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 13 Feb 2016

From Licensed Victuallers to Budweiser here’s all the beer-related reading that’s caught our attention in the past seven days.

→ For the Morning Advertiser Phil Mellows has written a fantastic piece answering a question that we’ve asked in the past: what on earth happened to the once mighty Licensed Victuallers’ Associations?

“We were the champions of licensees, we fought battles with brewers and we were always on the end of the telephone if members needed help or guidance,” says former Norwich and Norfolk LVA chairman Mike Lorenz. “But five or six years ago, membership started falling away dramatically and events were poorly attended. Today, organisations like the BII (British Institute of Innkeeping) can offer more benefits. LVAs are not needed.”

→ For US magazine All About Beer Heather Vandenengel writes about ‘The Reality of Being a Woman in the Beer Industry’. It’s a good read because the interviewees are not the Usual Suspects — production brewer Irena Bierzynski’s comments are particularly interesting — but wouldn’t it be good to read more articles about women in beer that aren’t pointedly about Women in Beer?

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 13 Feb 2016”

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #3: Editors at War

This really is the footnote to end all footnotes but it interested us because it answered some lingering from this long post about women in the world of British beer.

Back in 2013, we emailed Andrea Gillies, who edited two editions of the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide in the early 1990s, but she wasn’t especially keen to talk about her time at CAMRA. Now we think we know why.

After a period of apparently reasonably friendly relations with her former employer during which she wrote a challenging guest column about bottled beer (WB, November 1993), in December 1993, this happened:

Gillies raps 'blokish' GBG -- story from What's Brewing, December 1993.
From What’s Brewing, December 1993. (Click to enlarge.)

Though Mr Evans’s response was fairly diplomatic it’s hard not to suspect that some persistent resentment in St Albans influenced this review of Ms Gillies’ own book released in 1995:

'How Andrea Got "Canned"', book review from What's Brewing.
From What’s Brewing, October 1995. (Click to enlarge.)

We weren’t there, and we don’t know the people involved, so it wouldn’t be right for us to pick sides. It was pretty forward-thinking of CAMRA to appoint Ms Gillies in 1988, though, and it’s a shame it all got so nasty.

Where’s Your Boyfriend?

Ladies sign in a pub.

by Boak

As a woman, I’ve become careful in choosing which pubs I go into on my own.

Unlike the other half, I’m an extrovert — I get antsy if I’m on my own and tend to seek out company when I’m away on business. A pub is the perfect place for this, right?

Unfortunately, when I was younger, I had a few too many encounters like this:

I enter a pub, realise there are no other women there, but approach the bar and order a drink anyway, all the time aware that conversation has stopped and the blokes round the bar are staring at me.

“Here on business, are you?”

[As coldly as possible] “Yes.”

I retreat to a table with my beer, get out a book or a newspaper, and read it with intense concentration. By this point, I’m already feeling uncomfortable. Not terrified or angry — uncomfortable.

Then someone calls out, or, worse, comes over: “Where’s your boyfriend?” or “Why don’t you come and sit with us?” or “What’s a girl like you doing all on your own?”

Feeling rather intimidated by the attention of the pack, I have to decide as quickly as possible how to respond:

  1. “I’m trying to read my book.”
  2. “Go away.” (Or words to that effect.)
  3. “He’s joining me in a minute.” (A fib.)

Some blokes will probably be thinking, so what? Big deal. After all, he hasn’t said anything obscene and he hasn’t touched me, and I’ve only had to say a few words to get rid of him.

I don’t know how to convey how it feels to be cornered by a half-drunk bloke several inches taller than you, several stone heavier, in a strange pub, in a strange town, while his mates egg him on and/or observe from the bar. In the particular instances I have in mind, it wasn’t a polite, tentative approach — it was an entitled, arrogant swagger. Suffice to say, it’s not much fun.

The problem for pubs is that, even if I was capable of shrugging it off, it’s still more trouble than I can be bothered with when all I want is somewhere to sit. I love pubs — proper pubs — but because of this kind of thing, they lose my custom to places such as Pizza Express or Costa Coffee, where I’ve never been harassed while eating or drinking on my own.

When I do go to pubs on my own, I’ve got good at selecting places which are (groan) female-friendly. I don’t especially like tea-lights, cushions and soft rock, but they seem to be off-putting to the kind of bloke I’ve been bothered by in the past. It’s also helpful to be able to see in before I walk through the door — if there are other women drinking there, I’ll probably be OK. If it’s all male, I walk on by.

But, going back to the situation described above, what would actually help is if one of his mates, the publicans or their bar staff had the sensitivity and/or nerve to say, when they see Casanova working up to make his move: “Oi, Bert — leave the lady alone!”

On Twitter, a few women told us they were comfortable in pubs on their own, while others said it depended where: London is fine, but rural areas less so. Others talked about using a book as a shield and hiding out of sight in the hope of avoiding attention. Again, I wonder if the lounge was such a bad idea after all…

See also:

Weird cider/beer hybrid

women_in_bar.jpg

The latest issue of Marketing magazine brings news of the launch of an appalling-sounding half-beer/half-cider chimera from one of the big international brewers. It’s made with cider, barley malt and “sparkling water”. I can’t be bothered to give this foul-sounding product any publicity by naming it… so I won’t.

The interesting thing is that they claim to have devised the product based on research which shows that a significant number of women “don’t like beer and distrust the quality of wine in bars”.

For one thing, I’m not sure that the logical conclusion from that research is: “I bet those same women would just love a weird cider-beer hybrid!”

But I’d also observe, paraphrasing their line, that there are many people of both genders who “don’t like wine, and distrust the quality of real ale in pubs”, which explains the popularity of bland lagers and Guinness in the UK. Too often, the choice is between a corporate product which is boring but consistent, and a “real” product which stinks, tastes bad and looks bad because it’s not been well looked after. You can’t blame people for going down the bland route when that’s the choice.

In both cases, the solution is probably campaigning to improve the quality of the wine, beer, cider, whisky or whatever, in bars and pubs.

One way to do that would be for CAMRA to make the criteria for getting into their Good Beer Guide slightly more strict. At the moment, as far as I can tell, it lists every pub with any kind of cask ale on offer, although they say “only pubs with a consistently high standard of real ale are considered for entry”. Sadly, my experience has been that quite a few unwelcoming, grotty, smelly pubs get in because they’ve got an old, rank cask of Greene King IPA on one pump at the bar.