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:
- On-trade sales were up 7% in December 2023 compared to the same period in 2022: “
- Jezza at Beer Guide London has stats on breweries in the capital (down 11).
- He also has notes on the number of pubs or bars good enough for the guide (up 3): “Notable this year is the number of places deleted due to a reduction in beer range, as opposed to closure.”
- Breal Capital has snapped up another brewery, Purity, to go alongside Black Sheep, Brick and Brew by Numbers.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Though the tradition is dwindling, along with the number of beer blogs, a few people joined in with producing Golden Pints posts this year:
- Paul Bailey (no relation) shouted out Harvey’s Sussex Best, among others
- John ‘The Beer Nut’ Duffy in Dublin chose Black Donkey as his top brewery
- Duncan ‘Pubmeister’ Mackay doesn’t call his a Golden Pints and also includes football grounds and moths
- Benjamin ‘Ben Viveur’ Nunn couldn’t choose one beer of the year and named four
- ‘Velky’ Al Reece doesn’t do a single Golden Pints post but several reviewing the year from different angles
- Roy at Quare Swally focused on Northern Ireland and had good things to say about Boundary and Bullhouse
- Ed Wray, ever the traditionalist, struggled to choose between Fuller’s Vintage Ale and Gale’s Prize Old
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.