Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that we bookmarked in the past week, from Bamberg breweries to Brixton pubs.
First, let’s start with a tour through some ups and downs in industry news, via our pal Darren Norbury of Beer Today.
- Bad news: ‘One in 18 licensed premises closed in last year’ says a new Hospitality Market Monitor report.
- Good news: “Net closures across the first half of 2023 (1,895) were less than half the number seen in the second half of 2022 (3,841)” says the same publication.
- Bad news: a couple more breweries, Paradigm and Irving & Co, have announced their closure.
- Good news: Harvey’s of Lewes says it’s made a “faster than anticipated” recovery from the misery of the pandemic.
- Bad news: there was a dip in sales of booze in pubs and bars in mid-July compared to previous weeks, and against the same period in 2022 according to CGA by NIQ’s Drinks Recovery Tracker.
- Good news: pub company Mitchells & Butlers has reported sales up 10% on 2019, the last full year before COVID hit the industry.
What conclusion can we draw from this? Probably that larger, established beer businesses are doing relatively well, while smaller ones are losing out. On which note, we’re sad to hear that Corto is closing before we ever made it to Clitheroe.
We all know Bamberg has a lot of breweries but it used to have a lot of breweries. At Daft Eejit Brewing Andreas Krennmair has been attempting to map those that have been lost over the years:
If you’ve ever been to Bamberg, you may remember how the breweries Spezial and Fässla are opposite of each other. This is not a happy accident, but rather a remnant of basically one big street full of breweries. Only these two breweries remain nowadays, back 200 years ago, the road that was then called Steinweg and is nowadays Untere and Obere Königstraße was home to a whopping 21 (!!) breweries, spanning over just ~400 metres. Bear in mind that the whole city had 65 breweries, so basically a third of them were on the same street, within a few hundred metres of each other.
The historically black-run pubs of Brixton are a fascinating subject and David Jesudason has gone deeper into the subject than any other beer writer. In his latest piece for Good Beer Hunting he speaks to people who knew their legendary owners and landlords, and tries to evoke a sense of their atmosphere:
The majority of South London’s Jamaican-owned pubs were located on Coldharbour Lane, a major thoroughfare which runs between the neighborhoods of Brixton and Camberwell. It was a poor area even before members of the Windrush Generation settled in London, and with their arrival came depictions of the area as a ghetto by the white media, even though the newcomers were able to forge a strong sense of community. From the 1960s onwards, Coldharbour Lane witnessed a flowering of Black-owned businesses, especially in and around Brixton Market, including grocers, barbers and record shops.
Are beer writers and enthusiasts in denial about the general quality of cask ale? The Pub Curmudgeon thinks so, pointing to this as an example of ‘selection bias’:
If you’re a beer enthusiast, by definition you are in general going to choose to drink in pubs where you know the beer is well-kept, or which others have recommended to you. My local CAMRA branch, to its credit, does organise regular monthly “Staggers” that aim over time to visit most of the cask-serving pubs in the area, but even here Friday nights are when the beer is most likely to be turning over quickly and in decent nick.
We can’t speak for anyone else but our #EveryPubInBristol project has taken us to some pubs not known for their beer. And most have had at least one cask ale which has been fine to good. Sometimes the shabbiest are the ones that really surprise you – especially when it comes to treating Bass with reverence.
Corn lager? Lager with corn? This is the most intriguing part of a profile of Josh Chapman’s Black Narrows Brewery by Alistair Reece for Pellicle:
The beer that’s perhaps most emblematic of Josh’s dedication to using local ingredients is his corn lager, How Bout It, brewed with an heirloom variety of corn called Bloody Butcher that has been grown on the Eastern Shore since the middle of the 19th century, and which Josh has become a steward of. When the farmers that supplied him with the corn decided they wanted to retire, Josh committed to taking their final harvest and keeping a supply of seed corn from which to secure his supply, and Jeff Bloem at Murphy & Rude committed to malting the rest.
In his Substack newsletter Adrian Tierney-Jones reflects on one of our favourite subjects – or at least one that we like to chew on from time to time. What makes pubs feel scary, or unwelcoming? And is that same quality also part of what creates a sense of community?
Sometimes, as long as physical danger or out-and-out discrimination isn’t involved, perhaps you just have to take that chance because I don’t know how the issue of menace in a pub can be resolved without turning those classic pubs we love into something homogenous and hurtful to the soul. For after all, the pub is someone else’s place, not necessarily a home, but it is the regulars, like the guy with a tongue like a lozenge, probably long dead and forgotten and perhaps the pub is even shut now, who call it their home. It was that guy who looked at me on that long ago summer’s lunchtime in North London who decided I could belong for a bit.
Beer enthusiast Fred Waltman died in May. This news escaped us until last week and came as a shock. We’ll miss his social media posts which invariably featured his cap next to one delicious-looking beer or another in one European city or another. For Good Beer Hunting Evan Rail has written an obituary for Fred which also serves as a reflection on ageing and the greying hair of many former craft beer scenesters:
The good beer movement is aging, and funerals for beer lovers are going to be a lot more common than they once were. While it might have been the height of youthful exuberance to launch a brewery or a craft beer bar two or three decades ago, plenty of those first- and second-generation brewery and pub owners—and beer fans, to say nothing of beer writers—are now quickly moving toward and past retirement age.
Finally, a newish music release, Mr. Händel im Pub, in which the Ensemble Zeffirelli perform music that might have been heard in a London pub in the 18th century: