Thought for the Day: Fuller’s and Dark Star

Fuller's pumpclips.

News broke this morning that Fuller’s has taken over Dark Star, one of the pioneering UK craft breweries. (Definition 2.)

Those who have studied their British beer history, or happen to have lived through it, will perhaps wonder if this is Fuller’s moving into Whitbread territory. Back in the post-war period Whitbread ‘helped out’, then took over, a slew of smaller breweries until they had become a national operation — the precursor to the rather faceless international brewing firms we know today.

The difference, it seems to us, is that back then (to generalise very broadly) Whitbread were after pubs, not brands. They wanted outlets for their own products — a hundred pubs here, a hundred pubs there — but did away with local brands and closed down local breweries, which maximised the impact of national advertising campaigns and kept things simple, if bland.

Now, in 2018, firms such as Marston’s and Greene King have pubs but feel under pressure to offer a wider range of beer. For them, owning a portfolio of smaller breweries or at least brewery names is a great way of doing so while controlling margins and simplifying supply chains. Some people call this ‘the illusion of choice’ which is accurate if you define choice as the ability to decide where your money ends up. But often it really is choice, at least in terms of styles and profiles, to a degree. Better than nothing, at any rate.

Fuller’s has tried selling its own craft brands, with some success, but Dark Star really is something different. Fuller’s has golden ales and summer ales but no Hophead of its own and we imagine that’s the specific beer this deal has been done to secure. (Perhaps based on sales figures from The Harp, a central London freehouse acquired by Fuller’s long-regarded as an unofficial town tap for the Sussex brewery.) Dark Star’s four pubs are neither here nor there — probably more trouble than they’re worth — and Fuller’s is not Whitbread circa 1965. We’re not even sure it’s the Fuller’s that bought and shut down Gale’s in 2005-06, to general outrage, and we’d be very surprised if production of Dark Star beers moves to west London anytime in the next decade, given increased interest in provenance and transparency among consumers.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 February 2018: Koduõlu, Tmavé Pivo, Buck’s Fizz

Here’s everything that grabbed us in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from inclusion to IKEA.

Before we start, though, here’s a reminder that other links round-ups are available: Stan Hieronymus posts every Monday (latest) and Alan McLeod has nabbed Thursday. Do take a look if our list below leaves you hungry for more.

Illustration: "Odd One Out".

First up, for Gal-Dem magazine Alexandra Sewell (@wehavelalex) has written about her experience of the British beer scene as a black woman, and explored the possible reasons more black women might not be involved:

Alcohol was never a feature in our family household. My British-born Jamaican mum never kept lowly bottles of brandy hidden in the kitchen cupboards and we weren’t accustomed to anything more than a non-alcoholic “Buck’s Fizz” at Christmas time. As a small kid, Sundays were for church. As a bigger kid, I was too preoccupied with school. And as far as I was concerned, alcohol was something that was out of sight, and therefore entirely out of mind. I knew of it; I knew other people that liked it and drank it, but the only education I had about such a big part of the culture I was born into was from those borderline hilarious Channel 4 documentaries about people binge-drinking and puking up onto the street.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 February 2018: Koduõlu, Tmavé Pivo, Buck’s Fizz”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 February 2018: Lancashire, Lager, Lambic

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from northern pubs to northern clubs via Belgium.

First up, a post from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss which offers some insight from behind the bar into what pubgoers really want to drink, and how they feel about being confronted by a world of choice:

Marketing a product to people who already love that product is about trends and loyalty and surprises. Finding new fans is a more difficult endeavour, especially if you’re so far down your own rabbit hole that you don’t know what they don’t know. A large percentage of drinkers aren’t invested in the breweries you care about/you are. Many people don’t understand what they’re buying. A lot of drinkers aren’t actually sure what the difference is between cask and keg. And yes – some drinkers, to our constant unfair derision – truly believe that cloudy beers are off. It’s time to admit it: we’re answering the wrong questions about beer.

Four brewers.

Will Hawkes, one of the few bona fide nose-poking journalists working in beer, sniffed out the story that Mahrs of Bamberg was opening a brewery in London. Now, for Imbibe, he has all the fascinating details, including the fact that the brewery is now called Braybrooke Beer Co and actually ended up in Northamptonshire:

It’s the result of a collaboration between restaurateurs Luke Wilson and Cameron Emirali, who run 10 Greek Street, distributor Nick Trower of Biercraft and Stephan Michel, the owner of Mahr’s Bräu, the craft-beer world’s favourite traditional German brewery…. The result is a kellerbier, an unfiltered and unpasteurised amber lager inspired by Mahr’s world-renowned ‘Ungespundet’ (known as ‘U’). It’ll be made with German malt and hops, fermented with Mahr’s yeast, and brewed in the traditional way, including a single decoction step and four weeks’ lagering.

Vintage SIBA sign on a pub in London.

