News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 May 2016: Pilsner, Mild and Pubs

These are all the blog posts and articles touching on beer and pubs that have given us pause for thought, or told us something we didn’t know, in the last week, from Pilsner to pubs.

→ We somehow missed this one last week so it gets top billing today: Evan Rail’s blog is back from whatever Internet wormhole it got lost in (this is great news, generally) and his latest post is about the influence of the Czech influence on European lager brewing in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It makes a strong case, with reference to some lovely primary sources, for Czech brewing getting more credit than it has tended to in the past:

For its low-grade Bavière, the brewery used German hops (generally Hallertau, Wolnzach and a less-expensive cultivar, Bavière Montagne), which it bought from J. Tüchmann & Söhne and Bernard Bing in Nuremberg. But for the higher-grade Munich and the Bock that was later renamed Pilsner, the brewery generally used 100% Saaz, purchased from hop vendors like the Kellner brothers and Sonnenschein & Landesmann, both in Žatec (aka Saaz), right here in Bohemia.

Detail from a Whitbread advertisement, 1937, showing beer with food.

→ For Eater Matthew Sedacca ponders how ‘foodie culture’ (which includes craft beer) survived, and even thrived during, the Great Recession. We don’t necessarily agree with all of his conclusions but it’s a great question:

A large driver behind the sustainability of the “foodie” ideology during and post-recession has been linked to the millennial generation’s shift in attitude towards material goods —€” namely, they don’t really want them. Several reports have highlighted the phenomenon that, unlike the baby boomers and several members of Gen X, millennials prefer consumption of ‘experiences.’

→ Alec Latham considers the various ways in which pubs in St Albans, where he lives, have mutated, changed or otherwise been reinvented:

Some pubs come back from the dead, others change the orientation of their ‘swing’… Though Mokoko’s isn’t a beery place, it’s still a great bar. After all, cocktails are people too.

Greene King sign

→ In an interview with Australian Brews News the venerable brewing professor Charles Bamforth has railed against gimmicks in brewing, like a Dogfish Head beer made with chewed-up and spat-out grains: ‘Come on! You’re only going to do it once aren’t you?’ It’s not all grumping, though: he thinks black IPA, for example, is the right kind of boundary pushing.

→ Ed visited Greene King and brings us this interesting nugget, among others:

I also got to try their XX mild at last… Having various milds in the portfolio from the breweries they’ve taken over they rationalised it to just one recipe, and had tasting trials to decide on the best one. Despite the name it’s sold under it was actually the Hardys and Hansons mild that won.

→ Gary Gillman continues to dig up tasting notes and opinions on Belgian beer from the 19th century like this 1836 1847 diary entry mentioning Westmalle. (The makings of a longer article or e-book here, perhaps?)

→ Not reading but listening: on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London this week a listener asked if anyone remembered an estate pub in South London called The Apples & Pears. People did (@ 2h 20m):

It was a very modern pub… Myself and my three girlfriends used to drive up on a Saturday night in our Austin A40… We used to go around ’72, ’73… We used to dress to match the era of the car, lots of long beads, headbands, flouncy frocks, sort of 1920s flappers was our style…

→ Carlisle is getting a State Management Scheme museum with Heritage Lottery funding — fantastic new! Let’s generally have more brewing, beer and pub museums and exhibitions, please. (There’s no website that we can find so this Tweet with a screenshot of a Word document will have to do.)

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14/11/2015

Here’s the beer news and commentary that most interested or amused us in the last seven days.

→ For Belgian Smaak, Breandán Kearney writes at length about a collaboration between Irish and Belgian brewers:

A hard-nosed Belgian farmer arrives at the historical brew house in the Flemish village of Bokrijk on an old Dexta tractor to pick up the spent grain… Rob Hynes makes a bee line for the tractor. “That’s a thing of beauty,” he says. “I used to own one years ago but I sold it. I regret that.”

→ Des de Moor has been exploring the Midlands and wrote a long piece about Black Country breweries for his website, Beer Culture:

The name dates from this period: contemporary accounts talk of a blasted land of spoil heaps and perpetual twilight, overcast by factory smoke in the daytime and lit by furnaces at night. J R R Tolkein, who grew up in south Birmingham, based his chief villain Sauron’s desolate domain in The Lord of the Rings on this landscape. Its name, Mordor, even translates as ‘black country’ in the author’s invented languages.

→ In the age of ‘crowd-funding fatigue’ Seth Fiegerman’s take for Mashable, under the headline ‘Crowdfunding may not create the ‘next Facebook,’ but it’s great for craft breweries‘, is an interesting one. (Via @BeerAttorney.)

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14/11/2015”

What if… BrewDog & Greene King?

What if BrewDog entered into partnership with Greene King to roll out second-tier BrewDog packages in places where their flagship bars cannot reach?

Yesterday, we promised a prediction, but it would be more accurate to describe this as a bit of fanciful thinking plucked more-or-less from thin air. We just want to put it in writing so that, if it does come to pass, we’ll look dead clever.

