News, nuggets and longreads 22 January 2022: breweries for sale

There’s been a lot going on in beer, pubs and brewing history in the past week. Here’s our round-up of the most interesting stuff, from takeovers to divestments to dark mild.

First, some news: as reported by Darren Norbury at Beer Today, our favourite straight-to-the-point channel for industry news, the future of Magic Rock and Four Pure has become uncertain. Both were acquired by multinational Lion in 2019 and 2018 respectively but are now “available for sale”. We think Matt Curtis, on Twitter, has this right:

There’s lots of speculation and analysis about why Lion is offloading Fourpure and Magic Rock in my mentions so here’s my professional opinion: they fucked it… Maybe it was the pandemic, or maybe it was a lack of foresight, or maybe the UK is just drastically different to the US/Aus and what had worked for them elsewhere did not here… Magic Rock had an incredible brand, but that was built on the faith of a local Yorkshire faithful, and a few die-hard enthusiasts. Many of the latter turned away after the acquisition, local fans were put off after the zero hours contracts redundancies in Huddersfield… You can’t compare Lion to ABI or Heineken in the UK really. H has almost 3000 pubs via Star — lots of places to distro beer! ABI has similar with tied lines, if not its own chain… Buyouts are definitely not dead, but this (as well as Hop Stuff/London Fields) is evidence that you can’t just invest in a craft brand and expect it to perform.

A crushed beer can

At Beervana, in the wake of buyout news in the US, Jeff Alworth provides his usual thoughtful analysis of what it means for the “better beer” market more generally:

With 9,000 breweries in the US all buying from the same ingredients and equipment brokers and all trying to use the same, few (and quickly consolidating) wholesalers to get to the finite number of retail sales points, the industry is tightly interconnected. Canarchy isn’t a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan: it’s another front of storm clouds gathering overhead. Canarchy does not exist in a vacuum.

When the Canarchy/Monster story broke last week, we mentioned the theory that soft drinks producers might be seeking to secure supplies of water with the future in mind. Supplies of cans (metals) are also important, as Jeff observes.

And British drinkers might see that line about the “finite number of retail sales points” and, like Matt Curtis above, think of tied pubs. In the UK, those who control the boozers control the universe.

Magic Rock Highwire
SOURCE: Magic Rock

It’s probably fair to say that Michael at Bring on the Booze agonises about his choices as a consumer more than some. Although he isn’t so bothered about independence, in itself, he doesn’t stand for bad behaviour or dubious ethics from breweries. So, for him, the Magic Rock news feels potentially hopeful:

I didn’t note it [in 2019] but it seems more folk were up in arms about Magic Rock becoming available in the hated behemoth of Tesco than they were about the fact that the new sugar daddies had some very dubious connections in Myanmar… For now, on a personal level, if all goes well I am looking forward to trying Magic Rock Highwire once again, safe in the knowledge that my hard-earned pounds won’t end up in Burmese bullets.

Ron Pattinson posts something every single day and it can be easy to miss really crucial stuff in the stream of historical facts and figures, opinion and travel writing. This week, he quietly announced that he thought he’d found evidence of the moment mild started to go dark:

In the last couple of decades of the 19th century, Mild Ales began to darken. Well, some of them did. The process was very patchy and didn’t occur everywhere simultaneously. It’s also very difficult to pin down exactly when and to what degree Mild became darker… The biggest problem is the lack of hard data. It’s tricky calculating the colour from the ingredients, especially when sugar is involved. As this is mostly only described very vaguely. There are very few records of beer colour before WWI… At least that’s what I thought. Until I happened to notice that line in a Fullers brewing record. That ‘Tint’ number looked like it was in an understandable scale. The type of Lovibond used before WWII… Having multiple examples spanning a few years, it’s possible to get an idea about what was happening with the colour of Fullers X Ale.

SOURCE: Pub Gallery/Dermot Kennedy.

It’s hard to read Dermot Kennedy’s article about the historic pubs of Portsmouth at Pub Gallery without wanting to check train times. The colourful, well-composed photographs throughout the piece help demonstrate continuity in the local style, while the accompanying text does a great job of capturing the arc of the story of English pubs in the 19th and 20th centuries:

If you take a walk around Portsmouth and Southsea you can’t help noticing the number of spectacular pubs. Some have tall corner towers, some are richly tiled and others have prominent signs promoting long gone breweries… So how did Portsmouth come to have so many exceptional public houses? A few things gave rise to the “Golden Age” of pub building in the 1890s, but in Portsmouth the competition between local breweries (and the architects they employed) was probably the most important.

A plan of the Leopold Brewery. SOURCE: Brussels Beer City.

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh continues his exploration of Belgian brewing history with notes on the brewery building boom of the inter-war period:

In June 1930 Ziemann drafted plans for a new six-kettle, steam-powered Sudhaus (“brewery”) for Brasserie Léopold capable of brewing 92 Zentner (4600 kg) of malt per batch. It included Laüterbottichen (lauter tuns), Maischbottichpfannen (mash boilers), and a Hopfenmontejus (a hop-back), which Ziemann’s engineers recommended to avoid the leaching of “unfavourable bitter resins” from hop cones into Léopold’s beer… Construction and delivery would take Ziemann eight months and installation on-site in Brussels a further six. And the damage this would cause to Damiens’ and Léopold’s finances? The princely sum of 18,168 Reichsmarks (€63,360).

Finally, from Twitter, a particularly inviting looking pub:

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