Like 80 per cent of those who write about beer in anything like a professional capacity, we’ve been commissioned to write a substantial piece about Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson as the tenth anniversary of his death approaches.
As part of that, we’ve been exchanging emails with Alan ‘A Good Beer Blog’ McLeod who is a noted Jackson sceptic. He habitually questions whether Mr Jackson’s influence was as great as the consensus would have it, and whether other influential writers (Richard Boston, Dave Line) aren’t being short-changed by Jackson’s elevation.
One specific question he put to us was this: what exactly was Jackson writing between the World Guide to Beer in 1977 and the next item on his Wikipedia bibliography, a 1986 pocket guide to beer? How could he be so influential with one book every ten years?
One answer is that that really is only a selected bibliography — we have a copy, for example, of the 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer, which is the one veteran brewers we have spoken to carried with them as they explored Europe and the US in the 1980s, and there were paperback reprints/revisions of the World Guide too.
But, as is often the case, Alan’s niggling has highlighted a real issue: the lack of a comprehensive list of Michael Jackson’s writing for magazines and newspapers which, of course, is ephemeral by nature.
For the sake of the collective brain, and also because it’s useful for our article, we agreed to make a start on a list of material published in the UK. We’ve started with the monthly column he wrote for CAMRA, a filleting of which is reproduced below with notes on the content of each article.
If you see anything there that might help with your research drop us an email (email@example.com) and we’ll be happy to provide more information.
The harder job, now, is tracking down the material he wrote for the national press in the same period. We have searched The Times and Guardian archives but if you have clippings, or perhaps have access to the Sunday Times archive online through your local library service, we’d welcome any tips.
We’re intending to spend a bit more time pondering the health of the UK beer industry in 2016 but, for perspective, here’s a bit of history around the first micro-brewery ‘shake out’ which happened back in the 1980s.
Brian Glover wrote for CAMRA’s What’s Brewing newspaper for many years providing a running commentary on the rise of the microbrewery which would eventually form the basis of his essential 1988 New Beer Guide. In 1982 he produced a multi-page report on the microbrewery boom cheering on the then 100 or so new breweries that had flowered since the mid-1970s. The tone was triumphant with only one closure to report, though a profile of Bourne Valley Brewery run by James Lynch (former CAMRA chair turned brewer) and John Featherby highlighted some challenges:
Back at the brewery, they are drawing in their horns to weather the recession. ‘We have just withdrawn from supplying London (and the West Country) on a regular basis,’ said John Featherby. ‘We are restricting our trading area… to cut our transport costs.’
Featherby also admitted that the brewery hadn’t made any money in its three years of trading and said, ‘In fact, we would not set up a brewery now. We could not afford to.’
Then, throughout 1983, there were rumblings, such as an article that appeared in What’s Brewing in April that year headlined THE GREAT BEER CRASH. It reported on the collapse of a London-based distributor, Roger Berman’s B&W, taking with it the associated micro-brewery, Union. In December, Brian Glover was observing that Devon’s micro-brewery scene was thriving with five then operating in the county.
But it could soon turn sour if they crowd each other out… ‘It’s certainly getting tight in the free trade around here,’ admitted Paul Bigrig [of the Mill Brewery], ‘especially with the appearance of Summerskills and Bates.’ Already Swimbridge Brewery in North Devon has gone under this year.
Then, in February 1984, in another special supplement, Glover called it: SMALL BEER CRASH.
The expected ‘shakeout’ of new small breweries has finally arrived with 12 having closed since July … All were free trade brewers, most struggling to sell their beer without the protection of their own pubs… The only surprise is that so many survived for so long, given the harsh recession, stiff competition and dearth of genuine freehouses…
The most famous of the failed breweries was Penrhos, founded by Richard Boston and Monty Python star Terry Jones in 1977 and run by Martin Griffiths. (His computer brain didn’t work out.) Griffiths reckoned he and Jones had lost £70,000 (going on for a quarter of a million quid in today’s money) over the course of the brewery’s life.
Another brewer, Geoff Patton of Swimbridge in Devon, cited aggressive discounting by larger breweries. The owners of Swannells in Hertfordshire acknowledged that poor quality control and marketing had contributed to its failure. Tisbury fell when its sister pub chain, on which it relied for the bulk of its sales, went into receivership.
Brian Glover said, in conclusion, ‘The small brewery boom… looks to be over.’ His final prediction?
The future, it would seem, lies in the consolidation of the surviving free trade brewers; an expanding number of [brew pubs] — and increasing involvement in small-scale brewing by the major brewers… A few new independent free trade brewers will appear in the next couple of years. But sadly, they will almost certainly be outweighed by the number that give up the unequal struggle.
As it happened, the paltry c.100 micro-breweries of 1984 have become c.1,500 in 2016, which just goes to show how difficult it can be to predict anything.
