News, nuggets and longreads 6 July 2019: hawks, hops, hiking

Here’s everything  that grabbed our attention in the past week in the world of beer and pubs, from retailers to railways. (A more fruitful week than last.)

First, big takeover news: Beer Hawk, the online retail outfit taken over by AB-InBev in 2016, has itself absorbed two others this week. First, it took on what remained of The Bottle Shop and then sucked in BeerBods, famous for its drink-along-together social media events.

(Disclosure: Chris France from Beer Hawk is one of our Patreon supporters and we were once paid to write an article for BeerBods.)

This all feels quite sudden and shocking and BeerBods in particular did at times approach feeling like a community so there’s been a bit of understandable emotion around it. But retail isn’t brewing – it doesn’t excite or interest people in the same way – and consumers will probably forget this fairly quickly.

The remaining independent shops and sellers, however, will no doubt be feeling the pressure.

Illustration: moody London pub.

In the Guardian last weekend Andrew Anthony wrote about what makes the perfect English pub and the threat to traditional pubs in central London. This, we thought, was a particularly interesting observation:

In truth the Soho that the Coach and Horses epitomised – bohemian, transgressive, hopelessly drunk – no longer exists, and any attempt to return to the “features that have made it such a famous pub”, as Fuller’s pledges to do, are doomed to be an exercise in museum curation. What we most love about the past is that is no longer here… Yearning for the idealised pub of yore is not, however, a new pastime. It’s probably almost as old as pubs themselves. Indeed, reminiscing about how a given pub used to be is a staple of pub conversation. The nostalgic lament is, after all, practically a symptom of inebriation.

Timothy Taylor sign.

From Ian Thurman comes this interesting nugget: after he complained about the quality of a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord on Twitter, the brewery got in touch to ask for more information, sent someone in to deliver training at the pub, and fixed the problem.

Ian’s post above also contains a brief tribute to Richard Coldwell, a Leeds-based writer and blogger who sadly died last week. We had various dealings with Richard over the years and thought fondly of him. His blog was a regular in these round-ups with pieces like this on the fragility of the identity of a favourite pub.

Text Illustration: JUICY JUICY against hazy yellow-orange

For Paste Magazine Jim Vorel wrote a thought-provoking piece attempting to unpack exactly why some modern super-hoppy beers just… don’t… taste very nice?

[The] simple truth is that there does exist a point of diminishing returns, when it comes to simply adding more and more hops to a brew kettle, fermenter or brite tank. These aren’t one-to-one correlations, as much as we’d like for them to be. “Twice the Citra” doesn’t necessarily mean “twice as juicy,” in terms of the consumer’s perception of the eventual flavor of that beer. In fact, it might even mean the opposite… These beers are being hopped at such rates that the delicate impressions of fresh fruit are lost, and all that remains is the overwhelming flavor of plant matter.

And here, from Jeff Alworth, is one a specific thought it provoked: could we call the flavour Mr Vorel describes chlorophyll?

Illustration: lambic blending.

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for online beer retailer Beer52, Eoghan Walsh has written an excellent overview of the cult of Lambic – the culture that surrounds the beer as much as the beer itself. Here’s a good bit:

One of those following in Jackson’s footsteps is home brewer, blogger, and lambic mad scientist Dave Janssen. “I think there’s a lot to be said for sitting with all the locals and drinking the available gueuze and just enjoying that,” Janssen says. Half his face hidden behind a thick Darwinesque beard, heavily annotated map in one hand and black notebook full of fermentation charts in the other, Janssen hikes from one lambic café to brewer to blendery. “There’s a lot more to lambic than just beer,” he says. “So it [hiking] really helped me to appreciate that, to spend time in the countryside, to walk through the fields and spend a bit more time getting to the places I was going.”

A steam train in full flow.
SOURCE: Katie Mather/The Snap and the Hiss

Katie Mather has written about the East Lancashire Steam Rail Ale Trail, a pub crawl by train, in typically engaging fashion:

I’d never been on a steam train before, so I was unbearable. Bouncing in my minibus seat like a golden retriever who’s recognised the way to the park, we got to Rawtenstall station with half an hour to spend in Buffer Stops before we had to head off to Bury… When the train arrived I almost exploded with excitement. It’s so big! And shiny! And the inside is properly old-fashioned! I’m not sure why I expected grey and purple Transpennine upholstery, but the maroons and muted brass was gorgeous to behold. I sat my trainbeer down (a can of Heart & Soul from Buffer Stops) and stared unblinkingly out of the window.

A pint of stout.

Martyn Cornell has written a fascinating piece about the survival of milk stout in South Africa where its image is very different to the one it has, or had, in the UK:

Castle Milk Stout, originally a South African Breweries brand and now, since it acquired SAB, owned by AB InBev, is a long-time favourite of black workers, and is now being marketed at the country’s black middle class as the beer to drink to show you haven’t lost touch with your roots.

We’ll wrap up with this short thread of our own flagging a new collection from the British Film Institute: