News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 February 2018: Labels, Lollies, Lambic,

The Three Lions, Bedminster.

These are all the beer- and pub-related links we’ve enjoyed most, or found most informative, in the past week, covering everything from breakfast beer to computer games.

First, from Jeff Alworth, a clever idea: using rank-my-boss web­site Glass Door to gain insight into the employ­ment cul­tures of Amer­i­can craft brew­eries. He writes:

In my expe­ri­ence, peo­ple are uni­form­ly tight-lipped about their employ­ers, and try­ing to suss out which brew­eries treat their employ­ees well and which don’t has always been elu­sive.… There are some real sur­pris­es here. Rogue has long had a rep­u­ta­tion as a ter­ri­ble place to work, thanks in part to this report. But on Glass­door, it’s get­ting a quite-respectable 3.9. New Bel­gium, by con­trast, is usu­al­ly described as some­thing like heav­en to work for, and it’s get­ting only a 3.5.


A crowd outside the Market Porter.
SOURCE: Stacy/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jes­si­ca Furseth has writ­ten a fas­ci­nat­ing piece for Atlas Obscu­ra on the hand­ful of Lon­don pubs that are open for break­fast, argu­ing that they are the last reminders of a time when Lon­don­ers drank at all hours of the day:

It’s 7 a.m. at The Mar­ket Porter in South Lon­don, and I’m eye­ing the choic­es behind the bar. “You alright there?” the bar­man asks. This is the first time I’ve stopped by the pub on my way to work in the morn­ing, and I have no idea what to get. Hon­est­ly, what I want is anoth­er cof­fee. But even­tu­al­ly I set­tle on a cider: the “Tra­di­tion­al Scrumpy,” which is a feisty six per­cent alco­hol. As the morn­ing sun pokes through the pat­terned glass win­dows, it goes down a lot bet­ter than I expect.


Collage of sexist beer labels.
SOURCE: Pur­suit of Abbey­ness.

At Pur­suit of Abbey­ness Mar­tin Stew­ard gives us what may well be the defin­i­tive sum­ma­ry of the most recent round of debate about sex­ist beer pack­ag­ing, though sum­ma­ry is per­haps not quite the right word for a post this sub­stan­tial. Adopt­ing some­thing like an aca­d­e­m­ic tone he also puts var­i­ous designs under exam­i­na­tion, ask­ing ‘Is this sex­ist?’, work­ing his way towards a set of prin­ci­ples that takes into account aes­thet­ic, nar­ra­tive and con­text:

With Siren’s beers.… men are allowed the fris­son of this assertive female sex­u­al­i­ty, but ulti­mate­ly re-assert their dom­i­nance, and the sex­u­al dou­ble stan­dard, in the act of con­sump­tion – for, once again, the fem­i­nine is objec­ti­fied as a per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the beer in the tap­room, just as the fem­i­nine is objec­ti­fied as the ves­sel onboard a ship. The under­ly­ing assump­tion is that both brew­ery and bar are male-only domains, just as sure­ly as an 18th-Cen­tu­ry ship was.


Bavaria beer ice lollies.
SOURCE: Bavaria Cor­po­rate web­site.

Because it’s a sit­u­a­tion we know so lit­tle about, we enjoyed Rick Kempen’s assess­ment of Dutch ‘mega brew­ers’ and their attempts to engage with the idea of craft beer:

Late 2016 I worked myself up over some hilar­i­ous news­pa­per arti­cle in which, among a whole lot of oth­er odd­i­ties, Bavaria said it want­ed to posi­tion itself as the biggest inde­pen­dent fam­i­ly brew­ery in the world. Fun­ny, isn’t it? Cur­rent­ly they seem to be real busy with a nut­ty attempt to have car­ni­val be made an offi­cial nation­al hol­i­day – not so much because they like car­ni­val, but it makes for an awe­some sell­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty. Bavaria’s biggest con­tri­bu­tion to beer inno­va­tion was last year’s intro­duc­tion of beer ice [lol­lies] – a dis­grace­ful attempt to bring alco­hol into a new shelf in super­mar­kets. It makes one think they’re total­ly clue­less in Bra­bant.

