News, nuggets and longreads 6 January 2024: Innsmouth Look

Here’s all the writing about beer that grabbed our attention in this wet, gloomy first week of January 2024, from stats to smoked beer.

Let’s start with a collection of notes on the health of the UK hospitality and brewing industries:

We’re under no illusion that 2024 is going to be a boom year for beer, and January is often a particularly rocky time, but things do seem to be gently ebbing rather than collapsing. Maybe we’ll do a full on predictions post but, for now, what we said last year probably still applies.

A glass of Tribute on a pub table, with 'Cornish Pale Ale' on the glass.

You know our fascination with the weaselly ways breweries avoid telling consumers where a given beer is actually being produced. For some time we’ve been eyeing St. Austell Korev with suspicion – “Born in Cornwall” is it? Now it turns out bottled St. Austell Tribute is no longer described as Cornish on the label because it’s sometimes produced at the Bath Ales facility near Bristol. It’s still in the West Country, just about, rather than Burton for Sharp’s Doom Bar, but it does feel as if they might have underestimated the appeal of beer from a place. Although they’re very keen to underline that the cask version is still brewed in its hometown.

The window of Mort Subite in Brussels.

Your mileage may vary, of course. In Brussels, as Eoghan Walsh reports, there’s a sense of impending doom:

50%. That’s the number of hospitality businesses Moeder Lambic co-owner Jean Hummler thought would close from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hummler made his prediction in the Spring of 2021, speaking to me in his living in the middle of another national lockdown. A little over two years later and Hummler’s apocalyptic prognosis has not quite come to pass. Though the number of new openings has slowed, as of the end of 2023, only one brewery has closed and the wholesale collapse of the industry has yet to materialise… But that isn’t much cause for optimism. in a widely-shared article earlier in the year, Le Fooding Magazine editor Elisabeth Debourse drew attention to the overlapping challenges bar and restaurant owners have struggled to overcome this year in the wake of the pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine. The acute impact of inflation. Rising energy prices and raw material costs. Debt. Increased fiscal oversight. A burnt-out workforce. Declining customer numbers.

A pumpclip for Torrside Bugbear American Brown Ale.

For Pellicle Katie Mather has written about Torrside Brewery from Derbyshire, which has a cult following partly built around its smoke barleywines:

The owners of Torrside – a brewery founded here in Derbyshire’s High Peak in 2015 – are also its brewers, a team of best friends and their partners. Chris Clough, Peter Sidwell and Nick Rothko-Wright have brewed together since finding each other at Manchester Homebrew Club in 2013, sharing their delight in subverting classic and historic styles – or simply making them up… “I’m glad we don’t have a business manager,” Chris tells me. “Because they wouldn’t let us make smoked barleywines that might only sell a few bottles. But that’s what we want to do.”

The historic interior of a pub with beams, benches and fireplace.
The historic Bell at Aldworth. SOURCE: Dermot Kennedy/Pub Gallery.

At Pub Gallery Dermot Kennedy has taken a break from his usual programming to provide a run down of the top 5 pub discoveries he made in 2023. If this doesn’t get you looking forward to exploring when the weather becomes bright and drier, there’s no hope for you:

All the pub is like a time warp but the star of the show from a heritage point of view is the Tap Room on the left with its red quarry tiled floor, huge inglenook fireplace and Victorian furniture. The bar has a serving hatch on each of its three sides and I started with a pint of Arkell’s 3B. Three generations of the family were around on our visit, including the landlady, now in her 90s, and full of tales from the past. Her son, effectively the landlord, was full of questions, and her grandson who brews in the small barn at the back allowed us a pint each of his Five Giants, not due to go on until the next day. We were welcome to park our camper van on the field above the car park, so we were able to dine on the famous pub rolls and have a few more pints before we headed off to bed.

A pint of golden ale.

Though the tradition is dwindling, along with the number of beer blogs, a few people joined in with producing Golden Pints posts this year:

You might find more; these are just the ones we noticed.

And in the world of social media we want to highlight once again the Instagram feed of Brasserie de l’Union in Brussels, which provides a constant stream of images that, together, evoke what this particular bar feels like:

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

5 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 6 January 2024: Innsmouth Look”

I noticed bottled Proper Job changed its label from Brewed in Cornwall to Brewed in the UK a while ago.

Having recently being to St Austell to film a video about Tribute it’s no secret that beers are also brewed at the Hare brewery to allow them to keep up with demand. There has also been significant investment and there is more they are doing this year to keep up at the St Austell site and to keep as brewing on site as possible.

All the canned products come from the Hare brewery, but all cask is from St Austell and pretty much all the bottles from what they told us.

Brewing on two sites which are owned by the same company is challenging for any business as they’ll be keen make the beer identical, far more so than if it was being brewed under contract like some breweries do to keep with demand.

Being a fan of St Austell beer I’ve never noticed any difference that can help to identify a Hare beer from a St Austell brewed beer in the bottled product which is what I drink mostly.

Have a watch of what they shared with us

We’ve tended to argue that there’s a difference between ‘no secret’ (those in the know know, or can find out) vs. actual transparency. If it doesn’t say “Brewed in St. Austell or Bristol” on the packaging then it’s still a bit sly, in our opinion. Especially when its essential Cornishness is what many people are buying into.

A single label is simpler and more cost effective.

Having two versions can cause complications production wise, two labels, two print runs, more cost, risk of mislabelling etc. regardless of which site it’s brewed at then allows one item of stock that can be shared between sites should it need to be.

This is probably more likely to be the reason for the change combined with a need to state a country legally rather than a region/county for exporting.

When we talked about the two site brewing they were very open and happy to talk about it and we’re certainly not being sly or secretive, and didn’t ask us to not mention it on camera either. They don’t see it as two breweries or two teams, it is very much one team, one business that share ideas, skills and work in partnership with each other to produce the best beer possible regardless of brand or location.

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