News, nuggets and longreads 28 November 2020: train beer, steam beer, hedgehog glasses

Here’s all the writing on beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from women in brewing to the minutiae of European beer history.

It’s been another grim week for those who worry about pubs, between the expected continuation of restrictions across most of the country and the ongoing failure of the government to provide targeted support.

The opposition is lobbying for it, though, which probably means Rishi Sunak will roll over and do it eventually… But only when publicans are at the absolute ends of their tethers, of course.

We’ve written to our local MP, which is about all you can do. We didn’t use the CAMRA form letter, though, for two reasons: form letters get thrown, unread, into a big bin marked CAMPAIGNS; and we don’t agree with the idea that there’s much of a debate to be had about the ‘fairness’ or science behind closing or restricting pubs. It makes sense to us. What doesn’t make sense is failing to accompany restrictions with grants, ideally based on previous years’ trading figures.

Beer while waiting for the train.

SOURCE: Kirsty Walker/LSTB

Christmas has come early in the form of a new post from Kirsty Walker at Lady Sinks the Booze. In ‘The Pints I Have Missed the Most’ she reflects, in typically witty style, on the social contexts in which we drink and how those, more than beer itself, is what’s missing from our lives:

The ‘missed the train’ pint… Since getting a promotion and a pay rise I have done what many working class people do and tried desperately to avoid working class people. Instead of the bus (albeit the wifi enabled fancy express bus with nightclub style lighting) I now get the train, and pay over a ton for a monthly season ticket. Of course since privatisation there are three different trains home and because I’m tight I will never pay extra to get a different company’s train if I miss mine. Hence I will spend £9 on beer, to save the £5.60 train fare.

German text about Dampfbier

Andreas Krennmair has turned his attention from Vienna beer to another historic style: Dampfbier. Does the origin story that crops up in style guides and popular guides really stand up to scrutiny?

So, the story of Dampfbier (lit. steam beer) goes like this… a 19th century Bavarian brewer who didn’t have a permit to brew with wheat malt instead brewed one with only lightly kilned barley malt and fermented it with a Weißbier yeast. As the beer was vigorously fermenting, it looked like steam coming off the beer, hence the name “Dampfbier”… The problem here is… if a beer style’s origin story sounds too good to be true, it probably is not actually rooted in history.

Tubinger hedgehog beer glass.

Adapted from Wikimedia Commons.

Also digging around in the details of German beer history is Kevin Kain of Casket Beer who has been exploring the history of a very specific type of beer glass:

With recent growth in lager production in the craft beer industry, breweries, media outlets and retailers often use a [British dimple mug] when depicting lager styles of beer… This seems odd as the similar Tübinger Kugel glass, traditionally used in Germany and Czechia, is appropriate and readily available… The origins of the Tübinger are connected to the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in the mid to late 1800s. It was here that a glass called the Tübinger Igel, a stout, handled mug, was created for the Hedgehog Academic Student Association (Akademischen Studentenverbindung Igel.) Igel means hedgehog, and the bumpy texture is designed to match accordingly.

A box of beer.

Pedro Cotzier at The ElektroKemist has returned to blogging after a bit of a break with a long piece in which he attempts to decide which twelve beers should go into a mixed case summing up the current British beer scene:

Okay, so I have also borrowed a little from the section of the Wine Show, where Joe Fattorini tasks his two oenologically green co-hosts with going forth to pick a brace of wines (usually there are only around three iterations from a region they choose from, with each of the wine-seekers selecting a champion) from which he selects for a slot in a velvet-lined case. This in itself is not completely original in the genre which is somewhat associated with ‘Desert Island Discs’ ubiquity… However, with the wine that is picked there is a sought after sense of place, a provenance or a root into a community’s history. This is a criterion I certainly am going to uphold, as putting together a case of beers solely on quality is just a cold headed exercise in opinion and subjectivity.

