News, Nuggets & Longreads 23 June 2018: Lager, Gas, Glass

Here’s everything around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Belgium to Oregon via Moscow. (And with special thanks this week to our Patreon subscribers for suggestions.)

Some news: there is a shortage of CO2 (carbon dioxide) which is affecting not only the food industry but also pubs which rely on it to add sparkle to certain beers and soft drinks. It’s been brought about by a combination of factors, not least of which is the World Cup which causes a Europe-wide surge in demand for lager, especially in Moscow. But…

The [British Beer and Pub Association] has issued some guidance to its members reminding them that CO2 used in drinks, including for dispensing beer at the pumps, must be food grade gas…. “We’d be concerned this is not the time to go looking for a white van man who says they can supply you with CO2,” [Brigid Simmons] said.

(On the whole, people did not take well to the Campaign for Real Ale’s attempt to score a cheeky goal off the back of this by pointing out that cask ale produces its own CO2.)

Graffiti: lager, lager, lager.

Alec Latham has been reflecting on the recent resurgence of lager in the UK, updating on a similar post from last year:

The acid test is when the traditional ale oases that dominate Britain’s rural areas and smaller towns give way to this proper matured beer style – hopefully reflected in pubs where corporate Lager still holds a 70% hold…. Last year in that local catchment, I found evidence of just four breweries (not including a giant – Wells & Young’s). This year, the tally has shot up to thirteen. These counties are by no means brewing epicentres, so this augmentation could be applied nationally – probably with a margin in its favour.

We touched on this in our email newsletter that went out yesterday and are inclined to think he’s right — lager really does seem to be In right now.

And it’s not just happening in the UK — here’s an analysis of the trend as it manifesting in the US from Kate Bernot for the TakeOut:

“The way craft lager is going to going to grow is appealing to people who want to support local businesses but just don’t like all those other beer flavors,” says Nick Nunns, founder of Denver’s TRVE Brewing, where an unfiltered pilsner called Cold is the taproom’s top seller. “These people wanted to support local breweries, but we were too busy throwing 8 pounds of hops in a barrel or making shitty birthday-cake beers. Now that we’ve reached peak dumbness with glitter and all that, brewers are finally like ‘fuck that, we’re going to go back to making beer-flavored beer.’”

Oregon refillable bottle.

The US state of Oregon has launched a scheme to encourage breweries to use standardised, refillable bottles — very much the norm in many parts of the world but an alien concept in America. Jeff Alworth, an Oregonian, has all the details with the usual thoughtful commentary:

The project started at OBRC under John Andersen, but was taken over by Jules Bailey, the former Oregon legislator… [He] traveled to Germany to see how well such a system worked there. What he found was a culture built around returning bottles. In Germany, people buy beer by the crate. This makes returns easy; empty bottles go back into the crate and the crate goes back to the store. They’re such a common feature of German life that Mercedes designed car trunks with dimensions to accommodate them. Bigger breweries have bottle-washing machines for the refillable bottles, and the grocery stores efficiently keep the cycle going. Of course, these German advantages pose mirror-image disadvantages for Oregon. We don’t have a culture built around refillables (yet), and we don’t buy beer by the crate. In terms of infrastructure, however, we are closer than any other state.

A trendy beer in a fancy glass.

We were interested to read Chris Martin’s post on craft breweries to watch in 2018 and beyond, in which he attempts to predict which might be the next Cloudwaters or Verdants:

I’ve compiled this round-up not just based on breweries that are launching in 2018, but also ones that are gaining a lot of respect and momentum. The latter being ones I think will have a breakthrough year.

This is the kind of stuff that people on the scene just know but which for those of us less tuned into the buzz is really rather useful.

Illustration: Belgium and Belgian beer.

For the Guardian, with a rather brilliant headline, Daniel Boffey reports on Belgian beer sales:

The volume of Belgian beer sold at home fell by 1.6% between 2016 and 2017. This came after a drop of 3.5% the year before, according to the annual report of the Belgian Brewers federation… But while Belgium experiences a 30-year decline in beer drinking, its exports are on the rise. Last year, overseas sales of Belgian beer grew by 8.7%, of which 17% was outside the EU…. Belgian Brewers said this “less but better” phenomenon had resulted in the number of breweries in Belgium growing from 224 to 261 in 2017, and 49,000 people being employed.

At Beer et seq Gary Gillman has taken a look at a neglected 1959 article by a brewing scientist Anthony Rose entitled simply ‘Beer’:

Continually through the article Rose balances the need for better science with traditional concerns to preserve beer’s palate and character, something that clearly resonated with Jackson. In discussing the use of cereal adjunct he states it provides mainly just fermentable sugar and “contribute[s] little if anything to the taste and aroma of beer”…. He also implies, in the gentlest possible way, that the need for mass distribution in the U.S. was making its beer ever paler, bubbly, and of low bitterness.

(We mentioned Rose’s article here but have yet to find a way to read it in full.)

We’re going to take the unusual step of finishing with one of our own Tweets: if you’re after a beer bargain this weekend (and, more importantly, a bit of reassurance that you’re not the only one sneaking to the supermarket to buy beer) check out the responses to this:

If you want more reading do check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up (opinionated, intertwined) and Stan Hieronymus’s Monday links (wide ranging, with splashes of wine).

2 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 23 June 2018: Lager, Gas, Glass”

Living in the US, I can say that returnable bottles used to be the norm when I was young (many decades ago), but for whatever reason (cost/quality/laziness) breweries went away from it. Hope it works out in Oregon and it becomes commonplace again in other states.

I view diversity of styles whether pale ale, porter, ipa, helles, schwarbier or pilsner as our great fortune. I love them all. I am not opposed to some different flavors going into beer. For instance I think pumpkin ale is a legitimate American style in it’s own right. I miss Sam Adams Honey Porter so much but some of them are just downright silly.

If I were to open a brewery, I would build it around two different but not wholly unrelated styles, American Cream Ale and Classic American Pilsner. My indulgence brew would be Porter. I love Porter.

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