Category Archives: Generalisations about beer culture

Types of UK Brewery

From time to time, we feel compelled to categorise things. It never really works but, in the attempt, we usually learn something.

This time, we found ourselves wondering about the many different types of brewing business to be found in the UK today and how they relate to one other. (We did something similar before, but that was more abstract.)

Chart of UK brewery types.

We’ve tried to provide an example for each type, though we struggled to think of an active cuckoo/gypsy brewery, and a very approximate sense of what arrived when.

If the family groupings we’ve come up with work, then you should be able to think of a brewery and find a home for them.

Much more likely, however, is that the first comment below will name a brewery which breaks our classification system.

Flawed or not, we’d be interested to see similar attempts from those who know the beer scenes in Germany, Belgium, the US, or anywhere else — does this look pretty familiar, or wildly different?

Gimmick or Twist?

Ahead of our saison tasting spree (first batch tonight) we’ve been thinking about the place of herbs, spices and fruit in beer.

Back in February, Masterchef winner and Japanese food expert Tim Anderson wrote a post suggesting some obscure citrus fruits to use in brewing:

I understand that there’s something irresistible about yuzu, but if everybody uses it then it loses some of its appeal. I fear we may have reached ‘peak yuzu.’

(There’s nothing to make you feel uncool like reading that something you’ve only vaguely heard of is already played out.)

He gives a reason, in passing, for why you might want to use obscure fruits: to make ‘a dish or a beer exotic and intriguing’, which additive-sceptics might read as different for the sake of being different — what’s wrong with beer that tastes like beer?

So, there is a question of motive, which probably, or maybe, coincides with the success of the experiment. A brewer who is trying to meet demand for a ‘new’ beers by chucking cinnamon or maple syrup into base products (a problem in ‘real ale’ before it became a problem in ‘craft beer’) will inevitably turn out a few duds where the Guest Starring additive clashes or overrides.

On the other hand, a beer that is thoughtfully designed and carefully developed, where the left-field flavour is brewed in rather than merely added at the end, may well do a better job of truly integrating it into the finished product. Camden’s Gentleman’s Wit isn’t to everyone’s taste, but the bergamot that is its unique selling point is not clumsily done, and does, indeed, add a twist which makes the beer intriguing, without surrendering its essential beerness.

When Lars Marius Garshol wrote about traditional herbs in Norwegian farmhouse brewing earlier this week, he reminded us that such additives aren’t a trendy new thing. We were particularly taken by his description of Myrica gale:

Home brewer Micro Maid made a Myrica beer for the Norwegian home brewing championship last year that won the prize for Audience Favourite. She used leaves picked in the forest, crushed in a kitchen blender, 23 grams for 26 liters of beer, boiled for 25 minutes. I tried the beer, and it really was excellent, with a lovely fruity flavour, not entirely unlike lime or yuzu.

Maybe the reason this seems, to us, less gimmicky than some such experiments is because it is in some sense historically and regionally authentic?

If all that matters is how the beer tastes, as some insist, then the brewer’s motives, or the authenticity of the additives, is neither here nor there, but we suspect that brewers who consider why they’re using a particular ingredient — who think about what the story is — might just generally be more careful and thoughtful, which tends to lead to better beer.

And if you’re a brewer (pro or at home) and you need more ideas than those provided by Tim and Lars, here’s Stan Hieronymus’s hot tip:

Main image adapted from ‘Fruit’ by Nils Dehl, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

100 Words: Using Powers for Good

By Bailey

Last weekend, I visited a few pubs with a mate. Normally laid back, there is, it transpires, one thing that raises his blood pressure:

‘I can’t stand American hops — why does everything have to taste of bloody grapefruit!?’

So, in the next place, when I ordered Dark Star Hophead and he said, ‘Same,’ I held up a hand with a heroic flourish.

‘No! You probably want this one.’ That being a best bitter with English hops.

It seemed counter-intuitive — Hophead is a classic! — but he loved his caramel-sweet malt bomb, and I felt, smugly, that I’d done the noble thing.

The Pub: Where Grown-Ups Make Friends

Last week, we saw something really sweet: two men in their fifties making friends in the pub.

