News, nuggets and longreads for 27 July 2019: Majorca, Manchester, meniscus

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from London brewers in Dublin to Irish pubs in Majorca.

First, some news – recent­ly released sta­tis­tics on pub clo­sures seem to sug­gest that the rate at which they’re dis­ap­pear­ing has slowed:

There were 42,450 pubs at the begin­ning of 2018 but 914 few­er by the end of the year, a rate of 76 net clo­sures a month. But 235 van­ished dur­ing the first half of this year, or near­ly 40 a month, accord­ing to gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics… The com­mer­cial real estate con­sul­tan­cy Altus Group, which com­piled the data, said gov­ern­ment mea­sures designed to staunch the flow of pub clo­sures appeared to be hav­ing some effect.


The Brown Cow pub.
SOURCE: Man­ches­ter’s Estate Pubs

It’s always excit­ing to see that there’s been a new post by Stephen Mar­land at Man­ches­ter’s Estate Pubs and this week we got two:

There’s the usu­al poignan­cy and the usu­al mix of pho­tog­ra­phy, near poet­ry and his­to­ry, now with added spice from notes by the late Alan Win­field.


Beer foam

At The Pur­suit of Abbey­ness Mar­tin Stew­ard has been reflect­ing on the mag­i­cal prop­er­ties of beer foam:

There is some­thing in cask-ale cul­ture that has long looked with dis­taste upon an abun­dance of bub­bles. In this world, quite at odds with that of the bot­tle-con­di­tion­ing Bel­gians, fizz is for­eign. The bar­tender who can pump a pint of Bit­ter to the menis­cus-strain­ing lip of a ses­sion glass achieves the appro­ba­tion of the pen­ny-pinch­ing pub-goer… These old geezers were the ur-Ice­men… Do I com­mit an injus­tice against them? Is this an aes­thet­ic choice, rather than one of econ­o­my? Or per­haps an ide­o­log­i­cal one—a man­i­festo state­ment on the seri­ous­ness of cask ale?


Alcudia
SOURCE: Lady Sinks the Booze

Kirsty is back! An account of crawl­ing around Irish and Eng­lish pubs in Spain might not imme­di­ate­ly seem as if it’s going to be essen­tial read­ing but her writ­ing could make notes on a trip to Tesco enter­tain­ing:

Like every­one has a favourite ring on the cook­er, every­one has a favourite cor­ner of the bar, and mine is front right for both. I think I had a John Smiths, I can’t remem­ber, but it cer­tain­ly wouldn’t be any­thing either craft or Span­ish. I was on hol­i­day from more than work, I declared myself on hol­i­day from beer geek­ery… When we returned to O’Malley’s the fol­low­ing day, our host actu­al­ly greet­ed us. “How’s life Richi?” asked Dar­ren with a cheery demeanor. Richi shrugged. “You want the real answer or the bull­shit cus­tomer answer?” We asked for the real answer. “I hate my life, I hate my job, I wish I was on hol­i­day like you, now what do you want?”


Partizan menu at Guinness
SOURCE: The Beer Nut

We had­n’t heard about the col­lab­o­ra­tion between Eng­lish craft brew­ery Par­ti­zan and Guin­ness until the Beer Nut post­ed a typ­i­cal­ly sharp review of the beers:

It was odd see­ing some inter­net oppro­bri­um being met­ed out to Lon­don brew­er Par­ti­zan when they announced they had cre­at­ed a col­lab­o­ra­tion series of beers with the Guin­ness Open Gate Brew­ery. Craft die-hards tak­ing a pop at the macros and any­one too close to them is not unusu­al, but I did­n’t see any­one hav­ing a go at anoth­er Lon­don­er, 40FT, when it did some­thing sim­i­lar. Par­ti­zan seems to be held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard… Three col­lab­o­ra­tion brews were cre­at­ed, two at Open Gate and one at Par­ti­zan. The theme of the series was Ital­ian-style aper­i­tifs.

Final­ly, here’s a use­ful sign­post:

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

Laver’s Law, Victorian pubs and hazy beer

You start with Victorian pubs and end up pondering hazy IPA and mild – that’s just how this game goes sometimes.

One of the things research­ing pubs has made us think about it is how cer­tain things come in and out of fash­ion.

It’s hard to believe now but that heavy Vic­to­ri­an look peo­ple expect in the Per­fect Pub – carved wood, cut glass, ornate mir­rors – was seri­ous­ly out of fash­ion for half a cen­tu­ry.

Look through any edi­tion of, say, The House of Whit­bread from the 1920s or 30s and you’ll find sto­ry after sto­ry of mod­erni­sa­tion. In prac­tice, that meant ‘vul­gar’ Vic­to­ri­ana was out; and a plain, clean, bright look was in.

The Greyhound, Balls Pond Road, before and after modernisation.
SOURCE: The House of Whit­bread, Octo­ber 1933.

Slow­ly, though, Vic­to­ri­an style became cool again. We’ve writ­ten about this before and won’t rehash it – Bet­je­man and Gra­didge are two key names – but did stum­ble upon a new expres­sion of the phe­nom­e­non this week, from 1954:

Thir­ty years ago the Albert Memo­r­i­al was only admired by the extreme­ly naïve and old-fash­ioned; today, it is only admired by the extreme­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and up to date. Thir­ty years ago the late Arnold Ben­nett was thought eccen­tric, and even a lit­tle per­verse, to take an inter­est in papi­er-mâché fur­ni­ture with scenes of Bal­moral by moon­light in inlaid moth­er-of-pearl. Today tables and chairs of this kind com­mand high prices in the sale­room and are the prize pieces in cul­ti­vat­ed liv­ing-rooms. It is, in a word, once more ‘done’ to admire Vic­to­ri­ana. The slur of the old-fash­ioned is merg­ing into the pres­tige of the antique.

That’s from a fan­tas­tic book called Vic­to­ri­an Vista by James Laver who turns out to be an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter. A his­to­ri­an of cos­tume and of fash­ion more gen­er­al­ly, he is best known for invent­ing ‘Laver’s Law’ which sought to explain how things come in and go out of style:

Inde­cent | 10 years before its time
Shame­less | 5 years before its time
Out­ré (Dar­ing) | 1 year before its time
Smart | ‘Cur­rent Fash­ion’
Dowdy | 1 year after its time
Hideous | 10 years after its time
Ridicu­lous | 20 years after its time
Amus­ing | 30 years after its time
Quaint | 50 years after its time
Charm­ing | 70 years after its time
Roman­tic | 100 years after its time
Beau­ti­ful | 150 years after its time

This cer­tain­ly works to some degree for pubs: Vic­to­ri­an pubs were naff in 1914, charm­ing by 1950 and the best are now prac­ti­cal­ly nation­al mon­u­ments; inter-war pubs have recent­ly become roman­tic after years in the wilder­ness; and we’re just beg­ging to col­lec­tive­ly recog­nise the charm of the post-war.

Nat­u­ral­ly, though, with trends a con­stant top­ic, we could­n’t help test this on beer styles.

For exam­ple, does it map to the rise of hazy IPA? We def­i­nite­ly remem­ber it seem­ing inde­cent and think we can now dis­cern it’s decent into dowdi­ness.

Or 20th cen­tu­ry dark mild, maybe? We’ll, not so clear­ly, because it reigned for years, even decades. But we could adapt Laver’s com­men­tary on Vic­to­ri­ana:

Thir­ty years ago mild was only admired by the extreme­ly naïve and old-fash­ioned; today, it is only admired by the extreme­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and up to date. Thir­ty years ago CAMRA was thought eccen­tric, and even a lit­tle per­verse, to take an inter­est in weak, sweet, dark beer. Today beers of this kind are the prize pieces in cul­ti­vat­ed tap­rooms.

