News, nuggets and longreads 6 May 2023: Cantina Band

Every Saturday we round-up the best writing about beer and pubs. This week, we’ve got more brewery closures, segregation in the 21st century, and naval ale.

First, some news. We haven’t been commenting on every brewery closure, partly because we haven’t always had much to say about the breweries in question. But this week brought a flurry of news from breweries we’ve heard of and/or have feelings about:

As always, bookmark Steve Dunkley’s blog post for a running total.

A glass of golden orange beer with a green can next to it.
Founders All Day IPA in 2015.

From the US comes news of further accusations of a culture of racism within Founders Brewing. The case was laid out in an employee exit interview at its Detroit taproom last week. Then Founders suddenly announced it was closing said taproom, with no notice for employees, blaming COVID-19. Naeemah Dillard has now filed a racial discrimination complaint against the brewery. (We barely see any American beer for sale in the UK these days and haven’t had the opportunity to buy Founders for some years. But if we could, we wouldn’t.)

A portrait of a black man with a greying beard.
Caesar Kimbirima, manager of The Brockley Barge. SOURCE: David Jesudason.

It’s all too easy to think of racism as being something that’s in the past (“It was a different time!”) but in his newsletter this week David Jesudason tells a story of segregation which is depressingly recent. He quotes Jauval, a drinker at The Brockley Barge, formerly The Breakspeare Arms:

It was something that had to be accepted because Jauval remembers his dad not being served in the pubs in the area at all, such as the Brockley Jack – now a Greene King pub/theatre, which last time I went had a black bar manager. This discrimination he says was common in the area with the nearby Maypole (which is now flats by Brockley train station) also segregating on grounds of colour – and he believes it only really stopped when the Breakspeare Arms was reopened by JD Wetherspoon in 2000… Jauval explains how the pub was divided into two and he would see his white school friends in the side that he wasn’t allowed in. What other locals tell me is that the Breakspeare Arms had an “Irish bar” and a “black bar” which was segregated to the point that the only people who could freely go between the two internally were staff as the bar was the only visible passage between them.

A colour bar in operation in the capital within the past 25 years – astonishing! This piece also has plenty to say about gentrification and class. And it gives us a glimpse into how easy it is for white drinkers to say, “It didn’t seem that bad to me…” Ultimately, though, this is an uplifting story of how management can make choices to break down barriers and make people feel welcome.

A rainbow coloured sign reading RASCALS above a taproom bar.
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

Lisa Grimm continues her fascinating tour of the pubs and bars of Dublin with a visit to ‘Rascals HQ’ which, for some reason, we feel obliged to put in distancing quote marks. As she describes it, it sounds very much like an outpost of global Craftonia:

Rascals is situated on a semi-industrial estate in Inchicore, with the brewery and restaurant all under one roof, so it’s much more of a ‘taproom’ than ‘pub’ vibe, and certainly not unlike many spots in the US or Canada in that respect; indeed, it reminds me very much of Victory before they had their renovation at their OG brewery in Downingtown, PA, USA, some years ago. I had never gotten around to doing the brewery tour before this past weekend’s festival, so I don’t think I had a sense of just how large it was, by local standards – so many tanks! As Rascals is one of the typical craft options you often seen at other pubs and bars around town, it makes sense that they need to keep cranking out their core beers like Happy Days, Yankee White and Wunderbar.

A comparison of the original Teku design and the revised version. Both are stemmed glasses with a flared lip.
SOURCE: Rastal.

How bad is the Teku glass, really? asks Kevin Kain at Casket Beer, considering alongside the similarly unpopular ‘shaker’ glass:

Tekus were created in 2006 in Italy and are produced by the German glassware company Rastal. Technically, the name is spelled TeKu, representing the names of the two creators, Teo Musso and Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove. Musso is the brewer/owner of the Italian brewery Birra Baladin… The websites for both Rastal and Baladin include fluffy language about how great the Teku glass is. It’s pretty. It has a modern look and works well if you like/want a stemmed glass. I like that it was specifically designed for beer and the way the curve at the top hugs the lip. Beyond that, I don’t think there are any major differences between it and most other stemmed beer/wine glasses with a decent bowl shape. This may be the reason why others gripe about it. Is it really necessary? The main complaint people seem to have about the Teku is its shape, which many people find a bit pompous, or simply unattractive. 

A painting of a naval ship on fire.
‘The Danish ship Dannebroge caught on fire in the battle of Køge Bay’, Christian Mølsted, 1710. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons.

How could we possibly resist an article by the brilliant Lars Marius Garshol with the headline ‘Skibsøl: the smoky ale of the seas’? It’s for Craft Beer & Brewing and has the distinct whiff of adventure about it:

In 1710, the remains of the Danish fleet returned from the Battle of Køge Bay to Copenhagen. The crews and officers were deeply unhappy, not only because their mission had failed nor even that the flagship Dannebrog had been lost. No, their complaint was that a quarter of the crew had been sick before they even sailed, and many had died of illness at sea before they ever met the Swedes. The admiral blamed the skibsøl—literally, “ship’s beer”—which was an important part of the fleet’s provisions… The navy’s commissar-general investigated the issue, and he found that throughout the year there had been many examples of skibsøl being found spoiled and returned to the brewers. The returned beer wasn’t merely sour—it was foul. His report was part of a long discussion that had already run for many decades about how to ensure a reliable supply of skibsøl that did not go bad.

Five Points brewery kegs piled high

At Pellicle Fred Garratt-Stanley (a writer who is new to us, we think) provides a portrait of London’s Five Points Brewing Company. By extension, it’s also a reflection on the evolution of the UK brewing scene and, most interestingly, that place of cask ale within that context:

“When we were founding the company, it was a really exciting time,” [co-founder] Greg [Hobbs] tells me. “There was a real buzz about craft beer, it wasn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is now.”… According to Ed [Mason], breweries like Thornbridge in Derbyshire and nearby Camden Town Brewery (the latter now owned by AB InBev) helped “educate people’s palates and teach people the idea that beer could be flavoursome and more interesting, and could be brewed locally and owned independently.”… “There’s a danger of taking that for granted, but that wasn’t there 12 years ago,” he adds.

Let’s round this out with some more positive signals via Twitter:

We’re still using Twitter but we’re also about as active on Mastodon, Instagram and Substack, if you’re looking for more. And we’ve been posting bits and pieces to Patreon, too, for subscribers only.

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