Another week, another collection of essential reading on beer and pubs. This week we’ve got old breweries, breweries on the move, and mulled porter.
First, some news: in recent years, Dark Star was bought by Fuller’s which was bought by Asahi, which is now moving production of Dark Star beers to its Meantime Brewery in Greenwich. The positive spin on this is that Dark Star, the beer after which the brewery was named, was born in London, so this is kind of a homecoming. And, so far, Fuller’s/Asahi have done a good job maintaining the quality of the beer despite pragmatic goings-on behind the scenes, such as a change of yeast. But this does rather feel like the moment when it becomes a brand rather than a brewery.
Speaking of breweries, as opposed to brands, Adrian Tierney-Jones has been exploring Hook Norton’s brewery in Oxfordshire in the company of managing director James Clarke. It’s the usual mix of impressionism and detail we’ve come to expect from ATJ, both contributing to the romance these Victorian industrial buildings embody, and commentating on it:
His grandfather Bill Clarke, who then held the post that Clarke now occupies, brought him along on those early visits. Now in his early 50s and a respected figure within British brewing, Clarke can still recall the impressions that a trip around the brewery made on his young self. “It was always a mystery to me, and I was still finding different rooms until my teens,” he says. “There was a lot of romance. You could see the building on a foggy night and it was quite eerie—or also at night with all the lights on.”
Every now and then you read something that brings some new detail to your mental model of life in the past. This week, Liam at Beer Food Travel wrote about mulled porter and mulling machines in the 19th century:
Mulled porter appears to have been relatively popular in public houses Ireland at this time – perhaps less so elsewhere – and there were even specific lemon and spice extracts and liquid spiced syrups available to the publican to quickly and easily spice their porters. It would be great if some of the dispensers still existed in public houses somewhere in the country – if you spot one please send me a photo… It would also be nice to be able to walk into a pub in Ireland now and get a glass of spiced porter in a nice pewter mug on a cold winter’s evening, served from a shiny brass and copper barrel on the bar…
For Pellicle Will Hawkes has written about lager and its importance to the culture of Washington DC:
Once you’ve visited a few Washington DC breweries, you start to get the message. At DC Brau, the city’s first production brewery for almost 60 years when it opened in 2011, a sign inside demands “Statehood for the people of DC”… City-State Brewing Co., founded in 2021, has also tied its identity to that of the city, and Right Proper Brewing Co’s glassware declares the beer was “made in the Douglass Commonwealth”—the name DC would take upon statehood… No brewery in DC embodies this difference, and the battle for statehood, more than Right Proper. This brewery is centre stage in a political struggle that uses the city’s Germanic lager-brewing past in an attempt to forge a different, perhaps better future.
Beer marketing veteran Marc Bishop has been putting some of his professional memories together in blog posts at Beer Marketeer. This week, he told the story of Old Speckled Hen, a brand that’s hugely popular in pubs and supermarkets but less so with hardcore beer geeks:
Firstly, the Monopolies and Mergers Committee reported into the beer industry with what would turn out to be far reaching changes and alter the brewing and pubs landscape forever. One of the recommendations was that national brewers, all of whom had large pub estates, must allow their pubs to offer a guest cask beer. Secondly, Morland had a failing lager brand called Kaltenberg Braumaster (see my other blog for the story), that already had a sizable marketing budget of £100,000 per annum. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the then marketing manager, a very clever man called Gerald Pridmore, was bright enough, bold enough and risk tolerant to take advantage of this situation… Morland never had a cask beer suitable to make great strides as a guest beer so they would need to invent one, but Gerald saw the opportunity and duly worked with Bill Mellor to introduce Old Speckled Hen on draught. A new brand also needs a marketing budget so Gerald took a risk and unbeknown to the then CEO, used the existing marketing budget set aside for Kaltenberg to put the building blocks in place for OSH.
We don’t tend to listen to podcasts but this episode of Gone Medieval caught our attention. It asks how long we’ve had pubs, and which can really claim to be the oldest. Worth a listen.
Finally, from Twitter…
…and Mastodon, where The Session seems to be making a comeback: