Category Archives: Blogging and writing

The Month That Was August 2014

The Lugger Inn, Polruan.
The Lugger Inn, Polruan, Cornwall, for no particular reason other than that we drank there in August.

It seems we were among those ‘covering the office’ while the Blogoshire went on summer recess. Here are the highlights of our 22 proper posts from the last month:

→ Our most commented-on post ever, bizarrely, was this piece highlighting something interesting Matt ‘Total’ Curtis had said about Wetherspoon’s American collaboration brews.

→ The pub isn’t everything: drinking at home has played a vital part in the ‘rebirth of British beer’.

→ Our contribution to the weekend’s #beerylongreads jamboree (round-up here) was a 1800 word piece on tensions between old and new at the Spingo brewery, Helston, Cornwall.

Read the rest after the jump →

Beery Long Reads, August 2014

These are all the responses to our call to ‘go long’ that we know about so far. If we missed yours, comment below, and we’ll add any stragglers to this list and when we find out about them either in the comments below or through Twitter.

Bulimba Gold Top

A Brief History of Bulimba Gold Top

by Drunken Speculation (@DrunkSpec)

[This] is the abridged history of a local beer that was discontinued before I was born but holds my interest for reasons I can’t quite fathom. It might be the notion of brewing beer in Brisbane’s inner riverside suburbs, something that has only recently become a thing again. It might be the romantic filter through which I view late nineteenth century Brisbane. It might just be the name: Bulimba Gold Top.

[Read more at Drunken Speculation...]

Bolivian Flag (detail)
Cerveza at 11,000 feet in Bolivia

by Brewolero

My first arrival to La Paz made for a weird epiphany, but a revelation nonetheless. Of course, head-pounding and dehydrated is not quite a state of mind that screams for beer. Nonetheless, we headed for what to any beer-minded person was the promisingly-named Adventure Brew Hostel, although the cranky oldhead lurking in me was a tad wary.

[Read more at Brewolero...]


Beer in Lille.
Lille: a Beer Odyssey and Much More

by Justin Mason (@1970sBOY)

I suspect that many of you, as I have done, gazed uninterestedly out of the window as your Eurostar train pulled into Lille station, a seemingly unnecessary stop on your way to Brussels and maybe beyond, with your head full of all the good things that Belgium, where beer is almost a religion, will have in store for you.

[Read more at Get Beer, Drink Beer...]

London Beer City.
London Beer People

by Matthew Curtis (@TotalCurtis)

What London beer city did was create an environment that made beer more accessible to everyone else. I watched onlookers, stragglers and casual passers by not only stop and look what was going on but wander in and start a beer journey of their very own.

[Read more at Total Ales...]

Brewdog beers.
Interview with Baron Dickie of Ellon

by Matthew Lawrenson (@seethelizards)

Article taken from telegraph.com (3rd March 2034): Viewing Lord Dickie today, it’s hard to imagine him as the flat-cap wearing firebrand enfant-terrible of British Brewing. Reposing on an antique Chesterfield, dressed head-to-toe in tweed, he looks every inch the middle-aged Scottish country gent.

[Read more at Seeing the Lizards]

BeerBud
BeerBud Beer Club

by Glen Humphries (@26bear)

Unlike a number of other journos, I didn’t bother writing anything for the paper because I knew it was nothing special. I knew the media release headline “Aussie barons brew ale revolution” was simply not true.

[Read more at Beer is Your Friend...]

Vintage beer glass illustration.
Who Will Save the Idea of Craft Beer?

by Alan McCormick (@GrowlerFills)

Papazian is exactly right. A craft brewer is a subjective idea, something nebulous left to each of us to define as relates to our own experiences and values. But Papazian’s organization defines it anyway.

[Read more at Growler Fills...]

Hop farming in Idaho.
Farming Hops, Idaho Style

by Stan Hieronymus (@StanHieronymus)

This was by no means a deluge. You could almost count the early morning raindrops hitting the tent roof. There’s one where Orion would be located, a couple by the Big Dipper. Rain and wind can be a very bad thing at a hop farm this time of year. A few days earlier rain and wind in Washington and southern Idaho had knocked down about 140 acres of hop trellises.

[Read more at Appellation Beer...]

Some beer books that we've used for research.
Recommended Brewing History Books

by Ed Wray (@TheBeerFather)

Back in May when Chris Marchbanks gave a talk on brewing history he gave out a list of books he recommended. Here’s the list with comments and some suggestions of my own. I’ve provided links for the books which in some cases link will take you to the complete book online, in others it’s to an online retailer. Some of the books are dirt cheap and some are dead expensive.

