News, nuggets and longreads 16 April 2022: Wit and wisdom

Every Saturday we round-up the most interesting writing about beer and pubs, from blogs, newsletters and magazines. This week, that takes us from the American West to the North Rhine.

We’ll start with insight into a beer scene that’s completely alien to us (Utah, USA, where it turns out beer cannot legally be brewed above 5% ABV) and a profile of a remarkable group of women, by Ruvani De Silva for Good Beer Hunting:

The Brown Gradient Beer Wenches are Melissa Diaz, Melissa “Mel” Dahud, Shyree “Ree” Rose, and Stephanie Biesecker. All currently work in the craft beer industry in Utah, in and around Salt Lake City, but collectively they bring beer and bartending experience from Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, Colorado, and Texas to the Beehive State’s growing craft beer scene… Their heritage is equally varied and distinct. Diaz describes herself as “full-blooded Mexican,” while Dahud’s ancestry combines Palestinian, Ecuadorian, and Nicaraguan roots. Rose is of African-American, French Creole, Scottish, and English descent, and Biesecker is white and Samoan Islander… Despite living most of my life amid the swirl of international London, I have rarely met close groups of friends with such a variety of backgrounds.

A semi-derelict pub with tower blocks behind.
The Westferry Arms, formerly The Oporto Tavern. SOURCE: A London Inheritance.

The author of A London Inheritance takes us on a tour of Pennyfields, Poplar, East London, with a particular focus on its pubs. The piece quotes from a 1951 article about Bill Neal, legendary landlord of The Oporto Tavern:

The Juke Box is silent now in the pub where the sailors go – Before dawn came to London’s Covent Garden yesterday they were seeking out the most fragrant, whitest lilac and later, down in the West India Dock-road, Chinese were searching for black-edged handkerchiefs of mourning… For Bill Neal is dead. Bill who for thirty-one years stood behind the bar of the Oporto Tavern in the West India Dock-road, only a few yards from the gates of the docks that lead seafarers to faraway places… Bill was the seamen’s first port of call. He cared for the money of the wise ones who were determined to blot out their cares in drink. He was a soft touch for a free meal. Legend has it that he once even gave away his boots. But he could throw out the noisy drunkard quicker than any other landlord.

A dusty 750 millilitre beer bottle with a mouldy label: "Zwanze 2009".
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

Eoghan Walsh has reached 2009 in his history of Brussels beer in 50 objects writing this week about Cantillon Zwanze:

Zwanze is a child of Brussels’ working-class neighbourhoods, a bawdy and knowing sense of humour, sometimes impenetrable to outsiders. Zwanze 2008’s label gives an example, of sorts: “A Lambic with vegetables? That’s true Zwanze!” Jean Van Roy, Cantillon’s owner, wanted to experiment with some Lambic heterodoxy – hence the rhubarb and elderflower – and Zwanze was useful shorthand. “The idea of this [beer] is to do…fun tests around Lambic without taking ourselves too seriously,” he said when launching 2009’s Zwanze. (Zwanze would later also land them in trouble for a crude and ill-judged cabaret performance in 2018, parts of which the brewery later said were a “huge mistake”.)

Illustration: a glass of Witbier.

For Ferment, the promo publication for a beer subscription service, Matt Curtis has written about a small resurgence in the popularity of Belgian-style Witbier and other continental styles:

I’m currently of the belief that tastes and palates in the UK are going through a period of flux… I believe that the Belgian wit once again becoming en vogue is evidence that our desire to explore the brewing traditions of Western Europe is slowly, but steadily, taking hold. Witbiers and various interesting styles of lager are merely the vanguard. I predict a bountiful few years of saisons, dubbels, kölsch, hefeweizen and altbier ahead. I am excited for this. My body is ready… But why do certain beer styles fall in and out of fashion – in particular those with a sharp regional focus – and why are classic European styles coming back into fashion only now?

Shipping container: KOLN.

Homebrewing blogger Gavin Dixon has been in Cologne where he was intrigued to discover a new Wiess (not Weiss) on the market:

Gaffel have recently (2021) reintroduced Wiess to the market. Or at least, to their Bräustüberl – several smaller Kölsch breweries have been serving Wiess for years. I was in Cologne in 2015, and sought out Brauerei Heller, specifically to try their Wiess. My initial reaction was that it was much like Bavarian Hefeweizen, but lighter and more hoppy… My first impression was that [Gafell Wiess] is a more commercial beer than the Hellers. It is smoother, and significantly less bitter. The yeast contributes to the body, but the aim here is clearly for a light, easy-drinking summer beer.

British Beer Breaks is a new (blog style) newsletter from Kate Simon and Phil Mellows aiming to “connect beer and travel”. There’s been a flurry of activity in the past couple of weeks including this piece on Duration Brewing and a profile of brewer and broadcaster Jaega Wise. Worth adding to your feed reader or bookmarks.

Finally, from Twitter…

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

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