News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island

Pub sign: 'Bass on Draught'.

There’s been plenty of good reading this week from intelligence on the latest AB-InBev manoeuvring  to memories of 1970s Sheffield via a Sober Island.

First, the news head­lines: AB-InBev have tak­en over Span­ish brew­ery Cervezas La Vir­gen, as report­ed by Joan Vil­lar-i-Martí at Bir­raire:

A rather pecu­liar move, in my opin­ion, if we com­pare it to the Bel­gian brew­ing giant’s recent oper­a­tions, espe­cial­ly in Europe… La Vir­gen was born as a prod­uct designed for the Madrid mar­ket, and until a year ago it was basi­cal­ly focused on it. As a com­pa­ny, it has nev­er quite been in the cir­cles of the nation­al craft move­ment, appear­ing in few fes­ti­vals and with­out a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in spe­cialised bars. On the con­trary, it has suc­cess­ful­ly pen­e­trat­ed the mar­ket with a craft-labelled prod­uct that deliv­ers a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence to the ‘usu­al’ beers.

Fishing boats on Sober Island.
‘Sober Island’ By Den­nis Jarvis from Flickr under Cre­ative Com­mons.

For Mel mag­a­zine Angela Chapin gives an account of the dis­pute over the name and loca­tion of Sober Island brew­ery, which is not cur­rent­ly brew­ing on Sober Island, Nova Sco­tia, Cana­da, as the name might sug­gest:

One of the locals most excit­ed about her plan was [Rebec­ca Atkin­son’s] friend Trevor Munroe. He and his wife run an oys­ter farm on Sober Island, and the 43-year-old thought the brew­ery would be great for the com­mu­ni­ty. Not to men­tion, it was to be a mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ship: Munroe want­ed to help Atkin­son find land; she want­ed to use his oys­ters in her beer. Bet­ter yet, they planned to team up to attract tourists to the island with tours that would end with cold beer and fresh oys­ters… But the rela­tion­ship began to sour when Atkin­son delayed the con­struc­tion of the brew­ery and start­ed brew­ing beer at her mom’s place instead.

The sto­ry high­lights all kinds of issues around prove­nance, mar­ket­ing, and the mean­ing of local – is Atkin­son exploit­ing the island’s quirky name or is she sin­cere in her stat­ed intent to even­tu­al­ly move pro­duc­tion there?

(Via @PivniFilosof.)

Pt. Bonita lager can with Ruhstaller's in the background.

We haven’t both­ered with a ded­i­cat­ed pre­dic­tions post this New Year but Richard Tay­lor’s for The Beer­cast look pret­ty smart to us: big­ger cans, packs of beer designed for blend­ing and hops in drinks oth­er than beer all sound high­ly like­ly, and not at all unap­peal­ing.

Birkenhead Lager.

Mean­while, still look­ing back to 2016, Phil Cook pro­vides an inter­est­ing sum­ma­ry of what’s been going on in the New Zealand beer scene:

I don’t believe for a minute that we have ‘too many brew­eries’ — but I often sus­pect we do have too many com­pa­nies with a short­age of any­thing-much inter­est­ing to offer and an over­sup­ply of con­fi­dent oppor­tunism that leads them to grace­less­ly try to run before they know how to walk. Birken­head start­ed out by shame­less­ly lift­ing the logo­type of the more-famil­iar-BBC and awk­ward­ly dressed their beers in Māori imagery before equal­ly-awk­ward­ly remov­ing it. The labels are full of clunky his­tor­i­cal and geo­graph­i­cal irrel­e­van­cies that talk up a her­itage they don’t have and only men­tion the beer itself in ago­nis­ing­ly shal­low terms. The whole busi­ness mod­el seems to hinge huge­ly on lever­ag­ing ‘brand NZ’ and flog­ging beer in Chi­na…

Tetley sign, Sheffield.

A real high­light of the week for us was Frank Cur­tis’s mem­oir of drink­ing and work­ing in Sheffield pubs in the 1970s, writ­ten for Total Ales. It’s full of small details and vignettes and makes us wish every­one would take a minute to record their mem­o­ries, even if they might not seem sig­nif­i­cant in the big­ger pic­ture. This is the kind of thing that too eas­i­ly gets for­got­ten:

I still remem­ber my very first shift in the lounge bar of The Bee­hive. The land­lord had spent hours teach­ing me how to serve a full pint with a tight, creamy head, forced through a sparkler – the only way his cus­tomers would accept it he assured me. He then made me prac­tice on the oth­er stu­dents in the saloon bar for days before I was exposed to the elite cus­tomers next door. My first order in the lounge bar came from a group of sev­en ‘mid­dle man­agers’ – all wear­ing col­lar and tie – from the Sheffield steel works. ‘Sev­en pints o’ Tetley’s please’ was the order. My serv­ing tech­nique was scru­ti­nised close­ly and reward­ed with the com­ment ‘not bad for a stu­dent’. The group then pro­ceed­ed to order a fur­ther six rounds of sev­en pints each, over the course of about an hour, then all left togeth­er.

