News, nuggets and longreads 20 May 2023: For Your Eyes Only

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from high streets to dark bitter.

First, an insight into one of the biggest threats to pubs: the mysteries and complexities of the planning system. In a letter to the government this week the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has highlighted a potential problem with ‘levelling up’ proposals:

CAMRA won landmark protection for pubs just five years ago, with the removal of permitted development rights that had let developers convert or demolish pubs without giving communities their say through the planning process… High Street Rental Auction proposals are currently under consultation with the aim of rejuvenating highstreets by letting Councils auction leases for a range of vacant property types, but these proposals miss the mark by reintroducing permitted development rights that would see pubs converted, divided up into multiple units, or gutted of fittings without the need for planning permission.

A white-painted industrial building with the logo of Mikkeller on the wall.
SOURCE: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In our newsletter for May we suggested that ‘Everywhere is beer town now’. Bear that in mind as you read Will Hawkes’s piece about Copenhagen for VinePair – is it still a craft beer destination, or has COVID caused irreparable damage?

If the pandemic hurt Mikkeller, it crushed People Like Us. This brewery, set up to provide work opportunities for autistic people, organized the Social Revolution By Beer festival. It was… hamstrung by the first Covid-related constraints in Denmark, restricting how many people could gather in one place. Worse was to come… People Like Us’s unique structure, which entails employing many people, some on contracts of just five or six hours a week, proved its downfall. Because of that, the company didn’t qualify for government employee assistance, and was forced to look elsewhere for cash. It took on investment and signed a deal to sell beer in supermarkets, but three months on that was canceled. It was painfully overextended and by December, the game was up.

Brain's Dark in the glass.

Has Gary Gillman unearthed a lost British beer style? He has certainly found numerous references to ‘dark bitter’ or similar in early 20th century sources, and suggests links to the modern concept of black IPA:

I propose it as the next big thing, in fact. Dark Bitter: A blackish, faintly roasty, yet traditional English-tasting pint, so driven by Fuggle and Golding hops or others of pre-craft British tradition (Target, etc.)… No doubt there are beers in the market that resemble this model. Woodeford’s Norfolk Nog comes to mind. Styled dark ale on the bottle, it may have remote porter origins… But Shakespeare’s injunction that a rose by any other name is as sweet doesn’t really apply in the beer world. A simple but arresting name, like Black IPA., can go a long way… So can Dark Bitter, I believe.

In her latest newsletter Courtney Iseman has a quote from Josh Bernstein that feels like a useful addition to the current conversation around where craft beer is at, and where it has been:

When I think back to 2012, I mean, it was really this era of the brewmaster-end-all-be-all, you know what I mean? So…all the information and all the beer knowledge came forth from them… If you think about it back then, the brewmaster as celebrity, that concept was huge. You almost needed these figureheads, I think, to be able to talk about what was happening…to communicate vast changes [in beer]. And there was a huge factor of showmanship back then, too, showing what was possible with beer… It was just this era of just trying to get people’s attention…  It was a very big P. T. Barnum-esque moment. I think for a writer’s perspective, there were all these great narratives of these people going David-versus-Goliath, and if you fast forward to today, you realize that everything wasn’t quite as cut-and-dried. Everything is really blunt in the ways we talked about beer back then because we were so caught up in this idea of promoting the idea of how beer could be so different and all these rebels and revolutions and iconoclasts…

The rest of the newsletter is, as always, worth reading too.

A Smithwick's TIME beer mat.
SOURCE: Beerfoodtravel

At (Irish) Beer (History) Food Travel Liam K continues his series on the history of Irish beer in 50 objects with a look at some notable beermats produced in the early 1960s:

Smithwicks – or St. Francis Abbey Brewery to give them their proper title – launched the ‘Time’ rebrand of most of their ale range in March of 1960 to coincide with their “250th” anniversary celebrations. During this upheaval their best-selling ‘No. 1’ pale ale would remain unchanged but their ‘Export Ale’ would become ‘Time Ale’ and their ‘SS Ale’ would become ‘Extra Time Ale.’ Their barley wine would also be rebranded in October of the same year to ‘Time Barley Wine’ and a few years later in 1963 a new lager called ‘Idea’ was launched and these five beers would form the Smithwicks’ range at that time… The rebranding appears to have been an attempt to bring the brewery’s image into the modern world of the sixties…

A brain.

Mark Johnson has always written honestly about his relationship with alcohol and his mental health. In his latest piece, he grapples with the question of why we drink, and the damage it might do:

[My] genuine love for tasting beer and visiting different types of pubs pulled me away from oblivion… It made me focus on the positives without the need for pushing it that extra few drinks…. Yet when I had those destructive thoughts again in 2015, I easily fell back into the hole, only now I was in the bubble and could hide in plain sight. For a time I could push it too far at industry events or evenings in the pub and wake up sprawled across my landing. “One more DIPA for the socials” I could say whilst secretly hoping it’d be enough to knock myself out until the morning. That year, I threw up all over the toilets at Indy Man Beer Con and lost my glasses. Somehow it became an amusing anecdote.

Finally, from Twitter…

If you’re after a Twitter alternative, do check out Mastodon and Substack Notes. We’re fairly active on the former (about as active as we are on Twitter these days) and dabbling with the latter.

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

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