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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