News, nuggets and longreads 23 May 2020: Marston’s, Duration, Urquell

Here’s a round-up of beer-related news, commentary and history from the past week, from Carlsberg to classified information.

The week’s big news was the announcement of a ‘joint venture’ between multinational giant Carlsberg and the UK’s largest independent brewery, Marston’s. The new company, Carlsberg Marston’s, is 60% owned by Carlsberg and does not include Marston’s estate of 1,400 pubs. Carlsberg now owns, to all intents and purposes, not only the Marston’s brand but also Brakspear, Ringwood, Banks’s and others.

Martyn Cornell informs us that yesterday was the 299th anniversary of the first known mention of porter in print:

The passing mention came in a pamphlet dated Wednesday May 22 1721 and written by the then-23-year-old Whig satirist and polemicist Nicholas Amhurst (1697-1742). Amhurst implied that porter was a poor person’s drink, writing that “Whigs … think even poverty much preferable to bondage; had rather dine at a cook’s shop upon beef, cabbage, and porter, than tug at an oar, or rot in a dark stinking dungeon.”… The fact that Amhurst (who is buried in Twickenham, less than a mile and a half from where I am writing this) felt no need to explain what porter was suggests it would have been a familiar word to his audience, even if no one had ever put it into print before.

Bates at the grill.
SOURCE: Lily Waite/Good Beer Hunting.

For Good Beer HuntingLily Waite profiles Duration Brewing of Norfolk – one of those outfits that emerged after we stopped trying to stay on top of things and about which subsequently know very little. It turns out to be yet another example of a UK brewery with an American in the engine room:

Duration’s first beer launched four months after Bates left Brew By Numbers in 2017, even though Duration’s own, brick-and-mortar site was still years away. Rather than wait, Bates and Hudson opted to brew a number of collaborations to introduce their young brand to the industry, and build awareness among drinkers… Fool For You, made with Manchester’s Cloudwater Brew Co, was their first stake in the ground, their declaration of intent. A Saison brewed with five different strains of yeast, one single hop variety, and with British gooseberries thrown in the whirlpool, the beer represented a culmination of Bates’ experience and interests. Here is a farmhouse beer meticulous in its fermentation, utilizing seasonal, native produce, he was saying. Here is something different.

Illustration: Josef Groll.

Jeff Alworth continues to share substantial reflections on classic beers; this week, Pilsner Urquell got the treatment, with a tidy overview of the past, present and future of the original golden lager:

Despite the similarity of all světlé pivos in terms of color and strength, Czechs can easily distinguish them—largely because of the way the barley smells, tastes, and even feels on the tongue. As a consequence, in no place is the expressiveness of malted barley more important than Czechia—now as it was in 1842. I’ve never managed to see tour the Urquell maltings, but they’re still in use, still at the heart of the brewery. In many cases outside Czechia, one might consider a brewery’s maltings as much a promotional activity as one of necessity, but it has been central to the brewery since the start.

If you’re missing pubs, you might enjoy dipping into a blogging project that’s new to us: All the pubs we’ve ever been to ever. It’s a group effort led by Tim Kingston, logging the wonderfully mundane details of pub life, from Prague to Benidorm:

The Wigmore is Christmassy and communal. It’s not packed but the only free tables are in the dining area – where clear sightlines to the tellies are denied. The Town are winning 2-0 at Forest Green, so we’d like to see the Geoff Show on Sky…. Kids to our right, tucking into burger and chips, have their own (Prem) football commentary blasting out of a phone on their table. They’re talking loudly (they have to, the phone speaker is blaring) in jarringly affected accents. They’re shouting about playing rugby – they’re apparently all teammates – although they seem working class… one of them is wearing a baseball cap, the wrong way round. Socially and culturally they is all over the place, bruv.

Harvey's bottled beers: Sweet Stout, Blue Label, IPA, Brown.

In his latest post at Oh Good Ale, Phil captures perfectly the mood of a couple of months past when panic-buying and confusion were in the air:

I looked at the breweries’ Web sites and found, to my mounting horror, that Thirst Class’s range had been greatly reduced since I’d ordered, and Harvey’s – although the Web site did say they were continuing to brew, to give their yeast strain something to do – had nothing at all on sale. Was this what it was going to be like? Were breweries going to stop brewing, one after another – then run down their existing stock, one after another – and then there would be no more beer? Was I going to have to start drinking gin?

Investigative news operation Bellingcat – not an outlet we ever expected to link to here – has worked out that the beer ticking app Untappd is a great source of information about US military and intelligence operations:

Untappd users log hundreds, often thousands of time-stamped location data points. These locations are neatly sorted in over 900 categories, which can be as diverse and specific as “botanic garden.” “strip club,” “gay bar,” “west-Ukrainian restaurant,” and “airport gate.” As the result of this, the app allows anyone to trace the movements of other users between sensitive locations — as well as their favorite bars, hotels, restaurants, neighbourhoods, and, sometimes, even private residences… Examples of users that can be tracked this way include a U.S. drone pilot, along with a list of both domestic and overseas military bases he has visited, a naval officer, who checked in at the beach next to Guantanamo’s bay detention center as well as several times at the Pentagon, and a senior intelligence officer with over seven thousand check-ins, domestic and abroad. Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force are included as well.

Finally, if you’re after a diversion, check out the new curation tool from Art UK which allows you to collect paintings on related themes such as, for example, the English pub.

And from Twitter, there’s this top tip from a taste-off between all the knock-off lagers at Aldi:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.

3 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 23 May 2020: Marston’s, Duration, Urquell”

Re the Aldi: I’ve never seen Den Velde, but there’s also The 1079 Project: “Dry-hopped for a bright, refreshing and joyously crisp flavour, crafted using 285 years of Dutch brewing craftsmanship”. On the can side it says “Exclusively dry-hopped – crisp taste.” 4.6% abv. Rather decent. “Inspired by” Vedett, I’d say.

There’s also in Aldi here in Scotland an almost baffling array of Williams Bros beers, many brewed exclusively for Aldi. Some were featured in a tv ad on STV, which I think might count as a unique (at least, very rare) example of peak time main channel craft beer advertising. Meanwhile, Lidl has started stocking beers brewed exclusively for them by 71 Brewing of Dundee.

A lot is being made of Marston being British owned, but the top two shareholders (c5% each) are American fund managers. The next three largest are British institutions with about 14% in all. The directors control about 1%. Details of other shareholders are not given but probably most are British. Carlsberg is owned by the Carlsberg Institute which supports scientific research. I mention this just to give some perspective on where the profits from your pint have been and will be ending up.

The major shareholders are only interested in the property owned by Marstons which is why they’ll be delighted at the divestment of the brewing arm. More than likely this is their doing in the first place.

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