News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 October 2017: Lost & Grounded, Guinness, Heisler

Here’s all the writing that’s entertained, educated or amused us in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from marketing disasters to beer nerds in the wild.

For Good Beer Hunting Matt Curtis profiles Bristol brewery Lost & Grounded, putting them into context in terms of both the beer scene and their place in this particular city:

Keller Pils is one of two Lagers in Lost and Grounded’s core range, which, unusually—and perhaps bravely, giving to their current popularity—for a modern British brewery, doesn’t include a single Pale Ale or IPA… [The] German-leaning styles that lead Lost and Grounded’s portfolio are joined by beers including Hop-Hand Fallacy, a Belgian-influenced Farmhouse Ale, and No Rest for Dancers, a Dubbel masquerading on tap lists as a Red Ale. Although the influences in Lost and Grounded’s beers are clear, they also each have a point of difference that sets them apart.

(We probably latched on to this piece especially because, despite having been in Bristol ourselves for several months, we’ve still only just scratched the surface of what’s going on with its beer.)


Guinness Light

This next piece was published on 3 October but we noticed it too late for last week’s round-up. It’s an extract from a memoir by marketing consultant David Gluckman who in 1974 worked with Guinness to work out why nobody wanted to drink a new product called Guinness Light that market research had promised would be a huge hit:

Everything was perhaps best explained by a single young man we interviewed in one of our focus groups in Galway. He described his first encounter with Guinness Light: “I walked into my local bar and it was decked out with Guinness Light material. It was everywhere: posters, and beer mats. There were even special Guinness Light pint glasses. It all struck a chord. I remembered seeing a TV advert for it and I decided to order a pint. It appeared in its special glass and looked pretty tasty. But as I put it to my lips a hand tapped me gently on the shoulder and a man said ‘You’re cheating. You’re drinking ladies’ Guinness.’”


A Vermont tap room.
One of Sarah Priestap’s photographs accompanying the Washington Post article.

And while we’re at it, here’s another piece from just the wrong side of last weekend: for the Washington Post Jason Wilson gives an account of a tour of Vermont breweries undertaken in the company of his beer geek brother where the obnoxiousness of the culture overwhelmed them:

We wander outside to the deck, and as we sip, a short guy in a long coat with a trimmed beard stands next to us holding forth to his significantly taller girlfriend and another couple, all of them in their 20s. “So she had a 10 percent sour double bock, and I ordered a barley wine. And I was, like, so surprised. I mean, does anyone still make a barley wine?” Ha-ha-ha-ha, they all laugh. I hear plenty of wine snobs and cocktail snobs hold forth all the time. But rarely do I get a chance to hear a beer snob in his natural habitat, peacocking in full roar. Tyler and I edge closer to eavesdrop.

“So how long have you guys been into beer?” asks the beer snob’s friend.

“Oh, at least since 2013, 2014. I mean, my dad was a beer drinker, but never anything good.” Yuengling is his dad’s favorite beer. “I mean, Yuengling is okayyy … if there’s nothing else in the fridge.” Chuckles all around. “I mean, they use caramel malt, but at least you can drink it and not be repulsed.” More chuckles.

We’re including this piece beacause it’s nicely written, not because we agree with it, by the way. So often, these articles about the ‘winefication of beer’ are written remotely — hacked together listicles or Hot Takes — and this piece benefits from field reporting and the personal angle. Having said that, it still reads to us like two judgemental beer nerds being judgemental about other beer nerds. But perhaps that’s the joke.


1950s TV.

