News, nuggets and longreads 20 February 2021: smoke, disruption, trends

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out to us in the past week, from opinion on lockdown to reflections on smoke.

In the UK, the COVID-19 numbers are mostly and consistently heading in the right direction which has, of course, prompted calls for a Great Reopening. Tandleman wants to see pubs open soon, but not right now, and with due consideration for how pubs actually operate in the real world. Having originally titled his post ‘Get them open NOW!’, or something along those lines, Paul Bailey (no relation) is in a similar place.

Matt Curtis, on the other hand, urges patience:

We tend to agree with Matt – slow and steady makes sense, as long as there’s support in place to keep pubs afloat in the meantime. We’re almost there, and can you imagine what it would be like to reopen only to have to close up again a month later? If we’ve learned one thing in the past year it’s that those reassuring downward trends can turn in the blink of an eye.

Illustration: Victoriana.

Something Jeff Allworth said this week struck us like a lightning bolt:

There is every reason to believe the year-plus Covid disruption will have long-lasting effects on the alcohol market, and I wonder if we won’t use 2020-‘21 as a convenient place to divide the “craft era” with whatever we’re about to inherit. It will mean reckoning with this era, attempting to make meaning out of how we got here. We are a species of story.

Almost a year ago, we used the phrase ‘great disruptor’ to describe the pandemic and, yes, we’ve seen plenty of evidence of it accelerating trends already underway and putting a sudden full stop on slow decline.

King Narmer of Egypt, via

We’re 20th century kids, really, and don’t seem to have the heads for keeping track of the debates and disputes in beer archaeology. Nonetheless, like everyone else, our reaction to the news of the discovery of a 5,000-year-old brewery in Egypt was, “Wow – that’s cool!”

A joint Egyptian-American team discovered the brewery in Abydos, an ancient burial ground in the desert. They found a number of units containing about 40 pots used to heat a mixture of grain and water to make beer. The brewery is likely to date back to the era of King Narmer, according to the Supreme Council of Antiquities. It says it believes the find to “be the oldest high-production brewery in the world”.

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

For Ferment, the promo magazine for a beer subscription service, Mark Dredge has been thinking about trends and where beer might be going. Cleverly, he’s sourced his intel from the current cohort of students at Heriot-Watt – what do they expect to be brewing in years to come?

So what about the beers we’ll be drinking? “Something I’ve found very exciting in the last few years is a real shift to beers that are a lot more accessible,” said Caitlín [McErlean]. A lot of other people also used the word ‘accessible,’ and all of them used it in relation to hazy IPA, fruit sours or flavoured stouts – accessible seems to now mean a knowable non-beer ingredient, or a beer which has an abundantly fruity hop character.

Smoke on a Cornish moor.

At Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymus has been thinking about hops, smoke, wheat and the almost-lost beer style Grodziskie:

Beers change over the course of 500 years, so let’s forgo any discussion about what the “most authentic” version of Grodziskie might be. The givens are that it is made with smoked wheat malt and it is low alcohol. Sometimes it was hoppy, and sometimes it included barley… The version from Grodzisk is not quite as hoppy as one from Live Oak Brewing in Texas and a bit drier, but they are cut from the same cloth. They are about smoke and hops… But that smoke, that’s important. Oak smoked wheat malt does not smell like beechwood smoked malt or English peated malt.

Meux's Original London Stout advertised on a derelict pub building at Finsbury Park, North London.
Meux’s Original London Stout advertised on a derelict pub building at Finsbury Park, North London.

Joe Tindall is after a bit of help – do you remember drinking beer from Friary Meux? If so, drop him a line or comment on his post.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 13 February 2021: demolition & developers

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from ambient sound to monstrous Guinness keg fonts.

First up, an important amenity: is an ambient sound generator that recreates the atmosphere of a pub or bar. You can turn sounds on and off, or adjust the levels, and even add music via a custom Spotify playlist. It was in such demand yesterday when it went viral that the site fell over but it seems to be stable now. Enjoy!

Collage: a 1960s pub.

For Hull Live, Michael Mutch has written a frankly macabre account of the misfortune and violence that has plagued the estate pubs of Hull in recent years. There are subheadings such as ‘Chainsaw threat’ and ‘Lawless pub with mass brawls’. Depending on your point of view, this is either wallowing in the misfortune of others or a rare example of absolute raw honesty:

There are many reasons why these pubs are forced to close but there are none in Hull that raised eyebrows more than Orchard Park’s Arctic Ranger… On the surface it seemed like a traditional community pub set within the heart of the Orchard Park Community. But behind closed doors it was a different story… The pub was closed down in 2013 after a spate of violent attacks in and around the premises, including glassings and mass brawls, with Humberside Police saying it had become almost lawless.

Truman pavement.

From ‘The Gentle Author’ at Spitalfields Life we get yet another story of developers rushing to destroy brewing heritage to prevent its listing holding up their no doubt very important building project:

Last year, Dan Cruickshank made a survey of the historic fabric of the Old Truman Brewery to ensure that these elements would be preserved in any redevelopment of the site, which sits within the Fournier St and Brick Lane Conservation Area. The owners have responded by destroying a large area of old granite paviours and setts in the large yard east of Brick Lane that Dan identified as original, thus avoiding the possibility of any restriction upon their future development plans in this area… The work was undertaken covertly on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th January when the yard was cordoned off by security guards while mechanical diggers removed the surface and the debris was hastily taken away on trucks.

SOURCE: Simonds Family website.

In happier news, The Giant Goram, one of Bristol’s few remaining post-war estate pubs, has been saved as developers’ plans to build houses on the site were rejected. The planning inspector, John Wilde, said:

“To my mind the Giant Goram has to be defined as a community facility… It is the last of the original five pubs in Lawrence Weston, a community that has also lost many of its other facilities. Further housing in the community is due to be developed in the near future… It has not been shown that there is no longer a need to retain the pub and alternative provision has not been made.”

SOURCE: Matt Curtis/Pellicle.

For Pellicle Matt Curtis has produced a long, earnest tribute to St. Mars of the Desert, the Sheffield brewery that evolved out of cult US outfit Pretty Things. If you’re a cynic, you might roll your eyes here and there, but enter in to the spirit of things and it’s a touching piece that also includes some astute commentary on the status of Sheffield as a beer city:

Could the arrival of Dann, Martha and The Brewery of St. Mars of the Desert be the missing piece, cementing the Steel City in people’s minds as one of England’s best beer destinations? More likely, they’ve added another layer of excitement and intrigue to an already buoyant scene. Try as they might, they did not arrive anonymously. The lofty reputation of Pretty Things following them across the Atlantic, with rumours of their new brewery soon appearing online. 

Hops against green.

From Jake Huolihan at Brülosophy comes a recipe for hop-flavoured pop introduced with an interesting nugget:

I love beer, but there are certain occasions where consuming alcoholic beverages just isn’t in the cards and can even be dangerous or illegal. According to Lagunitas, regular consumption of beer on the job was killing productivity as employees became lethargic and probably still hungover from the previous day. To keep brewers happy satiated yet sober while on the job, they began making non-alcoholic carbonated hop flavored water, a concoction that was spearheaded by homebrewer Paul Tecker in the mid-2000s.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 6 February 2021 | Brixton, Brighton, blandness

Here’s everything about pubs and beer from the past week that told us something we didn’t know, made us pause and think or simply entertained us. It includes pieces on the blanding of beer and the impossibility of ever really, truly tasting stout.

First, a small news story, updating a big one from a couple of years back. In 2017, Heineken acquired a big stake in Brixton Brewery; this week, it took on the remaining 51% and thus full ownership. The interesting detail is in the statement Brixton’s management issued:

There’s no denying the fact that the next few years will be challenging for many reasons, so we’re happy to have the opportunity to secure the future of Brixton Brewery for our team, our families, our community and fans of our beers, who’ve been hugely supportive of our success.

In other words, it’s been prompted by COVID-19 instability. We can probably expect more of those 49/50 ‘partnerships’ to crystallise into full takeovers, can’t we?

Meanwhile, at Ferment the Rich, Oli has thoughts, with the promise of more to come:

Put simply: to Heineken, what Brixton represented was a brand that was literally representative of a specific location, which came with all of the esteemed historical attachments and cultural signifiers of its namesake in both the local and national British psyche. A piece of London that they could buy… The brewery’s claims to its being firmly situated in Brixton as a place is obvious from its branding. Each bottle and can bears ‘LDN SW9’, while the brewery’s logo, which takes inspiration from the local arcades’ art-deco style is emblazoned with the words ‘SOUTH LONDON’. And, while the main brewery is now technically inside neighbouring postcode SE24, the business’ branding aims to retain its authentic Brixton identity through the more recognizable postcode maintained by its commitment to its original location maintained by its SW9 railway arch taproom.

A Hall of Fame in the USA.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has produced a crowdsourced list of beers that might feature in a ‘hall of fame’. He got enough responses to do some interesting slicing and dicing of the numbers:

A majority of you chose a descendant the most successful extant example of the first international style (porter), and an equal number of the originator of the second international style (pilsner). A lot of you also noted the importance of hops in our current marketplace, and either chose the original pale ale (Bass) or the one most responsible for launching the American style (Sierra Nevada). After that, there’s a pretty big drop-off, but a logic is emerging. You favor classics of a style that have been around a long time and are regularly regarded as exceptional beers.

The bar at the Evening Star.
SOURCE: Grace Helmer/Pellicle.

Phil Mellows has, like most of us, been yearning for pubs and has written a piece about The Evening Star in Brighton for Pellicle, reflecting on its history and place in the rise of British craft beer:

[Many] chose the Evening Star for their first post-lockdown pint of cask. While the pub stayed open, before tiers and lockdowns forced it to close again, it was hard to find a socially-distanced table… “They know it’s guaranteed to be good,” Mark explains. “Drinkers understand the quality here and that’s down to all the work people have done here in the past.”… The Star has maintained that reputation with hardly a flicker over nearly three decades. It brightens a drab little street rumbling with motor traffic parallel to the main road where, on sunny days, the DFLs (Down From London) parade from the station to the sea, oblivious to the pub that hides behind the hoarding advertising Taboo.

Text illustration: LAGER

The Beer Nut has observed a phenomenon that has emerged as breweries learn to trade during pandemic lockdowns – a new focus on lager:

Ahh, The Pivot. With no sign of pubs re-opening any time soon, the breweries who relied on the draught trade have had to small-pack their beers in order to sell them. It’s entirely understandable and much better than the alternative. Today’s post is three lagers, at least two of which, I suspect, owe their existence to The Pivot.

Boddington's advertisement from the 1980s: 'Everybody Loves someboddies sometimes.'

At Shut Up About Barclay Perkins Ron Pattinson has turned his great brain and even greater knowledge of the archives to a question we’ve nibbled at in this past – when and why did Boddington’s Bitter lose its distinctive and much-loved quality?

Boddington really upped their output in the 1970s. In 1973 and 1974 they added new 500 barrel fermenters. As their brew length was 125 barrels, it meant they needed to make four brews to fill these vessels. They did retain the 125 barrel and 260 barrel fermenters they already had. In April 1977 they changed their brewhouse as the brew length increased to 250 barrels. Though they did for a time to continue to brew on the older, smaller plant. The new brew house coincided with the change in the recipe where the wheat and maize were dropped.

In the same series (there are five or six posts and counting) he wonders more generally why British beer got blander in the 1980s, making the excellent point that you could put all of this down to nostalgia and fings-ain’t-wot-they-used-to-beism if Harvey’s Sussex Best didn’t exist in all its mad glory.

A pint of stout.

