News, nuggets and longreads 25 June 2022: Stone the crows

Here’s all the news, opinion and commentary on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, including a big-name brewery buyout.

The stories of Stone Brewing in the US and BrewDog in the UK are interestingly intertwined. The latter borrowed a tone and approach from the former; Greg Koch was a mentor to James Watt; and they’ve even partnered on various transatlantic projects.

It’s interesting, then, that the news of Stone selling to Sapporo should break in the same week as the story that BrewDog tried to arrange a sale to Heineken back in 2018.

On the Stone sale, here’s Kate Bernot for Good Beer Hunting:

The sale represents a resolution to Stone’s multiyear search for a buyer as well as a definitive contradiction to the “anti-sell-out” stance of one of the industry’s most vocal brewery founders, Greg Koch. It seems Koch, Stone’s executive chairman, is literally incompatible with incoming corporate ownership of Stone; he announced in a lengthy blog post June 24 (quoting Heraclitus and Metallica) that he will step away from the company “soon” after a nearly 30-year career.

A pint of stout.

One great thing about an ongoing book project is the constant flow of blog posts it generates. Martyn Cornell is working on an epic history of stout and porter which is what led him to the earliest mention of Guinness being available on the European continent:

On Sunday June 18 1815 at around 6pm in the evening, at the height of the Battle of Waterloo, ten miles south of Brussels, a 33-year-old captain in the 7th (Queen’s Own) Regiment of Hussars named William Verner, born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, was hit in the head by a French bullet – one of 47,000 casualties that day… “By degrees my strength returned but was not fully restored for many months. A curious circumstance occurred, which I have often thought of since. When I was sufficiently recovered to be permitted to take some nourishment, I felt the most extraordinary desire for a glass of Guiness’s [sic] porter, which I knew could be obtained without difficulty…”

The red door of the Smithwick's brewery in Kilkenny
SOURCE: Paolo Gregotti on Unsplash

Like Martyn, Liam is often inspired to write by the urge to correct bad beer history. This week, he decided to take apart the claims made about Smithwick’s of Kilkenny in marketing over the course of decades:

There are also beer mats that proudly state “Superior Irish Ale since 1710” or sometimes something as definitive sounding as “Over 300 years ago in 1710, John Smithwick began brewing his famous ale at the St. Francis Abbey Brewery.• Some are slightly less blatant with the phrase “crafted and perfected since 1710” but all of the marketing again suggests, or in most cases states, that the same Smithwick’s ale that is available today has been brewed for over three centuries, practically stating that nothing has changed in those three centuries. Almost all advertisements, including recent ones on mainstream television, also appear to imply this to be a true fact… But there are many issues with this assertion of course…

Instagram likes.

There are several topics covered in Courtney Iseman’s Hugging the Bar newsletter this week including the difficulty of relying on Instagram to promote your business…

Off the top of my head right now, I can think of two businesses – both in food – that shut down because they were small, one- or two-person operations relying solely on Instagram for promotion and customer communication. For a while, that was great – free or close to it, accessible, efficient, and a good match for a scrappy, nimble brand – but then algorithms change and suddenly the same exact kinds of posts that got such high engagement get next to none. What are you supposed to do? The only thing we really know for sure about how Instagram manipulates the way content performs is that you have to be doing Reels, Reels, Reels – but guess what, those are no small amount of work.

…and views on the quiet reinstatement of disgraced brewery owner Jean Broillet IV at Tired Hands: “We were worried there wouldn’t be enough lasting change, that accountability was an empty gesture for so many breweries; we were right.”

A Belgian cafe

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh has written about how a town built around beer, cafes and bars responded to lockdown in 2020, as part of his ongoing ‘50 objects’ project:

Where there was resolve, there was also solidarity. Larger breweries stocked the beers of smaller colleagues on their webshops. En Stoemelings used their lockdown beer delivery service to raise money for local charities, raising €5,000 by early April 2020. Together with Brussels Beer Project, La Source Beer Co., and No Science, they also repurposed 1,000 litres of unused beer into an Iris flower-infused spirit with the help of a local distillery… The privations visited on Brussels by the pandemic also undermined, briefly, long-standing factional differences in the city’s beer community.

While you’re there, you should also check out this piece from 2019 on how Brussels smells in the summer: “Steamed buns, warm piss, and freshly brewed beer…”

The interior set for the Queen Victoria pub from Eastenders.
The Queen Victoria pub from EastEnders. SOURCE: BBC

Via the British Film Institute’s weekly newsletter we learned about an interesting media-art project currently touring pubs in East London:

Fancy a drink? Better pace yourself, we’ll be in the pub for several hours, in the company of artist Stanley Schtinter and his The Lock-in. A video experiment that pours a gallon into a pint-pot, The Lock-in comprises every scene shot in the Queen Vic pub from EastEnders from 1985 to 1995: quiet halfs, wedding announcements, bar brawls, divorce papers and all… You don’t have to be a soap fanatic to understand that the local watering hole plays a crucial role in any TV drama: a third space away from home and work where characters can mingle and, more often than not, let their inhibitions drop. But it’s more complicated than that. The British pub has its own rules and codes, which change, but ever so slowly, over time.

There’s more information about The Lock-in on its own website.

Finally, from one of beer Twitter’s greatest wits…

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