We first spotted the fictional Heisler beer in an episode of My Name is Earl about a decade ago and have been fascinated by it. For Draft magazine Zach Fowle investigates the Hollywood prop house that makes not only Heisler but also Cerveza Clare, Pensburg and the classic Premium Light:

Real-world breweries pay big bucks to have their brands represented on-screen—it cost Heineken a reported $45 million to get James Bond to forego his trademark vodka martini for one of the brewery’s stubby green bottles in the 2012 movie Skyfall. But even if the money behind product placement is substantial, it’s often more trouble than it’s worth. That’s because beer—which has been known, on occasion, to get people drunk and do silly things—is often used as a plot device that breweries might not approve of…


A nice little story: a few months ago we watched a conversation unfold on Twitter about the beer being pulled in an archive photo of the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh — what was Leith Heavy, and how might someone go about reviving it? Last week author Ian Rankin pulled the first pint of a version of the beer brewed by Steven Hope with the blessing of the original brewer’s daughter.


A thought-provoking nugget: on the one hand, we have bigger breweries aping the look and feel of ‘craft’; on the other, there are small American breweries trying to evoke the everyman appeal of ‘macro’. The lines are grow ever more blurred.


Brewery takeover news: Western Australian brewery Feral has been acquired by Coca-Cola Amatil, a major soft drinks manufacturer which bottles Coke in Asia and the region. (Via The Crafty Pint.)


And finally, via Twitter, a new craft brewing manifesto from Denmark:

The Mainstreaming of Grapefruit Beer

Grapefruit from a 1953 US government publication.

Back in 2013 the idea of putting actual grapefruit into beer seemed quite hilarious — a stunt, a play on the grapefruit character of certain hop varieties.

But somehow, probably because it filled a gap in the market between alcopop and Serious Beer, it stuck and became a craft beer staple. (Definition 2.) Now it’s even made its way out of that walled community so that in 2017 it seems easier to get a grapefruit beer than a pint of mild.

BrewDog Elvis Juice, a grapefruit boosted IPA first launched in 2016, is in almost every supermarket in the land — even the funny little ones that otherwise only sell bog roll and sandwiches — at less than £2 a bottle. We weren’t sure if we liked it at first — “Eugh! It’s like someone’s put a splash of Robinson’s squash in it.” — but somehow it keeps ending up in the fridge, and keeps getting drunk. It’s got a palate cleansing quality, or perhaps palate defibrillating would be more accurate, and there’s just something fun about it. That the base IPA is good in its own right doesn’t hurt.

Adnams/M&S grapefruit IPA
SOURCE: M&S website

Out in West Cornwall we didn’t have easy access to Marks & Spencer so missed out on some of the fun of their revitalised beer range. Here in Bristol it’s much easier to grab the odd can or bottle while we’re out and about which is how we came to try the Grapefruit session IPA brewed for them by Adnams and available at £2 for 330ml, or less as part of multibuy offers. Would we have identified it as an Adnams beer if we’d tasted it blind? Probably not, but it does have some of their signature funk. It’s not thrilling or brainbending, just a decent pale ale with a twist. We’d probably rather drink Ghost Ship but perhaps, as with Elvis Juice, we just need to get to know it a little better.

Theakston Pink Grapefruit Ale
SOURCE: Theakston website.

And, finally, the one that really surprised us: the latest Wetherspoon’s ale festival includes a pink grapefruit ale from, of all breweries, Theakston. It is perhaps the most exciting Theakston beer we’ve ever had, a classic northern pale-n-hoppy whose tropical fruitiness is like the bold lining on a classically tailored jacket, glimpsed in passing rather than right upfront. But, after the fact, we discovered something funny: unless we’re missing a detail in the small print, despite the word grapefruit in the name and pictures of them on the pumpclip, this effect is achieved entirely with… hops. A relatively new, obscure variety called Sussex, according to the Theakston website.

Does all this take us nearer to Craftmaggedon, when the last of the cask Best Bitters shall be cast into the pit and we will face the sea of darkness and all therein that may be explored? Or is just another variable for brewers to play with? It’s the latter, obviously. The beers above stand out in the context of Wetherspoon pubs or supermarket shelves but still represent only the very tiniest proportion of products on the market.

