News, nuggets and longreads 6 February 2021 | Brixton, Brighton, blandness

Here’s everything about pubs and beer from the past week that told us something we didn’t know, made us pause and think or simply entertained us. It includes pieces on the blanding of beer and the impossibility of ever really, truly tasting stout.

First, a small news story, updating a big one from a couple of years back. In 2017, Heineken acquired a big stake in Brixton Brewery; this week, it took on the remaining 51% and thus full ownership. The interesting detail is in the statement Brixton’s management issued:

There’s no denying the fact that the next few years will be challenging for many reasons, so we’re happy to have the opportunity to secure the future of Brixton Brewery for our team, our families, our community and fans of our beers, who’ve been hugely supportive of our success.

In other words, it’s been prompted by COVID-19 instability. We can probably expect more of those 49/50 ‘partnerships’ to crystallise into full takeovers, can’t we?

Meanwhile, at Ferment the Rich, Oli has thoughts, with the promise of more to come:

Put simply: to Heineken, what Brixton represented was a brand that was literally representative of a specific location, which came with all of the esteemed historical attachments and cultural signifiers of its namesake in both the local and national British psyche. A piece of London that they could buy… The brewery’s claims to its being firmly situated in Brixton as a place is obvious from its branding. Each bottle and can bears ‘LDN SW9’, while the brewery’s logo, which takes inspiration from the local arcades’ art-deco style is emblazoned with the words ‘SOUTH LONDON’. And, while the main brewery is now technically inside neighbouring postcode SE24, the business’ branding aims to retain its authentic Brixton identity through the more recognizable postcode maintained by its commitment to its original location maintained by its SW9 railway arch taproom.

A Hall of Fame in the USA.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has produced a crowdsourced list of beers that might feature in a ‘hall of fame’. He got enough responses to do some interesting slicing and dicing of the numbers:

A majority of you chose a descendant the most successful extant example of the first international style (porter), and an equal number of the originator of the second international style (pilsner). A lot of you also noted the importance of hops in our current marketplace, and either chose the original pale ale (Bass) or the one most responsible for launching the American style (Sierra Nevada). After that, there’s a pretty big drop-off, but a logic is emerging. You favor classics of a style that have been around a long time and are regularly regarded as exceptional beers.

The bar at the Evening Star.
SOURCE: Grace Helmer/Pellicle.

Phil Mellows has, like most of us, been yearning for pubs and has written a piece about The Evening Star in Brighton for Pellicle, reflecting on its history and place in the rise of British craft beer:

[Many] chose the Evening Star for their first post-lockdown pint of cask. While the pub stayed open, before tiers and lockdowns forced it to close again, it was hard to find a socially-distanced table… “They know it’s guaranteed to be good,” Mark explains. “Drinkers understand the quality here and that’s down to all the work people have done here in the past.”… The Star has maintained that reputation with hardly a flicker over nearly three decades. It brightens a drab little street rumbling with motor traffic parallel to the main road where, on sunny days, the DFLs (Down From London) parade from the station to the sea, oblivious to the pub that hides behind the hoarding advertising Taboo.

Text illustration: LAGER

The Beer Nut has observed a phenomenon that has emerged as breweries learn to trade during pandemic lockdowns – a new focus on lager:

Ahh, The Pivot. With no sign of pubs re-opening any time soon, the breweries who relied on the draught trade have had to small-pack their beers in order to sell them. It’s entirely understandable and much better than the alternative. Today’s post is three lagers, at least two of which, I suspect, owe their existence to The Pivot.

Boddington's advertisement from the 1980s: 'Everybody Loves someboddies sometimes.'

At Shut Up About Barclay Perkins Ron Pattinson has turned his great brain and even greater knowledge of the archives to a question we’ve nibbled at in this past – when and why did Boddington’s Bitter lose its distinctive and much-loved quality?

Boddington really upped their output in the 1970s. In 1973 and 1974 they added new 500 barrel fermenters. As their brew length was 125 barrels, it meant they needed to make four brews to fill these vessels. They did retain the 125 barrel and 260 barrel fermenters they already had. In April 1977 they changed their brewhouse as the brew length increased to 250 barrels. Though they did for a time to continue to brew on the older, smaller plant. The new brew house coincided with the change in the recipe where the wheat and maize were dropped.

In the same series (there are five or six posts and counting) he wonders more generally why British beer got blander in the 1980s, making the excellent point that you could put all of this down to nostalgia and fings-ain’t-wot-they-used-to-beism if Harvey’s Sussex Best didn’t exist in all its mad glory.

A pint of stout.

For Craft Beer & Brewing Randy Mosher has written about the psychology behind our perceptions of the flavour of stout:

In the case of stouts, the sensory elephant in the glass is color. We’re supremely visual creatures. If we see something meaningful, our brains will try to find a way to support it even if it’s not actually there. This has been studied over and over in many contexts, and it’s inescapable. The wine people have just given up, often judging red wines in black glasses to avoid polluting their evaluations with erroneous visual cues… There is relatively little we can learn from the appearance of a beer. As Michael Lewis, the legendary brewing-science professor of UC Davis, is fond of saying, “Color is not a flavor outcome.” This is doubly true for stouts. Dark color is highly correlated by our experience with roasted and even burnt things and, of course, chocolate and coffee.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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