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”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 11 March 2017: Queues, Le Coq, Suffragettes

Here’s all the beer and pub writing that grabbed us in the last week, from business rates to faux-Belgians.

Written as part of his journalism degree James Beeson’s piece on the threat to pubs from forthcoming business-rate hikes, aimed at mainstream audiences, is a handy primer:

According to rates and rents specialists CVS, 17,160 pubs will have to pay more in business rates from April, and this is just the start, with rates expected to rise by £421m in the next five years.  This hike means that pubs will need to pour an extra 121 million pints to fund increases in property taxes paid to councils. CVS estimate that high business rates have contributed to one in five pub closures in England and Wales over the last six years.

As it happens, in his budget on Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced business rate relief for pubs, as reported by the Morning Advertiser, albeit coupled with an increase in beer duty.


Price list in a pub.

We’ve already linked once this week to Peter McKerry’s thought-provoking piece on why people choose to drink at home or the pub but there’s been more chatter around this interesting subject, notably from Mark Johnson who argues that drinking at home isn’t really cheaper. He roots his argument with a welcome discussion of price-per-litre and relative value:

Bottles of good beer aren’t cheap. I very rarely purchase, in my most frequented bottles shops, a beer for under £3. Most of the time I’ll purchase 5 or 6 bottles at a time and this shop is never under £25… 5 or 6 pints in the pub doesn’t cost me £25+… A pint of cask beer in my favourite pub ranges from £2.60 – £3.60, dependent on strength and purchase price. This is for a 568ml measure of beer as opposed to the standard 330ml size for bottles or cans in the beer shop. In terms of quantity equivalent (ml to ml) 6 beers in the pub will cost approximately £18.60. The bottles will cost me approximately £43 for the same amount of beer.


A queue at Magic Rock's brewery tap.

Staying with the same author, Mark also asked this week why on earth people would go to Huddersfield and join a long snaking queue for the Magic Rock brewery tap when there are so many other great pubs in town:

This is an anecdote that canvasses my feelings at present about anything that involves queuing or FOMO. This won’t be the only time I see people queue for a pub I’m sure. It’s just like those that scurry for online beer releases the moment it goes on sale. It is only for certain breweries with certain beers. It is the same ones doing the rounds on Facebook forums. There’s no frenzy for beers that aren’t universally praised, just like there seems little desire to drink in establishments that don’t have some form of bucket list status behind them.

(For what it’s worth, if we’d gone all the way to Huddersfield specifically to visit the MR tap for whatever reason, we’d probably have joined the queue, but when we found a similar line running out of the door at the Wild Beer Co bar in Bristol the other week, we walked.)


The Crynes on a beer festival balcony.
The Crynes at the GBBF in the 1980s.

For Craft Beer London, the website that accompanies the book and very useful smartphone app of the same name, Will Hawkes trailed the London Drinker Festival with a profile of two key figures in the British beer scene, Christine Cryne and her husband John:

‘We’ve had hate mail!’ says Christine. ‘Some stalwarts think having keykeg is the sell-out of sell-outs.’ She doesn’t seem overly concerned. ‘For me it’s about also being commercial. We need to make this beer festival a success. Young people don’t distinguish between real ale and non-real ale – for them it’s all craft. That’s what we’re doing here: for people who aren’t into real ale, we want to encourage them to try it. If we don’t do that, how will we get those youngsters in in the first place?’


The Shades, Hartlepool, closed and boarded.
A closed and boarded pub in Hartlepool.

An interesting nugget from Tandleman: looking back over his considerable archive he found mention of a pub that was doomed in 2009 and wondered what had become of it since. (It would be an interesting project to look back at a whole lot of stories like this and see how often they have a similar punchline.)


Text from a bottle of Harvey's Imperial Stout: A Le Coq.

You might not have the stomach for the in-depth details of his family tree that follow but the headline in this story about Albert Le Coq by Martyn Cornell is a killer for beer history nerds:

Le Coq is remembered as a 19th century exporter of Imperial stout from London to St Petersburg, whose firm eventually took over a brewery in what is now Tartu, in Estonia to brew Imperial stout on what was then Russian soil. The brewery is still going, it took back the name A Le Coq in the 1990s, and an Imperial stout bearing its brand has been brewed since 1999, though by Harvey’s of Lewes, in Sussex, not in Estonia. But every reference to the company founder, Albert Le Coq, apart from in the official history of the Tartu brewery – which is almost completely in Estonian – says he was a Belgian. He wasn’t.


A bit of brewery closure news from the US: two Californian outfits have folded in the past week, San Francisco’s Speakeasy Ales & Lagers and Orange County’s Valiant Brewing.


And, finally, amongst the flood of cheering, inspiring images and stories that accompanied International Women’s Day on Wednesday this 1908 cartoon stood out:

(You can see the original at the US Library of Congress website.)

News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 March 2017: Paddy Losty, Lone Wolf, London Pride

Here’s all the news and commentary in the world of beer that grabbed our interest in the last week, from Dublin pintmen to lone wolves.

From Stephen Bourke for the Dublin Inquirer comes the story of ‘pintman’ Paddy Losty who allowed himself to be photographed in the pub by a roving author and 20 years on has gone viral:

His fans set up a dedicated splinter group, which has now spun out to a Twitter account controlled by the group’s admins… His celebrity is secure, at least for the 4,548 fans of Photoshop jobs of Losty in the guise of characters ranging from Hans Moleman to Dionysus.

(Via @BarMas/@teninchwheels/@higginsmark.)


People watching TV in a pub.

Pints & Pubs is undertaking to visit every pub in Cambridge this year and the project is throwing up interesting case studies such as this reflection on the dominating force of an always-on television:

 I look around and everyone’s either staring at the TV or at their phones. One couple finish their drinks and get their coats on to leave, then stand there for 5 minutes transfixed by some wingsuit wearing stuntman landing in a pile of cardboard boxes. Another couple come in and go straight for the two chairs directly under the tv, then sit in silence, arching their necks to watch it. At one point, loud screams attract everyones attention – not the shriek from a customer laying eyes on one of the pub’s ghosts, but from a woman caught in a tornado in Alabama.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 March 2017: Paddy Losty, Lone Wolf, London Pride”