News and links 16 January 2021: Brains, pub names, the rise of craft beer

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that helped distract and entertain us in the past week, from Cardiff to cans.

First, commentary on a bit of news that we neglected as it landed over Christmas: Tandleman has thoughts on the sort-of-takeover of Brains by Marston’s. We say sort-of because this is another of those commercial arrangements that is hard to explain in plain English:

So what has happened? In short, Covid-19 has happened. Wales has been particularly hard hit by restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic causing “significant financial pressure” to Brains. The company had already concentrated business on a core number of  around 160 pubs with the remaining 40 or so being closed or sold off in March 2020.  Clearly this wasn’t enough to stave off problems, as this was followed by an announcement before Christmas that rival pub chain Marston’s was to take over on 25-year lease, 156 Brains pubs in a bid to save 1,300 jobs.  The deal includes a supply agreement to continue the availability of Brains brands in the pubs, which will be leased to Marston’s at an annual rent of £5.5 million. Brain’s managed houses will also be run by Marston’s.

And there are further thoughts, with contextual historical notes, from the Pub Curmudgeon:

Too many pubs now have beer ranges that are hard to distinguish from one another. Promoting the fact that Bloggs’ pubs are the best place to find Bloggs’ beers has to potential to create a unique selling proposition. It also must be noted that the integrated approach has been adopted by newer breweries such as Joule’s and Wye Valley who have built up significant tied estates that heavily feature their own beers. Clearly there is life in that model yet.

An A-board advertising craft beer.

Recent changes in the US brewery landscape have got Jeff Alworth thinking about the long-term success of the craft beer segment:

Beer used to be considered déclassé, beneath the attention of polite society. Now it’s served in every good restaurant. Big companies had enough money to keep craft out of expensive sports and entertainment venues, but it became too popular and ballparks and stadiums had to start offering it. Beer has also seeped into venues it never appeared before like movie theaters. Grocery stores and gas stations sell growlers. Beer is everywhere, and that beer is overwhelmingly the various varieties of craft beer… We beer fans may overestimate the average drinker’s knowledge of terpenes or fermentation techniques, but grab a typical pubgoer and send them back in time and they’d know more than most ‘experts’ did in 1986.

Greene King sign

At the end of a year when a much-needed debate about symbols of slavery and racism got a bit lost amid a moral panic over statues, Greene King has decided to rename some of its pubs:

The pub company and brewer is renaming three pubs currently called The Black Boy, in Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury and Shinfield, as well as the Black’s Head, in Wirksworth… The decision to change the name follows detailed consultation with a range of stakeholders and thorough research of the pubs’ histories… While the pub name ‘Black Boy’ exists throughout the country, there is not a consensus on its origins and many of those consulted felt the name to be offensive and discriminatory.

SOURCE: Emma Inch/Pellicle.

For Pellicle Emma Inch has profiled a brewery we’ve never heard of – Good Things of East Sussex. What makes this particular brewery newsworthy? (Always a good question to ask.) In this case, it’s the environmental mission around which it is built:

Along with childhood friend Russ Wheildon [Chris Drummond] initially set up Crafted Crate, a beer subscription service. Through this, the pair visited hundreds of breweries right across the country, gaining their unique insight into the brewing industry.

“We found every time we left a brewery, we were writing down notes like ‘okay, yeah, love the way they did that. Perhaps a little change and we could make this more sustainable’ and that just kind of got us into the process, got us into brewing,” Chris says.

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

For Ferment, the magazine that accompanies a beer subscription service, Matt Curtis has written about regional character in beer, as a foretaste of a longer work in progress:

With the rise of craft beer… came a gradual move to a greater amount of homogeneity, as brewers attempted to recreate the most in-vogue styles at their own breweries. As brewing equipment and processes improved – as did communication with the rise of the internet, meaning a new recipe or idea can be shared with another brewer on the other side of the world in seconds – so did this march towards uniformity… I can’t escape the feeling that in a regression from regionality, we’re losing something that makes beer truly special.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

(We will never get bored of shots of old skool classic beers in cans; it’s just funny.)

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

One reply on “News and links 16 January 2021: Brains, pub names, the rise of craft beer”

It’s a great article on Good Things. They’re a decent local brewery, releasing some highly drinkable versions of reliable favourites rather than chasing customers with novelty styles, multiple adjuncts or the latest craze. Other than their highly respectable environmental credentials the other thing that makes them stand out is their excellent customer service – they really try to look after regular customers, which lots of breweries do but there’s something about their style which just feels sincere.

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