News, nuggets and longreads 16 September 2023: O’zapft is!

Each Saturday we round up writing about beer from the past week. This time we’ve got Ostend, spiced lager and the simplicity of bitterness.

First, an interesting story via ITV about an alcohol-free pub that has opened in Weymouth in Dorset:

The Dry Dock in Weymouth has been open for more than a month and has seen mass support from both locals and visitors to the seaside town… Sam Watson hopes his pub, located on St Thomas Street, offers a safe place “in the heart of the town centre”… The alcohol-free venue offers all the conventional features of a traditional pub, such as a television, pool table, dart board, restored jukebox, board games and pub quizzes every Wednesday… But unlike a regular boozer, it is non-alcoholic wine, beer, and cider on offer, as well as soft and hot drinks… As a recovering alcoholic, he believes that he is not alone in wanting a place to socialise where he doesn’t have to worry about his health.

A beach with a row of buildings against a grey sky.
Ostend in 2019.

This week’s chunkiest read is by Eoghan Walsh for Belgian Smaak and is an account of a voyage by tram along the 65-kilometre length of the Belgian coast, drinking and eating along the way:

The Ostend that Jean-Pierre and Henriette Desimpelaere arrived into with their son James in tow in 1983 was one where the ferries still ran and the tourists still drank… Forty years on, James Desimpelaere is in charge, and the hotel has been renamed (Het Botteltje, “the small bottle”), expanded, and modernised. Beer is everywhere at Het Botteltje. The bar has the booths, brass fittings, and polished brewery-branded mirrors of an old-style pub. The walls are covered in memorabilia from breweries past and present. There’s even a fingerpost near the entrance marked with the distances to famous breweries. It smells like a pub—unemptied slop trays, degreaser, and disinfectant—and those English tourists that came in the 1980s would easily recognise it as a pub.

The Lidl/Kalea Festbier gift box.

Thanks to social media every now and then beer enthusiasts in Britain will share an odd collective moment. This week, the cause of excitement – or hype, or hysteria – was a special box of beer from supermarket chain Lidl. At his blog Paul Bailey (no relation) explains the appeal of this unusual product:

[The] pack contained 10 x 500 ml bottles and according to the blurb on the side, all are beer specialties from privately owned breweries… The people behind this promotion might be pushing the point somewhat with one of the beers, Hofbräu Oktoberfest, as the brewery is owned by the Bavarian state, but leaving ownership issues aside, there are no foreign investors involved with the company. The other offerings are all, in the main, produced by small to medium family brewers all based in Bavaria. The pack itself represented good value at £24.99, so for a fraction under £2.50 a bottle, I now possess a variety of beers that are probably hard to come by in Bavaria (unless you know where to look), let alone south east England.

A mural of the Empire Windrush ship with the word 'migration' above.
A mural in Bristol. SOURCE: Gioconda Beekman on Flickr, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There are multiple fascinating threads in Ruvani de Silva’s latest piece for Pellicle. First, it’s a story about the immigrant experience in Britain. Secondly, it’s an interesting account of how brewing works in practice, with contracts and arrangements making it possible for a British brewer based in the US to produce a beer for the UK market. And, finally, it’s about a smoked lager with jerk spices, which sounds intriguing:

Windrush 75 is [Robyn Weise’s] first beer as Avenue and Road—a smoked helles lager with Caribbean jerk spices. The idea came to her when while sharing a post-work Aecht Schlenkerla smoked helles with a colleague. A longtime fan of smoked beer, Robyn began to consider how the flavour would pair with jerk spices and started experimenting at home, adding different combinations to the beer until she hit the right notes… Robyn’s goal was to make a beer that showcased her culture, but that also spoke to the wider immigrant experience—as well as being inclusive and easy-drinking.

Wild hops.

We’re always banging on about bitterness: why don’t more beers have more of it? Now Joe Stange, managing editor of Craft Beer & Brewing magazine, has written a piece called ‘The Bitterness Problem’ which attacks the question from multiple angles:

It’s a fascinating evolutionary quirk that we can both taste and enjoy bitterness… Consider the argument put forward by Yvan De Baets, founder-brewer at the Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels and one of the finest bitter-beer brewers in the business. He likes to say that our enjoyment of bitterness sets us apart from our animal selves—it’s a sign of culture and civilization… As people who taste and evaluate a lot of beer, we’re used to thinking about bitterness in a nonlinear way. Besides noticing how much bitterness, we tend to taste and describe different kinds and qualities of bitterness—soft, sharp, round, smooth, crisp, drying, resinous, quick, lasting, clean, firm, etc… Oddly, how our taste buds detect bitterness may be much simpler than that.

Converted warehouses in Bermondsey.

Each month, Will Hawkes sends out a newsletter, and makes the previous month’s newsletter available online to non-subscribers. The August edition of London: Beer City is online now and has, among other things, a profile of The Kernel, which is no longer a newcomer on the scene:

A lot has changed. Partizan no longer brews in Bermondsey. The other brewery most associated with The Kernel, Brew By Numbers, faces an even more uncertain future. Change is pervasive and relentless – but like the ravens in the Tower of London, we’ll know that modern brewing in the capital is in real trouble if The Kernel ever founders on the rocks… Its significance is such that it has become something of a heritage brand, widely regarded as a London classic, like Paddington Bear or double-decker buses. Perhaps it’s the largely unchanged pale brown labels, maybe it’s the commitment to historic recipes; but The Kernel has seeped into the fabric of modern London like no other small brewery.

Finally, from Mastodon, a classic ‘nugget’ about Usher’s of Trowbridge:

Nick Mitchell ( "Interesting Trowbridge Fact! Ushers of Trowbridge was #Wiltshire’s oldest #brewery, opening in 1824 and closing down in 2000. The #DPRK government wanted a #beer brewery, so it bought the plant, shipped it to Pyongyang, and since 2002 it has been the core of the state Taedonggang brewery. There was also a concern that it might be used to make chemical weapons…"

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

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