News, nuggets and longreads 7 October 2023: Village Green

Every Saturday, we round-up the best writing about beer from the past week. This time, we’ve got ancient beer, cork mats and village life.

First, a trailer for a film that John ‘The Beer Nut’ Duffy tells us is as good as it looks, having seen a screening in Dublin:

In the accompanying press release Dr Susan Flavin of the School of Histories and Humanities at Trinity College, says:

“Historians have long understood that beer was integral to social life and a vital source of nutrition in early modern Ireland and across Europe. However, until now our understanding of the calorie and alcohol content of historic beer has been based on theoretical calculations. We didn’t know what that beer looked and tasted like. How much alcohol it contained. Or how nutritious it was… To answer these questions a team of historians, archaeologists, scientists, craftspeople and filmmakers built a brewery and using heritage technology and grains we faithfully replicated a beer from Dublin Castle brewhouse recipes in the 1570s.”

A stand selling hats and toys at a beer festival.
A stall at Oktoberfest 2022 by Kimia on Unsplash.

We enjoyed Em Sauter’s piece about Oktoberfest for Forbes because it answered some questions we have which have prevented us from ever going. Questions such as “Is it as tacky as it looks?” and “Isn’t it just full of obnoxious drunk tourists?”

Six friends and I walked around the event. Many in the crowd were either in great spirits or had clearly had too many beers. The beer is only served in large, one-liter mugs (called masskrug or “mass” for short; that’s essentially a quart of beer!) and there’s only one style of beer served in the tents—a stronger version of golden lager called festbier that’s usually around 6% ABV. Our first encounter with drunkenness came in the form of two people passed out next to a carnival ride. A man about to vomit ran past us looking for a safe place to throw up. I understood immediately why people I knew had told me not to come here. Once I was inside the tent, though, I would tell them they were wrong; what I experienced was something so joyous that I wish I were there right now.

BrewDog bar sign.

At Oh Good Ale Phil has a confession to make: on weekday afternoons after work, he prefers drinking in BrewDog to drinking in the independently-owned bar that he’s supposed to like. It’s about atmosphere and consistency, as he explains:

In short, the bar owned by the CAMRA-baiting headline-chasers in bed with private equity delivered a better, more reliable and more consistent experience than the independent bar which I’m not going to name, and it did so precisely because it was a larger-scale operation with a more ‘corporate’ style: longer opening hours, multiple lines devoted to ‘silly’ options, in-your-face music, staff who keep shtum when they’re not trying to sell you something. My experience reminds me, to my embarrassment, of the South Park episode where the residents boycott a new chain coffee bar in favour of the longstanding independent coffee shop, only to find out when they actually try “Harbucks” that its coffee is far better (“Hey, this doesn’t taste like mud!”).

U Fleku sign, 2008.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth offers a deep-dive into a single beer, which is one of our favourite formats. This time, it’s U Fleků dark lager from Prague, which we remember fondly from our one encounter with it more than a decade ago:

U Fleků is… one of the most interesting breweries in the world, possibly the oldest, and absolutely the most important example of a tmavý brewed today… You’d think the recipe and formulation would be a state secret, but in fact, there’s not even a fixed recipe—and it’s not a secret at all. [Spokesman Martin] Plesný wrote: “Every master brewer has his own way to brew the beer, and there is no exact written recipe. The method is basically inherited generation by generation, and the outcome should be always the same: a 13° dark beer of a smooth taste and a bitterness which is agreeable, not excessive.”… Fleků’s basic recipe is well-known: 50% pilsner malt, 30% Munich, 15% caramel (or “toffee”), and 5% roasted malt.

Had it ever occurred to you to even think about who makes those big mattresses they drop beer kegs onto when they’re unloading them from the delivery truck? It turns out to be an interesting story, as revealed in a piece by Sam Tranum for The Dublin Inquirer, which opens with some atmosphere:

On Temple Lane South on Tuesday morning, a big Guinness-black flat-bed truck was stopped outside the Temple Bar… It was stacked with rows of silver kegs, hemmed in by a fence at the edge of the truck bed, to keep them from falling off… About 9.30am, Christopher Doyle jumped down, plopped an industrial-looking pillow – not the kind you’d want to lay your head on at night, much rougher – on the footpath and went to work… With help from Daragh Murphy, who was still up on the truck among the kegs, Doyle began dropping the kegs off the truck onto the pillow one by one – thump!

(Via The Beer Nut.)

Tom Canning’s most recent piece for Beer in Berkshire is in praise of village beer festivals, which occur up and down England with little fanfare every week of the year. Tom was inspired to write about this by Burghfest at Burghfield near Reading:

[Volunteer] run events are hard work when you’re on the other side of the bar, but it makes a massive difference when you know every penny you spend is going toward something, the people you are being served or helped by are enthusiastic and passionate about the event and businesses involved are almost always sole traders or doing their bit for a community… Maybe we should all stop going to mass corporate events, paying £7 for a pint of Greene King (I’m still angry at you The Oval) and get stuck into what’s on our doorstep…

An illustration of a man drinking a pint of beer with his hand obscuring his face.

Also from a Substack newsletter (where lots of interesting stuff lands these days) comes another portrait of customers at the imaginary Last Drop Inn from James the barman. The bar might be fictional but the regulars are drawn from life:

If you live in the local village, and needed something doing around your house, or if you’ve had children attend scouts, you’ll almost certainly have met Andy. Not only is he the local handyman, he’s also a prominent scout leader, and a committed member of Tea Time Club. He also has a good line in humorous t-shirts… The best of which take the form of a tick-box question: ‘are you drunk?’, with boxes reading ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and a large red cross nowhere near either box. He also has special outfits for each day of our annual beer and music festival. Or rather, he has as of this year. Sunday has been Hawaiian shirt day for several years.

Finally, from Instagram, a photo from a project about life in Europe…

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

One reply on “News, nuggets and longreads 7 October 2023: Village Green”

That Oktoberfest piece reminds me of the trade VIP passes I used to hunt out. It really is always better in the hospitality tent. But are you going to get an accurate assessment?

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