News, nuggets and longreads 12 June 2021: BrewDog, Gateshead, Soviet beer

Here’s all the writing around beer, breweries and pubs that struck us as important or interesting in the past week, from breweries under scrutiny to pub life in Gateshead.

Undoubtedly the biggest story of the week was the open letter from former BrewDog employees to the Scottish brewery’s management, criticising its “culture of fear”. Eloquently expressed, calmly indignant and signed by more than a hundred individuals, it prompted a series of responses from BrewDog – clumsy, at first, then sinister (an invitation to current staff to sign a counter-letter) until a careful party line coalesced. The story went viral appearing on the BBC, Guardian and CNN, not to mention across the trade press. The story trended on Twitter in the UK for around 24 hours. Punks With Purpose, the campaign group, responded with a second open letter, refusing to let up the pressure. Martin Dickie, co-founder of BrewDog, issued his own separate statement via Instagram.

This story has its own momentum and it doesn’t feel to us that there’s much to be added by commentary from the sidelines, especially of the popcorn.gif variety. This shouldn’t be about gloating, entertainment or vindication – that original letter is what matters. We’ve all had bosses we didn’t like or worked at companies that were imperfect but how many of us have ever felt moved to band together with a hundred former colleagues to demand change?

The museum building.
SOURE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

At Brussels Beer City, Eoghan Walsh treats us to a long piece on the difficult birth of a new museum of Belgian beer:

Fear of corporate dominance was just one of the criticisms Belgian Beer World received following the July 2015 announcement. The activists who had strong-armed the city government into pedestrianising the central boulevards were turning their attention to what this new public space would look like, and who it would be for… Soon posters began appearing in windows decrying a “Disneyfication” of Brussels caused by a city administration as more interested in catering to tourists than the needs of local residents. In Belgian Beer World they saw the corporate privatisation of what was nominally a public space. The entrance steps to the Bourse were long used as a rallying point for protests, for the celebration of sporting triumphs, and in 2016 – in the wake of the Brussels terror attacks – as a spontaneous memorial. Public intellectuals like Lieven Van Cauter feared the building would abandon this civic role in its new guise, saying it was a project to make you vomit.

Women in a brewery.
SOURCE: Alexei Bryanov/TASS/Russia Beyond.

At Russia Beyond (hmm…) Anna Sorokina tells the story of the Soviet beer Zhigulevskoye, brewed in numerous places, to different recipes – a brand that became a style:

The shop and bar at the Zhigulevsky brewery in the city of Samara on the Volga River is always busy. At any given time, customers are enjoying a few beers, either inside or near the takeaway window outside, or they are milling around waiting for a fresh batch of their favorite brew to be served. The beer is delivered to the store via an underground pipe, and locals say that it is far superior to what is available in shops elsewhere since proper Zhigulevskoye beer cannot be stored for more than a couple of days… Despite a long queue, customers at the brewery shop are served quickly. Each customer eagerly removes the top from an empty bottle they have brought with them and hands it over to the shop assistant, who fills it with beer from a hose. The customer then quickly replaces the top before the foam begins to rise, and the shop assistant is already serving the next customer.

(Via @kmflett.)

Black letter on a stone beer mug.

Andreas Krennmair bought an old stone beer mug from one of his favourite breweries but was puzzled by the specific brand name printed on it. As any normal person would, he immediately embarked on several days’ worth of research to work out when it was manufactured:

The earliest person named Franz Köllerer that I was able to identify was Franz Seraphim Köllerer, born on Sept 14, 1839 in Schönram. The Köllerer family must have been reasonably wealthy, as Franz was able to attend grammar school in nearby Salzburg… Another sign of Franz Köllerer’s wealth is how well-travelled he was. Not only can his name be found in public records that he stayed in Salzburg, Linz and Graz several times during the 1860s and 1870s, a book titled Deutscher Parlaments-Almanach (German Parliament Almanac) credited him with having travelled abroad to Hungary, the principalities along the river Danube, Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Greece and Italy… “Why would he be mentioned in such a book?”, you wonder. Very simple: because he got elected as Member of Parliament to the German Reichstag in Berlin in 1874, for the district of Rosenheim, a role in which he served until he stepped down in 1877. According to Salzburger Chronik in 1874, he was “not a studied man” but a well-known man with a “healthy heart and mind from the midst of the German people”.

Low resolution image of a glass of water.

Jess has been reading How Bad Are Bananas? – the carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee and so we were interested to see a pair of posts (one | two) on sustainability in beer by Kelsey Picard at Science Made Beerable:

Brewing is a very water and energy-intensive process. On average, the entire production process of brewing will consume 60 kWh for every 100 litres of beer produced, which can be regarded as a significant contributor of greenhouse gases… Water is used in every step of the brewing process, but only a small amount actually makes it into the final product. Inside the average brewhouse, it takes 8L of water to produce 1L of beer. At less efficient breweries, the ratio can go as high as 13L to one. Cleaning uses the most water; 4-10L per L of beer, and additional water is needed for cooling and packaging. Much of the water used in breweries is lost to evaporation or is simply sent down the drain… Where breweries are sourcing their water, how much they are using and what they do with it after makes a big difference to the sustainability of a beer. Australian craft breweries are increasingly installing water meters at various sections of the operation to reduce water consumption during the beer production process as well as recovering water throughout the brewing process to be used in cleaning processes that do not require high quality water… This 8L of water per 1L beer usage doesn’t account for the irrigation and chitting of the barley or growing hops. 

You’ll notice a mention of BrewDog in there which has sparked a thought in our minds about how much easier it might be for consumers to assess a brewery’s green credentials than some vague notion of its decency.

The Three Tuns
SOURCE: JThomas/Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0

For Esquire, would you believe, Chris Stokel-Walker has written about a community rallying round to keep The Three Tuns in Gateshead afloat and what it might say about the fate of pubs in a post-pandemic world:

The road is almost at an end – hopefully. The Three Tuns reopened outdoors on 12 April, like many pubs able to carve out an outdoor seating area. The regulars who remained – those not carried away by old age and loneliness – pulled together to help Smith. Some of the lads who most devotedly propped up its bar of an evening converted old barrels into seating… “It was just hands-on to make sure it could reopen again, because it is important to people,” says [Lauren] Tierney on a glorious summer evening a week after it reopened. That night was the first time Tierney and [partner Steve] Parnell would take a night off from visiting the Three Tuns since it opened. After a long period of closure and lost money, the pair wanted to ensure the pub’s landlord felt justified in reopening – and who could blame them? “It’s that novelty of being able to go back out again,” says Tierney. “A lot of the people I see in the pub I’ll only see in the pub,” says Parnell, who is godfather to a fellow drinker’s children, and was best man at another’s wedding. “You get very close, then it all shuts down, and you never see each other for months.”

Finally, from YouTube, new-to-us archive footage of a prefab post-war pub being thrown into existence.

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

One reply on “News, nuggets and longreads 12 June 2021: BrewDog, Gateshead, Soviet beer”

The 8:1 water to beer ratio is way too high for big breweries. Carlsberg is installing a recycling plant at one of it’s breweries which will reduce it from the current 2.9:1 to 1.4:1.

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