News, Nuggets and Longreads 30 March 2019: Magic Rock, Bottle Shop, Light Ale

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from takeovers to light ale.

First, some big news which would be more exciting if it hadn’t seemed inevitable, and if we hadn’t been through this cycle multiple times in the past decade: Huddersfield’s Magic Rock has been acquired by multinational brewing company Lion.

We’ve always found Magic Rock’s Richard Burhouse to be a frank, thoughtful sort of bloke, and his statement strikes home in a way these things often don’t:

Of course, I realise that this news will not be universally well received but I’m also conscious that internationally renowned brewing companies don’t invest in Huddersfield every day, and I’m delighted that the journey we started eight years ago has got us to this point… I’m proud that we continue to be a good news story in the town; the deal with Lion secures growth and longevity for Magic Rock, genuine job security for our employees and enables us to hire more people and contribute more to the economy of the local area going forward.

It’s interesting that of the four breweries involved in the founding of United Craft Brewers in 2015, three have now been bought by multinationals. We said at the time that UCB represented a statement of ambition, which ideas seems to have been borne out by the passage of time. Anyway, that’s one rumour down, leaving one more (that we’ve heard) to go…

More news, not perhaps unrelated to the above:

Light split (HSD and Light Ale).

Justin Mason at Get Beer. Drink Beer. has been researching and reflecting upon one of the most popular 20th century beer mixes, light and bitter:

Light and Bitter is, as you might expect, a half of Bitter (usually a bit more, three quarters wasn’t uncommon) served in a pint glass or mug with a bottle of Light Ale as an accompaniment. This was to be mixed as you saw fit, either in measured stages but more usually as half the bottle, taking it almost to the top, and the other half when you were down to the half pint level again… I couldn’t remember the last time I saw anybody order or drink a Light and Bitter in any pub I was in for at least ten years…

A mural in south London.

Staying in the realms of the old school, Deserter has been touring the working men’s clubs of south London:

Have you ever walked past those huge old buildings that have a Courage sign from another epoch, but offer no encouragement to enter? They’re members’ clubs, where the beer is as cheap as fibs and ‘refurb’ means a new snooker table. Liberal Clubs, Working Men’s Clubs, Social Clubs. A mystery to most. A sanctuary to some… Roxy and Gail had become members of a CIU club and that entitled them to visit any of their 1800+ clubs in the UK and take in their special ’70s-ness, low-price pints, massive function rooms and strong cue-sports presence. I borrowed a card and kicked off our club tour at the Peckham Lib.

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2002 & 2009.

Archive article of the week: can you imagine a newspaper today publishing anything as niche and geeky as this set of vertical tasting notes by Michael Jackson on J.W. Lees Harvest Ale from 1995?

The exact influence of age is open to argument. Ninety-nine out of a hundred beers will go downhill. Only the strong and complex might improve. Before this tasting, I would have said that Lees Harvest Ale might develop favourably for three to six months. Now, I think six or seven years. Beyond that, oxidation creates Madeira-like notes, which can become dominant. From day one, the herbal floweriness of the hop can recede, but it was still definitely evident in the 1990.

For more good reading, check out Alan on Thursday and Stan on Monday.

3 replies on “News, Nuggets and Longreads 30 March 2019: Magic Rock, Bottle Shop, Light Ale”

Just added Magic Rock to the list of breweries that are dead to me, which already included Camden, Brixton, Beavertown and Fourpure.

I don’t blame the owners for cashing-in, but please don’t pretend it is about anything other than money.

Rob, Rob – do you genuinely think the guys at Magic Rock went into business solely for your benefit, and you have any right to get upset at their business decisions? Frankly, anyone who decides that they’re not going to drink an excellent beer because they’d prefer it if the brewery’s owner passed up the chance to cash in on all their hard work is a self-centred dummo.

Martyn, I won’t disrespect the excellent Boak and Bailey site by resorting to trading insults, as you seem to be trying to.

You are either for craft beer, or for macro-produced beer, and there is no possibility of any middle ground.

The macros would love to get the genie back in the bottle, and revert to the days where people drank the same macro beer for a whole night out, or for their whole lives, but that ship has sailed. Macro sales are plummeting and so they are desperately casting around for craft acquisitions, to try to stay relevant and stem the bleeding.

Whether Castlemaine4Rock or HeinekenTown continue to make excellent beer in the future is entirely beside the point. Both breweries are now part of the Macro-world which would love nothing better than to see the death of craft beer.

Although newly-acquired breweries go to great lengths to deny it, it seems inevitable to me that financial pressures will eventually come into play to reduce the raw material costs (mainly hops, of course) to drive down production costs to the point where they can sell to Tescos at say £1 a can. This is the Macro’s business model.

As a case in point, it was hilarious to witness Fuller’s Head Brewer Georgina Young jump ship to Bath Ales just seven weeks after they sold to Asahi in January.

Business-as-usual at Fuller’s after selling-out is it? It doesn’t sound like it…..!!!

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