“Unfortunately… there remain significant shortages across hospitality with 132,000 vacancies, 48% above pre-pandemic levels,” said chief executive Kate Nicholls. “These shortages are actively forcing businesses to reduce their opening hours, or even days. This is not good for businesses, the public or the economy… We need to take stock of the current labour market, where we have shortages and what role the immigration system can play in aiding businesses. For example, adding chefs to the Shortage Occupation List would be a practical measure to plug a gaping hole for businesses and provide a huge boost to the sector.”
We’ll add some anecdotal observations of our own: this problem is not unique to the UK. Last autumn, every bar and restaurant we visited in Germany was recruiting, with a real sense of urgency. This past fortnight, in Italy, we saw more of the same. But not in Paris. What is France doing differently?
This week’s chunkiest read by far is an academic paper called ‘Understanding early modern beer: an interdisciplinary case study’ by Susan Flavin, Marc Meltonville , Charlie Taverner, Joshua Reid, Stephen Lawrence, Carlos Belloch-Molina and John Morrissey. We’re not academics (though Jess does have a history degree) and found it both accessible and engaging. Here’s a summary of the paper from the abstract:
Beer was a crucial part of diets in sixteenth-century Ireland, as it was in most of northern Europe. It fuelled manual labour and greased the wheels of social life from grand dining rooms down to raucous alehouses in towns and villages. This drink was in many ways comparable to its modern counterpart – it used hops, was lightly bitter, and was produced using similar processes – but it was also distinctive, employing pre-modern varieties of grains, brewed with heavy quantities of oats as well as barley, and reliant on less precise equipment. To understand more deeply beer’s significance as an intoxicating and energy-providing foodstuff, it is vital to move beyond theoretical calculations and rough approximations with present-day equivalents. This can only be achieved by attempting to recreate an early modern beer, following the practices of past brewers, and employing the most accurate ingredients and technology possible.
The account given of how appropriate grains, hops and yeast were sourced is remarkable, and offers quite a contrast to those ‘inspired by’ semi-historical beers occasionally released by commercial breweries.
Jeff Alworth has a fascinating story about a new variety of hop that just… turned up? It’s called Monocacy and might, or might not, be a variety of wild hop. What the scientists will say, choosing their words carefully, is that it doesn’t match any existing variety they currently have in their database:
The Agricultural Research Service is the in-house research agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it turns out Dr. [Nahla] Bassil doesn’t work alone there. When I arrived at the modest building where her office is located, I was surprised to find a whole team ready to greet me… The process starts with a piece of the plant. “You want the tissue of the mother plant, not the gamete [like a seed]” she began. “Young leaf tissue has less secondary metabolites, and the DNA is cleaner.” For some reason, I assumed they’d actually use the hop itself—I suppose because that’s what scientists test for things like oil content. Nope, they take a small bit of leaf and grind it up until it becomes powdery. They use a “buffer”—a chemical compound—to separate the DNA from the plant, and then unzip the paired DNA strands under high temperature with an enzyme and more chemicals, and “amplify” certain sections of the DNA sequence.
It’s Mark Johnson’s turn to tackle two topics that, as he points out, come up time and time again: children in pubs, and dogs in pubs. As ever, he puts a personal spin on it, reflecting on his own childhood experience of pubs, and that of his sister:
I once took my niece to the pub… She was either 1 or 2 years of age. I often looked after her on Saturdays and on one of our weekly walks, for the first time, I stopped by the local pub, mainly because my friend was there with his daughter of similar age… The two kids got on well together and it was a lovely couple of hours; a perfect showcase of adult friends and their children existing in public houses… But my sister was furious. She didn’t rant or rave but her lips were purser than a 90s children’s show teacher. It was here that I learned of the effect that our childhood had had upon her. She recalls many an afternoon being bored in the corner of pubs that our Dad had dragged us to, arms folded in the corner with nothing to do, and she doesn’t want the same for her children.
