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 PARTY — CHOOSE FREEDOM! ÖDP — YOUNG, 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.)

Timeline

  • 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