News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness

The King's Arms, Marazion.

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from ongoing developments in the discussion around sexist beer branding to the ever-expanding BrewDog empire.

Katie Taylor has an interesting run-down on Moorhouse’s rebranding exercise. Packaging re-designs are usually among the world’s most boring topics but this case sees a longstanding problem solved as poorly rendered ‘sexy’ witches in flimsy frocks are out, replaced by more abstract, modern designs that come with an unambiguous statement of intent:

“When I joined, Moorhouse’s was a strong brand, tied into the provenance of the local area,” said Lee [Miller] when I met with him a couple of weeks ago. “But we are guilty as charged. Our branding was indefensible and really could have happened sooner. What I wanted to make sure of was that when we did this, we did it right. I wanted Moorhouse’s to set out its stall, to bring in a new brand ready for the future. We hold our hands up.”

But the stuff about the temperance influence on their new range of beers is almost as interesting.


Illustration: lambic blending.

Returning to his favourite topic Roel Mulder gives us‘Eight Myths About Lambic Debunked’, with plenty of reassuring references.

Quite a lot is made of the fact that lambic is made out of wheat, today usually 30% to 40%. In the 19th century, that was even more: a 1829 recipe specifies no less than 58% raw wheat.[15]However, at that time all-barley beers were only just starting to gain popularity in Belgium. In fact, at the start lambic was quite modern for not having any oats, spelt or buckwheat in it…. only in the 20th century did it become special for not being an all-barley beer.

A reminder, this, that snappy stories and simple explanations in beer history are usually the work of storytellers and marketing people; the truth is almost always more complicated and, frankly, less fun.


Doorknocker on the James Joyce.

Eoghan Walsh reflects on the peculiar character of an Irish pub in Brussels, The James Joyce, and what it means and has meant to him and other expats:

The Joyce today looks about as “real” as it ever did – an Irish country pub transported to the centre of Brussels’ European quarter. The bar is a narrow room stretching away from the street and disturbed only by a lone pillar in the centre of the room. The walls are off-white and there is an abundance of dark-stained wood on the bar and on the ceiling…. Chalk drawings of Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle hang on the wall, alongside Guinness toucans and whiskey ephemera from Jameson and Famous Grouse. The cod-Irishness is sometimes disrupted. There is a Green Bay Packers banner hanging from the ceiling, and tatty St. George’s Cross bunting hangs alongside adverts for rugby. There is a fish tank, with two live goldfish, behind the taps.


A sea of wooden casks.

The prolific and dogged Gary Gillman has lately been obsessing over the historic influence of different types of oak wood on the character of British and Irish beer:

In 1939 with war clouds on the horizon, the Journal of the Institute of Brewing (IOB) took time to discuss a matter it had periodically dealt with in the past: the best wood for casks and a comparison of American and “Memel” oak…. The 1939 article was probably the last time the IOB looked at this, or in any detail. After the war Crown Memel Oak Staves from Lithuanian forests and other areas in the Baltic proved almost impossible to find. If brewers could find it, the staves were frequently riddled with shell rounds and other damage connected to the late war…. In time, as the old Memel casks were quite literally tapped out, lined American wood was relied on, with metal casks finally taking over.

Parts One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven range across time and space and delve into all kinds of obscure sources.


The Old College Bar
Adapted from an image by Stephen Sweeney at Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0

Here’s a fun nugget brought to our attention by @CarsmileSteve: the oldest pub in Glasgow isn’t all that old after all, it turns out, as its owners are suddenly keen to admit now they are seeking permission to develop the site. For the Herald Jody Harrison writes:

A little plaque on the exterior wall proclaims: “Glasgow’s Oldest Public House (built circa 1515) Ancient staging post and hostelry”…. But now it has been claimed that the storied history of The Old College Bar in the Merchant City may have been based on a myth drummed up to boost trade, with the invention passing into folklore…. Owner Colin Beattie claims that instead of dating to the 1500s, the pub’s origins only go so far as the 1800s. And the supposedly ‘medieval’ foundations it rests on are nothing more than the cobblestones of a Victorian railway yard.


The Draft House, London SW11
By Ewan Munro from Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

One big news story of the week was BrewDog’s takeover of the 13-strong Draft House chain of craft-beer-focused pubs. Here’s commentary from Will Hawkes for Imbibe:

The move by BrewDog to buy Draft House is a sign the Scottish craft brewers are looking for a different offering to complement their own venues without duplicating them. Draft House’s cask ale and big-name lagers could be important for BrewDog at a time when some of its bars – like the recently-closed Homerton site in East London – are struggling.


Chance the Rapper's Tweet.

Another big story, one that was all across the mainstream press, was about an advertisement for Heineken that reads as racist, with the suggestion from some that this is part of a trend of deliberately controversial advertising intended to (a) go viral by annoying non-racists and (b) at the same time, appeal to racists. Cherry Wilson gave a to-the-point summary of the issue for the BBC.


Conviviality, the company that runs Bargain Booze stores in the UK as well as the drinks wholesaling business Matthew Clark, is close to going into administration. This story ties into the recent spate of collapses of high street chains in the UK and has serious implications for the British pub trade, we gather.


American porter caps on a historic map of the US.

“The U.S. saw a record number of breweries open and go out of business in 2017, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Brewers Association”, writes Josh Noel for the Chicago Tribune. “An estimated 997 new breweries opened, and 165 closed, the Colorado-based craft beer trade group announced. Both are all-time highs since the American beer industry was jolted by the birth of craft beer in the late 1970s.” Not sky-falling-in stuff but certainly a wobble of the needle on the seismic tracker.

(All of this makes Jeff Alworth feel a little uneasy: “As a consumer, I can tell you that it feels like there are too many breweries to keep track of.”)


Illustration: Turn on, Tune In, Dry Hop

For The Takeout Kate Bernot reports on an interesting development that might finally sell non-alcoholic beers to sceptics:

Keith Villa isn’t a household name, but in the beer world, he’s the guy with the Midas touch. In 1995, at the MillerCoors’ SandLot Brewery inside Coors Field, he invented Blue Moon, the now-ubiquitous witbier that’s been a decades-long success for the brewery. Three months ago, Villa left MillerCoors after more than 30 years, leading to much speculation about what he’d brew up next. Now we have an answer: He’s launching…. a line of non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beer…


Want more suggested reading? Try Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up or Stan Hieronymus’s long-running Monday links.


We’ll finish with the pleasing news of a museum exhibition focused on beer, at Temple Newsam near Leeds:

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