News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 December 2017: Brixton, Walkabout, TransPennine Trains

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from sexist beer branding to chronic Oztalgia.

First, that brewery takeover news. Well, we say ‘takeover’ but in fact Heineken has actually acquired a non-controlling (49 per cent) stake in south London’s Brixton Brewery. With this, Camden Town and London Fields in mind, it begins to seem that the key to luring in investment from Big Beer is a good neighbourhood-specific brand name. We can certainly imagine Brixton Craft Lager competing for bar-space with Camden Hells in the near future. The general reaction seems to be neutral, shading positive — ‘good for them’ — but this slam from Yes! Ale reflects the counterview: “You may as well be pissin’ straight into the fermenter, Moneybags.”

Meanwhile, Spanish firm Mahou San Miguel has acquired a 30 per cent stake in Avery, a brewery in Colorado, while AB-InBev has acquired Australian upstarts Pirate Life lock, stock and (ahem) barrel. December is a busy time for this kind of activity every year now, it seems, perhaps for as obvious a reason as everyone scrambling to wrap up negotiations before the Christmas lull.

One final bit of reading on this: Richard Taylor of BrewDog writing at the BeerCast suggests that the Pirate Life story might signal how this will play out in future takeovers, with Big Beer winning over reluctant craft brewers with the offer of a separate smaller brewery to play around on making sour beers or whatever. “Hey guys, it’s fine”, he imagines the Big Beer negotiators saying. “We’ll build a new brewery for your core stuff and push it to market. You can keep the old kit and go wild on it. Brew what you like! Go for IT! HIGH FIVE. NOW. HIGH FIVE US LIKE A DUDE. RADICAL!’”

Jaega Wise

The other big story of the week — one that always rumbles in the background but occasionally breaks out — was the issue of sexism in beer branding. It kicked off this time when Jaega Wise, head brewer at Wild Card in Walthamstow, addressed the issue in a talk at the Brewers Congress, a major event organised by industry magazine the Brewers Journal. As reported by James Beeson for the Morning Advertiser she called for the Campaign for Real Ale and SIBA to ban beers with sexist branding from their festivals, among other suggestions. The story got picked up by national newspapers and forced responses from both CAMRASIBA and industry regulators the Portman Group. A constructive intervention by Ms Wise at the right time, in the right venue, seems to have given this debate the nudge it needed to move forward at least a little.

Walkabout, Shepherd's Bush.

We’ve been enjoying the output of new online magazine White Noise which focuses on west London in particular and has already featured several substantial pieces on beer and pubs. This week Richard Wallace wrote about the kind of pub often overlooked or even sneered at by commentators: the Australian-themed chain Walkabout. In particular, he focused on the defunct Shepherd’s Bush branch:

The only reminder of the Walkabout’s legacy is its incongruous facade; garish green with Duplo fanlights and tasteless finials, the building is the architectural equivalent of a face-painted straggler gurning among starch-collared suits on a Monday morning… It’s fitting. Part of the Walkabout’s fame (or infamy) was as a traditional ‘Sunday sesh’ spot for Australians in London, some from the local area – affectionately nicknamed SheBu – and many fresh from The Church, a raucous Sunday afternoon party beloved by Australians and New Zealanders… Every Sunday afternoon, a band called the Bondi Beach Bums would take to the stage to play covers of AC/DC, the Hoodoo Gurus, and anything else that was likely to make that heaving room holler along with abandon.

Illustration: American family breweries.

For Beer Advocate Ron Pattinson has shone a light on the often overlooked American family brewers F.X. Matt and August Schell:

Talking to American beer enthusiasts, I’m often surprised at how little known F.X. Matt is and how unaware most are of its important role in the first days of craft. Many of the early East Coast craft brands were contract brewed there, giving aspiring brewers the chance to produce beer without a big initial investment… In 1888, Francis Xavier Matt, a German immigrant who had learned to brew in southern Germany’s Black Forest region, founded the company in Utica, N.Y. The founder’s grandson is currently chairman and CEO, while his great grandsons, Fred Matt and Nick R. Matt, are president and brand manager.

(Disclosure: we write for Beer Advocate on an ongoing basis.)

Dilly Dilly

“Dilly Dilly”? What on earth are you talking about? Well, fortunately, Jeff Alworth has a primer on this Bud Light marketing catchphrase turned meme which we’re already sick even though we only heard it for the first time this week; and Growler magazine has news of a Dilly Dilly related cease-and-desist delivered in the cutesy manner big corporations have lately adopted to avoid accusations of bullying:

Just two-and-a-half hours after tapping Dilly Dilly Mosaic Double IPA at their North Loop Minneapolis taproom, Modist Brewing received an unexpected visitor in medieval garb who was there to deliver a message straight from Bud… “This is by order of the king,” the messenger read from the scroll, “disobedience will be met with additional scrolls, then a formal warning, then finally, a private tour of the pit of misery!”

Guardian books of the year.

Now, a brief moment of self-promotion — no, contain your astonishment! — via Henry Jeffreys’ round-up of 2017’s best books about drink for the Guardian. It includes our 20th Century Pub alongside Pete Brown’s Miracle Brew, and Mr J says our book is “thoroughly researched, elegantly written”. But if you’re not convinced by this point then there’s no bringing you round. The books on wine and whisky he suggests might appeal to you anyway if you’re looking to branch out from beer.

Finally, here’s a bit of news via Mark Johnson on Twitter which, as he hints at with his hashtag, says something interesting about where beer is at in 2017:

5 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 December 2017: Brixton, Walkabout, TransPennine Trains”

As a closet NFL nerd, I spend Sunday nights glued to my GamePass watching the Chicago Bears getting pounded by whoever they are playing that week. There’s a lot of breaks in play and the Dilly Dilly advert is shown at least every ten minutes – it’s huge over there; fans use it as a sort of ‘inoffensive bro-y greeting’ and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger even names one of his plays ‘Dilly Dilly’ a fortnight or so ago. At Wembley’s International Series games in October, I can personally attest to BL being heavily pushed (and drunk as far as I can tell) as the lager choice over regular Bud, as well. Dilly Dilly indeed. You’ve done well to steer clear of it this long!

Are Cloudwater going to brew something & stick to it for once? Or will the TP beer menu just say ‘Cloudwater (various)’? £4.50 a throw is proper craft pricing, too – I may stick to stocking up at M&S Simply Food.

My understanding is it will be “Cloudwater Various.” The price argument I suppose could be that cans of Carlsberg are circa £4 on the same journeys. And a lot of CW cans are £6 at their own shop so for on train purchasing (which is always expensive) this is cheap in relative terms.

Fair point about on-board pricing. Anyone know off-hand how much RedWillow’s Tilting Ale goes (went?) for on Virgin trains?

As Mark says, £4.50 seems pretty reasonable for Cloudwater in a captive market – @Phil from memory Tilting Ale is in that ballpark (and yes it is still going, although they ditched the rebadged Thistly Cross cider for a while). At last railways are figuring out that the kind of people who can afford rail travel also expect/can afford something a bit better on the beer front than the lowest common denominator.

On a related note, a top tip for Stoke station – the main caff on Platform 1 only has macro lagers at £4 for a 440ml can, the posh caff next door has 500ml Titanic Plum Porter for £4.25 or £4.50 (can’t remember exactly, and they often run out).

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