(Radler ice lol­lies sound quite cool to us, though.…)


Jamie's Italian.
SOURCE: Mat­ty Ring/Flickr, under CC BY 2.0

It’s not about beer but Tony Naylor’s piece for the Guardian on the strug­gles of mid-mar­ket high street restau­rants such as Jamie’s Ital­ian offers some use­ful insight into how chains work, which is worth apply­ing to Brew­Dog and oth­er such ambi­tious craft beer enter­pris­es:

A pres­sure that can eas­i­ly lead to large chains, no mat­ter how they are fund­ed, erod­ing the food qual­i­ty or ser­vice that once made them stand out. When the mar­ket is slug­gish and a restau­rant chain’s head­line sales growth slows down, that chain will attempt to pro­tect its prof­itabil­i­ty by cut­ting costs, from ingre­di­ents to staffing lev­els. It can quick­ly become a spi­ral of decline as qual­i­ty falls and cus­tomers walk.… That sense that large chains are con­stant­ly cyn­i­cal­ly whit­tling away at their costs fuels huge resent­ment among food­ies. For instance, who would have thought that Jamie’s Ital­ian – a brand sup­pos­ed­ly pop­u­lar­is­ing rus­tic, arti­sanal Mediter­ranean cook­ing – would share a meat sup­pli­er, the now-col­lapsed Rus­sell Hume, with bud­get pub chain Wether­spoons?


The roof at Cantillon brewery in Brussels.

Roel Mul­der is trou­bled, even irri­tat­ed, by the casu­al approach tak­en to the his­to­ry of Bel­gian lam­bic beers and is on a mis­sion to shake out the truth. This week at his web­site Lost Beers he laid out some of his think­ing:

[A] lot of claims about the his­to­ry of lam­bic are based on, to put it mild­ly, slop­py research and wish­ful think­ing. The main error is in the basic assump­tion that lam­bic is an uncor­rupt­ed rel­ic from the past, and that it has nev­er changed through­out the cen­turies. The tra­di­tion­al per­cep­tion by both lam­bic brew­ers and drinkers, a per­cep­tion that has been around for the past fifty years or so, is that in the Mid­dle Ages all beers were a kind of lam­bic: no yeast added and delib­er­ate­ly soured in bar­rels.… Noth­ing is less true: all data we have show that dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages peo­ple sim­ply did add yeast to beer.


Screenshot from Witcher 3.

Here’s a bit of silli­ness to take us into the last stretch: for Kotaku Riley Macleod has earnest­ly reviewed every tav­ern in the com­put­er role-play­ing game Witch­er 3:

The Alche­my is near a small mar­ket in Oxen­furt, mak­ing it per­fect for a pick-me-up after you’re done run­ning errands. A small patio (no seat­ing) leads into a bustling side room that feels like walk­ing into a friend’s house. The kitchen dom­i­nates the small place, which is made more crowd­ed by shelves full of vas­es and knick­knacks. The exposed brick walls and stone floor give it a weath­ered char­ac­ter. It’s not quite ele­gant and not quite a dive, but it has its own spe­cial some­thing.… A range of beer on tap from across the Con­ti­nent, as well as some spir­its and juice.


We’re going to fin­ish with this per­fect vignette from a new Bris­tol oral his­to­ry project:

3 thoughts on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 February 2018: Labels, Lollies, Lambic,”

  1. I remem­ber mak­ing that obser­va­tion about medieval beers not being sour and receiv­ing a pret­ty cold response, too. Yet the tax infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed by Unger is pret­ty clear about the speed of pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion,

  2. What a rich trove you’ve offered today—thanks as always for your sleuthing.

    The lam­bic post, how­ev­er, is odd. Lam­bic is clear­ly just one spur of Bel­gian brew­ing and any­one who thinks it’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all old styles would be quite wrong. But that seems straw-man­nish to me. In Lacambre’s mid-19th cen­tu­ry text, mul­ti­ple spon­ta­neous beers are doc­u­ment­ed. To me, this sug­gests a lin­eage dat­ing back—well, prob­a­bly pret­ty far.

    Of course, lam­bics have obvi­ous­ly evolved. Gueueze appears to only date to the late 19th cen­tu­ry. Hops have only been used 900 years or so, and less than that in Bel­gium. The tur­bid mash­ing almost cer­tain­ly emerges from tax codes (I don’t have a source in front of me to remind myself when that was—but in the past cou­ple hun­dred years). Humans are clever and their tastes change. All styles evolve. But spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion is ancient, and bar­ring some deci­sive evi­dence to the con­trary, I’d bet my bot­tom dol­lar it goes back to the time Julius Cae­sar dis­cov­ered the Bel­gians brew­ing beer and admired their tenac­i­ty.

  3. Thank you for that very gen­er­ous assess­ment of my work!
    Must read that Lam­bic piece, too, it sounds most inter­est­ing.

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