Beer style guide 1901

For The Malt­ing Floor Clau­dia Asch reflects on beer styles, awards pro­grammes and the dia­logue between brew­er and cus­tomer:

One of my favourite style-relat­ed sto­ries is per­haps the tale of Fuller’s Extra Spe­cial Bit­ter. Intro­duced in 1971, it has since won many acco­lades, includ­ing a Gold medal at the 2006 World Beer Cup. Four years lat­er, at that very same com­pe­ti­tion, the same beer was ‘dis­qual­i­fied… as not being to style (p. 134).’ The mind bog­gles. Fullers is ESB, ESB is Fullers. A glimpse into the absur­di­ty of style man­age­ment.

Craftwork point of sale materials at Wetherspoon's.

It turns out, as Jeff Alworth at Beer­vana reports, that mar­ket ana­lysts are already dis­tin­guish­ing between beers that are ‘true craft’ and ‘mass craft’:

 With­in the craft seg­ment (how­ev­er you define it), there are emerg­ing sub-seg­ments. The vast major­i­ty of craft beer is still just a few brands–Lagunitas IPA, Sier­ra Neva­da Pale, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Blue Moon and so on… There are mil­lions of bar­rels of inter­est in what beer geeks now deem bor­ing beer. If a brew­ery wants to appeal to this, ahem, mass mar­ket with­in the craft seg­ment, they can’t hope to do it with a brett-aged sai­son.

Growlers from Zach Fowle's collection.

Just as UK bot­tle shops and bars have start­ed to install growler-fill­ing machines for take­away draught beer comes news from Zach Fowle at Draft that in the US that trend is, like, so total­ly over:

A growler is just a big glass, essen­tial­ly, and I don’t think drinkers know that,’ [Chris] Quinn says. ‘Brew­ers can put a tag on the glass say­ing ‘drink with­in 48 hours’ and so on, which I think is good, but I think that peo­ple still con­sid­er growlers to be as good as bottles—and maybe even bet­ter, since they got them right from the source. But if you think there’s no dif­fer­ence, open up five bot­tles or cans of a beer, put them in your fridge, and just drink through them one by one. That’s essen­tial­ly what you’re doing with a growler. Is that fifth beer going to be as good as the first, even if it’s kept in a fridge?’

And, final­ly, here’s one of the best of this week’s #Pub­Pho­tos as pro­vid­ed by Nic­ci Peet who set us off on this train of thought in the first place:

6 thoughts on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island”

  1. The first sen­tence of Frank Cur­tis’s piece was inter­est­ing . His first pint was 2/8 in 1970. The first pint I ever bought was in the now-lost White Hart in Pen­zance in, I think, 1973. It was 14p, or 2/8 in old mon­ey.
    Giv­en three years of infla­tion, I would­n’t have expect­ed beer in York­shire to have been more expen­sive than in West Corn­wall.

    1. His first pint was in rur­al Lin­colnshire. Vil­lage pubs often have so lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion they can charge price that seems exces­sive in local towns.

      1. Serves me right for not read­ing on.
        I sus­pect your analy­sis is right but I would­n’t have thought rur­al Lincs was a high income area so licensees choose a high­er mar­gin over poten­tial­ly high­er turnover. The same phe­nom­e­non is very evi­dent in South­ern Ire­land.
        I won­der how much this has con­tributed to rur­al pub clo­sures?
        Going back to Pen­zance, the aver­age price for cask beer now seems to be around £3.4o (oth­er than Spoons). Giv­en local incomes, this again seems pret­ty short sight­ed, espe­cial­ly now that the big Pub­cos are no longer dom­i­nant in the area.

        1. Speak­ing of beer of Beer designed for blend­ing; what are the blend­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of The 100ml bot­tles of Brew­dog Hop Shot.
          Poten­tial for perk­ing up less inter­est­ing beers or even one of your infa­mous Orval blends: Hop Shval / Orshot any­one!

      2. Giv­en the rate of clo­sure of vil­lage pubs I’d sug­gest it’s more a fac­tor of weak demand, so they have to spread their fixed costs over few­er pints. Cut­ting prices by 20p might halve their net prof­it, but not dou­ble sales, so there’s no point doing it.

        Also they have high­er costs – for instance hav­ing to pay staff more to allow them to main­tain their own trans­port, as they won’t have the option of walking/bussing to work.

  2. Sor­ry, don’t get this. How would cut­ting prices by 20p halve net prof­it, giv­en typ­i­cal cash mar­gin?
    Plus in my expe­ri­ence licensees don’t analyse fixed vs vari­able costs. If you respond to weak demand by rais­ing prices with­out some oth­er improve­ments to your offer, that way bank­rupt­cy lies.
    Nor do I have any expe­ri­ence of rur­al staff being paid more, though I guess it depends on our def­i­n­i­tions of rur­al.
    In my exam­ple of a town like Pen­zance, staff I’m sure can walk or have oth­er options.

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