Where Can We Buy Your Beer?

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

With (give or take — counts vary) something like 1,600 breweries currently operating in the UK a common complaint is the difficulty for smaller operators of getting those beers to consumers.

Big pub companies, chains and supermarkets dominate the market, buying beer from a chosen few breweries willing to meet their demanding terms. In many regions one or two large players (e.g. St Austell) control many of the pubs leaving a fistful of freehouses to fight over. And, so we gather from interviews and off-the-record chat, new small breweries can sometimes find themselves muscled out by better-established players of more or less the same size.

Yesterday we got involved in some Twitter chat about beer from Devon (there’s a poll, actually, if you feel like voting) and a version of what seems to us to be a common conversation unfurled. To paraphrase:

A: There’s no good beer in [PLACE]!

B: Yes there is — breweries X, Y and Z are awesome!

A: But I’ve never actually seen those beers for sale anywhere.

B: Ah.

In this context we’re beginning to think the single most important bit of information a small brewery can share is intelligence on where we can actually buy their beer, if it’s anything other than fairly ubiquitous.

It might be in the farmers’ market in Fulchester every third Sunday of the month; it might be in the delicatessen in Dufton; the bottle shop in Barchester; or the Coach & Horses in Casterbridge. We will go out of our way (a bit) to find a beer that sounds interesting, or to try something new on our beat, but we need a few hints, ideally without having to email or direct message the brewery. (And sometimes, even when we do that, we get ‘No idea, sorry’, or ‘It’s should be in a few pubs round Borsetshire this month’.)

A daily updated page on the brewery website, Facebook page or Twitter would probably work best.

We certainly appreciate that in the case of cask ale, even if a brewery knows a pub has taken delivery, it can be hard to say exactly when it’s going to go on or, equally, if it’s already sold out. Even so, wouldn’t a quick exchange of info between publican and brewer — a text message or social media nudge — be mutually beneficial here?

But perhaps there are good reasons why this doesn’t often seem to happen.

In the meantime, if you don’t know where your beer is on sale, and can’t tell people who want to buy it, then it almost might as well not exist.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 13 August 2017: Steel, Skittles, Sexism

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from dwile-flonking to brewery takeovers.

For the BBC David Gilyeat returns to a favourite silly season topic: traditional pub games. There’s nothing especially new here but it’s an entertaining round-up that draws on the expertise of, among others, Arthur Taylor, whose book on the subject is definitive:

Arthur Taylor, author of Played at the Pub, suggests Aunt Sally – which is played in Oxfordshire and parts of Buckinghamshire – has rather grisly origins.

‘It can be traced back to a barbarous business called “throwing at cocks”, when you threw sticks at a cock tethered to a post that if you killed you took home,’ he says.

‘What was barbarous turned into something that wasn’t, and the cock became a coconut shy… and eventually it became the game we know.’


Thornbridge, 2013.

For Good Beer Hunting Oliver Gray has investigated the manufacturing and sales of stainless steel brewing kit, much of which originates in China, even if the vendors might like buyers to think otherwise:

Chinese steel producers like Jinfu have begun establishing ‘reseller’ companies that sell their goods under different names. One such company, Crusader Kegs & Casks LTD, works out of Rushden, England, and was on site at CBC 2017. At quick glance, one would have no idea they weren’t selling British kegs. The capital U in the name is a St. George’s flag kite shield, and the reverse side of their business cards have a sword-wielding, armor-clad Templar, almost like they’re trying really, really hard to ensure they look as ‘British’ as possible.

There are plenty of other disconcerting details in the story which is a great example of the kind of insight generated by asking awkward questions.

(GBH has connections with AB-InBev/ZX Ventures; provides marketing/consultancy services to smaller breweries; and has also been one of our $2-a-month Patreon sponsors since May.)


Macro image: 'Hops' with illustration of hop cones, 1970s.

There’s some spectacular hop-nerdiness from Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer: a new study suggests that first-wort hopping makes no difference to the quality of the bitterness in the final beer. But many brewers disagree:

Fritz Tauscher at Krone-Brauerei in Tettnang, Germany, uses a slightly different process. He adds 60 to 70 percent of his hops as he lauters wort into the brewing kettle…. He explained that initially he added all his first wort hops (what he calls ‘ground hopping’) in one dose. ‘I thought the bitterness was not so good,’ he said. He opened his right hand, put it to his chin and slid it down his throat to his clavicle, tracking the path a beer would take. ‘It was, I’m not sure how you say it in English, adstringierend.’ No translation was necessary.


Beer is Best poster, 1937 (detail)

This is exciting news, brought to us by Martyn Cornell: the classic British ten-sided pint glass is back in production, and available at pub- and consumer-friendly prices. We look forward to drinking, say, Fuller’s London Porter from them in a proper pub at some point in the not too distant future.


Takeover news: Constellation Brands has acquired Florida’s Funky Buddha brewery, adding it to a portfolio which already includes Ballast Point. (Via Brewbound.)


GBBF controversy: in an open letter Manchester’s Marble Brewing has alleged that the local CAMRA branch effectively prevented their beers appearing at the Great British Beer Festival, suggesting that a dispute over an incident of sexist behaviour might be the cause. CAMRA head office has confirmed it is investigating the issues raised. (But don’t read too much into that statement.)


And finally @nickiquote has found the moment where Doctor Who and the real ale craze intersected:

Updated 14.o8.2017 15:29 — the disclosure statement for the GBH article has been amended at GBH’s request.

Breaking out of the Rut

Illustration: moody London pub.

It’s easy to end up drinking the same beers, and going to the same pubs and bars, and feel miserable about it. But there are ways to break free.

1. Walk down a new street or visit a new town and go into the first pub you walk past after a certain hour. (Don’t cheat.)

