News, nuggets and longreads 26 October 2019: Westminster, Witbier, white men

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting in the past week from portraits of pubs to ponderings on the passing of time.

We always get a bit excit­ed when big Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tions write about Eng­lish pubs. In this case, it’s the New York­er, with a por­trait of St Stephen’s Tav­ern in West­min­ster, Lon­don – the unof­fi­cial pub of par­lia­ment:

An old pub, St. Stephen’s Tav­ern, which describes itself as a “good old fash­ioned Lon­don booz­er,” sits at the edge of Par­lia­ment Square (it was a favorite of Churchill’s). Inside, pro­test­ers escap­ing the crowds were sit­ting togeth­er with their signs, in groups of three or four, at tables full of pints and chips. It had start­ed to rain, and the win­dows, through which you could see marchers pressed almost against the glass, were slight­ly fog­gy. On the TV, M.P.s were vot­ing on an amend­ment put for­ward by Oliv­er Letwin, which would require Par­lia­ment to with­hold approval of a Brex­it deal until after leg­is­la­tion out­lin­ing its imple­men­ta­tion had passed.

Wild hops, Richmond, London.

For Let’s Beer it for the Girls Rachel Auty gives an account of the mak­ing of a crowd­sourced beer using hops grown in the back gar­dens of Har­ro­gate:

Most of us have just har­vest­ed year two. Last year our com­bined con­tri­bu­tions were chucked in a brew of Har­ro­gate Brew­ing Co’s deli­cious Plum Porter – it’s nat­u­ral­ly an absolute hon­our to drink such a great local beer know­ing that par­tic­u­lar brew con­tains hops that have grown in your gar­den. How­ev­er, the haul from our col­lec­tive efforts was fair­ly small and wasn’t enough to define a brew of its own nor present any kind of real flavour… This year was dif­fer­ent.


Prompt­ed by, er, us, Stan Hierony­mus has writ­ten about the shift­ing iden­ti­ties of cer­tain well-known beers:

Hoe­gaards Wit was one of 42 beers Michael Jack­son award­ed 5 stars in his first Pock­et Guide to Beer in 1982. Jack­son describes the brew­ing process as well as list­ing the ingre­di­ents. “A very dis­tinc­tive top-fer­ment­ing cul­ture is used, in open tanks, and the beer is warm-con­di­tioned for a month before being giv­en a dosage in the bot­tle,” he wrote. “When young, it is faint­ly sour and some­times a lit­tle cloudy, but with matu­ri­ty it becomes demi-sec and almost hon­ey­ish, and gains a shim­mer­ing, refrac­tive qual­i­ty called ‘dou­ble shine.’”… That’s not the way Hoe­gaar­den White is brewed today.


In the wake of some bizarre devel­op­ments in court in the Founder’s Brew­ing case, Ruvani has writ­ten about racism and the cul­tur­al dom­i­nance of white men:

To me, this is not a beer-spe­cif­ic prob­lem. It relates to every indus­try which white men feel belongs to them – par­tic­u­lar­ly cre­ative indus­tries. These indus­tries are not seen as falling into the tra­di­tion­al domain of POCs and there­fore we are not wel­come there. We are not seen as taste-mak­ers, cul­ture-cre­ators. We are seen as the drones, the cogs who do the menial labour, whether we’re clean­ing the office or fix­ing the com­put­er. Cul­ture, be it beer cul­ture, lit­er­a­ture or most oth­er cul­tur­al are­nas, is demar­cat­ed as white male ter­ri­to­ry, and any­thing that women or POCs or, heav­en-for­fend, female POCs, cre­ate is auto­mat­i­cal­ly ‘niche’, with all the con­no­ta­tions and bar­ri­ers that come with that word. If we infringe into this hal­lowed space then they see it as fair game to mock us, deride us, ques­tion our com­pe­ten­cy and of course, make fun of our appear­ance and our cul­ture.

A half of mild ale.

At Shut Up About Bar­clay Perkins the brew­ing his­to­ri­an Ron Pat­tin­son pro­vides a snap­shot from the slow death of mild, in the after­math of World War II:

Before the war there had been many Lon­don Milds with grav­i­ties over 1040º. By the time the war end­ed, few were above 1030º. And while before the war, most brew­eries made mul­ti­ple Milds, after it many only brewed one… Some Best Milds were rein­tro­duced in the late 1940s and ear­ly 1950s, but these most­ly had quite mod­est grav­i­ties, rarely pass­ing the dizzy­ing height of 1040º. Even Main­line, a renowned strong Mild before the war, strug­gled to reach 3% ABV in its after­math.

Iceland (map)

David Nilsen has writ­ten an ele­gant evo­ca­tion of the bars and beers of Reyk­javik, Ice­land, for Pel­li­cle:

Reykjavik’s cafes and bars were islands of light and warmth in a city awash in its own atmos­pher­ic fury. The beer bars of Reykjavik—Skuli Craft Bar, Micro Bar, Mikkeller & Friends (now closed), and others—are cosy in a way that seems to inten­tion­al­ly com­pen­sate for the bleak prag­ma­tism of the city’s exte­ri­ors. A warm, steamy win­dow appears in the dark of a drip­ping side street. You open a door, and the idea of warmth enters you before the tem­per­a­ture itself does. The ceil­ing is low, as is the light­ing, and the vol­ume. The bars are dif­fer­ent, each, but unit­ed in their ensconced insis­tence on hedo­nis­tic com­fort. And then there’s the beer.

Illustration: Victoriana.

The always thought-pro­vok­ing Jeff All­worth asks an inter­est­ing ques­tion: what hap­pens when all those brew­eries that seemed new and excit­ing dur­ing the boom become ‘old school’ and ‘bor­ing’ at the same moment?

This cur­rent crop of brew­eries has thrived on being new in a moment when the mar­ket rewards nov­el­ty. That is … not sus­tain­able. A lot of yesterday’s com­men­tary about Lom­poc (includ­ing mine) revolved around how the brew­ery seems old-school, as if that’s an inher­ent trait. Of course it’s not, and once, Lom­poc was seen as a young, excit­ing brew­ery… Or take Ninkasi Brew­ing, now a mere dozen years old. It once defined the cut­ting edge in Ore­gon. This isn’t an exaggeration—for a few years in the late aughts, it was the hottest brew­ery, the one excit­ing drinkers and caus­ing com­peti­tors to respond. Yet twelve years is a life­time in tastes, and now Eugene’s finest is now con­sid­ered father­ly.

And final­ly, a plug for our­selves:

For more beer-relat­ed read­ing check out Alan McLeod’s roundup from Thurs­day.

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