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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