News, nuggets and longreads 18 January 2020: Summer Wine, South Africa, Sierra Nevada

Here’s everything that struck as especially interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from GMO yeast to dogs in taprooms.

Here’s everything that struck as especially interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from GMO yeast to dogs in taprooms.

First, a bit of news: Summer Wine, one of the middle wave of new British craft breweries (definition 2) has announced it is shutting down.

Based in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, it had a loyal following but, from our remote perspective, always seemed to be overshadowed by local competitor Magic Rock. There’s an end of an era feel to this announcement, as there was to the news of Hardknott’s shuttering in 2018.


Black Lab brewery.
SOURCE: Jordan St John

Canadian beer writer and teacher Jordan St John reports on a visit to a Toronto brewery taproom where he encountered several dogs:

I tell tourists, of the dog fountain in Berczy Park, that people are basically the dogs they choose to live with and to my left is a blonde man in a Roots cabin sweater who is ferrying beer back to his table. Under the table is a nine month old Golden Retriever puppy (named Roo) in a Toronto Vs. Everybody sweater. It’s good to know my hypothesis continues to bear up under scrutiny.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct.

We’ve got a fondness for stories about remote pubs (item one, item two) and so loved this piece for Outside by Oliver Smith on his pilgrimage to The Old Forge on Scotland’s Knoydart Peninsula:

The trek from the hamlet of Glenfinnan is some 27 miles, crossing swollen rivers and lonely mountains along vague and vanishing trails. With every mile walked, every sprain of ankle, every squelch of bog, the beer tasted sweeter… For many years, the legend of the Old Forge echoed down the glens and out across the world. I heard stories of midsummer nights when the light never quite left the sky and the music never left the pub—the fiddles reeled, the beer flowed, walkers steeled their trail-weary limbs and danced on the tables and out into the streets in the gathering dawn. The hangovers lasted an eternity.

A half of mild ale.

Dave S is a dedicated home-brewer and a fan of mild. He’s put together a manifesto for mild which he says is thriving among hobbyists, even as it’s disappearing from pubs:

Modern Mild isn’t restricted to historic ingredients. Yes, mild is traditionally brewed with British malts, adjuncts, caramel and invert sugar, but alongside that, the modern homebrewer has a free rein to experiment with continental malts and a whole world of culinary and brewing sugars… That said, Modern Mild is basically about malt, hops, sugar, yeast and water. If you want to build a mild recipe around fruit, spices, sweets or breakfast cereal then I’m not going to stop you or even discourage you (much), but you should be aware that by doing this you’re turning the style into something else rather than enriching what it is.

Sierra Nevade Brewing Co neon sign.

Against all odds, Lew Bryson seems to have got Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada, one of the most interviewed men in beer, to say some new and interesting things as the brewery reaches it’s 40th birthday:

You know, Cluster never really got a fair shake in America. It’s been around for years in variants. This aromatic hop, it was so different from what the German brewers were used to using, those subtle Noble hops. The American brewers were mostly German trained, so they weren’t used to that in-your-face aroma. But it was considered an acceptable source of bittering, not as an aroma hop. As more aggressive, higher-alpha (acid) hops were bred, the Clusters fell to the wayside. It has a unique character, and we’ve played with it in various formulations. It’s about 6% Alpha, and you’ve got bittering hops with triple that now. It doesn’t yield that well (per acre), and doesn’t have a competitive place as a bittering hop. We’ve grown some Cluster, and we’ve gone out and picked wild Clusters outside of Chico [in the area of an old hop farm]. It adapted to the climate down here and does well for what it is.

Illustration: 'Yeast'.

For Good Beer Hunting, Jonny Garrett has explored the potential of genetically modified yeast to change the game when it comes to brewing:

“I challenged them to make a yeast that made so much flavor the drinker spits it out,” says [brewer Jeremy] Marshall. “They made one that has a very strong semi-wheat-beer profile, coupled with strong cantaloupe notes. We hit it with very strong hops to add coconut and banana flavors, and made it available in our Petaluma taproom. It’s been fun watching people’s reactions.”

Marshall says most people seemed to enjoy the beer, but few ordered a second. The data bears that out—The Marshall Monster, as it was named, has an unremarkable score of 3.71 on Untappd. Still, this groundbreaking beer demonstrated what was possible with this new technology, especially in the hands of brewers.

Aegir Project
SOURCE: Marla Burger/Pellicle

Lucy Corne is a dedicated chronicler of South African beer culture and history and uses this profile of Aegir, a brewery founded in 2015, to reflect on general trends in the country. This frankly honest statement about price and exclusion is particularly attention-grabbing:

Increasing craft beer’s reach is one of the major challenges for South African brewers. With around 40% of the population living on less than ZAR1500 (£80) per month and a pint averaging ZAR50 (£2.70), craft beer is simply too expensive for most, so attracting adventurous wine drinkers is one way for the market to grow. And it does need to grow. The first boom is over; handfuls of breweries are closing down and fewer are opening each year.

And, finally, from Twitter….

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up and Carey’s ‘The Fizz’ from Friday.

One reply on “News, nuggets and longreads 18 January 2020: Summer Wine, South Africa, Sierra Nevada”

I’m intrigued by the idea of undrinkable beer – maybe that’s the next big thing!

Damn shame about SWB. For me – with a closer geographical vantage point – their range & unpredictability mean they were overshadowed for a long time by Abbeydale and even Pictish, but in the last few years they’ve been doing a few things consistently well and had a strong image to go with it. Another go-to indie bites the dust. As for Magic Rock – whose beers I still love – it’s got to be hard to compete with a multinational…!

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