Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that told us something new in the past week, from fiscal policy to the death of the city centre.
As trailed, or leaked, in his Budget speech on Wednesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced some changes to alcohol duty in the UK:
- freeze on beer duty to continue for another year
- 5% duty cut on draught beer (with small print T&Cs not announced in the speech)
- new duty bands applying to all alcoholic drinks
- an additional duty cut for low-alcohol drinks (3.4% and lower)
CAMRA has welcomed the changes: “A new, lower rate of duty for draught beer and cider served in pubs and clubs establishes an important principle in the taxation system – that pubs are a force for good in our communities and should be supported to help them survive and compete with the likes of supermarkets.”
Others are less excited, arguing that the specific terms of the new rules will only benefit larger breweries which tend to produce standard strength beer and ship it in larger containers. SIBA and others are lobbying on that last point, while the terms of the ‘draught relief’ are still under consultation, and those in the know seem to think that has been successful.
For Ferment, the promo mag of an online beer subscription service, Adrian Tierney-Jones has written about nostalgia and its role in beer:
My initial thoughts on [Durham Bounty Hunter], as well as similarly sweetshop-flavoured dark beers from the likes of Salt and North, was that Durham had brewed this as a reaction to the strong market for pastry stouts… On the other hand, I also wondered if this trend for beers with the flavours of childhood is a sign that nostalgia remains a strong component of the current beer scene… After all, beer and nostalgia have always seemed to have gone hand in hand. Think of the grumbling pub-goers muttering that this or that beer wasn’t what it used to be in their day or that they used to get a good pint at the Dog and Duck (sometimes with the phrase once upon a time added, which imbues the statement with the quality of a fairy tale).
Lars Marius Garshol has digested recent research into the origins of brewing yeast strains and translated it into perhaps as close as it’s possible to get to plain English:
[A] giant project… sequenced the genomes of 1,011 yeast strains… The first interesting result they found was that the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, that is, brewers yeast, originated in what is now China. If you look at the diagram above you see at the bottom the other species in the Saccharomyces family, and then above them the various groups of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts… At the root are three groups of Chinese yeasts (CHN I to III) and a Taiwanese group, which is strong evidence that the species originally evolved in China… Another study published the same year looked at wild yeasts from China, and found that they had much greater genetic diversity than wild yeasts from any other region. That, too, is strong evidence that China is where the species originated.
For The New York Times Joshua M. Bernstein has written about the apparent demise of the ‘beer bar’ (free login required) as consumers increasingly skip the middlemen and go straight to brewery taprooms:
When Chris Black opened Falling Rock Tap House in downtown Denver in 1997 with his brothers, Steve and Al, he sought the hoppy summit. The bar and its “no crap on tap” ethos grew to include 94 rotating drafts showcasing American brewing’s blossoming beers, especially during the city’s annual Great American Beer Festival… But the bar’s sales flattened in 2015 and then dropped because of a confluence of challenges: property tax increases, business-disrupting street construction and the rise of taprooms run by breweries – suppliers who suddenly turned into competitors… Why patronize a bar when you can sip fresh beer directly from the source?
Stan Hieronymus provides extra context, defining ‘beer bar’ in one post and reflecting on their place in US beer culture, alongside ‘bar bars’, in another.
Another piece from an American perspective which also rings true with the UK in mind is Jeff Alworth’s observation about the deadness of downtowns in mid/post-COVID world:
On Wednesday, a couple of friends and I went out for a bite to eat in downtown San Francisco. (I think it was near Chinatown, but my friend was leading me on a zigzagging walking tour and I might be off by a neighborhood.) It was a beautiful evening in an ostensibly bustling city. Yet as we walked around, the streets were sparsely peopled and cars passed sporadically. Jaywalking was a snap. At the restaurant, we were one of just three occupied tables. After a slice of cheesecake by famed, 88-year-old Sam Zanze, we stepped out into the night to discover a largely deserted city… In the past month, I’ve spent time in downtowns throughout the country, and they seem to range from sort-of normal (Chicago) to eerily post-apocalyptic (Minneapolis). I’ve gotten used to wandering into three-lane streets without even looking up—silence tells me no cars are around.
After nearly 15 years of writing and talking about beer, and having put together a pretty substantial library, you’d think we’d at least be aware of most books on the subject. Gary Gillman has surprised us, though, with notes on Cyril Ray’s 1967 book In a Glass Lightly:
The bottled beer he had most regard for was the rare Bass Gold Triangle, on which he has much to say. It was “admirably bitter, mellow, and rather strong”, sold in nips, or 2/3rds of a half-pint. He says it was perfect for a mid-morning or pre-luncheon drink, and by all rights should have been preferred by many to a gin-and-tonic, except for its price: two shillings a nip… To be clear, this was too cheap, not too dear. He states he told Bass’ chairman to raise the price, so a higher echelon would buy it, but this did not occur.
The funny thing is, we have come across Cyril Ray’s writing on beer, and posted about it – we just had no idea these various bits were available in a single handy volume. We’ve ordered a (very reasonably priced) copy.
Finally, from Twitter, an amazing painting of a dead pub in our neighbourhood: