News, nuggets and longreads 30 October 2021: Line of Duty

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.

Cassette tape.
SOURCE: Daniel Schludi/Unsplash.

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.

Neon sign: bar.
SOURCE: Matias N Reyes/Unsplash.

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.

When you're alone and life is making you lonely...

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.

Cyril Ray

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:

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

5 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 30 October 2021: Line of Duty”

You imply that CAMRA overlooked the suggested high(er) container size threshold for lower tax. Not so, as even the press release you link to makes that clear – and made before others jumped in without looking it seems at the detail of the consultation.

‘“Our task before this new duty rate is implemented in 2023 is to make sure that the new, lower draught duty rate applies to beer and cider served in smaller containers too, so that as many pubs, breweries and consumers as possible can benefit. We will be using the Government’s consultation on how this new system should operate in practice to make this case.’ viz.,

On the Draught Duty rates, the Government has proposed a 40L container threshold for the duty rate to apply. This will obviously not capture smaller brewery beer or bag in box ciders and perries. It is important to note that this is the current proposal, and that this is now being consulted upon (a new consultation document was released today ). Therefore, this is still under consideration, and we can campaign to change this through the consultation process and discussions with the Treasury.

Questions in the consultation document about draught duty rates are:

Do you support the principle of the proposed rates for draught products?
Do you consider that the proposed rates are appropriate?
Do you agree with the qualifying criteria for the draught rates?
Would any safeguards be needed to prevent fraud or diversion?
We can therefore use the consultation process to influence the final details on the criteria for the draught duty rate – including moving the container threshold to a lower level that can capture smaller brewery beer and bag in box ciders and perries.

See also – you do need to be a member of course.

And talking of art, even grim, I contributed this to a new thread – art, artists and ‘demon drink’ …..

Prompted by the alert for the upcoming …

Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2021 | Mall Galleries Showcasing the work of exciting young painters alongside the work of more established names Nov 24th ec 5th

(disclosure: I am a member of the Galleries, and can take a friend in for free!)

If you need any reason to venture into Central London, and enjoy some of the local pubs … from the exhibition selection on-line … (images not included here)


And from one of my favourites, tho’ he doesn’t seem to be exhibiting this year … and the one he painted in the Harp several years ago hasn’t appeared yet …



(Heavens. And I thought I wrote long comments.)

On another point – nostalgia – I think one aspect of the fondness of the memory triggered by booze is the fact that the flavour of the beer was one component of the past taste experience. A carrot from the ground is recalled not only with the earth but the tastes and smells of the August day. Similarly, pubs and patios have hallmark fixed smells that join in the cognitive calculation. Cigarettes and industrial cleaning supplies along wth the brand of deep fry oil and how many times its used are all in the mix. Strong dark ales remind me of the smell of heavy winter outerwear. Seems entirely valid that the pleasures of the repeated associations are drilled into the brain bucket along with the negative ones. The particular catty taste of Nova Scotia’s Keith’s IPA is layered for me over the hum if the mens room at the Lower Deck pub with it’s poorly performing plumbing.

One thing too I found interesting about Cyril Ray, apart that is the detail on Bass Gold Triangle and other beer in ‘In a Glass Lightly’, is his leftward, peoples-oriented politics. Pub Curmudgeon twigged me to this aspect.

The beer chapter of the book does not disclose that particularly – if anything to the contrary – but other parts of the book do I think. I can’t recall where I saw this now, but one commentator gently satirized Ray for the apparent disjunction, noting he supported “First growths for the people”. Today, drink commentary often has a political cast, so in this sense the starchy-seeming Ray gains new relevance.

One other thing, in any case, deserving of revival is that very Bass Gold Triangle. It sounds the perfect post-Budget beer for revival in the UK. Between what Ray wrote and Ron Pattinson reported (see link in my piece) I’d think a credible emulation could be brewed by anyone interested.

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