News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 August 2017: Breakfast, Blackness, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything in beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from breakfast boozing to totalitarianism.

For Vice Angus Harrison asked a very good question that yields interesting answers: who exactly are the people you see drinking in Wetherspoon between breakfast time and lunch? Knee-jerk assumption has it that they are tragic alcoholics living chaotic lives outside the rules of society but, of course…

You perhaps wouldn’t notice the pub was full of finished night-workers if you’d just walked in, but as soon as you know what to look for, it becomes obvious. The barman gestures to a table in the corner where six blokes in battered denim and dusty T-shirts sit hunched over pints. Upstairs, three journalists who have just left the news desk drink lagers before heading home for a sleep. In the smoking area out front, a member of Stansted’s lost luggage team tells me he often pops in around this time, on his way home from the airport.


Illustration: a pint of beer with Van Gogh textures.

For Eater Lauren Michele Jackson writes on a subject that feels especially topical, this week of all weeks — the thoughtless, politically charged, overwhelming whiteness of ‘craft culture’ in food and drink:

Craft culture looks like white people. The founders, so many former lawyers or bankers or advertising execs, tend to be white, the front-facing staff in their custom denim aprons tend to be white, the clientele sipping $10 beers tends to be white… The character of craft culture, a special blend of bohemianism and capitalism, is not merely overwhelmingly white — a function of who generally has the wealth to start those microbreweries and old-school butcher shops, and to patronize them — it consistently engages in the erasure or exploitation of people of color whose intellectual and manual labor are often the foundation of the practices that transform so many of these small pleasures into something artful. A lie by omission may be a small one, but for a movement so vocally concerned with where things come from, the proprietors of craft culture often seem strangely uninterested in learning or conveying the stories of the people who first mastered those crafts.

(Via @robsterowski.)


Beer hall: German student society c.1897.

On a related note, Alan McLeod at A Better Beer Blog AKA A Good Beer Blog has been too preoccupied with the anxiety-inducing global political situation to write much about beer, until the two subjects came together in these notes on moments when fascism, communism and racism collide with our favourite drink:

Earlier this year, Hungary witnessed a bit of a political controversy over the appearance of Heineken’s red star – which Hungarian law considers a totalitarian symbol… In 2016, a brewery in Bavaria was accused of offering a Nazi friendly lager named Grenzzaun Halbe, or Border Fence Half… Then there are the old boys who, you know, just say those sorts of things…


Closed sign on shop.

For the US magazine Draft Zach Fowle gives a substantial treatment to a subject we’ve previously prodded at here on the blog: why exactly do breweries fold when they fold? It’s hard to get people to talk about this because it’s so raw, even humiliating, but Fowle elicited some great frank responses:

For us, it was really a production restraint. It’s simple math. Overhead was too high for the amount of beer we could produce in the space we had. There were all kinds of things that were always limiting: pump space, floor space, combined with the big cost of the space, the people we work with, and we were also a shared facility hosting several other breweries. That was something we were really passionate about, but these breweries are taking 20 percent of the space but not paying 20 percent of the overhead. We were basically landlocked in a very expensive building… I learned in this process that whatever money you’re raising, double it. Maybe triple it.


GBBF handpumps in action.

In the week following the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Great British Beer Festival there has been, as ever, much debate about whether it works in its current form. Tandleman, who works there as a volunteer, says, broadly, ‘Yes’:

A great atmosphere, beer quality has never been better, I met lots of people I knew on trade day and enjoyed talking to them, our bar was excellently staffed by old friends and new and I had a really good time.  It is just as important to enjoy yourself as a volunteer as it is as a customer. Us volunteers wouldn’t come back otherwise and then, simply, the show wouldn’t go on.