Suzy Denison

SOURCE: Suzy Denison/Beervana

Jeff Alworth has decided to address a problem in the way brewery histories are recorded: why is a bloke always the hero of the tale? With that in mind, he has provided editorial support and space for Suzy Denison to explain her role in the founding of American craft beer as we know it today:

It was 1975. My oldest son had been accepted at Stanford and I was about ready to get out of Chicago and decided that we would just pick up and we’d all move to California. After unsuccessfully looking for a job in San Francisco and a place to live in Marin County, a friend said, “Well, why don’t you just take a break from looking for work and houses and go up to the wine country? It’s so beautiful.” So my daughter and I went to Sonoma and we drove around the Plaza and just fell in love with the town. And I said, OK, this is it. I mean, it was a pretty crazy, immediate decision… Then a new friend suggested, “You really should meet this guy, Jack McAuliffe. He’s interesting and he’s fun and he wants to put a brewery together. We should all go down to San Francisco to the Edinburgh Castle. It’s a great pub with fine beer and a bagpipers.”

BrewDog bar sign.

On LinkedIn, James Watt of BrewDog has written an interesting piece highlighting times when he got things wrong. It amounts to a bit of an extended humblebrag but, still, there are some fascinating details we’ll be filing away in case we ever get to write an update to Brew Britannia:

Sometimes it is really important to do things that just don’t scale. That should have been the case for Overworks, our sour beer facility. But we mistakenly misread the market for sour beers and put together an amazing facility that was simply far too big. Consequently, we were under pressure from the outset and ended up making far too many different sour beers than we could hardly even keep up with what was going on.

And finally, from Twitter, there’s this delightful bit of kitsch.

For more good reading (or, this week, quite a bit of the same reading with different commentary) check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

News pubs

News, nuggets and longreads 21 November 2020: laddism, lager, longing for pubs

Here’s everything bookmarkworthy on beer and pubs from the past week, including two pieces on hops and one about cornettos.

There’s an absence of anything resembling beer-specific news this week although it’s clear we are entering some sort of final phase with daily vaccine progress announcements. In the meantime, we’re all missing pubs and Jim Rangeley at Mashtun and Meow has expressed the yearning well:

I miss pints.

I miss a table with torn open packs of Sneiders Pretzels.

I miss lacing.

I miss a sarni for snap after early brew shifts.

I miss 4:15 lagers with the team.

I miss the joint acknowledgement that we are, indeed, in rounds.

I miss the pub.

Vintage photo of a woman behind the bar of an Irish pub.

SOURCE: National Library of Ireland/Flickr.

At Every Pub in Dublin Cian Duffy provides a fascinating insight into the long fight for women to be allowed to work behind the bar in pubs in Ireland:

Dublin’s then strong barmans union… prohibited the employment of women in unionised pubs, and the majority of Dublin’s pubs were unionised. Most non-union pubs were smaller, family operated premises with the larger and busier pubs that made up most of the volume of the trade, and of employment of external staff, being signed to union agreements… Dublin’s infamous longest strike – that at Downeys pub in Dun Laoghaire – actually related to the replacement of a unionised staff member with a barmaid.. The first attempts to get this ban overturned came from a less than ideal source – the publicans union… seeking to be able to employ barmaids so that they could pay them less than men, this being explicitly legal until 1974.

(Via @thebeernut.)

Hops against green.

At Zythophile Martyn Cornell asks “How important were hop varieties to pre-20th century brewers?” You’ll know the answer to this if you’ve ever looked at any old brewing logs:

The hops, in themselves, were pretty irrelevant, with perhaps the single exception that Goldings, as THE premium hop, were regarded as the hop to use in the most premium beers, such as IPAs. But apart from that, the concept of “hop variety” itself was scarcely developed, as far as brewers (but not growers) were concerned… For growers, varieties WERE important, but the importance of variety was not connected with flavour so much as yield…

Lager illustration.

For Pellicle Adrian Tierney-Jones has produced a characteristically spiralling, tumbling piece of prose-poetry on the subject of lager:

If ever there was such a hopeless descriptor of a family of beers of various colours, aromas, flavours and cultural mores, then lager is it. This is a variety of beers that encompasses the brooding, shadowy alter egos of bock, doppelbock and schwarzbier, the bright, cheerful treasure hoard of gold-flecked helles, pils, kellerbier and světlý ležák and not forgetting the amber assertiveness of a vienna or a märzen (oh and there’s also rauchbier, maibock, festbier, zoigl, tmavý ležák and American pils). I could cheerfully hang out with this family for the rest of my life.

Pub life.

