Why Not Bitter Pils ’73 Before Bad 2002-style IPA?

We were interested to read an article in The Economist about the latest trend in Eastern European beer: Cold War retro.

One of the most interesting, Zlaty Bazant ’73, is a version of the biggest Slovakian lager brand based on a half-century old recipe, from the, er, good old days. We’ve heard that one reason larger breweries are reluctant to do this kind of thing is because it acknowledges the truth in the idea that ‘fings ain’t wot they used to be’. We suppose that might be an issue for brands trading upon their history, e.g. Guinness, but Zlaty Bazant (Heineken) seem to be dealing with it: the modern beer is a modern beer, for modern tastes, and good in a different way. There’s no conflict.

Zlaty Bazant 73 bottle.
SOURCE: Zlaty Bazant website.

(We’re not saying ZB is good — I drank a fair bit when I lived in Poland travelled and around Eastern Europe a decade or so ago; it was fine, but not one of my favourites. – Boak.)

This is happening in Western Europe, too. Through the fog of PR and junket-based razzle-dazzle it’s possible to discern genuine admiration for Carlsberg and Heineken’s experiments with ancient yeast strains. As one noted beer writer suggested to us recently, paraphrased, these breweries don’t like being unpopular and seem to have made the decision to distinguish themselves from AB-InBev by making decent beer again.

In short, we don’t understand why established breweries everywhere aren’t doing this as a way of offering an accessible ‘premium’ product. We’d have loved to have tried the recent 1955 London Pride brewed by Fuller’s in collaboration with Sierra Nevada – wouldn’t Pride ’55 that be a great thing to see as a regular beer in their pubs? Or Young’s Ordinary ’77 with a whiff of The Sweeney about it? (As long as they taste decent, and noticeably different, obviously.)

Bass in particular is a brand crying out for this kind of revival – a pep up (Bass ’65) rather than a total reinvention (Bass Sour Lime Flavourbombz®) — preying on nostalgia for the days of full-employment, World Cup wins, Pop Art and Beatlemania.

On a related note, this trend also indicates a way forward for European ‘craft beer’. While we don’t object fundamentally to Germans brewing IPA, as some people do, it does seem a shame that the reaction of ‘alternative’ brewers to ever-blander industrial lagers isn’t more often just really good takes on native styles. Old recipes, old yeast, old specifications might get people excited about Dunkel again, for example. (Yes, we know you’re excited about Dunkel already, but you’re a massive nerd.) And imagine an indie pilsner that is dead clean and traditional — no elderflowers or citrusy hops — but so bitter that it makes Jever taste restrained. That’d go like a bomb among craft beer fans, wouldn’t it? Or maybe Jever themselves will get there first with Jever ’83.

N.B. We’ve said most of this before in one form or another so consider this a premium retro-ironic post under the sub-brand B&B ’09.

Pubs Need Casuals, Not Stakhanovite Drinkers

Efforts to boost the pub trade often focus on nagging those who already go to go more often, and to more pubs, and drink more while they’re there. This seems misguided to us.

We go to the pub several times a week — more often than most of our friends and family — but sometimes feel under pressure from the collective weight of pub campaigners, messages from the trade, and fellow enthusiasts, to pull a bit more weight. Don’t ask us for specific examples — this is just a sense we’ve picked up over several years drifting about in the conversation.

But we reckon the saving of the pub (if it needs saving — an entirely different conversation) is in making it a normal part of everyday life for more and different people. We have plenty of acquaintances who used to go to the pub, who have a good time at the pub when they do, but just… don’t.

Why not?

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Session #112: The Secondary Beer Economy — Bought the T-Shirt

This month Carla Jean Lauter asks us to consider all those businesses that aren’t breweries but that support or surround the brewing industry.

Her announcement of the topic opens with this eyebrow-raising statement:

Last year, the total economic impact of the beer brewing industry in the state of Maine was approaching the same scale as the lobster industry. Let that sink in for a second.

What leaps out at us from Ms. Lauter’s post is the omission of pubs and off licences (bottle shops) which are not (usually) breweries but are a considerable step up in terms of fundamental importance from some of the examples she gives, e.g. a firm that makes fancy bottle-openers.

And that’s one way of cutting this:

  1. Businesses that are essential to drinking beer.
  2. Those that can enhance the enjoyment of beer.
  3. Parasitic businesses that add little or nothing.

Tempting as it is to spend the entire post ripping into number three — all the press releases we get about beer-flavoured soaps — we’re going to focus on something we think belongs in that middle section, even if at first glance it might seem classically parasitic: T-shirts and hats and the like.

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GALLERY: Beer Ads From the New Elizabethan Era, 1951-1953

We’ve been collecting these beer advertisements from booklets and magazines published in the celebratory period from the 1951 Festival of Britain to the Coronation in 1953 and, though we’ve shared the odd one on Twitter before, thought we ought to collect them in one place.

A ten-sided pint glass on an inn-sign: "A health unto Her Majesty".
SOURCE: Illustrated magazine, Coronation souvenir issue, 13 June 1953.

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Boddington’s Pump Clips, 1963

Macro shot of Boddington's logo on old paper.

Here’s a little detail that caught our eye in the Boddington’s Brewery board minute books, from August 1963: an order for pump clips.

Advertising — Pump Clips.

It was decided to place an order with Nightingale Signs Ltd for 5000 Pump Clips, yellow barrel design, at 3 and 4 each, to be apportioned as follows:-

2500 Bitter Beer
1250 Best Mild
1250 Mild

We didn’t notice any earlier reference to pump clips in these documents, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any — we had half a day to read the lot and might have just missed them. And even if this is the first mention of pump clips, it might just be that no-one bothered to write it down before this point.

But, still, our gut feeling is that this was recorded precisely because it was the first time — it was something new for Boddington’s, and literally remarkable.

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