News, nuggets and longreads 11 May 2019: Mild, Mergers, Manchester

Here’s everything around beer and pubs that seemed to us worth bookmarking in the past week, from boozelessness to buyouts.

The week’s big news is that two Amer­i­can brew­eries we’ve actu­al­ly heard of, and whose beers we have actu­al­ly man­aged to taste, are merg­ing. That is, Boston Beer and Dog­fish Head. We’ve been won­der­ing for some time if we might see more craft-on-craft acqui­si­tions and merg­ers; it’ll be inter­est­ing to see if this is the start of a wave. In the mean­time, we went straight to Jeff Alworth at Beer­vana for com­men­tary, as should you.


If you enjoy indus­try dra­ma then do have a look at this Twit­ter con­ver­sa­tion around BrewDog’s new alco­hol-free Punk IPA vari­ant ini­ti­at­ed by a mar­ket­ing agency for­mer­ly retained by the Scot­tish brew­ery:


The Mild Guy by Lily Waite/Pellicle.

For the brand new pub­li­ca­tion Pel­li­cle Lily Waite has writ­ten about a Lon­don brew­ery find­ing space in a crowd­ed mar­ket by focus­ing on an unfash­ion­able style. Box­car is based in Beth­nal Green and run by Sam Dick­i­son:

Whilst not nec­es­sar­i­ly the polar oppo­site of the New Eng­land-style beers that put Box­car on the prover­bial map, dark mild is a depar­ture from those juicy, hazy, hop­py beers. It is, how­ev­er, very much in keep­ing with Boxcar’s ethos.

We’ve gone in the hop­py direc­tions because I love those beers, but equal­ly, I love dark mild, so I said ‘let’s do a dark mild”, he says, with a typ­i­cal qui­et smile.

(This kind of thing sig­nals some­thing inter­est­ing: mild has become a quirky minor­i­ty style – a nov­el­ty, rather than an every­day beer, like Berlin­er Weisse or Gose.)


Detail from a 1943 advert for Lifesavers depicting fruit on a tree.

At a time when sil­ly one-off beers with sil­ly stuff in them has become one of the go-to moans in beer com­men­tary, it’s refresh­ing to read a post which, though it starts that way, ends up talk­ing pos­i­tive­ly about the ben­e­fits of get­ting to know a stan­dard beer real­ly well, from Joan Vil­lar-i-Martí at Bir­raire:

I enjoy see­ing the con­stant qual­i­ty of Montse­ny IPA Aniver­sari, even when bought in the super­mar­ket; my sens­es soared the first time I drank Espiga’s Mosa­ic Hops Col­lec­tion in a can, a for­mat that enhances a recipe that was already a sol­id. After analysing it dur­ing a guid­ed tast­ing, I felt the urge to buy a whole box of Sansa, La Pirata’s Amber Ale, so tasty and smooth that it prompt­ly dis­ap­peared.

(Flag­ship Feb­ru­ary feels so long ago.)


Intoxicate Lubricate Connect

For the Guardian Tony Nay­lor has writ­ten about why booze­less pubs don’t work:

Beyond lov­ing the taste of beer, I also love the effects of alco­hol, and for what it can do to a pub. I cher­ish that three-pint win­dow where real life melts away. I love the warmth, the laugh­ter, the life, the ran­dom, non­sen­si­cal con­ver­sa­tions and soft-edged, jovial chaos of full pubs at peak hours. I like the din. I like the rev­el­ry. I like a bit of noise and chaos, frankly. And I like the sense of drinkers of often very dif­fer­ent back­grounds rub­bing along in mutu­al intox­i­cat­ed tol­er­ance. In an increas­ing­ly atom­ised soci­ety, there is val­ue in that.


A map of the world.

