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News, Nuggets and Longreads 12 January 2019: Bitterness, Brüpond, Burlesque

Here’s everything we thought bookmark-worthy in the past week, from beer with bite to Double Diamond.

First, a quick stop at the BBC, where the recent ONS report on pub closures continues to generate stories: we know some areas have suffered particularly badly, but where are pubs opening? Where have the numbers risen? The Highlands of Scotland, it turns out, is one such region:

Since 2008, almost a quarter of pubs in the UK have shut according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis… But the study shows that in the Highlands there are 14% more pubs than there were 10 years ago… Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said a major factor behind the growth was that the pubs had done well catering for tourists.

David Brassfield outside Brupond.

This week’s must-read is Will Hawkes account of the brief rise and rapid fall of London brewery Brüpond, which makes 2013 seem like a million years ago.

I spoke to investors like Jan Rees, who put £500 into Brüpond: “I’m not really in to beer at all, but it was a great pitch and David came across as super confident & capable,” he told me over email – but also that, after this experience, “I would avoid the microbrewery sector completely because there are just way too many start-ups with no realistic hope of a decent investment return.” But I never heard back again from [Brüpond’s founder David] Brassfield… Until a few weeks ago, when a message popped up on my email. It took me a few moments to register the name, but the message was unequivocal. “Hey Will! I know it’s 4 years later… You still want to talk?”

This piece is also notable because it announces the arrival of Mr Hawkes’ own website, which we suspect will come to be a goldmine of stuff like this which, frankly, is too interesting for newspapers.

Detail from an old beer mat: BITTER!

London-based beer blogger,and beer sommelier Natalya Watson knows what she wants to be drinking in 2019: boring, brown, bitter beer. But those commas matter, as she explains:

No, I don’t mean the traditional English bitter. (Sorry.)

I suppose “bitterness” is probably a more fitting term here. And a good, clean bitterness at that… While I have enjoyed a few of the hazy IPAs I’ve tried in the past year, I’ve found that too many brewers have taken their dry-hopping a bit too far, making the beer astringent and unpleasant to drink. Sure I enjoy the enhanced hop character on the nose and palate, but I don’t like it when my beer bites back.

Meanwhile, in the US, Jeff Alworth does want a beer with bite, or rather with teeth, and essentially agrees with Ms. Watson:

In the bar’s dim light, it sparkled a molten gold. Clarion bright, as if to spite fans of haze. From it arose the scent of forest—shall we say spruce just to be interesting? The first taste was all teeth. It was biting back. It is a beer from before this decade, when people expected hops to sting rather than seduce. The flavors are definitely arboreal, I decide as I drink, and I’m sticking with spruce—Sitka spruce, like the ones that grow old and wide near the sea air. The prickle of bitterness can further chill an icy night, but it can also crackle in the mouth like fire. After half a glass, I see that this Ecliptic is a warmer, even without much malt. Such a strange sensation, bitterness, so close to heat and cold.

There’s clearly something in the air: Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont seems to have casually launched something called #FlagshipFebruary with a view to focusing attention on standards and classics such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, in a world of one-offs and oddities. Some people are excited and on-board; others not so much.

Our reading: all of this is about where those individuals are in the cycle, rather than signalling a trend. Still, Cloudwater making a virtue of the clarity and bitterness of a new IPA is an interesting development.

The Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.

For Good Beer Hunting British beer writer Lily Waite has done some deep digging into how the conversation about sexism in beer works when a cult Belgian brewery such as Cantillon is the focus:

In 2018… the Zwanze Day events that Cantillon co-hosted at Moeder Lambic—one of Brussels’ most popular beer bars—overshadowed the beer itself… After an introduction by Cantillon owner Jean Van Roy, Colette Collerette, a burlesque dancer who performs with Brussels’ Cabaret Mademoiselle, began to disrobe in front of the bar. The show culminated when Collerette—wearing just nipple pasties and a thong—shook two bottles of beer and sprayed the foam over her nearly-naked body… The live video was posted to Facebook by the venue shortly after the performance, and quickly divided opinions. Some criticized Cantillon for crude and sexist marketing tactics, while others defended the artistry of the performance. Even months later, the resulting firestorm is still smoking.

A couple of bits of news:

Finally, here’s a splendid vintage advertisement with a jingle we’d only just got out of our heads from last time we heard it:

For more reading check out Alan’s links on Thursdays, Stan’s every Monday, and a new addition to our list, Glass of Beer, which is a weekly round-up of just five handpicked links (@beerglassof on Twitter).

6 replies on “News, Nuggets and Longreads 12 January 2019: Bitterness, Brüpond, Burlesque”

I’m really dubious about the ONS data. The analysis suggests to me a clear case of ‘let’s take a load of numbers and just accept the results without thinking why?’. In my previous working area of retail there is currently huge distrust of the ONS data against the reality of what’s happening in the market.

My questions and sense checks would be, with regards to the Highlands…

This is an an area that, at least in terms of alcoholic drinks sales, must have suffered severely from the tightening of drink/driving laws.

Do tourist numbers match the growth in ‘pubs’ during the period?

Are we looking at the same definitions of ‘pub’ at the start and finish date. Is it that possible some existing outlets now have on drinks licences? For example what were unlicensed cafes have become pubs in the ‘growth’ numbers?

Never automatically believe what comes out of a spreadsheet.

FWIW, the bit we could easily sense check — stats for Bristol — was consistent with our own tot, so we’ve no particular reason to think it’s drastically out of whack. It’s as good a benchmark as any other we’ve got, anyway.

Agreed but Bristol is a standard City area much in line with the national picture. It’s always the dodgy outliers that reveal something odd about a dataset. I’d just be wary of ONS these days.

I blogged about the ONS figures recently. Clearly a lot of pubs have closed, but on the face of it these figures only partially take account of new openings, so you have to question how they are defining “pubs”. One example is that a lot of restaurants have full on-licences, but they’re still restaurants and not places anyone goes to just for a drink.

I’d agree with TWM that the Highlands figures are very questionable. I’d doubt whether many of these new venues are pubs or bars in the usual sense and, being Scotland, there won’t have been any micropubs. In that part of the world, much drinking is done in hotel bars anyway.

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