For Craft Beer & Brewing Randy Mosher has written about the psychology behind our perceptions of the flavour of stout:

In the case of stouts, the sensory elephant in the glass is color. We’re supremely visual creatures. If we see something meaningful, our brains will try to find a way to support it even if it’s not actually there. This has been studied over and over in many contexts, and it’s inescapable. The wine people have just given up, often judging red wines in black glasses to avoid polluting their evaluations with erroneous visual cues… There is relatively little we can learn from the appearance of a beer. As Michael Lewis, the legendary brewing-science professor of UC Davis, is fond of saying, “Color is not a flavor outcome.” This is doubly true for stouts. Dark color is highly correlated by our experience with roasted and even burnt things and, of course, chocolate and coffee.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 30 January 2021 | Branding, Belgian stout, Bohemian lager

Here’s all the writing on beer and pubs we found especially interesting, illuminating or amusing in the past week, from branding to Belgian stout.

The big story of the week was that pioneering San Francisco craft beer brewery Anchor has rebranded. Now, we’d usually downgrade rebranding stories – they’re not generally that interesting – and certainly didn’t share the general sense of woe that broke out on Twitter. But this is significant, actually, being another indicator of the changing of the guard.

Pete Brown, who has just published a book on the marketing and branding of beer, doesn’t like the new Anchor labels but did get some more background from the brewery on why they felt the change was needed:

Anchor cites the need for greater standout on shelf, claiming even some of its biggest fans struggle to spot the existing design. Also, it needed to sell an expanding range of beers and have greater coherence between them: “Many of Anchor’s fans only know us as “Anchor Steam Beer” and aren’t aware that we brew other styles of beer,” the brewery spokesperson said… Another key aspect from yesterday’s statement acknowledges that “the beer industry has evolved drastically in the last decade with a significant shift toward novelty over heritage,” and that as a result, “we’ve watched many of our friends and colleagues at pioneering breweries close their doors.” Anchor seems to be telling us here that they face a straight choice of looking more like the new kids, or being forgotten. 

Martyn Cornell, meanwhile, doesn’t think it’s such a tragedy. His piece is entitled ‘The Anchor labels were never that great to begin with, and probably should have been changed long ago’:

The faux-antique bottle labels Fritz Maytag introduced as part of his shake-up of the failing business he acquired in the late 1960s certainly made the brand stand out on the shelves compared to the sleek designs of the megabrewers he was competing against. But they were always rather messy, deliberately hand-drawn to emphasise the “craft” nature of the product inside. As Anchor grew and as the craft brewery revolution it helped inspire exploded into thousands of competing beer brands, the bottle “dress” it had adopted began to look increasingly not so much charmingly old-fashioned as drab and out of date.

A mural in south London.

For Deserter, Vincent ‘Dirty South’ Raison has spoken to South London pub landlords about their present plight and their fears for the future. It’s full of specific detail and, though infused with anger, level-headed in its analysis:

Con Riordan, landlord at the esteemed Blythe Hill Tavern, felt that publicans don’t have enough friends in Parliament, as fond as politicians are of being pictured in a pub with a pint. But by disallowing takeaway booze – for who knows how long – the very survival of pubs is threatened, while supermarkets’ market share is increased… It’s clear that the government is constantly reacting rather than taking charge. Countries that have acted quickly and decisively have fared best: closing borders, mandatory mask-wearing, strict lockdowns and comprehensive testing have all helped. The whole country has been subject to revised regulations and baffling exceptions.

The Rutland Arms pub

There’s been much talk of the costs to our collective mental health of preventing gathering in offices, schools and, yes, pubs. For Ferment, the promo magazine for a beer subscription service, Katie Mather looks into the role of pubs as a vital part of the social safety net:

Katie Major | The Crow Inn and The Rutland Arms, Sheffield… “Because The Crow is so close to a popular real ale crawl, we would have customers who would do the same five or six pubs at the same time every week. For example, one regular comes in on a Thursday every week without fail, but I don’t know what he’s doing now, I have no way of contacting him. He’s been doing it for as long as I’ve worked in that area, so over ten years, and while he’s got a wife at home, his only social life is going round the pubs on his own, talking to the staff and the other customers.”

