News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 July 2018: Films, Maps, Infographics

Twiggy's Bar.

Here’s everything about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from SIBA to Ales by Mail.

First, an inter­est­ing nugget of news: a few months ago, SIBA’s mem­bers reject­ed a bid by lead­er­ship to make room in the organ­i­sa­tion for larg­er brew­eries; now, rather on the qui­et, the mem­ber­ship has been over­ruled. One SIBA mem­ber con­tact­ed us to express dis­ap­point­ment, but also res­ig­na­tion, and relief that at least it did­n’t seem to be caus­ing a huge row: “SIBA needs a peri­od of calm and a sense of busi­ness as usu­al.” Steve Dunk­ley at Beer Nou­veau, mean­while, offers com­men­tary from a small brew­er’s per­spec­tive:

SIBA is repo­si­tion­ing itself to include, and be fund­ed, by big­ger brew­eries, at the expense of the small­er ones. It’s set­ting its stall out to cam­paign for tax breaks for large com­pa­nies, at the expense of small­er ones.  It claims to be the voice of Inde­pen­dent British Brew­ing, yet run­ning the very real risk of clos­ing down a lot of its small mem­bers, dri­ving away a lot more, and not attract­ing even more. SIBA has around 830 mem­bers, less than half of the almost 2,000 British brew­eries there were in 2016, yet still claims to be the voice of the indus­try. It states itself that the major­i­ty of its mem­bers pro­duce less than 1,000hl, yet its actions don’t rep­re­sent them.


Anoth­er bit of UK indus­try news: There’s a Beer For That, the nation­al cam­paign spon­sored by a con­sor­tium of large brew­ers and trade bod­ies, among oth­ers, has mor­phed into Long Live the Local. The adver­tise­ment that accom­pa­nies the relaunch (above) is rather good but the focus of the cam­paign – sign a peti­tion about tax on beer – is hard­ly inspir­ing, and has its crit­ics. For what it’s worth, we still reck­on encour­ag­ing more peo­ple to pop in for a half once or twice a week – a nudge towards a small change in behav­iour – would be a more pro­duc­tive angle.


And, final­ly, one that might have escaped you if you don’t haunt social media: online beer retail­er Ales by Mail has gone into liq­ui­da­tion. More infor­ma­tion is appar­ent­ly com­ing on Mon­day which should help peo­ple decid­ed whether this is a Por­tent of Doom or just part of the nat­ur­al life cycle of a com­pa­ny.


Detail from Tonsmeire's chart.

Michael ‘Mad Fer­men­ta­tion’ Ton­s­meire has brave­ly attempt­ed to map takeovers of, and invest­ments in, indie brew­eries. As he acknowl­edges, it’s impos­si­ble to cap­ture every­thing, and to keep up to date, and the rela­tion­ships are often so com­plex that they defy sim­ple descrip­tion. Still, as an eye-open­ing snap­shot, it’s not bloody bad. (Also, The Ton­s­meire Con­nec­tion sounds like a 1970s espi­onage thriller, so that’s cool.)


Sign on the rear of the Old Blue Last.

We live in some­thing of a gold­en age for desk research with search­able dig­i­tal archives of books, news­pa­pers and archive pho­tog­ra­phy. One of our favourite types of resource, though, is the his­toric map over­lay, through which Mar­tyn Cor­nell has man­aged to pin down the exact loca­tion of a leg­endary Lon­don brew­ery:

[We] can say that the long-dis­ap­peared Bell Brew­ery, for a cou­ple of cen­turies cred­it­ed (wrong­ly) as the place where porter was invent­ed, was slap where Beth­nal Green Road now meets Shored­itch High Street. Stand in the box junc­tion here with the Pret sand­wich shop at your back and you are star­ing straight down where the entrance to the brew­ery yard was – now cov­ered by the eight-storey Tea Build­ing, once a bacon-cur­ing fac­to­ry, then a tea ware­house, now stu­dios and offices.


Maps of Pubs.

A bloke called Jovan has plot­ted the most pop­u­lar British pub names on to a series of maps, reveal­ing some inter­est­ing trends: The Ship will prob­a­bly be near the coast, The Lon­don in the West Coun­try, and The Craven Heifer – named after an absolute unit of a cow – will def­i­nite­ly be in York­shire, and so on.

(Via @iamreddave – thanks, Dave!)


Ward's sign, Sheffield.

The Pub Cur­mud­geon has been reflect­ing on the con­cept of choice and what has been lost with the dis­ap­pear­ance of dom­i­nant local brew­eries and their tied estates:

When I first became inter­est­ed in real ale in the late 1970s, per­haps what fas­ci­nat­ed me most was how there was a patch­work of inde­pen­dent brew­eries the length and breadth of the coun­try, rang­ing from region­al giants such as Vaux and Wolver­hamp­ton & Dud­ley to tiny firms like Bathams and Burts. Each had its own ter­ri­to­ry, its own dis­tinc­tive beers and very often its own style of pub.… In the­o­ry, there is more choice than ever before, and for many beer enthu­si­asts it has opened up a cor­nu­copia of delights. But it’s not like Ama­zon where every sin­gle book in exis­tence is avail­able to order, as a pub is lim­it­ed in the num­ber of lines it can stock, espe­cial­ly of cask beer. And, all too often, what you’re actu­al­ly going to find in the pub becomes a lot­tery. It’s impos­si­ble to exer­cise choice in a mean­ing­ful way if you don’t know what to expect, and have lit­tle hope of being able to make a repeat pur­chase the next week.