A fas­ci­nat­ing piece in the Econ­o­mist puts AB-InBev into con­text as one strand in a glob­al busi­ness that also oper­ates 3G net­works and owns the strug­gling Kraft Heinz con­glom­er­ate. With few costs left to be cut, and few busi­ness­es left to acquire, where do they go next? Per­haps towards acquir­ing Coca-Cola (we’ve heard this in the form of a rumour before) or Dia­geo, the arti­cle spec­u­lates. We can cer­tain­ly imag­ine ABI fan­cy­ing Guin­ness in its port­fo­lio. (Arti­cle pay­walled; reg­is­tra­tion required to read five arti­cles per month for free.)


A vintage image a flat-roofed pub.
The Old Gar­ratt c.1970 via Manchester’s Estate Pubs.

It’s always excit­ing when one of our favourite blogs, Man­ches­ter Estate Pubs, posts some­thing new. This week Steve Mar­land shares pho­tographs of and notes on The Old Gar­ratt:

Time changes every­thing the Cream of Man­ches­ter is now a some­what sour sub­ject, the Old Gar­ratt has dropped the old in favour of Ye Old­en Days, a look which it clear­ly lacked. Moder­ni­ty is now dragged up as a cut price stage set coach­ing house caprice, replete with lamps, black and gold lin­ing, columns and ped­i­ments. The pub that thinks it’s a pack of John Play­er Spe­cials.


And final­ly, a great pho­to of a pub we vis­it­ed dur­ing research for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, in the base of a tow­er block in north Lon­don:

For more of the same, but dif­fer­ent, check out Alan’s blog on Thurs­days and Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day.

News, nuggets and longreads 4 May 2019: ramen, gin, kveik

Here’s all the beer-related gubbins that caught our eye and seemed bookmarkworthy in the past week, from ramen amateurs to the perceived sophistication of gin.

First, though, some bits of news on the health and tra­jec­to­ry of spe­cif­ic brew­eries, which we expect to be includ­ing in these round-ups quite a bit in the com­ing months.

North­ern Monk, which was one of the brew­eries we’d heard might be on the verge of takeover, has announced that Active Part­ners has tak­en a less than 25% stake in the com­pa­ny. (We’re begin­ning to learn the code: that prob­a­bly means some­thing like a 24.5% stake.) In their announce­ment, they acknowl­edge hav­ing bat­ted away offers from larg­er brew­eries.

Mean­while, in Lon­don, Red­church seems to be under­go­ing some tur­moil. It has appar­ent­ly filed notice of inten­tion to appoint an admin­is­tra­tor with the civ­il courts, and changed own­er­ship. (Is it us, or is the launch of crowd­fund­ing increas­ing­ly reli­able as an indi­ca­tor that a brew­ery is either going to fold, or get sold?)

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 4 May 2019: ramen, gin, kveik”

News, nuggets and longreads 27 April 2019: numbers, mild, cult beer frenzy

Here’s everything that struck as as noteworthy in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from brewery numbers to the possible decline of lager.

Like many oth­er com­men­ta­tors, we’ve tak­en the total num­ber of UK brew­eries, and the amount by which it increas­es each year, as an at least par­tial­ly use­ful indi­ca­tor of the vigour of the craft beer boom. Accord­ing to a new report from accoun­tan­cy firm UHY, that growth might final­ly have begun to slow:

The craft beer boom in the UK has slowed sharply in the last year with the total num­ber of brew­eries increas­ing by just 8 ver­sus the 390 added in pri­or twelve months, our research shows… The total num­ber of UK brew­eries reached to 2,274 at the end of 2018, up from 1,352 five years ago… The craft beer mar­ket has become dif­fi­cult for new entrants as multi­na­tion­al brew­ers con­tin­ue to buy and invest the more suc­cess­ful “craft” brew­eries. The huge lev­els of invest­ment that the multi­na­tion­als then deploy through their “craft” sub­sidiaries throw up bar­ri­ers of entry against oth­er entrants. The multi­na­tion­als have been attract­ed by the high growth rates in the craft beer mar­ket and the pre­mi­um pric­ing they can achieve.

(This sto­ry got a bit man­gled in the retelling by some news out­lets which, tend­ing to pre­fer sto­ries of either total tri­umph or dread­ful doom, report­ed that only eight new brew­eries had opened in the past year.)


