News, nuggets and longreads 1 May 2021: Cerveise, craft, cadence

Here’s our regular weekly round-up of writing about beer and pubs, featuring Norman knights and cold cans in New Orleans.

Let’s start with Martyn Cornell and his notes on ‘How to brew like a medieval knight’. His dissection of a 13th century “rhyming treatise… in the Norman French of the 1200s” is fascinating, illuminating stuff:

Going through the process, the would-be brewster looking to turn orge (barley) into “cerveyse” first had to steep  her barley in a large vat. When it was soaked and the “eauwe” drained off, she was to carry the grain to a clean-swept “soler” or upper floor and “la coucherez” until it had properly germinated: it should now be called “breez”, or “malt”, and not “grain”, Bibbesworth said. The malt should be stirred by hand, and left to stand in “heaps or rows”, an essential practice to stop the grain over-heating as it sprouted and to ensure the growing sprouts and rootlets did not get so tangled the malt turned into an unseparatable lump.

Spezial Brau, Bamberg

For Pellicle Adrian TIerney-Jones has written about smoke and the mysterious, primal edge it brings to beer:

Back in spring 2018, I visited Bamberg and Schlenkerla’s home Brauerei Heller… Inside the yard and the brewery, the aroma of smoke hung in the air like a company of ringwraiths from Lord of the Rings, while a tasting of the beers with a brewer took me on a journey through the various rich levels of smoked beer. Every beer it produces has its own character, with the 8% Double Bock, Eiche, being particularly luscious in its smokiness, coming from the use of oak in malting as opposed to beechwood… Later at the Schlenkerla tavern, amongst the vaulted arches and the time-scrawled, brown wooden panelling, amidst a soundtrack of chatty, beery, slurping, masticating people and the warm fog of roast meat, I finally felt I had reached the heart of smoked beer. 

Carling Billboard

After a few weeks of intense debate over questions of independence in beer it’s no surprise to find Lily Waite writing about “craft beer’s self-inflicted existential crisis” for Good Beer Hunting:

Since I began working in the industry in 2015, the idea that “Big Beer” was the enemy prevailed. Craft beer forums would censor discussion of any beers available for purchase in supermarkets; breweries who “sold out” to Heineken, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Kirin, or any other “macro brewery” would become taboo; and I, like many of my peers, would ardently avoid drinking anything but “craft” beer. The idea of the shadowy, underhanded Big Beer operative lurking around every corner, desperate to snatch back the sliver of market share stolen by independent beer, permeated the spaces I inhabited. “Fuck Big Beer!” was the message, and we were its evangelists… But what’s the most serious challenge—the conglomerate of multinationals collectively known as “Big Beer,” or craft beer’s own flaws? 

(As we’ve been saying since 2014, craft beer isn’t necessarily better but is often more interesting; and we understand why people get upset when independence has been presented as important up until the moment it isn’t.)

Kolomyja, Galicia

Gary Gillman continues to explore what feels like a fruitful and barely-trodden avenue: Jewish-owned breweries in Eastern Europe. This week, he’s been getting to know the Brettler Brewery of Old Kolomyja, Galicia:

Kolomyja had a very substantial Jewish population before WW II, half or nearing that level since the mid-1800s… Most Jews were craftsmen, e.g. cobblers, tailors, and potters, or factory workers, peddlers, or shop-owners, with small, often unpredictable incomes… A small percentage did become wealthy. They helped their compatriots by giving employment, creating loan societies, and funding social and religious causes. This was a vital assist before the era of governmental supports, although continual labour agitation suggests working conditions were dreary… The Brettlers were in the well-off group, with interests in grain milling among other enterprises… Litman Brettler was an estate lessee. His son Jakub Brettler, described in the Memorial Book as a millionaire, founded the brewery in 1890.

A pub.

