As always, here’s our Saturday morning round-up of noteworthy writing about beer, brewing and pubs from the past week, including notes on IPA, red ale and fictional pubs.
If you read one thing this week, make it David Jesudason’s essay on the IPA and imperialism for Good Beer Hunting:
The modern IPA is, like the plantation shutter or the Indian tonic water, part of a movement that Salman Rushdie described in the 1980s as “the Raj Revival.” In Imaginary Homelands, a collection of his essays written between 1981 to 1992, the writer (and former advertising executive) argues that British nostalgia for empire is embedded in racism, and bemoans how “the ideas of the past rot down into the earth and fertilize the present.”… The stereotypes that Rushdie laments, seen today on beer bottles like Fuller’s Bengal Lancer, are easy to shrug off “if yours isn’t the culture being ridiculed,” and if your culture “has the power to counter-punch against the stereotype,” as Rushdie notes.
At Zythophile beer historian Martyn Cornell has sharpened his knives and decided to do away with the myth of ‘Irish red ale’ once and for all. It’s an interesting target as, honestly, we’ve not come across one for sale in the past decade. The story, as you might guess, has more to do with marketing than history:
One question remains unanswered: who invented the expression “Irish Red Ale”? It was, presumably, someone in the Coors marketing department in Golden, Colorado: Pelforth called their version “Bière Rouge“, without adding “Irlandaise“. The term “red ale” was unknown in Ireland, except, as we shall see, among scholars of Irish mythology. The name of the originator of the phrase “Irish Red Ale” may be hidden somewhere in the corporate archives in Golden: it would be fascinating to find out who came up with the expression… The promotion by Coors of George Killian’s Irish Red Ale as an “authentic” beer with roots going back, supposedly, to 1864 seems eventually to have persuaded some in the swelling 1980s American craft beer scene that there actually WAS a genuine, historic Irish beer style called red ale.
We’d never heard of Epochal Barrel Fermented Ales until Robbie Pickering’s profile of the brewery appeared at I think I might have a refreshing beer earlier this week. It sounds like a fascinating operation:
A skilled home brewer, [Gareth Young] has set up his small brewery in Port Dundas to make beers influenced by the way it was done two hundred years ago. His beer is fermented with a multi-strain yeast, cleansed to rid them of excess yeast and then allowed to mature to completion in oak barrels with a handful of whole-cone hops. The finished product is naturally carbonated in the bottle… Although Epochal bills its beers as barrel-fermented, the real heart of the brewery seems to me to be a 60-year-old Grundy tank originally made for Ansells of Birmingham. This is used to “cleanse” the beer after primary fermentation… After two or three days in open fermenters (open as in unpressurised – there is a lid on them) the beer is transferred to the tank, which acts as a “MacGyver Burton Union” as Young calls the set-up.
In case you might have got the impression that things were back to normal for us, they’re not. We’re still picking and choosing our pub trips with care and defaulting to sitting outside if that’s an option. But it seems as if Phil at Oh Good Ale is more cautious yet. In a blog post this week he sets out his feelings in detail – a useful exercise at a time when we’re all still trying to work out not only what’s allowed but what is sensible:
Is it safe to talk about? This is another. As it goes, I’m quite keen on Britain having good trading and political relations with Europe; I’m also a Labour Party member. So there have been plenty of opportunities, in the last six years, for me to learn that other people have strong negative feelings about people and things who I feel positively about. Usually I’ve been happy to stand by what I believe in – where appropriate, which on a beer blog it generally isn’t – and laugh off any hostility. Something about the politics around lockdown, though, has got to me, and made me not want to do anything even slightly like wading in. It’s partly that the topic of lockdown is hard to avoid if you’re writing about pubs and beer, and partly that I genuinely see the way we deal with Covid as… well, a matter of life and death; this makes it hard to engage in a highly polarised debate in a spirit of knockabout fun. And it doesn’t help matters that the effects of the other two big polarisations I mentioned – the effects of what happened in December 2019 and January 2020 – are still very much with us.
Here’s a bit of fun: if The Bull, the pub from long-running radio soap The Archers, was real, what would it be like? And how would the beer taste? For Pellicle, Paul Crowther and some expert correspondents give it serious thought:
I didn’t want to do anything too crazy or out of style for this beer. Shires has been drunk at the Bull since 1951 so I wanted this to be as traditional a recipe as possible… Bitter predominantly uses pale malt but needs a good portion of crystal malt to give it body and sweet caramel flavours. My Archers listeners imagined a copper, chestnut or dark amber colour which is in the darker range for a bitter, so I added a small amount of roasted barley to give it a deeper hue… The world of hops was a lot more limited in 1951 than today so I had to be careful to be historically accurate. Fuggle was released in 1875 and is considered quintessential in British traditional ales for its earthy bitterness.
From our local Proper Newspaper, The Bristol Post, comes a piece by food critic Mark Taylor on the rise of the brewery taproom in St Philips. It’s a useful summary of the state of play (worth bookmarking if you’re coming to town) that also includes intel on an opening due later in the year and this insight into what might be driving the boom:
One of the reasons why St Philips is becoming so popular for new businesses is the forthcoming Bristol University campus, which will open on the site of the former Post Office Depot on Cattle Market Road in 2025… The land behind Temple Meads railway station will be transformed with 10,000 new homes, 3,000 students and 800 university staff. The new campus will also help join the city centre to the east of Bristol with new walking and cycling paths.
Finally, from Twitter, there’s this…
We contributed a piece to this book, along with several others; do get yourself a copy.