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: