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: