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News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 February 2017: Mackeson, Market Towns, Mainspring

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pub writing in the last week, from Mackeson to market towns.

Mackeson beer mat detail.

Some of the home brew recipes posted by Ron Pattinson and Kristen England are bigger names than others and this dissection of 1965 Mackeson Stout is essential reading for anyone with an interest in British brewing history or, indeed, a more practical need to understand a neglected style.

Crafty's Bottle Shop and Micropub.Alec Latham at Mostly About Beer finds an interesting angle, as always, on the proliferation of beer shops in home counties market towns, and especially in and around his native Hertfordshire and neighbouring Buckinghamshire:

There is something special about a market town. Market towns are magical places where bunting suddenly appears. There is always the well-tended war memorial and it’s always afforded pride of place. Then of course there’s market itself – the white canvas village encamped along the main drag. I love the smell of meat being fried and the call of the stall holders who adopt an accent that verges on caricature…

Stories of individual pub closure rarely grab our attention but few people are as well qualified to highlight the long history of The Spread Eagle as Kirsten Elliot, one of the authors of the book Devon Pubs, who reflects on its sudden conversion to housing:

It started out as a beerhouse in the 1830s, and was known as the Spread Eagle until the present owners took it on, changing its name, restoring its reputation… Given the Two Pigs’ continued success and clear fulfilment of a social need, you might have thought the very least the planning authority would have asked for is evidence that no one else was prepared to buy and run the pub. But they didn’t – and the Two Pigs is now history – or should that be bacon?

Easy IPA in Leeds.

This growl of frustration from Simon Girt at Whose Round Is It Anyway? was triggered by a specific bar but feels quite universal — in 2017, if you’re making a big whoop-dee-doo about your ‘craft’ offer, especially in a big city, it’d better have something about it. He says:

It’s just embarrassing. The guys that have opened this have been in Leeds bars for years, but I get the feeling that they haven’t been out and looked around. Do some market research to go see what your competitors are offering, surely that’s common sense? I completely understand that every bar in Leeds doesn’t have to offer the same thing or appeal to the same audience but at least deliver what you’re offering as a base standard – and do it well.

Left Luggage Room

For Cheers North East Alastair Gilmour highlights a slew of new openings and developments in North Tyneside, between North Shields and Monkseaton:

Railway stations seem just right for putting pubs on. Plush waiting rooms are a thing of the past and often lie empty and unloved, as do storage areas and first-class buffets, and there are nice, flat platforms outside to train-spot on if that’s your bag… It’s something that excited Steve Buckley and Andrew Findlay when they scoured the area for premises to convert into a micropub. They saw there was something of a space at Monkseaton Station – a disused left luggage room and ticket office – and decided to go for it. Then after months of cleaning, building furniture and ‘industrial parquet’-style flooring, the Left Luggage Room opened last September to a fanfare of ten Metro cars an hour each way.

Mainspring logo.
SOURCE: Chris Hall

Chris Hall continues his stimulating blend of fiction with commentary in the second part of ‘Mainspring: the Fall of British Craft Beer’:

Cavendish talked a lot about Brexit, and Trump, and populism, and knowing what people are going to do before they do it. Knowing what people want. He said his people had done enough research to prove that, with enough data points [about someone’s age, gender, interests, social media activity etc] it was possible to make a ‘perfect brand’. He said that they [Caistor Insights and companies like them] had proven it could be done with democracy, so why not with a business?”

Walmart Trouble Brewing beers.

Several US bloggers have expressed interest in, and concerns over, Walmart’s range of own-brand craft beers but now it’s prompted a lawsuit, as summarised by Fritz Hahn for the Chicago Tribune:

If you believed the Trouble Brewing beers sold at Wal-Mart are truly craft beers, instead of private-label beers produced at a large industrial brewery in Rochester, New York, you’re not alone. But one Cincinnati beer drinker is so mad that he’s suing the world’s largest company over what he’s calling the ‘wholesale fiction’ around the ales, seeking compensatory damages ‘in an amount to be determined at trial.’

There have been similar legal challenges before over, for example, Blue Moon, but this is interesting because certainly in the UK the own-brand faux-craft range has become a supermarket staple, as in the case of LIDL’s ‘Hatherwood Brewery’ beers.

And has anyone looked into whether someone with a commercial interesting might be supporting or encouraging this legal action? That is, a brewery or trade body?

And, finally, there’s this concerning bit of news from Andy Parker at Elusive Brewing which feels something like a pre-tremor:

3 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 February 2017: Mackeson, Market Towns, Mainspring”

By far my favorite commentary on the Wal-Mart lawsuit was this acerbic post on the Beer Advocate forum. In case it isn’t clear, those are the addresses where Sam Adams and Sixpoint (on the left) are brewed, and they are also the addresses (indicated on the right) where Wal-Mart’s beer is brewed. In other words, those beermakers are using the same massive contract breweries to make their products. If Wal-Mart isn’t craft, and Sixpoint is, it’s because of something elusive about their capital structure, and not the beer itself.

To amplify James’ comment, these kinds of lawsuits are designed to quash competition, full stop. In the article, Hahn cites a sort of similar case in whiskey–but it’s not actually similar. When contract brewing emerged in the 80s, it presented a real form of deception, and a law was passed to compel brewers to list the site of manufacture.

The most likely result of suits like this is to establish case law undermining the legal category “craft beer” (which is, obviously, just a marketing term).

So to recap: small breweries are attempting to stifle competition and may only undermine their favored protected category. Ironies abound.

My father was a Whitbread pub manager and I decided aged about 16 that I should drink Mackeson occasionally to help me put on weight (!!!). Always served in that ‘Ladies’ half pint glass.

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