News, nuggets and longreads 29 May 2021: Sahti, Grodziskie, Polish porter

Here’s everything interesting about beer and pubs we spotted and bookmarked in the past week, from bottle shops to brewing in Finland.

Two weeks into reopening of pubs for indoor drinking, there’s been a lot of talk about staff shortages in hospitality. We first noticed this not through Beer Twitter but via LinkedIn, of all places, as individuals raised red flags about their own ability to recruit. It’s now been reported at various places from Beer Today to the BBC:

Latest figures from global recruitment firm Broadbean Technology found that in April, vacancies in UK hospitality soared 77% from the previous month. However, compared with April 2020, the number of applications slumped 82%… “The decline in application numbers is a concern and could hinder the growth of the hospitality sector in the immediate future,” said Broadbean’s managing director Alex Fourlis… He said that, as work dried up during the pandemic many people chose to leave the sector and firms now face a challenge enticing them back… But he added: “Perhaps more concerningly, though, this drop in applications follows the UK’s exit from the EU and potentially suggests that Brexit has had a long-lasting impact on hospitality.”

The shelves in a bottle shop

For Pellicle Neil Walker has picked up a thread from conversations that have taken place over the past few months – what’s it like to run an independent beer shop in England in 2021?

I’m not alone in tracing my journey in beer back to stepping through the small wooden doors of Beer Ritz… This was why the news in July 2020 that its shop in Headingley was closing came as a gut punch. Even a well-loved shop such as this is not immune to the difficulties of making a living selling beer in the UK, with sales increasingly moving online, and supermarkets undercutting prices at every opportunity… The void in pricing between supermarkets and bottle shops is forcing independents out of business, and long-term could even reduce the range of beers available to us drinkers.

Lager beer in the 19th century.

At Good Beer Hunting historian Brian Alberts tells the story of how lager ended up on trial in 19th century America:

“It may burst a man, but it will not make him drunk.” So said Solomon Keyser’s expert witness. The Petersburg, Virginia saloon owner stood trial in summer 1855 for keeping a disorderly beer hall, a fancy way of saying he’d sold Lager beer the wrong way and violated local liquor laws. But the public wasn’t really interested in what Keyser had or hadn’t done. The real defendant in his tria – and the actual mystery everyone wanted to solve—was Lager beer itself. Keyser’s defense was straightforward, if a little strange. He claimed that liquor laws didn’t really apply to him because those laws regulated intoxicating beverages, and that Lager beer – the only alcoholic beverage he sold – didn’t intoxicate.

This line – that you couldn’t really get drunk on lager – was one we came across when researching our own short book Gambrinus Waltz, about the rise of lager in 19th century London. It’s interesting to contrast that with the panic, a hundred years later, over lager louts.

SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

It was a treat to spot a new post from Lars Marius Garshol in the feed this week. In it, the author of Historical Brewing Techniques: the lost art of farmhouse brewing provides a glimpse into the world of Olavi Viheroja, a 70-year-old “known for being the most successful brewer in the history of the Finnish sahti championship”:

Once everything was in the fermentor, Olavi was ready to add the hops. He took a small saucepan full of hot water, adding one handful of hops to it. Tuula interjected that “I use two handfuls, since my hands are smaller.” Then Olavi used the lid as a filter and poured all the water out. So he was basically just scalding the hops in water to sanitize them. Then the hops were dropped into the fermentor, effectively dry-hopping his sahti. This handful of hops was the only spice of any kind added at any point… The fermentor had no lid, but was covered with a white blanket, which [his daughter] Tuula said was called kaljasaavinpeitto. Literally ‘beer cover’ or ‘beer blanket’. She chuckled and added that “if a woman’s shirt is really ugly you can say it looks like a kaljasaavinpeitto”. Sadly, throughout the rest of the trip I never had occasion to make use of the word.

Old map of Warsaw
SOURCE: Baedeker.

Gary Gillman continues to explore Eastern Europe, this week shining a light on an English-owned porter brewery in Warsaw:

[The] Hall brewery… endured for much of the 19th century. One advert claimed a founding year of 1821. This is credible as in 1822 a Polish journal of news and opinion, Rozmaitosci, mentioned the brewery… At various times, porter, double stout, double beer (which probably was stout), mild ale, March beer, and a malt extract are advertised. Perhaps the last was a no- or low-alcohol beer… No lager – as such – is mentioned, no pale ale. The ad from 1885 reads in part: “Porter double Stout, Gorzki. Piwo Angielskie, mild Ale, slodkie.” So, the porter is ‘bitter’, or gorzki, the English mild ale ‘sweet’, or slodkie. The address is given as 72 Nowolipie Street in Warsaw. During WW II Nowolipie was in the Nazi-dictated Jewish ghetto, as Nowolipie was mostly a Jewish district before the war. There seems no Jewish connection to the Halls themselves, however.

We’d be surprised if Martyn Cornell doesn’t cover this in his upcoming book on porter and stout which, as far as we can tell, is going to be a bit of a beast.

Piwo Grodziskie

Kevin Kain, meanwhile, has found a niche writing in loving detail about the vessels from which we drink our beer. His latest piece is on the distinctive but rarely seen Grodziskie glass:

In its heyday, some compared Grodziskie to Champagne, perhaps in an attempt to elevate its status. It did have a somewhat similar profile relating to color, clarity, and effervescence. Grodziskie was referred to as the “Champagne of Poland”, and the glasses that became associated with it in many ways resembled Champagne glasses of that era. They’re also quite similar to certain Pilsner glass styles. The similarity between these was so great that they were commonly listed next to each other in catalogs… Some historic examples include a groove feature at the bottom of the glass, which was common in glassware in the early 1900s. These are referred to in the German catalogs as “Rippen-Schliff” and “Pflaumecken”, which Google translates to “rib-cut” and “plum wedges” respectively.

Of course having seen Kevin’s pictures, we must now have one for our collection.

Finally, from Twitter, via Nick Goodwin, an interesting initiative to promote local pubs from Sevenoaks District Council:

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