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News, Nuggets and Longreads 16 February 2019: Beer Duty, BridgePort, Brussels

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck as especially noteworthy, from colonialism to brewery closures.

For the Guardian Dutch journalist Olivier van Beemen offers an article based on an extract from his book Heineken in Africa: a Multinational Unleashed. It offers a glimpse into the practices of a European brewing giant operating in Africa, and how, despite the rhetoric of corporate social responsibility, it cannot help but echo the behaviours of the colonial era:

Further research [into promotion girls] in DRC, the country where the most abuse was reported, revealed that unwanted advances came not only from customers but also from Heineken staff. “The enormous uncertainty of keeping a job combined with the absence of employee rights of legal status makes PW [promotion women] vulnerable for misuse from several stakeholders,” the internal report notes. Often, the women, who earned very little, had to sleep with managers if they wanted to keep their job. But if they needed to see a gynaecologist or get an abortion, which was often illegal and dangerous, they had to sort everything themselves, and pay for it. They also had to drink five to 10 large bottles of beer every working day, in order to persuade customers to consume more.

Sighing bar staff.

This week’s big viral story, for quite understandable reasons, was this expression of righteous fury by Canadian beer writer Robin LeBlanc in response to a bizarre sexist ramble in an American brewing magazine by its publishers, Bill Metzger, who has since resigned:

That’s right, folks. He managed to take a piece about cask ale and turn it into a whiny, self-indulgent, sexist, heavily misogynist, and creepy as hell work. In fact he did this so expertly that it actually broke my brain and I need to break it down and go over most of the particularly offensive quotes with you all because if I don’t I’m going to keep thinking about it until I have a brain aneurysm.

Alright. Let’s start with the very first sentence of the article.

“Like most men, I struggle with my my primal self.”

Oh boy, strap in folks, because we know exactly where this is going.

De la Senne beers in Brussels.

For Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh provides a rundown of the history of cult Belgian brewery de la Senne, constructing his tale around five specific beers:

Before there was Brasserie de la Senne, there was Zinnebir. Bernard Leboucq was home-brewing in the basement of a central Brussels squat in 2002, and he was invited to brew Zinnebir as the official beer for that year’s Zinneke parade. Yvan De Baets, already passionate about beer, was a social worker working alongside youth groups on the parade. A meet-cute was inevitable.

“I saw this guy pulling a big trolley of beer,” says De Baets, “and I told the guys working with me to take care of the kids, I have to meet him. He offered me a beer, a second, a third.” Two years later De Baets joined Leboucq as unofficial brewing advisor in their first iteration of Brasserie de la Senne.

The Quest for the Perfect Pub

The Pub Curmudgeon has dissected a largely forgotten book from 1989 in which brother Nick and Charlie Hurt report on a three-month Quest for the Perfect Pub:

The thirty years since the book was published have, not surprisingly, not been kind to the pubs listed. Some, fortunately, are still in existence in little-changed form, such as the Yew Tree at Cauldon in Staffordshire and the Traveller’s Rest at Alpraham in Cheshire. Others, such as the Stagg at Titley in Herefordshire and the Durham Ox at Shrewley in Warwickshire, have very much gone down the gastro route and can no longer be regarded as community boozers, while many, such as the Horse & Jockey at Delph in the former Saddleworth district of Yorkshire and the White Lion at Pen-y-Mynydd in Flintshire have long since closed. Indeed, I doubt whether either of those long survived the publication of the book, and the Horse & Jockey has long been a roofless, crumbling ruin.

Abstract illustration of pubs.

Roger Protz has written an interesting piece about the specific issues faced by those running houses owned by giant pub companies:

“My agreement meant I could buy wines, spirits and minerals free of tie but I was tied for beer and cider. The main Ei beer list had Dark Star Hophead. Jack had sold three 18 gallon casks a week of Hophead but Ei said I couldn’t have it as it was outside SIBA’s delivery area – SIBA has a 25-mile radius for beer orders.”

Courage Best is a popular beer among regulars. Harry found he would have to pay £30 a barrel more than Jack had paid – and Jack had sold 100 barrels a year.

