News, nuggets and longreads 28 October 2023: The Uninvited

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck as especially interesting or entertaining in the past week, from Americans failing in Europe to ‘fakelore’.

First, some words of wisdom from self-defined ‘elder’ Jeff Alworth: let people like what they like, and dial down the intensity a little, eh?

Time’s lessons can bring us a certain equanimity about what is important and what merely seems important. One example that has been rising in my mind a lot lately is this one: I don’t need to get worked up about what other people like and, in fact, I can take real pleasure in people who don’t like the things I like… This seems like a banal enough observation—like, really, who cares what beer you drink or car you drive or brand of shoes you wear? Yet in a social species, affinities matter—they become heuristics we use to evaluate each other. This was more true for me as a young person, still relevant well into adulthood, and it was only when I was well into my forties that it shifted. I distinctly remember saying the words “people like what they like” and feeling something click.

The exterior of John Kavanagh's, a traditional Irish pub.
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

Lisa Grimm’s tour of Dublin’s pubs continues with a visit to John Kavanagh’s, AKA The Gravediggers. This time, it’s not a craft beer hot spot but one famous for its Guinness, popular with tourists, and just a little bit spooky:

For those who have never been to The Gravediggers – or, improbable though it seems, have never read anything about it – it’s exactly as you’ve likely heard: the pub is built into one of the walls of Glasnevin Cemetery… and it has been in the same family since 1833. The plain wood floors and swinging doors divide it into cosy snugs, and the tobacco-smoke-stained walls have certainly ‘seen some things.’ There is no music or television, though on more than one occasion, including this most recent visit, there may be an auld fella surreptitiously streaming a horse race or two on his phone.

A billboard advertising Brooklyn Pilsner on an industrial estate.
Bristol, summer 2023.

At VinePair Will Hawkes digs into the question of why American craft beer might not be making an impact in Europe. It’s a fascinating topic for those of us who remember when craft beer was American, and have wondered why it’s disappeared from the beer lists of specialist shops and bars. Of course it’s mostly about price:

Nigel Owen runs Mother Kelly’s, a group of craft beer bars and bottle shops in London. In the past he’s imported American craft beer, such as Barrier Brewing from New York, but no longer. Prices are too high. For a 30-liter keg of 4 to 5 percent ABV pale ale from a London brewery, he’d expect to pay between $120 and $145; an equivalent American beer would be closer to $180 or $195 — and, crucially, would be less fresh… It’s not just the U.K., where Brexit has added an extra layer of economic gloom. At Malt Attacks, a bottle shop in Brussels, Belgium, owner Antoine Pierson no longer stocks much American beer, he says, because the price makes it very hard to sell.

Seans' Bar, a pub with a blue frontage and funky modern sign.
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED.

Is Sean’s Bar in Athlone “Ireland’s oldest pub” as is claimed? Probably not. At the website of archaeological consultancy Triskele Heritage James Wright (we think) demolishes the public relations story:

It is proudly claimed on the pub’s website that an inn was founded by Luain Mac Luighdeach at a ford over the River Shannon in 900AD. A settlement then grew up around the pub and this became Áth Luain (the Ford of Luain), later Athlone. It is alleged that the public house, now known as Sean’s Bar, has been serving drinks to locals and travellers continuously since Luain started trading… However, literally nothing beyond the personal name is known about Luan, let alone that he set up a pub in 900AD. Given the sparsity of evidence for early development it seems more likely that the bridge and castle led to the settlement in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Significantly, there is not “a detailed and documented history right back to 900AD” for either the town or the pub.

And you should chase it with an excellent opinion piece from Liam K at Irish Beer History on the subject of ‘fakelore’ and the temptation to embellish when it comes to putting dates on pubs:

If you tell a story often enough it will spread and take over everything it touches, and you can never take it back. That mistruth, that lie, that embellishment, will always be there sliding into people’s minds and thoughts being constantly repeated, written, rewritten and recorded until the author too believes what they have perpetuated… We shouldn’t create beer and brewing related history, we should just record facts as best we can at any given time.

A brain.

Jordan St. John asks a big question: “How do you write about craft beer at this point?” His post isn’t really about beer, it’s about the sense that society is collapsing around him, making writing about fancy beer feel pointless. It perhaps speaks to global consumer mood. Here’s the best bit:

Hell, in a situation where everyone is strapped, can you ethically ask for samples for review? Am I going to write about trends? What trends? Someone’s going to put hops or puree in one of the remaining unhopped styles?… I figure the only way to do it is as a function of this general situation. That means that some of what I’m going to tell you is going to be grim. We’re going to lose a lot of breweries over the next six months. I had to lock down access to the spreadsheet I use to keep track because I needed columns for “affiliation” for when brewing companies shack up and “rumour and scuttlebutt” because there’s so much that it needs a column.

Schneider Hopfenweisse wheat beer.

For ‘Learn to homebrew day’ Stan Hieronymus shared a recipe for Schneider’s hoppy Weizen ‘Mein Nelson Sauvin’ from his book For the Love of Hops. Stan suggests this particular beer is a good reminder that hoppy beers don’t need to be IPAs and quotes brewmaster Hans-Peter Drexler:

“The idea was to build a bridge from characteristic traditional wheat beer flavors to the wine aroma. (For that) I found Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand and yeast from Belgium combined with local wheat and barley malt,” he said. It was the first time Schneider used any yeast other than its own… “In Germany we have a saying: Tradition does not mean keeping the ashes but carrying on the fire,” Drexler said. “In that sense hops could help to continue the Bavarian tradition of brewing wheat beer.”

Finally, a reminder that there’s a rare opportunity to see us doing an in-person ‘thing’, talking with David Jesudason about his book Desi Pubs, at The Good Measure in Bristol next Wednesday, 1 November, from 18:30.

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