[Read more at Ed's Beer Site...]

Gareth (left) and Tim, at the brewery door.
Mellow Brown vs. the Amarillo Kid?

by Boak & Bailey (@boakandbailey)

The tension between new world and old school is being played out at Spingo Ales in sleepy Helston, Cornwall, but which side has the upper hand?

[Read more...]

ADDED 31/08/2014

James Watt of Brewdog.
Interview with BrewDog’s James Watt

by Chris Hall (@cshallwriter)

I asked various Beer People I know what they would ask BrewDog if they had the same chance as me… What follows is a series of questions put to James Watt on Friday 22 August, some from me, some from other people.

[Read more at the Beer Diary...]

Upper Hudson Valley Beer cover (detail)
Upper Hudson Beer From 1700 to 1750

by Alan McLeod (@agoodbeerblog)

On February 15, 1700, one of the church’s poor died. She was Ryseck, the widow of Gerrit Swart… There were more than a few expenses in addition to the cost of the coffin and the fee paid Hendrick Roseboom, the doodgraver. In addition to 150 sugar cakes and sufficient tobacco and pipes… twenty-seven guilders were paid by the congregation for a half vat and an anker of good beer.

[Read more at A Good Beer Blog...]

old_ale_vs_new_1024

Mellow Brown vs. the Amarillo Kid?

The tension between new world and old school is being played out at Spingo Ales in sleepy Helston, Cornwall, but which side has the upper hand?

A brewery has operated from the rear of the Blue Anchor, a rambling granite-built pub on Helston’s main drag, since at least the turn of the 20th century, and to say it has a cult reputation among enthusiasts of traditional British beer would be an understatement.

It was as we were winding up an afternoon drinking session that we first met the head brewer, Tim Sears, in the back yard of the pub and asked whether he would mind telling us which variety of hops were used in Spingo Jubilee IPA. (We were obsessing over East Kent Goldings at the time.)

“Amarillo,” he said, with a just-noticeable curl of his lip.

An American variety noted for its pungent pop-art tangerine aroma, Amarillo was first released to the market in 2000. There are pint glasses at the Blue Anchor that have been in service longer.

“That’s Gareth’s doing,” he continued. “He’s the brewery manager. See those sacks of spent hops?” He pointed to a corner by the gents’ toilets. “That little one’s mine; his is overflowing! I tell him he uses too many.”

“Fascinating,” we thought, Spock-like.

A few weeks later, we got hold of Tim’s email address and explained that we were interested in finding out more. “Tension is a bit strong!” he replied, “but I know what you mean.” And so, on a paint-peelingly hot afternoon in July, Bailey took a trip to the brewery.

* * *

Poster for the Bruges Beer Festival at the Blue Anchor.
Poster for the Bruges Beer Festival at the Blue Anchor.

As he lives in Penzance, Tim agreed to pick me up and save me a bus fare, “As long as you don’t mind me smoking and Dutch music… Gezondheid, tot dinsdag!”

Sure enough, as we hurtled along the coast road, weaving around tractors and convoys of German tourists, the car stereo played a stream of oompah-ing Nederlandse pop-rock.

“What’s the Dutch connection?” I asked.

“Belgian beer,” he replied. “About ten… twelve… ten or twelve years ago, we went on a trip, a coach trip, to Belgium, and I loved it. I got on well with the bloke who ran the hotel where we were staying and now he’s sort of a pen pal. I write to him every week, in Dutch.”

Tim isn’t a native Cornishman but has been brewing Spingo Ales at the Blue Anchor in Helston since 1981. “I’d been home brewing for a while and winning awards,” he said, lifting a hand from the steering wheel to circle his cigar in air for emphasis, “so when I saw that they were advertising for a new brewer I said, ‘Yes, please! I’ll have some of that.’” The landlord gave him a six week trial: “I never did find out if I’d got the job.”

People sometimes talk about the Blue Anchor as if it’s been exactly the same, and brewing the same beer, for 400 years. It’s more complicated than that, but ‘Middle’, its flagship beer, is certainly nearing its 100th birthday, having first been brewed to celebrate the return of Helston boys from the First World War, in 1919. “As far as I know, it’s the same recipe,” Tim said, “but the original paperwork isn’t available. It’s been 1050 OG, Goldings, as long as I’ve been brewing it.”

Ye Olde Special Brew.

Elsewhere, there have been tweaks: Spingo Special went from 1060 to 1066 to celebrate the marriage of Charles and Diana in 1981, and at some point, crystal malt got added to the recipe. “Devenish [a defunct regional brewery] used to supply the malt and they weren’t too careful cleaning out the chutes for our order, so we got pale malt with a bit of crystal mixed in, which I used for specials. Nowadays, we mix it ourselves.”

