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News, nuggets and longreads 24 October 2020: Existential crisis

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from despair to… well, more despair, mainly.

With some pubs trading as per the new normal, others facing restrictions and many forced to close altogether, there’s palpable sense of despair and frustration in the industry. The rules aren’t clear, they don’t always seem to make sense (substantial food offerings) and even the new government support on offer doesn’t seem to provide much hope.

Veteran pub manager Mars Pascale, currently based in Manchester, provides a raw, emotional readout of how it feels trying to make a living selling beer in this climate:

And what the bar staff are thinking? I think they’re probably thinking why did I have to come on my own and occupy a whole table just for myself, and I think to tell them don’t worry, I drink a lot, but then again, I’m a slow drinker, I’m good on the long run, I can’t stay here for hours anymore… And isn’t it what I think when working the bar myself? Is he/she going to spend money for two at least, are the takings today going to justify me being here, my pay, my work, my job…? And everything feels so mechanical, take the order, deliver to the table, try not to stop in between, go to the door, do your track and trace, hand over a menu, show them the table, take the order, deliver to the table…

On a similar note, Mark Johnson, whose partner runs a pub, provides a snapshot of how people are feeling and the boiling resentment behind the entire conversation:

I look at my mate who works in a bar, smiling through a final night of socialising in the pub. Pubs mean everything to them. They love their job but there might not be one to come back to. “I have £27 in my bank,” they reveal to me later on, through a forced smile… Those that have raised the issues of mental health detriment this year by restrictions haven’t considered the impact on the workers in this industry.

Finally, the Pub Curmudgeon offers a clear summary of the problem of forcing pubs to trade under new rules and regulations:

If people have a compelling reason to go to the pub, then they may still be willing to jump through the hoops, although of course now across large swathes of the country you can’t even meet up with anyone outside your own household. But that swift pint on spec – forget it… It’s all very well saying that people should support pubs, but if the experience has been turned from something pleasurable to a grim rigmarole it becomes increasingly hard to see the attraction. And most ordinary people go to pubs because they enjoy it, not out of a sense of duty.

We’ll say it again: people mixing indoors and sharing air is a problem; pubs are one place where that happens, like it or not; and all the sanitiser in the world won’t change that. The Government needs to step up and make it feasible for pubs to close without closing for good, or throwing their staff under the bus.


A cat outside the craft pint.

SOURCE: Suzy Aldridge.

We were delighted to see a new post from Suzy Aldridge, even if it is a sad one. She is pissed off that BrewDog has chosen this moment to expand its “industrial McCraft” bar operation into her home city of Lincoln:

It’s not you, Brewdog, it’s me. Entirely irrationally this feels like a very personal punch in the gut… The Crafty Bottle, the independent bottle shop on The Strait that I put my heart and soul into for the past four years was, amongst a multitude of small businesses in Lincoln, a victim of the pandemic. I weeped at the prospect of not returning there after lockdown even though The Strait and the beer industry were not going to be the same places I left. I’m outside of the beer industry now, literally walking past Small Beer on my way to work staring over like a small child at the window of a sweet shop.


Rothaus Pils

Somehow, even with all this going on, Tandleman has managed to get out and visit a place we’ve been curious about – the German Gymnasium at King’s Cross in London:

It is a fine imposing building with a large bar and tables downstairs and a galleried restaurant above. Surprisingly the choice of German beers is a bit limited, but with most of them coming from Rothaus, I wasn’t complaining. Pricey enough – but hey, I don’t eat out that often – certainly well below what E aspires to – so bugger the expense and well worth the cost for both food and drink.

We also agree with his judgement re: Camden Hells – it is a reliably decent lager.


A desert highway.

SOURCE: Losu Lopez at Unsplash.com

For the North American Guild of Beer Writers’ Reporter’s Notebook Beth Demmon writes about Mexico-US craft beer collaborations during a time when trade and borders are both restricted:

The Mexican state of Baja California is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the entire country’s cerveza artesenal, serving as home to multiple burgeoning homebrew clubs and cross-border initiatives such as Dos Californias Brewsters, a women’s beer group supported by the United States Consulate in Tijuana… Control over this typically fluid segment of the border tightened when COVID-19 hit North America in the spring of 2020, leading the governments of both countries to quash non-essential travel in late March, followed by the closure of so-called non-essential businesses like craft breweries.


Keg taps.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has begun the post-mortem already: what does the pandemic mean for beer culture in the long-run? He makes astute observations, asks good questions and draws a few tentative conclusions, too:

For the better part of a decade, breweries thrived on variety. It’s a safe bet that the median number of beers made by American breweries numbered a few dozen. What happens, however, when the channels to sell that variety collapse? … [Many] breweries have had to focus as their draft options dwindle. They no longer have taprooms with dozens of handles, and trying to package such a wide range for delivery or curbside sales doesn’t make sense.


Finally, from Twitter, an important reminder:

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

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