News, nuggets and longreads 1 June 2019: Bubbles, Boozers, Business

Here’s everything that struck us as noteworthy, informative or entertaining in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from worrying to Wegbier.

Writ­ing, odd­ly, for the blog of beer indus­try mar­ket­ing agency Mash, Matt Cur­tis offers a bal­anced, detailed run­down of the state of UK brew­ing in a week when there has been much dis­cus­sion of brew­ery clo­sures:

About five years ago, if I was giv­en a pound for every time I was told that the “beer bub­ble” was about to burst, I’d have, well, sev­er­al pounds. Enough for a round of “Lon­don murky” in a trendy craft beer bar at the very least. At the time, it felt as though beer was reach­ing its apex. As it turned out, it still had fur­ther to climb before it did.

Now, how­ev­er, I’m begin­ning to think that, although some of those hot takes came far too ear­ly, that in today’s mar­ket, they might be right.

Augustiner bottles

For Vine­Pair Evan Rail writes about the Ger­man cul­ture of Weg­bier – lit­er­al­ly beer that you drink on your way from A to B.

A Weg­bier is a sim­ply a beer that you drink while you’re walk­ing,” Ludger Berges, own­er of the Hopfen & Malz bot­tle shop in Berlin, says. “Actu­al­ly, ‘Weg’ means ‘way,’ so it’s a beer for the road. If you’re on your way to a par­ty or on your way home from a par­ty, maybe it’s 10 min­utes by foot, many peo­ple in Berlin will walk that dis­tance, and many peo­ple will drink a Weg­bier along the way. It’s cool, it’s relaxed. Every­body does it.”

The con­cept of Weg­bier seems fair­ly spe­cif­ic to Ger­many. Despite the coun­try shar­ing a bor­der and lager-brew­ing (and ‑drink­ing) his­to­ry with the Czech Repub­lic, there is no Czech-lan­guage equiv­a­lent of Weg­bier. Nor is the con­cept in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries like Bel­gium or Poland.

Pubco advertisement for landlords.

In anoth­er area of the indus­try, the Guardian has a piece by Rob Davies on how the Mar­ket-Rent-Only option is work­ing out for pub­li­cans whose pubs are owned by the much-reviled pub com­pa­nies:

Pub ten­ants and MPs have been “duped and betrayed”, accord­ing to the British Pub Con­fed­er­a­tion, which said the MRO was lit­tle more than a myth.

It accused pub com­pa­nies of seek­ing to scup­per MRO appli­ca­tions by any means nec­es­sary, includ­ing spook­ing them with evic­tion notices. The group also cast doubt on the inde­pen­dence of assess­ments used to set rents.

The BPC chair, Greg Mul­hol­land, who pushed the MRO option through par­lia­ment as a Lib­er­al Demo­c­rat MP, said that in its cur­rent form “ten­ants do not have the rights they were promised by min­is­ters”.

Thornbridge, 2013.

Rea­son, a con­ser­v­a­tive Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tion which sits in around the same space as the UK’s Spec­ta­tor, has an inter­est­ing piece by Alex Mure­sianu on how the impo­si­tion of steel tar­iffs has affect­ed the US brew­ing indus­try:

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for import tax­es is usu­al­ly that they will pro­tect Amer­i­can jobs from for­eign com­pe­ti­tion. Tar­iffs on a spe­cif­ic good, like alu­minum, might help work­ers in the indus­try which pro­duces that good. How­ev­er, work­ers in indus­tries that use that good as an input suf­fer.

I have heard from brew­ers large and small from across the coun­try who are see­ing their alu­minum costs dras­ti­cal­ly increase, even when they are using Amer­i­can alu­minum,” Jim McGreevy, pres­i­dent and CEO of The Beer Insti­tute, said in March, when the group released a sep­a­rate report detail­ing $250 mil­lion in high­er costs cre­at­ed by tar­iffs and tar­iff-asso­ci­at­ed price increas­es.

We haven’t had chance to watch this yet but the Craft Beer Chan­nel has pro­duced a 70-minute doc­u­men­tary about beer in New Eng­land which is clear­ly a labour of love.

His­toric Eng­land is try­ing to save a rev­o­lu­tion­ary 18th cen­tu­ry build­ing in Shrews­bury that was built as a flaxmill and con­vert­ed into malt­ings in the 1890s. They call it ‘the first sky­scraper’. You can find out all about the Flaxmill Malt­ings at the His­to­ry Call­ing blog.

And final­ly, there’s this elo­quent account of why you might start a brew­ery, and what might move you to stop:

For more, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thurs­day. (Stan Hierony­mus is tak­ing a break.)

Lederhosen in Lidl, Beer for Breakfast: Some Reflections on Munich

We’ve been to Munich several times, but rarely for more than a couple of days, and not often together.

This time we went with the spe­cif­ic inten­tion of real­ly being in Munich – not jump­ing on trains to oth­er near­by towns, or rac­ing from one beer des­ti­na­tion to anoth­er in pur­suit of ticks and tro­phies.

