News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 September 2017: Beavertown, Burials, Biggsy

Here’s everything beer- and pub-related that caught our eye in the last week, from viking funerals to mysterious pressure groups.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 16 Sep­tem­ber 2017: Beaver­town, Buri­als, Big­gsy”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 August 2017: Breakfast, Blackness, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything in beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from breakfast boozing to totalitarianism.

For Vice Angus Har­ri­son asked a very good ques­tion that yields inter­est­ing answers: who exact­ly are the peo­ple you see drink­ing in Wether­spoon between break­fast time and lunch? Knee-jerk assump­tion has it that they are trag­ic alco­holics liv­ing chaot­ic lives out­side the rules of soci­ety but, of course…

You per­haps would­n’t notice the pub was full of fin­ished night-work­ers if you’d just walked in, but as soon as you know what to look for, it becomes obvi­ous. The bar­man ges­tures to a table in the cor­ner where six blokes in bat­tered den­im and dusty T‑shirts sit hunched over pints. Upstairs, three jour­nal­ists who have just left the news desk drink lagers before head­ing home for a sleep. In the smok­ing area out front, a mem­ber of Stanst­ed’s lost lug­gage team tells me he often pops in around this time, on his way home from the air­port.


Illustration: a pint of beer with Van Gogh textures.

For Eater Lau­ren Michele Jack­son writes on a sub­ject that feels espe­cial­ly top­i­cal, this week of all weeks – the thought­less, polit­i­cal­ly charged, over­whelm­ing white­ness of ‘craft cul­ture’ in food and drink:

Craft cul­ture looks like white peo­ple. The founders, so many for­mer lawyers or bankers or adver­tis­ing execs, tend to be white, the front-fac­ing staff in their cus­tom den­im aprons tend to be white, the clien­tele sip­ping $10 beers tends to be white… The char­ac­ter of craft cul­ture, a spe­cial blend of bohemi­an­ism and cap­i­tal­ism, is not mere­ly over­whelm­ing­ly white — a func­tion of who gen­er­al­ly has the wealth to start those micro­brew­eries and old-school butch­er shops, and to patron­ize them — it con­sis­tent­ly engages in the era­sure or exploita­tion of peo­ple of col­or whose intel­lec­tu­al and man­u­al labor are often the foun­da­tion of the prac­tices that trans­form so many of these small plea­sures into some­thing art­ful. A lie by omis­sion may be a small one, but for a move­ment so vocal­ly con­cerned with where things come from, the pro­pri­etors of craft cul­ture often seem strange­ly unin­ter­est­ed in learn­ing or con­vey­ing the sto­ries of the peo­ple who first mas­tered those crafts.

(Via @robsterowski.)


Beer hall: German student society c.1897.

On a relat­ed note, Alan McLeod at A Bet­ter Beer Blog AKA A Good Beer Blog has been too pre­oc­cu­pied with the anx­i­ety-induc­ing glob­al polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion to write much about beer, until the two sub­jects came togeth­er in these notes on moments when fas­cism, com­mu­nism and racism col­lide with our favourite drink:

Ear­li­er this year, Hun­gary wit­nessed a bit of a polit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sy over the appear­ance of Heineken’s red star – which Hun­gar­i­an law con­sid­ers a total­i­tar­i­an sym­bol… In 2016, a brew­ery in Bavaria was accused of offer­ing a Nazi friend­ly lager named Grenz­za­un Halbe, or Bor­der Fence Half… Then there are the old boys who, you know, just say those sorts of things…


Closed sign on shop.

For the US mag­a­zine Draft Zach Fowle gives a sub­stan­tial treat­ment to a sub­ject we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly prod­ded at here on the blog: why exact­ly do brew­eries fold when they fold? It’s hard to get peo­ple to talk about this because it’s so raw, even humil­i­at­ing, but Fowle elicit­ed some great frank respons­es:

For us, it was real­ly a pro­duc­tion restraint. It’s sim­ple math. Over­head was too high for the amount of beer we could pro­duce in the space we had. There were all kinds of things that were always lim­it­ing: pump space, floor space, com­bined with the big cost of the space, the peo­ple we work with, and we were also a shared facil­i­ty host­ing sev­er­al oth­er brew­eries. That was some­thing we were real­ly pas­sion­ate about, but these brew­eries are tak­ing 20 per­cent of the space but not pay­ing 20 per­cent of the over­head. We were basi­cal­ly land­locked in a very expen­sive build­ing… I learned in this process that what­ev­er mon­ey you’re rais­ing, dou­ble it. Maybe triple it.


GBBF handpumps in action.

In the week fol­low­ing the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Great British Beer Fes­ti­val there has been, as ever, much debate about whether it works in its cur­rent form. Tan­dle­man, who works there as a vol­un­teer, says, broad­ly, ‘Yes’:

A great atmos­phere, beer qual­i­ty has nev­er been bet­ter, I met lots of peo­ple I knew on trade day and enjoyed talk­ing to them, our bar was excel­lent­ly staffed by old friends and new and I had a real­ly good time.  It is just as impor­tant to enjoy your­self as a vol­un­teer as it is as a cus­tomer. Us vol­un­teers would­n’t come back oth­er­wise and then, sim­ply, the show would­n’t go on.

But in a com­ment on that same post retired beer blog­ger John West (@jwestjourno) pro­vides a mea­sured and typ­i­cal­ly elo­quent counter-argu­ment, sug­gest­ing that GBBF is ‘under-curat­ed’. He ref­er­ence Ben­jamin Nunn who on his own blog, Ben Viveur, expressed his dis­ap­point­ment at the event:

Nor­mal­ly, I’d put that down to mid-life-cri­si­sism, post binge-drink­ing come­down and my gen­er­al­ly bleak out­look on life. But a few con­ver­sa­tions with oth­er atten­dees seem to con­firm a pret­ty wide­spread view that this real­ly was the most lack­lus­tre GBBF for some time… There are always a few folks (I hes­i­tate to gen­er­alise but very often old­er peo­ple from oth­er parts of the coun­try) who whinge about the GBBF pric­ing. This year they have a point…

(Dis­clo­sure: we got free entry to this year’s GBBF because we were sign­ing books and are fre­quent­ly paid to write for CAMRA.)


ILLUSTRATION: "Kill the Bill".

We feel no shame in includ­ing our own 4,000 word post on the rise of the lager lout in Britain in the 1980s, which we stu­pid­ly post­ed last night when every­one was in the pub:

In 1988 the British gov­ern­ment faced a now for­got­ten domes­tic cri­sis… Pre­vi­ous­ly placid towns, vil­lages and sub­urbs up and down the coun­try were sud­den­ly awash with mob vio­lence – the kind of thing peo­ple expect­ed in for­sak­en inner cities but which seemed new­ly ter­ri­fy­ing as it spread to provin­cial mar­ket squares and high streets… In Sep­tem­ber 1988 at an infor­mal press brief­ing John Pat­ten MP, Min­is­ter for Home Affairs, point­ed the fin­ger: the chaos was a result of ‘the Sat­ur­day night lager cult’ and ‘lager louts’.


And, final­ly, here’s an illu­mi­nat­ing nugget from Joe Stange:

Watch the 1989 Beer Hunter TV Series at Leeds Beer Week

Michael Jackson’s influential TV series about beer isn’t available commercially in the UK but several episodes are going to be shown next week in his native Yorkshire.

It’s being shown as part of Leeds Beer Week which runs from Sun­day 28 August to Tues­day 6 Sep­tem­ber. We saw a Tweet about the Beer Hunter episodes from Sam Con­g­don (@greenarmysam) and asked him for a bit of back­ground. Here’s what he sent us with a cou­ple of small edits:

Like many oth­ers, I watched the Beer Hunter series when it was freely avail­able on YouTube or Vimeo, with Dutch sub­ti­tles, about six years ago, and I loved it. It fit­ted in per­fect­ly with where I was on my ‘beer jour­ney’, after mov­ing to Leeds from Ply­mouth and find­ing North Bar. I think I found it online after watch­ing all the avail­able Zak Avery video blogs about clas­sic beers.

It’s prob­a­bly best I don’t go into where I final­ly sourced copies of the six Beer Hunter episodes, but since then I can’t fault Chan­nel Four for being so open and will­ing to let us use these episodes for the events. I need­ed the exper­tise of the Leeds Bicy­cle Film Club (who put on cin­e­ma events at The Reliance) to con­tact the right peo­ple and ask the right ques­tions but all Chan­nel Four want is a cred­it for them and the pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny (Hawk­shead Ltd) to be vis­i­ble at the events.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Watch the 1989 Beer Hunter TV Series at Leeds Beer Week”

Tucker’s Maltings Beer Festival, At Last

It’s been running for 24 years but we only made it to our first Tucker’s Malting Beer Festival, in Newton Abbot, Devon, last week.

In the last few years when we might have gone, we’ve either been work­ing or on hol­i­day. But maybe we’d have made more effort if we liked beer fes­ti­vals more, which we don’t, because:

  1. Eight dif­fer­ent beers is about the most we can han­dle between us in one ses­sion so 250 is over-fac­ing.
  2. Our two favourite places to drink are (a) the pub and (b) our sofa; hangars, barns, indus­tri­al spaces, town halls, church­es, and so on, come way down the list.
  3. There’s too much flat beer, not helped by being served in unwashed glass­es that get stick­i­er with each pass­ing hour.

Propaganda-style mural at Tucker's Maltings.

Hav­ing said that… Tuck­er’s Malt­ings was fun. It’s one of those events that isn’t just about beer, and that isn’t just pop­u­lar with CAMRA mem­bers and tick­ers.

It gen­er­ates a mer­ry buzz around the town of New­ton Abbot, a place which isn’t oth­er­wise on the tourist trail – ‘It’s a fun­ny old place’, as one attendee said to us – much as Waltham­stow Vil­lage Fes­ti­val used to in the days before full-on gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, or as Bridg­wa­ter Car­ni­val does in Bai­ley’s home town.

There were faces we’d seen at oth­er fes­ti­vals (for exam­ple, a con­tin­gent from Corn­wall CAMRA), gangs of young lads with sculpt­ed quiffs and mus­cles on dis­play despite the chill, age­ing hip­pies, age­ing rock­ers, age­ing punks, rug­by fans, a stag do or two, stu­dents from Exeter Uni­ver­si­ty, local dig­ni­taries (New­ton Abbot’s may­or is a ven­er­a­ble old gent with some­thing of the Ger­man bur­go­mas­ter about him), and teams of brew­ers from up and down the West Coun­try in brand­ed polo shirts hav­ing it cor­po­rate­ly large.

Peo­ple were drunk, in the 18th-cen­tu­ry Dutch paint­ing way, and occa­sion­al bouts of danc­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly that half-walk-half-boo­gie mer­ry peo­ple some­times do while car­ry­ing brim­ful glass­es.

What­ev­er the spark of life is, the qual­i­ty that puts the fes­tiv- in fes­ti­val, Tuck­er’s Malt­ings has it. We’ll def­i­nite­ly go again.

Dis­clo­sure: we paid for entry to Fri­day after­noon’s ses­sion and for beer tokens; Guy Shep­pard of SIBA/Exe Val­ley, who is on the organ­is­ing com­mit­tee, bought us a half each while we inter­viewed him; and we were giv­en free entry to the first hour of the ses­sion that fol­lowed.

A Brief History of Beer Weeks

It’s Sheffield Beer Week this week (14–22 March) which got us thinking about beer weeks in general – where did they come from, what are they for, and where are they going?

