News, Nuggets & Longreads 22 April 2017: Night Czars, Tall Boys, Joss Sticks

Here’s all the news, commentary and opinion from the world of beer and pubs that’s grabbed us in the last week, from Easter Island to housing estates.

For starters, here’s a story that we’ll be watching with interest: London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has promised to work with his ‘Night Czar’, Amy Lamé, to look into why so many London pubs have closed and what can be done to help the rest:

The great British pub is at the heart of the capital’s culture. From traditional workingmen’s clubs to cutting-edge micro-breweries, London’s locals are as diverse and eclectic as the people who frequent them. That’s why I’m shocked at the rate of closure and why we have partnered CAMRA to ensure we are can track the number of pubs open in the capital and redouble our efforts to stem the rate of closures.

This is interesting because it seems rare for politicians in power to make really positive statements about the value of pubs given the wider conversation about the social effects of drinking.


Easter Island moai statues.
‘The Fifteen Moai’ by Lee Coursey from Flickr under Creative Commons.

For Draft magazine Brian Yaeger has been to ‘the end of the world’ — Patagonia and Easter Island, where beer is being made despite logistical challenges:

I first walked into Fuegian’s light industrial storage room, which was almost empty. That’s because, surprisingly, the company’s orders outpace its production. That’s just one of the logistical jigsaw pieces that puzzles manager Gustavo Alvarez. Imagine his headache when a piece of brewing equipment, already fairly well Frankensteined, needs a new part that takes 10 days to deliver by truck from Buenos Aires because the only way down is through neighboring Chile over dicey roads and then by ferry to Tierra del Fuego. When the brewers realized they needed more primary fermentation space, they simply welded more to the tops of existing tanks, explaining why some fermenters are 1,000 liters and others are 1,500 to 3,000.


A young man carries a sack of malt.

For the Guardian business section Will Hawkes has profiled a Danish brewing company that employs autistic people to great benefit:

For the employees… the results can be life-changing. Today, beers designed by [Rune] Lindgreen are available in almost 40 places around Denmark, including Dragsholm Castle, a Michelin-starred restaurant… ‘It’s really nice to be back brewing again, but at the same time it’s also a little confusing, since my job description has changed a few times. But I know that it is very common for start ups, that you’ll have to be able to wear more hats. I’m glad to be a part of this.’

Drink Fresh! (Terms and Conditions Apply.)

For Beer is Your Friend Glen Humphries picks at a beer industry scab: why, for example, are Stone Brewing beers stale after 120 days in the US but somehow good for an entire year once they’ve been exported to Australia? The post is interesting, and applies to the UK market too, but don’t miss the long, detailed, defensive response from an Australian importer in the comments:

My question is, ‘Do Australian brewers brew differently to US brewers?’ ‘No’, so why are we focused on the fact that when a US brewer exports their product they have an export label that has a date code identical to most Australian brewers or other imported brewers? Plus even though the US brewers have an export date code longer than their local market date code, the export date code in many cases is still shorter than exactly the same beer styles brewed locally by local brewers.


Alchemist can labelling.

The author of the YES! Ale blog is troubled by the rise of incredibly strong beers that are at the same time incredibly easy to drink:

Mark Johnson tweeted about making the grave error of drinking a full can of Magic Rock Human Cannonball on the way to Hop City to himself. Five hundred millilitres of a 9% beer on a less than 45 minute train journey. A beer generally served by the third (a half at most) was now being consumed by almost a pint. But it’s so ‘drinkable’.

(This, we think, relates to a point we made last week about the disconnect between ABV and what we might as well call perceived booziness.)


The County Oak as it appeared in 1961.

The Pub Spy reviews pubs for the Brighton Argus and this week’s column, a review of The County Oak, a post-war estate pub, has gone viral:

I’m not narrow-minded and don’t think I’m squeamish, but getting my shoes covered in vomit before I even got through the door should have provided all the warning I needed… I’d already fought my way through the scaffolding yard masquerading as a car park by the time a huge beast lurched out of The County Oak and threw up over my feet… By the time the fully track-suited barmaid, with a bandage on her right hand, served me a pint of Kronenbourg I realised this was Shameless meets Celebrity Juice – but without the class of either of these programmes.

We’re a bit uncomfortable with this, truth be told — it feels mean-spirited and unabashedly snobbish — but, equally, it’s good to see coverage of the kind of pub that doesn’t normally get written about because it’s isn’t old, quaint or dainty. And it is honest.

(Via collective zine | @theczine)


The Newington Temple with neon sign.

For Liverpool Confidential Damon Fairclough reviews The Newington Temple, but struggles to get past the pub’s distinctive perfume:

When I was growing up in Sheffield in the 1980s, the most exciting shop in town was called Bringing It All Back Home. Named after a Bob Dylan album and beloved of the city’s Thatcher-era anarcho-hippy set… [it] stank of incense. All the time. And it is this vivid olfactory recollection that immediately springs to mind when I visit the Newington Temple pub just off Bold Street. Because this boozer seems to have spurned the usual perfume palette favoured by most British drinking dens – the heady scent of drip tray and Toilet Duck – and gone instead for the billowing fug of Neil’s bedroom from The Young Ones.

(We think this is one of the best ways to write pub reviews, by the way: pick an angle, or find a point to make, and work it.)


And finally via Twitter there’s this astonishing set of images:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 April 2017 — Metal, Myrcene, Milk Stout

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from heavy metal to heavy hops.

For Noisey, the music section of Vice, Sammy Maine has written what she calls ‘A Love Letter to British Metal Pubs’, highlighting the threat to this particular type of pub:

Another blow is the case of Bristol’s The Stag and Hounds—a metal/rock pub focused on the promotion of local and DIY shows—which will be closing next month. Announcing the news on their website, the team explained that ‘through a series of events and circumstances (some out of our control) we have looked at the books and it’s not viable for us to carry on to see the contract out.’ This kind of statement is becoming a broken record when it comes to fans of metal pubs—their presence tumbling thanks to various issues like tax hikes, the persistent demand for luxury flats and the feeling that they simply don’t feel hugely relevant or crucial anymore when metal can often feel more like a genre you pass through, rather than one you commit to.

(This is actually from a couple of weeks ago but we only noticed it the other day.)


Wild hops, Richmond, London.

Emma at Crema’s Beer Odyssey has shared a long, detailed post on the science of hops, based on research for a talk to a South London home brewing club. It is technical without being remote and typically forthright, acting (perhaps incidentally) as a rebuke to us and others who have failed to get on board the drink fresh train:

There are always people who say, ‘oh but I prefer my IPA with some age on it’ or similar. If you look around online it’s quite easy to find evidence of people drinking IPA or DIPA when it’s months or even years old and insisting it’s still great. It’s nice that they enjoy old beer but that’s not what the brewer intended. Of course, depending on the size of the brewery, there are steps which can be taken to give their beer as long a shelf life as possible (filtering and cold chain distribution, for example). For smaller breweries there is a much simpler option: advise your customers to drink fresh by applying a short best before date to your hop-forward beers, e.g. three or four months.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 April 2017 — Metal, Myrcene, Milk Stout”

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 1 April 2017: China, Cream, Cask

Here’s all the beer news, beer writing and beer blogging that’s caught our attention in the past seven days, from China to Bamberg.

For Fortune magazine Scott Cendrowski reports on AB-InBev’s approach to cracking the Chinese market, where a lack of competition regulation makes it easy to lean on smaller brewers:

John Guy, a quick-talking Australian whose ­McCawley’s chain of bars in southern China had sales last year topping $10 million, says he has heard of bar owners being offered 1 million yuan (about $150,000) to switch all their draft beer to AB InBev brands. Guy prides himself on his range of overseas craft beers and says he would never accept such a deal. But other bar owners don’t have the same choice. ‘Some bars run at break-even and make money on tap bonuses—$15,000 a year on some,’ he says.

(Via @thebeernut.)


A sinister character on the phone, in silhouette.

Continuing the theme Steve Body at The Pour Fool has a typically entertaining, eccentric, fire-spitting tirade against AB-InBev which concludes that they’ve forever defiled the term ‘craft beer’ and are therefore welcome to it. Here’s his account of AB-InBev’s provocative party line, delivered by what Body calls a ‘suit’ who somehow, creepily, acquired his mobile phone number:

‘You should know that we consider the term “craft brewing” a misnomer. “Craft brewing” is what WE do. “Craft” implies precision and skill and the adherence to the proven standards and techniques of brewing. What all these little breweries do is amateur brewing.’

(His proposed alternative term is ‘indie beer’ which, of course, has been around for years, along with many other variants.)


Adapted from an image at A Better Beer Blog.

Alan McLeod at A Better Beer Blog (the artist formerly known as A Good Beer Blog) has been investigating the term ‘cream’ as used in relation to beer over the years. His conclusion? As we read it, it’s that historically there is no fixed meaning, or even continuity — it’s just an appealing sounding word that helps to sell beer:

When you consider all that, I am brought back to how looking at beer through the lens of “style” ties language to technique a bit too tightly for my comfort. The stylist might suggest that in 1860, this brewery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brewery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quibble in two ways. Fifteen years is a long time in the conceptual instability of beer and, even if the two beers were contemporaries, a key point for each brewery was differentiation. The beers would not be the same even if they were similar.

(See also: golden ale.)


Brakspear beer mat from (probably) the 1990s.

Feeling somehow related is a post from Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale! in which he highlights the fragility of the identity of any given beer over time, especially where takeovers and mergers play a part:

[From] the moment a brewery is taken over, its beers are effectively dead. More precisely, from the moment a brewery is taken over, its beers may cease to exist – or be replaced by inferior substitutes – at any time, and there’s nothing anyone outside the new owner company can do about it. The new owner hasn’t bought beers, it’s bought brands and their market share. If the new owner is genuinely committed to making decent beer, the beer backing up those brands may continue to be good, but even that can’t be guaranteed – and, of course, the new owner can’t actually be held to account by anyone else. Even when the new owner continues to make a particular beer the old way, nobody can tell whether they’re going to start cutting corners or simply stop making it – let alone stop them doing so.


Lone Wolf spirits logo.

For the record, but rather tedious: Those of you who follow the Midlands Beer Blog Collective or, indeed, read these round-ups of ours every Saturday, will have heard about BrewDog’s trademark run in with a Birmingham pub several weeks ago, but the story only blew up in the mainstream in the last week via Rob Davies in the Guardian. If you’re after a soap opera, here it is: James Watt of BrewDog responded; there were claims, counter-claims and calls for boycotts; and lots of people made essentially the same observation: ‘Not very punk, guys!’

Our take? We don’t think this does any more harm to BrewDog than any previous PR disaster — indeed, it contributes to the Main Objective — and it seems astonishing to us that there are still people out there who are surprised to discover that James Watt is a pragmatic businessman rather than a maverick freedom fighter.


Twitter Intel

Drip-drip-drip… Earlier this year Cloudwater triggered a scare around the health of cask ale. Now, from Melissa Cole, here’s news of another bruise that may or may not be a symptom of a more serious ailment:

And from the wonderfully nosy Will Hawkes, there’s the interesting news that Mahrs Bräu of Bamberg is planning to start brewing a version of its beer in the UK:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 25 March 2017: Morse, Ma Pardoe, Mild

Here’s all the writing on beer and pubs that’s stood out in the last seven days, from Inspector Morse to the provocative nature of lists on the Internet.

The crime novelist Colin Dexter died this week which prompted veteran beer writer Roger Protz to dig out an interview he conducted with Dexter back in 1990, in an Oxford pub, naturally. Although it first appeared in CAMRA’s What’s Brewing newspaper, it isn’t primarily about beer, but that’s a thread throughout:

When he was in hospital a few years ago he dreamt he was winning a cross country race but he was more concerned with getting a pint of beer after finishing than being lauded as the winner. When he woke, slavering for a drink, he saw the dreaded message above his bed ‘Nil by mouth’.


Interior of the Old Swan.

The Wench at Black Country Pub takes us on another jolly, this time to The Black Swan, AKA Ma Pardoe’s, where the local dialect is as thick as the doorstop sandwiches, and every detail has a story to tell:

You may think me a little strange, but one of my favourite things about Ma Pardoes is the worn carpet that leads you to the bar. Now it’s not one of them fancy Weatherspoons carpets like those featured in Kit Calesses book and blog, however I imagine the many Black Country folk who’ve wearily trod that same path in search of fine ale, and the tales they have told.


Detail from a vintage ad for Tetley mild.

Ron Pattinson has a recipe for a Tetley mild from 1946, with this interesting aside:

It’s typical of a type of Mild brewed in Yorkshire, lying somewhere between pale and dark. Weirdly, all those years I drank it, I never realised that it wasn’t really that dark. More of a dark red than brown.


The Eagle Hotel.

