News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer

The Tipperary, Fleet Street.

This week we have been reading various bits of what may or may not be clickbait, notes on beers from Romania and Norway, and ponderings on the nature of taste. There’s also been some less sexy but nonetheless important industry news.

For the Guardian Victoria Coren-Mitchell expressed a seldom-heard point of view: pubs are terrible and beer is disgusting. This caused some irritation either because the very idea struck people as offensive, or because they perceived it as a deliberate attempt to bait beer- and pub-lovers for the sake of driving traffic. We were just interested to find put into words (with humorous intent, by the way) how a lot of people must feel:

People really love the pub. I say people. I mean my husband. Nothing makes my husband happier than settling down in the corner of some reeky-carpeted local boozing house for a good old sit. Maybe a chat. And, obviously, a beer. A sit and a chat and a beer. Beer and a chat and a sit. Sit, chat, beer. Chat, sit, beer. Sit, sit, beer beer, chat chat chat, sit sit sit… And nothing else is happening! It’s a different matter if you’re having some lunch or playing a pub quiz; that makes sense. I’m happy if there are board games or a pool table… But just sitting there, doing nothing, just slurping away at a beer and waiting for the occasional outbreak of chat: this is the pastime of choice for literally millions of people!

Beer O'Clock, Bucharest.

The Beer Nut has been on holiday again, this time in Bucharest, Romania, and has done his usual thorough job of tracking down all the beer of note from supermarket lagers to brewpub IPAs:

[The] other Hop Hooligans IPA, by the name of Shock Therapy… looks the same as the beer next to it, except for that handsome mane of pure white foam. It doesn’t smell fruity, though; it smells funky: part dank, part old socks. That’s how it tastes too, with a kind of cheesiness that I don’t think is caused by old hops. When I look up the varieties I discover that Waimea and Rakau are the guilty parties, and I’m not surprised. I’ve picked up an unpleasant funk from those high-end Kiwi hops before

Part 1: Craft Beer
Part 2: Big Indies/Contract Brewers
Part 3: Mainstream Brands

Crackers at a beer tasting.

On his blog Pete Brown offers reflections on the differences between tasting and drinking it, and between tasting and judging:

Just like when you read half a page of a book and realise you haven’t taken it in because you’ve been thinking about something else, or there’s music playing and you can’t recall what the last few songs were because you were listening to your friend talking, there’s a big difference between sensory stimulus being picked up by your mouth, nose, eyes etc., and your brain actually paying any attention to it. When we taste beer, as opposed to drinking it, the biggest difference is not in the size or shape of the glass, the sniffing and swirling; it’s in the simple act of directing your attention to the beer itself rather than anything else.

And, for the record as much as anything this is probably a good spot to flag the second most interesting thing Pete Brown wrote this week: an article for the Morning Advertiser about his increasing preference for keg beer over cask given the frequently poor condition of the latter, in his experience. This blew up because (a) the MA gave it an inflammatory headline — the article itself is quite balanced and (b) because the MA rang up CAMRA and managed to get vaguely, ever so slightly critical statement out of the Campaign’s Chair, Colin Valentine. Roger Protz summed up the reaction of many: ‘The last thing the poor bloody beleaguered pub needs is a leading beer writer saying he’s giving up drinking cask beer.’

Vintage SIBA sign on a pub in London.

For another industry publication, The Brewers’ Journal, Matt Curtis has investigated the tensions between brewers, pub companies, and SIBA, the organisation that represents UK microbreweries. SIBA manages a wholesale scheme supplying pubs with its members’ beer which has long been controversial but which has become even more so in recent months:

It announced that Enterprise Inns would be reducing the price it pays for cask beer to members enrolled on SIBA’s Beerflex direct delivery service by £3.00 per firkin… This reduction follows a similar £5.00 per firkin reduction SIBA introduced to the same tariff last November – further increasing a price reduction that could be detrimental to many small and independent brewers choosing to use the scheme… But why would SIBA, an organisation whose primary aim is to support its membership of small, independent breweries, agree to a deal where those members will see their margins on cask beer reduced?

Brewery flags on a wall in Burton-upon-Trent.

Another piece of news that hints at the shifting of the tectonic plates is the announcement of a new lobbying group, the Small Brewer Duty Reform Coalition. It is made up primarily of larger, better-established breweries (Adnams, Bateman’s, and so on) that feel hard-done-by as a result of the way beer duty is currently set up to give breaks to the smallest breweries:

The Small Brewer Duty Reform Coalition (SBDRC) is supportive of the SBR scheme, which has stimulated new entrants to the brewing industry and promoted even greater consumer choice, and firmly believes that it is essential to the future of the sector. However, it has had a number of unintended consequences and the current structure is a significant barrier to growth.

We say ‘primarily’ but there are also some other interesting names on the list: Beavertown, Dark Star and Harbour most notably. The time for allegiances based on vague notions of craft beer brotherhood may have passed.

Lars Marius Garshol has made an attempt to map the sub-styles of Norwegian farmhouse ale which feels like a necessary pre-condition to getting commercial brewers worldwide to give it a go — they need something to put on the label, don’t they?

We made one new addition to our register of good and bad news last week: the Quantock Brewery of Somerset has gone into administration.

And, finally, here’s our favourite of last week’s #PubPhotos — a real renaissance painting of a shot.

2 thoughts on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer”

    1. It’s Benskins. Brewery publicity shot reproduced in Basil Oliver’s The Renaissance of the English Public House.

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