News, nuggets and longreads 17 June 2023: Now and then

Here’s all the writing about beer that grabbed our attention in the past week, from the concept of terroir to queuing in pubs.

First, some news that seems to signal the end of an era: there won’t be any Anchor Christmas ale this year, which comes on the heels of an announcement that Anchor’s beers are to be sold only in California from now on. These decisions have been made by Sapporo, which bought the brewery in 2017, and feel shocking to those of us who got used to the idea of Anchor’s beers as a bedrock of global craft beer culture. They were everywhere a decade or so ago; but we haven’t seen one in the wild for years.

Does the idea of terroir make sense in relation to beer? For Pellicle, the online magazine he edits, Matthew Curtis argues “No”:

In September 2017 I had the honour of hosting a panel discussion that sought to explore beer’s inherent terroir—the idea that a beer, and its ingredients, can be representative of a certain time and place… Over 30-or-so minutes the four of us discussed the romanticism inherent to beers (and ciders) that are respectful of how they are made, and where their ingredients come from… Surely, we argued, if a beer is utilising locally grown hops and barley, and is being fermented using ‘wild’ yeast—either spontaneously or through inoculation with a closely-guarded house culture—then that beer is absolutely able to express terroir. If, indeed, a beer is reflective of this, then we agreed it’s a quality that should also be cherished by those who would drink and enjoy it… I have come to realise, however, that this is all bollocks.

Rather pleasingly, this triggered a wave of agreement, disagreement, and introspection from a range of different writers.

‘Velky’ Al Reece – “Here in Virginia we have a distinction made in the brewing laws for a business that functions as a “farm brewery”. A farm brewery is required to grow a minimum portion of their ingredients on their own land. It is a very pre-Industrial Revolution model, and one that I find deeply appealing.”

Stan Hieronymus – “[Begin disclosure] I once owned the domain name Like a dozen other urls I paid rent on it a few years before I let it disappear into a distant corner of the internet… I registered it in 2006, only hours after Sam Calagione made fun of the word terroir in his Craft Brewers Conference keynote… But I wasn’t inclined to use the word as it relates to beer in a sentence. I understood it was (and is) considered a “wine word”… I became more comfortable with the word as I researched For the Love of Hops and continued with Brewing Local, although I continue to prefer ‘taste of place.’”

Dave S – “The thrust of the article, which I broadly agree with, is that beer is unavoidably a product of essentially industrial processes, and hence that to try to ape (parts of) the wine world in aspiring to some sort of ‘low intervention” beer that ‘expresses place’ through the agriculturally-derived character of its ingredients is fundamentally wrongheaded.”

Us? We find that we don’t have a strong opinion on this, though we’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s. We probably incline towards Matt’s view, though. If terroir does exist in beer, we’ve not come across many beers that express it. Broad national or regional character? Yes. Some deeper connection to the land? Only insofar as it emerges from the storytelling around those beers, rather than in their taste.

Wetherspoon pub sign, Penzance.

That wasn’t the only debate this week, though. Is it still a pub if you have to queue? Tandleman was troubled by a visit to a branch of the Wetherspoon chain which had a sign telling people to queue at the bar:

The tradition of buying at the bar and, if you feel like it, standing at the bar while supping your drink, is a long and honourable one… I recently tweeted this photo of a sign in Wetherspoons, which appears to turn this logic on its head. In no uncertain terms, it urges customers to “Keep the Bar Area Clear”.  I said at the time it was most unpublike… Yes, it annoys us Brits, especially those who have honed to a razor sharpness, how to get served in a busy pub first, but on the charitable side, it probably makes life easier all round, and to be fair, in my experience the rule is relaxed a tad when not so busy… 

Martin Taylor says he “couldn’t really care less” but nonetheless offers some further thoughts on the subject:

I first saw the vertical queue (as opposed to the horizontal line at the bar) in Bath Spoons pre-Covid, though there they had a passport check/Disneyland style rope to regulate and make it clear where to join it… Young people seemed particularly keen to form a vertical queue at the Cambridge Beer Festival last month rather than head for the space at the bar like the older blokes who then got served first. I’m sure that’s how wars start.

We wrote about queueing in pubs back in 2018 after we encountered one at a pub in Bristol. Our view then, and now: “we don’t think queues are the end of the world in [chain] pubs like the one we visited on Saturday… But something would certainly be lost if queues started appearing at, say, The Royal Oak, London’s best pub.”

The warm, cosy interior of a pub with wood and bare brick.
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

In Dublin, Lisa Grimm continues her exploration of the city’s pubs with a visit to Cassidy’s, which she had previously overlooked:

I had an event at the National Library of Ireland, and happened to be walking home past Cassidys… I thought I’d break up the trip home and grab something low-key to cool off; I’d heard they had a craft tap or two, so surely, I could find a refreshing Ambush or something along those lines. I was more than a little pleasantly surprised… Add in the mix of gothy-meets-nerdy dive bar décor – drippy red candles, dark wood, Star Wars art (again – I realize I am being Personally Targeted), beer and beer-adjacent stickers everywhere – and I immediately felt at home – indeed, I was annoyed with myself for not having known just what was hidden away in this otherwise-best-avoided block of Dublin. Granted, there was also a slight sense in the air that the bar staff here had ‘seen things’… they had to remove someone only shortly after opening, but it was all handled swiftly and as politely as possible, before it became a bigger problem…

Cask ale

Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale has done some interesting research on the ground in Manchester, comparing the availability of cask ale now, in 2023, with a previous survey in 2013:

The Sedge Lynn is still there, and currently (according to the app) has five decent cask beers from four breweries – not a huge change from ten years ago. On the way there, though, I passed four bars, which between them offered seven cask beers from five breweries; “22 cask beers from 15 different breweries” seems like a very distant memory. Ten minutes the other way took me past the same three bars as ten years ago, now offering seven cask beers from six breweries (instead of 8 from 8). Putting it all together, if you’d walked from the Nip and Tipple to the Beer House (the last stop before the Sedge Lynn) ten years ago, you could have had the choice of 30 cask beers from 22 different breweries; if you did it last weekend, the choice would be half that, 14 cask beers from 11 breweries.

Finally, from Twitter, an update on a story we’ve been following for years:

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

5 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 17 June 2023: Now and then”

Guilty as charged !

I think your perspective on queueing is sensible, and fits in with the Tand’s take.

I did see a vertical queue for pints of Harvey’s in Portslade’s Railway last year. folk standing in a line inches from full tables rather than at an empty bar. That did seem daft.

Perhaps I can mention my reaction to terroir. There is barely any in beer, not just “industrial” beer as generally understood, but craft brewing – excepting a few cases which Matthew Curtis mostly adverted to: the small estate brewery, which grows its own barley and hops, and breweries that employ spontaneous fermentation.

Breweries that use wet hops, or local herbs, fruits, or other non-standard ingredients, probably qualify as well, or in some cases.

But the vast amount of production, craft or industrial, replies on malt, hops, and other ingredients shipped around the world as a routine matter. This has been true indeed from day one for craft (and long before for industrial beer). The estate winery is different: its fermentation proceeds from grapes drawn from a vineyard onsite or a region with a defined character as generally understood. It may use barrels from somewhere distant, of course, but the heart of the drink is created at the winery, from its soils and climate.

Advances in technology, from transport to yeast science, have produced this situation for brewing. Wine too has been affected, but not in the same way and not for the typical drinker of both craft beer and wine, in my experience.

The proof is the “beertowns” of our time, to use a term you (B & B) employed in a recent post. From saison to kolsch to Czech svetly to…. It’s available everywhere now to the highest degree of fidelity.

Anchor Liberty and Steam both in Independent Spirit in Bath today. A chat with the owner suggested some of Sapporo’s changes may be related to an industrial labour dispute. Anyway, I bought both just in case they disappear for good.

Comments are closed.