News, Nuggets & Longreads 16/08/2014

"The Wall Worker" by John Thomson, c.1877.

Cock-a-doodle-doo! Good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning-aaaah! Nothing to do but read these links, eat some bacon.

→ The picture at the top of this post comes from Street Life in London, a collection of photographs from 1877-78, with accompanying essays, which is available online through the the London School of Economics digital library. There are a couple of other pictures of pubs in the set.

→ Notoriously aromatic and bitter, Ballantine was arguably the single most influential beer in the aromatic IPA-mania of the last 30-odd years, and now it’s back. This is one American beer we will be making serious efforts to get our hands on.

→ In the week when the Campaign for Real Ale launches a drive to change the law to make it hard to convert pubs into shops or homes, Martyn ‘Zythophile’ Cornell argues vehemently that they’re on the wrong track:

Pubs are not sacred. The rights of pubgoers do not trump the rights of property owners. The disappearance of any pub is not the same as, eg, the disappearance of a Saxon church… If a pub is making less money for its owner than it would under another use, the owner must have the right to maximise their income.

→ On a somewhat related note, prolific epistolarian, committed Marxist, and beer-loving celebrity beard-sporter Keith Flett writes about ‘The Moral Economy of the Great British Beer Festival‘:

The concept of the moral economy, developed by the late historian EP Thompson in 1971, is to posit a customary and traditional way of looking at things in relation to a market economy. The moral economy does not aim to replace a market economy but to temper with a framework of laws and obligations… I think there is an interesting case for understanding the Great British Beer Festival as an annual gathering of those who take a moral economic view of the beer world.

→ Saved to Pocket this week: a piece from the Washington City Paper about cult beers, customer entitlement, and the competitive urge which is making beer less sociable. (Via Stan Hieronymus.)

→ We like this picture because (a) hops and (b) London E17:

And, finally, there are a couple of beer stories that went sufficiently mainstream ‘viral’ that we’d surprised if anyone missed them, but, just in case…

The Daily Beast wrote a profile of Kent ‘Battle’ Martin, the civil servant who approves US beer labelsHe rejected an “Adnams Broadside” beer, which touted itself as a “heart-warming ale,” because this supposedly involved a medical claim.’.

Tony Naylor wrote a substantial piece on the current UK ‘craft beer’ boom for the the Guardian. (If you must read the ranting comments, note the unjustified confidence with which many people issue downright rude ‘corrections’.)

Modern Pubmanship, Part 2: Sharing Tables

The second in an occasional series of guest posts by our etiquette expert R.M. Banks.

Pint of Beer illustration.

I am, in general, one of those sturdy types whose natural resting position in the public house is at a 40 degree angle against the bar with one set of hobnails planted on the brass rail, elbows on the drip mat.

From time to time, however, even I cannot resist the siren lure of a chair and table.

For the serious shovelling of peas, the sculpting of mashed tubers, and the dissection of a coiled Cumberland, the convenient horizontality of the C&T is hard to beat.

Continue reading after the jump ⇒

Fourpure Pils

Fourpure Pils -- can and glass.

As lager lovers, we’re always keen to try British brewers’ attempts, especially when we’ve heard good things about them from fellow beer geeks.

Bermondsey Beer Mile brewery Fourpure’s Pils has generated plenty of attention, partly because it comes in that most contentious of containers, a 330ml can.

Trusting our peers, rather than dabbling with one or two, we included half a dozen (@ £1.95 each, plus P&P) in our last order from Beer Merchants, placed at the height of the recent heat wave when we were craving things cold and refreshing.

At first, we were a little disappointed: compared to the cans of St Austell Korev we had picked up from the local CO-OP (@ about £1.10 each) Fourpure Pils seemed rather rough-edged. Last night, however, having emptied the last two cans and crushed them against our foreheads with a roar (obviously not) we concluded that it was good stuff after all.

It is, for one thing, far from bland: by the standards of most beers calling themselves Pils, it has a pronounced wild-flower, blackcurrant, stinging nettle hop aroma, back up by a robust, parching bitterness.

The hint of roughness remained in evidence, however — somewhere in the brewing and packaging process, we’d guess there is oxygen where there shouldn’t be, leading to a persistent stale, papery note in the background. It’s much, much cleaner than our home-brewed lager (plastic bucket, no temperature control) but there are similarities.

Depending on your tastes, though, this might read as that much-desired quality — ‘character’.

We couldn’t resist one final experiment — would it taste different necked straight from the can? Side-by-side with a serving in a fancy stemmed tasting glass, we noted to our surprise that despite this practical issue…

…the aroma was actually far better, concentrated through the tiny aperture into a needle of bright hoppiness right up the nostrils. From a glass, though still punchy, aroma, flavour and bitterness all seemed generally gentler.

