Cornershop beers: supposedly hoppy lager and blackcurrant stout

We used to drink a lot of cornershop beers. Sometimes it was the ticking instinct – how could we resist a dark lager from Latvia or an IPA from Poland? On other occasions, it was about convenience: we wanted a few beers to drink in front of the TV with a film or sporting event.

But these days, post 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub and with mid­dle age upon us, we’ve more or less resolved to drink in the pub or not at all.

Every now and then, though, we pop into the shop near­est our house and mar­vel at the ever-chang­ing selec­tion of obscure beers from East­ern Europe. It’s fun to see unfa­mil­iar names on unfa­mil­iar labels – a kind of alter­nate real­i­ty, a world where Car­ling and Foster’s don’t exist.

Last week, we were star­tled to see three very nice­ly pack­aged beers in unusu­al styles from Vilk­merges of Lithua­nia – a stout, a dark lager and a wit­bier. Vilk­merges is a sub-brand of Kalnapilis, which is in turn owned by Roy­al Uni­brew of Den­mark.

They sat along­side prod­ucts from a craft beer sub-brand of Russ­ian brew­ery Balti­ka, ‘The Brewer’s Col­lec­tion’, one of which, with a strik­ing orange label, all in Eng­lish, is billed as RUSSIAN HOPPY LAGER.

The lat­ter looked gor­geous in the glass – that very pale yel­low that seems almost green and some­how sig­nals refine­ment, per­haps hint­ing at Cham­pagne. It tast­ed dri­er and paler than stan­dard Balti­ka with maybe a touch of flow­er­i­ness but didn’t quite live up to the billing. Per­haps the lor­ry ride across Europe did for the hops? At any rate, it’s at the bet­ter end of bog stan­dard and a fas­ci­nat­ing thing – the begin­ning of the Cam­deni­sa­tion of Russ­ian lager?

The Vilk­merges wit­bier is called Kvei­ti­nis. It was more orange than white with a fast-fad­ing head and not quite enough body. It remind­ed us of a wit­bier we home­brewed with ale malt, not enough wheat, and too much orange peel. It was a bit sick­ly but not awful. Purists, look away now: it would prob­a­bly be nicer with a slice of lemon float­ing on top.

Their stout, Juodųjų Ser­ben­tų, is dosed with BLACKCURRANT JUICE. It smells – brace your­self – like black­cur­rants. It was rud­dy rather than black with an off-white head that didn’t stick around. It tastes sweet – like Ribena said Ray, reach­ing for the obvi­ous; like the med­i­cine they gave me when I got worms as a kid, says Jess, more orig­i­nal­ly. It’s 5.5% but tast­ed basi­cal­ly non-alco­holic. We poured this one.

Tam­su­sis is a dark lager and smelled and looked like a clas­sic Bavar­i­an Dunkel. And, in fact, is con­sid­er­ably bet­ter than most bot­tled Dunkels we’ve come across. Sweet, round, with just a touch of roast… Almost hint­ing at the lus­cious­ness of dou­ble stout, in fact, so per­haps not ‘true to style’. This was the great find in the set and we can imag­ine get­ting a few of these in next time we cook pork knuck­les.

One odd thing, though: beers from East­ern Europe often come in larg­er than usu­al pack­ages, full-pint cans and so on, but these Vilk­merges prod­ucts were in 410 mil­li­l­itre bot­tles and the Balti­ka came in at 440ml. At around £1.80 a pop, they were hard­ly bank-break­ing but, still, it felt like a bit of a con.

News, nuggets and longreads 20 July 2019: Friars, Fyne Ales, Fellowship

Here’s all the writing on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from brewery founders to Blackfriars.

First, we don’t know when you’ll need them, or if you’ll need them, but here are two use­ful local guides to book­mark or oth­er­wise file away for ref­er­ence:


The bar at The Old Post Office.

A bit of pub own­er­ship news: Stonegate has bought Ei Group (for­mer­ly Enter­prise Inns). This adds 4,000 pubs to the Stonegate estate mak­ing it the largest in the UK. Nev­er heard of Stonegate? Not many peo­ple have. It oper­ates through sub-brands and tends to keep its name off fas­cias and in-pub col­lat­er­al.


Certified craft.

For Fer­ment, the pro­mo­tion­al mag­a­zine of beer retail­er Beer52, Matt Cur­tis has been reflect­ing on the tricks multi­na­tion­al brew­ing com­pa­nies use in attempt­ing to con­vince con­sumers that their beer brands are Well Craft:

Com­pare [1990s lager ads] to recent adver­tis­ing by Maltsmiths—a pseu­do-craft sub brand invent­ed by the mar­ket­ing mas­ter­minds at Dutch multi­na­tion­al, Heineken—and you’ll see some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. In its adver­tis­ing there is no nod to the prove­nance of its ingre­di­ents or the brew­ery in Scot­land where it is made. Instead we see a young, female brew­er, cart­wheel­ing over hose pipes and around fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels seem­ing­ly in cel­e­bra­tion of the beer’s very exis­tence. Hon­est­ly, if health and safe­ty got wind of this there’d be hell to pay.


The Fellowship.
The Fel­low­ship in 2016.

For Desert­er Tris­tan Park­er has writ­ten about the his­to­ry and present incar­na­tion of The Fel­low­ship at Belling­ham, south Lon­don – a pub we stud­ied for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub and vis­it­ed dur­ing its final days as a half-derelict, qui­et, down-at-heel booz­er. These days, though…

Locals seemed under­stand­ably pleased to have a buzzy new pub, as what felt like most of Belling­ham appeared to be inside. This was a good sign: The Fel­low­ship was rede­vel­oped to serve the com­mu­ni­ty and on day one that’s exact­ly what it was doing. Let’s hope that con­tin­ues… Inside, it’s a vast space that still retains some of the look of the old venue, plus a bit of kooky art and kitsch wall­pa­per here and there. Reminders of the pub’s past also adorn the walls, includ­ing box­ing gloves and pho­tos of ‘Our ’Enry’ bat­tling Ali.


The Blackfriar pub.

Mean­while, Jane Pey­ton has been hang­ing out at The Black­fri­ar, a famous Vic­to­ri­an-Edwar­dian pub just beyond the bound­ary of the City of Lon­don, and express­es great enthu­si­asm for its over-the-top 1905 dec­o­ra­tive scheme:

It’s show-time! That phrase sings in my head each time I vis­it London’s Black­fri­ar pub. If Walt Dis­ney had been a pub design­er this is what he would have devised. Every sur­face of this spec­tac­u­lar Arts & Crafts/Art Nou­veau hostel­ry is dec­o­rat­ed and then dec­o­rat­ed again. More is more is more. If min­i­mal­ism is your style then either wear sun­glass­es in this pub or go to the post-indus­tri­al con­crete bunker booz­er near­by.


Jonny and Tuggy Delap.
SOURCE: Fyne Ales.

It’s not often we feel moved to link to any brew­ery’s offi­cial blog but we’d like to see more posts like Fyne Ales bio­graph­i­cal trib­ute to its founder, Jon­ny Delap, who died in 2009:

Born in Kenya and raised by his great uncle (his father threw him out when he was six years old), Jon­ny first came to the UK when he was 13 to com­plete his school­ing, before return­ing to Kenya to work on his uncle’s farm. His goal was to gain enough expe­ri­ence to qual­i­fy for fur­ther study at Devon’s Seale-Hayne agri­cul­tur­al col­lege, but there were a cou­ple of bumps in his road back to the UK. First­ly, his father tried to have him kid­napped because he thought Jon­ny was wast­ing his time with farm­ing and should join the Kenyan army. For­tu­nate­ly it was thwart­ed when Jon­ny bought the would-be kid­nap­pers a pint and con­vinced them it would be a bad idea. Sec­ond­ly, the col­lege wouldn’t admit him based on his time work­ing in Kenya, demand­ing instead that his prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence be under­tak­en in the UK.


Final­ly, here’s a fan­tas­tic pho­to of a late leg­endary Bris­tol pub land­lord.

And that’s it. For more links and read­ing check out Alan McLeod on Thurs­day and Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day.

Crowdfunding in beer: danger sign?

Have almost started to think of crowdfunding as a danger sign. Why won’t a bank just lend them the money?”