1. We can’t stop looking at the keg beer menu at the new Greene King ‘craft beer concept’ in Cambridge as pictured on the Pints and Pubs blog: it features one GK beer, Hop Monster, but four from BrewDog.

Keg beer list at the Grain Store, Cambridge, by Pints and Pubs, used with permission.

2. Wetherspoon’s Craftwork package, which borrows heavily from BrewDog’s aesthetic and features their beer in bottles and keg, hints at how such an arrangement might work.

Craftwork point of sale materials at Wetherspoon's.

3. Though they have ambitious plans, finding and fitting out suitable premises seems to be holding BrewDog back. Greene King, meanwhile, have 1600 pubs up and down the country, few of which anyone interested in beer will touch with a bargepole.

4. The Scottish Wunderkinder have already dabbled in franchising.

5. They’ve been critical of Greene King’s beer in the past, but they work happily with Tesco, arguing when this relationship is criticised (as we read it) that they’re spreading the gospel of Craft Beer in an otherwise barren land.

6. For Greene King’s part, this would be a route to instant credibility, even assuming that such a partnership might give a temporary hit to BrewDog’s own reputation.

7. We keep coming back to the similarities between BrewDog and David Bruce’s Firkin chain in the 1980s: that went truly national when he sold his company to a bigger brewery which turned what he’d developed over the course of a decade into a (not as good) out-of-the-box branded package.

Just to reiterate: this is just guesswork, for fun — we have no ‘specific and credible intelligence’, as they say.

But what do you reckon — are we barking up the wrong tree? Or, to put that another way, if something like this was announced next week, would you be surprised?

(And, as an aside, imagine what fun might ensue if BrewDog got a batch of GK’s Old 5X stock ale to play with…)

Greene King Mild At Last

Greene King sign

“It’s taken us longer to find a pint of this than it did to get hold of bottles of Westvleteren 12,” Bailey said in anticipation of his first sip of Greene King XX Mild.

Those robots among you who are able to judge beer purely on its flavour won’t understand how several years of hunting and hype influenced our ability to assess this pint of humble mild with any objectivity.

It seems odd to use the word ‘hype’ in relation to mild from a little-loved regional brewer, but that’s what we’ve been subjected to, in a quiet, rather British way — “Even if you don’t like GK IPA, you must try their mild,” uttered in a tone usually reserved for “There are some rather interesting carvings in the nave…”

We got our chance in the wake of a Brew Britannia reading in Cambridge last week when Pintsandpubs and Beertalk kindly agreed to walk us to the Free Press, a cute, historic back-street pub with a reliable supply of XX, on the way back to the station.

It was a bit of an odd experience, to be frank. The pub had several interesting cask ales and a nice selection of ‘craft’ and ‘world’ beer in bottles, so turning up with two well-known beer geeks and ordering mild earned us some funny looks. Those looks got even funnier once the Westvleteren comment had slipped out.

You won’t be surprised to hear that GKXX is not as good as WV12, but then it has only 3% ABV compared to the latter’s 10.2%. It wouldn’t be unfair to call it watery, and cask-conditioning rendered it no more complex or exciting than the various kegged milds we enjoyed (we actually did!) in Manchester the other week.

But it is a drinking beer.

If you’re prone to tasting and thinking but want a night off, it’s just the thing: your notes will be done in two sips (dark brown to ruby, chocolatey, sweetish) leaving you free to sling it back in volume, with your brain free for chatting, reading a book or completing a crossword or two.

Forcing ourselves to find something else to say, we spotted a resemblance to a Wadworth mild we tried a couple of years ago, and to home brew we made using our own interpretation of a 1938 Starkey, Knight & Ford recipe. That makes us think that it (a) contains a proportion of flaked maize; (b) uses a good slug of brewing sugar; and (c) probably hasn’t changed much in the last 60-odd years.

The final verdict: if we lived in Cambridge, Bailey would probably drink it all the time, but Boak will be quite happy if she never tastes it again. (See — we don’t always agree!)

And that’s that itch scratched.

Guest Post: Stono’s Favourite Suffolk Pubs

The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds, by David (Brokentaco) on Flickr, under Creative Commons.
The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds, by David (Brokentaco) on Flickr, under Creative Commons.

To help fill a gap in our collection of local pub guides, reader Clive Stonebridge (@stonojr) has given us a list of his favourite Suffolk drinking holes.

* * *

I like traditional English session ales and Adnams’ Bitter. I’m a big fan of coffee stouts such as Dark Star Espresso, and not-overly-hopped beers with ‘new world hops’, e.g. Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold.  I’m from Suffolk and live locally, and have been a CAMRA member for 10 years. I’m also an occasional home-brewer and frustrated blogger/writer.

1. The Fat Cat, Ipswich
An Ipswich institution for nearly 20 years and three-time local CAMRA branch pub of the year, the Fat Cat was the town’s first new freehouse pub. Providing a traditional homely pub setting that has no television, fruit machines or music to disturb the hum of pub chatter, it is based about a 20 min walk from the town centre.