Dead Fox

From the Western Daily Press, 8 October 1975:

The Old Fox, Bristol’s newest old pub or oldest new pub, will be officially opened this afternoon, but the trouble is no one knows exactly how old it is… The people from CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, whose laudable ambition is to keep alive the taste for beer from the wood, bought The Old Fox in Fox Road, Eastville, when it was due for demolition… And so far they have traced it back to 1758 when it was mentioned as being up for sale.

Landlord Peter Bull… with his wife Sylvia will be serving devotees with pints of strange sounding brews like Six X, Brakspears beers and South Wales United… Architect Edward Potter has created a pleasantly archaic black and white interior, a world away from rustic brick and plastic horse brasses and workmen put the final touches to his £25,000 renovation scheme yesterday.

Peter Bull.

From ‘All Things to All Men’, Financial Times, 7 April 1976:

The Old Fox, overlooking a dual-carriageway cut and a scrap-yard, may not be everyone’s idea of smart pub decor, but at least it is worth it for the quality of some of the beer it sells. It also reflects some of the tolerance traditionally shown in this most tolerant of cities.



From What’s Brewing, February 1982:

[The] Old Fox Inn in Bristol, one of [CAMRA Investments] smaller and less profitable houses, has been sold to Burton brewers Marstons for £120,000. It was felt to be badly sited in a city had many free houses… Investments managing director, Christopher Hutt, denied suggestions that the company was deliberately drawing back from being a national chain of free houses into a South East/East Anglia/East Midlands firm.


You can read more about the story of CAMRA Real Ale Investments in Brew Britannia and about the history of the Old Fox in this blog post by pub historian Andrew Swift.

Some Beer Writing Not By Beer Writers

We don’t often write book reviews these days but two newly published volumes from outside the bubble grabbed our attention.

The first is One for the Road: an anthology of pubs and poetry edited by Helen Mort and Stuart Maconie, and published by smith|doorstop at £10. It’s a large format paperback with about 130 pages of real content, author bios and indexing aside, and the bulk of that is poetry. Once upon a time we might have been able to provide some meaningful critical commentary but those muscles have all seized so we’ll just say that, in general, most are closer to pop ballads than T.S. Eliot. Which is to say, they make obvious sense, often rhyme, and are on the whole fairly unpretentious.

Book cover: One for the Road

They’re organised into four categories by theme although the majority seem to share a certain nostalgic, lamenting poignancy. One poem by Carole Bromley is called ‘All the Pubs Where We Used to Drink are Sinking’; another, by Alicia Stubbersfield, is entitled ‘Calling Time at the Bull’s Head’:

The Bull’s Head has gone. Now offices to let,
a bleak image on a ‘lost pubs’ website.
No mark on its old walls to say — here
my grandfather died his very Scottish death:
a whisky chaser undrunk before the heart attack.

The prose pieces close each section and include, for example, an extract from Mark Hailwood’s 2014 academic book on alehouses and Stuart Maconie’s portrait of the famous Buffet Bar at Stalybridge Station:

‘Now then, sir, the barman begins apologetically, if you’ve come for our infamous black peas’ — this is a northern delicacy, often enjoyed around bonfire night and delicious in a Dickensian sort of way — ‘then I have to tell you that they haven’t really been soaking for long enough yet. I can offer you a hot pork pie from Saddleworth and mushy peas though, and after that perhaps some home-made pudding.’

What this book is made for — where it would be perfect — is the kind of distracted dipping in and out you might do while sitting on your own in the corner of a pub, where there’s usually too much going on to concentrate on a novel, but where you might find yourself in a state of sufficient dreaminess to appreciate a poem even if you usually don’t. Especially if it’s about crisps and ale and merry departed drunks.

* * *

The second book is Know Your Place: essays on working class culture by the working class, a crowdfunded collection from Dead Ink books edited by Nathan Connolly, RRP £15.99. (Disclosure, we guess: we backed this one on Kickstarter, so the opposite of a freebie.)

Book cover: Know Your Place.