Tandleman has joined the welcome trend of Epic Pub Quests (e.g. Cambridge, Bedford) with a mission to visit all 30 Samuel Smith pubs in the catchment area for his local CAMRA branch. Only four sell real ale but this kind of endeavour isn’t really about the beer — it’s about going to and observing places that might otherwise get overlooked. The second report so far filed has passages that would seem at home in a 20th Century social realist novel:

The Irish woman walked over and warmed her arse on the roaring coal fire adjacent to the card players. She asked no-one in particular if the clocks go back or forward this weekend.  There was some dispute about this, but it was finally agreed that the clocks go forward. The Old Irishwoman sniffed at this.‘Forward or back, you shouldn’t interfere with the fecking clock,’ she announced, eliciting no opinions either way.


A scared, angry mob.

For Good Beer Hunting Bryan Roth shakes a weary head at people arguing online with a US Brewers’ Association list of ‘The Top 50 Breweries’ by beer sales volume — an act as futile as debating the iTunes Top 10. Tying it into the buzz-phrase of the day, FAKE NEWS!, Roth says:

The backlash was swift. Pushback came over social media as commenters offered their hot takes while ignoring the factual basis of the list—it was, as it has been for at least a decade, organized by production levels. Even still, these internet denizens repeatedly asked, as if they were debating a listicle on Reddit, ‘how can you leave [My Favorite Brewery Name Here] off this list?’


Detail from Ansell's beer mat, 1970s: "Brewed in Birmingham".

News from Birmingham via Dave Hopkins at The Midlands Beer Blog Collective: The Birmingham Beer Bash is dead (or at least in stasis); long live the Birmingham Beer Bazaar! This replacement event has different organisers and, we suspect, might prove controversial — there’s already a bit of muttering on social media. At any rate, we’ll be adding this to the register of good and bad news, along with…


…the announcement of Leicester’s new specialist bottle shop, the awkwardly-named Brewklopedia:

The idea for the shop came about after the owners of 23 Wine & Whisky on Granby Street decided to introduce some local beers into their range… Manager of Brewklopedia, Kunal Kapadia, said: “We had a really good response, so we started introducing more beer from around the globe… ‘Customers quite liked the idea of having a separate shop in the city centre, so we decided to take the risk and jump right in.’

(Reported by Hayley Watson for a local news website rendered barely readable by intrusive ads — sorry.)


Finally, here’s a some soothsaying from one of the authors of the World Atlas of Beer which, we suspect, has the weight of inside info behind it:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 March 2017: Bibles, BrewDog, Bulldogs

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related news and reading that’s seized our attention in the last week, from marriage equality in Australia to takeover tremors at BrewDog.

A quick mention, first, for Nathaniel Southwood whose post on why he’s done with beer festivals went mildly viral on Reddit this week, somewhat to his surprise. We’re also festival sceptics and so, it seems, are plenty of other people out there.

Portrait shot of Mike Marcus.

For Brewers’ Journal editor Tim Sheahan has profiled Mike Marcus, the outspoken founder of Manchester’s Chorlton Brewing Co. At times aggressively political on social media, and committed to producing challenging beers, his comments come across as refreshingly unvarnished:

Some people can’t understand why we don’t have a business model to sell to a bigger business. Sure you have some exceptions in the UK with the sales of Meantime and Camden Town but with something like 1,700 breweries, how many are going to exit like that. Ten, maybe. Who knows? I want an investor that backs me and works with me. It’s why we’ve never done crowdfunding, everyone is looking for an exit.


A glass of beer at BrewDog Bristol.

With that segue, let’s turn to BrewDog: in the last couple of weeks the Scottish brewery has written to shareholders (PDF) and posted on the forum for ‘Equity Punks’ (crowd-funding backers) with news of changes which pave the way for an outside investor to acquire a 30 per cent share of the company by, in effect, downgrading the value of shares held by smaller investors. There’s a short summary of the main points by Kadhim Shubber at the Financial Times (registration required) and Glynn Davis at Beer Insider provides helpful commentary:

Crowd-funding is being marketed to very small investors who probably do not have much finance experience. They think they are buying ‘shares’ but if their pre-emption rights are being widely removed as an original condition, then they are not getting what any reasonable person would view as equity… I strongly suspect that the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) will be along shortly to inform BrewDog, CrowdCube et al of this very fact.

Detail aside, this tells us that a move everyone has been waiting for is finally underway. We doubt very much that the particular investor BrewDog is courting is a big multi-national brewery — they’ve just banged on about that so much when they didn’t need to that we can’t see it happening. But who knows.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 March 2017: Bibles, BrewDog, Bulldogs”