Relat­ed news: the total num­ber of pubs con­tin­ues to decline at a rate equiv­a­lent to 76 clo­sures per month, but the rate of clo­sures is quite clear­ly slow­ing.


Anoth­er nugget of news, unfor­tu­nate­ly from behind a pay­wall: finan­cial news ser­vice Merg­er­Mar­ket reports that both Truman’s and Five Points are active­ly court­ing investors or part­ners. There’s noth­ing we can link to at this stage but, well, keep your eyes peeled for fur­ther news.


Weyerbacher logo.

For Brew­Bound Justin Kendall offers com­ment on the strug­gles of yet anoth­er ear­ly-wave Amer­i­can craft brew­ery, Weyer­bach­er:

Most of Weyerbacher’s finan­cial issues stem from a 2014 expan­sion project that cost $2 mil­lion and includ­ed the addi­tion of a 40-bar­rel brew­house. Over the years, how­ev­er, the com­pa­ny dealt with increased com­pe­ti­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the pump­kin beer cat­e­go­ry — as it strug­gled to grow sales and pay down debt.

We were expect­ing to see dou­ble-dig­it growth for a num­ber of years … and with the mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion that hap­pened in pump­kin and all of those oth­er things, that just didn’t pan out,” [Josh Lampe] said.

The mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion that hap­pened in pump­kin! What a time to be alive.


Illustration: beer bottles.

For Drinks Retail­ing News Antho­ny Glad­man has pro­duced a fas­ci­nat­ing piece on the strug­gle of inde­pen­dent bot­tle shops to attain sup­plies of the most sought after beers:

Any­thing DIPA or hazy goes real­ly fast,” says Dan Sandy, man­ag­er of east Lon­don craft beer store Kill The Cat. Beers from Cloud­wa­ter, Ver­dant and Deya are sub­ject to fierce com­pe­ti­tion because they will draw in cus­tomers and dri­ve sales of oth­er beers once peo­ple are through the shop door.

Every­one wants Deya cans but it’s not mak­ing very many,” says Jen Fer­gu­son, co-own­er of Hop Burns & Black, a craft beer retail­er in south east Lon­don. “The num­ber of Deya cans mak­ing it through to the dis­trib­u­tors is very small.”

Anoth­er exam­ple is Not­ting­ham brew­ery Neon Rap­tor. Alex Fitz­patrick, co-own­er of Brix­ton bot­tle shop Ghost Whale, found its beers became hard to get hold of seem­ing­ly overnight. “What hap­pened? Who pressed the but­ton that gave it this mag­ic rain­bow aura around every­thing it does?”


Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

With CAMRA’s dec­la­ra­tion of May as the month of mild in mind, Ron Pat­tin­son has tak­en a look at how beer style come in and out of favour:

When styles start to decline, it can hap­pen sur­pris­ing­ly quick­ly. It always kicks off the same way: young drinkers don’t adopt it. Then a style begins to be asso­ci­at­ed with old men. And no-one wants to drink what granddad’s drink­ing… Lager sales real­ly took off in the late 1970s. The young drinkers who adopt­ed it back then are now around 60. How long before Lager becomes asso­ci­at­ed with old blokes?


Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

One of the upsides to putting this round-up togeth­er slight­ly lat­er than usu­al is that it meant we caught a post from this very morn­ing by the Pub Cur­mud­geon in which the details of var­i­ous region­al quirks of dis­pense from the 1970s-90s are recalled:

But, in the 1960s and 70s, if you went in the aver­age pub across much of the Mid­lands and North, you would be like­ly to be served your beer in an over­size glass with a thick head reach­ing almost to the top, where­as in the South you would get beer from a hand­pump with a head no more than a quar­ter of an inch deep, or often just a thin coat­ing of foam on the top. It’s also worth adding that, in the South, you would often get keg beer with lit­tle or no head as well. Get­ting a pint a total­ly flat-look­ing beer with plen­ty of CO2 still dis­solved in it was a touch dis­con­cert­ing.


