News, Nuggets & Longreads 27 May 2017: Breweries, Books and the Bass Stink

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading we’ve particularly enjoyed in the last week, with a connecting thread about the fate of family brewers.

Commentators have now had time to digest the news of the sales of the Charles Wells brewery to Marston’s. Our pick of the analysis is this piece by Roger Protz in which he argues that we should be worried about this development, and the threat of more to come:

In a fast-changing beer world, family brewers feel crushed between the national brewers and the growing army of craft beer makers… Belinda Sutton, née Elgood, managing director of Elgood’s in Wisbech, told me in an interview that she was under intense pressure from Adnams and Greene King along with a number of new micro-breweries in the Fenland region. Elgood’s qualifies for Progressive Beer Duty: family brewers who don’t benefit from duty relief are really under the cosh.

For balance, though, there’s a similarly authoritative view from Martyn Cornell who argues that there isn’t much to worry about in this particular case:

Should we mourn the capture of more beer brands by one large company? Not in this case, I believe, and the reason is something you probably don’t know, because Marston’s has never, curiously, made a big parade about it. Five or so years ago, Marston’s brewers made a mighty oath that they would not let any of their beers continue to go on sale in clear glass bottles, believing that the dangers of the product they poured their hearts into being light-struck and skunky through not using brown bottles was too great. The company’s marketeers accepted the brewers’ ruling, something that brewers at no other large UK ale brewery, apart from Fuller’s have been able to achieve…

Our view, in case you’re interested, is that it’s right to be wary per Mr Protz. Breweries in this category can feel dominant and even come across as bullies at a local level but they’re actually often rather vulnerable to predators. It wouldn’t take much for the last few to topple leaving us with complete polarisation between post-1970s microbreweries and national or multi-national giants. This middle ground  — breweries with chimneys and dray horses — is an important strand of British beer culture and it would be a shame to see it disappear.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 27 May 2017: Breweries, Books and the Bass Stink”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 6 May 2017: Malt, Monkeys and the Daily Mail

Here’s everything that’s grabbed our attention in the last week in the world of pubs and beer, from drunken monkeys to the soap opera of brewery takeovers.

The mayor with his homebrew.

Lars Marius Garshol found himself in a town ‘Where the Mayor Makes His Own Malt’:

When Martin, Amund, and I were invited to visit Roar to explore the local beer style stjørdalsøl, Roar figured that he might as well make use of the three visiting beer  ‘experts,’ and have us do a set of talks for the local home brewing association… They’d set it up as a rather grand affair, and the mayor himself came by to open the evening. I was a bit surprised by this, until the mayor started talking. He said a few words about the cultural importance of the local brewing, and then added that ‘Usually, when I do something like this I give the organizers flowers. But in this case I thought beer would be more suitable.’ At which point he took out a bottle and handed it to the chairman of the brewer’s association. It turned out that the mayor is also a farmhouse brewer, and since this is Stjørdal, he of course makes his own malts, too.


Drunk monkeys.
Painting by David Teniers (1610-1690) via Res Obscura.

For Res Obscura Benjamin Breen looks into why so many 17th Century paintings feature drunk monkeys:

The most simple answer is that these paintings are the early modern version of searching for “dog who thinks he’s a human” on YouTube. They’re funny. Paintings of intoxicated monkeys were actually a sub-set of a larger genre of paintings known as Singerie, which poked fun at occupations ranging from drunkard to painter by portraying the participants as frivolous simians… [But] I think that what we’re missing when we simply see these as a form of social satire is that these are also paintings about addiction.

(Via @intoxproject)


The bar with stools and drinkers.

Jessica Mason, AKA The Drinks Maven, has written a passionate argument for choosing pubs over restaurants:

Great atmospheres are created with our ears as much as our other senses. Conversation and laughter emit from secluded seats, across bars and around rickety tables. Why is this? The simplicity of the everyday – the nicks and scratches and bare wood – isn’t trying to be more or any better. As such, more honest and heartfelt and open conversations are debated around pub tables… Informality and a certain lack of posturing put people at ease. If you want to hear the truth from someone, talk to them in the pub. The point they put their drink down and say: ‘Look, the truth is…’ you’ve figuratively helped them remove their armour.


Andy reads the Daily Mail in Chorleywood.

The Ultimate London Pub Crawl this week reached Chorleywood at the Hertfordshire end of the tube network:

We were regaling the bar staff about our quest to explore all 270 London tube stations when a bystander sauntered over:

‘I used to do a similar thing, but on the national rail network,’ he boasted nonchalantly.

We made noises of the noncommittal variety, half impressed and half mistrustful.

‘Yeah, me and the lads would stick a pin in the rail map on a Friday night and go out boozing all weekend. Glasgow was a great one – I had to buy myself some new clothes there mind you.’

Anton Dreher.

Since working on Gambrinus Waltz we’ve been itching to taste an authentic recreation of a 19th century Vienna beer — what were they really like? Now Andreas Krenmair, who is working on a book about homebrewing historic styles, has some new information from close to the source:

I visited the Schultze-Berndt library located at VLB and curated by the Gesellschaft für Geschichte des Brauwesens… [where] I stumbled upon a Festschrift regarding 100 years of brewing Vienna lager, aptly named ‘Schwechater Lager’. While not having that much content, it still had some bits and pieces that gave away some information, including the beautiful water colour illustrations… One image in particular contained something very interesting: pictures of huge stacks of hop bales… These hop bales clearly show the marking ‘SAAZ’.


Brewery Takeover News

It’s been a busy week in the US: AB-InBev swooped in to acquire Wicked Weed of North Carolina. Good Beer Hunting partners with AB-InBev on various projects and takes a broadly positive line to such acquisitions these days but its story covers the key points well: Wicked Weed is a niche buy for AB; fans have reacted with particular irritation to this one; and other breweries are responding in various ways, including withdrawing from Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium Festival.

