News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 March 2018: Glitter, Ilford, AK

The bar at the Pirate Inn, Penzance.

Here’s everything we’ve read about beer and pubs in the last week that excited us enough to hit the bookmark button, from glitter beer to Kölsch.

And what a week it’s been — a positive flood of interesting writing, lots of it on the hefty side. We’ll never work out the rhythms. It’s just odd that some weeks we post five links and think, well, that’s it, we’re done, and then on other occasions… Well, brace yourself.

Madeleine McCarthy (L) and Lee Hedgmon holding glasses of glitter beer.

First, a story we didn’t expect to care about but which did something interesting: it actually changed our minds. Glitter beer is the latest Oh, Silly Craft Beer! trend, easy to dismiss out of hand, but Jeff Alworth made the effort to go and try some and was won over:

What you can’t appreciate from still photos is that glitter exposes how dynamic a beer is. The tiny flecks ride the currents in bands and whorls, following the convection of released carbon dioxide or the motion of the drinker’s hand. As you look down into the glass, you see it roil and churn. It’s riveting. Beyond that, imagine drinking a green, shimmering Belgian tripel and trying to make it track to the taste of, say, Westmalle. It’s an object lesson in how much appearance factors into our mental formulation of “flavor.” The slight breadiness and vivid effervescence have fused in my mind with the qualities that define a tripel; looking at Lee’s beer, I was forced to go back to the basics of what my palate could tell me.

We’re not saying we now desperately want to drink a glass of sparkly pale ale but if we see one on sale, we’ll definitely try it, which is not what we’d have said last Saturday.


The Fairfield Social Club, Manchester.

Here’s a useful thing to bookmark: Kaleigh Watterson’s guide to the craft beer bars and pubs of Manchester. She writes that “there’s various guides and lists I’ve pulled together about pubs and bars from locations across the UK and beyond – but I realised I’ve never done one for the city I spend most of my time in”, which is probably true for many of us, keenly writing up impressions of places where we spent three days while ignoring the towns and cities we know inside out.


The Cauliflower, a grand Victorian pub.

Nobody can accuse Justin Mason of giving insufficient attention to his own backyard. This week he posted a 5,000-word account of a wistful wander around his youthful stamping grounds of Ilford, Barking and Romford, where Essex meets the fringes of London:

The Royal Oak (201-203 Longbridge Road, Barking)…. was the nearest pub to me when I grew up…. In later years, after I had moved away from the area, the bank opposite (now closed and empty) was the first branch that I actually managed. I would leave the building at lunchtime, light a cigarette in the porch and walk across the road where my pint of Castlemaine XXXX would be waiting for me on the bar, regular as clockwork. They used to have regular outing to Ascot every year too, and get dressed up in their finery ready to board the coach as I’d be opening up in the morning.

It’s a ramble (in both senses) but let it wash over you and you’ll pick up on a story of how pubs have changed or, one after another, closed.


Pilsners lined up for tasting.

Barry Masterson, an Irishman living in Germany, offers an account of the blind tasting sessions undertaken by the management of his local boozer to decide which should be the regular pils on offer. It’s a reminder, as these things often are, of the extent to which branding and reputation affects the perception of flavour:

There were a couple of confirmed Faust drinkers, and based on the sales guy’s pitch, the proprietor thought this would come out on top. I think all of us had a less than stellar opinion of Distelhäuser Pils. For years and years I’ve said that I don’t like the pils, but can drink the export. Tannenzäpfle was expected to do well, although the love was divided. It’s one of those beers that you seem to either love or hate, and my own feeling sways from always having a crate in the cellar, to being sick of it. Two of the five, Bitburger and Eichbaum Ureich used to be served at the restaurant, under the two previous leasees, with Bitburger having been present four of the last five years…. The results were very surprising…


The control room at Sunner.

One of the most interesting perspectives out there is that of Ben Palmer, a Brit studying brewing in Germany. Last week he reported on his placement at Sünner Brauerei in Cologne learning about Kölsch on the coalface:

Despite a high degree of modernity and automation, brewers at Sünner Kölsch do still have to be prepared to get their hands dirty. Sünner has approximately 40 × 150HL conditioning tanks that all have to be entered and scrubbed by hand. This is a rite of passage for the apprentice brewers and I was no exception to this rule…. Additionally, Sünner does not have any swanky cylindroconical tanks for fermentation and maturation, instead they use open fermentors for the primary fermentation. It will come as no surprise that these are also cleaned by hand.


404 error: it looks as if your brewery's history doesn't exist.

Lisa Grimm, who has written many brilliant articles about beer over the years, combines that subject with her professional expertise as an archivist in this piece on how breweries can and should preserve their histories, especially in this age of disposable digital records:

[There] are certainly ways to ensure records and artifacts are preserved without launching a brand-new department: companies can partner with their local museum or university archives to get going…. And partnering with other organizations doesn’t mean giving up control over who sees what and when; there are plenty of archival collections out there with restrictions on what can be accessed or published, often with a specific timescale built in (e.g. ‘not for public access until 2050’ or similar requirements; you can put all sorts of complications in your deed of gift documentation if you so desire), so worries that a competitor may steal a recipe or other intellectual property can be relatively easily managed.


Craft beer sign in Morrison's.

In the wake of the closure of Hardknott Mark Johnson offers a balanced reflection on the possible reasons and what it might tell us about the way the British beer scene operates these days:

Those involved in the scene since then will likely remember more than fondly, as I do, the likes of Infra Red, Code Black,  Queboid and the entire Granite series. They were solid yet ground-breaking. Traditional, yet pioneering…. Amongst this increasingly competitive market though, Hardknott began to lose their voice in the conversation and shelf space despite the huge increase in retail space in their thirteen years. They took their place on the supermarket shelves but not on the city centre bar fonts. By 2016, none of the speciality shops I use had room for them.

(For what it’s worth, we don’t necessarily think Hardknott’s closure signals the beginning of the end, sad as it is, of which more in a blog post to follow later in the year.)


"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

It’s always interesting to us when people zoom right in on something very specific and that’s something of a trademark for Alec Latham. His piece on McMullen AK, a beer of historic significance perhaps not matched by the experience of drinking it, is a great example of the form:

There are six people in the public lounge, which despite the Salisbury Arms’ size, feels very intimate. Most seem to be drinking the AK. There’s a group around a table and one perched at the horseshoe bar.

My pint is drawn.

AK pours caramel in colour. The head is a tight foam like lily cuckoo spit. I see the carbonation – it’s levitous, cool and sparkling.

I sip it and get a tannic taste somewhere between burnt wholemeal toast and dark chocolate. There’s a touch of copper too. I watch the world go by.


We’re going to pick up the pace here in the run-out groove.


And we’ll finish with this historical oddity:

9 thoughts on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 March 2018: Glitter, Ilford, AK”

  1. “Or do you mean the illustration above the Lisa Grimm piece?”
    Yes, that’s the one. Sorry for not being more specific, but I was in Starbucks reading on my ‘phone. What a diverse readership you have !

    GBG article earlier this week was splendid. An insight into the goings on when some of us were still at school.

    1. What is the glitter made of? Not plastic, I hope? (Sorry, too pressed for time to follow the link right now. )

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