And final­ly, from Twit­ter, one of those too-neat expla­na­tions that nonethe­less sort of, maybe, kind of, checks out:

For more links and com­men­tary check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day and Alan McLeod on Thurs­day.

News, nuggets and longreads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawling, Carlsberg, Craftonia

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from Leeds to low alcohol beer.

For the Guardian Dave Simp­son writes about the devel­op­ment of the post-punk scene in Leeds in the late 1970s, which took place in pubs, with the York­shire Rip­per as a dark back­ground pres­ence:

Today, with its wood and tiles and punk sound­track, [the Fen­ton] is almost as it was; Gill observes that the juke­box has moved rooms. “Pre-mobile phones, you’d have to go where you knew peo­ple would be,” Mekons singer Tom Green­hal­gh explains, remem­ber­ing “intense polit­i­cal debates and insane hedo­nism”, and leg­endary scene char­ac­ters such as Bar­ry the Badge. “A huge gay guy cov­ered in badges from Arm­ley Social­ist Worker’s par­ty. He was rock-hard, but then he could just grab you, snog you and stick his tongue down your throat.”


Roger Protz has been writ­ing about lager in Britain for 40 years so his com­men­tary on where the new ‘Dan­ish Pil­sner’ Carls­berg has just launched in the UK fits in was bound to be inter­est­ing. Where oth­ers have been cau­tious­ly pos­i­tive, Mr Protz essen­tial­ly dis­miss­es the beer as more the same:

I was asked for my views by Carlsberg’s Lon­don-based PR com­pa­ny, who sent me some sam­ples. The bot­tled ver­sion said it was brewed in the UK – pre­sum­ably this means the Northamp­ton fac­to­ry – while the can says “brewed in the EU”. I said this made a mock­ery of the new beer being called “Dan­ish Pil­sner”… I added that 3.8 per cent ABV was too low to mer­it being called Pil­sner: the clas­sic Pil­sner Urquell is 4.4 per cent and all claims to be a Pil­sner should be judged against it. I found the Carls­berg beer to be thin and lack­ing in aro­ma and flavour.

A foot­note from us: we were asked to take part in mar­ket research by Heineken ear­li­er this week, which leads us to sus­pect some sim­i­lar post-Cam­den rein­ven­tion is in the pipeline there, too.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawl­ing, Carls­berg, Crafto­nia”

News, Nuggets and Longreads 13 April 2019: Peroni, Pricing, Perceptions

Here’s everything that struck us as interesting or readworthy in the past week, from notes on enamel signs to news of the CAMRA AGM.

First, a sug­ges­tion for a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing about beer from Stan Hierony­mus:

What if we tast­ed beer in some sort of his­toric reverse? That is, start­ing with a par­tic­u­lar type of beer as it is brewed today, and fol­low­ing it with pre­vi­ous episodes of the same beer… I ask this, and ask it this way, because the Game of Thrones returns Sun­day, and like Zak Jason I didn’t start watch­ing the series when it debuted in 2011 and haven’t since.


Enamel Orval signs.
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

At Brus­sels Beer City Eoghan Walsh has turned his atten­tion to an aspect of Bel­gian beer cul­ture we’ve been aware of with­out real­ly think­ing about – who makes all those enam­el signs you see in bars?

Email­lerie Belge is the last enam­el advert pro­duc­er in the Low Coun­tries, and it has been mak­ing ad pan­els for Bel­gian brew­eries for almost a cen­tu­ry… The com­pa­ny sur­vived a tumul­tuous 20th cen­tu­ry and sev­er­al flir­ta­tions with bank­rupt­cy. Now under new man­age­ment, it’s work­ing to recap­ture the glo­ry days of the enam­el ad indus­try, bet­ting that its small scale, cus­tom, and high qual­i­ty out­put can suc­ceed against low-cost, indus­tri­al enam­el pro­duc­ers.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets and Lon­greads 13 April 2019: Per­oni, Pric­ing, Per­cep­tions”