We tweet­ed this in response to @bringonthebeer the oth­er day and it prompt­ed a few chal­lenges, includ­ing some that changed our think­ing, so we thought we’d unpack it a bit.

It’s just, real­ly, that it feels as if crowd­fund­ing is a com­mon fac­tor is a recent spate of beer indus­try takeovers and col­laps­es.

Mar­tyn Cor­nell gave a detailed run­down of some of the prob­lems with crowd­fund­ing in beer a few years ago: it’s not real invest­ment in most cas­es; and lots of crowd­fund­ed busi­ness­es fail, or fail to deliv­er on promis­es.

Most recent­ly, there’s been Hop Stuff and Red­church.

But we’re talk­ing about some­thing ever so slight­ly dif­fer­ent – that the very act of appeal­ing to the pub­lic for invest­ment seems increas­ing­ly like a red flag for the future of those oper­a­tions.

With hind­sight, in many cas­es, crowd­fund­ing often looks to us like a cry for help or act of des­per­a­tion.

Crit­ics of crowd­fund­ing some­times call it ‘beg­ging’ and it can feel that way.

When in day jobs we’ve been involved in rais­ing fund­ing, it’s been through banks. They’re unpop­u­lar, old school, not very ‘craft’, but they are part of our sys­tem of checks and bal­ances. If a bank won’t lend a busi­ness mon­ey, it prob­a­bly means that busi­ness has failed to present a con­vinc­ing case for its long-term suc­cess.

Some of the chal­lenges we got on Twit­ter did make us pause for thought, though: secur­ing fund­ing via banks usu­al­ly requires prop­er­ty as col­lat­er­al, which makes things tough for those who don’t own a house.

Some would no doubt say if you can’t man­age to buy a house, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t be aim­ing to expand a busi­ness to larg­er or mul­ti­ple loca­tions but giv­en the bizarre state of the UK hous­ing mar­ket, we’re not sure that wash­es.

Even so, when we see a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign launch, unless we know the brew­ery or retail­er in ques­tion has a cult fol­low­ing and strong mar­ket­ing game, it increas­ing­ly strikes us – right­ly or wrong­ly, on an instinc­tive lev­el – as a tar­get paint­ed on their flank: they’re weak, ripe for pick­ing off, and this is their last shot.

Of course we under­stand the appeal to busi­ness­es of crowd­fund­ing, and it’s not always bad news. We also know that many investors go into it with eyes open, as a bit of fun.

But the longer term prob­lem is this: if, as we read it, crowd­fund­ing is about the con­ver­sion of cus­tomer good­will into hard cash, every fail­ure or per­ceived betray­al reduces the amount of good­will in the col­lec­tive pot, and its val­ue.

Our pubs are becoming too posh, 1964

The January 1965 edition of A Monthly Bulletin, a publication about beer and pubs sponsored by the brewing industry, contained a letter which  seems to capture the exact moment the pub ceased to be a working class institution.

Writ­ten by one A. Bev­er­ley of 55 Har­ring­ton Avenue, Black­pool, the let­ter is actu­al­ly a response to anoth­er item of cor­re­spon­dence that appeared in “a nation­al news­pa­per”. Though they quote large chunks, Bev­er­ley does­n’t give the spe­cif­ic source and we can’t find a match in the GuardianTimes or Mir­ror.

Here’s Bev­er­ley’s sum­ma­ry, though:

In com­plain­ing that “our pubs are becom­ing too posh” [they assert] that it is “vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble for a man in over­alls to get a hot din­ner in the cen­tre of many a big city”. He mourns, too, because many coun­try pub­lic hous­es are attract­ing cus­tomers from towns at mid-day, offer­ing “busi­ness lunch­es” and pro­vid­ing plen­ty of space for park­ing motor cars. Where is the work­ing man in his work­ing clothes to go? Will nobody cater for him?

This line might seem sur­pris­ing if you’ve bought into the idea that food in pubs is an inven­tion of the 1990s, or are of the view that food in pubs is some­how inher­ent­ly un-work­ing-class. But if you’ve read the chap­ter on gas­trop­ubs in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, you’ll know oth­er­wise.

