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News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 October 2016: Off-Trade, On-Trade, Hops and TV

Another hectic week for us — only one blog post! — but we have been keeping up with our reading. Here’s what grabbed us in the last week.

First, a big story that deserves some pondering: for the first time beer sold to drink at home has outsold that drunk in pubs and other licensed premises. Here’s the Morning Advertiser‘s report and there’s some commentary from Matt Curtis and Neville ‘Red Nev’ Grundy.

Cask Report cover detail.

This year’s Cask Report has a new author, Sophie Atherton, who provides some personal commentary on her own relationship with cask beer on her blog:

I didn’t have the knowledge then that I have now, but I somehow knew you had to look after beer or it would spoil and, at worst, end up tasting like vinegar. A skilled publican knew how to care for beer and made sure it was only ever served tasting the way it should. But it seemed as though there must be a shortage of skilled publicans because wherever we went, in whatever town, we kept being served, flat, smelly and often vinegary cask beer. So I stopped drinking it.

In front of cases of beer.
Jim Koch in 1985. (Boston Beer Co publicity photo via All About Beer.)

For All About Beer Tom Acitelli recalls the moment 20 years ago when a key player in the nascent craft beer industry was ‘gotcha’d’ over contract brewing:

On Sunday evening, Oct. 13, 1996, the sonorously calm voice of Stone Phillips, a host of NBC’s Dateline, eased into around eight million American households: ‘When it comes to beer, you’ve never had more choices on tap.’

The words were all too true, given the decade’s growth in the number of American breweries, brewpubs and brands of beer. But Phillips had not come to praise the growth. Instead, the segment he was introducing ended up helping to bury it.

Macro image: 'Hops' with illustration of hop cones, 1970s.

For Draft magazine Zach Fowle investigates how different the same beer made with hops from different farms can actually taste:

The first IPA, made with Cascades grown on Ruhstaller’s own farm in Dixon, California, featured a pleasantly floral, honeylike character. The second, grown in Sloughhouse, California, had an almost tangy citrus quality, like pulpy orange juice. Tropical fruit rind flavors characterized the Kuchinski Hop Ranch IPA, made with hops grown in Lake County, while the IPA designed with Orphan hops—what Maldonado calls the “commodity Cascades” grown in Oregon, Washington and Canada, and purchased in massive quantities by breweries like Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas—was even and herbal, like dried greens. Aroma, flavor, even the character and level of the bitterness were all discrete. It was like drinking four completely different beers.

(This also prompted some interesting talk on Twitter: UK brewers always tended to name the grower rather than hop variety in records before about 1970.)

The Pilcrow, bar area.
SOURCE: Tyson’s Beer Blog.

We’ve been observing with interest the development of Manchester’s new-build community pub (terms and conditions apply). Tyson, not one to be bamboozled by hype, has had chance to check it out:

Basically it’s a narrow L-shaped room with the bar in the left corner with tables and chairs arranged in rows down the right next to the large glass windows. The soft toned colour scheme and plenty of natural light give it a fresh and airy feel. It’s not quite finished yet but I like it. And that’s not just because we had it to ourselves. It’s my kind of joint. It’s got a good vibe.

We love a good analogy so couldn’t resist Stan Hieronymus’s mapping of what’s going on in TV to the world of beer: there’s too much great stuff to actually find time to watch, ‘an artificial boom of investment as the internet TV land grab happens’ and ‘There will be a shake out’.

And, finally, a bit more news which will probably require a blog post later in the week to properly unpack: for the first time CAMRA has declared a canned beer to be ‘real ale’. As you might imagine, people are dismayed/delighted at this disastrous/progressive move which spells disaster/marks a new dawn for CAMRA.

3 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 October 2016: Off-Trade, On-Trade, Hops and TV”

What a bizarre revisionist take on the NBC Dateline story. Wouldn’t it be nice if these AAB historical vignettes ever employed research beyond checking in with the recollections of the main players in the poor widdle cwaft narrative. But then, leaping well past that, to seemingly ascribe the downturn in micro brewing in the latter 1990s to this one news item is nuts.

Well, he says ‘helped precipitate’ which seems quite cautious and careful to me.

Still haven’t had time (motivation) to properly read this year’s cask report.

But the bit from Sophie there is spot on for my own initial experiences with “real ale”. When I moved to the UK I kept finding this stuff, marketed (to the eyes of a foreigner) as the quintessentially ye olde English beer… and universally bloody awful.

So I drank Guinness and bottled Belgian imports [given a) I could get them in supermarkets and b) they seems ridiculously cheap compared to Sydney prices… when I eventually saw the prices in Belgium I had to laugh]

It was probably nearly a year before I found really great cask beer kept really well. And everything changed, the Hob Bine in Aylesbury was a pivot-point. (And by my standards now perhaps it’d seem a bit dull… how times change.)

To bring this back to something more like the point – I can guess at the gist of the cask report with respect to this quote… Quality is cask ale’s biggest enemy (you could say cask ale is its own worst enemy) – and every year the Cask Report says the same thing, and every year the industry (meaning most pubs) ignore it. The problem with the pub industry is that it is formulaic… you can’t crack publicans (and pub chain owners) out of a basic set of least-effort methodologies that try to optimise for the wrong variables.

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