We began by find­ing accom­mo­da­tion in the sub­urbs, part­ly to save mon­ey, but also because the best times we’ve had on recent trips abroad have been beyond the imme­di­ate cen­tres of cities.

The neigh­bour­hood we end­ed up in was one where peo­ple live, walk their dogs, drowse on bench­es, smoke behind school bike sheds, and use ten-foot plas­tic pluck­ers to pick plums. The hous­es were post-war but con­ser­v­a­tive (Bavaria is not a hotbed of mod­ernism) with con­crete lions on their gateposts and plas­tic elves in their flowerbeds.

Every cor­ner had a polit­i­cal poster or two: BAVARIAN PARTYCHOOSE FREEDOM! ÖDPYOUNG, AND FIERCELY ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS! The only AFD posters we saw in our part of town had been either torn down or van­dalised, the can­di­dates giv­en square black mous­tach­es with swipes of mark­er pens.

We drank our first beer in Munich at a pub-restau­rant above the tube sta­tion, on the main road into town, as rain ham­mered the para­sols in the emp­ty beer gar­den.

Ayinger Helles beer.

Ayinger Helles isn’t from Munich, it’s from Aying, and after a twelve-hour train trip, tast­ed great.

The pub was some­how both a bit too posh (table­cloths and orna­ments) and noth­ing spe­cial – limp sal­ad, ser­vice on the SCREW YOU! end of brusque – but the beer was served with all due cer­e­mo­ny. The glass, a sim­ple Willibech­er, was so clean it sang at the touch of a fin­ger, and had plen­ty of room for a crown of foam.

Look at the room through the beer and every­thing seems clear­er than with­out. It cer­tain­ly looks warmer.

A touch sweet, a touch of corn, almost watery, and yet… Yes, anoth­er, please.

After all, as every­one knows, sev­er­al thin coats rather than one thick leads to a more even, con­sis­tent fin­ish.

A good start.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Leder­ho­sen in Lidl, Beer for Break­fast: Some Reflec­tions on Munich”

The First British Attempt at German-style Wheat Beer

Vaux Brewery logo

In 1988 a new German-style wheat beer was launched on the British market – the first, its brewers claimed, brewed in the UK.

This post fol­lows on from our con­tri­bu­tion to the Ses­sion back at the start of July in which we were frus­trat­ed in our attempts to pin down when Samuel Smith start­ed brew­ing Ayinger wheat beer under licence.

As it hap­pens, the August 1988 edi­tion of CAM­RA’s month­ly news­pa­per What’s Brew­ing con­tains two arti­cles use­ful for pin­ning this down:

  1. A dou­ble-page pro­file of Samuel Smith and its head brew­er by Bri­an Glover.
  2. A back-page splash head­lined FIRST BRITISH WHEAT BEER!

The for­mer lists all of the Ayinger-brand­ed beers then in pro­duc­tion at Smith’s from D Pils to VSL (very strong lager, we think, at about 8% ABV) but does not men­tion a wheat beer.

The lat­ter tells us that Britain’s first Ger­man-style wheat beer was brewed in… Sheffield. It was brand­ed as Vaux Weizen­bier but brewed at a Vaux sub­sidiary, Ward’s.

Vaux beermat.

The oper­a­tions direc­tor at Sun­der­land, Stu­art Wil­son, explained the think­ing behind this remark­able first:

We have not­ed the pop­u­lar­i­ty of wheat beers in West Ger­many and in the USA. Wheat beers are 15% of the Bavar­i­an beer mar­ket. So with the increas­ing inter­est in spe­cial­i­ty beers, we have decid­ed to brew this clas­sic style.

The arti­cle tells us that the beer had an ABV of 5% and was served on draught from “ornate ceram­ic founts” in elab­o­rate brand­ed glass­es, with slices of lemon avail­able “for those who pre­fer to com­plete the Bavar­i­an pic­ture”. Odd­ly, per­haps, it was fil­tered and pre­sent­ed clear – cloudy beer being per­haps a step too far for British drinkers in 1988?

Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jack­son blurbed the new prod­uct: “[It has] a clean, light­ly fruity palate.”

In a fol­low-up piece for The Times on 11 May 1991 Mr Glover was still cred­it­ing Vaux with launch­ing the first UK-brewed Ger­man wheat beer (mean­ing nobody came for­ward to prove oth­er­wise) and stat­ed that there had been no oth­ers since.

But by 1994 Roger Protz was report­ing in the Observ­er (29 May) that Vaux had begun import­ing Spat­en wheat beers, with no men­tion of their own-label prod­uct.

So, there you go: Sam Smith did­n’t get into the wheat beer game until the 1990s, and any­one Googling ‘first British wheat beer’ now has a plau­si­ble answer. (Unless any­one out there knows oth­er­wise.)