But, any­way, Bev­er­ley is hav­ing none of it:

This type of com­ment ignores the real­i­ties of 1964 cater­ing. If the char­ac­ter of our pubs is chang­ing with the times, it is rea­son­able to assume, too, that the same can be said of the cus­tomers. The num­ber of cus­tomers who go into bars in over­alls at any time is dwin­dling. But the num­ber of cus­tomers who, after work­ing hours, change into well-cut suits to go into pub­lic hous­es with their wives or girl friends is increas­ing. These female com­pan­ions not unnat­u­ral­ly pre­fer the com­fort and ameni­ties of a mod­ern, taste­ful­ly appoint­ed bar rather than sur­round­ings that are drea­ry and out­mod­ed.

(Isn’t CAM­RA’s nation­al inven­to­ry essen­tial­ly the Drea­ry and Out­mod­ed Pub Guide?)

Bev­er­ley’s argu­ment is not only that “men in over­alls” in the pub are a dying breed but also that their suc­ces­sors, “who wear… pro­tec­tive cloth­ing at work”, prob­a­bly earned as much as, or more than, white-col­lar work­ers.

With the growth of automa­tion and the short­en­ing of the work­ing week, the over­all and boil­er suit may dis­ap­pear entire­ly, and the well-appoint­ed, well-warmed pub or inn, pro­vid­ing tasty meals and cor­rect­ly served drinks, should estab­lish itself yet more firm­ly in the design for a life offer­ing greater peri­od of leisure.

The punch­line to all this is, we think, quite fun­ny: the real prob­lem, Bev­er­ley writes, isn’t that pubs are being poshed-up but that, as of the end of 1964, the new aspi­ra­tional work­ing class­es had­n’t quite learned how to behave.

It is only hoped that, as high­er stan­dards are called for and met, appro­pri­ate improve­ments in human behav­iour also will devel­op. Licensees, proud of their “poshed-up” pubs, have dif­fi­cul­ty in believ­ing that change is for the good when expen­sive car­pets and table-tops are dam­aged by cig­a­rette burns. To be tru­ly ben­e­fi­cial, the winds of change… must blow some instinct of respon­si­bil­i­ty and sense of val­ues into the minds of those who are usu­al­ly the most insis­tent and vocal in their demands for lux­u­ry in the “local”.

It’s inter­est­ing to read this along­side those 1960s Bats­ford guides with all their talk of mut­ton cur­ry and beef fon­due, and oth­er accounts of the com­ing pub car­pets at around the same time. The mid-1960s were in pubs, as they were in art, music, lit­er­a­ture, film, some­thing of a moment as the tra­di­tion­al indi­ca­tors of class got jum­bled up or messed around with.

Fifty plus years on, peo­ple are still com­plain­ing about pubs being “poshed-up”, although these days the dis­ap­pear­ance of the car­pet in favour of bare boards is a key indi­ca­tor of com­ing posh­ness.

And the objec­tion seems to be less about class than atti­tude: pubs should be infor­mal, unguard­ed, live­ly and spon­ta­neous, not com­posed, curat­ed or man­nered.

We got our col­lec­tion of edi­tions of A Month­ly Bul­letin from Mar­tyn Cor­nell who kind­ly gave us his spares a few years ago. Thanks again, MC.

News, nuggets and longreads 13 July 2019: Molson, Heineken, RateBeer

Here’s everything that struck us as interesting or noteworthy in beer and pubs in the past week, from Burton to beer vats.

First, some news: fol­low­ing up on its appar­ent col­lapse in Feb­ru­ary, we now hear via 853 that Lon­don brew­ery Hop Stuff has been acquired by Mol­son Coors:

The company’s investors – many of whom were local to Wool­wich – will receive noth­ing from the sale, which came a month after the company’s Twit­ter account announced: “Near­ly there with some­thing great for Hop Stuff!” One of the founders of the com­pa­ny, James Yeo­mans, set up a new com­pa­ny, JY Advi­so­ry Ltd, in March, while Hop Stuff was in tur­moil, accord­ing to Com­pa­nies House records. His wife, Emma Yeo­mans, who found­ed the com­pa­ny with him, resigned from Hop Stuff in April.


