News, nuggets and longreads 2 July 2022: Roam if you want to

Every Saturday morning we get up, put the kettle on, and put together a round-up of the most interesting writing about beer and pubs from the past week. This time, we’ve got insight into the world’s great beer cities: Portland, Brussels, Wakefield…

First, an interesting development at online beer retailer Best of British Beer: its owners, Gill Sherwin and Will Sherwin, have given majority control of the business to its employees. Darren Norbury at Beer Today has the full story:

The employee ownership trust has been approved by HMRC. It gives the employees a voice on the board and there will now be regular trust meetings where the team will lay out plans for the future… A profit share scheme has been instigated and employees will get a tax-free bonus each year, depending on the company’s profitability… The trust will also be involved in future decisions on jobs, and any new members of the team will become trust members after a year in post.

A neon sign on the skyline: Portland, Oregon.
SOURCE: Jeff Alworth/Beervana

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has updated his guide to the best breweries in Portland, Oregon. We enjoy reading this not so much as practical advice (it’s increasingly unlikely we’ll ever get to Portland) but as an evocation of the place and the culture:

Over the decades, different breweries have enjoyed the title of “favorite brewery” by locals, and the reigning champion is Breakside. If you want to understand what makes a classic Pacific Northwest IPA, it’s the first place to stop. The brewery has eight beers in their core line, and six are IPAs. Only one is hazy. The co-flagships, Wanderlust and IPA (no brand name), are quintessential Oregon IPAs. They are both densely aromatic, heady-smelling beers, but find a balance point between citrusy-juicy flavors and a firm dose of hop bitterness. The brewery makes dozens of hoppy beers a year, and they explore every corner of hops’ potential—but eventually, it seems like the lessons are driven back into perfecting that Oregon thing exemplified by the flagships.

A sparkled pint of golden ale.
SOURCE: Mark Johnson/Beer Compurgation

In the same spirit, but perhaps a touch less exotic, Mark Johnson has put together personal notes on a tour of the pubs of Wakefield in West Yorkshire:

Boons was always a meeting spot or last port of call on a pub-based evening out. It was the home of Clarks Ales in the back when I lived here but that time has gone… The pub is stunning. More so than I recall. Every bit of wood, flagged floor, stools around benched seating, declarations and stained glass could have been designed by me… My only criticism of Boons is that it smells like a pile of clothes on a bedroom chair that have been worn around the house or slept in. It’s a little stale. It could do with somebody smoking nearby to cover up the lingering stench of the older furnishings. It is, of course, why many carpets and old bench seating were replaced post smoking ban. That part isn’t enjoyable but everything else is wonderful.

Brasserie de la Mule Hefe Weisse
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City

Over its course, Eoghan Walsh’s history of Brussels beer in 50 objects has gained a new flavour – less history lesson, more contemporary guide. The 49th entry tells us plenty we didn’t know about where breweries in Brussels are at today, reaching beyond the local traditions in search of something new (to them):

And so, as the Brussels New Wave beer movement bounded into its second decade, history began repeating itself, in reverse chronological order. First came Brasserie La Jungle in early 2021 with the launch of an English Golden Ale. Brewing in an abandoned textile factory in Anderlecht, La Jungle firmly nailed their colours to the English mast by following up with an English Porter and English Bitter brewed with Kentish hops… Brasserie de la Mule was next, looking east rather than across the Channel. Ex-Brasserie de la Senne brewer Joël Galy… didn’t choose something spontaneously-fermented as Mule’s first beer. Instead, he brewed in the Bavarian tradition – a Hefe Weisse Naturtrüb wheat beer, which was soon followed by a Lager, Helles, Berliner Weisse, Kölsch, Dunkel Weisse, and even an homage to one of his favourite beers, Schneider Weisse’s Mein Hopfenweisse.

A perfect pint of Dark Star Hophead.

At Points of Brew Stephen Carter gives a useful summary of the recent hoo-ha over CAMRA’s campaign for a full pint:

Current guidance states that a pint should be no more than 5% head, and is acceptable if served as such. However, there’s no real recourse if a customer requests a top-up and the establishment refuses to do so. This is what CAMRA is trying to change, however, their press release raised more criticism than praise… But, looking at their historical campaigns, this has been a long-term issue for the group, with them asking for oversized glasses to become standardised. A glass with room for a full pint of liquid, and space for foam if requested. That would solve the problem surely? Well, not quite… When pints were pulled using taps that measured pours accurately, glasses had space for a head above the 568ml measure. But, speaking purely from anecdotal experience, customers thought they were being short changed even then.

A bright red label for Deutscher Porter
SOURCE: Ron Pattinson/Shut Up About Barclay Perkins

Could East German bretted porter be a style for modern craft brewers to explore? Ron Pattinson has (gorgeous) labels for at least 15 examples:

It’s weird how Deutscher Porter as a style seems to have been almost totally forgotten. Even though it was brewed until around 30 years ago. They all seem to have been discontinued soon after reunification. Either that, or the breweries simply closed. A few did reintroduce beers called Porter, but they were totally different in style. Much weaker and really sweet. Pretty awful, the ones I’ve tried.

Butcombe Bitter
From our own collection of Butcombe glamour shots.

Lisa Grimm (an American living in Dublin, having previously lived in the UK) has been in London and Salisbury and shares notes on her experiences, including a reminder that, if you’re not utterly jaded, Butcombe Bitter can be rather “absolutely gorgeous”:

I very much wish we had some similar options here. I will confess that I did come across two pints that I had to entirely abandon because they were clearly infected – not, I hasten to add, at any pub listed in this summary – but I suppose it does demonstrate that bad cask is, well, bad, and perhaps one of the reasons we don’t have it here is just that difficulty; finding experienced people to look after it properly and a clientele who will consistently finish off casks while they are in good shape is tricky. But let’s also give some demerits to the ‘Spoons at Gatwick; not for the high crime of ‘being a Wetherspoons,’ but rather, for having something like 15 hand pumps with some truly mouth-watering options displayed, but only actually having Doom Bar. Nope.

Finally, from Twitter, unearthed treasure…

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