It serves a wide selection of continually changing cask ales (15+ on average) from its well stocked tap room, often including beers from its Norwich-based sister brewery, also called Fat Cat. There is also a good selection of European lagers, ‘real’ ciders, an assortment of Belgian beers in bottles, and a variety of wines.

Food comes in the shape of lunchtime rolls, or the shot-put sized home made scotch eggs (absolutely worth trying). From Sunday to Thursday, plates & cutlery and cutlery are also procided to patrons who want to bring food from local takeaways — a very popular choice all year round in the evenings.

During the summer, the well-kept beer garden provides additional seating space and occasional bank holiday weekend barbecues.

2. Dove Street Inn, Ipswich
A multi-award-winning cask ale pub for ten years, the Dove was most recently named Great British Pub Awards Cask Ale Pub of the Year 2013. It serves a wide range of ever-changing cask ales including some from its own range brewed in the micro-brewery opposite, along with a selection of draught foreign beers, ‘real’ cider and wine.

There are regular beer festivals  featuring 60+ beers in the beer tent, which is modelled on a German beer garden or cellar and provides a pleasant outdoor seating area in summer.

Landlady Karen’s home cooking and occasional weekend barbecues provide great food, with vegetarian options, and weary visitors can even book into the adjoining bed and breakfast which sits above the homebrew shop. The pub also runs its own loyalty card scheme.

3. Lord Nelson, Southwold
Adnams is synonymous with Southwold and Suffolk, and the Lord Nelson is where the locals go to drink. A three bar pub near the seafront, it serves the best pint of Adnams’ you’ll find anywhere in the county, and also does the best fish and chips too, with the fish in Broadside batter. During the winter, a roaring open fire keeps the worst of the North Sea coast’s wind and bleakness at bay while in the summer, the hidden beer garden expands the capacity of this very popular pub.

4. The Beerhouse, Bury St Edmunds
While Adnams is synonymous with Southwould, Bury St Edmunds is home to Suffolk’s other major brewer, Greene King, but The Beerhouse is one of the few pubs in the town where you’ll be unlikely ever to find their beer. Eight hand pumps provide a varied selection of cask ales alongside four ciders. Among the beer selection are often beers from the pub’s own brewery, the Brewshed. There are simple pub snacks and the pub has a nice outdoor seating arrangement which softens what is essentially a former car park, and where spring and winter beer festivals are held.

5. Butt & Oyster, Pin Mill
Featured in frequent visitor Arthur Ransome’s book We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, the Butt & Oyster is a Grade II listed building and features in CAMRA’s national inventory of historic pub interiors, retaining many of its original features from the 17th to 19th centuries.

The pub is situated on the edge of the western shore of the Orwell and, at high water, the river laps round the base of the building, and it is said yachtsmen could once be served aboard their boats by leaning in through the pub windows. These days, the windows merely provide picturesque, panoramic views across the Orwell Estuary, which attract many artists and visitors.

Primarily supplied by Adnams, beer is sold from four casks on show behind the bar, and the menu, as befits its location, is built largely around the local seafood. It gets incredibly busy and popular in the summer months so booking a table is essential.

6. The Triangle Tavern, Lowestoft
Billed as the most easterly real ale pub in the whole of the UK, and situated on Triangle Market near the town centre, the Tavern is the spiritual home to the Green Jack Brewing Co. It offers a minimum of six Green Jack ales every day with as many as four further guest ales and two real ciders at any one time across two bars, front and back.

The front bar has a more relaxed traditional look and feel with an open fire, and is where occasional live music is played on Friday nights. The back bar is more modern with games machines, pool table, and jukebox, and is where the world-renowned annual professional world thumb wrestling championship is hosted. Beer festivals are held throughout the year.

7. The Cherry Tree, Woodbridge
The building dates from the 17th century, though the tree itself no longer remains. With its traditional oak beams and sloping ceilings, the pub has a character that’s hard to fake in a town with plenty of history to shout about. The pub offers a selection of eight well-kept cask ales, the majority from Adnams, though several guest ales are usually on offer. Traditional food made with locally-sourced ingredients and a warm, family-friendly atmosphere makes this a popular local destination, with regular quiz nights and an annual beer festival. Accommodation is also provided in a converted outdoor barn.

8. The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds
Listed by Guinness World Records as the smallest pub in Britain, it is Nutshell by name and nature. Though it might sound a tight fit,  this one bar pub, at 15ft x 7ft, has enough room to seat ten people and half as many again standing quite comfortably, though the record is claimed to be 102. The ceiling is covered in currency from around the world highlighting its status as a tourist attraction. Among many other novelties is a mummified cat found by builders carrying out renovations. This being a Greene King pub, the two cask ale hand pumps serve only their beer, usually IPA and Abbott Ale, but it is kept well, making this one of the best places to sample it in its home county.