When you’re a kid, making friends is easy — you just run up and say, ‘Can I play?’ and, about an hour later, you might well be BEST FRIENDS FOREVER — but once you’re older than, say, 22, it suddenly becomes a strangely big deal.

The pub is about the only place we can think of where that line can be crossed, albeit with a little residual awkwardness.

In this case, Bloke 1 was sitting in the corner at the bar making conversation with the much younger, bored-looking bar staff, when Bloke 2 entered with his dog.

Bloke 2 ordered a pint and, crucially, stayed at the bar to drink it, rather than scurrying off to a quiet corner with his newspaper. As he took the first sip, Bloke 1 made his move, pointing at the dog. ‘What breed is she?’

They talked dogs for a minute or so until Bloke 2 said, ‘Are you on holiday, then?’

‘No,’ said Bloke 1, before adding, casually but hopefully, ‘My wife and I have been living in the village since before Christmas but I don’t really know anyone.’

‘Oh, right,’ said Bloke 2. He cleared his throat and stuck out a hand, muttering shyly, ‘I’m, er, Dave.’

It was really rather a moving moment.

When we left some time later, they were still talking and seemed to have progressed to buying rounds.

Main image: adapted from ‘Friendship’ by johnthescone from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Session #97: Up-and-Coming Beer Destinations

“What are the up-and-coming beer locations that you see as the next major players in the beer scene?”

That’s the question the people behind Our Tasty Travels have asked for this month’s beer blogging session, leaving us, frankly, stumped.

Seriously, who knows? If we knew, we’d start a bar and/or brewery while railway arches are still cheap.

You don’t make a beer destination such as Prague, Brussels or Munich overnight — either your town has a long history of brewing, or it doesn’t. London has and merely forgot it for a few decades, so perhaps Burton-upon-Trent could pull off the same trick, but we rather doubt it, unless some colossal government intervention occurs.

But what is it that allows a place with no great association with brewing to become a beer destination? Let’s look at Sheffield, for example, which we know is the Hay-on-Wye of beer, even if your Bamberg-obsessed global beer travellers might not have cottoned on quite yet.

  1. It is well-connected to other towns and cities and is a major regional rail hub.
  2. Property remains relatively cheap thanks to an unfortunately long period of industrial decline.
  3. There are tons of students,  who can still just about be relied upon to drink more than people with jobs and babies.
  4. There are also artistic types — a side effect of items 2 and 3, along with attempts by authorities to regenerate the city by designating a creative quarter. Creative types seem, in general, to be the harbingers of ‘craft culture’, with its street food and trendy bars.
  5. There are lots of good-to-excellent breweries in the city or within delivering distance. Without wanting to go all ‘great man theory’, that is at least partly because of the influence of one person — the late Dave Wickett.

Bristol, where the beer scene has exploded in the last few years, has a similar story to tell.

So, which UK university cities, which also have semi-derelict industrial buildings near the centre where artists might fancy living, are currently lacking a ‘beer scene’?

It’s wishful thinking on our part, perhaps, but parts of Plymouth feel a bit how Bristol did a decade ago, or like Hackney in the early 1990s — beginning to mellow, and the graffiti getting cleverer. It already has a pleasantly hippyish pub selling Belgian beer (the Bread and Roses) which feels like the city dipping a toe in the water.

Then then there’s Falmouth — an attractive, buzzing university town which already has a bit of a beer scene and which, thanks to the proximity of Penryn and its industrial estate, continues to attract even more new breweries.

UPDATE 08/03/2015

Knowing that Cornish brewery Harbour have been looking to open a pub or bar for some time, we asked Eddie Lofthouse if they had considered Plymouth as a location and, if not, why not. Here is his response, quoted with permission:

We have considered Plymouth as a destination for a bar, but for some reason we always discount it in favour of other places. It fits our criteria of being a university town/city, and has a high and increasing population of 20/40 year olds. It is my understanding of the demographic profile for the Plymouth area has a below than average ABC1 and a great deal of the ABC1 population live in rural areas surrounding the city, not in the city itself. For that reason we have always thought it a risky proposition to open a bar that serves premium products in a city with a population having lower than average disposable incomes. There are areas we would consider more seriously, namely the Barbican and Harbour front, but there the rents are fairly high so have been discounted in favour of other locations.