Then the following day Heineken picked up the part of Lagunitas it didn’t already own. This story was covered at Brewbound which generally takes an editorial line which seems to us moderately critical of big beer and AB-InBev in particular. Its editor seems to spend quite a bit of time bickering about disclosure and propriety with Good Beer Hunting on Twitter, too.

Remember, news isn’t neutral.


Brewery Takeover Commentary

Jeff Alworth at Beervana (sceptical of big beer, pro indie, but not a screaming fundamentalist) is troubled by the way another AB-InBev acquisition, Ten Barrel, seems to be obfuscating its connection with the global giant:

Two Saturdays hence (May 13), AB InBev is hosting a massively expensive party in Bend. They’re promoting it the way only one of the largest companies in the world can–with prizes, a big music lineup (including De La Soul!), and the kind of overheated marketing gloss the finest agencies supply. The occasion celebrates the founding of a brewery AB InBev purchased in 2014. Shockingly enough, this is not the way they’re talking about it… Indeed, the entire event is an exercise in disguising this detail.

Counterpoint: in no other sector would we expect a subsidiary to loudly state the name of their parent company in marketing material, says Good Beer Hunting on Twitter.

But we’re with Jeff: a brand built primarily on the value of Independence is being dishonest, even exploitative of consumers, if it doesn’t actively disclose its change in status for at least a few years after acquisition.


Psst! Whispering men.

Meanwhile, Draft magazine has a bit of a coup, convincing a senior employee at a brewery taken over by AB-InBev to discuss what the experience is like:

There’s more paperwork and bureaucracy to work through now, but not a lot more. I’ve worked in this industry for a while, and the biggest thing I learned during that time is how jaw-droppingly loosey-goosey most breweries are and how little structure there is with most craft breweries. You’d be surprised how many craft breweries don’t even know their real margins. It’s just basic business things. So to answer your question about whether there’s more bureaucracy and oversight now, I’d say no more than your average company; it’s just that most breweries have so little.

The only problem with this anonymous account is that it’s exactly the kind of thing we’d authorise if we worked in PR for AB — broadly upbeat with the only negatives, like the one above, actually being backhanded boasts.

But maybe this is really how it is and all this intrigue is just making us paranoid.


And, finally, this seems like a good advertisement for the Tour de Geuze which is underway in Belgium at this very moment:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 29 April 2017 — Swearing, Spontanpeckham, Stans

Here’s everything that’s grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week from bad language to bad interior design.

Richard Coldwell at OuHouse has given some though to one of the top stories of last week — the apparent ban on swearing in Samuel Smith pubs. He says:

Taking the argument a stage further; if the pub has a tap room then I’m okay with swearing in moderation. I’m as guilty as anyone. In all other areas of a pub then there is absolutely no need for swearing at all. End of discussion here, and I’m fully behind Sam’s on this. I just don’t get the blanket ban across the entire estate, in all rooms. I don’t want to get judgemental, and it takes all types, but trying to enforce a swearing ban in somewhere like the very busy General Elliot or The Duncan in Leeds city centre would be like trying to plait snot. I quite liked the CAMRA stance, reported on in The Morning Advertiser , ‘Pubs should be encouraging good behaviour rather than opting for complete bans on those who swear’. I might go a bit further here myself and say, ensuring good behaviour.


Spontanpeckham in its saucepans.

Here’s just the beginning of the story of ‘Spontanpeckham’ from Kat Sewell at Have I Got Brews for You, whose home brew setup and plans are on another level of sophistication:

I transferred my wort into two 5 litre stainless steel cooking pots and tied cheesecloth over the top to stop any insects from getting in.  I left these under the trees in my garden overnight (1 cherry blossom and 2 sycamores)… I’m going to leave this for at least a year.  I’ll check on it from time to time to see if it needs ditching, I’m not expecting much, it’s more just for my own interest of witnessing a spontaneous fermentation in action.


Illustration: beer on a table.

Tony Naylor, best known for his work in the Guardian, reflects on pub design for Big Hospitality, reacting against the kind of sterile would-be-modern makeover that too often strips pubs of their character:

Fundamentally, for me, interior design in pubs is a retro project; one at its best when it is intuitively sympathetic to the building, whether it dates to 1974 or the 17th century. That need not be executed in clichéd ways with Victoriana and Punch prints (alarmingly, The Hinds Head will feature ‘eccentric curiosities’), nor does it mean your pub must look old, tatty and dingy. Pubs can be polished up, sensitively.


Still from the video for Stan by Eminem.
SOURCE: YouTube/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records

Mark Johnson is shooting arrows again, this time at brewery fanboys:

Though they never asked for the attention it must be incredibly fulfilling to have your work praised by strangers in the pub. Still, there are continuing elements that must be draining. Like running a social media account where people feel the need to unnecessarily tag you in every comment they make regarding your beer. Or even worse, where people don’t tag the offending brewery, but the brewer’s personal profile themselves, in order to really garner attention.


The Woolpack, Salford.

On of our favourite blogs, Manchester’s Estate Pubs, has come out of hibernation with a gorgeous photo essay on The Woolpack, Salford.


Gig posters on a pub in Manchester.

For reference rather than to read: Kaleigh (@kaleighpie) at the The Ale in Kaleigh is managing an events calendar for beer-related events in Manchester which you might want to review and bookmark.


Finally, here’s regular commenter Dave, who also blogs at Brew in a Bedsit, saying something profound with remarkable economy:


We’re away today so this post was put together on Friday and scheduled. If anything exciting happens in the meantime, we’ll Tweet about it.

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”