But in a comment on that same post retired beer blogger John West (@jwestjourno) provides a measured and typically eloquent counter-argument, suggesting that GBBF is ‘under-curated’. He reference Benjamin Nunn who on his own blog, Ben Viveur, expressed his disappointment at the event:

Normally, I’d put that down to mid-life-crisisism, post binge-drinking comedown and my generally bleak outlook on life. But a few conversations with other attendees seem to confirm a pretty widespread view that this really was the most lacklustre GBBF for some time… There are always a few folks (I hesitate to generalise but very often older people from other parts of the country) who whinge about the GBBF pricing. This year they have a point…

(Disclosure: we got free entry to this year’s GBBF because we were signing books and are frequently paid to write for CAMRA.)


ILLUSTRATION: "Kill the Bill".

We feel no shame in including our own 4,000 word post on the rise of the lager lout in Britain in the 1980s, which we stupidly posted last night when everyone was in the pub:

In 1988 the British government faced a now forgotten domestic crisis… Previously placid towns, villages and suburbs up and down the country were suddenly awash with mob violence – the kind of thing people expected in forsaken inner cities but which seemed newly terrifying as it spread to provincial market squares and high streets… In September 1988 at an informal press briefing John Patten MP, Minister for Home Affairs, pointed the finger: the chaos was a result of ‘the Saturday night lager cult’ and ‘lager louts’.


And, finally, here’s an illuminating nugget from Joe Stange:

News, Nuggets and Longreads 13 August 2017: Steel, Skittles, Sexism

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from dwile-flonking to brewery takeovers.

For the BBC David Gilyeat returns to a favourite silly season topic: traditional pub games. There’s nothing especially new here but it’s an entertaining round-up that draws on the expertise of, among others, Arthur Taylor, whose book on the subject is definitive:

Arthur Taylor, author of Played at the Pub, suggests Aunt Sally – which is played in Oxfordshire and parts of Buckinghamshire – has rather grisly origins.

‘It can be traced back to a barbarous business called “throwing at cocks”, when you threw sticks at a cock tethered to a post that if you killed you took home,’ he says.

‘What was barbarous turned into something that wasn’t, and the cock became a coconut shy… and eventually it became the game we know.’


Thornbridge, 2013.

For Good Beer Hunting Oliver Gray has investigated the manufacturing and sales of stainless steel brewing kit, much of which originates in China, even if the vendors might like buyers to think otherwise:

Chinese steel producers like Jinfu have begun establishing ‘reseller’ companies that sell their goods under different names. One such company, Crusader Kegs & Casks LTD, works out of Rushden, England, and was on site at CBC 2017. At quick glance, one would have no idea they weren’t selling British kegs. The capital U in the name is a St. George’s flag kite shield, and the reverse side of their business cards have a sword-wielding, armor-clad Templar, almost like they’re trying really, really hard to ensure they look as ‘British’ as possible.

There are plenty of other disconcerting details in the story which is a great example of the kind of insight generated by asking awkward questions.

(GBH has connections with AB-InBev/ZX Ventures; provides marketing/consultancy services to smaller breweries; and has also been one of our $2-a-month Patreon sponsors since May.)


Macro image: 'Hops' with illustration of hop cones, 1970s.

There’s some spectacular hop-nerdiness from Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer: a new study suggests that first-wort hopping makes no difference to the quality of the bitterness in the final beer. But many brewers disagree:

Fritz Tauscher at Krone-Brauerei in Tettnang, Germany, uses a slightly different process. He adds 60 to 70 percent of his hops as he lauters wort into the brewing kettle…. He explained that initially he added all his first wort hops (what he calls ‘ground hopping’) in one dose. ‘I thought the bitterness was not so good,’ he said. He opened his right hand, put it to his chin and slid it down his throat to his clavicle, tracking the path a beer would take. ‘It was, I’m not sure how you say it in English, adstringierend.’ No translation was necessary.


Beer is Best poster, 1937 (detail)

This is exciting news, brought to us by Martyn Cornell: the classic British ten-sided pint glass is back in production, and available at pub- and consumer-friendly prices. We look forward to drinking, say, Fuller’s London Porter from them in a proper pub at some point in the not too distant future.