2. Or go to every single pub in a neighbourhood, town or village, however weird or unpromising.

3. Buy an old guide book and visit the pubs it recommends, or take on a famous historic crawl.

4. Drink your way through a list of beers from a book or listicle.

5. Get someone else to choose beers for you.

6. Drink every beer you can find in a particular style, from a particular region, or that meet some other criteria – ABV, colour, Christmas themed…

7. Critically revisit beers you know you don’t like but haven’t tried in years. After all, they change, and you change too.

8. Spend a month drinking things other than beer, but with beer in mind.

There are lots of other ways to go about this kind of thing. The point is, like writing poetry using restrictive rules, or cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats, it should be sort of pointless… But not really.

You might hate all the new pubs you go in and beers you taste, or you might find new favourites you kick yourself for having missed out on for so long. Even the duds will teach you something.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 05 August 2017: Anchor, ‘Arf Pints, Amsterdam

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week, from a very significant big brewery takeover to a bunch of priests on the lash.

The big news this week — really big news — was the takeover of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing by Sapporo of Japan. Depending how you look at it, Anchor has a claim to being patient zero in the craft beer boom of the past half-century, and so this does go a bit beyond just another takeover. There’s been lots of analysis but our favourite piece is by a local writer, Esther Mobley, for the San Francisco Chronicle:

In San Francisco, the emotional stakes are especially high when it comes to Anchor. Not only is it our brewery — our first, our signature — but it’s America’s original craft beer. It’s an icon of independence, and has seemed, at least we thought, large and established enough to be insulated from the pressures that have forced others to sell.


In De Wildeman

For Left Lion Benedict Cooper has written a wonderful account of his pilgrimage from an English pub to its twin in Continental Europe:

I’ve been in the Poacher I prefer not to recall how many times, but I’d never noticed the brass plaque on one of the walls until one slow, winter evening this year. Sitting at the long table, I found myself reading:

The Lincolnshire Poacher
Nottingham, England
Twinned with
In De Wildeman
Amsterdam, Netherlands

It feels as if more pubs ought to be twinned — does anyone know of others?


Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Alec Latham has been pondering again: why is it, he asks, that a half-pint glass full of beer feels like much less than half a pint of beer?

[A] pint goes down in gradations as you nurse it and watch the level of others’ if you’re in company.

A half should stretch to fifty per cent of that time but seems like several mouthfuls. Half a pint – the reality – doesn’t last as long as half a pint – the notion. In other words, a half isn’t as much as half of a pint. Do you follow?

Maybe that’s why it’s often prefixed with ‘swift’.


The Gaping Goose, Leeds.

Richard Coldwell revisited a once favourite pub only to be dismayed at the changes it had undergone, prompting some reflection on how fragile the unique identities of pubs, beers and neighbourhoods can be:

There’s plenty other pubs who laid claim to have sold the best Tetley’s in Leeds. In fact depending on who you talk to, everyone will have their own idea, but that’s life for you. If you’ve never experienced Joshua Tetley’s Bitter, the real mccoy, then you’ve never lived. A smooth, creamy pint of beer that created a plimsoll type gauge down the glass denoting the length of each slurp. The creaminess was created by the autovac system that recirculated the beer back into the beer engine as it overflowed from the glass into the trough like drip tray. I’ve read a lot about people’s thoughts on autovacs, mostly from the kind of folk with that modern OCD based, you’ve just touched someone wash your hands, wash them again, turn round three times to the left, jump to the right and you won’t catch any germs kind of attitude; recycled beer never did me any harm.


This is a classic silly season story but irresistible nonetheless, not least because of the pure Father Ted-ness of it all: a Cardiff pub this week attempted to eject a party of priests having mistaken them for a costume-wearing stag party.


A couple of other bits of news, just for the record: the Craft Beer Co, which owns pubs across London and (a bit) beyond, has quietly closed its Clapham branch; and Purecraft has closed its Nottingham branch. Not evidence of a crisis, we don’t think, so much as pragmatic business decisions. But, still.


And, finally, the customary pick of the Tweets to sign off:

20th Century Pub

The cover of 20th Century Pub.

Right, so it’s finally real — we have hard copies of the new book, as handed over in a Bristol pub last night in a vaguely cloak-and-dagger exchange.

The idea behind the book is that it tells the story of how pubs changed and developed between 1900 and the present via inter-war improved pubs, post-war estate pubs, theme pubs, Irish pubs, gastropubs, micropubs, and so on. The tone is similar to Brew Britannia with perhaps a little more flair in the prose — we’ve had three years extra practice, after all.

You can pre-order from Amazon UK now as well as various other places (list below). The official publication date is 15 September but it’s likely to go out earlier than that.

Detail of one of the illustrations.
Detail from a 1955 illustration by Clarke Hutton, securing the rights to which took considerable detective work on Jo’s part.

And (fingers crossed) it should also be available at the Great British Beer Festival bookshop next week. Assuming all goes to plan, we’ll be there signing copies on Tuesday afternoon (trade day) at around 1:30, and will be hanging about until about 7pm in case anyone misses that organised signing session. Come and say hello!

Chapter header.
Dale Tomlinson, the designer, is a type nerd.

It’s a very pretty book, if we do say so ourselves — bright, tactile, with lots of crisp black-and-white photos, both from the archives and taken by us on our travels during 2015-2017. We’re delighted to say that some of the illustrations we most wanted to include made the cut after much detective work and bargaining by Joanna Copestick at Homewood Press.

Detail from a mock advertisement by Nick Tolson.
Nick Tolson gave us permission to reproduce this mock advertisement from Viz comic as an easter egg on the inside rear cover.

Here’s that list of suppliers we know of so far:

Or, if you want a signed copy sent by post, drop us a line (contact@boakandbailey.com) and we’ll see what we can do.