News, nuggets and longreads 14 March 2020: intervention, invoices, isolation

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in writing about beer and pubs in the past week. And, boy, did our attention take some grabbing with all this nonsense going on.

First, there was a major ‘fiscal event’ in the form of the debut Budget speech of Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Pubs and beer both got a few mentions:

  • As part of the Government’s response to the economic impact of the coronavirus COVID-19, business rates for pubs with a rateable value under £51,000 will be suspended for a full year.
  • The £1,000 relief on business rates currently given to pubs with rateable value of up to £100,000 will increase to £5,000.
  • Duty on beer, cider, wine and spirits won’t increase.

Whether this will be enough to protect pubs against the buffeting effect of the pandemic remains to be seen.

As yet, British pubs and bars continue to trade and, if our observations are anything to go by, remain busy, but other European nations, including Belgium, have begun shutting down hospitality businesses from this weekend, so dire times could be ahead.

Online drinking.

Pubs might have a bumpy patch ahead but for drinkers under lockdown, at least, technology offers alternatives. For ViceHarron Walker has picked up on a trend in Japan for communal drinking via video chat:

Groups of nearly a dozen at a time have started using Zoom, the teleconferencing service (whose ominously friendly “Wel-come to Zoom!” greeting will haunt me till my last dying breath), to share a drink with other people stuck inside their homes, as the Asahi Shimbun reported on Thursday… The news outlet has dubbed the activity “オン飲み,” or on-nomi—a new Japanese word, according to Spoon & Tomago editor Johnny Waldman, who said that the term translates to ‘online drinking’ in English.

Barley & Malt.

In a guest post for Make Mine a Magee’s!, a blog run by beer historian and brewer Edd Mather, Robin Appel has provided a detailed history of Warminster Maltings, which he runs:

By the middle of the 19th century, ever larger breweries established themselves, and demand for malt consolidated around industrial capitals. It followed that ever larger malthouses proliferated, mostly in and close by areas where the best barley was grown. We are talking about areas where the Icknield Series soil type prevailed. This particular soil type is the best soil for premium malting barley production. It is depicted as an area which breaks out of the east coast of Yorkshire, cascades south over Lincolnshire, West Norfolk, across Cambridgeshire and down through the Home Counties, and spreads right across the south of England from Kent to Dorset. Within and adjacent to this zone “malting capitals” were established in places like Mistley (Essex), Ware (Hertfordshire), and Newark (Nottinghamshire). The most westerly of these “malting capitals” was Warminster in Wiltshire.

As promotional prose goes, this is good stuff!

Beer bottle and glass in low warm light.

In the latest of series of articles in which writers focus on particular beers, David Nilsen has provided Pellicle with personal notes on Bell’s Two Hearted Ale:

Since before I was born, my family has camped along the Hurricane River just west of Grand Marais on the coast of Lake Superior, about 35 miles west of the mouth of the Two Hearted. The Hurricane is a shallow stream that tumbles over dark rocks before hitting the beach, and its mouth changes daily as the sands shift with the moods of the big lake… There’s a small gas station above the harbour in Grand Marais, and it’s one of two places in town you could buy carryout beer when my family visited in the mid-2000s, at a time when I was just beginning to like beer. There was a six-pack of something called an IPA with a trout on the label, and its muted but clear earth tones brought to mind the Hurricane’s bed under a rippled surface.

(We liked this beer when we tried it.)

A pound coin.
SOURCE: Steve Smith on Unsplash.

Cashflow is one of the most commonly cited reasons for business failure in the UK and late payment of invoices is one of the biggest causes of cashflow problems. Every now and then, frustration over late payments in the beer and pub industry spills onto social media, as it did last week. The most recent bout prompted a typically challenging piece from Mark Johnson, arguing that consumers don’t need to know about this and that, in particular, it’s never right to ‘name and shame’ late payers:

Those customers may disagree with me, thinking they have the right to this information so that they can choose where to spend their money in support. You don’t. If this isn’t part of your everyday work then it may sound horrifying but are people showing sympathy and understanding because they believe they are so worldly that they can empathise? Does their compassion come from a sense of blind loyalty? Because this is reality and it doesn’t care about your feelings… Behind closed doors, perhaps. Share your experiences with industry peers. Share those that have screwed you over to stop it happening to others in the business if you wish. But globally naming and shaming is unacceptable.

Vintage SIBA sign on a pub in London.

Brewer Andy Parker has come off the fence – SIBA isn’t perfect, he says, but it’s the best vehicle independent British brewers have to be heard and it’s time to get behind the organisation:

Elusive Brewing joined SIBA in late 2019. Although we’d inquired about joining a couple of times before that, an undercurrent of member dissatisfaction with SIBA’s direction put us off biting the bullet. I believe that SIBA ideally needs to operate entirely in the interests of its members, with no commercial interests, and some decisions it took (for example the acquisition of beer wholesaler Flying Firkin) seemed take it further away from that… SIBA recognises the need for change and under its new Chief Executive James Calder, has started to re-engage and rebuild relations with its members. SIBA is listening and 2020 is the year we as independent breweries need to get behind them. It can only operate outwith any commercial interests if it has more members, as those interests are needed to cover its operating costs at current levels of membership.

Of course SIBA doesn’t help itself, sometimes, with ‘bad optics’ like this:

It makes sense when Neil explains it…

…but that doesn’t matter when the outrage train is already running downhill at full tilt.

And finally, from Twitter, there’s this nugget of post-war pub design from an expert in the work of British sculptor William Mitchell:

For more reading on beer and pubs, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.