It’s a hardback with about 200 pages of real substance, its cover designed to resemble a beer label. There’s actually only one essay expressly on the subject of pubs, ‘The Death of a Pub’ by Dominic Grace, a playwright from Leeds. As you might guess from the title, which deliberately or otherwise echoes Christopher Hutt, it tends to the same kind of bitter nostalgia as the poems discussed above:

We’re losing living, breathing, vibrant cells in the body of our country… Government has done little to reverse this loss, perhaps seeing no merits in a working class that is in touch with itself and can feel not just its muscles but sense the power that resides within itself. Meanwhile, heritage and preservation industries in the UK are worth millions and employ thousands, but the heritage they wish to preserve has nothing to do with the cultural endowment resting in the reservoir of working class communities. Instead, it concerns itself mainly with the houses of the aristocracy…

Grace argues for the pub as the anti-safe-space where you might get ‘called names’ and revels in the ribaldry and naughtiness of working class pubs at full throttle. He recalls, too, the first moment he realised middle class people also went to pubs on an expedition to north Leeds: ‘Everyone else in the pub, bar none, was better looking than us.’

It’s very much a piece about feelings and experience rather than cautious, evidenced analysis (ahem, hello) but there is room for both types of writing, taken on their own terms, and anyone with an interest in pubs and society will want to read it. Whether it justifies the purchase of an entire book will depend on whether your engagement in the politics of working class life goes beyond the boozer.

* * *

Perhaps there’s something significant in the fact that these two books have arrived now, without any of the usual Beer Writing names or faces attached, and from people who see beer and pubs not as the be-all-and-end-all, but as part of a bigger picture. After all, pubs barely feature in any of the other essays in Know Your Place — a reminder that, despite Dominic Grace’s observation that pubs are a literary and filmic signifier of working classness, they’re not necessarily as integral as we monomaniacs might imagine.

Magical Mystery Pour #32: Gun Brewery Zamzama IPA

This is the last of the mini-series of Sussex beers from a selection suggested by Rach Smith of Look at Brew (@lookatbrew) and it’s a 6.5% IPA.

We bought our can of Zamzama online from South Down Cellars for £2.70 plus delivery and it has been sat in our fridge since arriving a couple of months ago. Rach says:

Gun beers have become some of my favourites over the past couple of years, not just among Sussex beers, but overall. I think the Sussex spring water that’s used may help with that! The modern and often creative beers are flying the flag for contemporary Sussex brews and breaking out of the region. This is the boldest beer in the core range, and drinks with a huge profile of pineapple, mango and lychee, with a spicy kick and toffee to round it all off.

Zamzama IPA in the glass.

It came out of the can a slightly hazy gold, throwing up a lot of enticing orange peel aroma, and with plenty of carbonation. (See photo above.) Pouring what was left in the can nudged it from hazy to cloudy but didn’t seem to much change the flavour.

Rach mentioned pineapple, mango and lychee; our first gulps suggested passion fruit. But in the world of tasting notes, same difference, really. Sweet, vibrant, sticky tropical fruit is the point.

We were delighted by how clean it tasted — no staleness, no cardboard, not a wheelbarrow full of muddy onions, just a lot of Jaffa Cake jelly and jam, balanced by a rye bread bitterness in the background. Cans can be a lottery but this time it worked.

It’s perhaps more of a 2010 beer than a 2017 one — the kind of thing we remember drinking at The Rake in Borough Market in the form of expensive American imports — but that’s fine by us.

It is sweet and Ribena-like, though, and we’d perhaps like a touch more bitterness, but that’s not a fault, just a preference.

If you like juicy, fruity, Technicolor beers but find too many of the most feted examples excessively dirty and savoury, as we do, then consider giving this one a go.

We’d like to thank Rach again for choosing beers and providing notes, and apologise for having made a bit of mess of the buying process. We’re going to think about who to invite next but have a few ideas bubbling away already.