If you’re interested in the non-sexy behind-the-scenes business of the beer industry then this post from brewer Steve Dunkley of Beer Nouveau offers an interesting take on moves by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) into distribution and wholesaling, and its deepening connections with pub companies:

SIBA have created an expensive box-ticking exercise that replicates what breweries already have to do legally. They’ve removed a route to market for non-members, are taking money from PubCos intent on dropping cask from local breweries, and are risking further reducing choice for drinkers whilst also increasing profits for PubCos at the expense of brewers and drinkers alike…. I really can’t see how they can claim to represent the interests of independent breweries, and I can’t see how CAMRA can continue to use Flying Firkin [which SIBA recently acquired] as a recommended wholesaler whilst it runs the very real and emerging risk of reducing consumer choice.

Collage: a fractured pub.

This week saw the release of statistics from the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) suggesting that though beer consumption overall is up, sales of beer in pubs and bars (the on-trade) was down by 2.4% based on the previous year, equating to some 88 million fewer pints. Tandleman has some thoughts here: “For those with jobs and ‘just about managing’, choosing to drink cheap beer at home as pub prices increase on those already wage squeezed, is rapidly becoming a no brainer.”

(We’ve said similar ourselves: the problem is that nobody has any money!)

Illustration: lambic blending.

For Beer Advocate Gail Ann Williams and Steve Shapiro offer a portrait of a new wave Belgian ‘nano-blendery’. As well as a discussion of the cultural significance of a new blendery charging what by Belgian standards are eye-watering prices for challenging products (cinnamon Framboos!) it’s also full of interesting details on the process:

Souvereyns combines three inoculated wort components for all of his beers, relying on relationships with three Lambic producers: Girardin, Lindemans (in Vlezenbeek), and De Troch (in Wambeek). In particular, he believes the De Troch influence is key to his flavor signature. “De Troch is one of those breweries that is so underrated. The Lambic [it] makes is phenomenal but people only relate that brewery to sweetened products,” he laments, referring to quickly-produced fruit beers which subsidize the old brewery’s limited Oude Gueuze production.

(We’re not quite sure when this piece appeared online but we only noticed it this week.)

We’ll finish with this archive film from the BBC on the boom in northern clubs during the 1960s. It contains lots of shots of foaming pints.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 03 February 2018: Cole, CAMRA, Carlsberg

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from anger management to keg konfrontations.

The debate about sexism in beer has been a constant background noise as long as we’ve been blogging but seems to be reaching a head right now, in various positive ways. For example, at Good Beer HuntingMelissa Cole has written a long piece expressing what we suspect a lot of people have been thinking: passionate anger and ‘calling out’ over sexist beer branding clangers is understandable, and often feels like one of the few effective ways to drive change, but is it the best way in every case, and is it sustainable?

All I’m actually saying here is that perhaps we need to stop and think about what led these men, and sometimes women, to not being able to see how this artwork is unacceptable. Are these instances a chance to move the conversation on from merely calling out, and calling names, to a more genuine discourse about why sexist branding is damaging on so many levels? I hope so…. If we can encourage more empathy outside of privilege bubbles, encourage thought beyond what makes you laugh, seeking advice from groups that might be affected by your actions, if we can get acknowledgement that just our own life experiences are not the be all and end all, then that would be a huge start.

By way of a chaser, check out this piece by Alice at Alice Likes Beer reporting on a specific, awkward instance of weird behaviour occurring where else but in the crowd at a discussion about sexism at a beer festival.

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

The Campaign for Real Ale’s Revitalisation project is also reaching a head and as the proposals are laid out and the big vote approaches (members can vote at the AGM, or by proxy) the pros and cons are being explored. Here’s a list of opinion pieces which might help you make up your mind, or alternatively give you ammo to back up what you already believe.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 January 2018: Listening, Little Pubs, Lemp

Here’s all the beer- and pub-writing that we bookmarked in the last week, from personal experiences to industry rumblings.

First, a piece that we’ve been needing to read: for Good Beer Hunting Lily Waite (@QueerBeerBrewCo) gives us an account of life as a trans woman in the UK beer industry.  One primary theme is frustration at the smug assumption that the world of beer is somehow above prejudice:

Too often, the responsibility and labour of initiating change is left to those who need it most. Too often do we have to fight until exhaustion. If everyone in the beer industry—an industry that could be so much more inclusive (and benefit from that exponentially)—worked toward a common goal of not alienating the already marginalised, then we would truly begin to see a craft beer industry that is actually as welcoming and egalitarian as the majority—cis, straight men—within it think it currently is.

And perhaps the key takeaway from discussion around this post on Twitter: you are not legally obliged to cut in with an opinion unless you have some personal insight or experience; it’s fine to listen, reflect, and share.

SIBA, the organisation which represents a substantial number of independent British breweries, has appointed Jaega Wise of Wild Card Brewing as a director following a vote at the South East regional AGM. This is a strong statement given Ms. Wise’s prominence as a critic of sexism in the beer industry, most recently in a high-profile piece by Kaleigh Watterson for the BBC News website.

In the US several items of news have arrived together creating a sense of unease — is the long-anticipated shake-out finally here? Smuttynose Brewing of New Hampshire is to be sold at auction blaming rising competition for failure to meet its growth targets; Green Flash Brewing of San Diego has decided to stop distributing beer in 32 US states and will be laying off 15 per cent of its staff; and Mendocino Brewing has closed down along with a sister company in New York. (Details via Brewbound: 1 | 2 | 3)

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 January 2018: Listening, Little Pubs, Lemp”