News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 February 2019: Conmen, Archaeobotanists, Maltsters

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from gig venues to American home-brewing.

Kentucky’s Craft Beer Con Man’ is a hell of a headline and the story, by Michael Moeller for Kentucky Sports Radio, more than lives up to it:

This is the story of a craft beer con man who traveled across the United States and abroad – a man who knew how to exploit the shared weakness of most small businesses – talk a big enough game and a background check won’t be required. Talk an even bigger game and even fool business partners and investors.

(Via @beerbabe.)

Gig posters on a pub in Manchester.

Katie Taylor has been listening to BBC Radio 6 and noticed parallels between concerns about the loss of independent music venues and fretting over the fate of pubs:

Recently, the station has been running a campaign to rediscover and champion local independent music venues, and the more interviews with passionate but skint promoters and owners they broadcast, the stronger I’ve noticed the overlap between their struggles and the struggles of our favourite pubs, taprooms and breweries. There’s an emotional connection there, for sure – the same revolutionary attitude towards resisting developers and buyouts smoulders under a heavy smog of frustration, the same anger and resigned futility wafts through their bravado into their everyday conversations.

American homebrewers in a vintage photo.

Michael ‘Mad Fermentation’ Tonsmeire has posted a sober reflection on the health of American home-brewing, observing a dip or decline:

Anecdotally over the last 30 years, American homebrewing has experienced three similar dips. Roughly the early-1990s, early-2000s, and the last few years. These coincide with three pivotal moments in commercial beer availability… With more than 6,000 breweries spread across the country, most Americans can take a short drive to visit a different brewery tasting rooms every week for a few months without repeating. Not only that, but the old model of four core beers, four seasonals, and a couple special releases is gone. Many breweries are producing 50 or more beers each year. The variety is staggering, and again many former homebrewers are happy to reduce their risk/effort and sample as many new beers as they desire.

A statue of a maltster.
‘The Maltster’ by Jill Tweed. SOURCE: Alec Latham.

We’d never thought much about Ware’s part in British beer history. Or, indeed, really been aware of the existence of Ware. Fortunately, Alec Latham has put together a comprehensive note on the Hertfordshire town and its historic relationship with malting, brewing and boozing:

In 1869 (coincidentally, also the year Britain’s pubs reached their highest recorded peak in numbers), the town… contained the largest malting establishments on the planet… In 1880 there were over one hundred malt kilns in this little town – possibly as many as 140. Every local inhabitant owed their living to the production of malt. Publicans of Ware’s many small ale houses would open as early as five o clock in the morning to offer liquid sustenance to the maltmakers on their way to light the kiln fires.

A relic of ancient brewing.

Some fresh news about ancient beer: work to improve the A14 in Cambridgeshire have uncovered “what is believed to be evidence of the first beer brewed in the UK”, possibly dating from 400 BC, as explained by archaeobotanist Lara Gonzalez:

I knew when I looked at these tiny fragments under the microscope that I had something special. The microstructure of these remains had clearly changed through the fermentation process and air bubbles typical of those formed in the boiling and mashing process of brewing… The porous structures of these fragments are quite similar to bread, but through microscopic study, it’s possible to see that this residue is from the beer-making process as it shows evidence of fermentation and contains larger pieces of cracked grains and bran but no fine flour.

The sign of the Victoria, a Fuller's pub in Paddington.

If you really want to read more on last weekend’s big news story, the takeover of the brewing operation at Fuller’s by Asahi, here’s a round-up of the most interesting commentary we haven’t already linked to elsewhere:

Pete Brown – “As someone who (a) loves beer and (b) also aspires to being seen as a level-headed commentator with a degree of insight into the market, whenever something like this happens I have two reactions: the emotional and the analytical. Sometimes they match up with each other. Other times they don’t.”

Will Hawkes – “[It’s] the human element that has made Fuller’s so important in modern London brewing. When the [London Brewers’ Alliance] was getting started, [John] Keeling and fellow Fuller’s brewer Derek Prentice were central… Evin O’Riordain, founder of The Kernel, told me then that the best thing about the LBA was being able to ask Keeling and Prentice questions, which they’d happily answer.”

Mark Johnson – “Imagine having the actual hubris to not hold the same opinion of somebody else when it comes to business. Imagine not thinking that anything but progressive capitalism is positive. Imagine siding with that caution. Imagine just wanting to take a step back and question the motives of bigger conglomerates...

Roger Protz – “The sale of Fuller’s brewery and brands to Asahi of Japan brings to an end the long history of family brewing in London. One by one, the likes of Charrington, Courage, Manns, Taylor Walker, Truman and Watney have disappeared, with the revered Young’s of Wandsworth throwing in the towel in 2006.”

Adrian Tierney-Jones – “I’ll get over it, we get over things us adults, and after all as long as ESB, London Porter (in keg for me), Vintage Ale, the wisteria, the brewery yard across which hundreds of workers have ambled and gambled on a life in beer and that tumble-down dusty room of bound brewery archives exists I will feel I belong.”

And finally, there’s this:

2 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 February 2019: Conmen, Archaeobotanists, Maltsters”

I actually met the ‘Kentucky’s Craft Beer Con Man’ when he was at 81Bay in Tampa. He invited a group of us in to taste test his beers. He was slick, but of the 4 or 5 beers we tasted, only one was passable. And over the next several months the beer was very inconsistent, and mostly bad. So it wasn’t a major surprise to hear he had lied about his resume and was gone. The brewery has survived but was scrambling for quite a while. Sad to see his is still out there conning people.

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