Jess has been reading the New Statesman since she was a kid and rolling her eyes at Nicholas Lezard’s regular column since it began. His recent thoughts on pubs, however, did hit home:

Everyone keeps asking me if I’ve gone to the pub yet. “Have you gone to the pub yet?” they ask. No, I reply, I have not gone to the pub yet… Except it is more than that. When people ask me if I’ve returned to the pub, I feel as if they’re asking a vicar if she’s gone back to church yet, or a passionate football fan if they’ve seen a match yet… But there is a terrible price to pay for loving the pub, and that is the price of going to the pub. Prices vary wildly up and down the country, but in London and the south in general they are eye-watering…

Miller Lite

Reader Nick Cowley sent us a link to this story about a Miller Lite super-loyalist by Doug MacCash. We were ready to dismiss it as a bit of sly brewery PR but couldn’t resist this description of New Orleans artist Lance Vargas’s considered opinion on the matter:

According to Vargas, there is only one brew that is perfectly compatible with the Crescent City’s climate and cultural milieu, and that beer is Miller Lite. Vargas could have also slaked his thirst with Miller Lite in 16 or 24-ounce cans, but that too was out of the question… As he explained it, the great virtue of Miller Lite is that its ethanol content is such that one “can go all day,” sipping from one 12-ounce can after another, without undue fatigue. To attempt to switch to another size could “ruin your cadence,” he warned, resulting in unpredictable, possibly undesirable effects. It wasn’t something he was willing to risk.

Cadence! What an interesting idea. One of the problems with drinking in rounds is how easy it can be to lose your own rhythm.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 24 April 2021: Pub/Notpub

Here’s all the beer and pub writing from the past seven days that we liked, bookmarked, Retweeted or otherwise noted – from the return of hospitality to Victorian pubs.

The verdict is in: the first week of being (sort of) open pubs have done a miraculously massive amount of business. For the Guardian Molly Blackall has spoken to publicans about the experience:

At the Flying Horse in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, a “mega marquee” capable of holding 350 people was installed in front of the pub in time for Monday’s reopening… Tom McNeeney, who works for Lancashire Hospitality Company, which owns the pub, said the week had been positive and uplifting – if tiring… About 1,400 people turned up on Monday, alongside a number of staff members who had been furloughed. “Everyone was clocking about 30,000 steps a day,” he said. “We’re burning off our lockdown weight.”

Pub yard.

Counterpoint: Mark Johnson has broken ranks to say, meh, it’s not much fun sitting in beer gardens, is it?

The doors are open. The gabble of chatter can be heard from the street. The sky is an undisturbed blue. The anticipation has been building for hours as the seats are taken, the orders received and the first glass is placed on the table. The moment is finally here… At least, that is the romanticised version of events that had played in my head for the months leading to this time… Yet as the sun moved across the sky and the pints of beer I wouldn’t normally choose were ordered, the novelty began to wear thin quickly… I have become institutionalised. The way my working days are structured. The walks that I take at the weekend. The time that I spend at home. They have become my normality but they can only exist in a publess world. Coming out of that is proving more difficult.

Suburban back gardens.

For Ferment, the promo magazine of a beer subscription service, Jo Caird has written about an increase in people building pubs in their sheds as a result of being denied the real thing:

Mark and Daniel originally built their garage pub, an age of piracy-themed boozer named after a 17th-century warship, so as to be able to indulge Mark’s father’s pub-going habit as he became less mobile. Before the pandemic hit, Mark would drive over and pick 87-year-old George up every Saturday evening. They’d make a night of it at The Royal Sovereign, often inviting other friends over too, before entrusting the friendly cabbies from the local taxi rank to see him safely home… Mark is missing the sociable side of those evenings but the pub certainly isn’t sitting empty. “You go in there if you’ve got any quiet work to do, it’s a lovely calming situation,” he says. 

Tatty pub tables.

