Belgium News

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 April 2018: Beer Duty, Beavertown, Baudelaire

Here’s all the writing about beer from the past week that most engaged, informed or entertained us, from the Fall of the Craft Beer Empire to Gamma Ray in Waitrose.

Well, most of the past week — we wrote this post at breakfast time on Friday and scheduled it to post, so if anything exciting happened on Friday afternoon, we probably missed it. We are now on holiday for a week and a bit which means no round-up next weekend. If you want a fix of links in the meantime check out Stan Hieronymus’s Monday post and Alan McLeod’s on Thursday.

Adapted from ‘The End is Nigh’ by Jason Cartwright on FLICKR, CC BY 2.0

We’ll start with a piece by Pete Brown which prods at the kind of would-be sensational news story based on a piece of research you have to pay to read in full:

“Have you noticed a decline in the demand for craft beer? Why do you think this is?”

I stared at the question, cognitive dissonance making me feel momentarily floaty…. The reason I was confused is that it hasn’t happened – not yet. When I got these questions, I’d just delivered the keynote speech to the SIBA conference. To write it, I’d had to do a lot of digging. I’d discovered that craft beer volume increased by 23 per cent last year, and that analysts are predicting continued growth until at least 2021. I’d learned that business leaders in the food and beverage industry had named craft beer the most important trend across the whole of food and drink – comfortably ahead of low alcohol drinks, artisan coffee and craft spirits – for the fifth year running.

A monk in front of brewkit.

Britain’s first Trappist brewery, at Mount St Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire, is up and running and expects to be selling its beer by June, according to this long post on Facebook, which also explains how the new brewery came to be:

Back in 2013 the community of Mount St. Bernard began the process of looking at their work and income generating activities. Over the years it had become obvious that dairy farming was no longer economically viable for us and a decision was taken to close the farm. It was a sad day when the lorries arrived before dawn to take the cows to market….. This left us, though, with the question, ‘what to do now?’ Various options were suggested and considered during community meetings; we were seeking something that would generate income to support the abbey and something that would provide a means of common work. During his time in Rome Dom Erik had been influenced by the experience of the Benedictine monks of Norcia who had recently opened a successful brewery and the idea that maybe this was the way forward for us began to gather momentum. Dom Erik and Fr. Michael visited Norcia, and three monks of Norcia visited us, and after these visits an initial decision was taken for us to examine the possibility of starting a brewery here.

(Via @kaleighpie.)

Text Illustration: JUICY JUICY against hazy yellow-orange

One of our favourite beer writers, Kate Bernot, has turned her attention to what can feel like a well-worn tale, the rise of the New England IPA (NEIPA), and squeezed a few more miles out of it for Thrillist. In particular, we love the opening anecdote:

It was 2015, and I was a beer editor at DRAFT magazine, serving Tree House’s Julius to our panel for the first time (I’d already done sampling of my own — after all, who could resist?). The judges weren’t sure what to make of this new beer. On one hand, they seemed poised to award the beer a perfect score — except, what to do about its hazy appearance, a distinct departure from the trademark clarity an IPA is supposed to have. They argued and argued, citing precedent and contradictory evidence like they were before the Supreme Court. Should they dock it points? Was the glowing, foggy consistency irrelevant? Should they judge it in the same way they’d always judged IPAs, or were we on the brink of a paradigm shift?

Brewery flags on a wall in Burton-upon-Trent.

The story about potential changes to the Small Brewery Relief scheme has been bubbling away for a little while now. We haven’t been all that engaged with it because it’s felt like a lot of furious they-say-we-say but not much actually happening. This week, though, James Beeson attempted an objective, dispassionate summary of the various arguments for the Morning Advertiser which is perhaps the most useful thing we, as industry outsiders, have read on the subject so far:

The proposals relate to the Small Breweries’ Relief (SBR) scheme, introduced in 2002 to help breweries producing under 60,000 hectolitres (around 10m pints) per year establish themselves and compete with larger producers. The current system allows breweries to pay reduced duty rates on a sliding scale, with those producing under 5,000hl (880,000 pints) annually receiving a 50% discount. However, the changes – proposed by a coalition of around 60 brewers – would see the 50% discount restricted to those producing less than 1,000hl a year, and the upper limit at which brewers receive relief raised to 200,000hl.

A cat in a Brussels bar.

Brussels-based writer Eoghan Walsh (disclosure: also one of our Patreon supporters) has been on a literary pub crawl in his adopted city, resulting in a post crammed with observations, quotations and beautiful photographs:

Charles Baudelaire hated Brussels. From his arrival in the city in 1862, indebted and unloved, until he left two years later a paralysed syphilitic, he did not mince his words about Brussels: “a ghost town, a mummy of a town, it smells of death, the Middle Ages, and tombs”. Its people: “An amazing quantity of hunchbacks”. Or its women: “Monstrous bosoms typically developing quite precociously, swelling like swamps owing to the humidity of the climate and the gluttony of the women”. Worst of all, he despised the beer drunk in Brussels, cursing faro as a “synonym for urine!”.

A pint of stout.

Katie at The Snap and the Hiss has written a very personal piece about her difficulty in answering the question ‘What was the first beer you drank?’ because the truth is too painfully tied up in her relationship with the father she no longer knows:

I feel like I’m not being totally honest. I can’t get nostalgic without talking about something I never talk about, and so far I’ve been extremely evasive. One of the reasons I hate answering the question “when did you first drink a beer?” is because it’s an intimate family portrait of a girl and her father. They’re sat at a small, round table in a pub, and she’s taken a gulp of his Guinness while he’d turned his head. He’s laughing. She’s grimacing.

As we near the end here’s a bit of what turns out to be news, rather to our surprise: Beavertown beers are to be stocked in Waitrose. This didn’t seem especially interesting to us until we saw the anxiety it triggered in independent beer retailers on Twitter (examples 1 | 2 | 3) many of which have apparently been relying on Beavertown’s core range as a particularly significant pull for customers.

‘It’s like a Renaissance painting!’ people often cry these days on seeing an image with more than two people in. But this view of a pub window (the Bag Of Nails, Bristol) taken from the back of a passing police horse… kind of is. We can’t stop looking at it.