Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck us as particularly revealing, interesting or entertaining – from Hanna Aberdam to Cleopatra.
It’s been a while since we started one of these round-ups with a brewery takeover story. Bells was founded by Larry Bell in 1983 and is a big deal in the story of US craft beer but this week, it was acquired by Japanese-Australian multinational Lion/Kirin. At Good Beer Hunting Kate Bernot has the facts and stats; Stan Hieronymus offers some personal notes; and Jeff Alworth wonders why this was presented as “joining forces” with New Belgium, with no mention of Kirin. Jeff writes:
It’s hard to overstate what an important brewery Bell’s is. It’s one of the key pioneer-era American craft breweries, founded in Kalamazoo in 1985. It has grown to become one of the most successful breweries in the world… Larry has been the brewery’s avatar since day one. Since his name is on the bottle (and now cans), he’s often referred to by first name only, even by people like me who have never met him… Larry clearly tried to keep the brewery independent. After 38 years, he’s tired and ready to retire—and he also mentioned recent health problems. Running a business like this is incredibly stressful, and he’s earned his retirement. Yet I don’t doubt he wanted it to go a different way. Thus, I suspect, the strange way he delivered the news.
We quite liked the brewery’s flagship Two Hearted Ale when we tried it, by the way.
Another bit of interesting news: the latest edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide once again records not only an increase in the number of UK breweries but also the highest number since it was first published in 1974. In total, Roger Protz reports, there are 1,902 currently in operation, compared to 1,823 in 2019. (There was a dip last year, but not a huge one.) Proof, perhaps, that the industry as a whole is more resilient than the conversation around it sometimes suggests.
There are surprisingly few novels featuring breweries – has anyone put together a definitive list? – but Gary Gillman has unearthed a particularly interesting example, Pictures from a Brewery by Asher Barash. Gary has been writing about Jewish-owned breweries in Galicia in Eastern Europe for some time and this book, written between 1915 and 1929, would seem to be an interesting historical source, albeit one to be handled with care:
The heroine of the book is Hanna Aberdam, called Mrs. Aberdam or in the Polish honorific Pani Aberdam. The period described is not made explicit but seems to be the first years of the 1900s, by which time she has run the brewery for 30 years, under lease from a Polish grandee called Count or Graf (the German form) Stefan Molodetzky… Mrs. Aberdam is described as a kindly person, born of a well-to-do merchant family. When her first husband, a pious scholar, dies young, she remarries a shopkeeper of no great business ability and decides to enter business herself to provide for her family… She leases the town brewery, which previously had gone bankrupt. It overlooked a body of water called in the book “the lake”, fed by underground springs… A theme in the book is how the successful Jewish businesses in these small towns were an organic part of their community, helping to support townspeople through employment, and co-religionists with charity. For example, Aberdam would lead a drive to provide a dowry for an indigent bride, or help Jews who lost their homes in a fire.
At The Fatal Glass of Beer Joe Tindall reflects on what Mark Dredge’s book Craft Beer World meant to him as a beginner and compares the new edition, The New Craft Beer World, with the original, from 2013:
The accessibility of craft beer is one obvious change that has occurred in the intervening years between Craft Beer World and its sequel. “Back in 2012 when I wrote the book there were only a few places where I could buy or order interesting beers”, Mark says, “it’s now become normal to find great beer everywhere.”… Back then, I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that in the not too distant future, I’d be picking up a can of Mikkeller’s American Dream lager during my weekly shop at Sainsbury’s. I certainly wouldn’t have believed that I would purchase said can only once before losing interest, such is the variety of craft beer in 2021.
For the London Review of Books Sophie Lewis reviews Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara. Thought not uncritical, there’s enough here to make us think it might be worth a read:
O’Meara [exposes] the racism and misogyny underpinning the contempt for Cleopatra in Greek and Roman culture – an animus that fixed on her love of drinking. She gives an account of antiquity’s invention of the double standard for drunkenness: in noblemen, it enhanced natural virility, ‘while in women [of all classes] it destroyed their honour and inverted the gender hierarchy’. One of the appealing features of O’Meara’s book is her love for carousing women: ‘working-class women brewing – topless and up to their elbows in beer’; Moll Cutpurse; Calamity Jane; Yang Guifei (concubine of the Tang emperor Xuanzong) with her wine-flushed cheeks and jewel-encrusted cups; ‘an affluent Egyptian woman named Chratiankh (birth and death dates unknown)’ whose tomb inscription was said to read: ‘I was a mistress of drunkenness, one who loved a good day, who looked forward to [having sex] every day, anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent.’
At Ancient Malt and Ale Graham Dinely provides in-depth notes on the history and behaviour of yeast in brewing:
The spores can be wind and air borne on dust and insects. This became obvious to me in our last house in Manchester. After about 12 years of brewing and washing equipment there, any sweet juice drinks left out overnight by the kids in the summer months would be slightly fizzy by the morning, as did any yoghurt… It was obvious to me that the yeast had established itself in the microbiome of the house, along with 130 years worth of other microorganisms. This sort of thing must happen in every brewery, no matter how much attention is devoted to hygiene and sterility.
And, although Brew Britannia was published in 2014, we’ve never really stopped writing it, so we were especially delighted by this nugget relating to an important early UK microbrewery:
In 1980 I was still living in shared accommodation and for convenience I was making beer from kits. At work we had a retirement celebration for some colleagues and one of the refreshments was a polypin of Pollard’s Ale… Pollard’s beer had a very distinctive, dry almost musty flavour that was very popular. At the end of the celebration there were a few pints left with the lees… so I took it home and added it to a 5 gallon kit brew that had just finished primary fermentation. I expected it to settle out, but instead it took off with a very vigorous fermentation and a strong sulphurous aroma that lasted just over a day. The Pollard’s was obviously metabolising something that the kit yeast had not. The resulting beer had that distinct Pollard flavour too. I have often wondered if that was a hybrid yeast. Pollard’s ales did not last that long, despite being very popular. The story that I heard at the time of its demise was that they had lost that unique yeast, and with no back up brewery to restore it, that was the end of Pollard’s.
Finally, from Twitter, some pure wisdom from Liam…