News, nuggets and longreads 23 October 2021: Strange brews

This is our regular round-up of all the most interesting and informative writing about beer and pubs from the past week, including pieces on Cornish legends and Chicago lagers.

Next week the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will be delivering a Budget speech and, for the first time in several years, thanks to a change of job, Ray won’t be up all night reporting on it. There are strong rumours via The Sunday Times (paywalled but paraphrased here) of reforms to alcohol duty and/or duty cuts. This might well be policy ‘kite flying’, though – let a rumour slip, see how the public reacts – or wishful thinking on the part of lobbyists. At any rate, if there are reductions in duty, they’re likely to be swallowed up by a general rise in the price of beer driven by supply, fuel and staffing challenges.

The cellar door at the Blue Anchor.

For Pellicle, Lily Waite has written about Spingo and the strange world of The Blue Anchor in Helston, providing an up-to-date snapshot of a setup that feels somehow eternal:

Tradition is, arguably, only what you make of it. The fetishisation of tradition, too, purely for its own sake can come at the cost of progress. For brewers such as Ben, however – surely at this point a custodian of a living history – tradition is simply standard procedure. Ben tells me whilst mashing in that Flora Daze is the Blue Anchor’s “newest” beer, despite being introduced in 2011 – though if legend is to be believed and beer has been brewed onsite for 600-plus years, a 9-year-old beer is indeed new. Even if it is older than many of Britain’s craft breweries.

We’re quoted a couple of times, by the way, after exchanging emails with Lily during the summer. We’ve got a soft spot for Spingo and, it turns out, had strong opinions, too.

Text illustration: LAGER

Josh Noel reports that, finally, after years of people saying it might happen, and hoping it might happen, lager has become The Thing in Chicago:

Brewers have long reached for lagers after work, and a joke has bounded through the industry that every year would finally be “the year of the lager” with customers. A curious burst of dark lagers two years ago among Chicago breweries suggested a shift was afoot… Now, it looks like the moment has arrived, not as a flash-in-the-pan, but as a core component, whether easier drinking (helles, Mexican-style lager), darkly malt-forward (dunkel, dopplebock) or the array of styles between… “We’ve talked in the industry about it for years – every year is ‘the year of the lager,’ but this year, for us, it actually kind of was,” said Jason Klein, co-founder of Spiteful Brewing. “Hoppy beer is still our biggest seller, but people are broadening their choices. Instead of having three IPAs, they’re having an IPA, a lager and one something else.”

Old drawing of a brewery.
Dreher’s brewery. SOURCE: The Penny Illustrated Paper, 28 May 1870, via The British Newspaper Archive.

We were delighted to read an update from Andreas Krennmair about the various cool things that happened in the wake of the publication of his excellent book about Vienna lager in 2020:

By far the biggest surprise… was when Westerham Brewery from Kent got in touch with me. They had read my book, and took this line as a challenge: “As of 2020, no maltings is known to produce a Vienna malt using a historic variety such as Haná or Chevallier.” They got in touch with Crisp Malt, a traditional Norfolk-based maltings that still employs traditional floor malting techniques. In recent years, Crisp Malt has put considerable work in reestablishing old heritage barley varieties and turning them into quality malts. One of these heritage varieties is Haná, the old Moravian barley variety that was hailed the most in Austria for its brewing qualities. Crisp Malt had previously released a Haná Pilsner malt, and so they had the resources to also create a Haná Vienna malt. Long story short, Westerham brewed a Vienna Lager from it, and Crisp Malt started selling the malt as part of their small batch series.

A bottle cap.
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh continues his excellent run down of the history of the city’s beer as told through 50 objects. This week, he shines a light on the world of beer buyers, blenders and sellers through a simple bottle cap:

The marchand de bières (“beer merchant”) was, Martine De Keukeleire says, one of four key actors in 19th century Brussels’ beer industry. Maltsters made malt, brewers turned this into beer, which cabaret owners served. But between brewery and cabaretier came the marchand de bières (also called the préperateur, or apprêteur)… The merchant’s job was to source Lambic and Mars beer from breweries, blend and condition it at their own warehouse for sale to cabarets and taverns.

A pile of wood.
SOURCE: Stan Hieronymus/Appellation Beer.

Stan Hieronymus has been seen lots of breweries in action over the years and we enjoyed this note on those which use wood-fired kettles to make their beer:

I remember visiting Weissbrau Freilassing in 2008, said to be the last wood-fired brewery in Germany, and seeing the pile of wood that would be used for brewing… Most of the wood is second-hand, although some is chopped. Although this makes perfect sense, I wasn’t expecting it. Curiously, there are no wood flames under the kettles at the G. Schneider & Sohn in Kelheim to the north, but the brewery has its own wood-chip-fired heating system. Kelheim is located in the midst of a forest, where chopping down trees does make sense.

Finally, from Twitter, a puzzle…

The only reference to green beer in Bavaria we can find online is Greenberg’s book. Was the beer he drank Berliner Weisse with woodruff syrup? Maybe, but it’d be a long way from home. Perhaps someone could write to Herzog and ask.

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

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