To put some space between it and the amped-up Special, Christmas Special went up to 1076. (It’s now back down to 1074, to avoid the higher duty bracket.) Spingo Best, too close in gravity to Middle, got quietly dropped, as did a1033 ‘Ordinary’: “We called that Mrs Bond, because she was the only one that drank it.”

Tim is clear about his own tastes: “I don’t like a hoppy beer. I prefer that malty sweetness – that sort of Cornish traditional taste.”

(We have long felt that West Country ale is almost a style in its own right — less attenuated, heavier in body, with barely any discernible hop character. If you’ve tried the bland, sweet Sharp’s Doom Bar, or St Austell’s HSD, then you’d recognise Spingo Middle from the family resemblance, though it’s less smooth, and less consistent, than either of those bigger brewery brands.)

“Obviously, you’ve got to have hops,” conceded, “but they’re there for bitterness. They shouldn’t make your beer smell of fruit. I can’t stand when people say they can smell lemon or citrus or passion fruit, or whatever.”

“I can’t stand when people say they can smell lemon or citrus or passion fruit…”

A couple of years ago, his colleague Gareth, and Ben, a son of the Blue Anchor’s licensees, went on a three-week course at Brewlab in Sunderland. They came back with new ideas. The stout Ben designed for his coursework is now a regular at the pub, and is called, obviously, Ben’s Stout. Cornwall isn’t stout-drinking country, but it ticks over. “Ben doesn’t drink it, though,” said Tim. “He drinks my Bragget – no hops, malt, honey, apple juice, first brewed to commemorate the town’s charter, granted by King John in 1201.”

But it was Gareth upon whom the course had the most profound effect. “The IPA, that was my beer originally, brewed for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2002. But then Gareth got hold of it and now it’s all–” A faint shake of the head. “Amarillo.”

At the pub, Tim, in sleeveless T-shirt and wellies, disappeared up the granite staircase into the steam of a brewery which is cramped and hot on the best of days, and handed me over to Gareth, who was just concluding his morning shift.

We had developed a picture of a maverick young hipster obsessed with ‘craft beer’, perhaps riding around the brewery on a skateboard. In fact, though he is younger than Tim by some years, he is softly-spoken, practically-minded, and, in his black working t-shirt, more mechanic than artist. A Helston local, he worked his way up to the post of brewery manager from cleaning barrels and the occasional stint behind the bar.

“I do like hoppy beers,” he said, sipping instant coffee from a chipped mug at a plastic table in the pub’s garden, “but I mostly drink more mellow things, if I’m honest. Middle, St Austell HSD – things like that.”

“I mostly drink more mellow things, if I’m honest.”

This did not bode well for our hopes of finding a British version of the feuding Bjergso brothers: Tim and Gareth do not hate each other. They are definitely not ‘at war’. So I decided to poke the nest with a stick: what did Gareth think of Tim’s assertion that hops should really only be used to add bitterness?

“I disagree with him about that,” he said, with something just approaching roused passion. “Hops should be there to give flavour. Definitely.”

Another new Spingo ale for which Gareth takes the credit (or perhaps the blame, from Tim’s perspective) is the 4% golden Flora Daze. When we first tried it on the weekend it was launched, in March 2012, it seemed startlingly different to its stable-mates, and we observed conservative regulars at the bar recoiling at its lemon-zestiness.

“We have our beer distributed through Jolly’s – LWC – and they wanted something lighter and hoppier,” Gareth said. “I’d just learned recipe formulation at Brewlab and Flora Daze is what I came up with.”

Gareth (left) and Tim, at the brewery door.
Gareth (left) and Tim, at the brewery door.

A short while later, we all three reconvened at the top of the steps by the brew-house, where Tim was stirring the mash with a wooden brewer’s paddle. He finished it by swinging a great wooden lid onto the blue-painted tun dating from the 1920s, and covered that with eight old malt sacks, for insulation.

Perspiring and out of breath, he leaned on the stable door and took a long draught from a cool pint of Spingo Middle. “Jolly’s wanted something under 4%,” he said, picking up the Flora Daze story, “but we just can’t go that low. Spingo Ales are strong – that’s what makes them special.” He admitted, though, that he did roll his eyes on first seeing the recipe. “Gareth usually brews it, but I can do it, and have. I follow the recipe and stick to the spec.” He paused before delivering the punchline: “I just don’t drink the stuff.”