Takeover news: Constellation Brands has acquired Florida’s Funky Buddha brewery, adding it to a portfolio which already includes Ballast Point. (Via Brewbound.)


GBBF controversy: in an open letter Manchester’s Marble Brewing has alleged that the local CAMRA branch effectively prevented their beers appearing at the Great British Beer Festival, suggesting that a dispute over an incident of sexist behaviour might be the cause. CAMRA head office has confirmed it is investigating the issues raised. (But don’t read too much into that statement.)


And finally @nickiquote has found the moment where Doctor Who and the real ale craze intersected:

Updated 14.o8.2017 15:29 — the disclosure statement for the GBH article has been amended at GBH’s request.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 05 August 2017: Anchor, ‘Arf Pints, Amsterdam

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week, from a very significant big brewery takeover to a bunch of priests on the lash.

The big news this week — really big news — was the takeover of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing by Sapporo of Japan. Depending how you look at it, Anchor has a claim to being patient zero in the craft beer boom of the past half-century, and so this does go a bit beyond just another takeover. There’s been lots of analysis but our favourite piece is by a local writer, Esther Mobley, for the San Francisco Chronicle:

In San Francisco, the emotional stakes are especially high when it comes to Anchor. Not only is it our brewery — our first, our signature — but it’s America’s original craft beer. It’s an icon of independence, and has seemed, at least we thought, large and established enough to be insulated from the pressures that have forced others to sell.


In De Wildeman

For Left Lion Benedict Cooper has written a wonderful account of his pilgrimage from an English pub to its twin in Continental Europe:

I’ve been in the Poacher I prefer not to recall how many times, but I’d never noticed the brass plaque on one of the walls until one slow, winter evening this year. Sitting at the long table, I found myself reading:

The Lincolnshire Poacher
Nottingham, England
Twinned with
In De Wildeman
Amsterdam, Netherlands

It feels as if more pubs ought to be twinned — does anyone know of others?


Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Alec Latham has been pondering again: why is it, he asks, that a half-pint glass full of beer feels like much less than half a pint of beer?

[A] pint goes down in gradations as you nurse it and watch the level of others’ if you’re in company.

A half should stretch to fifty per cent of that time but seems like several mouthfuls. Half a pint – the reality – doesn’t last as long as half a pint – the notion. In other words, a half isn’t as much as half of a pint. Do you follow?

Maybe that’s why it’s often prefixed with ‘swift’.


The Gaping Goose, Leeds.

Richard Coldwell revisited a once favourite pub only to be dismayed at the changes it had undergone, prompting some reflection on how fragile the unique identities of pubs, beers and neighbourhoods can be:

There’s plenty other pubs who laid claim to have sold the best Tetley’s in Leeds. In fact depending on who you talk to, everyone will have their own idea, but that’s life for you. If you’ve never experienced Joshua Tetley’s Bitter, the real mccoy, then you’ve never lived. A smooth, creamy pint of beer that created a plimsoll type gauge down the glass denoting the length of each slurp. The creaminess was created by the autovac system that recirculated the beer back into the beer engine as it overflowed from the glass into the trough like drip tray. I’ve read a lot about people’s thoughts on autovacs, mostly from the kind of folk with that modern OCD based, you’ve just touched someone wash your hands, wash them again, turn round three times to the left, jump to the right and you won’t catch any germs kind of attitude; recycled beer never did me any harm.


This is a classic silly season story but irresistible nonetheless, not least because of the pure Father Ted-ness of it all: a Cardiff pub this week attempted to eject a party of priests having mistaken them for a costume-wearing stag party.


A couple of other bits of news, just for the record: the Craft Beer Co, which owns pubs across London and (a bit) beyond, has quietly closed its Clapham branch; and Purecraft has closed its Nottingham branch. Not evidence of a crisis, we don’t think, so much as pragmatic business decisions. But, still.


And, finally, the customary pick of the Tweets to sign off:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 29 July 2017: Germany, Quality Control, Staly Vegas

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that’s grabbed us in the last week, from the politics of micropubs to the price of a six-pack.

Suzy Aldridge (@lincolnpubgeek) brings interesting news from Lincoln which might or might not be meaningful in the wider scheme of things: the keg-heavy local craft beer bar has morphed into a cask-led micropub. Suzy quotes the local CAMRA chair:

As I see it, the craft scene is predominantly aimed at the younger market, and with Lincoln’s nightlife being predominantly student led I could foresee such a business struggling during the University break. Who knows in the future things may change, but for now I will support “The Craft Rooms” in its new incarnation as “The Ale House”.

This certainly fits with our reading of how micropubs and craft beer bars fit together — as versions of the same thing, both essentially products of changes in licensing law and renewed enthusiasm for beer, but catering to different demographics.


Detail from the cover of a German brewing textbook.

Ben Palmer (@Johnzee7) is a British apprentice brewer studying in Germany. On his blog Hop & Schwein he has gathered some observations on German brewing culture based on his experience so far:

The reason I make the generalisation about ‘German brewers’ in the first place is because they must all jump through the same educational hoops in order to become recognised as a brewer… I estimate that 99% of people in production based brewery roles have at some point completed this apprenticeship, sat the exams and, most importantly, received the certificate to prove this. Germans really like certificates. And official stamps too.

His thoughts on how this might be changing with the rise of learn-on-the-job American-influenced Craft Beer brewers are especially fascinating.


Anonymous beer can viewed from above.

At Beer and Present Danger Josh Farrington provides a useful round-up of recent quality control incidents in UK brewing — exploding cans, dumped batches, product recalls — and reflects on why some breweries continue to let customers buy flawed beer despite the current culture of highly-publicised self-flagellation:

Even in the past weekend, I had two canned beers from a pair of small breweries, only to find one was a scorched earth of smoky phenols crammed into a supposed Bavarian helles, while the other was a classic English IPA that had become a metallic soup, like slurping on a slurry of batteries. I can accept that mistakes happen after the beer is packaged – that everything was given the okay in the first instance, that the first swig tasted swell – but there’s no excuse for not making regular checks, or taking samples from across the range, to ensure that what you’re sending out to market is as good as you think it is.


The Wharf Tavern.

One of our favourite blog post formats is the thoughtful home town pub crawl and this week’s contribution is from Mark Johnson at Beer Compurgation who has been exploring Stalybridge, Greater Manchester. He starts by setting the scene:

To many in the north-west it is famous for its nickname of Staly Vegas, that came about (as far as I’m aware) through… a sort of revitalisation project around the central canal area by the new Tesco, improvements to two bus stations and an influx of age-restricting, dress-code-enforcing bars and pubs… The concept of Staly Vegas began to die around 2007 and officially broke in 2011, with the lowering of strict entry policies bringing delinquent youths and drug dealing to the once respectable bars. What the town has been left with for six years is numerous boarded up buildings once used as venues that seem to be no longer use or ornament.


Fry: "Shut up and take my money!"

Jeff Alworth at Beervana has some interesting thoughts on beer pricing that take into account the question of reputation over time:

Every decision a brewery makes about pricing has benefits and risks. Budget-pricing may move product, but it reduces profit margins and may eventually damage a brand’s reputation, miring it in the lower tier in consumers’ minds. Once there, it’s difficult to raise prices. On the other hand, pricing beer at the upper end increases profits, establishes a brewery as a premium producer, but may appear like gouging once the shine has worn off the brewery’s reputation.

(The first comment there is interesting, too, reminding us that even if conversations about price/value aren’t visible on social media doesn’t mean they’re not happening.)


And, finally, here’s some eye candy from the Bishopsgate Institute in the City of London which has recently been digitising some fantastic images of pubs from their archives, as shared on Twitter by Stef Dickers, Special Collections and Archives Manager.