Here’s anoth­er nugget: after years of chat, we final­ly know what’s going on with brew­ing at the old Young’s Brew­ery site in Wandsworth – there’s going to be a new pub with attached brew­ery and Sam­brook’s (which has always been some­thing of an homage to Young’s) will also be mov­ing there from Bat­tersea.


And then there’s this, fol­low­ing on from last week’s lit­tle flur­ry of acqui­si­tions by the Beer Hawk:

 

(We also refer you to this post of ours from 2016.)


Heineken sign

For Good Beer Hunt­ing Jon­ny Gar­rett attempts to unpick the pol­i­tics around tied pubs with par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to Heineken. We were espe­cial­ly struck by this point on which, we have to admit, we had not put togeth­er two and two:

Slow­ing down pro­ceed­ings and start­ing nego­ti­a­tions well beyond “rea­son­able” terms aren’t the only ways that large pub com­pa­nies are try­ing to restrict the num­ber of pub­li­cans going free of tie. In Heineken’s case, the acqui­si­tions of Beaver­town Brew­ery and Brix­ton Brew­ery were in part to offer beer with “craft” cre­den­tials to their 2,000-strong Star Pubs & Bars’ estate, intend­ing to remove one motive for pub­li­cans to look else­where. This in turn has shut out oth­er large brew­eries and dis­trib­u­tors who had hoped to sign large con­tracts with Star and Punch pubs.

(For years, peo­ple have been say­ing we need more cov­er­age of the busi­ness side of pubs and brew­ing; it feels as if we’re get­ting there, to the point that there’s a sense of com­pe­ti­tion to break sto­ries fastest, have the sharpest take, dig up the best source. Good news, that.)


Molson Coors brewery in Burton upon Trent.

It’s some­times fun to read a piece about beer by some­one who isn’t into beer, like this reflec­tion on “Burton(-)(up)on(-)Trent” by rail­way tick­er Scott Willi­son:

Beer is awful. At least, it is at first. Beer is this orange mess you have to force your­self to like because every­one else is drink­ing it. That first pint you get as a teenag­er, that won­drous moment when you get to drink what every­one else drinks… and then you taste it and it’s bit­ter and flat and gross… Of course, you have to train your­self. You have to force your­self to have more and even­tu­al­ly you get used to it. After a while you sort of like it. Then you real­ly like it. Then you end up an alco­holic like me.


Beer maturing in vats.
Vats at George’s of Bris­tol as pic­tured in the Illus­trat­ed Lon­don News in 1909.

A fas­ci­nat­ing nugget from Mar­tyn Cor­nell: we’ve all heard about the Lon­don porter flood of 1814, a sta­ple of did-you-know pieces for some years now, but Man­ches­ter had a go in 1831. He writes:

[The] vat that burst at Meux’s brew­ery, off Tot­ten­ham Court Road, con­tain­ing near­ly six times as much porter as the one that col­lapsed at Mottram’s brew­ery in Sal­ford in 1831, but eight peo­ple, all women and chil­dren, died in the Lon­don flood, while the only real vic­tim of the one in Sal­ford was a pig that must have had a seri­ous hang­over the next day.


Playing the piano in a London pub.

Excit­ing news: The Ulti­mate Lon­don Pub Crawl is back! Their first post since Novem­ber 2017 is an account of an expe­di­tion to Col­liers Wood in south west Lon­don:

After our cathar­tic reunion, we quick­ly returned to our wry, lacon­ic selves and moved on to The Roy­al Stan­dard… The pub was of the car­pet­ed, live sports, local booz­er vari­ety. Men sat drink­ing, singly and in pairs. I ven­tured to the gents and a solo drinker fol­lowed me. He joined me at the uri­nals, gave me a cheeky wink and said, “it go in one end and out the t’other, dun’t it!” This remark­able insight, deliv­ered in a jaun­ty iambic hexa­m­e­ter, gave me pause for thought. Yes, I thought to myself, my God, yes — the fel­low is right! He then asked me if I was a local, the flat­ter­er. I admit­ted that, no, I lived near Kingston. He then pro­ceed­ed to reel off an accu­rate list of all the river­side pubs south of Kingston Bridge. What a man.


And, final­ly, we don’t exact­ly why, but we love this image: