News, nuggets and longreads 9 December 2023: Wonderful Life

Every week we round-up the most interesting and informative writing about beer from the previous seven days. This time we’ve got post-war pubs, ABV and foodborne pathogens.

First, a great resource from Historic England: a list of historic pub walks in cities across the country. What’s fascinating is how rarely the pubs mentioned are the same ones beer geeks would recommend. Compare their Bristol list with ours, for example – only one pub appears on both.

Andreas Akerlund. SOURCE: Pellicle/Lily Waite.

At Pellicle Will Hawkes has done what he does best: proper journalism, digging below the surface, speaking to people who don’t otherwise get spoken to. In this case, it’s the owner of a pub chain, Grace Land, who Will argues played a vital role in the rise of London’s craft beer scene:

Andreas Akerlund is hard to miss. Tall, bearded and with grey-brown locks swept defiantly back from a balding pate, the Swedish co-owner of London pub group Grace Land stands out in a crowd… He prefers, though, to blend into the background… He doesn’t like to be photographed… It’s this undemonstrative nature, perhaps, that explains why his key role in modern London beer is so under-appreciated. He has been, variously, co-founder of Barworks, whose dozen-or-so pubs were essential addresses during craft beer’s boom years; champion of quality beer since the 1990s, when he put Freedom, London’s first modern lager brewery, on the bar at the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen; start-up investor and director in Camden Town, one of the city’s game-changing breweries, in 2010; and co-owner with Anselm Chatwin of Grace Land, whose six pubs are amongst London’s best for drinking beer.

Design Research Unit designs for Watney's.
A page-spread from Design Research Unit 1945-1972, by A Practice for Everyday Life.

Liam K has reached the 15th stop in his list of 50 objects that tell the story of Irish brewing. This particular entry is right up our street covering, as it does, post-war pub design, typography, and Watney’s:

In early 1967 the Watney Mann group became the majority shareholder in Murphys and in that year it was decided that all of its tied pubs should have a uniform look, so the manager of the tied houses Rex Archer along with Cork illustrator and artist William Harrington were sent off to study the branding and look of the Wilson Brewery houses in Manchester. Wilsons brewery had itself been absorbed by Watney Mann in 1960 and it appears that shortly after this time new branding was rolled out for its houses. Although Harrington came up with designs for the interior of some of the Cork pubs and perhaps the exterior too, it seems that a decision was made to just copy the typeface and signage from the Wilson’s pubs right down to the gold text on a black background rather than come up with something specifically for Murphy’s houses.

To add a bit of additional context, the branding Liam describes was conceived by the Design Research Unit and applied across the Watney’s pub estate, including pubs owned by breweries it took over. The particular lettering Liam has noticed is in ‘English Two-Line Antique’. Liam’s post also led us to this cool modern font called ‘Freehouse’ inspired by vintage Watney’s signage – nice!

The sign of The Wackum Inn, a Greene King pub in Bristol.

The Pub Curmudgeon has a particular interest in the impact of government policy on the reality of beer and pubs. This week, he dug into how changes to the beer duty thresholds have affected the strength of beers on the market:

The biggest mover in the cask beer field has been Greene King IPA, which has been cut from 3.6% to 3.4%. This is the second biggest cask seller, but most of the rest of the Top Ten are 4.0% or above and so probably won’t be shifting. Its strength has been reduced in all formats. I don’t know whether this will cause any kickback in its traditional East Anglian heartland, but elsewhere it tends to be just dismissed as a standard “ordinary”, so it will probably make little difference… Other cask beers that have been cut from 3.5% are Hook Norton Hooky Bitter and Hawkshead Windermere Pale. Such a small reduction is unlikely to make much difference either to taste or the beers’ appeal. Marble Brewery have cut their Pint all the way down from 3.9%.

It’s also worth checking out his post on the latest stats on the best-selling cask ales. Bookmark these numbers so you’ve got them handy next time someone says “You can’t get a normal brown bitter any more!”

The interior of a pub with an upper gallery designed to look like Tudor houses.
The Purley Tavern. SOURCE: Lloyd Lugsden.

In his weekly newsletter, newly-crowned Beer Writer of the Year David Jesudason has written about another post-war pub – one he remembers from his childhood, with complex feelings. With our interest in the gimmicky pub design of this period we were especially intrigued by one detail he mentions:

The pub was demolished in 2020, and on a Facebook page people mainly wax lyrical about it being a community space among the occasional “shithole” comment. It’s likely it was both as a few people say how diverse it was, how friendly the bar staff were but how it possessed a volatile atmosphere at the pool table… A lot of posters mention the décor but I don’t remember the houses above the bar because if it’s your first visit to a pub you normalise what you see. I guess I expected a mini-Mock Tudor village in a ceiling in every boozer… Now, though, I realise how special this feature was and Dead Pubs of Bedfordshire (Vol 2) contains this account from Bob Currie, who liked me, visited the Purley as a child: “I always remember the fake buildings in the roof, and always wanted to go exploring up there.”

Illustration of the word 'Zero'.

There’s no surprise here, really, but a new study suggests that non-alcoholic beer poses more risk when it comes to “foodborne pathogens”. This is particularly interesting as more breweries, not just the biggest players, start making non-alcoholic beer. Here’s how Blaine Friedlander explains it in something like simple terms:

Traditional beers—which can be up to 10% alcohol by volume—contain low pH, harbor a presence of ethanol, provide acid from the hops and keep little oxygen, all of which contribute to microbial stability. In fact, for beer wort boiling (the watery grain simmer that starts the brewing process), the natural pasteurization, filtration and cold storage contribute to pathogen safety as well, according to the paper… The researchers said that due to increasing consumer demand for nonalcoholic beer served on draft—or poured from a keg, for example—also could boost microbial problems. The group suggested that nonalcoholic beer kegs, draft-system tubing and beer-pouring faucets should be sanitized regularly to eliminate potential foodborne pathogens and spoilage organisms.

Finally, from social media, another Christmas gift idea…

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

2 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 9 December 2023: Wonderful Life”

Interesting, I looked at the Manchester historic pubs list and only two of the five are featured in my guide, which is quite a remarkable ratio considering there are 185 pubs in the book. The selection is interesting though, a couple of really good pubs and three that I consider to be otherwise unremarkable other than the fact they’re listed buildings; a wetherspoons and two managed houses that are part of massive chains. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d seldom chose to drink in them because there are far better and more interesting pubs close by.

Yes, across the cask market as a whole, brown bitter isn’t an endangered species, but in a certain type of pub it seems to be. One well-known free house near me has 12 cask lines, which are typically 9 pale, 2 dark and one brown (if you’re lucky).

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