Carling Black Label beer mat.

At Ed’s Beer Site Ed provides some fascinating details of how Carling lager is actually brewed:

Very high maltose syrup is used in the kettle to give 20% of the grist. For those not familiar with high gravity brewing very high maltose syrup is important because it reduces the amount of esters produced during fermentation, something which high gravity brewing raises.

Jim at Beers Manchester is angry about the weaselly ways of the UK’s larger breweries which are lobbying for changes to Progressive Beer Duty from behind the facades of various organisations, such as the Independent Family Brewers of Britain:

Let’s look at the IFBB in more detail.

Richard Fuller. Secretary of The Independent Family Brewers of Britain.

Hang on. Fuller. As in that brewery that is no longer “Independent”? Hmmm.

A notable brewery closure: BridgePort Brewing of Portland, Oregon – one of the first of the modern IPA brewers, launching its flagship hoppy pale beer in 1996 – is shutting up shop after 35 years. Jeff Allworth offers context and commentary here.

And finally, from Twitter:

For more links see Stan Hieronymus’s blog on Mondays and Alan McLeod’s on Thursdays.

3 replies on “News, Nuggets and Longreads 16 February 2019: Beer Duty, BridgePort, Brussels”

I strongly advise anyone interested in the topic of sexism and tolerance to read through the comments of the above linked blog post of Robin LeBlanc, and also read the original text, since it is (should be) pretty obvious to any thinking grown-up that it was meant as a satire (and is a part of a series of similar articles). Note that this was also acknowledged by Robin LeBlanc in a later edit, but nonetheless, the agressive call to arms against this man, the site and its advertisers was not withdrawn.

While I agree that the said report is uncouth and just pretty stupid, and its satire about sexism and chauvinism is causeless (its topic being real ale in Scotland), I think that a blogger asking her followers to attack the author, the site which was managed by him for many years, and also its advertisers is beyond going too far – it is so agressive, ruthless and petty that it even harms the cause of fighting against sexism, even in its supposed harmless forms (which are not harmless at all as we know) like banter and jokes.

One can hate sexist jokes all they want, but there is nothing to celebrate about this sad story. Because instead of equality or respect, the aftertaste of these events is rather that of resentment and revenge. I don’t want to live, work or enjoy my hobby in such a hostile and cruel atmosphere just the same as in a sexist one.

It’s not at all obvious that it’s satire, and it’s very poor quality tone-deaf satire if it really is. If you don’t regard Metzger’s piece as part of the chronic problem of sexism in beer then you’re part of the chronic problem of sexism in beer.

I know about the problem of sexism in beer from articles on this site, mainly, as I am not working in this area. I know generally about the problem of sexism in the world, be it against any sex, just as anyone else with a bit of empathy does. (I truly think that here in Central/Eastern Europe it is less chronic than in the UK although that may be wrong and is hard to decide.) However, the “if not with us, then against us, but you are in a WAR” mentality of your comment is what I was criticising in the first place in the original blog post (I don’t think you have misunderstood it, I just feel important to emphasize it because I don’t think one can or should force an extreme viewpoint on anyone else).
Any kind of positive and forward-thinking change must come with a much more peaceful mentality, or else it will become misguided and end up hurt more than heal, thus starting new problems. See Robin LeBlanc’s initiative and result.
I feel that I am against sexism (I have been doing a lot of looking into myself as well to practice self-criticism), and don’t feel myself “part of the problem”, but I know that my mentality described above will not guarantee that nobody ever feels me to be that.
But if level-headed attitude like mine becomes part of the problem for sexism, I think that it will hinder its good cause in the end because extremist reactions tend to beget a counter-reaction of the same kind.
I really hope there is still place and need for a kind of a middle ground where we have some hope for others and not only have punishment at the ready, or even vigilantism – e.g. not giving a chance for anybody for any explanation, self-correction or apology.
This is all I can say, generally, for all today’s heated topics, not just this one.
I think this won’t change your opinion (or anyone else’s who is in my eyes an “extremist”), but it felt good to write it down. Peace, and let’s hope arguments like these will be rarer and rarer.

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