  • 1988 Vaux brews the first British take on Ger­man-style wheat beer
  • 1988 Hoe­gaar­den hits UK mar­ket
  • 1991 Tay­lor Walk­er begins sell­ing Löwen­bräu across its estate
  • 1993 Hoe­gaar­den in Whit­bread pubs
  • 1994 Alas­tair Hook begins import­ing Ger­man wheat beers to the UK
  • 1994 wheat beer fes­ti­val at the White Horse organ­ised by Hook and Mark Dor­ber
  • 1994 con­ti­nen­tal wheat beers in UK super­mar­kets

Session #137: “Banana Beer”

This is our con­tri­bu­tion to Ses­sion #137 host­ed by Roger at Roger’s Beers.

Our introduction to German wheat beer happened long before we were interested in beer and before we’d ever thought of going to Bavaria.

It was at the Fitzroy, a Samuel Smith pub in cen­tral Lon­don, in about 2001, where the house draught wheat beer was a ver­sion of Ayinger brewed under licence in Tad­cast­er, North York­shire.

We had encoun­tered Hoe­gaar­den by this point – it was ubiq­ui­tous in Lon­don at around the turn of the cen­tu­ry – but had­n’t con­sid­ered order­ing any oth­er wheat beer until a friend urged us to try Ayinger. “I call it banana beer,” they said, “because it tastes like puréed banana.”

At first we did­n’t quite get it. To us, it tast­ed like beer. Weird, soupy, sweet beer. So we had a few until we under­stood what he meant. And yes, there it was – the stink of black­ened bananas left too long in the bowl. “It gives you ter­ri­ble hang­overs, though,” he added, a lit­tle too late to save us. We could­n’t think of it for a year or two after that ses­sion with­out feel­ing a lit­tle over­ripe our­selves.

Pin­ning down any­thing relat­ing to the his­to­ry of Samuel Smith beers is trick­i­er than it ought to be but, in the absence of firm evi­dence, we reck­on it’s a safe guess that they start­ed brew­ing Weizen in the 1990s, dur­ing or after the brief craze for wheat beer among the British beer cognoscen­ti (Hook, Dor­ber et al) dur­ing 1994–95. (As always, sol­id intel prov­ing oth­er­wise is very wel­come.)

Sam Smith’s take might not have had the cool of a gen­uine import – the hip kids raved about Schnei­der – but it had the advan­tage of being both acces­si­ble and acces­si­bly priced, and we can’t help but won­der how many oth­er British beer geeks were first intro­duced to Ger­man wheat beer this way.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 12 May 2018: Bass, Bavaria, Bambini

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from the masculinity of beer to the fascination of Bass.

Dea Latis, an indus­try group ded­i­cat­ed to pro­mot­ing beer to women, and chal­leng­ing the idea that beer is a male pre­serve. It com­mis­sioned a study from YouGov into wom­en’s atti­tudes to beer which is sum­marised here, with a link to the full report:

Beer Som­me­li­er and Dea Latis direc­tor Annabel Smith said: “We know that the beer cat­e­go­ry has seen mas­sive progress in the last decade – you only need to look at the wide vari­ety of styles and flavours which weren’t avail­able wide­ly in the UK ten years ago. Yet it appears the female con­sumer either hasn’t come on the same jour­ney, or the beer indus­try just isn’t address­ing their female audi­ence ade­quate­ly. Overt­ly mas­cu­line adver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tion of beer has been large­ly absent from media chan­nels for a num­ber of years but there is a lot of his­to­ry to unrav­el. Women still per­ceive beer brand­ing is tar­get­ed at men.”

We’ve already linked to this once this week but why not a sec­ond time? It’s a sub­stan­tial bit of work, after all.

There’s some inter­est­ing com­men­tary on this, too, from Kirst Walk­er, who says: “If we want more women in the beer club, we have to sweep up the crap from the floors and admit that flow­ers are nice and it pays not to smell of horse piss. How’s that for a man­i­festo?”

Bass Pale Ale mirror, Plymouth.

Ian Thur­man, AKA @thewickingman, was born and brought up in Bur­ton-upon-Trent and has a lin­ger­ing affec­tion for Bass. He has writ­ten a long reflec­tion on this famous beer’s rise and fall accom­pa­nied by a crowd-sourced direc­to­ry of pubs where it is always avail­able:

It’s dif­fi­cult for me to be unemo­tion­al about Draught Bass. It was part of grow­ing up in Bur­ton. But what are the facts.

The EU AB InBev careers’ web­site accu­rate­ly describes the rel­a­tive impor­tance of their brands to the com­pa­ny.

The UK has a strong port­fo­lio of AB InBev brands. This includes, glob­al brands, Stel­la Artois and Bud­weis­er, inter­na­tion­al brands, Beck’s, Leffe and Hoe­gaar­den, as well as local brands, includ­ing Bod­ding­tons and Bass.”

We’re fas­ci­nat­ed by the re-emer­gence of the Cult of Bass as a sym­bol of a cer­tain con­ser­v­a­tive atti­tude to pubs and beer. You might regard this arti­cle as its man­i­festo.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 12 May 2018: Bass, Bavaria, Bam­bi­ni”