In conclusion, we’d buy Fourpure Pils again, and look forward to trying it on tap when we get the chance.

Failure to be Outraged


Once again, we find ourselves struggling to summon what is apparently the appropriate level of outrage as the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) award is announced by the Campaign for Real Ale.

It’s an important competition which can tip a brewery over into the big time, sure, but it’s not the Word of God.

If you accept that, of the thousands in production, it’s legitimate to name a single beer The Best, then there’s no reason we can see to be angry that the award has gone to Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, aka Best Bitter.

Now, we get as bored as anyone of entering pubs and finding three ubiquitous and underwhelming bitters on offer, and we have to admit that we did hope something a bit sexier might win for once — the pale’n’hoppy Oakham Citra, universally loved in the Blogoshire, which came in second place, for example.

But, like it or not, bitter is part of the landscape of British beer — should it be banned from the competition because its character derives from something other than prominent aroma hopping?

We’ve not had Boltmaker, as far as we can recall, but we suspect we’d probably enjoy it. Two of our most fondly-remembered pub sessions have been on Timothy Taylor beer — one in Haworth, and another at the Bricklayer’s Arms in Putney — and it can be transcendently wonderful, in that subtle, indescribable way that regional brewers sometimes achieve. (See also: the Batham’s.)

Perhaps that’s how Boltmaker tasted today? Enthusiasm on the part of the judges certainly seems a more likely than a sinister conspiracy aimed at the suppression of ‘craft’.

(Having said that, we’ll certainly be filing today’s result in the memory banks for next time someone claims traditional bitters are some kind of endangered species that don’t get enough attention…)

The Great British Beer Festival runs until Saturday 16 August.

The Arrival of Aroma

Humulus Lupulus illustration.

The fundamental shift in thinking around hops which took place at some point after the 1970s was reflected in a mid-nineties UK industry competition.

First run in 1996, ‘The Beauty of Hops’ was sponsored and organised by the National Hop Association (now the British Hop Association), Horticulture Research International (HRI) and SIBA.

In its inaugural year, the event took place at the White Horse, Parson’s Green, then run by Mark Dorber, and reflects a strain of thought you might call ‘Franklinism’:

The aim behind the Awards was an attempt to stimulate thought about varietal brewing, to  steal some of the clothes of oenologists and increase understanding of the potentials of individual hops in the same way that grape varieties are assessed and understood. [The Grist, May/June 1996, ed. Alastair Hook]

It seems amazing, in an age when Marks & Spencer has a single-hop beer range, to think that this approach needed prompting as recently as 18 years ago.

Four hop varieties were used in the competition: Phoenix, Progress, Target, and the then-brand-new First Gold. The winners in each hop category were, respectively, Ballards with Nyewood Gold; Rooster’s (Sean Franklin) with Bullseye; and Hop Back with Thunderstorm. The First Gold competition was informal and no winner was announced.

The competition was repeated the following year, this time at Wolverhampton & Dudley brewery, and with a new category open to regional/family brewers: Aromatic Cask Ales.

The task brewers they were set was ‘to brew a beer with any grist of English grown hops — Max ABV 5%’. The gold medal winners were Hardy & Hanson of Nottinghamshire with Guzzling Goose, described by a correspondent for The Grist (Mar/Apr 1997, ed. Peter Haydon):

Here was a beer that was balanced, not too powerfully bitter, which demonstrated a teamwork between the hop aroma and the hop flavour, so that the former gave you a reasonable indication of what the latter was going to provide.

In second place, Wolverhampton & Dudley’s White Rabbit ‘painted a landscape of fruits and spices’.

The winners in other categories were Crouch Vale First Gold (single hop cask), Rooster’s Jerry (aromatic lager), and Freeminer Trafalgar (single hop bottle).

The most entertaining thing about The Grist article, however, is the criticism directed at brewers who didn’t rise to the challenge:

The judges of the aromatic cask ales… were a little disappointed with the standard of the ale offered up to taste. The beers fell into four categories. Oxidised (by far the largest), full of off flavours (buckets of diacetyl and acetone), good beers but either of so malty a character or so lacking in hop character that one was left wondering why they had been entered in a hop competition, or good beers that filled the remit… 

One beer was so bad it prompted Hop Back’s John Gilbert to remark, disturbingly, that it reminded him of his ‘Granny’s pants’, while another wasn’t fit to wash his dog in.

There’s a sense that the regional brewers didn’t understand how the rules of the game were changing — that ‘hoppy’ was gaining a new, alternate meaning that didn’t have much to do with bitterness or Fuggles. In the years that followed these competitions, the gap between them and the ‘micros’ would grow ever wider.

This post was, as you’ll have guessed, based only on a couple of old magazine articles. If you can point us to more detailed information on the Beauty of Hops competitions, or were involved yourself as a competitor or judge, please do comment below.

Writing about beer and pubs since 2007