The Beer Orders were revoked in 2003, so since then there was been nothing to prevent the major international brewers rebuilding tied estates in the UK. However, the dire state of pub company finances has probably put them off until now. Heineken retained the rump of the former Scottish & Newcastle pub operation under the banner of Star Pubs and Bars, and so were always the best placed to make a move. Selling out to a brewer with deep pockets is probably going to be the best exit strategy for long-suffering pubco investors.
Sometimes it’s just not appropriate, for the feel of the pub as much as anything, to have kids there. For instance, I once had a bit of time to kill in central London and tried to take the progeny into the Harp, near Covent Garden. As I attempted to wrestle the buggy back out the narrow door after being politely rebuffed by the staff, I wondered what I’d been thinking. It’s hard to elucidate clearly why exactly this would have been a bad idea, but children in a pub like the Harp is an incongruous conjunction, like a rave in a library, not bad in the sense of wrong, or selfish, or unjust, but rather more like an uncomfortable juxtaposition.
To make their kvass, Scratch’s brewers soak toasted leftover loaves in hot water overnight. In the morning, the liquid is separated from the soggy bread, moved into a mash tun and combined with standard brewing malt (unlike most historical versions). From there, it’s treated like a typical beer, though brewers don’t add hops and they ferment the wort with the same sourdough yeast culture used in Scratch’s bread.
On Twitter John West has given some bloggers a nudge: where’s the commentary on CAMRA’s Revitalisation report? We haven’t got round to it yet, partly because of weariness with the subject and the lack of anything much new to say, but Jeff Alworth, who has been observing British and world beer for years, brings an outsider’s perspective:
Beer has become something like a sacred beverage to people all over the globe. And of course, any time you have something sacred, it means there’s a vast world out there of the profane. Beer must be made and consumed in a particular way. To do anything else violates this sense of the sacred. This dichotomy doesn’t emerge arbitrarily, though. Sacred things are those which protect and nurture the group; profane ones endanger it. In the case of cask ale, CAMRA issued an edict about the nature of British beer. They did this to create a very clear inner circle of protection: this is the thing we’re talking about, and these are the things that endanger it.
(The exchange between Jeff and Nick in the comments is also worth your attention.)
Martin Taylorreports from Krakow where craft beer is fast becoming ‘a thing’. This especially caught our eye because, for one reason or another, we spent a fair bit of time in Krakow between 2000-2003, before we were especially into beer, and remember when C.K. Browar was the cool place in town — the equivalent of Mash in London, we guess.
Here’s some serious historic brewing from Ron Pattinson: a recipe for a Truman’s 1917 Government Ale, AKA Lloyd George’s Beer, which Ron observes was actually somewhat improved by rationing as its malt content was boosted in lieu of hard-to-get sugar.
Here’s one that we probably should have included in our last round-up but somehow missed in the early morning bleurgh when these things are mostly put together: an interview with Mark Tranter of Burning Sky by James Beeson for Beeson on Beer. It’s interesting primarily because it contains a genuine scoop about a development which Chris Hall, among others, has suggested is a defining moment in British brewing:
‘When’s this piece going out again?’ He asks, pausing as if weighing up a decision in his head, ‘Oh, and we’re installing a coolship in Janaury.’ Exhaling deeply, he leans back in the rickety wooden chair on which he is sitting. ‘That’s the first time I’ve told anyone that.’
There is no doubt that, on the market today, there exist some keg and other non-cask beers that are high-quality products – brewed with first-class ingredients, often matured over long periods, unfiltered and unpasteurised. In some cases, keg beer contains live yeast and is subject to secondary fermentation in the container. It is, to all intents and purposes, real ale up to the point that carbon dioxide pressure is applied in the cellar… Some of these products, by most measures, are far superior to some of the lower-quality, mass produced cask beer common in pubs – some of which, it is alleged, may be subject to very minimal, if any, secondary fermentation despite being marketed as real ale. Yet today, in accordance with its policies, CAMRA champions the latter over the former.
We’re still digesting it but, as we expected, it is a careful compromise designed to appeal to moderates on both sides of the keg/cask divide. Some will bridle at the suggestion that, even while permitting quality keg beer at festivals, CAMRA should make sure to communicate the inherent superiority of cask, but we get it. Cask is the jewel in the crown, the USP, the quirk that sets us apart.
‘Imagine if German beer geeks had dominated the discourse since the 1990s and decided that Burton Pale Ale was a type of Gose.’
That’s a thought-provoking suggestion from Robbie Pickering, AKA @robsterowski. Here are the thoughts it provoked, in a roundabout way.
There is a comparative lack of straightforward-but-better takes on mainstream German styles such as Pilsner even in the midst of the current excitement around brewing. The trend post 2005, or thereabouts, has been for British brewers to ape the American obsession with high ABV, highly aromatic IPAs and the like.