Mild might be in the roman­tic or charm­ing phase, then.

This works best for spe­cif­ic sub-styles and trends, though. IPA? Too broad. West Coast IPA? Maybe.

And for beer, in 2019, Laver’s lan­guage isn’t quite right. Maybe this is bet­ter:

Ridicu­lous | 10 years before its time
Bold | 5 years before
Hyped | 1 year before
Hip | ‘Cur­rent Fash­ion’
Main­stream | 1 year after its time
Bor­ing | 10 years after
Inter­est­ing | 50 years after
Clas­sic | 70 years +

It does­n’t real­ly work, does it?

But it’s a been a fun prod.

Cornershop beers: supposedly hoppy lager and blackcurrant stout

We used to drink a lot of cornershop beers. Sometimes it was the ticking instinct – how could we resist a dark lager from Latvia or an IPA from Poland? On other occasions, it was about convenience: we wanted a few beers to drink in front of the TV with a film or sporting event.

But these days, post 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub and with mid­dle age upon us, we’ve more or less resolved to drink in the pub or not at all.

Every now and then, though, we pop into the shop near­est our house and mar­vel at the ever-chang­ing selec­tion of obscure beers from East­ern Europe. It’s fun to see unfa­mil­iar names on unfa­mil­iar labels – a kind of alter­nate real­i­ty, a world where Car­ling and Foster’s don’t exist.

Last week, we were star­tled to see three very nice­ly pack­aged beers in unusu­al styles from Vilk­merges of Lithua­nia – a stout, a dark lager and a wit­bier. Vilk­merges is a sub-brand of Kalnapilis, which is in turn owned by Roy­al Uni­brew of Den­mark.

They sat along­side prod­ucts from a craft beer sub-brand of Russ­ian brew­ery Balti­ka, ‘The Brewer’s Col­lec­tion’, one of which, with a strik­ing orange label, all in Eng­lish, is billed as RUSSIAN HOPPY LAGER.

The lat­ter looked gor­geous in the glass – that very pale yel­low that seems almost green and some­how sig­nals refine­ment, per­haps hint­ing at Cham­pagne. It tast­ed dri­er and paler than stan­dard Balti­ka with maybe a touch of flow­er­i­ness but didn’t quite live up to the billing. Per­haps the lor­ry ride across Europe did for the hops? At any rate, it’s at the bet­ter end of bog stan­dard and a fas­ci­nat­ing thing – the begin­ning of the Cam­deni­sa­tion of Russ­ian lager?

The Vilk­merges wit­bier is called Kvei­ti­nis. It was more orange than white with a fast-fad­ing head and not quite enough body. It remind­ed us of a wit­bier we home­brewed with ale malt, not enough wheat, and too much orange peel. It was a bit sick­ly but not awful. Purists, look away now: it would prob­a­bly be nicer with a slice of lemon float­ing on top.

Their stout, Juodųjų Ser­ben­tų, is dosed with BLACKCURRANT JUICE. It smells – brace your­self – like black­cur­rants. It was rud­dy rather than black with an off-white head that didn’t stick around. It tastes sweet – like Ribena said Ray, reach­ing for the obvi­ous; like the med­i­cine they gave me when I got worms as a kid, says Jess, more orig­i­nal­ly. It’s 5.5% but tast­ed basi­cal­ly non-alco­holic. We poured this one.

Tam­su­sis is a dark lager and smelled and looked like a clas­sic Bavar­i­an Dunkel. And, in fact, is con­sid­er­ably bet­ter than most bot­tled Dunkels we’ve come across. Sweet, round, with just a touch of roast… Almost hint­ing at the lus­cious­ness of dou­ble stout, in fact, so per­haps not ‘true to style’. This was the great find in the set and we can imag­ine get­ting a few of these in next time we cook pork knuck­les.

One odd thing, though: beers from East­ern Europe often come in larg­er than usu­al pack­ages, full-pint cans and so on, but these Vilk­merges prod­ucts were in 410 mil­li­l­itre bot­tles and the Balti­ka came in at 440ml. At around £1.80 a pop, they were hard­ly bank-break­ing but, still, it felt like a bit of a con.

News, nuggets and longreads 20 July 2019: Friars, Fyne Ales, Fellowship

Here’s all the writing on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from brewery founders to Blackfriars.

First, we don’t know when you’ll need them, or if you’ll need them, but here are two use­ful local guides to book­mark or oth­er­wise file away for ref­er­ence:


The bar at The Old Post Office.

A bit of pub own­er­ship news: Stonegate has bought Ei Group (for­mer­ly Enter­prise Inns). This adds 4,000 pubs to the Stonegate estate mak­ing it the largest in the UK. Nev­er heard of Stonegate? Not many peo­ple have. It oper­ates through sub-brands and tends to keep its name off fas­cias and in-pub col­lat­er­al.


Certified craft.

For Fer­ment, the pro­mo­tion­al mag­a­zine of beer retail­er Beer52, Matt Cur­tis has been reflect­ing on the tricks multi­na­tion­al brew­ing com­pa­nies use in attempt­ing to con­vince con­sumers that their beer brands are Well Craft:

Com­pare [1990s lager ads] to recent adver­tis­ing by Maltsmiths—a pseu­do-craft sub brand invent­ed by the mar­ket­ing mas­ter­minds at Dutch multi­na­tion­al, Heineken—and you’ll see some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. In its adver­tis­ing there is no nod to the prove­nance of its ingre­di­ents or the brew­ery in Scot­land where it is made. Instead we see a young, female brew­er, cart­wheel­ing over hose pipes and around fer­men­ta­tion ves­sels seem­ing­ly in cel­e­bra­tion of the beer’s very exis­tence. Hon­est­ly, if health and safe­ty got wind of this there’d be hell to pay.


The Fellowship.
The Fel­low­ship in 2016.

For Desert­er Tris­tan Park­er has writ­ten about the his­to­ry and present incar­na­tion of The Fel­low­ship at Belling­ham, south Lon­don – a pub we stud­ied for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub and vis­it­ed dur­ing its final days as a half-derelict, qui­et, down-at-heel booz­er. These days, though…

Locals seemed under­stand­ably pleased to have a buzzy new pub, as what felt like most of Belling­ham appeared to be inside. This was a good sign: The Fel­low­ship was rede­vel­oped to serve the com­mu­ni­ty and on day one that’s exact­ly what it was doing. Let’s hope that con­tin­ues… Inside, it’s a vast space that still retains some of the look of the old venue, plus a bit of kooky art and kitsch wall­pa­per here and there. Reminders of the pub’s past also adorn the walls, includ­ing box­ing gloves and pho­tos of ‘Our ’Enry’ bat­tling Ali.


The Blackfriar pub.

Mean­while, Jane Pey­ton has been hang­ing out at The Black­fri­ar, a famous Vic­to­ri­an-Edwar­dian pub just beyond the bound­ary of the City of Lon­don, and express­es great enthu­si­asm for its over-the-top 1905 dec­o­ra­tive scheme:

It’s show-time! That phrase sings in my head each time I vis­it London’s Black­fri­ar pub. If Walt Dis­ney had been a pub design­er this is what he would have devised. Every sur­face of this spec­tac­u­lar Arts & Crafts/Art Nou­veau hostel­ry is dec­o­rat­ed and then dec­o­rat­ed again. More is more is more. If min­i­mal­ism is your style then either wear sun­glass­es in this pub or go to the post-indus­tri­al con­crete bunker booz­er near­by.


Jonny and Tuggy Delap.
SOURCE: Fyne Ales.

