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News, nuggets and longreads 10 October 2020: architecture, yeast culture, the nature of time

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that’s caught our attention in the past week, from looming Lockdown 2 to the philosophy of yeast.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the same grim news cycle, fretting over restrictions on pub opening hours and the possibility of their total closure for another stretch, as the UK Government struggles to keep COVID-19 under control. If the capricious paywall will let you read it, this summary of the debate from Chris Giles and Alice Hancock at the Financial Times is helpful:

Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said that in the UK, the “concrete evidence was a little bit thin”, but that was more because everyone was understandably “panicking in a pandemic” rather than setting up studies that would provide proof… “Trying to tease out evidence from noise is not an exact science,” he said, “but based on pragmatic thinking and given what we know about superspreading events . . . pubs and restaurants are where some outbreaks are seeded”.

With tighter restrictions due to be rolled out on Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced yet another package of support for business, this time focused on those legally obliged to close, or to switch to a takeaway collection or delivery model.

It includes payment of a proportion of wages for furloughed staff and an increase in the size of cash grants available. So, somewhat helpful for pubs but, as others have pointed out, not much to use breweries or other industries reliant on pubs.

To echo points we made in our monthly newsletter a few weeks ago, we agree that it’s unfair to “blame pubs” – the Government needs to own this. At the same time, we do feel fairly sure that the biggest risk is people mixing indoors; pubs aren’t the only place that happens but, sorry, they’re simply not as important as schools; and closing or restricting pubs is justified based on the evidence we have. But that ought to come with the necessary support, both from Government and from drinkers who are able to buy takeaway.


We like this piece from Newcastle brewery Wylam on the closure of its taproom because it’s full of hard detail on the economics of running a brewing-hospitality business in 2020:

[Over] the past four weeks since the further tightening of restrictions… we have seen the following reduction in the year on year trade at our Tap Room:


Sept week 1 minus 36%

Sept week 2 minus 55% – Rule of 6 announced

Sept week 3 minus 79% – 10pm curfew announced

Sept week 4 minus 84% – Illegal to drink with anyone outside your household [in the North East of England]

Illustration: 'Yeast'.

At Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymus has, as always, been connecting dots and asking thought-provoking questions. This time, inspired by a piece by Clare Bullen, he’s got us reflecting on yeast culture or, rather, the culture around yeast:

Until 1980, a guard at the Carlsberg brewery gate in Copenhagen handed out small quantities from a “yeast tower” to locals who asked… “The old founder of Carlsberg knew that this sharing of yeast was a fundamental ‘law’ and security for any brewhouse. Imagine that your yeast went wrong and you did not have the possibility to get I from another brewery. In other words, there is a strong relationship between cultivating yeast, keeping the culture healthy and distributing the risk,” [Per] Kølster wrote.

Brussels architecture

Belgium’s beer is beautiful and distinctive. Its architecture is… not universally admired, shall we say. At Belgian Smaak, Breandán Kearney explores the “shared strangeness” of these two worlds:

Taste in design is subjective, of course, but it seems what people see as ugly in Belgium is its violently extreme patchwork of architecture, a kind of chaotic diversity that is challenging for the human mind to process and which it happens is not unlike the idiosyncratic nature of its beers… In fact, some of the words used by visitors to Belgium to describe its architecture—quirky, characterful, complex, and intense—are the exact same words used by many beer enthusiasts to describe the country’s beer.

A pub clock.

For Good Beer Hunting Evan Rail wonders what will happen when we run out of historic beer styles to revive, and whether the concept of history even makes sense:

If we keep resuscitating these previously extinct historic beer styles, we will run out of them—unless, of course, some contemporary beer styles also disappear along the way. It’s not hard to foresee the extinction of Amber Ale, Brown Ale or even Black IPA. Some of us can even imagine the complete and total disappearance of Milkshake IPAs… Some of us think about the extirpation of Milkshake IPAs a lot.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this reminder that all sorts of stuff goes on in pubs:

For more good reading, with commentary, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up of beer news notes.

5 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 10 October 2020: architecture, yeast culture, the nature of time”

I’ve said, as have no doubt many, from the first this started that you have to look to the politics … and that is why whenever they are challenged they do not answer, obfuscate, accuse, evade, blame, or announce yet another globe-beating, ramping up, with often Johnsonian-style motion and bluster …

The political priorities being what have been set, as to what has to be kept open (whatever the nexus there may be with transmission rates, and infection), there’s not a lot else other than public transport, and the wider hospitality and entertainment industries.

It is not of course a single axis – many who go out to shop will almost certainly include a tea, coffee, snack, lunch, or pub stop as part of that. And will have been mixing, judging even by the limited numbers around in central London, Amersham, Chesham, Harlow Mill, and London main line stations – to name just a few of the places I’ve been recently with many at relatively close quarters.

I wonder also if the age range differences might be explained by ‘dwell-time’ for the different stops.

There are those who will go out for a lunch-time, afternoon, or evening to the pub (even all three), and indeed some I know may linger for 5 to 6 hours, often in the same pub. Others may move between several pubs. Many others it’s observable come for a drink, possibly two or three, and stay for maybe an hour, or possibly two. Lunch stops, including a snack or even a meal, are likely no more than an hour or 90 minutes.

Behaviour – ‘dwell time’ – in cafes, restaurants and the like – may well be different …

So the key questions, given what has happened so far with the increased restrictions, 10pm close, table service, physical distancing between tables, screens, etc., etc., don’t seem to be answered other than by a Michael Howard-style ‘everyone knows’ that he used to trot out as a Tory leader and as home secretary ……

Have they shown how much of a reduction in cases their models show will result from various hospitality restrictions vs other restrictions? And how their model accounts for negative outcomes – such as increased house parties / gatherings, etc?

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I do not agree that pubs are less important than schools,pubs are part of a very important sector of the economy,without a properly functioning economy there will be no money for schools. Closing pubs does not help schools to remain open,their clientele are mutually exclusive. Coronavirus is a disease which is most harmful to the very old and/or very sick,the best means of defence against it for all is to let as many people as possible catch it whilst taking targeted steps to protect those who are most vulnerable.

The FT story also appeared in the Irish Times (no paywall) – although it’s worth pointing out that the line quoted is the conclusion of the article.

On a different note, that’s quite a picture. I know Bernard through the NW folk scene – never knew he’d rubbed shoulders with Bob Hoskins back in the day, or Ken Campbell for that matter.

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