News, Nuggets & Longreads 8 July 2017: London Fields, St Ives, Anywhere

Here’s all the beer writing and news from the past seven days that’s grabbed our attention, from brewery takeovers to the (literal) essence of craft beer.

First, a bit of beer blogging admin: the British Guild of Beer Writers has launched its annual awards. If you’re a blogger, as opposed to a professional or semi-pro writer who happens to have a blog on the side, do consider entering in the Citizen Communicator category.

A sign points to London Fields Brewery.
‘Wall’ by Matt Gibson from Flickr under Creative Commons.

The big news of the week was that, having enigmatically trailed such a purchase a few months ago, Carlsberg has just acquired a UK craft brewery: the troubled, morally murky, unloved London Fields. We didn’t have time to produce anything substantial about this (just a Tweet) but if we had, we’d have written something much like this from Richard Taylor at the Beercast:

From their Hackney base… the Danes will have a London-centric brand to push across the country and beyond. And the fact that it has the city name in the brewery title is an added bonus… Looking at some of the tweets from beer industry people – particularly those based in London – was an almighty WTF moment. Of all the brands to acquire, why pick one with so little public recognition and so much industry resentment? The continual attitude and actions of the founders have blackened the name of London Fields within the beer community – but, as we’ve all seen since time began, the big lager boys don’t really care for that anyway. It’s the bottom line that matters, and in their eyes, picking up London Fields for even £4m is peanuts compared with what they would have to fork out for other alternatives.

The bar at Beer & Bird.

Those of you heading down to Cornwall on holiday this summer might find the latest post at Pints and Pubs useful: it’s an extremely comprehensive run down of the pubs of St Ives. It includes news of an interesting development in the form of a bar that has spun off from the town’s impressive specialist off-licence, John’s:

The most recent addition to the beer scene in St Ives, next door to the Castle Inn… It has easily the most extensive bottle and can list of any of the St Ives pubs, but also a decent selection of draught, with three cask and five keg when visited – we had good pints of Firebrand Equinot and Black Flag Simcoe Amarillo Pale.

Sign: "Traditional Real Ales".

Reflecting on the difference between Real Ale and Craft Beer as subcultures Pub Curmudgeon makes an interesting suggestion with reference to a wider division in post-Brexit Britain:

There’s obviously a big area of overlap, as after all both are broadly about ‘quality beer’, but the wellsprings of sentiment from which real ale and craft grow are essentially different things. One is, at heart, about tradition and roots, the other about modernity and innovation. It’s basically the Somewhere versus Anywhere division expressed in beer.

Those on the other side of the political and cultural divide from the Curmudgeon probably wouldn’t disagree with the idea but might spin it differently: ‘Real ale is inward and backward looking, while craft beer points forward and outward!’ At any rate, he might be on to something.

A portrait of Bim looking pensive.

Jordan St. John at St John’s Wort, one of the co-authors of the Ontario Craft Beer Guide, paints a portrait of Luc ‘Bim’ Lafontaine, a revered Canadian brewer whose new venture is straining under the weight of expectation:

[People] talk about the brewery before the opening in messianic terms; as though Bim walked into town across Lake Ontario. At one end of the spectrum a local wag claims on twitter that the beer is terrible and two of the first three batches should have been drain poured. At the other end is a wine professional who proclaims the English style IPA the best he has ever had. On both ends is the response to the expectation that Godspeed will somehow redeem the Toronto beer scene, as if it needed it… Bim has been trying not to look at the reviews although they filter in. There are some concerns about the pricing. $3.75 a can for 355ml seems high to the public… The other gripe is about the styles of beer being brewed. There are people reviewing it who are willing to dismiss a third of the nascent brewery’s production because there is a Dortmunder Lager involved. I know through the rumour mill that Bim has spent much of the last two years drinking Spaten Munich Helles.

Finally, the Beer Nut highlights the existence of Essence of Craft:

11 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 8 July 2017: London Fields, St Ives, Anywhere”

Those on the other side of the political and cultural divide from the Curmudgeon probably wouldn’t disagree with the idea but might spin it differently: ‘Real ale is inward and backward looking, while craft beer points forward and outward!’

It’s a bit more complicated than that. As a Corbyn-supporting Labour Party member I’m on the other side of most political divides you care to name from the Curmudgeon (although I often agree with him about ‘public health’). But Marxist real ale fans are nothing new, and I broadly agree with the opposition between ‘real ale’ and ‘craft’ in that quote – without reversing the signs as you suggest. On the third hand, I think the Somewheres/Anywheres opposition he alludes to is basically piffle, so perhaps we don’t agree after all…

I had deliberately couched the division in neutral terms, whereas “Real ale is inward and backward looking, while craft beer points forward and outward!” is loaded. I don’t think it can be denied that real ale vs craft represents a cultural difference, not merely one of production process or even age.

“London Fields” is of course the name of a novel by Martin Amis, which I suspect will be remembered when Julian De Vere Whiteway-Wilkinson and his transgressions are long since forgotten. Even if Carlsberg acquire no actual brewing plant, it’s a very strong brand name with a lot of London-y associations which I think will prove to be a sound investment for them.

Have you read it? AIUI it’s rather a weird and creepy book, whose central character is a woman who picks up men with the aim of getting herself murdered. I think ‘London’ is doing the work branding-wise – next best thing to getting Camden!

(Who have we got? There’s Stockport, of course, and I think there is a (newish) Manchester Brewing Company – and who could forget Chorlton? Hard to see the big guys going for any of those, though.)

I wonder whether the St Ives guide will have ‘Spoons newest Cornish branch in it ? As shown in the ‘Spoons 2017 Directory !
Shame that the proof-reader didn’t realise that there is a St Ives in Cambridgeshire, which is the true location of that branch.

London Fields is a park in Hackney – the brewery must originally have been set up fairly near. There is also a nearby railway station of the same name. Brodies have had a beer called London Fields for some time and it is one of the better sellers in their William IV pub – I’m not sure, but their use of the name could pre-date the LF brewery. I doubt if matters such as possible trademark infringement would have bothered the original LF owners but Carlsberg’s lawyers may want to check that one out.

The brewery has had the trademark EU014428668 since 2015 covering beer and some other drinks, so that look pretty solid – I get the impression that breweries tend not to spend the £300 and 2 months of bureaucracy to register the trademark for a beer unless it really takes off as a core beer, so not much to worry about there. Brodies might have been able to oppose the application if they’d been brewing the beer when the application was made, but not much they can practically do about it now, I imagine Carlsberg’s lawyers will be in touch….

I was in Brodies’ William IV pub last night and asked the manager if I was right in thinking that their London Fields beer predated the founding of London Fields Brewery? He said it did, by about two months. He didn’t say more, but I got the impression that something had induced them to check their records….

It does seem to me that extra legal costs are yet another burden on small breweries trying to protect their brands. Brewdog seem the most active, at least in public, but then they never seem to miss a chance for publicity and one of their founders has some law in his background.


I don’t think Brewdog are any more active than anyone else in particular, it’s just a way of life for big companies that have brands that are profitable enough to be worth protecting – the cost of registering a trademark might represent the entire profit from a one-off brew from a micro. It’s just the likes of Brewdog are put under more scrutiny – but I’ve not seen anything in public about the clash between Merlin and Robbies over “Wizard” for instance. The fact is that there’s only so many words that work as beer names, and they’re bound to get used quite a bit (variations on “there she gose” for instance), now we’re in a world where there’s what, 20,000 beers in the UK and many more overseas, there’s bound to be clashes.

Brodies seem to have a lot of beers named after various parts of North and East London that are now home to microbreweries. I wonder if that was the plan.

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