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News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 May 2018: Boozers, Brussels, Benin

It’s Saturday morning and time for us to round up links to all the writing about beer and pubs we’ve found stimulating, entertaining or engaging in the past week, from Huddersfield to West Africa.

But first, it’s pub geek Christmas: Historic England has listed five notable post-war pubs, this being the first fruit of a research project by Dr Emily Cole we first got excited about back in 2015. It was lovely to see not-beer-Twitter get all excited about this story yesterday and we suspect some of these pubs will find themselves a bit busier than usual today. We’re planning a trip to The Centurion for next month.

A moose head at The Grove

At Beer Compurgation Mark Johnson reflects on his support for Huddersfield Town, his connection with his father, and how all this become entangled with his affection for one particular pub:

For many fans, football is about the matchday rituals and experience as much as it about the 3pm Saturday kick-off. For my father and I the routine became embedded – the Grove at 1pm. It stopped requiring organisation with others coming from elsewhere. The texts about attendance weren’t necessary. We were in the Grove at 1pm.

You don’t have to be interested in football to enjoy this post which is really about the precariousness of important relationships, whether they are with people or places. (Suggested song pairing: ‘In My Life’ by the Beatles.)

Adnams sign on brewery wall, Southwold.

It’s worth reading a pair of articles by veteran beer writer Roger Protz for his tracking of one particularly important question: how committed are the established family brewers to cask ale? St Austell (and its subsidiary Bath Ales) seems very much so; Adnams? Maybe not quite so much:

When I sat down with chairman Jonathan Adnams in the opulent splendour of the Swan Hotel fronting the brewery I checked I heard him correctly when he said early in our conversation: “By 2019 keg production will overtake cask.”

Surely not Adnams falling to keg? What has caused this astonishing turn round?

Illustration: lambic blending.

At Good Beer Hunting Matt Curtis provides a useful summary of a trend we’ve been meaning to engage with for a while: wild beers in the Lambic tradition being produced outside the traditional region, and by new entrants to the market. It’s a highly political business, demanding the deference of foreign brewers, or at least lots of careful diplomacy:

With its Saison à la Provision, Burning Sky is one of a handful of UK breweries to have a mixed fermentation beer in its core lineup. The brewery’s annually released Cuvée is a blend of its own oak-matured beer, with a small percentage of Girardin Lambic added…. [Mark] Tranter won’t be using the term ‘Lambic’ to describe his own spontaneously fermented beers when they are eventually ready…. “There is not yet an approved term from the majority of Lambic and Gueuze producers in Belgium. If and when there is, then we may adopt it—until then, we will resist it,” he says. “We are fortunate enough to be on good terms and even friends with some of these people—they have been more than generous with their knowledge to us, and as such we respect their wishes with regards to the protection of their unique produce.”

A minor quibble, though: the piece seems (accidentally, we think) to suggests that Faro was an innovation of the post-war period, which — though Belgian beer history isn’t our beat — we’re sure it wasn’t.

Sign next to a switch: "For more lesbian visibility press here."

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh reports in a pop-up bar that apparently meets a long-held need in the Belgian capital, while making political points along the way:

In early May 2018, behind a jumble of corroded neon signs touting a long-departed Greek restaurant, a group of artists and activists opened something Brussels hadn’t seen for 15 years: a lesbian bar, run by and for the city’s lesbian community…. [The bar] has two menus [which are] identical in all ways except price. On each menu is written: “At Mothers & Daughters this pricing system is based on the documented gender gap in Belgium of 30%. If you have a privileged position that means your wages, and access to opportunities and documented work are positively affected by your gender, sexuality and/or ethnicity, then choose menu B.”

A woman brewing in Benin.

From Craft Beer & Brewing comes a piece from Noland Ryan Deaver on the brewing traditions of Benin in West Africa, with photographs by Abby Wendle:

Today, like every day, Rita and her family have been brewing in the hard-packed clay courtyard behind their cabaret. Rita’s sister, Brigitte, is inside serving the beer, which many locals consider some of the best in the area. A middle-aged man in a faded American T-shirt, tired-looking slacks, and flip-flops steps into the room. He is the day’s first customer, and Brigitte offers him a sample of the day’s batch. Here, as in all cabarets in this small West African nation of Benin, the server always offers each customer a free bowl of beer upon his/her arrival. If the quality is satisfactory, the customer might stay and continue drinking; others take advantage of the tradition and wander from beer house to beer house, drinking free samples all day…. From the corner where the still-fermenting beer sits in plastic buckets and large cooking pots, Brigitte calls out to the customer, “Well-fermented or sweet?”

(Disclosure: we’ve recently begun pitching articles to an editor at CB&B.)

ILLUSTRATION: Working Hard to Make a Living:

At Splinter there’s a long and much-shared piece on poor pay and conditions in the US craft brewing industry by Dave Infante. It suggests that the ethos of artisanism leaves employees open to exploitation:

The workforces are often small, giving rise to a much-touted familial intimacy that in turn can bring a distinctly familial dysfunction of favoritism and manipulation…. “The wages suck for [craft] brewers unless you’re the head guy,” says Charlie Johnson, a brewer who worked in the Pacific Northwest for 15 years before starting Spontaneous Fermentation Project in California last year. Since it’s a desirable beer job, “people just assume that you will work for dirt cheap.”

We generally shy away from Actually Beer is Good For You articles but Pete Brown’s piece for the Guardian has a great punchline.

And finally here’s something a bit lighter, and just a touch shorter: advice from Kirst Walker on five beers to drink while watching the Royal Wedding. We won’t quote from it because… Well, you’ll see.

5 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 May 2018: Boozers, Brussels, Benin”

I recommend to you “Gueuze & Kriek” by Jef Van den Steen which includes this:

“Until 1860, ‘foreign beers’, whether imported or locally produces, were virtually non-existent in Brussels. Almost the only known beers there were lambic and faro, a lambic sweetened ith brown sugar which was drunk in large quantities in Brussels”

Faro in fact seems to have died out out the post-WW2 period rather than being an invention of it.

Some years ago now – less than 16, but more than 12 – we were spending some time in Belgium with some friends, primarily drinking beer (and lambics in particular in Brussels, of course). We were about to get the train from Brussels to Ghent and were walking to the station through the Grand’ Place at about 10 am. We spotted some stalls, so went to see what was going on. One of them was from the Brabant Black Pudding Society, who were tempting people with samples of various different boudins noirs, washed down by glasses of faro from a plastic home-brew type barrel. “Very traditional,” they told us. “This is the breakfast of our grandfathers.” I had had the odd bottle of faro before that, but never a draught version, and it actually made a lot of sense that day – very light carbonation, and a great balance with the richness of the sausage. I had always been a bit sniffy about it before – it wasn’t “proper lambic”. I changed my mind that day.
Anyway, I don’t think there’s any doubt that faro is an old style that was largely dying out after the war; HOWEVER, there was a trend towards a more industrial-style gueuze from less traditional brewers (and even more so with fruited lambics) that without doubt WAS a post-war trend that had made trying to find the genuine stuff much harder. Which was largely the point of HORAL in the first place, although Timmermans were actually one of the worst offenders – which IIRC was why Cantillon weren’t members…
So they’re wrong to label it faro, which is both an honourable historic style in its own right, and actually rather tasty, but right to say there was a backlash against sweeter and sometimes pseudo-lambics, which had a tendency to being sickly.
To be honest, we were drinking them then because we thought they might have been about to die out – lots of breweries and blenders had shut up shop by then, and it’s been a source of amazement to me that the style has become so globally popular.
To be even more honest, I much prefer the other sour styles of Belgium. 😉

Forgot to say that the “industrial style” gueuze was much sweeter. Hopefully that’s fairly obvious…

As far as I can determine it was Belle Vue that pioneered sweetened and filtered lambics – pretty much from the 1940s onwards – they also bought up almost all of the other lambic producers in Brussels. There seem to be very few faros around today – Giradin produce a bottled faro that occasionally pops up on draught and a couple of years ago I managed to pick up a bottle of De Cam Oude Faro.

You can sometimes get a draught Cantillon faro at the brewery – sadly a guaranteed regular outlet, the wonderful Zageman, closed several years ago.

It’s interesting watching other beers trying to avoid the completely-out-of-context fate of IPA. On the one hand you’ve got the Trappists who have been very effective in defending their brand, on the other the Kölsch Convention are struggling to fight a rearguard action to tie “Kölsch” to the Cologne area. Lambic seems to be somewhere in between the two.

I think the critical thing is to offer people an alternative “generic” name for the phrase that you’re trying to tie to a particular area/ecclesiastical order. If you say “abbey beer” or “monastery beer” then people know what you mean and it works as a generic term. Kölsch doesn’t really have that alternative – “German ale” is probably too vague, and “lagered ale” is maybe a bit obscure. So if the kölsch guys want to protect that word, they need to eg get the market to recognise that kölsch is a specific example of the family of lagered ales. At the moment the geeks will know that but it needs to filter out to the wider world.

So I think it’s important for the lambic guys that they’ve agreed a generic term with a prominent non-Belgian brewer for what they do. Personally I hate the phrase “methode traditionelle” – beer is different to wine, where if consumers see bottles with caged corks there is only one “obvious” tradition they could be following. But it’s important that there is a wording that has some agreement, that people can get behind, so I guess we live with it.

It is painful in the short-term as people get used to it, but there’s plenty of examples from the wine and spirits worlds where protecting the brand of the “original” ultimately means that other countries go from simple clones to developing something that expresses their own terroir and ultimately reaping the financial benefits of being known for their own take on the style.

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