Some of porter’s decline might stem from the blue collar accessibility that made it popular in the first place. Since its adoption by American craft brewers as a standard style in the 1980s, American porter has generally been brewed to between 5.5-6.0% ABV with a medium body and moderate hopping. In the last decade or even half-decade, we’ve seen a split in style trends, with easy drinkability at one end of the spectrum and strong, intensely-flavoured beers at the other end. A 4.5% German pilsner might have brewers and die-hards salivating, while 14% behemoths dominate the rankings on Untappd. A roasty, 6% beer is something of a no-man’s-land, neither low enough in strength or mild enough in flavour to be “sessionable” nor strong or intense enough to be daring.
Roy at Quare Swally has got us thinking with his latest post. It’s about Farmaggedon, a Northern Irish brewery that recently folded after almost a decade in business:
It’s weird to think they were one of our longest standing breweries as I vividly recall attending their launch night in 2014 upstairs at what used to be known as Aether & Echo – now the Deer’s Head pub in Belfast… Back then they started off with a trio of Gold pale ale, IPA and Porter but the range grew to include the likes of red ale, rye IPA, US wheat beer, barleywine and even cider! I recall the first Farmageddon beer to really hook me in was the Mosaic SMASH of 2014. You know that feeling when you take a sip of a new beer and you know it’s going to be fun? I loved that beer and so did many others. That single malt and single hop (SMASH) release manifested into what would become Mosaic IPA – becoming part of the core range, one of the brewery’s most popular beers and was voted CAMRA NI‘s Champion Beer of the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival 2016.
Not least because some beer historian in 20 or 30 years time might have the same kind of struggle we faced when writing Brew Britannia, scrambling around to pin down even the barest facts about breweries that came and went in the 1970s and 80s.
Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from high streets to dark bitter.
First, an insight into one of the biggest threats to pubs: the mysteries and complexities of the planning system. In a letter to the government this week the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has highlighted a potential problem with ‘levelling up’ proposals:
CAMRA won landmark protection for pubs just five years ago, with the removal of permitted development rights that had let developers convert or demolish pubs without giving communities their say through the planning process… High Street Rental Auction proposals are currently under consultation with the aim of rejuvenating highstreets by letting Councils auction leases for a range of vacant property types, but these proposals miss the mark by reintroducing permitted development rights that would see pubs converted, divided up into multiple units, or gutted of fittings without the need for planning permission.
If the pandemic hurt Mikkeller, it crushed People Like Us. This brewery, set up to provide work opportunities for autistic people, organized the Social Revolution By Beer festival. It was… hamstrung by the first Covid-related constraints in Denmark, restricting how many people could gather in one place. Worse was to come… People Like Us’s unique structure, which entails employing many people, some on contracts of just five or six hours a week, proved its downfall. Because of that, the company didn’t qualify for government employee assistance, and was forced to look elsewhere for cash. It took on investment and signed a deal to sell beer in supermarkets, but three months on that was canceled. It was painfully overextended and by December, the game was up.
Has Gary Gillman unearthed a lost British beer style? He has certainly found numerous references to ‘dark bitter’ or similar in early 20th century sources, and suggests links to the modern concept of black IPA:
I propose it as the next big thing, in fact. Dark Bitter: A blackish, faintly roasty, yet traditional English-tasting pint, so driven by Fuggle and Golding hops or others of pre-craft British tradition (Target, etc.)… No doubt there are beers in the market that resemble this model. Woodeford’s Norfolk Nog comes to mind. Styled dark ale on the bottle, it may have remote porter origins… But Shakespeare’s injunction that a rose by any other name is as sweet doesn’t really apply in the beer world. A simple but arresting name, like Black IPA., can go a long way… So can Dark Bitter, I believe.
In her latest newsletterCourtney Iseman has a quote from Josh Bernstein that feels like a useful addition to the current conversation around where craft beer is at, and where it has been:
When I think back to 2012, I mean, it was really this era of the brewmaster-end-all-be-all, you know what I mean? So…all the information and all the beer knowledge came forth from them… If you think about it back then, the brewmaster as celebrity, that concept was huge. You almost needed these figureheads, I think, to be able to talk about what was happening…to communicate vast changes [in beer]. And there was a huge factor of showmanship back then, too, showing what was possible with beer… It was just this era of just trying to get people’s attention… It was a very big P. T. Barnum-esque moment. I think for a writer’s perspective, there were all these great narratives of these people going David-versus-Goliath, and if you fast forward to today, you realize that everything wasn’t quite as cut-and-dried. Everything is really blunt in the ways we talked about beer back then because we were so caught up in this idea of promoting the idea of how beer could be so different and all these rebels and revolutions and iconoclasts…
The rest of the newsletter is, as always, worth reading too.
Smithwicks – or St. Francis Abbey Brewery to give them their proper title – launched the ‘Time’ rebrand of most of their ale range in March of 1960 to coincide with their “250th” anniversary celebrations. During this upheaval their best-selling ‘No. 1’ pale ale would remain unchanged but their ‘Export Ale’ would become ‘Time Ale’ and their ‘SS Ale’ would become ‘Extra Time Ale.’ Their barley wine would also be rebranded in October of the same year to ‘Time Barley Wine’ and a few years later in 1963 a new lager called ‘Idea’ was launched and these five beers would form the Smithwicks’ range at that time… The rebranding appears to have been an attempt to bring the brewery’s image into the modern world of the sixties…
[My] genuine love for tasting beer and visiting different types of pubs pulled me away from oblivion… It made me focus on the positives without the need for pushing it that extra few drinks…. Yet when I had those destructive thoughts again in 2015, I easily fell back into the hole, only now I was in the bubble and could hide in plain sight. For a time I could push it too far at industry events or evenings in the pub and wake up sprawled across my landing. “One more DIPA for the socials” I could say whilst secretly hoping it’d be enough to knock myself out until the morning. That year, I threw up all over the toilets at Indy Man Beer Con and lost my glasses. Somehow it became an amusing anecdote.
Finally, from Twitter…
If you’re after a Twitter alternative, do check out Mastodon and Substack Notes. We’re fairly active on the former (about as active as we are on Twitter these days) and dabbling with the latter.
Here’s our regular round-up of the best reading about beer and pubs from the past week, including Jewish hop merchants, Bristol breweries and hazy IPA.
First, some local news: Bristol brewery Dawkins Ales has announced it is closing its brewery. That’s two breweries Bristol has lost this year, the other being Newtown Park, and three if you count the Wild Beer Co. Five pubs under the Dawkins Taverns umbrella will continue trading, but without Dawkins beer – creating opportunities for the Bristol breweries that remain, we suppose, as they too struggle in a challenging market.
And there’s also an update on last week’s story about Brew by Numbers. Last week, we used the phrase ‘shutting up’ as shorthand when ‘called in the administrators’ would have been more accurate – and was, indeed, the language used in the report we linked to. A week on, the London brewery has issued its own statement:
“[We] have relocated our business to a new site in Greenwich to expand and address the financial impacts of the pandemic. Regrettably, despite our best efforts, we have had to close our Bermondsey site due to the combined COVID-19 debt burden and the recent cost of living crisis… Moving forward we are now pleased to report that we are in the final stages of securing a deal as part of a restructuring process that will bring in new investors with financial expertise to ensure our future success.”
1992 also saw the opening of another seminal New York beer bar: Mugs Ale House, founded by Ed Berestecki in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Compared to the high camp of Burp Castle, Mugs was a good, old-fashioned tavern that felt like it had been there for a hundred years, with a cast of regulars as firmly rooted as the barstools on which they sat… As former bartender Hayley Karl recalls, many of those regulars were early beer industry members and craft beer fans… For me, Mugs existed in that liminal space between an explicitly craft-focused beer bar and a divey pub… Karl regales me with stories from what she calls the best bartending job she’s ever had… “It was like the HBO version of ‘Cheers.’ Where everybody knows … you got stabbed,” she quips.
For the same publication Tasha Prados has written about the part Jewish people played in the brewing industry of Bamberg, Germany’s “beer capital”:
In Bamberg, Jewish families came to govern the hop trade in what was then one of the main nodes of the global hop business. Markus Raupach, the Bamberg-based author of “Bier: Geschichte und Genuss” (or “Beer: History and Enjoyment”), says that Jewish hop traders in his city benefited from their international contacts, which gave them a highly productive network that transcended language barriers. This allowed them to quickly implement innovations from abroad, he notes, and gave them the means to make up for poor regional harvests with imported hops… Christian Kestel, economic historian at Weyermann Specialty Malting, says that over 100 Jewish firms and families dominated Bamberg’s hop trading business by the end of the 19th century.
