News, nuggets and longreads 25 September 2021: mild in Texas, mild in Manchester

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from industry stats to intelligence on new breweries.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will be standing up to deliver a Budget speech on 27 October and industry lobbying has begun in earnest. The British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) has published a report arguing that the sector is in particular peril and needs special support. The stats, as reported at Beer Today, are, indeed, alarming:

  • 76% are paying higher wages to attract and retain staff
  • Two thirds of pubs are paying at least 10% more for food
  • A third of pubs are paying at least 10% more for drinks
  • Half are paying more for utilities
  • 61% can’t recruit enough staff
  • 72% are running out of core lines in their offer

Meanwhile, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) reports that cask ale sales in pubs are down 40% on a comparable period in 2019.

SOURCE: JoMando Cruz/Pellicle.

Last week, the hot topic was the scarcity of British beer styles in the US. This week, Pellicle provides a case study – the Acopon Brewing Co of Central Texas. Ruvani de Silva is a Brit living in that very state and so just about the perfect person to write about cask ale in America:

You might imagine that a mild served on cask would be a hard sell to old-school ranch-dwelling Central Texans, but happily they’ve embraced it… Honestly, it’s my own house favourite too. This glorious, achingly authentic beer perfectly captures the soft light body, roasted-nut-malt with a gliding hint of toffee, and gentle ooze of warm dried fruit that stills my little homesick, pub-sick heart. I was delighted to hear that Homunculus is very popular among the Dripping Springs Cooking Club, who have been converted en masse to the joys of mild.

Look out for a surprise mention for Jaffa Cakes, too.

The meaning of red.

At Beer Food Travel Liam continues to dig deep into the history of Irish red ales with part two of a three-post series. Now, things are getting complicated:

In many ways this is of course a pointless exercise given that ‘Irish Red Ale’ in upper-case letters is such a relatively new term and these newer recipes cannot be exactly the same as any historical versions… [But] the knee-jerk reaction that we never had any red ales prior to that time needs to also be addressed, as even by accident we surely brewed a few red ales during the last few centuries? This of course is a bit of an assumption too, so let us explore what we know about red ales in socially recorded history and other sources from the above-mentioned period in Ireland … but let us look at it as a search for a uniquely Irish and malt-focussed red coloured ale, instead of making assumptions that no such product existed.

The argument, as we think we’ve understood it, is that Irish Red Ales are a relatively recent marketing concept, but that there certainly were ales from Ireland that were more-or-less red before the 1970s. What this most reminds us of is the debate over golden ale in the UK. There were ales that were golden before the 1980s, and even some that were marketed with the phrase ‘golden ale’, but (a) those didn’t inspire 1980s golden ales; and (b) the market category as we know it today was essentially summoned into being by the success of Hopback Summer Lightning.

Het Heideken. SOURCE: Bruciel/Brusky.

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh continues his epic quest to tell the story of the city’s beer in 50 objects, this week focusing on what little remains of a historic community drinking hub, Het Heideken:

Originally a farm, the Heideken had evolved by the 1800s into an all-purpose auberge-ferme. It comprised two buildings – a sagging white cottage and a more upright red-bricked building – corralled by a small terrace and facing onto a large green. Stamped on the redbrick building’s arched white stone  entrance was the Heideken’s construction date, 1647. In the courtyard, chickens pecked grain from between uneven cobblestones. Inside, the floors were of bare wood, on the walls shelves of crockery and small, framed portraits. Cabinets stacked with glassware stood behind a small bar, and rags hung drying before the fireplace… Around wooden chairs and small tables, customers tucked into glasses of Lambic and plates of tartine au fromage blanc. Like many of its contemporaries, the Heideken was a centre of communal life. It hosted the local archery club, who practised on the green. Local artist circles met there, sharing tables with members of Ganshoren’s municipal council who used the Heideken as an ersatz town hall in the absence of a real one.

What's new?

For Ferment, the promo mag for a beer subscription service, Melissa Cole has come up with a list of the new UK breweries that most interest her:

It’s a damning indictment of my cynicism these days that when Merakai Brewing Co. started lighting up my Instagram with positive messages and super-slick branding, I was concerned a bunch of bandwagon jumpers had joined the beer party… Well, I’m delighted to say I was wrong… Within a few moments of cracking open a can of the 4.2% Three Little Birds pale ale, I could tell the beers weren’t just hype and within an even shorter time on the phone with co-founders Emma O’Neill-Parsons and Olly Parsons, that they aren’t just all about the pretty cans either. 

There are lots of names that are totally new to us and we’ll certainly be adding some to our watchlist.

The Lower Turk’s Head in 2014.

As we all try to calibrate and gauge the collective mood, updates like this from Tandleman, on the ground in Manchester, are helpful and interesting:

It took me a few minutes to adjust. This was like old days, with an astonishingly varied clientele. Older couples mixed easily with younger folks seeking a few cheaper drinks before venturing into town for the evening. Some though were clearly there for the long haul and were getting rather merry. This was a throwback to when pubs weren’t quite so segmented and compartmentalised… I was, though, for a bit, slightly uncomfortable, thinking about Covid. E perhaps more so, but that passed, and we braved another pint before nipping over the road to get the bus home.

Finally, from Twitter, a nugget of political history that’s new to us – and which would certainly have got a mention in Brew Britannia if we’d known about it:

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