At Brewing in a Bedsitter Dave S has been inspired by a piece about pie shops in food newsletter Vittles to reflect on ‘capitalist realism’:

The basic British boozer – dingy, tatty, wet-led, mostly uninterested in drinks that aren’t beer, almost completely uninterested in in drinks that aren’t alcoholic – seems like more of the same thing: a business from the mid twentieth century soldiering on in the twenty first, simultaneously treasured and threatened because of its refusal to evolve… I think this points to something more complicated in our affection for these places than the simple nostalgia that the Vittles piece talks about. It goes hand in hand with the lionising of the sort of dictatorial landlord who bars punters for looking at a chair the wrong way and of a general “like it or lump it” attitude to giving the customer what they want: “please do not ask for draught lager as a punch in the gob often offends”. I think that part of what appeals to us about these places is the refusal bow to the customer-is-always-right adapt-or-die logic of modern capitalism.

Dave Line

We’ve written about home-brewing pioneer Dave Line on several occasions, including a chunk of our book Brew Britannia. Now, at Fuggled, Al Reece has decided to revisit Line’s 1970s brewing manuals and see how the recipes hold up:

Dave Line’s Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy was a well thumbed tome during my dad’s homebrewing years, and I remember dipping in and out of it as a teenager. There was something intriguing about all these foreign beer recipes, their strange sounding names, exotic ingredients, and in some cases recently revolutionised countries. I couldn’t in all honesty tell you what I found interesting about the book, but when I started brewing my own beer back in 2009, I knew I wanted to hunt down a copy of my own, dad’s having been lost in any one of a series of moves… I decided that it would be fun to go for a recipe from a much reviled brewery, thus the first beer to get the VelkyAl treatment was Watney Mann Special Mild.

The Melbourne Hotel

The archivists at the London Borough of Sutton have been sharing detailed histories of pubs in the area illustrated with glass plates from a recently digitised collection. This week, they provided notes on The Melbourne Hotel, Wallington:

The most likely scenario for the Melbourne’s construction dates it to 1850 on the initiative of Edmund Batley Beynon. He was a J.P. and rector of St. Leonards in Chelsham. The name chosen derived from Lord Melbourne, who died in 1848. He was a favourite P.M. of Queen Victoria and also known as the cuckolded husband of Lady Caroline Lamb who famously portrayed Lord Byron, with whom she had an affair, as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”… More certainly, by 1855 the Melbourne had been built and sub-leased to James a.k.a. Thomas Pellett. The lease included the land with inn, stables, coach-houses and outbuildings. He and his wife Sophia moved there from the Black Horse in Reigate Heath… [In] 1856, Edwin Winder purchased a 300 year lease for the Melbourne. At that time it was described as having “good Coffee and Club and Sitting-rooms, and every convenience for doing a first-class business, together with good stabling, coach-house and everything complete”… Edwin became instrumental in the rise of music hall. The Mogul Tavern, where he lived, was converted into Middlesex Music Hall and he subsequently took over the White Lion on Edgware Road to create the Metropolitan Music Hall.

On a related theme, via Twitter, historian of Victorian Britain Lee Jackson highlights the availability of high-resolution scans of some gorgeous 19th century photographs. There are pubs and brewery advertisements in almost every picture and a whole set of galleried inns.

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


News, nuggets and longreads 17 April 2021: Beer gardens, Cloudwater, black IPA

Here’s all the beer and pub news, commentary and history that caught our attention in the past week, from beer gardens to beer in Tesco.

This week has been defined by the reopening of pubs in England – or at least of pub gardens. Monday was apparently a good day for the trade, at least in terms of takings. Some have reported seeing crowded venues with little evidence of social distancing which, after a year on high alert, might understandably cause some anxiety amongst people who’ve been living on high alert for more than a year. With our own eyes, we’ve seen outside drinking areas full and lively but looking very much under control. There’s no reason to believe that socialising outdoors is particularly risky – especially when you consider how many people of all age groups now have antibodies compared to three months ago, and the current low community prevalence of cases. We’re certainly enjoying all the lovely photos of pints on social media – tempered with sympathy for those living in places where this feels a way off yet.

Supermarket beers

Manchester brewery Cloudwater made two announcements this week. The first was that they would be supplying a range of standard beers contract-brewed by BrewDog through Tesco supermarkets. This feels like something of a U-turn on previous commitment to independent retailers and cold-chain supply but, more importantly, it signals that Cloudwater is taking an important step on the Beavertown path. It’s not inevitable they’ll reach the same destination, of course, but it’s a series of compromises that will get you there.

