We’re back from a week in Belgium with a bookmarks folder full of interesting reading about beer, brewing and pubs.
First, some more on what is becoming a drawn-out, slow-motion PR disaster for BrewDog, via Kate Bernot at Good Beer Hunting:
On March 30, hospitality consultancy Hand & Heart announced that a representative from BrewDog is using legal means to seek information related to stories of alleged workplace misconduct at the global brewing company… In her statement, Hand & Heart founder Kate Bailey intimates that the information requested would come from its Affected Workers Platform (AWP), which was launched in February by the consultancy in conjunction with a group of former BrewDog employees called Punks With Purpose… An attempt by a BrewDog representative to gather information and details from the AWP represents the antithesis of what the platform was designed to be: a safe, third-party means by which to collect accounts from former and current BrewDog employees. It also appears to undermine the discussions BrewDog has had with Hand & Heart, on behalf of Punks With Purpose and other former employees, since late February.
We assume what’s happening here is that a ‘subject access request’ (SAR) is being used to ferret out private correspondence mentioning BrewDog CEO James Watt.
The subject access request is an important tool in empowering citizens, giving them the power to find out what information organisations are keeping on them. In this case, though, in PR terms, it feels like punching down (CEO versus employees) rather than democracy in action. That is to say, regardless of its legality or normality, it feels off.
But perhaps at this point BrewDog is beyond caring about optics, or believes that it can fix all this later.
We’ve been bugged by the fact that there’s no definitive answer to the origins or meaning of AK as a beer style. Every now and then we return to the subject and spend a few fruitless hours digging in the archives hoping to find that one killer item of evidence, such as a newspaper article which says “AK, which stands for…” But so far, we’ve had no luck. Now Gary Gillman has made a pretty convincing case that it means, or meant, ‘keeping ale’. As Gary acknowledges, this is an idea that’s previously been discussed, and more-or-less dismissed, but the key to his argument is the idea that ‘keeping’ might have more than one meaning. In this case, he suggests, it equates to something like ‘long life’ on modern milk packaging.
Reviewing dozens of further brewers’ ads in [British Newspaper Archive] in the latter 1800s, when AK was at an ascendancy, it appears ‘keeping’ had a specific sense in the market… The term did not – in trade ads to the public – denote conditioning of beer at the brewery. Rather, it referred to how long the beer would last in consumer hands and specifically, whether in summer… Often, the ads tout March or April brewings as having the necessary quality. Further, while typically this quality was associated with pale ales, even mild ales sometimes were described as keepable… I found other ads where mild ales were signaled as keepable over the summer.
Mark Johnson has been carefully documenting his experiences and feelings at various points during the pandemic. In his latest post, he reflects on the fact that, finally, going to the pub feels much as it did two years ago:
Somebody said to me how good it was to see me after so long and I felt slightly confused. What were they talking about? We saw each other only recently. I remember the conversation clear as day. And then it dawned on me that the last time I had seen them was a beer event in October 2019. The few social interactions in between had changed my perception of time… There was something unnerving in that moment. For all the caution and stationary approach to life that we have taken, this small piece of dialogue made it feel like the real world again. I looked around at this unnerving sense of normality and wondered, with some trepidation, has anything actually changed?
For Pellicle Pete Brown has written about Ted Lasso, a sitcom we have yet to watch, and its depiction of a particular type of ordinary, almost bland London pub:
Just like the fairy lights and phone boxes weren’t just props for the series, just like the whole scene really does look magical in the golden hour, the people who made Ted Lasso didn’t do anything to this pub at all—they just showed a global audience what London pubs are really like. They depicted the magic that’s already there, that has always been there, that we locals sometimes take for granted… The Ted Lasso pub is just a pub—and that’s the whole point. That’s why they renamed it the ubiquitous Crown & Anchor rather than the slightly more unusual Prince’s Head. This really is where we cheer and swear and laugh and cry, and in real life, it’s where men can, eventually, drop the emotional armour—the cynicism and fake toughness—and be their true selves.
Last Sunday we were lucky enough to sit down for a few beers with Eoghan Walsh in a bar in Brussels. We hope we’re not revealing trade secrets when we say that he expressed some nervousness about the final stages of his History of Brussels Beer in 50 Objects. Having reached item 36 on his list he’s increasingly writing about people and institutions which are still around and might have an opinion on how they’re described – or, worse, on being omitted from the record. With that in mind, the preemptively cautious intro to the latest piece makes sense:
In this edition of the Brussels beer New Testament, the role of John the Baptist will be played by Frenchman Jean Hummler. Now, I can already hear dissenting voices suggesting other, more appropriate figures who foretold – and helped usher in – Brussels beer renaissance. Surely, someone might say, Yvan De Baets and Bernard Leboucq have as much a claim as Hummler, given their Brasserie de la Senne opened the same year Hummler and his business partners took control of the Chez Moeder Lambic beer café… But go back further than 2006, all the way to the 1980s, and another candidate emerges – the man who founded the original iteration of Moeder Lambic. Joël Pêcheur opened Chez Moeder Lambic on November 5, 1983. Within three years a Brussels beer café guidebook proclaimed it as having, with an 800-beers long menu featuring beers from China, Ireland, and Zaire, “the largest choice of beers in the whole of Brabant.”
In a profile of Adnams’ head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald, originally published in CAMRA’s BEER magazine, Roger Protz provides several fascinating nuggets of information which hint at where the UK beer business is heading:
But it’s not been such a happy time for the brewery as a result of the pandemic and lockdowns. The business is split 50:50 between the on and off trades but Fergus says pubs generate the most income… “We had to build online sales and first we had to get a supply of cans and bottles. We had canning done at West Berkshire Brewery and bottling at Marston’s and Hall & Woodhouse… But big volumes of cask beer were thrown away. Cask won’t disappear but it’s been permanently damaged – and that happened before covid. The problem with cask is that it’s a low margin beer for pubs but it needs more effort to look after… But we’ll still have it. People will go to pubs that do cask well but it will become more specialised.”
Jeff Alworth is grumpy about the word ‘crispy’ as used to describe beer:
The word started life as a metaphor in Old English, borrowing the Latin, crispus, meaning curled, to hint at things that were dry and brittle, as after spending time in an oven, or the sun. As a metaphor, it was extended to liquids as well as actions (in the sense of ‘brisk’). Crispy, on the other hand, is far more often pegged only to objects torched by heat—food principally. Because of this subtle difference, we use ‘crispy’ precisely because it evokes heat and the resulting dry snap it produces. That’s why crisp works for celery, but crispy seems wrong. And if crispy doesn’t work with celery it is especially infelicitous for a lager, a liquid that is characterized by cold. Push a metaphor too far and it breaks. At a pub, then, the fried chicken is crispy; the beer is crisp.
As a writing tip, we think this is good advice. But of course, as Jeff’s opening disclaimer makes clear, it doesn’t really matter. What does?
Finally, from Twitter, here’s a rare historic shot of a pub interior:
For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.