A London pub in black-and-white, c.WWII.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 22 July 2017: Quality, Icebergs, Cheesecloth

Here’s everything in the world of beer and pubs that’s caught our eye in the last week, from beer quality to iceberg water.

A debate about beer quality has flared up in New Zealand prompted by this piece by veteran beer writer Geoff Griggs in which he suggests there is too much faulty self-proclaimed craft beer on the market. It’s an interesting piece in its own right — ‘People aren’t looking for quality beer, as long as it isn’t s…, and you have super sweet packaging and an even better story you will sell heaps.’ — but this response from Jason Gurney at Brewhui is arguably more so. In it, while suggesting that Griggs is wrong to have made such a sweeping statement at this stage, he proposes some concrete, constructive actions for improving beer quality overall, e.g.

We need to facilitate an audit system regarding brewing, packaging and distribution models. If a brewery is having an issue with beer quality, then it’s feasible that this issue is caused by a systematic problem with the way they are brewing, packaging, and/or distributing their beer.  There’s nothing like documenting each step of your process for identifying where things can be done better – and as such, the Brewer’s Guild need to facilitate an audit system that is easy to access and actually valuable from the perspective of the brewery.  I would suggest that international, independent advisors could again be useful here – but it’s also possible that a national peer-review system could be effective too.  It really depends on how much we truly believe in the collegiality of the brewing community.

That’s an interesting idea, as are the others — but which body could administer something like this in the UK? Surely not the currently under fire SIBA.


A London pub glimpsed up an alleyway.

After the slightly controversial inclusion of Marina O’Loughlin’s ‘I don’t like pubs’ piece last week, here’s another, by Jessica Brown for Longreads, which reaches a similar conclusion, but via a more positive, thoughtful, literally meandering route:

I wondered if the Britons’ third place could be pubs… The pub seems to be a perfect fit; at least, it does when you’re looking through the lens of nostalgia, as one can easily do when under the alien skyscrapers and mystical spell of the city… But recently there’s been a decline in the number of pubs, and the ones that remain are struggling to survive. Partly to blame is a shift from the traditional community pub of locals to strangers’ cocktail bars and pop-ups — a new kind of plague on the city.


Josh Noel writes about beer for the Chicago Tribune and is trying out a new format: a simple report of a crawl around a single neighbourhood in one evening. His first ramble was around Pilsen which sounds fascinating:

As recently as nine months ago, Pilsen had no taprooms or brewpubs. In the midst of a food and drink uprising — some call it gentrification — Pilsen, a home to Mexican immigration since the 1950s, suddenly has three.


Quidi Vidi Brewing, Newfoundland.

Rebecca Pate, a Canadian based in the UK, made a visit home recently and reports on a troubled Newfoundland brewery that uses an unusual ingredient in its flagship beer:

The brewery has an iceberg harvester contracted to extract iceberg water, a dangerous process involving cranes and grappling hooks. An unfortunate effect of climate change means that Iceberg Alley, a colloquial term used for the ecozone that stretches from Greenland to Newfoundland, is replete with icebergs traversing the waters. Some have been visible from St John’s harbour, according to the locals.


Beer being poured through a cheesecloth.

Patrick Dawson, who literally wrote the book on ageing beer, recounts his experience of drinking Victorian beers from crusted bottles for Craft Beer & Brewing:

The beer had to be poured through a piece of cheesecloth to strain out crumbled bits of ancient cork. After 15 minutes and four different corkscrews, it became apparent that holding back 10 percent ABV beer for more than 145 years had been too much for the aged stopper. This bottle of the vaunted Ratcliff Ale, a barleywine brewed by Bass in 1869, just four short years after the end of the American Civil War, must have had an Encino Man-moment being poured out into this radically changed world.


And, finally, pub photo of the week must surely be this piece of misty, mournful romanticism from 1960 (via @JamesBSumner):