At The ConversationIan Shaw has written about how business have used, and continue to use, the imagery of royal crowns to borrow “majesty, authority and sovereignty” for themselves:
The Danish royal warrant entitles an organisation to display “an image of the crown along with the company’s name on signs”. Carlsberg beer is a prominent example of this… Of course, while some brands have an official royal endorsement, most organisations with a crown name or logo do not have a direct association with monarchy. Sometimes the crown brand name is used for its cultural associations – see the many British pubs called “The Crown”… The Mexican beer brand Corona, which uses both a crown name and logo, is the most valuable beer brand in the world, worth US$7 billion.
A lot of breweries and beer institutions are turning 10 this year, observes Mark Dredge in his latest piece for Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service. He looks back on the past decade and draws out some trends and key themes:
The IPAs of 2013 were so bright you could read that year’s best-of list through any of the beers. Sparkling and golden-amber in colour, they were simply American IPAs and didn’t need a West Coast prefix to make drinkers realise it’s not a hazy New England beer – the whole prospect of a cloudy yellow IPA was still a curiosity. Viewed from 2023, where almost all IPAs (and Pale Ales) are now at least a bit hazy, and many are totally opaque with a mouthfeel often described with adjectives like smooth, thick and juicy, those original West Coasters feel like a throwback. That clean clarity and crispness of flavour has gone sweet and squidgy, and it’s not just the IPAs.
This is fascinating to us because we’ve got our own data points: our book Brew Britannia which came out in 2014 had hazy beer as an outlying but potentially significant trend. And in 2015, when we wrote an update, we titled it ‘The Good, the Bad & the Murky’.
Finally, from Instagram, just one of the many excellent beer- or pub-related pictures posted by Natalie Ainscough in recent weeks:
There are now beers that look and taste just like fruit juice or pop. Is there a route from enjoying those to appreciating, say, cask bitter?
First, we should say this: we (and especially Jess) quite like fruit juice beers. We have a ready supply from our local specialist off licence, Pat’s News and Booze.
They’re usually available at some of our favourite bristol pubs, too, such as The King’s Head, The Llandoger Trow and The Swan With Two Necks.
Often filed under ‘sours’, and badged as ‘modern sour beer’ or something similar, sourness is, oddly, not always a defining feature.
Or, at least, to us they seem no more sour than a can of Lilt or Fanta, and distinctly less so than a glass of grapefruit juice.
Our notes on Vault City’s Fruit Salad ‘session sour’, for example, were “artificial fruit (as hinted at by garish label) but not too sweet or sour… vanilla notes… raspberry dominates over pineapple”.
We can imagine why these are popular.
For a start, the cans often look appealing with bright colours, attractive pop art typography, and words like ‘sherbet’ or ‘tropical’ that get your mouth watering. (Don’t tell the Portman Group.)
Secondly, they don’t look, smell or taste like beer, just as berry cider doesn’t look, smell or taste like cider, and the original Hooch didn’t look, smell or taste like booze at all.
This is a major selling point if you don’t like beer, or the culture that comes with it.
Drinking a kiwi, melon and mango session sour this weekend, we marvelled at its similarity to actual mango juice, even down to the viscous texture, achieved with oats.
We then tried to imagine someone starting out on beers like this, perhaps as a student, and wondered if they’d ever find their way to Bass or Young’s Ordinary.
Perhaps the novelty of novelty beers might wear off after a while. We often find ourselves saying things like: “This is good but I couldn’t drink two in a row.”
Or maybe once you’re a fan of a particular brewery you find yourself willing to try their soft and hazy IPA. The one that’s a bit like fruit juice, but couldn’t actually pass for a smoothie. That is definitely beer, with discernible hops, even if we wish it was more bitter.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter at all.
If fruit juice beers allow breweries to connect with customers who would otherwise drink Reef or Bacardi Breezers, that’s good for the industry.