News, nuggets and longreads 6 March 2021: Trans Europe Express

Here’s everything about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, amounting to the bones of a pleasing jaunt around Continental Europe.

First, something that always cheers us up: news of a pub that had seemed doomed springing back to life. The Magdala Tavern in Hampstead has been closed for seven years. It’s famous as the place where, in 1955, Ruth Ellis committed the murder that led to her being the last woman hanged in Britain. Having been awarded asset of community value status in 2015, several attempts to rebuild and develop have been swerved, and now local man Dick Morgan is taking it on with plans to tidy it up and reopen later this year.

Social distancing in the pub.

Another interesting bit of news: all that checking in and QR code scanning we did last summer? Probably pointless, it turns out:

Data from hundreds of millions of check-ins by people who visited pubs, restaurants and hairdressers before lockdown was barely used by Test and Trace, according to a confidential report obtained by Sky News… The report admits that the failure of the £22bn service to use the data for alerts or contact tracing meant “thousands of people” were not warned they might be at risk of infection, “potentially leading to the spread of the virus.”

Track and trace is an essential part of tackling a pandemic but here, through mismanagement, was reduced to part of the theatre of safety.

Macro image: 'Hops' with illustration of hop cones, 1970s.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has written an in-depth piece about how successful hop varieties earn the names by which we consumers eventually know them:

Agronomics represent the second and equally important challenge for a hop plant. It’s not enough for a variety to produce hops that taste sublime in an IPA. They must produce enough hops per acre (ten bales, or 2,000 pounds, seems to be the benchmark), grow well, and resist diseases. In some cases, an especially vigorous variety with similar traits to another are worth pursuing. “We certainly don’t need another hop variety that doesn’t yield well,” [hop breeder Michael] Ferguson said. “I don’t need another eight-bale Cascade. I’ll take another 15-bale Cascade!” In order to produce a viable commercial hop, the cultivar must have qualities that make it perform as well in the field as it does in the glass. 

Gary Gillman at Beer et seq. has unearthed an interesting historical brewing figure – the Polish aristocrat Róża Maria Augusta Tarnowska. She was, he reveals, the subject of news coverage in 1896:

She was visiting a brewery in Berlin to learn details of pneumatic malting, as she wanted to install this in her brewery. She grew her own barley on “large acreage” and couldn’t get sufficient labour to work a traditional floor maltings (is the implication)… The story stated she sent samples of her beer to the German brewer, who pronounced them equal to the best German and Bohemian beer. The report added, she was believed to be “the only woman brewer in Europe”.

Further research required, it seems. (I knew learning Polish would come in handy one day. – Jess.)

Früh am dom

At Tempest in a Tankard Franz D. Hofer provides a pen portrait of a Cologne beer hall:

One such place is Früh am Dom… a rambling collection of discrete spaces that are almost like beer galleries. Some are dark, some lit by daylight streaming in from large windows, others lit by skylights… Not long after opening his top-fermenting brewery in 1904, Peter Josef Früh secured himself a place in the history of Kölsch. Früh was among the first brewers in Cologne to filter his beers. He is also reputed to have dialed back the hopping rate of his beers to set them apart from the indigenous hoppy-bitter Wiess beers (not to be confused with Weissbier). This latter move arguably ushered in a trend in the direction of softer, rounder beers.


For Ferment, the promo mag for a beer subscription service, Eoghan Walsh has produced a fantastic A to Z of Belgian beer – a hint of a book project to be?

E is for Elephants. Belgian brewers don’t like to talk about marketing. Ask any of the old guard and they’ll tell you it’s what’s in the bottle that counts and not what’s on the bottle. But you don’t build a global brand – and Belgian beer is still a global brand – without knowing a thing or two about marketing. And of all the Belgian brewery mascots created to hawk beer, probably the most recognisable are the pink elephants of Brouwerij Huyghe and its Delirium Tremens beers.

American porter caps on a historic map of the US.

Al Reece at Fuggled is digging into something we didn’t know we wanted to know: what is ‘robust porter’ really meant to be?

Once upon a time, according to the BJCP at least, there were 3 types of porter, brown, robust, and Baltic. Baltic porter is, putting on my product manager hat for a moment, out of scope for this particular conversation/project, so really I am thinking about brown and robust… When you look at the 2008 BJCP guidelines for Porter, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the difference between brown and robust was largely based on the side of the Pond your drink came from.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s proof that interesting historical information on pubs still lurks in unexpected places:

For more good reading have a look at Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.

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