News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 February 2017: Mackeson, Market Towns, Mainspring

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pub writing in the last week, from Mackeson to market towns.

Mackeson beer mat detail.

Some of the home brew recipes posted by Ron Pattinson and Kristen England are bigger names than others and this dissection of 1965 Mackeson Stout is essential reading for anyone with an interest in British brewing history or, indeed, a more practical need to understand a neglected style.


Crafty's Bottle Shop and Micropub.Alec Latham at Mostly About Beer finds an interesting angle, as always, on the proliferation of beer shops in home counties market towns, and especially in and around his native Hertfordshire and neighbouring Buckinghamshire:

There is something special about a market town. Market towns are magical places where bunting suddenly appears. There is always the well-tended war memorial and it’s always afforded pride of place. Then of course there’s market itself – the white canvas village encamped along the main drag. I love the smell of meat being fried and the call of the stall holders who adopt an accent that verges on caricature…

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 11 February 2017: Pretzels, Craft and Care Bears

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the last week, along with a couple of more tangential items that nonetheless shine a light.

Reuben Gray has been considering the health of RateBeer from an Irish perspective and concludes that it might be looking a touch peaky:

Galway Bay’s Of Foam and Fury has 121 reviews at the moment on Ratebeer. It’s the highest rated Irish beer on the platform. That wouldn’t be too bad except the same beer on Untappd has a whopping 2,726 Ratings at the time of writing this. An interesting thing to point out is that this beer is number two on Untappd for Ireland with GBB’s 200 Fathoms beating it to first place whereas on Ratebeer, 200 Fathoms gets spot number two.


Pretzels painted on a wall in Luebeck, Germany.

Not exactly about beeer: Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin has written a long reflection on the subject of pretzels, a snack closely associated with beer in Germany and the US, with lots of historical information. The best bits are his personal reminiscences, though:

One of my favorite memories as a child was being in downtown Reading with my stepfather. He took me down a side street, almost an alley, and I could smell baking pretzels. I think it may have been Unique Pretzels, which was Dad’s favorite brand, but I’m not sure. At any rate, it was a stone building, and my Dad went inside, while I peered in from the sidewalk, and could see the stone oven inside, with workers there using a large flat paddle to pull out freshly baked pretzels from it. Soon after, my father reappeared outside, handing me a hot, crunchy pretzel straight from that oven. Although I’m sure I’ve romanticized it over the years, that must have been the best-tasting pretzel I’ve ever had.


Illustration: 'Hand Crafted' painted on wood.

Also not about beer: for Architectural Review Catharine Rossi writes about the resurgence of interest in ‘craft’ in recent years. It’s full of light-bulb lines and ideas:

With its ethical associations of authenticity and trusted provenance, and its offer of a hands-on engagement in a hands-off economy, craft offers a tangible moral compass in uncertain times. Making craft or buying goods from craftspeople enables a meaningful relationship with the material world… As the sociologist Sennett argued in The Craftsman (2008): ‘craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake’

(You can view three articles on the AR site free per month so click carefully and maybe save it to Pocket or a similar reader app if you use one.)


Del Monte, Cloudwater, Um Bongo.

Alec Latham continues to find interesting angles from which to approach beer. This week, he tasted a tropical-fruity double IPA from Cloudwater alongside (a) the syrup from a tin of Del Monte fruit salad and (b) a carton of Um-Bongo fruit drink. It’s sort of a joke, but also not:

In a glass [the Del Monte syrup] actually looks attractive. There’s a gleam to the liquid – almost a sparkle – a bit like pearls. Some tiny suspended fruit particles also put me in mind of things trapped in amber… On the nose it’s horrible. It’s like a Care Bear’s fart or one of those odd “fruit” scented rubbers we used to have at primary school (by rubber I mean eraser – the school wasn’t THAT bad). I go back to inhale from the DIPA and by comparison, the beer now has a mustard aroma.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

From Ed at Ed’s Beer Blog we get a bit of what amounts to gossip about the CAMRA Revitalisation project:

[The] national executive seem to have had kittens when they saw the project’s recommendations. OK, that wasn’t exactly how it was put but CAMRA Kremlinologists can draw conclusions from the fact that the current national executive decided to delay any decisions until 2018, and three of the Revitalisation committee have decided to stand for election to the national executive.


The Old Packhorse, Chiswick.
The Old Packhorse which has a Thai restaurant in the back room.

Here’s one from a couple of weeks back that we missed out of last week’s round-up: why on earth do so many British pubs serve Thai food? For Lucky Peach Catherine Lamb tells the story:

Gerry began managing The Churchill Arms thirty-two years ago. During his first two years as manager, the pub served British classics at lunch and meat-and-potatoes dishes at night. One day a Thai chef named Ben (yes, Ben has a longer Thai name, which Gerry can’t remember and still can’t pronounce) walked in with a proposal: he wanted to take over the Churchill’s kitchen and cook Thai food… Gerry began receiving calls from other pub owners asking him for his secret—and Gerry, who loves a good story, told them everything.

(Via @Will_Hawkes.)


And, finally, Charlie Worthington, AKA ‘The Crafty Beeress’, is reporting on her West Country roadtrip starting with this account of drinking in Bath — one to bookmark if you’re planning to go that way anytime soon.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 February 2017: Lexicography, St Louis, Ateliers

Here’s all the beer and pub writing that grabbed our attention in the past seven days from different ways to say you’re bladdered to mysteries of the American palate.

First, for the BBC’s culture pages, lexicographer and broadcaster Susie Dent considers the 3,000 words in the English language to describe being drunk:

The concoctions those knights dispensed fill an even richer lexicon, veering from the euphemistic ‘tiger’s milk’ to the blatant invitation of ‘strip-me-naked’. Add those to the 3,000 words English currently holds for the state of being drunk (including ‘ramsquaddled’, ‘obfusticated’, ‘tight as a tick’, and the curious ‘been too free with Sir Richard’) and you’ll find that the only subjects that fill the pages of English slang more are money and sex.

(But has she quite got that bit on Bride-ale right?)


Barmen pouring IPAs.
SOURCE: Jeff Alworth/Beervana

These next two posts need to be read as one piece. First, Jeff Alworth argues — persuasively, we think — that the reason IPAs are so dominant in US craft beer is because it’s the first beer style Americans can really call their own, like jazz and comic books:

Americans are finding their palates, which is a sign of maturity. This is not a new point here at the blog, but it’s becoming more pointed. When a country develops its own beer culture, diversity declines. This is why Belgian and British ales don’t taste the same, nor Czech and German lagers. Americans have found their groove, and it is lined with the residue of sticky yellow lupulin.

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The Politics of Hops

Buy British Tea poster.

There’s been a flurry of discussion this week around the impact of last year’s EU referendum on British beer, and what might be yet to come, which has given us a new angle on the old schism.

First, there was this piece in the Guardian in which various figures in UK craft brewing expressed concerns about the supply of equipment and material in a post-referendum world:

‘Everybody’s noticed it and it’s to be expected because you’re importing hops from places like the US and Europe,’ said Andrew Paterson, head brewer at Dark Star Brewing in West Sussex. ‘It’s also the case for steel tanks, kegs, yeast manufactured in Holland, anything that’s imported. We’re not going to compromise on quality so it’s an ongoing cost.’

This isn’t the first article along these lines that’s appeared since last June and this response from our neighbourhood Euro-sceptic is a good summary of the reaction from conservatives (small c):

That same argument was made at greater length by veteran beer writer Roger Protz (disclosure: he’s always been very helpful with our research and we owe him many pints) in a letter to the Guardian yesterday:

The notion that British beer drinkers should have to pay higher prices as a result of rising costs of imported grain and hops is easily countered by suggesting brewers buy home-grown ingredients. It’s absurd to import grain when it’s widely acknowledged that maritime barley – as grown in Norfolk and Suffolk – delivers the finest flavour and the best sugars for fermentation… English Fuggles and Goldings [hops] are prized throughout the world for their distinctive aromas and flavours of pepper, spice, pine and orange. Is he unaware of such new English varieties as Endeavour and Jester developed in recent years that offer more of the rich citrus notes demanded by many craft brewers?

Of course he’s right — Britain does have great brewing ingredients and if hop and malt imports ceased outright tomorrow, life would go on. And, in fact, we would also like to see British brewers exploring British ingredients with fresh eyes and a bit of imagination.

But here’s the thing: it should be a choice, not an unintended consequence. Fuggles cannot adequately replace Citra or Simcoe, and using English ingredients purely out of grim necessity would be, as the Beer Nut suggested, a rather depressing compromise. Woolton Pie in beer form.

