News, nuggets and longreads 12 September 2020: cats, culture wars, craft beer w**kers

Here’s all the reading about pubs and beer from the past week that struck us as especially fun, thought-provoking or important, from gruit to wood-ageing.

We found plenty to think about in Zoe Williams’s piece on pubs for the Guardian which rightly observes that whether you do or don’t feel like going to pub during a global pandemic has become yet another facet of the supposed culture war:

Meanwhile, the pub-goer-as-patriot brigade has been out in force, embodied, as so often with a culture war, in the person of Nigel Farage, back in the boozer from noon on 4 July, the first day they were allowed to open in England, uttering out loud that a pint was a “patriotic duty”, as unaware of his own absurdity as a dog with its head stuck in a bucket… The debate travelled along the same faultlines as the bizarro fights before it – vegan sausage rolls, moderately tasty or an insult to real men? Blue passports, a waste of energy or the peak of true Britishness? Pubs-as-identities collided in the person of Tim Martin, the combative founder and chairman of Wetherspoons, ardent Brexiter, believer in herd-immunity, defender of the boozer. His pubs became a muster point for an economy-first, libertarian, anti-mask, it’s-just-the-flu worldview.

From our point of view, it’s frustrating to hear people arguing that if you don’t feel like going to the pub right now, you must be a closet temperance campaigner, a snob, or both. There are lots of good reasons you might choose not to go; and lots of reasons you might personally decide it’s a risk worth taking. But the idea that’s it’s somehow a political decision, rather than one based on the objective facts of a rampant and dangerous disease, is baffling.

A sea of wooden casks.

We enjoyed Roger Protz’s notes on wood-aged beers, which made us want to track down some of the mixed-fermentation beers from one of our local breweries:

Wiper and True, founded in 2012 in Bristol, has built a Barrel Store close to the brewery. The store enables the brewery to produce oak-aged beers and this summer it launched two beers made by mixed fermentation. Wort – the sugary extract produced during the mashing stage – is produced in the brewery then transferred to the Barrel Store where fermentation takes place in oak, using Brettanomyces and Cerberus yeast cultures – Cerberus is a strain widely used, in the U.S. in particular, to make sour beers, a modern interpretation of Belgian Lambic… The two beers are Narrow Sea, based on the Belgian Saison style, and Hinterland, a 7.3 per cent IPA brewed with Citra, Ekuanot, Loral and Simcoe hops. Could this be akin to the IPAs sent to the Raj in India in the Victorian period?

Bog myrtle.

For Good Beer Hunting, Eoghan Walsh reports on new interest in gruit, a mix of herbs used to flavour and preserve beer in the days before hops became ubiquitous. His article is built around a report of gruit beer festival in Münster, in northern Germany:

Münster seems an unlikely home for a new generation of German brewing radicals. It has none of the historical brewing cachet of its neighbors Cologne and Düsseldorf to the west, nor the urban edge of Berlin’s new wave craft beer scene to the east, nevermind the internationally celebrated traditions of Bavaria to the south. But once upon a time, Münster was home to a thriving brewing center, plugged into a pre-modern, northern European gruit-making culture where the people in control of the gruit demurred only to bishops and mayors… What went into a particular gruit mixture was determined by geography and climate, but the basic components were largely the same: bog myrtle as a primary ingredient in addition to yarrow, wild rosemary, caraway, juniper, wormwood and whatever other herbs and spices were indigenous or available to a gruit maker.

Elland 1872 porter pump-clip.

We continue to enjoy the single-beer personal essay as a form and Pellicle keeps commissioning them. The latest is Neil Walker’s piece on Elland 1872 Porter:

It was 2006 and we were in Headingley, undergraduates at Leeds University, and unbeknown to us enjoying one of our last gatherings in this pub when smoking was permitted… Thin white ribbons of smoke rising from ashtrays on a busy bar, dotted with pints and short wine glasses, a gentle haze across the room as shafts of light hit the fog in the air… The setting of our meeting—one last beer before what felt like an unnecessarily long hibernation away from this newfound family—moved me to look towards the darker, stronger end of the beer list, finally settling on a pint of Elland Brewery’s 1872 Porter. I was only meant to be staying for one, but even before the intensely smoky, port-decanter aroma hit me, I knew I was in for something special.

Keg taps.

For Ferment, the promo mag for beer subscription service Beer52, Anthony Gladman writes about the bad habits of ‘beer wankers’ and how they limit the growth of the craft beer market:

“The majority of people I know don’t go into craft beer places,” says Sanj [Deveraj]. He tells me attitudes of those inside are just too off-putting. “The term craft beer wanker exists for a reason.”

“I’ve seen it so many times. I used to work in The Rake and someone would come in and go ‘what lagers do you do?’ and they would get laughed at.” When I ask who was laughing, Sanj tells me it was the bar staff. Let’s consider that for a moment. A customer being belittled by a member of staff in the hospitality industry. Hospitality. You see what’s wrong here, don’t you?


Ron Pattinson continues to explore the footnotes and dead-ends of beer history, this time providing detailed notes on a beer style that doesn’t really count as beer, and that you never hear anybody raving about:

“If sweetener-sweetened beer owes its origin to the war, sugar-sweetened Malzbier (Karamelbier) appeared around 16 years earlier. The original method of production, which is still used, consists, if it is bottled beer, of adding sugar to the beer after fermentation (vat fermentation), then it is filled into bottles and, after sufficient sediment has formed, further fermentation is prevented by pasteurisation… The formation of sediment can be accelerated by the application of heat, which is often done, and can easily be carried out in such a way that the bottles are either brought into warm rooms or straight into the pasteurisers, which have been appropriately warmed up.” – Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung by Dr. Franz Schönfeld

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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