In the quiet tug of war, Tim seems to be slowly getting his own way, and Gareth acknowledged that both the re-vamped IPA and Flora Daze have, at Tim’s urging, become less intensely hoppy. “I’m happier with them as they are, though,” Gareth said. “They’re more in balance now.”

Gareth’s real influence is in the pursuit of consistency, as he explained showing me around the crowded pub cellar which doubles as a home for six hot-tub-sized fermenting vessels. “Our beer is slightly different every time,” he acknowledged, with a mix of pride and anxiety. “It’s a small brew-house, we do everything by hand, and the malt and hops vary from batch to batch. The weather, too — that can have an awful effect. Oh, yeah – a big effect.”

But he is working on this problem and has instituted lots of small changes. In the last year, for example, he has taken the radical step of having lids fitted to the fermenting vessels, so that the beer is no longer exposed to the air. Nothing fancy, though – just sheets of Perspex. There’s a sense that, with too much steel and precision, it would cease to be Spingo.

Fermenting vessels at the Spingo brewery.
Fermenting vessels at the Spingo brewery.

But perhaps this most traditional of British breweries will see more change yet. Tim, not perhaps as conservative as we thought, confessed that he had sometimes wondered about brewing something to reflect his interest in Belgian beer. And Gareth, somewhat wistfully, and almost embarrassed, muttered: “I have… Well, I have thought about a single-hop beer, Amarillo – something a bit stronger.”

A US-inspired Spingo IPA?

“Yeah, I suppose that’s the kind of style I’d be going for…” He shook his head. “But, no, we’ve got enough different beers for now.”

* * *

In the end, what we found at the Blue Anchor wasn’t high drama or a bitter feud, but a kind of dialogue, and our original choice of word, tension, feels about right. We suspect that similar debates are occurring in traditional breweries up and down the country, and around the world, perhaps not always in such a civilised manner.

If you enjoyed this, check out the #beerylongreads hashtag on Twitter for other people’s contributions, and also (need we say it?) get hold of a copy of our book, Brew Britannia, to which this is something of a companion piece.

Brew Britannia Hits the US

Front cover of Brew Britannia.

A little while after the UK launch, copies of Brew Britannia have finally begun to make their way out across the world, and two recent reviews from the US provide food for thought.

Jeff Alworth at Beervana, for example, highlights trans-Atlantic confusion over the meanings and cultural values implied by ‘craft’ and cask. In the US, cask-conditioned beer is considered the height of ‘craft’-ness, while in the UK, as we argue in the book, one of the many simultaneously-live meanings of ‘craft’ has been, since c.1997, ‘the antidote to real ale’. There is much potential for crossed wires here.

Jeff also ponders on why North America didn’t develop a powerful beer consumer group along the lines of the Campaign for Real Ale. It’s not as if the US doesn’t have a culture of clubs, though anything that even remotely resembled a union (CAMRA was nearly called ‘the Beer Drinkers’ Union at one point) would probably have raised hackles.

Derrick Peterman picks up the same thread and offers one possible answer: “Boak and Bailey’s history documents a similar revolution, but a demand driven one rather than the American revolution driven by new supply… That whole idea seems somehow un-American.” In America, capitalism is activism?

At any rate, we look forward to seeing if an answer emerges in discussion.

Finally, both Derrick and Jeff make a point that we hope potential reader will hear: you don’t need to be British to enjoy this book!

(There’ll be a proper blog post, i.e. one that isn’t about us and our book, along later today…)

Record Where You Drink For Posterity

"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

Thank goodness for Nathaniel Newnham-Davis and his eye for detail.

An early food writer — the Jay Rayner of his day — ‘The Colonel’ wrote reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette as well as several books such as Where And How to Dine in London.

We are especially grateful to him for having taken the time and space to write at length about one of London’s 19th century ‘lager beer’ saloons. He described what was seen on entering, the light, the clientèle, the glassware, the food, the pictures on the walls, the floorboards, seating, taxidermy, staff, proprietor, food, and, most importantly, the beer itself.

Many other such establishments were beneath the attention of writers and so might as well never have existed for all that we can find out about them beyond their street address and the date on which their owners went bankrupt. (They always went bankrupt.)

It was much the same in trying to find out about pubs from the 1970s while working on Brew Britannia, Becky’s Dive Bar being an exception as it was too bizarre not to write about.

If you’re stuck for an idea ahead of ‘going long’ on Saturday (30 August), why not look long and hard at a pub or bar of your acquaintance — especially if it doesn’t get much attention — and write an excessively detailed description of it?

Zoom in. Get out your microscope. Examine its pores.

Future historians will thank you.