News, nuggets and longreads 7 August 2021: Whiplash & Weinhard

Here’s everything interesting on beer, brewing and pubs that we spotted in the past week, from public house public art to oral history.

First, news of an interesting crowdfunding campaign from Manchester: a post-war estate pub in Collyhurst happens to have a notable fibreglass frieze by sculptor Alan Boyson which the landlord would like to preserve and repair. The Modernist Society is supporting him, aiming to raise £2,500 to cover the cost of restoration; they’ve also provided a potted history of the frieze and the pub on the crowdfunding page.

Sumerian tablet.
Not a Gregg’s Steak Bake. SOURCE: Braciatrix/Cuneiform Digital Library.

We’ve been following Dr Christina Wade’s posts highlighting mentions of beer on ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets for a while. Now, she’s had a go at making a beer based on information those tablets provide:

The first step in my process was making bappir, which is often translated as a kind of beer bread.  What exactly bappir was though, is highly contested. However, Peter Damerow argued that bappir was ‘registered instead using capacity measures just as the coarse ground barley’. Further, he found evidence of bappir being referred to as ‘crushed’. This led me to conclude that bappir might not be exactly a type of bread in our own modern definition, but more like a kind of cracker… So with this knowledge in mind, I was reminded of how I made malt biscuits for my malt tonic experiment a bit ago and opted to make my bappir in a similar manner.

Brewers' boots at the brewery.
SOURCE: Pellicle/Breandán Kearney.

At Pellicle Breandán Kearney profiles Whiplash Beer of Dublin:

Early one morning in October 2018, Alex Lawes travelled to Renmore Business Park in the Irish town of Kilcoole in Co. Wicklow. Several beers he had brewed were due gravity readings, dry hop additions, and temperature adjustments in the space he was renting… On arrival, Alex wasn’t able to enter the facility. He had been locked out. Without the beer sitting in those tanks, and with no production facility of his own, Alex—having recently just given up his day job at Rye River Brewing to pursue his own dream—didn’t know how he would be able to continue. He called a solicitor. Within days, Justice Caroline Costello was presiding over the matter in the High Court of Ireland.

The story is interesting, and Breandán’s narrative technique makes it more so, but what really stands out is this article’s acknowledgement of tension and conflict. When did you last read a piece about a brewery which includes a note saying the brewery in question had refused to answer one of the writer’s questions?

A woman shouting through a loudspeaker
SOURCE: Patrick Fore/Unsplash

At Quare Swally brewer A.J. Cox writes about her personal experience of sexism in the beer industry – evidence that this conversation isn’t over, or going away:

Part of our discussion around unequal workplaces must include addressing the idea of who belongs in a brewery, so I’ll start there with an example that might seem harmless enough, but actually demonstrates the far reaching nature of patriarchal norms, and how they impact who is allowed to brew. Many men I have worked with or in close proximity to, claim they want diverse workplaces. I often have heard statements such as, “I don’t have a problem with a woman around as long as she can do the job,” or “I am fine with any gender who can do the job, but most women aren’t as strong as you.” What men don’t realize is that they’re asking for the rest of us to adhere to some very toxic standards of “doing the job.” Including but not limited to; physical demands that quite frankly I would say are problematic regardless of a person’s body size or fitness level. Many brewers bemoan our chronic back pain by the time we’re in our mid-20s and that’s considered standard practice; we lift, mash, haul and package until we are literally in pain.

SOURCE: Chronicling America/Beer et seq.

We’d never really thought about what World War II did to brewing worldwide given the importance of German and Czech hops. For Beer et seq., Gary Gillman provides notes on how the American brewing industry1 responded to the scarcity of noble hops from Europe:

Certainly once the war began for the United States, European hops from any source… including Great Britain, did not enter the U.S…. American hop growers made some efforts to grow a hop with European characteristics, and would keep trying for the next 30 years. Indirectly this led to the hops that power craft brewing, as the first star, the Cascade hop, was intended initially to replace European noble hops.

Henry Weinhard
Henry Weinhard. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons.

We first heard of Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve when we interviewed Brendan Dobbin, one of the first brewers to use American hops in UK brewing. Now, at Beervana, Jeff Alworth tells the story of this unusual (cult?) beer in what amounts to its obituary:

To be clear, the 45-year-old brand was a zombie beer, having died decades ago when Miller shuttered the old Blitz-Weinhard plant on Burnside Street in downtown Portland. The company moved production to Full Sail for a time and then I don’t know what happened to it… And yet, as important as Henry’s was historically, as a beer it was pretty tame stuff. When we look into the past through our filter of nostalgia, we can sometimes convince ourselves Private Reserve was some kind of titan of flavor, yet it was very much a mass market lager. A slightly more flavorful one, true, and one that harnessed the new indigenous hops, Cascade, that would change beer forever, also true, but still a classic American domestic adjunct lager. It was good, in other words, for what it was.

Molson Coors brewery at Burton.

At Good Beer Hunting Mark Dredge has found an interesting angle for reflection on the importance of Burton-on-Trent – one that might benefit more writing about beer history. Getting out of the archives, he has spoken to people who grew up in Burton, and lived and worked in brewing:

Most of the group smile and laugh as they share their experiences growing up in Burton during the 1950s and 1960s. Though not Joyce, a nurse who moved to Burton from Ireland as a 17-year-old. She remembers the town’s distinct odor: “The smell was horrendous!”… If smell is the sense most associated with memory, the town’s since-vanished odor still remains vivid among those who experienced it. “What a cacophony of blinking smells!” says Steve Topliss, former Ind Coope head brewer. “Gee whiz. I loved it, but the smells were unbelievable.”

Finally, from Twitter…

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