News, nuggets and longreads 5 June 2021: Theocracies, Desi Pubs, Downtown Hops

Here’s the writing about beer culture and pubs from the past week that grabbed our attention, from rampant egotism to the value of cask ale.

The conversation about sexism, harassment and bullying in beer has continued. Charlotte Cook’s piece for Ferment, the promo mag for a beer subscription service, is a must-read, combining righteous anger (based on personal experience) with precise criticism:

Greg Koch of Stone is often humorously called ‘The Beer Jesus’, but there are plenty of brewery owners out there who would take that at face value. These companies are not run as businesses but as theocracies, where the Good Book is in fact the proclamations on Twitter of the brewery owner – and the disciples are those who have invested in whatever crowdfunding scheme they have shilled… I strongly feel that this is the root of the problem with misogyny in beer. The ego trip that takes place when someone tells you that you’re incredible and make the best beer in the world can easily drive people to act in ways that they wouldn’t normally, and as the praise keeps pouring in, so does the need for the serotonin hit that it provides. This also leaches out into the wider company culture and explains how these abuses can be enabled without repercussions from within.

Meanwhile, Jan Rogers, the managing director of Marble Brewery has announced that she is stepping down in the wake of accusations of a toxic working environment. That she also mentions having considered suicide underlines why, in our view, it’s important to avoid so-called pile-ons, if possible. Equally, the conversations still need to be had – and telling people who feel they’ve been abused or mistreated to ‘calm down’ won’t cut it either.

SOURCE: @thegladpub on Twitter.

For Pellicle, David Jesudason has written about ‘desi pubs’ – pubs in England run by British Asians. From his own experiences of racism in pubs as a young man to a focus on the story of a specific pub in South London, it’s a fascinating read, sometimes grim, often hopeful:

I was hoping my first visit to a pub would be a rite of passage… Aged just fifteen, I felt more anxious about being the lone brown face in a white environment than I was about being served my first pint. Opening the door, an old man at the bar shouted: “Anyone order a mini-cab?”… The town I lived in, Dunstable which borders Luton in Bedfordshire, had very few Asians like me in it—apart from, guess what? Nothing could have prepared me for the humiliating laughter that broke out after being mocked for daring to enter their world… It didn’t stop me from having my first ever pub pint that evening (Wadworth 6X) and it hasn’t dimmed my love for pubs in the intervening 20 years. Moving to a more diverse area helped, but even then there were many establishments that I didn’t feel comfortable in… I found my confidence by visiting so-called desi pubs, where I was served by other British-Asians keen to make these spaces their own.

Cask ale

Roger Protz has been writing about beer for, oh, a couple of years now, and it’s a memory of a marketing campaign of 30-odd years ago that brings his latest piece to life for us. It’s a call to action for the industry, arguing that to boost cask ale, it needs to be treated with some reverence:

I recall some years ago, when Whitbread was still involved in brewing, that it produced an oyster stout and placed small booklets on pub tables describing the history of the style and the way it’s made… When I sat in the Blacksmiths Arms in St Albans supping this delicious beer and reading the booklet, I noticed that many other customers were doing the same. They not only had a fine drinking experience but had also learned a little about the history and heritage of British brewing… We should build on that experience. We should encourage brewers to top their pump clips on beer handles with the simple message ‘Great British Beer – our heritage’. This should be backed by booklets with explanations about the myriad beer styles in the cask sector – mild, bitter, IPA, barley wine, stout, porter, golden ale and many more.

Khaya Maloney outside his greenhouse.
Khaya Maloney. SOURCE: Lucy Corne/GBH.

For Good Beer Hunting, Lucy Corne has written about a “startup hop farm” in the unlikely location of downtown Johannesburg, South Africa:

Originally constructed as a fort, Constitution Hill in Johannesburg is best known as a prison—both Nelson and Winnie Mandela were incarcerated here during the apartheid years. Today, the low-rise, red-roofed complex is a museum, made up of the 19th-century fort; the Women’s Jail, with its castle-like facade; and the stark cells known as Number Four, where Black male inmates were held… Away from the main building sits the car park, a near-empty garage with nothing to single it out but a gently snoozing security guard and a dark doorway tucked away in a shaded corner. That door leads to a rickety staircase that climbs upwards. Here, on the roof, Maloney meticulously tends downtown Johannesburg’s first hop farm. 

Illustration: "Wodge of cash."

You might or might not make it through the paywall to read this piece – we find the Financial Times quite erratic in that regard. At any rate, it’s an interesting piece by Judith Evans and Alice Hancock about the business end of British brewing in these strange times:

Most [breweries] been supported by UK government loans and support schemes, but operators fear that as that tapers out, small brewers could face tough decisions on the viability of their businesses… The number of UK breweries declined in 2020 for the first time in 18 years, after more than doubling in size in the previous decade to 1,823, according to data from the Campaign for Real Ale… Some have spied an opportunity. Luke Johnson, an investor in hospitality businesses including Patisserie Valerie and Gail’s, completed a £5m deal this month to buy Curious Brewery, a brewer run by the English vineyard Chapel Down, out of administration… Johnson plans to create “an alliance of beers” that could be brewed through the Curious facility. “We will pursue a buy-and-build strategy . . . In the coming 12 months there will be quite a few craft beer brands that need recapitalising and we have the resources to do that,” Johnson said.

That sounds… Is ominous too loaded a word?

Distancing poster in a pub.

We’ve put this at the end because, ugh, it’s all a bit miserable. With the COVID-19 stats currently having a wobble the proposed end to COVID-19 restrictions in England on 21 June is looking less likely. That means pubs might have to continue trading with controls and restrictions in place. One the one hand, we feel their pain – it’s hard work to administer, more difficult to make a profit and compromises the experience for drinkers. At the same time, there has been a slew of outbreaks and hot-spots connected to pubs, including this notable example in Leek. All anyone can do, we suppose, is try to follow the rules and support pubs in whichever way they feel comfortable. For our part, that means sticking to outside, for a little while more at least; and being as little nuisance as possible to hot, stressed, masked-up staff.

On a more cheerful note, check out the replies to this Tweet for some enthusiastic recommendations:

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

One reply on “News, nuggets and longreads 5 June 2021: Theocracies, Desi Pubs, Downtown Hops”

I would offer an alt thought on the pile on but in no way to correct you. Just sharing what I know. As you likely do already know, I practiced criminal law and saw some very horrible things. Some of the stories I’ve heard in the last few weeks include aspects which easily could have led people to find themselves in court. Assaults, harassment and attempted rapes are all crimes. This is in additions to the scenarios which would led to complaints before a human rights tribunal. I was a defence lawyer so I am the main support for people like this who were accused. Many expressed surprise at the accusation against them even though I saw them squarely as within the law. My job was often to guide them to understand their guilt and plead. Many of the semi-apologies coming from those overseeing breweries accused of bigoted work environments have something of the same tone. Denunciation and deterrence rely on public desemination of the news of the harms that bad actors do and how they do it. Bad actors in turn feel badly about the news but that is part of the reforming function of the law. In the base of brewers, there has been a coddling by the trade press for years that have comforted many now known bad actors. They are now rightly discomforted. I hope charges are laid in some of these cases. This will take brave witnesses and complainants. They need support and they are receiving that support through the discussion even if it is angry. People who did bad things now feeling deeply insecure is proper.

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