At the root of the Buy British school of thought it seems to us there are a couple of wrongheaded thoughts. First, we think some people believe the popularity of pale, hoppy American-influenced beers threatens the very existence of traditional English bitter — that they are the thin end of a wedge which will inevitably lead to total domination. It’s true that some brewers are producing proportionally less bitter and more hoppy golden ale than they used to but it feels to us like a balance, not a battle. If trad bitter really starts to look endangered, trust us, we’ll join you on the barricades, but who can seriously say they struggle to get a pint of something brown and old-school in Britain in 2017? Bitter and best bitter still occupy at least eight of the ten pumps at our local Wetherspoon, for example.

Secondly, there’s the idea that people ought to like beers other than the ones they currently profess to enjoy and that, with some pressure and education, they’ll learn to love the hops they’re with rather than yearning be with the hops they love.

There might be some room to bring people round to old-school flavours — to drink Harvey’s Sussex Best is to love it, after all– but we’ve got no doubt that there are plenty of beer drinkers out there who, if the only option was session bitter brewed with Fuggles or Goldings, would just switch to lager, or gin, or, blimey, anything else. They are interested in beer,  they have tried traditional bitter, and they just don’t like it. Seriously. Honestly. It isn’t a pose.

And there are quite a few brewers who probably feel the similar — who would rather give up altogether than brew with only UK hops. Can you imagine a chef specialising in Asian cuisine whose supply of coriander and ginger dried up getting excited at the prospect of going back to making steak and kidney pies?

You might say, ‘Fine, good riddance, I like steak and kidney pie, I’m alright, Jack,’ but we’ll be left with a less diverse, less healthy beer culture. Much as we love to wallow in the 1970s and 1980s in our research, we don’t want to restore that backup and lose 30 years of work, thanks very much.

Of course we don’t know how serious a worry this really is. Perhaps things will settle down and the C-hops will keep coming after all, or perhaps things will go off the rails altogether in which case we’ll have bigger things to worry about. Frankly, it’s hard to get a read at the moment because any discussion about the impact of the referendum, however thoughtful, is taken to be campaign propaganda by one side or the other and drowned out by yelling.

But while we wait for the dust to settle we’re going to drink as much as Oakham Citra as we can get hold of.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer

This week we have been reading various bits of what may or may not be clickbait, notes on beers from Romania and Norway, and ponderings on the nature of taste. There’s also been some less sexy but nonetheless important industry news.

For the Guardian Victoria Coren-Mitchell expressed a seldom-heard point of view: pubs are terrible and beer is disgusting. This caused some irritation either because the very idea struck people as offensive, or because they perceived it as a deliberate attempt to bait beer- and pub-lovers for the sake of driving traffic. We were just interested to find put into words (with humorous intent, by the way) how a lot of people must feel:

People really love the pub. I say people. I mean my husband. Nothing makes my husband happier than settling down in the corner of some reeky-carpeted local boozing house for a good old sit. Maybe a chat. And, obviously, a beer. A sit and a chat and a beer. Beer and a chat and a sit. Sit, chat, beer. Chat, sit, beer. Sit, sit, beer beer, chat chat chat, sit sit sit… And nothing else is happening! It’s a different matter if you’re having some lunch or playing a pub quiz; that makes sense. I’m happy if there are board games or a pool table… But just sitting there, doing nothing, just slurping away at a beer and waiting for the occasional outbreak of chat: this is the pastime of choice for literally millions of people!


Beer O'Clock, Bucharest.

The Beer Nut has been on holiday again, this time in Bucharest, Romania, and has done his usual thorough job of tracking down all the beer of note from supermarket lagers to brewpub IPAs:

[The] other Hop Hooligans IPA, by the name of Shock Therapy… looks the same as the beer next to it, except for that handsome mane of pure white foam. It doesn’t smell fruity, though; it smells funky: part dank, part old socks. That’s how it tastes too, with a kind of cheesiness that I don’t think is caused by old hops. When I look up the varieties I discover that Waimea and Rakau are the guilty parties, and I’m not surprised. I’ve picked up an unpleasant funk from those high-end Kiwi hops before

Part 1: Craft Beer
Part 2: Big Indies/Contract Brewers
Part 3: Mainstream Brands

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer”