News, nuggets and longreads 28 May 2022: Who’s the boss?

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from the cult of the founder to Belgian hot dogs.

First, there are more brewery closures to report. Steve Dunkley at Beer Nouveau is keeping tabs and tells us that, so far, he’s noticed 12, most recently Three Castles, Crafty Beers and Coul Brewing. That prompted Des de Moor to chip in with news from London, including the surprising (and slightly complicated) winding-up of the revived Truman’s.

If we can generalise, we will say that most of those listed so far (with obvious exceptions) are not breweries we tended to hear people raving about. And some we’d never heard of at all – but that’s natural when the numbers get into the thousands.

It’s also worth being aware of stories like this, by way of balance:

In short, it feels to us as if we’re entering a period of turbulence, but not necessarily a collapse. All we can do, though, is wait and see.

A crowd.

Is an instinctive adoption of ‘auteur theory’ part of the problem in craft brewing? That’s the question Holly Regan and Jerard Fagerberg ask for Good Beer Hunting, while exploring alternative ownership models for breweries:

“The reason that the storyline of the genius founder emerged was that it made for great copy,” says Tom Acitelli, author of “Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution.” “Back then, it might have been exotic for somebody from Washington, D.C. or New York City to parachute into a remote area of the Rocky Mountains, or to some warehouse on the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, and talk to some working-class artisan. It became a human interest story.”… The further the myth spread, the deeper it became embedded in industry dogma. When many craft beer founders opened their breweries, they hired their friends, or people who looked, talked, thought, and acted like them. Over time, that affable dynamic began to look like a cult of personality. As the craft beer revolution spread globally, this model also took hold in the U.K. and Europe, where brewing was already a gladhandy boys’ club.

An old map of Brussels.

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh gives us notes on a traditional Brussels beer snack given new life in the 21st century – the ‘pistolet’:

Parisian writer Gérard de Nerval knew what to eat while visiting Brussels, rhapsodising in 1853 about a “a[n] authentic mug of faro, accompanied by one of these….pistolets which open in two sandwiches garnished with butter.” Belgium’s baked goods are often overshadowed by those from its hexagonal neighbour, but de Nerval knew the value of the humble pistolet – a small, round white roll with a little cleft down the middle… Entrepreneur Valerie Lepla did too, so much so she opened the Pistolet Original sandwicherie in Brussels’ Sablon neighbourhood in 2013, selling only pistolets – albeit gourmet versions thereof. And like de Nerval, Lepla knew they paired well with Lambic.

The Golden Beam, a huge Wetherspoon pub in Headingley, Leeds

Mark Johnson has been on a trip down memory lane revisiting Leeds pubs he knew as a student. It doubles as a frank guide to the state of the pub landscape in 2022:

I’ve no real issue with the Head of Steam group as a whole but predictable line-ups across most of their pub can make it feel Wetherspoons-esque and therefore not worthy of a detour. This particular one is very Magic Rock and Tiny Rebel heavy and that comes as no surprise. Only 4 of the 9 cask lines were on during my visit but we were still finding our feet as recently as spring… The place itself has an atypical modern interior yet does manage to feel a little… pubby. The staff are brilliant too and very enthusiastic as I order a half of some IPA. I would have adored this place being available when I was a student and that is at least a positive.

Three tripel beer bottles.

For Craft Beer & Brewing Randy Mosher has written a long piece about the beers that form the backbone of Belgian brewing – and why categorising them can be difficult:

Abbey and Trappist ales mostly form the conceptual backbone here, whether or not they are overtly branded as such… The reality is that these supposedly historic ales are actually 20th-century inventions, inspired by the beers from neighbouring England, Scotland, and Germany that flooded the Belgian market in the early 1900s. Strip away the marketing, and you’ll see bocks, Scotch ales, pale ales, and even pilsners behind these quintessentially Belgian beers… We’re talking about a range of pale to deep-brown top-fermented beers ranging from about 6 percent to more than 10 percent ABV.

Lager illustration.

If the paywall is feeling kind you should be able to read this neat round-up of the state of UK craft lager by Alice Lascelles for the Financial Times, which quotes Pete Brown and others:

Lager is massive in Britain. It accounts for about three-quarters of all beer sales… The beer that many credit with kickstarting the craft lager revival is Camden Town Brewery’s Camden Hells (the brewery was subsequently bought by AB InBev in 2015). More recently the Devon brewer Utopian Brewing, which makes lagers from 100 per cent British ingredients, has also attracted great acclaim.

Finally, from Twitter…

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

5 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 28 May 2022: Who’s the boss?”

Great round up as always. Of the breweries mentioned, I was disappointed to hear of Fallen, Beatnikz and of course Kelham Island having really enjoyed them over the years. Surprised to see no mention of Caledonian in the round up which I think would be a big one though perhaps not surprising – used to see Deuchars in every pub in Edinburgh but now more likely to see a beer from Pilot, Stewart, Cross Borders, Barney’s etc.

Beatnikz is a sad loss – one of the (relatively few) brewers who use additiions & ‘twists’ to bring out qualities of the underlying style rather than contrasting with it.

Randy Mosher’s article is certainly a good read as one expects from him.

I agree on a Belgian yeast “axis” for the conventionally-fermented group, but find the spectrum of character quite narrow.

There is a “Belgian taste” in that range that limits its interest for me, certainly. This is the clove-like, yellow fruit background characteristic of so many of the beers, a few apart to be sure.

Some Belgian Trappist beer was highly regarded in the 1800s and reflected by my research older English influence, from migrating monks, e.g to Dieuloaurd in France, before the 1800s.

By 1877 Chimay is 7.2%, see here:

The strength alone suggests a beer of reputation, and its inclusion in the source I reference. Westmalle Abbey beer too then had a top reputation, I have another post where a tourist reported this,1850s.

So, the influences run internally and without, and from fairly recently and way back.

To me finally, within any group, this and the others he mentioned, what is most important is Belgium drinks beer – it is a premier beer country, as widely remarked on by visitors in the 1800s. Styles will change and evolve, sometimes narrowing (the yeast picture for conventionally fermenting?), sometimes widening.

Foreign influence is a varying factor depending on the time. Same for UK, Holland, U.S., parts of France. Even Germany now, or it will prove so in time I think.

I am sorry to hear about the end of Truman’s, as I thought Runner was a good bitter. It never became that widely available though, even in London.

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