In the UK arguably the orig­i­nal beer week is Nor­wich City of Ale, which first took place in May 2011. It involves mini-fes­ti­vals in pubs across the city fea­tur­ing brew­eries from the region, and spe­cial events designed to cre­ate a buzz such as tasters of beer being giv­en out in the street. It was the brain-child of lec­tur­er Dawn Leed­er and pub­li­can Phil Cut­ter, AKA ‘Mur­der­ers Phil’. As Dawn Leed­er recalls there was no par­tic­u­lar inspi­ra­tion except per­haps, oblique­ly, Munich’s Okto­ber­fest. Its launch was cov­ered by an enthu­si­as­tic Roger Protz in this arti­cle for Beer Pages which con­cludes with a call to action:

It’s an ini­tia­tive that could and should be tak­en up oth­er towns and cities in Britain with a good range of pubs, craft brew­eries and a pub­lic trans­port net­work. Not­ting­ham and Sheffield, with their tram sys­tems, spring to mind.

Red Routemaster bus with Norwich City of Ale livery.
Nor­wich City of Ale pro­mo­tion­al bus, 2013. SOURCE: Nor­wich City of Ale web­site.

Glas­gow’s beer week first ran in 2011. It was inspired equal­ly by US beer weeks and by the Glas­gow Beer and Pub Project organ­ised by Eric Steen in 2010, a six-week arts and cul­ture event which cul­mi­nat­ed with a home-brew­ing event in a pop-up pub. Glas­gow Beer Week co-organ­is­er Rob­bie Pick­er­ing recalls some of the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by ama­teur vol­un­teers:

We had our dis­as­ters, like the time we man­aged to sched­ule a meet-the-brew­er in a pub where a live band was play­ing on the same night. I am very lucky that brew­er still speaks to me. I am still proud of some of the events we put on even if hard­ly any­one came to them. We did the first beer and cheese tast­ing in Glas­gow and the first UK screen­ing of the US Michael Jack­son doc­u­men­tary, and got Ron Pat­tin­son over to speak about British lager togeth­er with peo­ple from the Scot­tish Brew­ing Archive Asso­ci­a­tion. And I have a lifetime’s sup­ply of beau­ti­ful let­ter­press beer mats with a spelling error.

It ran for three years the last being in 2013:

I think GBW col­lapsed in the end because of lack of inter­est. After the first year most of the oth­er peo­ple involved had moved away and I was left run­ning around on my own… I announced the dates for 2014 before decid­ing not to go ahead with it. Nobody ever asked what had hap­pened to it which kind of sug­gests it was the right deci­sion.

From our dis­tant van­tage point it also seemed to bring to a head ten­sions in Glas­gow’s beer com­mu­ni­ty with expres­sions of ill-feel­ing still being expressed via social media three years lat­er.

Rob­bie Pick­er­ing sees some pos­i­tives in it, how­ev­er: the kinds of events that the Beer Week was built around now occur organ­i­cal­ly and fre­quent­ly in Glas­gow negat­ing the need for a spe­cial event.

In 2012, the Cam­paign for Real Ale (CAMRA) ran a Lon­don City of Beer cel­e­bra­tion pig­gy­back­ing on the surge in vis­i­tors to the cap­i­tal dur­ing the Olympic Games. But it was two months long, not a week, and did­n’t turn into an annu­al event.

The next British city to get a beer week prop­er was Bris­tol. It launched in Octo­ber 2013 when, hav­ing bub­bled under as a beer des­ti­na­tion for a few years before­hand, the city was just on the cusp of a boom in spe­cial­ist bars and brew­eries. The ini­tial idea came from Lee Williams who was born in Bris­tol but lived in the US for ten years where he ran a blog, Hop­topia, and wrote a guide­book called Beer Lover’s Col­orado. When he returned to Bris­tol to work in the beer indus­try he brought with him expe­ri­ence of sev­er­al US beer weeks and sug­gest­ed the idea of run­ning some­thing sim­i­lar to a friend and fel­low beer blog­ger, Stephen Pow­ell.

Bris­tol Beer Week fea­tured more mini-fes­ti­vals, talks, tast­ings and spe­cial one-off beers brewed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with beer writ­ers who duly plugged the event.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “A Brief His­to­ry of Beer Weeks”