News, nuggets and longreads 22 May 2021: war, capitalism, reckonings

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck as notable in the past week, from Przemysl to Zoigl.

In the wake of the recent expose via Instagram of sexual harassment in, primarily, the US beer industry, Siobhan is calling for stories from those working in the UK. Again, Instagram is the medium. Already, you can see why this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often in the UK, though: some people are naming breweries and individuals and those stories are being contested by others who were involved. While we can understand the desire to see names named, legally, it’s tricky – and we feel slightly nervous even linking to the Instagram story. What’s more important, arguably, is the universality of the experiences – sleazy older managers abusing their power; junior-ranking and/or early-career women feeling powerless and vulnerable; businesses whose HR function hasn’t kept up with their growth; and a belief in the principle that ‘the customer is always right’ leading to inaction when action is clearly called for.

A Zoigl star in Bavaria.
SOURCE: Tempest in a Tankard.

At Tempest in a Tankard Franz D. Hofer writes about the German beer tradition of Zoigl – what is it, really, and why does it matter?

Suffice it to say, Zoigl is much more than a kind of beer. Rather, it’s a cultural drinking experience like no other. It starts with the way Zoigl is brewed and extends to the convivial atmosphere of the Zoiglstube, a living room-like tavern where locals and out-of-towners gather to drink Zoigl beer that the proprietor serves straight from the cellar. Just look for the six-pointed star (Zoiglstern) hung outside of houses that are serving beer on that particular day… Zoigl begins life in the communal brewhouse, a brewing arrangement that dates back to the late Middle Ages. There, residents in possession of historic brewing rights take turns brewing beer that they’ll serve for a few days every month in their Zoiglstuben. Zoigl brewers fire the brewhouse with wood and cool their brew overnight in coolships. Early the next morning they haul it away in a special tank trailer for fermentation in their own cellars, often in open vessels. After several weeks of lagering, they serve their beer unfiltered and on draft straight from the lagering vessels. The result: a Kellerbier par excellence.

Craft beer shop

For Burum Collective Katie Mather gets into the heavy stuff: craft beer and ethical capitalism. She writes:

I have worked in marketing for over a decade, and in that time I’ve developed a talent for sniffing out social justice paint jobs. This in turn has allowed cynicism to grow where it’s not welcome — I desperately want to see beer businesses working to bring good into the industry, and to banish what’s rotten, and to believe that this is being done for the benefit of everyone who interacts with the industry. It’s difficult to see how anything that operates within a capitalist society could survive without adopting capitalist goals — and now I’ve started my own business, I’ve had to look at what exactly it is that I can achieve that works for good, while admitting I am aiming to turn a profit to support myself and my family.

A Belgian cafe

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh writes about being almost, but not quite, back at a favourite bar:

There it is. My usual spot. I can almost see it, there on the other side of the window. The scuffed green leather of the wooden bench. The dull brass cymbals hanging from the ceiling above the wobbly old table. I can almost hear my hips creak as they navigate the gap between bench and table. I can almost imagine the view, from the scratched blackboard above the brushed zinc of the bar and out through the blue window frame to the mass of tables under a rubenesque summer sky. Almost. But not quite. Instead, I’m on the outside looking in.

A pint of stout.

In the post-Brexit age, there’s something oddly resonant in Ron Pattinson’s account of the challenge of supplying Northern Ireland with beer during World War II:

The position of the Republic of Ireland was a weird one. It was neutral but, due to its proximity to the UK, couldn’t avoid the impact of the war… The trouble kicked off early in 1942, when the Irish government indicated that no licences would be issued for the export of Guinness unless the UK exported 200,000 tons of wheat to Ireland. The wheat was needed as Ireland was running short of grains for making bread… The short-term solution was to use 20,000 tons of barley which would have been used to brew beer for export and divert it to bread production. And to ban beer exports… This presented a huge problem for Northern Ireland, where between 70% and 80% of the beer sold was Guinness.

A random scattering of hops.

At Beer Food Travel Liam continues to mine the archives to paint a picture of hop-growing in Ireland with parts two and three of his chronicle, bringing us up to the present day:

What is very evident in all of this is how much we have forgotten of our hop-growing history – even those relatively recent forays into the industry. This is partially because regardless of the large-sounding acreage mentioned at times in these posts we really were operating on a tiny scale compared to other countries, but we did do it, and that is worth recording… The other reason we have forgotten so much is because we are poor curators of our edible and drinkable history. Perhaps too many history writers prefer to wallow in the endless tragedy of death, revolution and oppression than look behind those tall walls of woe into how we lived, what we ate or drank, and what we grew on our small island? I’m not sure, but I would argue we could and should do both.

We’re in a golden age for this kind of research; if you have a subscription to one or more newspaper archives, or a library card, you don’t have to take anyone’s word for it when it comes to the story of beer and brewing in your nation, county or town.

The phrases ‘untold’ and ‘forgotten’ are overused in blurb about historical writing – archivists and academic historians often tut disapprovingly and point at the work they’ve been doing for years. But, still, it does feel as if Gary Gillman is doing something important in marshalling information about the Jewish-owned breweries of Eastern Europe:

The JewishGen site reproduces the entry for Przemysl in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II. This contains a good history of the city from a Jewish standpoint, and records the dire situation of the community in the 1930s, apart from the factories mentioned… This economic travail resulted from general interwar slump (1920s inflation, 1930s world depression), heavy taxation, anti-Semitic government actions, and the city’s inability to recover its prewar position in the field of military construction and supply. Many Jews had earned a living in that sector, and it substantially dried up between the wars… People were being squeezed, with many Jews departing for other cities in Poland or outside. One wonders what would have happened had the war not intervened, but anyway it did. It completely and forever destroyed the rich texture of Jewish life in the city and elsewhere in Poland.

Finally, from Twitter, a 20th century pub we’ve often swooned over:

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