News, nuggets and longreads 3 July 2021: Allsopp’s, brown ale, Devon

There’s been some interesting writing about beer, pubs and brewing in the past week. Here are our highlights, from brown ale to brands reborn.

First, a bit of deja vu: someone is reviving the historic Allsopp’s brand to brew an IPA and a pale ale.

You might recall that, back in 2017, BrewDog were attached this this particular brand revival. Beer writer Pete Brown, who has a stake in this new project, says it’s nothing to do with them any more. We’re intrigued, not least because it sounds as if the intention is to use original recipes and even some version of the Allsopp’s house yeast.

Petteri leans on his bar.
Petteri’s bar. SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

Lars Marius Garshol provides another report from Finland, on the trail of Sahti culture. This time, the story concerns Petteri Lähdeniemi who runs a small commercial brewery with a bar in the middle of nowhere. This, Lars makes clear, is something quite different to a hip urban taproom:

He says he arranges karaoke nights and rock concerts here, which seems a bit odd, as while the area is dotted with farms it’s hardly densely populated. But he explains the bar is mainly “a hobby”, and that the brewery is what really generates income. Most of his business is selling to the Alko, the government alcohol monopoly stores, and various bars… He explains that the area just inside the door is where he sells beer for takeaway. The rest of the bar is for consumption on the premises… Petteri explains that if you come to buy beer to take away but you go four steps inside the door instead of just three you walk out of the takeaway sales zone, and then you’re technically breaking the law. The door is the obvious way to walk between the patio and the bar, but that’s not legal if you’re drinking on the premises, so you have to go round the back and in a separate door. Finnish alcohol regulations are just as strict and nonsensical as in the rest of the world.

Scientific calibration marks.

We rather like Jeff Alworth’s concept of ‘calibration beers’ – those classics you go back to from time to time to remind yourself “what beer actually used to taste like”:

If you don’t live in Oregon and want a more universal example, the obvious choice is Sierra Nevada Pale. Now 41 years old, it is an artifact of a past time. Few breweries make a pale like this anymore. They might use Cascade hops, but not just Cascades. Most pales are dry-hopped (Pale only uses whirlpool hops). Modern brewers often eschew Sierra’s famously neutral ale strain these days, though it was ubiquitous until a decade ago. And of course that crystal malt, which Sierra uses in abundance. Unless they were self-consciously offering an homage to SNPA, most brewers today would dial the caramel way back—or ditch it altogether… Imported beers once performed this function for Americans. We looked to Germany, Britain, and Belgium to understand how classic styles should taste. As our own tradition deepens and grows into middle age, these older beers perform a similar function—emissaries from a time rather than a place.

A detail from ’Beer Street’. SOURCE: Royal Academy.

At Good Beer Hunting, Courtney Iseman digs into the story behind two famous booze-related works of art – William Hogarth’s 18th century depictions of ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’:

Because of the timing, ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’ are often viewed as a work of moral propaganda, and some have speculated they were commissioned by the government to help reach gin’s working-class imbibers. [Jennifer Tonkovich, curator of drawings and prints at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, says] this is not the case, however, because that working-class target couldn’t have easily accessed these prints… “These prints would not have been affordable for the working class,” she says. “They might have seen them in a tavern or through a window, but they couldn’t buy prints, so who is the audience for these? People of the press and the merchant class.”… The two prints, Johns notes, were luxury items in their day, inviting middle-class owners to vicariously live in that chaos while holding themselves above the roughery of the scenes on Gin Lane.

A hillside with farm buildings.
Devon. SOURCE: Nicci Peet/Good Beer Hunting.

Also for Good Beer Hunting, Adrian Tierney-Jones makes an argument: Devon is a natural place to brew lager. He was inspired in this thought by a visit to Utopian, a brewery we must admit to having failed to really register:

In a massive agricultural shed in the middle of the soulful Devon countryside, Utopian Brewing makes Lager…This is a working landscape of Lager, both of movement and labor, as well as the silence of lagering… There are other landscapes of Lager, ones shaped by nature. I have seen them in the small town of Frýdlant, close to the Czech-Polish border, where Albrecht Brewery has been resurrected in the midst of a lush bloom of woodland. There, the slow-moving waters of the adjoining Smědá are a metaphor, perhaps, for the equally steady, slow-rolling process of lagering. I have also encountered them in Franconia, at the Brauerei Zehendner in Mönchsambach, where, in the shadow of the brewhouse, the early-summer fields of arable crops glow gold and green. And here in mid-Devon, where Utopian makes its beers, I’ve had my latest glimpse.

(Side note: Adrian’s writing is the antidote to the suggestion that beer writing is geeky and dry. He doesn’t care if you think he’s pretentious and that gives him the freedom to write expressively. That’s rather inspiring… and maybe an idea for a round of #BeeryLongreads?)

A vintage ad for Newcastle Brown Ale.

In a piece about brown ale for Craft Beer & Brewing Drew Beechum wisely side-steps the thorny matter of the deep history of beer to focus on the commercial realities of the past 50 years:

[The most important brown ale] from an American brewing perspective… would be Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. Imported into the States in the late 1970s by the influential importer Merchant Du Vin (run by Charles Finkel), the marketing, design, and pricing positioned Sam Smith’s as a premium product. Thus, it attracted plenty of attention in the fledgling “good beer” world. Sam Smith’s lineup included pale ale, IPA, porter, oatmeal stout, imperial stout, and a “nut brown” ale; you’d be forgiven for thinking you were seeing a brewpub lineup from the 1990s… American brown’s heyday came in the 1990s, best exemplified by the second-best-selling craft beer—Pete’s Wicked Ale. The titular Pete, Pete Slosberg, took the flavors and experiences of Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown and Americanized it with a stronger dosing of hops and a drier edge. Other beers followed in its wake, such as Big Sky Moose Drool and Rogue Hazelnut Brown… So, what was the appeal?

Zhiguli Barnoe beer.

The Beer Nut has been reviewing cornershop beers again, this time turning his attention to Russia, including what sounds like a genuine find:

From the cheapie half-litre can, I was getting macro vibes from the outward visuals but this has not been assembled on an industrial assembly line from extracts and additives: it’s a real beer in the central European vernacular. There’s even a little buzz of complexity on the finish; some honey and rose petals with a pinch of black pepper. The texture is full and satisfying, rounding out a very jolly experience overall.

Finally, from Twitter…

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