Yvan Seth, owner of beer distributor Jolly Good Beer, speaks calmly and eloquently on behalf of the indie trade – “the gross margin on core Cloudwater sales covers the wages of perhaps as much as 2 whole JGB employees.. [and we] are now going to lose sales volume to Tesco”.

The second announcement concerned a Tesco-exclusive four-pack of beers produced in collaboration with minority-owned brewing companies and, again, contract-brewed at BrewDog. The owners of those businesses were understandably excited at this opportunity to get their brand names and ideas in front of mainstream consumers. Lily Waite of The Queer Brewing Project explains:

Why does this matter? Craft beer as a sector has prioritised diversity and inclusion as a topic of discussion for about as long as I’ve been working in beer, though efforts beyond discussion aren’t as common as the industry would like to believe. Craft beer is still overwhelmingly white, male, able-bodied, straight, and cisgender. It is inclusive perhaps in spirit, though not so much in practice, and its audience and consumer base reflects this… By stepping outside of the common routes to market with this collaboration pack, we’re putting beer brewed by people underrepresented in craft beer in front of a different audience—an audience that may feel excluded by craft beer’s homogeneity, or by its insularity. Not only are we putting great beer in front of different communities, we’re also providing visibility and representation on a bigger scale than we’ve ever worked at before.

Stacey Ayeh of Rock Leopard, one of the few black-owned breweries in the UK, has little time for grumbling about independence or Cloudwater’s business practices when, as he sees it, only Cloudwater has actually done anything other than talk about diversity:

Brewdog bar.

Speaking of BrewDog, for Vinepair, Dave Infante has summarised various issues bubbling up around the Scottish brewery with regard to its track record on LGBTQ+ issues:

“I really feel like BrewDog is intentionally deceptive to its employees about this,” Jordan Dalton, another of the Indy ex-employees in question, told me. “We had to go through an orientation that was a lot of hyping up of BrewDog and also James Watt and the other founder specifically … so for me to kind of do some digging and find something so shocking and disgusting to me, it definitely made me want to pursue this further.”

“If I knew about those things, I would have never gone to this company, being a trans woman myself,” added Kyrrha Myers, another fired worker. “I’m sure BrewDog and James Watt didn’t want us to know about that. It’s not a good look for BrewDog, and now it comes back to … I see why people have issues with BrewDog.”

Reserved sign

Now, back to the reopening of pubs: for the Guardian James Greig mourns the loss of spontaneity as booking becomes the norm for everything from a morning swim to an evening cocktail:

I don’t believe the advance bookers really enjoy going to the pub at all. It’s just an activity, a day out, an opportunity to socialise with their loved ones after several months of enforced isolation. For me, on the other hand, it is a way of life. They merely adopted the pub; I was born in it, moulded by it (note: I was not born in a pub). I have nothing against these people, this demographic I’ve just invented, but the point is they are already life’s winners. They already have so much. Can’t they leave the rest of us to our grotty, spontaneous little nights out?

Question marks

Now, yet another heavy question: “What if the craft beer story is wrong?” asks Jeff Alworth at Beervana:

While a myth can give events a structure, it also edits out discordant information. In choosing a myth, we reject other factual arrangements. By selecting a framework of craft beer that echoes the frontier myth, we miss other stories right in front of us. After hearing the story of how Jack McAuliffe “started the revolution” at New Albion dozens of times, I was so struck in hearing about his partner—a woman. In so many ways talking only about Jack follows the contours of that old myth: a man with a singular vision, irascible, irrepressible—maybe even a little unlikable—defies all convention to build the first brewery and change beer forever. Except that the story is really one of two founders, Jack and Suzy Denison. Suzy’s story is not Jack’s. She was the junior partner, yet she was very much a partner. And remarkably, it illustrates how early women were a part of craft brewing. Her part in that story may complicate the narrative, but she makes in far more interesting.

Black IPA

We’re not sure how it happened but our RSS reader decided we didn’t want to read Jonny Garrett’s story for Good Beer Hunting on the origins and history of black IPA. We did but only spotted it via Twitter too late for inclusion in last week’s round-up. So, a bit late, here it is:

Black IPA was arguably the first viral craze of the craft beer revolution. While beers like the American Pale Ale and IPA gained traction over decades, the Black IPA went from regional curiosity to global phenomenon in a relative blip. There were more breweries around the world than there had been for a century, and for a time, the style spread unabated—then fizzled out nearly as quickly… That’s because, despite being common in brewery core ranges from roughly 2008 to 2014, the style had a persistent image problem. How can an India Pale Ale even be black, detractors wanted to know? Don’t roasted malts clash with fruity hops, or add excessive bitterness? And if a heavily hopped Dark Ale is a Black IPA, then what’s a Cascadian Dark Ale—and where does that leave Export India Porters?

Finally, from Twitter, what actually amounts to a bonus article, from satirical literary magazine (is that what you’d call it?) The Fence, on the mediocre pubs of London:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 10 April 2021: Abbeydale, Argentina and the Pale of Settlement

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially amusing, entertaining or educational in the past week, from real ale to Russian imperialism.

First, the main story: pubs (some of them) open (kind of) from Monday and people are understandably very excited about it. A quick recap of the state of play, then:

  • up to six people, or two households, can meet;
  • it’s exclusively outdoor drinking for now;
  • those sheds obviously don’t count as outdoors;
  • it’ll be table service only;
  • you need to mask up when you go to the bog;
  • and every member of the party will have to register with track and trace;
  • but you won’t have to eat a ‘substantial meal’;
  • and most pubs are taking bookings rather than walk-ins.

On that last point, our local CAMRA branch has helpfully reminded us that it will be annoying to turn up at a place that’s booking-only demanding to be squeezed in when pubs will already have plenty of challenges to deal with.

An Abbeydale Brewery glass.

It’s always good to see a detailed profile of one of those fixture breweries – the type whose beers you see everywhere but who otherwise keep a low profile. For Pellicle Martin Flynn has written about Abbeydale, a Sheffield staple:

Pat Morton’s home address has always been within the same Sheffield postcode, and his links to the Steel City’s heritage extend to his former job in his family’s scissor-making business. But when he launched Abbeydale in 1996, he and Sue were fans of beer from further afield, particularly Belgium and the USA. They also shared a dislike of the flavour of crystal malt, which was utilised in many “brown beers” then popular in the UK from established brands like Tetley’s and John Smith’s. Pat and Sue’s intention for their new brewery was simple: “Make pale beers which were very highly hopped for the time.”


News, nuggets and longreads 3 April 2021: käsityöläisolut

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from track and trace to the wonders of the Finnish language.

As the reopening of UK pubs grows ever nearer, with all the trendlines currently pointing in the right direction, everyone is watching anxiously for details of how it might work in practice. This week’s big story was the news that everyone will be expected to sign in when they go for a pint, probably until as late as September:

All customers will have to sign in on entry, not just one member of the group like before. It is also unclear whether payment at the bar will be permitted… UK Hospitality said it would burden struggling pubs and staff and risk customers deciding not to go out… The government said it was providing as much flexibility as possible to venues… It also said it had removed other unpopular requirements such as drinking curfews.

Perhaps because we’re not in the habit of going to the pub in groups larger than, say, six, this doesn’t seem outrageous to us. And by autumn last year, signing into pubs had become really quick and easy anyway – a 20-second job.