It’s not often we feel moved to link to any brew­ery’s offi­cial blog but we’d like to see more posts like Fyne Ales bio­graph­i­cal trib­ute to its founder, Jon­ny Delap, who died in 2009:

Born in Kenya and raised by his great uncle (his father threw him out when he was six years old), Jon­ny first came to the UK when he was 13 to com­plete his school­ing, before return­ing to Kenya to work on his uncle’s farm. His goal was to gain enough expe­ri­ence to qual­i­fy for fur­ther study at Devon’s Seale-Hayne agri­cul­tur­al col­lege, but there were a cou­ple of bumps in his road back to the UK. First­ly, his father tried to have him kid­napped because he thought Jon­ny was wast­ing his time with farm­ing and should join the Kenyan army. For­tu­nate­ly it was thwart­ed when Jon­ny bought the would-be kid­nap­pers a pint and con­vinced them it would be a bad idea. Sec­ond­ly, the col­lege wouldn’t admit him based on his time work­ing in Kenya, demand­ing instead that his prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence be under­tak­en in the UK.


Final­ly, here’s a fan­tas­tic pho­to of a late leg­endary Bris­tol pub land­lord.

And that’s it. For more links and read­ing check out Alan McLeod on Thurs­day and Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day.

Crowdfunding in beer: danger sign?

Have almost started to think of crowdfunding as a danger sign. Why won’t a bank just lend them the money?”

We tweet­ed this in response to @bringonthebeer the oth­er day and it prompt­ed a few chal­lenges, includ­ing some that changed our think­ing, so we thought we’d unpack it a bit.

It’s just, real­ly, that it feels as if crowd­fund­ing is a com­mon fac­tor is a recent spate of beer indus­try takeovers and col­laps­es.

Mar­tyn Cor­nell gave a detailed run­down of some of the prob­lems with crowd­fund­ing in beer a few years ago: it’s not real invest­ment in most cas­es; and lots of crowd­fund­ed busi­ness­es fail, or fail to deliv­er on promis­es.

Most recent­ly, there’s been Hop Stuff and Red­church.

But we’re talk­ing about some­thing ever so slight­ly dif­fer­ent – that the very act of appeal­ing to the pub­lic for invest­ment seems increas­ing­ly like a red flag for the future of those oper­a­tions.

With hind­sight, in many cas­es, crowd­fund­ing often looks to us like a cry for help or act of des­per­a­tion.

Crit­ics of crowd­fund­ing some­times call it ‘beg­ging’ and it can feel that way.

When in day jobs we’ve been involved in rais­ing fund­ing, it’s been through banks. They’re unpop­u­lar, old school, not very ‘craft’, but they are part of our sys­tem of checks and bal­ances. If a bank won’t lend a busi­ness mon­ey, it prob­a­bly means that busi­ness has failed to present a con­vinc­ing case for its long-term suc­cess.

Some of the chal­lenges we got on Twit­ter did make us pause for thought, though: secur­ing fund­ing via banks usu­al­ly requires prop­er­ty as col­lat­er­al, which makes things tough for those who don’t own a house.

Some would no doubt say if you can’t man­age to buy a house, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t be aim­ing to expand a busi­ness to larg­er or mul­ti­ple loca­tions but giv­en the bizarre state of the UK hous­ing mar­ket, we’re not sure that wash­es.

Even so, when we see a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign launch, unless we know the brew­ery or retail­er in ques­tion has a cult fol­low­ing and strong mar­ket­ing game, it increas­ing­ly strikes us – right­ly or wrong­ly, on an instinc­tive lev­el – as a tar­get paint­ed on their flank: they’re weak, ripe for pick­ing off, and this is their last shot.

Of course we under­stand the appeal to busi­ness­es of crowd­fund­ing, and it’s not always bad news. We also know that many investors go into it with eyes open, as a bit of fun.

But the longer term prob­lem is this: if, as we read it, crowd­fund­ing is about the con­ver­sion of cus­tomer good­will into hard cash, every fail­ure or per­ceived betray­al reduces the amount of good­will in the col­lec­tive pot, and its val­ue.