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opinion

The best beer writing of 2021 according to us

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.

Cantillon
A History of Brussels Beer in 50 Objects #1: Cantillon Coolship

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.”

A show of hands
This is our place: behind misogyny and bullying in the craft beer industry

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.”

Empire State of Mind – Interrogating IPA’s Colonial Identity

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.”

Keeping it in the family: brewing dynasties, hopes and strife

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.”

SOURCE: Bar Corto/Katie Mather.
The Bar at the End of the World

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.”

Henry Weinhard
Henry Weinhard. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons.
Epilogue: Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve

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.”

Folk Round Here: The Blue Anchor Inn and Spingo Ales in Helston, Cornwall

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.”

Finland
Brewing with Olavi the champion

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.’”

A label from the Pupko Brewery
Jewish Breweries in old Belarus. Part I, Pupko Brewery

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.”

Two men at the bar
Notes from a small pub

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.”

A beer garden table.

Inbetweenland

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.”

The Evening Star, Brighton, in 2009
Pouring Light into Ashes: The Evening Star, Brighton

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.”

How one Irishman’s ginger beard helped launch an entirely bogus style of beer

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.”

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

Categories
buying beer

Liquid popcorn: finding a time and place for non-alcoholic beer

Tough day. Lots on your mind. Open the fridge, grab a bottle, loosen and lose the cap. Sip. Close your eyes. Sigh.

The after work beer is a ritual or ceremony for many people. It’s about scrubbing dirt and dust from the throat. Cooling down. Stamping a firm full stop.

We’ve seen it enacted in hundreds of films and TV shows over the years, too. Sarah Lund in The Killing springs to mind, slumped by her fridge, clinging to a green lager bottle for comfort as the corpses pile up.

Oh, yes, the green bottle. This is a job for a small amount of a small beer – something without a big personality.

A few months ago, with a plan to watch a film on an uncomfortably warm evening, I fancied one or two unwinders. With that in mind, I let my evening walk take me past the CO-OP. I wandered in and up the beer aisle and after a moment decided, to my surprise, to buy a four-pack of Heineken 0.0.

Let’s be clear about what happened here: I looked at it on the shelf and wanted it. I’d had it before and retained, it turned out, a fond memory of the encounter. I could have had Pilsner Urquell, or Krombacher, but Heineken 0.0 was the one that grabbed me.

So I grabbed it.

And over the past few months, that’s become a habit.

I’ve always been resistant to non-alcoholic beer. Those I’ve tried over the years simply haven’t tasted good. Or, at least, less pleasant than a glass of sparkling water.

I’ve tried quite a few other brands and, no, they don’t do the job.

Some low alcohol craft beers are technically impressive and enjoyable in their own way. The problem is that they often end up being rather intense. Very bitter, or very sweet, and heavily hopped to fill the hole. They’re not green-bottle after work brews.

No, it’s Heineken 0.0 that works for me. It is, first and foremost, not disgusting. It doesn’t taste cooked or artificial. More than that, though: it’s actually pleasant. I find it light, lemony and dry.

Other opinions are available, of course:

When I say non-alcoholic beer in this context is like liquid popcorn, that’s not a tasting note.

It’s about the part it plays in my personal slow shutdown rituals.

The bottle feels right in the hand. The foam prickles, refreshes and slips into the background.

And it certainly doesn’t make a fuss when you’re trying to concentrate on Randolph Scott, Gloria Grahame or some black-gloved killer roaming the streets of Milan.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 13 November 2021: It tolls for thee

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck us as particularly revealing, interesting or entertaining – from Hanna Aberdam to Cleopatra.

It’s been a while since we started one of these round-ups with a brewery takeover story. Bells was founded by Larry Bell in 1983 and is a big deal in the story of US craft beer but this week, it was acquired by Japanese-Australian multinational Lion/Kirin. At Good Beer Hunting Kate Bernot has the facts and stats; Stan Hieronymus offers some personal notes; and Jeff Alworth wonders why this was presented as “joining forces” with New Belgium, with no mention of Kirin. Jeff writes:

It’s hard to overstate what an important brewery Bell’s is. It’s one of the key pioneer-era American craft breweries, founded in Kalamazoo in 1985. It has grown to become one of the most successful breweries in the world… Larry has been the brewery’s avatar since day one. Since his name is on the bottle (and now cans), he’s often referred to by first name only, even by people like me who have never met him… Larry clearly tried to keep the brewery independent. After 38 years, he’s tired and ready to retire—and he also mentioned recent health problems. Running a business like this is incredibly stressful, and he’s earned his retirement. Yet I don’t doubt he wanted it to go a different way. Thus, I suspect, the strange way he delivered the news.

We quite liked the brewery’s flagship Two Hearted Ale when we tried it, by the way.


Another bit of interesting news: the latest edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide once again records not only an increase in the number of UK breweries but also the highest number since it was first published in 1974. In total, Roger Protz reports, there are 1,902 currently in operation, compared to 1,823 in 2019. (There was a dip last year, but not a huge one.) Proof, perhaps, that the industry as a whole is more resilient than the conversation around it sometimes suggests.


Pictures from a Brewery by Asher Barash

There are surprisingly few novels featuring breweries – has anyone put together a definitive list? – but Gary Gillman has unearthed a particularly interesting example, Pictures from a Brewery by Asher Barash. Gary has been writing about Jewish-owned breweries in Galicia in Eastern Europe for some time and this book, written between 1915 and 1929, would seem to be an interesting historical source, albeit one to be handled with care:

The heroine of the book is Hanna Aberdam, called Mrs. Aberdam or in the Polish honorific Pani Aberdam. The period described is not made explicit but seems to be the first years of the 1900s, by which time she has run the brewery for 30 years, under lease from a Polish grandee called Count or Graf (the German form) Stefan Molodetzky… Mrs. Aberdam is described as a kindly person, born of a well-to-do merchant family. When her first husband, a pious scholar, dies young, she remarries a shopkeeper of no great business ability and decides to enter business herself to provide for her family… She leases the town brewery, which previously had gone bankrupt. It overlooked a body of water called in the book “the lake”, fed by underground springs… A theme in the book is how the successful Jewish businesses in these small towns were an organic part of their community, helping to support townspeople through employment, and co-religionists with charity. For example, Aberdam would lead a drive to provide a dowry for an indigent bride, or help Jews who lost their homes in a fire.


Craft Beer World and The Craft Beer World
SOURCE: Joe Tindall.

At The Fatal Glass of Beer Joe Tindall reflects on what Mark Dredge’s book Craft Beer World meant to him as a beginner and compares the new edition, The New Craft Beer World, with the original, from 2013:

The accessibility of craft beer is one obvious change that has occurred in the intervening years between Craft Beer World and its sequel. “Back in 2012 when I wrote the book there were only a few places where I could buy or order interesting beers”, Mark says, “it’s now become normal to find great beer everywhere.”… Back then, I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that in the not too distant future, I’d be picking up a can of Mikkeller’s American Dream lager during my weekly shop at Sainsbury’s. I certainly wouldn’t have believed that I would purchase said can only once before losing interest, such is the variety of craft beer in 2021.


The cover of Mallory O'Meara's book.

For the London Review of Books Sophie Lewis reviews Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara. Thought not uncritical, there’s enough here to make us think it might be worth a read:

O’Meara [exposes] the racism and misogyny underpinning the contempt for Cleopatra in Greek and Roman culture – an animus that fixed on her love of drinking. She gives an account of antiquity’s invention of the double standard for drunkenness: in noblemen, it enhanced natural virility, ‘while in women [of all classes] it destroyed their honour and inverted the gender hierarchy’. One of the appealing features of O’Meara’s book is her love for carousing women: ‘working-class women brewing – topless and up to their elbows in beer’; Moll Cutpurse; Calamity Jane; Yang Guifei (concubine of the Tang emperor Xuanzong) with her wine-flushed cheeks and jewel-encrusted cups; ‘an affluent Egyptian woman named Chratiankh (birth and death dates unknown)’ whose tomb inscription was said to read: ‘I was a mistress of drunkenness, one who loved a good day, who looked forward to [having sex] every day, anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent.’


Yeast

At Ancient Malt and Ale Graham Dinely provides in-depth notes on the history and behaviour of yeast in brewing:

The spores can be wind and air borne on dust and insects. This became obvious to me in our last house in Manchester. After about 12 years of brewing and washing equipment there, any sweet juice drinks left out overnight by the kids in the summer months would be slightly fizzy by the morning, as did any yoghurt… It was obvious to me that the yeast had established itself in the microbiome of the house, along with 130 years worth of other microorganisms. This sort of thing must happen in every brewery, no matter how much attention is devoted to hygiene and sterility.

And, although Brew Britannia was published in 2014, we’ve never really stopped writing it, so we were especially delighted by this nugget relating to an important early UK microbrewery:

In 1980 I was still living in shared accommodation and for convenience I was making beer from kits. At work we had a retirement celebration for some colleagues and one of the refreshments was a polypin of Pollard’s Ale… Pollard’s beer had a very distinctive, dry almost musty flavour that was very popular. At the end of the celebration there were a few pints left with the lees… so I took it home and added it to a 5 gallon kit brew that had just finished primary fermentation. I expected it to settle out, but instead it took off with a very vigorous fermentation and a strong sulphurous aroma that lasted just over a day. The Pollard’s was obviously metabolising something that the kit yeast had not. The resulting beer had that distinct Pollard flavour too. I have often wondered if that was a hybrid yeast. Pollard’s ales did not last that long, despite being very popular. The story that I heard at the time of its demise was that they had lost that unique yeast, and with no back up brewery to restore it, that was the end of Pollard’s. 


Finally, from Twitter, some pure wisdom from Liam…

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

Categories
breweries

Are cult beers a thing?

I’ve been reading Danny Peary’s Cult Movies, published in 1981 when the idea of a cult film was quite new and, inevitably, it’s started me thinking about what might qualify as a ‘cult beer’.

Here’s how Mr Peary defines a cult movie in the introduction to the book:

Of the tens of thousands of movies that have been made, only an extremely small number have elicited a fiery passion in moviegoers that exists long after their initial releases… Cultists don’t merely enjoy their favorite films; they worship them, seek them out wherever they are playing, catch them in theaters even when they have just played on television, see them repeatedly, and are intent on persuading anyone who will listen that they should be appreciated regardless of what the newspaper or television reviewers thought. Strike up a conversation about movies anywhere in the country and the titles found in this book soon will be flying back and forth in frenetic debate. And as likely as not you’ll end up forcing someone to watch The Late Late Show to see a special favorite of yours or find yourself being dragged to some repertory theater to see a picture your well-meaning abductor has viewed ten, twenty, or a hundred times.

I certainly recognise something of the attitude of the beer geek in that description: “We just need to get a train and a bus, then it’s a short walk through an industrial estate, but trust me, it’ll be worth it…”

There’s also something appealing about the idea of a descriptor that sidesteps all those conversations about ‘craft’.

It’s not about whether a film is well made, says Mr Peary – “often the contrary” – or which studio made it (though many cult films are independent productions). What matters is that it has dedicated, even obsessive fans.

And perhaps also that it’s not readily available everywhere, all the time. You need to put in a little effort to enjoy it, especially if you want to see it on a big screen.

That’s why in Peary’s world, Citizen Kane can sit on the same list as Emanuelle alongside The Warriors a few pages on from Bedtime for Bonzo.

If cult beers exist, if that’s ‘a thing’, we might end up with similarly unlikely bedfellows.

Bass is probably a cult beer – a big name in its day but hard to find in its natural habitat, the pub.

Orval is, surely? Especially with all those instructions about storage and service. In fact, doesn’t Belgium rather specialise in cult beers all round?

Batham’s, too – the way people go on about it!

Schlenkerla Rauchbier, which people either love or hate, feels like a contender.

It would be easy for this to turn into a list of canonical beers, though. What’s not on the list? Anything you can easily find in a pub or bar in most towns, I suppose, which puts Guinness out of contention, even if it has T-shirt wearing fans.

What do you reckon might count as a cult beer? Something you’ve queued for, hunted down or gone well out of your way to drink.

Categories
Uncategorized

Will you buy us a drink if we tell you?

There’s a famous photo of the Fitzroy Tavern in London which is full of lovely details, including a sign that reads ‘WYBMADIITY’.

We got to know this photo quite well because for many years, it was blown up across one wall of the Fitzroy itself – very meta, a pub whose theme was its own history.

It was taken by Margaret Bourke-White in 1939 and you can see a nice high resolution version via Google’s Arts & Culture portal.

For years, we tried to work out what WYBMADIITY stood for, in the days before everyone had Google on their phones. We got as far as ‘Will you buy me a drink if I _____ you?’

What ITMA, Max Miller, Round the Horne naughtiness might that missing word suggest?

Then we left London, the pub got refurbished, and we forgot about this unresolved mystery.

It popped back into our heads as we read Eoghan Walsh’s piece about a Belgian café preserved as art, with its overwhelming collection of tat. The WYBMADIITY sign would fit right in.

And, of course, having let our brains stew on it for a decade or so, we immediately realised what it stood for: ‘Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?’

At this point, we also got the joke.

Imagine one dozy punter after another seeing that curious sign.

“I say, what does WYBMADIITY stand for?”

“Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?”

“Well, OK – what’ll you have?”

It was apparently a stock, standard gag in British pubs, American bars, Australia, South Africa… everywhere – and of a similar ripeness to ‘Please do not ask for credit because a smack in the mouth often offends’.

Another variant was apparently the more specific ‘Will you buy me a double if I tell you?’

One newspaper article from the 1940s connects it with the craze for acronyms such as SWALK (‘sealed with a loving kiss’) on correspondence between servicemen and their sweethearts but the earliest reference we can find is in a London restaurant review from 1935.

Which brings us to our blogging challenge for November 2020, or, rather, blogging challenges.

First, what’s something about beer or pubs that’s always puzzled you?

Now’s the time to find out, and write a quick blog post or Twitter thread sharing your newfound knowledge. Let us know and we’ll do our best to share whatever you write.

Or ask us and we’ll do it – we like answering questions.

Secondly, we’re going to dig deep into the world of pub tat. We’ve already explored pump clips, beer mats, coin stacks and bell pushes, but what about all that crap gathering dust on the back bar and useless shelves? The stuff that gives a pub texture.

What springs to mind when you think of pub tat, cheap gags and advertising junk?