s kept in a fridge?’


And, finally, here’s one of the best of this week’s #PubPhotos as provided by Nicci Peet who set us off on this train of thought in the first place:

6 thoughts on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island”

  1. The first sentence of Frank Curtis’s piece was interesting . His first pint was 2/8 in 1970. The first pint I ever bought was in the now-lost White Hart in Penzance in, I think, 1973. It was 14p, or 2/8 in old money.
    Given three years of inflation, I wouldn’t have expected beer in Yorkshire to have been more expensive than in West Cornwall.

    1. His first pint was in rural Lincolnshire. Village pubs often have so little competition they can charge price that seems excessive in local towns.

      1. Serves me right for not reading on.
        I suspect your analysis is right but I wouldn’t have thought rural Lincs was a high income area so licensees choose a higher margin over potentially higher turnover. The same phenomenon is very evident in Southern Ireland.
        I wonder how much this has contributed to rural pub closures?
        Going back to Penzance, the average price for cask beer now seems to be around £3.4o (other than Spoons). Given local incomes, this again seems pretty short sighted, especially now that the big Pubcos are no longer dominant in the area.

        1. Speaking of beer of Beer designed for blending; what are the blending possibilities of The 100ml bottles of Brewdog Hop Shot.
          Potential for perking up less interesting beers or even one of your infamous Orval blends: Hop Shval / Orshot anyone!

      2. Given the rate of closure of village pubs I’d suggest it’s more a factor of weak demand, so they have to spread their fixed costs over fewer pints. Cutting prices by 20p might halve their net profit, but not double sales, so there’s no point doing it.

        Also they have higher costs – for instance having to pay staff more to allow them to maintain their own transport, as they won’t have the option of walking/bussing to work.

  2. Sorry, don’t get this. How would cutting prices by 20p halve net profit, given typical cash margin?
    Plus in my experience licensees don’t analyse fixed vs variable costs. If you respond to weak demand by raising prices without some other improvements to your offer, that way bankruptcy lies.
    Nor do I have any experience of rural staff being paid more, though I guess it depends on our definitions of rural.
    In my example of a town like Penzance, staff I’m sure can walk or have other options.

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