News, nuggets and longreads 2 December 2023: Bleak House

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from insolvency to skinny pizzas.

At the start of the year we made a prediction that 2023 wouldn’t “apocalyptic” when it came to brewery closures. Now, new figures obtained under Freedom of Information from the UK Insolvency Service suggest that as many breweries closed in the first half of 2023 as in the whole of 2022. Jessica Mason has the story for The Drinks Business:

Matt Howard, head of insolvency and recovery at Price Bailey said: “The craft beer market was already oversaturated before the economic fallout from the pandemic tightened its grip. Many breweries were walking a balance sheet tightrope and have been plunged into the red by a combination of soaring overheads and falling demand for premium brands… The sector tends to be highly leveraged and therefore vulnerable to interest rate rises which push up the cost of servicing debt. Even in benign economic conditions small breweries can struggle to turn a profit for a few years but with higher borrowing and raw ingredient costs, coupled with weakening consumer demand, many startups are likely to fold before they get out of the red.”

Now we stand ready to have a debate about the meaning of the word ‘apocalyptic’.

Illustration of a beer mug mostly full of foam.

For The Washington Post Ruvani de Silva has written about the rising popularity of foamy beer in the US, inspired by Czech pouring traditions:

Lukr’s uniquely designed “side-pour” tap, introduced in the late 1990s, utilizes a clever ball-valve mechanism that allows servers to regulate the flow speed of beer through the faucet, enabling them to create traditional Czech-style foam-focused pilsner pours with ease and precision. These pours include the hladinka, šnyt and mlíko, which respectively offer three fingers, three-fifths, and a full glass of foam, each delivering a different drinking experience… The mlíko is a carefully poured full glass of soft, sweet, wet foam that resembles milk; hence the name, which translates as “milk pour.”

(This wasn’t behind a paywall for us; you might find it is.)

A woman smiling at a glass of Skol Lager from a 1960 advertisement.

Lillian Stone has written for BBC Worklife (what?) about the importance of women beer drinkers to the brewing industry, with input from various familiar names. The suggestion is that including women isn’t just a matter of equality – it’s a commercial opportunity:

As women begin to outnumber men as alcohol consumers, the beer world is counting on them to imbibe – and beginning to accommodate them as a major market, once pushed aside in a male-dominated industry… Kate Bernot, a beverage-alcohol reporter who has written extensively on demographic shifts for Good Beer Hunting’s Sightlines, calls inclusive marketing an “economic imperative”… Bernot notes a big reason for this shift is a growing number of women leaders calling the shots in the historically male beer-company boardrooms. Maggie Timoney, chief executive officer at Heineken USA, climbed the ranks within the company to take the top spot in 2021; at Molson Coors, Michelle St Jacques has led as chief commercial officer since March.

Wetherspoon pub sign, Penzance.

For The Guardian Rich Pelley has written about ‘Wetherspoon’s the Game!!!’ which sounds like fun, fairly harmless pyramid scheme:

The game works due to a loophole in the Wetherspoon’s app. Apps for outlets such as McDonald’s and Pizza Express use your phone’s location services to verify you physically at a location. The Spoons app, which was introduced by the pub chain in 2017, asks you to manually confirm which pub you are in, and which table you are sitting at. You can be sitting in, say, The Muckle Cross, the nearest Spoons to John O’Groats, and someone in Land’s End can order you a drink to your table through the app on their phone. Playing the game means that you would like others to pay for your food and drink. All you have to do is post your location and table number in the Facebook group, and the free booze and grub will come flying.

The Boundary brewery taproom in an old red brick building.
SOURCE: The Beer Nut.

The Beer Nut managed to wangle a trip to Belfast which gave him an opportunity to conduct a somewhat comprehensive survey of the city’s brewing scene, with typical wit and incisiveness:

As chairman of Beoir, I get first call on where the AGM should be. This year, the place that had been niggling my need-to-visit sense, was Belfast. It has developed its brewery-based beer scene quite significantly in recent years, and I wanted a look at that… The day began at the Boundary Taproom on the Newtownards Road. It’s a taproom very much in the taproom style: a cleared-out industrial space, minimally decorated and furnished with folding tables and benches. Boundary is noteworthy for the sheer number of different beers it produces, and there were about twenty on the draught menu, with a couple of guests…

Kevin’s Dad and brother with bar pizzas. SOURCE: Casket Beer.

We’re fascinated by American regional pizza styles and ‘bar pizzas’ or ‘bar pies’ is one we’ve heard of but never quite understood. Kevin Kain at Casket Beer has a substantial post explaining these rather insubstantial pizzas, with lots of photo evidence:

Bar pies didn’t pop on my radar until around 2005 when I would go to a few bars in Brooklyn that offered them for free with each drink you bought. I didn’t think much of them at the time. They were just small pizzas that served a purpose. Good, cheap, utilitarian sustenance for when you’re out having a few drinks… The free bar pies I had back in the day were straightforward. Crust, sauce, and cheese on a small, thin, crispy pie served at a bar. That’s it… They’re not meant to be a big meal, can be shared, and you’re not going there specifically for it, so they’re not the star of the show. That’s the idea anyway.

(If we wanted to recreate these at home, we might start with a flour tortilla as the base. And will certainly be giving that a go.)

Finally, from social media, a good example of looking at the details:

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