A couple of years ago we suggested a few indicators of a healthy beer culture. Number eight on our list was the presence of a ‘must try’ regional speciality. Having been reminded of that post, we’ve been thinking about which UK regions have something that fits the bill.

Now, we’re not talking about which beers are best or most exciting but those which in some way reflect local history and tradition, in the same way a Maß of Helles tells you you’re in Munich.

Here’s a partial list, very much off the top of our heads:

  • Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire: pale ale — Bass, Worthington White Shield or Marston’s Pedigree.
  • Cornwall: strong (c.5%), brown, sweetish ale, e.g. Spingo Middle, St Austell HSD.
  • Edinburgh: 80/-. (It’s not unique to Edinburgh but it’s what we’d seek out if we were there for one day on a fortnight’s tour of the UK and were never coming back.)
  • Glasgow: Tennent’s Lager — brewed here since 1885, in a country which went over to lager decades before England seriously got the taste.
  • Kent: bitter with Kentish hops, e.g. Shepherd Neame.
  • London: porter. It died out, yes, but this is where it was born, and there are some fairly authentic local examples now available, e.g. Fuller’s.
  • Manchester: Manchester pale ale — historically Boddington’s, which was notably light in colour and high in bitterness; now Lees’ MPA or Marble Manchester Bitter.
  • Salisbury, Wiltshire: golden ale, specifically Hop Back Summer Lightning at the Wyndham.
  • West Midlands: Batham’s or Holden’s Bitter. We asked Tania, a noted fan, to summarise what makes these beers different: ‘It’s the subtle malty sweetness that kicks in at the end of each sip, once the restrained hop bitterness has refreshed your mouth, that makes Black Country bitters so easy to drink.’
  • Yorkshire: bitter. A very broad region and a very vague local speciality that Leigh Linley tried to pin down here.

Continue reading In REGION You Must Try BEER

The Strange Death of Ronny Fincham

In December 1989, 60-year-old, 20-stone Ronald Henry Fincham stripped naked and climbed into a vat of beer at the brewery in Romford, where he drowned.

He was celebrating 25-years service at the brewery and, according to one not-entirely-reliable source, The Weekly World News, had been out on the town with colleagues but crept back into the brewery after kicking out time, climbed a six foot ladder and slipped into 35,000 pints of beer that had been returned from pubs.

His wife, the WWN said, reported him missing the next morning and his clothes were found next to the vat. Under police orders, the tank was drained and Mr Fincham’s body was found at the bottom.

Walthamstow Coroner Dr. Harold Price recorded a verdict of death from natural causes. He didn’t think Mr Fincham’s death could be blamed on alcohol because Ron ‘was known as a man who could take his drink’, though he did observe that a few beers might have made him less cautious than usual.

This story still crops up from time to time in ‘It’s a Wacky World!’-type filler features and we assumed it was an urban legend until we found it recorded in the Guardian. Poor old Ron.

Sources: The London DrinkerApril 1990; ‘News in Brief’, Guardian, 20/12/1989; ‘Vat’s All Folks: Boozed-up brewery worker drowns in huge tub of beer’, Weekly World News, 29/12/1989; ‘News Diary’, The Age, 22/12/1989. Record of Mr Fincham’s death and full name from public records via Main photo: ‘glc – control panel ind coope brewery romford 82 JL’ by and © John Law, via Flickr.

West Cornwall Notes

There’s been quite a lot going on in our local beer scene so, for the record, and to help those of you planning a visit to the far west, here’s a quick round-up of developments.

Coastal Brewery’s on-site brewery tap and specialist beer outlet is up and running in Redruth. An industrial estate on the outskirts of a former mining town is about as far from twee as you can get, and drinking among stacked palettes and breeze block walls won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we found it surprisingly atmospheric, with a chatty crowd of post-shift drinkers from surrounding units. It’s probably the best place to come if you want to ‘tick’ Coastal’s own beers from cask and keg (they’re generally decent and occasionally brilliant), and has plenty of Belgian, American and German beers not often seen out this way. Bottles are available to take away, too, if you’re thinking about stocking a holiday cottage. It’s open until 10-15:00, Mon-Thu, and on Saturday; and until 7pm on Fridays, but check the Facebook page — those hours aren’t fixed.

Continue reading West Cornwall Notes

News, Nuggets & Longreads 22/08/2015

Here’s our pick of the most interesting, entertaining or eye-opening beer-related reading of the last week.

→ Lars Marius Garshol continues his investigations into Scandinavian farmhouse ales, this time in Denmark where he has been mining information from ethnographic surveys. This sounds appealingly quick and easy, doesn’t it?

Basically, it’s the most straightforward raw ale process, where one starts with a simple infusion mash. Then, the mash is moved to the strainer, and run off directly into the fermenter. Hops are boiled in water on the side, to make hop tea, which is then added to the fermenter. Cool the wort, then pitch the yeast.

→ ‘Cream ale’ is a quintessentially American style of beer that we know very little about so Tom Acitelli’s piece on the origins of the best known example, Genesee, was an interesting read:

Predating Prohibition, the style grew up as a response to the pilsners flooding the market via immigrant brewers from Central Europe. Cream ales were generally made with adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body of what would otherwise end up as a thicker ale…

→ Adam H. Graham reports on the thriving beer scene in Kosovo for the New York Times (via @PJMcKerry):

“Beer consumption does clash with our Muslim history,” said Bekim Shala, the manager of Birra Prishtina, a brewery that opened last year. “But we are a secular society and alcohol has always been consumed here.”

Continue reading News, Nuggets & Longreads 22/08/2015

The Age of Rail Ale, 1975-1980

During what the press called the ‘real ale craze’ of the late 1970s everyone got in on the act, including British Rail whose Travellers-Fare catering wing introduced cask-conditioned beer to around 50 station pubs.

We first came across mention of this trawling newspapers while researching Brew Britannia and, in an early draft, quoted this Daily Express report as evidence of how real ale drinkers were perceived at the time:

In the Shires Bar opposite Platform Six at London’s St Pancras Station, yesterday, groups of earnest young men sipped their pints with the assurance of wine tasters… There were nods of approval for the full bodied Sam Smith Old Brewery Bitter, and murmurs of delight at the nutty flavour of the Ruddles County Beer… [More than] half the customers drinking the five varieties of real ale in the Shires were not train travellers but people from the neighbourhood using the station as their local pub… In one corner sat for young men sipping foaming pints. They were members of CAMRA, the ginger group for beer brewed by natural means and prove their dedication by travelling three nights a week from Fulham in South West London — four miles away. One of them, 22-year-old accountant Michael Morris said: ‘This place just beats any of our local pubs.’

Twenty-something beer geeks travelling miles for good beer in a weird novelty bar rather than using their dodgy local boozer — you can file that under ‘nothing changes’.

Continue reading The Age of Rail Ale, 1975-1980

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Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007