(This feels to us, in some sense, like a ver­sion of the ten­sion which sees peo­ple demand inter­est­ing, var­ied beer in their home town, while expect­ing towns they vis­it abroad to pre­serve tra­di­tion­al, local styles. Pon­der pon­der.)


Tynt Meadow.

We con­fess to being fas­ci­nat­ed by Tynt Mead­ow, the new Eng­lish Trap­pist beer, but have been wait­ing for com­ment from peo­ple who weren’t swept up in the (odd­ly sub­stan­tial) PR push. Now, we have notes from Phil at Oh Good Ale who, as a bonus, also gives a read on the Head of Steam chain of craft beer pubs that we’ve been mean­ing to inves­ti­gate:

First impres­sions weren’t mas­sive­ly favourable, I have to admit. The pic­ture doesn’t lie: not a lot of con­di­tion – cer­tain­ly noth­ing resem­bling a head – and a liq­uid that was frankly murky… Taste, though? Real­ly nice; more impor­tant­ly, real­ly inter­est­ing. It has a lot of the caramel-backed oomph of a dubbel like West­malle, but more bit­ter­ness and, I think, more com­plex­i­ty. This may be auto­sug­ges­tion, but to both me and my com­pan­ion it tast­ed ‘Eng­lish’…

Seems we’ll have to try it, then; for­tu­nate­ly, our local bot­tle shop is get­ting some in, as appar­ent­ly there has been lots of inter­est.


We’ll fin­ish with some craft pork scratch­ings from Amer­i­ca, where we can only assume glit­ter scratch­ings are cur­rent­ly in devel­op­ment:

6 thoughts on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 July 2018: Films, Maps, Infographics”

  1. By 2030, all con­ven­tion­al pubs will have closed down bar a few ‘Spoons in city cen­tres. But as we’ll all be shop­ping online, all of the shops will have closed too.
    The closed shops will then grad­u­al­ly re-open as beer­halls, which will be need­ed so drinkers can buy and enjoy the prod­ucts of the coun­try’s 300,000 micro­brew­eries!

  2. Thanks for the link, as ever! I don’t know what’s gone on with the Head of Steam. Cameron’s being from Hartle­pool, I won­der if they start­ed with the Durham bar, got that right and then said “OK, let’s do some­thing like that, only more stan­dard­ised, eas­i­er to man­age and cheap­er” – Lloyd Cole to Durham’s Edwyn Collins, Kasabi­an to their Pri­mal Scream, Arcade Fire to their GY!BE that’s enough 6 Music analo­gies – Ed. If so, the chain’s now turned round and eat­en the mod­el.

    1. I sus­pect the answer lies in the fact that Camerons did­n’t estab­lish the Head of Steam chain, they bought it in 2013. They’ve expand­ed it from the sev­en venues they pur­chased (which includ­ed Durham) to sev­en­teen with more planned. I agree with your assess­ment that the pre-takeover branch­es had more indi­vid­ual char­ac­ter and that the recent open­ings seem to be fol­low­ing a more stan­dard­ised tem­plate.

      1. Thanks, Luke – did­n’t know the back­ground. That makes more sense.

        Accord­ing to this sto­ry, the only oth­er Heads of Steam, pre-takeover, were in New­cas­tle and Hud­der­s­field*. If my expe­ri­ence in Durham is any­thing to go by, the time to vis­it might be soon­er rather than lat­er.

        This is an inter­est­ing line from that sto­ry, inci­den­tal­ly:

        There are no immi­nent plans to change the great offer rad­i­cal­ly at these sites and will be look­ing to adopt many of their prin­ci­ples into our cur­rent estate.”

        Many of their prin­ci­ples. H’mph.

        *To be more pre­cise, they’re the only ones men­tioned as hav­ing been tak­en over – I sup­pose there may have been oth­er HoS out­lets that Cameron’s weren’t inter­est­ed in, but if so pre­sum­ably they were sold off at the time of the takeover.

        1. Tony Brookes left soon after the takeover was com­plet­ed, not long after the launch of a Head of Steam in Tynemouth that com­plete­ly failed to adopt the prin­ci­ples that Tony ran his busi­ness under. Camerons saw a brand worth exploit­ing and did just that so HoS are now just expen­sive bars with a cou­ple of ‘craft’ beers. The Tynemouth branch is half a mile from my house and I can’t think of one rea­son to go there. Iron­i­cal­ly, the bar across the street, Bar­ca, is far more like an orig­i­nal HoS.

          1. Sad. (And cred­it to the Durham oper­a­tion for keep­ing going as long as they did!) Reminds me of Pete Brown cel­e­brat­ing the MC takeover of Sharp’s, essen­tial­ly on the grounds that either Stu­art Howe would stay or he’d leave – and if he left he’d be mak­ing great beer some­where else, so we would­n’t have lost any­thing! Except that the Sharp’s name is still out there, trad­ing on vague impres­sions of being high-qual­i­ty, inde­pen­dent and “local” beer. (See also Mean­time.)

            In takeovers like these, “cheap­en­ing the brand” isn’t an inci­den­tal dan­ger that may arise fur­ther down the line – it’s what the takeover’s for.

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