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

The snug at the Highbury Vaults.

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.