When we wrote about our perception that some breweries had experienced a better 2020/21 than others, Ed Wray promised to investigate and provide further data. He’s now done that, offering notes on the four breweries based at the site where he works:

All of the breweries have done badly financially. For the two that are parts of larger companies I’m sure it’s a drop in the ocean compared to their overall financial performance (which will also be down lots for both). I don’t know any details about their money situation but both breweries are or will be soon increasing beer production, so don’t look like they’re having the plug pulled on them. The brewery that exports to the states definitely lost a chunk of cash but I believe now has a new importer so hopefully will be able to continue as before in the future. And as to my employer, it’s had to defer payment on some things (which will of course still become due for payment later) and take out a loan. Expansion plans have slowed, but not stopped entirely. One of the things put back is getting a canning line. Cans have done well during lockdown so there’s now a shortage of them and it doesn’t make sense to install a canning line if you can’t get cans.

For VinePair Evan Rail has written about the different meanings of ‘craft beer’ around the world, according to those in the trade:

It’s not easy to find the right equivalent for “craft beer” in Finnish, according to Suvi Sekkula, a journalist, service designer, beer lover, and the chair of Kieliasiantuntijat ry, a Finnish trade union for language and communications experts… “The question is a tricky one in Finnish, as there is no strong consensus,” Sekkula says. Currently, she says, three competing terms are being used in her country: pienpanimo-olut, meaning “beer from a small brewery,” käsityöläisolut, or “beer made by a craftsperson,” and erikoisolut, which means “speciality beer.”

At Oh Good Ale Phil has been blending Orval with Harvey’s Imperial Stout – a great, if terrifying idea. He seems to have enjoyed the experience:

That word ‘blending’ is the key: it seemed to combine three quite distinct flavours (none of them very ‘beery’), but in a way that seemed perfectly natural and without any incongruity. Full-bodied – almost but not quite to the point of drinking its strength – and smooth; really very smooth… Was it worth it? A cautious Yes, I think: the 3:1 and 1:3 mixes were terrific, even if the 1:1 left something to be desired. At least, it was worth it as far as the IEDS was concerned. The stout was very much in charge throughout: even at 3:1 Orval to IEDS, you’d never mistake what you were drinking for a pale beer. The ‘black and tan’ effect – where two very different beers effectively shave off each other’s sharp edges – took the roughness out of the IEDS, making it drink smoother and sweeter; but the Orval wasn’t smoothed so much as muted, losing the Brett and some of the bitterness.

For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Siobhan Hewison offers a handy summary of trends around nitro beers – something, we admit, we know relatively little about, though we do have one on the fridge waiting to be drunk right now. She says:

[Many] brewers have been attempting to ‘hack’ the chemistry of getting nitrogen into their beer without using widgets, by dosing the beer and/or the packaging with liquid nitrogen. This does however rely on drinkers using the ‘hard pour’ method in order to get the best drinking experience. This is a very specific way of pouring a nitro beer, which asks you to forget everything you’ve been taught about gently pouring your beer at an angle into your glass – you must first invert the can or bottle a few times (but don’t shake it!) to get the bubbles flowing, let it sit for a few seconds, then crack it open and angle at 180 degrees so the beer pours aggressively into your glass. Let the beer rest and the velvety, luscious head form, and voila! The perfect nitro beer, right in your hands. 

Last week, Kelly from Good Chemistry highlighted a post we’d missed, from (we think) Chris Rigg, landlord of The Bay Hop micropub in Colwyn Bay. It’s a detailed account of the ups and downs of the past year, including some really interesting details:

At the beginning of 2020 we had come up with a vague plan to expand the number of keg lines from three to five. While lockdown seemed like a strange time to expand the range of products, it made sense to bring those plans forward. Keg doesn’t have the same short shelf life of cask, and it would allow us to continue to provide a varied selection of beers throughout without worrying about wastage. So, with the first of the Government grants in our pocket we took the leap. Looking at what we needed to provide the same styles punters were used to on cask, we decided to go for seven lines rather than the original planned five. Mike Cornish of Beer Care was called in and the job was completed in just a couple of days… It is fair to say that increasing the keg lines was the best decision we have made in the past year. There is no doubt that it has made the takeaway service worth doing, and that without it we would have not operated at all or – in the worst case scenario – not been here at all now.

Finally, from Twitter, news of a podcast about pubs that might be worth a listen, with the first episode due in a week or so:

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