News, Nuggets & Longreads 22 September 2018: Brussels, Muscles, Beer Tie Tussles

A Brussels bar.

After a two-week break, here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs, from Autovac mild to pilot plants.

First, an inter­est­ing nugget from Birm­ing­ham: the long-derelict Fox & Grapes on Free­man Street in the city cen­tre has final­ly been pulled down as part of high-speed rail con­struc­tion. Why does this mat­ter? Because it was the last remain­ing bit of Old Birm­ing­ham.


The window of Mort Subite in Brussels.

Cana­di­an beer writer Jor­dan St. John recent­ly vis­it­ed Brus­sels and has writ­ten a long, enter­tain­ing, insight­ful piece record­ing his impres­sions of the city, and reflect­ing on the place of Bel­gian beer in the glob­al craft beer scene:

I can’t help but notice how same‑y the selec­tion is every­where; As though there had once been a list of approved Bel­gian beers that no one has updat­ed since the mid 2000’s. Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Bel­gium is that list, and look­ing at the selec­tion in the dusty shop win­dows it feels like no one has come along with the grav­i­tas to approve new addi­tions to the canon; it is stuck in amber… Cafe Bebo helps to ease me into the con­tem­po­rary. It even has beers from brew­eries found­ed this cen­tu­ry. I order De La Senne Zin­nebir and some cheese from the Orval Trap­pist monastery to snack on.


Detail from the poster for National Lampoon's European Vacation.

Still in Bel­gium we find Alec Lath­am dis­sect­ing the label of De la Sen­ne’s Taras Boul­ba to the nth degree:

The art­work is a send-up of the two com­pos­ite nations – Flan­ders and Wal­lo­nia – and their antag­o­nism of eachother. It employs satire, humour and car­i­ca­ture to make an impor­tant point: please dump the bag­gage of the past and let’s move on… Unlike the easy-going­ness of the beer, the label art­work is utter­ly loaded.

We can imag­ine this mak­ing for an inter­est­ing series, reverse engi­neer­ing the brand­ing process to work out what brew­eries want us to under­stand from the small choic­es they make in their graph­ic design.


Handpumps at a Bristol pub.

For the Finan­cial Times Nao­mi Rovnick has inves­ti­gat­ed the ‘beer tie’, and how leg­is­la­tion intend­ed to give pub­li­cans free­dom from it has been derailed by pub com­pa­nies and pub-own­ing brew­eries:

The process was hard­er than he expect­ed. Greene King, which owns Ye Olde Mitre and sup­plies the beer, said that a “free-of-tie” lease would cost Mr Mur­phy £58,000 up front, made up of three months rent, a deposit also equal to three months rent and oth­er costs. The beer tie lease he want­ed to break involved week­ly rent of £3,000 and a deposit of just £10,000. “To find that amount of mon­ey I’d have had to remort­gage my house,” he said. “It made me very, very angry to have been award­ed these new legal rights, only to find they were inac­ces­si­ble.”

( FT con­tent is usu­al­ly behind a pay­wall but this piece does­n’t seem to be; if you can’t view it, try reg­is­ter­ing, which gives access to a few free arti­cles per week.)


Tetley sign, Sheffield.

In nos­tal­gic mode Ron Pat­tin­son recalls drink­ing mild in as a stu­dent in Leeds in the 1970s, pick­ing up (as you might expect) on the tech­ni­cal details that made one pint taste like nec­tar com­pared to anoth­er:

When I arrived in Leeds in 1975, elec­tric pumps were the order of the day. The fas­cist health author­i­ties had decid­ed that uni­vacs were unhy­gien­ic, and Tet­ley had ripped out the hand­pumps from most of their Leeds pubs. In a few grot­ty areas, where immi­nent demo­li­tion was antic­i­pat­ed, Tet­ley had let the old pumps remain… The Sheep­scar, in an area cleared save for the odd pub, was my first expe­ri­ence of hand­pulled Tet­ley’s Mild. What the fuck?


A painted sign advertising Brodie's Brewery on a pub window.

Des de Moor has been updat­ing his Lon­don brew­ery direc­to­ry and in so doing has got to the bot­tom of what’s been going on with Brodie’s, one of the pio­neers of the last decade’s resur­gence: it qui­et­ly shut down its brew­ing oper­a­tion in 2016 and moved pro­duc­tion under con­tract to Wales.


Fuller's pilot brewery with brewing staff.
SOURCE: Fuller’s.

An inter­est­ing bit of news: Fuller’s now has a pilot brew­ery under the lead­er­ship of Hay­ley Mar­lor; it has already pro­duced an NEIPA and a Thai stout, among some oth­er rather un-Fuller’s brews. (We hope it might also be used to make rounds of Past Mas­ters his­toric brew­ing more fre­quent and var­ied.)

In the same sto­ry, we also learn that a new round of the large­ly suc­cess­ful Fullers & Friends col­lab­o­ra­tion project is on the way, this time fea­tur­ing Mag­ic Rock among oth­ers.


Last month, we took note of the bal­lot; now it’s offi­cial – staff at branch­es of McDon­ald’s and in Wether­spoon pubs are to go on strike next month as part of a joint action over wages, as report­ed in the Guardian:

It’s impos­si­ble to save and you find your­self tak­ing on more and more hours just to keep on top of the debt,” said… pol­i­tics grad­u­ate [Chris Hep­pell] who has worked in the hos­pi­tal­i­ty sec­tor since grad­u­at­ing, spend­ing the last four years on what he described as “pover­ty wages” at Wetherspoon’s… “Up until recent­ly I haven’t thought very much about the future because it is gen­uine­ly scary, but that has start­ed to change.”


We’ll fin­ish with a video – a 1994 Jonathan Meades pro­gramme about pubs to which we were tipped off by David Han­naford in an email. (Thanks, David!) The open­ing is great: “Beer… has nev­er failed in its appeal to that part of the Eng­lish psy­che which val­ues above all else the past”, he says, before allow­ing a bril­liant­ly dead­pan pub­li­can to list beers with Old in their names.


If you’re still hun­gry for links check out Alan’s Thurs­day round-up. (Stan Hierony­mus is tak­ing a break.)

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