There’s been lots of good stuff to read in 2021 and plenty of big subjects to be tackled – from cultural crises in the brewing industry to colonialism to the ongoing problem of COVID-19. And that’s before we get into the thousands of years of beer history, much of it still to be explored.
Here, we’ve picked a few pieces that appeared in our weekly round-ups and stuck with us.
Perhaps they captured a moment.
Maybe they found a new angle on a familiar subject.
Or simply told us something we didn’t already know.
Eoghan Walsh | Brussels Beer City | July 2021
“Starting today, an article will appear each Friday until Brussels Beer City’s fifth birthday in July 2022. Each object will tell a different aspect of Brussels’ interconnected beer and urban histories – from the city’s early medieval founding, its emergence as an economic, political and ecclesiastical centre, tumultuous centuries of war and occupation, and its rise, fall, and rise again as an industrial, economic, and brewing powerhouse.”
Charlotte Cook | Ferment | June 2021
“The recent reckoning in beer was the outpouring of distressing accounts of the abuses that women and non-binary people working within craft beer face daily. I’ve worked in craft beer for a decade and at some of the most highly regarded breweries on the planet, including BrewDog, Põhjala and Cloudwater, so for me the recent revelations of horrific sexism that came out on the Instagram account of Brienne Allan (@ratmagnet) were not surprising at all. I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it, and I’m bloody sick of it, and I want to let those of you outside of the bubble know where it stems from, and how you can help.”
David Jesudason | Good Beer Hunting | August 2021
“My father’s love of empire, and his belief that Britain was a civilizing force, was mirrored in the drink he called his own: the India Pale Ale. Of all of his beliefs, this one was particularly confused. His friends were Lager drinkers, and his adoption of IPA was a way of pretending to be refined in the days before the craft revolution had taken hold. But where he saw a drink that was emblematic of genteel, colonial India, I see something very different: Owing to the beer style’s association with the East India Company and its brutality, I can’t help but think of bloodshed, oppression, and enslavement.”
Jo Caird | Ferment | January 2021
“There’s something reassuring about the idea of a family-run brewery in these unsettling times. Family members working away side by side, pulling together to fulfil the hopes and dreams of their forebears. Developing knowhow down the generations. Doing their part to keep the great tradition of British beer making going strong. Warms the cockles, doesn’t it? The reality is a little less rose-tinted.”
Katie Mather | Good Beer Hunting | March 2021
“Clitheroe is a pretty market town somewhere near the center of the Ribble Valley… This is the land of the pint of Bitter… It takes years for even the most pervasive beer trends to reach our town… Working in the drinks industry here means using a bit of imagination. People of all ages drink cask-conditioned Ale, poured through a sparkler to create a perfect, foamy head. Over the past five years or so, the craft beer exception to this rule has gradually become more commonplace, and whenever the two meet, they sit comfortably side-by-side at the bar.”
Jeff Alworth | Beervana | August 2021
“On Monday, Molson Coors… announced it was cleaning up its portfolio and dumping some of the more marginal off-off-market stuff… One name, however, really stood out: Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve… To be clear, the 45-year-old brand was a zombie beer, having died decades ago when Miller shuttered the old Blitz-Weinhard plant on Burnside Street in downtown Portland. The company moved production to Full Sail for a time and then I don’t know what happened to it. But the beer received the full Mickey’s Ice treatment in time, becoming a mere label on a bottle of generic mass market lager. One could still locate the bodies of Private Reserve on a few grocery shelves, but the soul departed long ago.”
Lily Waite | Pellicle | October 2021
“Inside, the Blue Anchor looks every bit its 600-or-so years old. Its rooms are divided down the middle by a flagstone alleyway, worn concave by centuries of footsteps; the two on the right connected by a cramped bar bedecked in tankards and lined up with hand pulls. Beams strut from side to side on the looming ceilings, occasionally adorned with curios – in at least two places hand-carved signs read ‘Ye Olde Special Brew’ – and on the walls are standard snippets of history: late-Victorian photographs and newspaper clippings. One framed certificate recognises the pub’s inclusion in the first 10 editions of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.”
Lars Marius Garshol | Larsblog | May 2021
“Olavi is known for being the most successful brewer in the history of the Finnish sahti championship, having won it three times, and come second twice. But, it turned out, his daughter Tuula is also a sahti brewer, and a very capable one: in last year’s championship she placed second… Olavi said he learned to brew from his father and a neighbour back in the old days when they made their own malts. He took up brewing again around 1990, as a hobby. Then in 2003 Tuula suggested that he should join the local championship, and the second time he actually won the national championship. His recipe is no longer exactly the original one, because he’s adopted some tricks from his neighbours. As he says, ‘you can steal knowledge.’”
Gary Gillman | Beeretseq. | April 2021
“It had been my impression that between 1880 and 1980, Jews generally did not engage in commercial brewing, modern Israel apart of course. They were well-represented in brewing science, and in retailing and wholesaling beer, but not in production… I then turned my mind to Eastern Europe, which I had not considered before, initially the Pale of Settlement. This opened my eyes to a different reality about Jews and brewing.”
Chris Rigg | The Bay Hop website | March 2021
“To put it into context, the pandemic has resulted in us being open for just 76 days over the past year. When you break it down into hours, we have been open for just 18% of the time we would have expected to have been open. All of that time has been under various restrictions too, so far from the potential we might otherwise have reached. I’m not going to whinge though – the fact that we are still here at all is a miracle… Looking back to the approach towards the first lockdown a year ago, it still gives me shivers.”
David Hayward | A Hoppy Place website | August 2021
“A consequence of that is I spend a lot of time thinking to myself: What do I want to do now? But even more so: What do I think my customers want me to say I want to do now… I do not think I am alone in this. A huge swathe of hospitality businesses are treading the difficult path of working out how to vocalise their stance without ostracising or polarising their customers. You really can’t win. It’s just such an inflammatory subject. We’ve all suffered. We’re all quick to anger. Especially if we feel that our struggles are undermined. Not heard. Whitewashed. That we should get over it… So let’s not pretend this is fine.”
Phil Mellows | Pellicle | February 2021
“July 4, 2020, 1.30 p.m. Hesitating at the kerb outside Taboo, Brighton’s premier adult store, anxiously peering across the road at the Evening Star. Someone said they were open… Approaching the door, and that awkward, familiar, brick pillar stuck two paces inside, wondering just how you go to the pub this strange day… An arm gestures me forward.”
Martyn Cornell | Zythophile | August 2021
“If a mediumweight French brewery had not been looking for another beer to add to its portfolio in the early 1970s, and if the owner of a drinks distribution company in County Wexford had not also owned a striking ginger beard, we probably would not now have that totally fake beer style, Irish Red Ale.”
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Hopefully you’ll find something interesting to read among that lot. It goes without saying that it’s not everything we enjoyed reading this year, and of course it’s totally subjective.
You’ll note that Good Beer Hunting, Pellicle and Ferment get quite a few entries between them. The fact is, they pay talented people to tackle big subjects at length and for that we thank them.
If you want these publications to keep going, support them if you can, via Patreon, by buying merchandise, or even just by sharing their links.
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Other writers don’t have stand out, standalone pieces in quite the same way but rather produce a steady flow of interesting stuff throughout the year.
Martin Taylor in particular deserves a shout out for his ongoing chronicling of the minutiae of pub life.
We’re always pleased to see new posts from Tandleman, too, as one of the few other survivors of the class of 2007.
You know we always read The Beer Nut for sharp, snarky tasting notes.
And, on the beer history front, we love the work Liam is doing to demystify Irish brewing.