For Good Beer Hunting, Our Man in Prague Evan Rail explains how Budweiser Budvar and Pilsner Urquell are regarded in the Czech Republic and reminds us of the folly of projecting UK and US beer politics onto other nations:

[While] Asahi-owned Pilsner Urquell is a corporate juggernaut—technically a group of four separate breweries that together make up around 50% of the Czech market with their various brands—it is still respected, if not beloved, by both brewers and the general public here. When the festival of small breweries takes place each summer at Prague Castle, Pilsner Urquell is not included, because it is not a small brewery. But when Urquell’s brewmaster Václav Berka shows up at the event, he is often surrounded by a gaggle of owners and employees from small breweries who want to take pictures with him. It would be hard to imagine the brewmaster of one of the biggest American powerhouses—Miller or Budweiser, say—walking the floor at GABF and getting nothing but high fives.

Hercule stout

We’d never really thought about it but, yes, Breandán Kearney is right – Belgian stout has become a style in its own right. In this piece for Craft Beer & Brewing he dissects what makes it distinct:

Unlike Belgian IPA, Belgian stout has no BJCP style guidelines. It is never a category in global beer competitions. In his seminal Great Beers of Belgium in 1991, Michael Jackson made almost no reference to stouts in Belgium. Many drinkers in the country – and some brewers – erroneously use the term “stout” to describe any black beer. Other Belgians know it only in the context of the Flemish word stout—it means “naughty.” However, for savvier drinkers in Belgium – and those brewers inclined to look through history books and see beyond their borders – Belgian stout appears to have evolved and acquired its own characteristics. And in North America, breweries from Allagash in Maine to Elysian in Seattle have found success with something called “Belgian-style stout.”

Non alcoholic beer: 0,0

Joe Tindall has a knack for finding a new angle on old topics. This week at The Fatal Glass of Beer he turned his attention to low alcohol beer, a subject we thought we were done reading about. He reflects on how we engage with it and its subcategories:

The ones with adjuncts: One way to paper over the less convincing elements in alcohol-free beer is to add in some additional flavours. This is a delicate balancing act. It’s already not real beer; take the adjuncts too far and you end up with a sort of simulacrum that supposedly simulating beer, whilst predominantly tasting of grapefruit, or coffee, or rhubarb and custard sweets… When done right, though, this is perhaps the most enjoying and deceptively beery category of them all. Non-alcoholic stouts are tough to pull off, and a lot of those I’ve tried just taste like malt extract, if not Marmite.

Fermenting vessel.

A second entry from Ferment, this time by Jo Caird – a writer who’s new to us – on the subject of family breweries. Or, more specifically, on the generational tensions it brings:

“I’ve been a commercial brewer now for 25 years and I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about,” says Ian Bradford of Lymestone Brewery in Staffordshire. “To have someone say, ‘Why do we do this? Why don’t we do that?’ It is rather challenging, especially when you’re trying to show them how to do it properly.”… The “someone” Ian is referring to is his 26-year-old daughter, Sarah, who joined the business in 2015… When Ian’s trainee assistant brewer quit unexpectedly, he offered Sarah the job. They started off “very gently”, he says, focusing on the technical side of brewing, but it wasn’t long before Sarah was joining in with the decision making. “And it became obvious that she wanted to brew her own beers.” 

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.


Links for 23 January 2021: being Asian, Baltic porter, brahäuser

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that we deemed bookmarkable in the past week, from personal observations to policy suggestions.

Ruvani de Silva, AKA @amethyst_heels, has spoken to a group of south Asian women who love beer, comparing notes on their experience of navigating this predominantly male, predominantly white world:

“Don’t even get me started on beer and yoga events,” says beer blogger Sonia B, and I laugh out loud. The cultural-religious incompatibility of yoga with beer (or any form of alcohol) is so rarely acknowledged that I forget about it sometimes. I enjoy the shivering spark of recognition I feel in Sonia’s comment… It’s not often that I get to have conversations like this—there aren’t many other South Asian women in the beer world. Although there are some 5.4 million South Asians in the U.S. (and close to 2 million in Canada), we are noticeably absent within the ranks of a sector that made $29.3 billion in 2019 (the last year of data available).

Detail from lager ad, 1961: "You're watching a trend grow."

For the Guardian, Tony Naylor asks a good question – how exactly do food and drink trends happen? Why do people get obsessed with sriracha or avocados or pastry stouts?

Such renewal is human nature, says Daniel Woolfson, food and drink editor at trade magazine The Grocer. “People are faddy. When Instagrammable stuff gets old, they instinctively look for the next thing… The industry is obsessed with disruption,” says Woolfson. That is, creating a new sub-group in a food or drink category or transforming how an item is perceived and sold. Fever-Tree is the classic example. It pioneered an unforeseen market for “posh tonic” and even now when, like kombucha, cupcakes, Brewdog or smashed-patty burgers, it is long past peak cool, it retains an aura of quality and sophistication that bolsters sales. 

"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

Ian ‘The Wicking Man’ Thurman, Bass-lover extraordinaire, has written a heartfelt piece about how the Government might support the pub sector in practice:

Pubs need to see a way forward. I recognise that fixed dates for the reopening of pubs aren’t possible at this time. That doesn’t mean that pubs and their customers can’t be given hope and the opportunity to plan… It’s time to set some targets. Government needs to decide the level of 7 day rates for positive cases, hospital admissions and population vaccinated per head of population that need to be achieved by local area before pubs can open. Opening targets would offer an incentive to pub-goers and the opportunity for brewers, pubs and ancillary suppliers the chance to plan for their businesses… Offer the pub sector a carrot and then, in my view, most publicans would accept the need for strict COVID-ready compliance. If that includes the government telling people to use local pubs rather than travel, so be it.

An aeroplane

Tandleman insists he is not being sentimental when he asks “Where is the Tandle Hill Tavern?” but there’s an obvious element of yearning into this piece inspired by an aerial photo of his local pub:

So what are we looking at?  This is the open farmland between part of Middleton on the left side and on the right-hand side of the photo, the lane,  continuing into Royton. The right-hand part of the photo, where it ends, is, more or less,  the boundary between the two boroughs mentioned in the first paragraph above.  If you look at the left of the photo, in front of the farm with the wind turbines, you’ll see Thornham Lane. Follow this right with your eye to the clump of buildings in the middle and the reddish looking building – it isn’t red – with an  apparently white roof – it isn’t white –  is the Tandle Hill Tavern.  To save you the counting, there are four farms in the photo, so to say that it “nestles” amongst them, is pretty accurate I think you’ll agree.

SOURCE: Robbie Pickering/Refreshing Beer

Robbie Pickering, AKA Barm, AKA @robsterowski, has finally got round to writing up a 2019 trip to Zoigl country and the village of Neuhaus:

The unique feature of Zoigl culture is a beer which is made in a shared, communal village brewery. When the wort has been made in the Kommunbrauhaus, the brewers take it home and ferment and mature it in their own basements and garages… The Oberpfalz alone once had 75 towns and villages with a communal brewhouse. Now the culture survives in just a few villages: Neuhaus, Windischeschenbach, Falkenberg, Mitterteich, Eslarn… Once the beer is ready, each brewer sells it to the public in their Zoiglstube (Zoigl parlour). Originally it would just be served in the kitchen or the front room, whatever space the brewer had. Despite the cheap price the beer sells for, brewing Zoigl seems lucrative enough that many of the householders these days have dedicated extensions built with Zoigl money. These are pubs in all but name, yet the community feeling continues.

Baltic porter beer bottle cap: Pardubicky Porter.

Belligerent myth-busting is a great format for Martyn Cornell. This week, responding to ‘Baltic Porter Day’ (who knew?) he’s turned his guns in that direction:

Baltic Porter, if you want to be historically accurate, should NOT be as strong as an Imperial Russian Stout. Baltic porter has its roots in the early 19th century, when Polish drinkers could not get hold of the strong porters imported from England that they had grown to love: but these were what would have been called a “double brown stout” in Britain, around 7 or 8 per cent alcohol by volume, heavy but rather weaker than the “imperial” stouts popular at the Russian court: a Polish publication from 1867 compares the strength of “piwo podwójne,” double beer, such as “porter angielski” to “Salvator or Bockbier from Munich,” which was an 8 per cent abv beer.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.