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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