News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 September 2017: Coopers, Commons, CAMRA Cash

Here’s all the beer- and pub-writing that grabbed our attention in the past week, from yeasty Aussie beer to beer-and-life-event pairing.

Phil Cook at the Beer Diary brings an interesting bit of evidence to the table on the hazy beer debate, providing an overlooked (by us) Australian perspective:

Not long ago, when Coopers Sparkling was the local paragon of ‘good beer’, Australian brewers got into the habit of fogging up their beers seemingly just to emulate it and borrow some of its prestige. Likewise, some brewers of juice-bomb East Coast IPAs exaggerate their haze with additives selected solely for that purpose, and not in pursuit of tastier beer as such. Such trickery is indeed obnoxious, but it’s the cheating, not the cloudiness, that offends me.


The Commons brewery building.

Jeff Alworth at Beervana provides a heartfelt reaction to news of the closure of a brewery he loved, The Commons, which operates in his home base of Portland, Oregon:

But the very thing that made The Commons beloved by some–and they probably have more superfans than Deschutes–made it mysterious to most. It was the Velvet Underground of breweries, making exceptional beer most people didn’t understand. Any brewery that routinely offers mild ales and microbiere (a tiny saison) but not IPA is defining themselves far outside the mainstream. The Commons spent years fielding the same question from confused patrons: ‘which one’s the IPA?’For a time, they were absurdly guiding people to Myrtle, a saison in which astute drinkers might detect the presence of hop aroma. That was their sop to the masses.

His suggestion that the departure of the head brewer was an early danger sign is an interesting one, too — something to watch out for in what may or may not be a period of strife?


Bass on Draught plaque outside an English pub.

Martin Taylor AKA retiredmartin has been reflecting on Bass, a beer with which we are also slightly obsessed, as a manifesto continues to emerge from his reports of visiting every Good Beer Guide pub in Britain:

Some of you may have noticed my predilection for Draught Bass, but it’s a complex relationship… If honest, I’d prefer it if only a landlord who cared about Bass served it, like the Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard so clearly does… Top beers like Young’s, Adnams and Landlord saw their reputation decline as their beers went into chain pubs with more hand-pumps than customers, and I fear Bass has suffered by being served too early, or too long, in many pubs.

We’ve noticed an improvement in Bass, and in Young’s Ordinary, in recent years and think he might be on to something here. And might not a Good Bass Guide — a slim volume — be a useful publication?


Mariage Parfait.

We don’t often include trip reports here for one reason and another but this account of a visit to Edinburgh from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss has at its centre a lovely moment of personal importance, paired, of course, with a suitable beer.


This ostensibly rather boring bit of behind-the-scenes CAMRA business might be one of the most important stories of the week: the Campaign is experiencing some financial difficulties because ‘revenue was likely to be less than the amount forecast at the start of the financial year, and upon which the organisation’s spending plans were based’. In other words, people are literally not buying what CAMRA is selling. We will watch how this develops with interest. (Morning Advertiser)


Meanwhile, BrewDog has done something genuinely interesting and refreshingly straightforward: its owners have pledged to give 10 per cent of profits to charity, and 10 per cent to employees on an ongoing basis. BrewDog haters will no doubt roll their eyes at this but it’s much bolder and clearer than most corporate social responsibility programmes. And when a firm can start giving money away, you have to suspect it’s doing alright, don’t you?


And, finally, as signs of the times go, this is hard to beat:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 June 2017: Rating, Flyposting, Logging

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from flyposting to secret manoeuvring.

First, the big story of the week: for Good Beer Hunting Dave Eisenberg has ferreted out the news that Ratebeer, the website where serious beer geeks log scores and notes for the beers they drink, is now partly owned by AB-InBev:

Through its so-called ‘global disruptive growth group’ ZX Ventures, Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired a minority stake in RateBeer, one of the most popular and reputable beer ratings and resource websites in the world… But the deal isn’t exactly new. In fact, it closed this past October following eight months of talks.

That last bit is the weird wrinkle here. Usually, takeovers or partnerships, or whatever you want to call them, are announced immediately, but this was kept quiet (to paraphrase GBH‘s report) so that the partners could prove that RateBeer wouldn’t be changed by the arrangement. Reading between the lines what that means is that they were worried about suddenly losing half the membership overnight, which might still happen.

(GBH has connections with AB-InBev which are set out in a disclosure statement midway through the article. Judge for yourself whether you think this has skewed the reporting; we think pointedly not.)


Biscuit beers on a blackboard.

Barm at I Might Have a Glass of Refreshing Beer (AKA @robsterowski) attended the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival and used the opportunity to reflect on ‘wacky’ beers and craft beer culture:

Do you remember a couple of years ago, when cupcake shops were popping up left, right and centre, purveying sickly sweet icing (sorry, ‘frosting’) atop a tiny sponge cake base? Despite being mostly white sugar and refined flour, and unutterably disgusting to boot, they found ready cheerleaders among food media that normally pray dutifully to the idols of local ingredients and fresh produce… This appears to be the phase that ‘craft’ brewers are now passing through.

It’s interesting that some people seem to have read this post as a slam of a festival — ‘Why go to events you know you’re going to hate?’ — but, despite the author’s general tendency to speak his mind, this struck us as quite an objective, ultimately positive account: ‘I did enjoy myself, much to my surprise. More to the point, the punters who’d forked out to get in seemed to be having a good time too.’


BrewDog bottles in a supermarket.

Suzy AKA The Pub Geek is not impressed by BrewDog’s latest crowd marketing campaign:

They’re asking their ‘Equity Punks’ to flypost across a country which carries a potential £80 fine (higher for Scottish ‘punks’) legislated by the Highways Act 1980. Not only do Brewdog want  the ‘Equity Punks’ doing unpaid labour for the cause but they’re potentially breaking the law and they have actually paid for this privilege.


Detail from an old brewing log.

Brewer and beer writer Mitch Steele, late of Stone Brewing, is worried about the decline of the leather-bound hard copy brewing log and what that means for the legacy of the craft beer era:

I suspect there are a lot of craft brewers over the years who have followed a similar pattern. They have graduated from handwritten brew logs, that are filed and stored in a box somewhere, to spreadsheets, or maybe even to more complex equipment supplier automated databases or ERP systems. But in 100 years, who is going to be able to find any of it if they want to document how beers were brewed during our current times? Especially if breweries continue to grow quickly or get sold or close shop… I’m wondering right now if a concerted effort could be made by the industry to preserve some brewing logs from early craft brewers in a safe place, like a library or a museum, where researchers in the future could go back and learn about the techniques and ingredients being used today.


Mild taste-off: multiple milds in plastic beakers.

Ryan Moses, AKA The Beer Counsellor, has taken a month to organise his thoughts on the takeover of Wicked Weed by AB-InBev before reaching any conclusions. Acknowledging the full range of arguments he has nonetheless concluded that buying local is best thing consumers can do in this situation:

Let your love of craft beer inform your buying decisions of what and where you buy.  If you have local breweries near you, frequent them.  Buy their beer, their growlers, and their swag.  If you go to a local brewery and their beer isn’t as good as you had hoped, don’t frag them on social media. Send a personal email or letter to the owner/brewer expressing your concerns in a thoughtful and respectful manner. We must be the ones who control craft beer. Not the faceless conglomerates who could just as easily be selling ball bearings rather than beer.

Counterpoint: Michael Agnew at A Perfect Pint argues (using the strongest of strong language) that critics have a right, if not a duty, to ‘be mean’:

The criticism of my critique is often that I’m not giving brewers a chance. I’m too quick to name the problems. These brewers are young and passionate. They have dreams. I’m stepping on these dreams when all they need is time to work things out. It’s a difficult step to go from brewing ten gallons at a time to brewing ten barrels. Rather than publicly calling them out, I should go in and talk to them… In what other industry do we say this?

We’re probably more Agnew than Moses here but we think blogger and sometime blog commenter Dave S has this right:


A screengrab of the Braciatrix blog.

And, finally, a recommendation for a blog to watch rather than a pointer to specific post: at Braciatrix Christina Wade is considering ‘the history of beer through the women who brewed, consumed, sold, and sometimes, opposed it’. So far it’s proving to be something quite fresh. Take a look.

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 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”

Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?

‘What was the first kegged “craft”? Freehouses had keg lines – something must have been number one.’ Paul, Edinburgh (@CanIgetaP)

Bailey has recently been reading What Was the First Rock’N’Roll Record? by Jim Dawson and Steve Propes. Rather than declare an answer it puts forward a list of 50 candidates from 1944 to 1956 and explains the claim each has to the title. We’re going to steal that approach.

Watney's Red Barrel (detail from beer mat).

1. Watney’s Red Barrel, London, 1931.
Wait, bear with us! It was the first keg bitter, full stop, and when it first emerged was a well-regarded export quality beer. We’ve tasted a clone of a 1960s version and it was better than some keg red or amber ales currently being put out by larger breweries through their craft sub-brands.

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tommy Marling takes the temperature of draught Guinness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom. SOURCE: Guinness Time.

2. Draught Guinness, 1958.
Please continue to bear with us. In the mid-20th Century draught Guinness was a super-hip beer and apparently very tasty, but hard to find. Technicians at the brewery worked out a way to reliably dispense it from one vessel with a creamy head and it went on to take over the world. It was brewed in both Dublin and London. CAMRA veteran Barrie Pepper is once reported to have said that if all keg beer had been as good as draught Guinness CAMRA would never have got off the ground.

a. German and Belgian beers began to appear more frequently in Britain at the end of the 1970s, usually  bottled, but occasionally on draught. In the mid-1980s Sean Franklin at Rooster’s and Peter Austin at Ringwood considered kegging their beers but neither bit the bullet.

Continue reading “Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?”