News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 March 2018: London Drinkers & Bristol Dockers

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week in the world of beer and pubs, from beer festivals to Friday skiving.

From Roger Protz comes a reflection on the London Drinker beer festival which has been organised by north London Campaign for Real Ale activists annually since 1985, but which this year is sadly winding up:

It’s not because the festival lacks success. On the contrary, it’s one of CAMRA’s longest running and most successful events. But the Camden Centre is due to be knocked down and redeveloped and finding – and affording – a replacement venue is difficult if not impossible….

As interesting as the news itself, though, is Roger’s account of pioneering the very concept of tasting notes in the 1980s, and being jeered at for daring to suggest that there might be chocolate notes in a dark beer.

Illustration: fanzine style picture of a pint and a packet of crisps.

Phil at Oh Good Ale seems to have found an interesting voice lately — a sort of stream of consciousness that coalesces into commentary if you let it. This week he wrote with some panache about the passing culture of Friday lunchtime pints:

1983, Chester

I knew we were on when I saw Tom going back for a pudding. Most days, we’d clock out at lunchtime, go to the canteen for something to eat – a hot meal served with plates and cutlery, none of your rubbish – and then it’d be down the Cestrian for a pint or two, or three…. On this particular Friday Tom went back to get some apple crumble and custard, which he ate with great relish and without any appearance of watching the time, heartily recommending it to the rest of us; a couple of people actually followed his lead. Then he looked at his watch with some ostentation and led the way out of the canteen…. It wasn’t a 15-minute weekday session or a standard 45-minute Friday session; that Friday, we were on.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 March 2018: London Drinkers & Bristol Dockers”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 March 2018: Lemondrop, Brewdog, Hardknott

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, covering everything from Pink IPA to Gothenburgs.

First, a blast of pure raving enthusiasm to cheer everyone up as Steve The Pour Fool Body waxes lyrical about the “new rock-star flower-bomb” hop variety that “makes your beer taste like LemonHeads candy”. It sounds good; we want to try it.

Illustration: "No! Bad dog."

Now on to the problem story of the week, BrewDog’s Pink IPA. We considered providing a round-up of all the ‘hot takes’ but decided instead to point to one really substantial, thoughtful post by Oli (@CraftBeerCommie) guest posting at Craft Queer. It expresses a counter view to ours (“the idea itself doesn’t seem so dreadful even if the execution is terribly clumsy”) and puts this specific incident into a broader context of BrewDog’s behaviour over the years:

Brewdog as a company has a long history of misunderstanding (some might be so bold as to say abusing) social commentary as a marketing tool…. [In] the company’s earlier years, the bad humoured, unapologetically offensive tone and actions of the company’s founder-owners was able to shelter beneath the veil of an appropriated revolutionary language and DIY punk ideology…. After this, however, it seems that, as with so many other companies, Brewdog intentionally courts controversy as a means of marketing itself. The search for an initial, perhaps viral reaction of offence before the secondary “A-ha! Here’s the punchline” is yet again delivered in a manner that relies as much on customer enragement as it does engagement.

For more on this subject check out Alcohol by Volume where the opinions of women in and adjacent to the beer industry have been collated.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 March 2018: Lemondrop, Brewdog, Hardknott”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 March 2018: Norway, Nitrogen, Nanas

Here’s all the news and comment that grabbed our attention in the past week, from keg dispense to Rwandan banana beer.

First, Will Hawkes, who you can trust to make a story about keg beer dispense for Imbibe interesting:

Keg beer dispense quality is not often talked about in the UK, at least in contrast to the perpetual hand-wringing that goes on with regard to cask ale. But it deserves to be a very big issue, because a huge number of pubs and bars in the UK are not set up to serve craft keg beer in the best condition…. That’s because most keg dispense equipment in the UK has been designed to suit low-carbonation, sterile-filtered big-name lager brands, which are relatively easy to look after. But modern craft beers come in a bewildering variety and they need individual treatment, be that a higher temperature of serve or a different gas mix.

For Original Gravity Jessica Mason provides a difficult, emotionally intense read about her family and father, ‘the worst man I had ever met in my entire life’, anchored around the pub:

I knew I had mere hours with a man I didn’t know. But with a hundred questions in my head none of which could be answered by someone intent on impressing me, I would need to put my questions aside and make him feel at ease enough to remove his veneer. But how would I do that? Strangely enough, I did know. I needed just two simple props: a pub table and some beer.

Norway in the snow.
SOURCE: Good Beer Hunting

This piece about Norwegian home-brewers by Jonny Garrett for Good Beer Hunting is packed with lovely photographs, interesting incidents and engaging characters:

Reines and I are sharing a quiet moment at the after-party of the town’s homebrew competition and festival, which he organizes. Things are getting a little philosophical because, well, we’ve been drinking since lunchtime. We’ve just spent a half hour kneeling on the floor in front of his new sound system, listening to Nordic heavy metal at a volume I was sure would echo across the fjords and all the way back to my home in England.

Our favourite thing? Fritz the bucket. (Oddly misnamed Franz in the text.)

Edwardian advertisement for Edelweiss beer: top hatted man points at beer with his diamond-topped cane.

Katie at The Snap and the Hiss has further thoughts on the affordability and desirability of craft beer, and the swirling tides of aspiration and marketing that surround it:

I am fully aware and appreciative of the costs involved in creating beer and I am in no doubt that prices are fair (for the most part). I just know that I’m not flush enough. So what am I suggesting here? That breweries should make no-frills beer for us poor people too? That there should be a pay-it-forward scheme involved? No, of course not. I’m just highlighting the fact that keeping up with trends in craft beer is exclusionary in it’s nature and there should be some awareness of this. Not everybody can take part. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who can’t or don’t take part are any less enthusiastic about beer than the people collecting new cans like Pokémon cards.

Sighing bar staff.

There’s been a fair bit of news on the sexism-in-beer front this week:

  1. SIBA has announced its intention to move forward with plans for a code of practice for (or rather against) offensive beer marketing.
  2. The Portman Group held a focus group about sexist beer packaging this week as part of reviewing its guidance.
  3. American brewery Stone dropped a bizarre, awful social media clanger with what seemed to be a joke about sexual consent. This story continues to develop.
  4. Jeff Alworth has been running a series of posts on this subject with input from various women in the industry, our favourite of which is the conclusion: ‘What You Can Do’.
  5. Nicci Peet, a Bristol-based photographer specialising in beer-related subjects, has launched a project to document women in the UK beer industry you can find out more and support her work at Patreon.

Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

Brewers! You will want to get your hands on the new e-book by Andreas KrenmairHistoric German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer. He’s undertaken lots of painstaking research to come up with recipes for everything from Dreher-style Vienna lager to Mannheimer Braunbier. We bought a copy and have already found lots to chew on even though we don’t have any immediate plans to brew.


Here’s something a bit different: from the BBC World Service programme Outlook, some audio, on the subject of  Rwandan ‘banana beer’. Christine Murebwayire grew up in a family of banana beer brewers and then, many years later, used it to drag her family out of poverty:

“A lot of people like to drink banana beer but some educated, smart people feel uncomfortable drinking it because it’s not a very sophisticated drink. So I thought, if I could make a smarter drink to drink on social occasions, it will appeal to a bigger market….”

(We think you should be able to listen to this worldwide; apologies if not.)

This week we’ll finish not with a Tweet as usual but with a film trailer: Walk Like a Panther is a real sign of the times — a Full Monty style comedy about a community banding together to save the local pub from closure.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 February 2018: Labels, Lollies, Lambic,

These are all the beer- and pub-related links we’ve enjoyed most, or found most informative, in the past week, covering everything from breakfast beer to computer games.

First, from Jeff Alworth, a clever idea: using rank-my-boss website Glass Door to gain insight into the employment cultures of American craft breweries. He writes:

In my experience, people are uniformly tight-lipped about their employers, and trying to suss out which breweries treat their employees well and which don’t has always been elusive…. There are some real surprises here. Rogue has long had a reputation as a terrible place to work, thanks in part to this report. But on Glassdoor, it’s getting a quite-respectable 3.9. New Belgium, by contrast, is usually described as something like heaven to work for, and it’s getting only a 3.5.

A crowd outside the Market Porter.
SOURCE: Stacy/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jessica Furseth has written a fascinating piece for Atlas Obscura on the handful of London pubs that are open for breakfast, arguing that they are the last reminders of a time when Londoners drank at all hours of the day:

It’s 7 a.m. at The Market Porter in South London, and I’m eyeing the choices behind the bar. “You alright there?” the barman asks. This is the first time I’ve stopped by the pub on my way to work in the morning, and I have no idea what to get. Honestly, what I want is another coffee. But eventually I settle on a cider: the “Traditional Scrumpy,” which is a feisty six percent alcohol. As the morning sun pokes through the patterned glass windows, it goes down a lot better than I expect.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 February 2018: Labels, Lollies, Lambic,”

More on Fuller’s and Dark Star, Plus Links

Illustration: dark star -- SOLD

Having reacted in the immediate aftermath of the news that Fuller’s has acquired Dark Star we’ve been thinking and talking about it since, and seeking additional input.

First, we asked on Twitter whether they thought this was good or bad news. Predictably, lots of people wanted a not sure, don’t know, don’t care option, which we deliberately omitted because we were after a decisive result. But of course that’s the camp we’re in, though erring on the optimistic side — Dark Star seemed in the doldrums to us and this is more likely to lift it than destroy it. Of the 425 people who did feel strongly and sure enough to vote, 65 per cent leaned that way too:

In the meantime some concrete information has emerged. For the Morning Advertiser James Beeson interviewed Dark Star MD James Cuthbertson who said:

“There will be some overlap in our accounts and sales teams, and there will be some redundancies, which we will hope to keep to a minimum. However, Fuller’s have worked very hard to make sure their ex-staff are well looked after, and this ties back into the overriding point which is that they just ‘get it’; they know how to treat beer and treat people.”

There have also been substantial reflective pieces from Pete Brown, who is typically keyed into the emotional aspect of the story:

When a brewery gets bought, depending on the circumstances, it can feel as though people you believed in to live the dream on your behalf have turned out to be just like everyone else – they’ve disillusioned you and let you down. Alternatively, it may be that they stood heroically for as long and they could, but eventually had no choice to succumb, proving that a rebellious, anti-establishment stance is always ultimately doomed to failure.

And Roger Protz, who is generally critical of takeovers and sensitive to corporate skullduggery, but here says:

The success of the craft beer sector is creating a number of acquisitions…. These takeovers have been driven to a large extent by rapidly declining sales of global lager brands and old-fashioned keg ales. Fuller’s on the other hand is not a global brewer and its beer sales are not in decline. But working with Dark Star and creating collaboration beers with Moor Beer of Bristol and Marble has shown the kudos that can be gained by identifying with a craft sector that has such appeal to younger and discriminating drinkers.

His summary of the background to Fuller’s takeover of Gale’s in 2005 is helpful, too: an uninterested family, a decrepit brewery, and little choice for Fuller’s but to close it down; but lingering local resentment all the same.

* * *

Some people seem puzzled or even irritated at the focus on this story, especially those who don’t live in or anywhere near London and the Home Counties, but of course it’s not just about Dark Star — it’s a case study in what might happen elsewhere in the country.

If you want to play the prediction game perhaps start by looking for a brewery with a convincing modern craft beer identity and high profile, but that has seemed a unsteady in recent years. Dark Star, the example at hand, lost its superstar head brewer, Mark Tranter, in 2013, after which its beer was widely perceived as having dipped in quality. It also seemed to be struggling to maintain its relevance in a world of Cloudwaters and BrewDogs, always one rebrand behind the zeitgeist.

Or, to put all that another way, breweries rarely seem to sell up in the heady hype-phase — it’s during the come down that they’re vulnerable.