Next up it’s, erm, us. We wrote a lot of ‘Pub life’ vignettes over the past few years. Then, when we came to put together our best-of collection Balmy Nectar, we realised they clicked together rather well as an extended piece which we called ‘The Complete Pub Life’. That is now available for everyone to read via our Patreon feed:

Two barmen in matching polo shirts, one small, one tall, stand behind the bar with arms folded engaged in debate with a regular sat at the bar.

The tall barman leads: ‘No, you’re not getting what I’m saying: I’m asking, does a staircase go up or come down? Which way does it go?’

‘Up,’ says the baffled regular. ‘If it didn’t go up, you wouldn’t need it to come down. That it comes down is a side effect of it having gone up in the first place.’

Diagram of EKG flavours.

SOURCE: Brulosophy.

At Brulosophy Paul Amico has been experimenting with East Kent Goldings. We all know the cliched descriptors but what does this classic hop variety actually bring to beer?

Participants were instructed to focus only on the aromatic qualities of the beer before evaluating the flavor. For each aroma and flavor descriptor, tasters were asked to write-in the perceived strength of that particular characteristic on a 0-9 scale where a rating of 0 meant they did not perceive the character at all and a 9 rating meant the character was extremely strong. Once the data was collected, the average rating of each aroma and flavor descriptor was compiled and analyzed… Like the blind tasters, I also perceived a bit more fruit than I expected based on existing descriptions, though floral notes and a mushroom-like earthiness were just underneath.

(Via Stan Hieronymus.)

The World's End: the 'gang' lined up at the bar downing lager.

For Burum Collective Paul Crowther has been thinking about beer and gender stereotypes in the so-called Cornetto Trilogy of films by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg:

Edgar Wright has had the same socialisation from media that is then being repeated in his own creations. Edgar growing up will have seen the same representations of men and women on tv and film and has unthinkingly reproduced them. His female characters drinking vodka tonics, his underage drinkers all being teenage boys, his pubs filled with men because that is just obvious, it doesn’t require thought… Does this mean Edgar Wright is a bad man, should we shun him and boycott the films? No, not at all. They are still good films and I’ll still enjoy them, whilst being aware of their shortcomings in this area.

And, from Twitter, there’s this.

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


News, nuggets and longreads 14 November 2020: Mexico, money, mould

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from microbiology to model pubs.

First, a bit of news: Guinness recently launched an alcohol-free variant of its stout; that beer has now been recalled because of the possible presence of mould in the beer. This comes a week or two after a major publicity blitz which saw many writers and bloggers receiving free samples – we’re not saying Diageo was trying to wipe out its critics but… No, we’re definitely not saying that.

Macro shot of 1p pieces with The Queen's profile.

Paul Crowther answered our challenge and wrote about something that’s always puzzled him in the world of beer: why are we so shy about asking the price of a pint?

What an absolutely bizarre commercial interaction. The bar doesn’t advertise the price, I don’t ask for the price because its against social norms to do so, the beer server doesn’t even then inform me of the price until after I have the change and beer in my hand. I leave with the can, even though it was unopened and I could easily have asked for refund and got a different drink! We’ve all been there, left with less change than we thought we’d get, or asked to hand over more money when we though the note we handed over was sufficient. I’ve even had a pint handed to me, poured and the server say to me “That’s £5.20, unfortunately!’ Like he’d tricked me somehow.

Gig posters on a pub in Manchester.

Our post on ‘greebling’ inspired a response from Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale – it’s do with implying age, he reckons:

Age doesn’t necessarily mean trying to look like “really old pubs”, either. I’m thinking of Jam Street Café, a bar near us that I never used to visit very often (beer range not great, plenty of alternatives). When I did go in, though, I always felt comfortable straight away, purely because of the decor: framed posters advertising local bands from the very first days of punk… I went in again a year or so back, after a refit and a rename (Jam Street), and immediately felt uncomfortable. I realised eventually it was (also) because of the decor – the walls were now covered with posters for all these, I don’t know, modern, up-to-the-minute acts, like Moby and Catatonia and the Stereophonics… In other words, instead of appealing to people who wanted to be reminded of their lost youth in the late 70s, they’d reoriented to people who wanted to be reminded of their lost youth in the late 90s.

Santa Barbara, Mexico.

Kevin Kain of Casket Beer has been inspired by Andreas Krennmair’s recent eBook on Vienna lager to dig deeper into the history of this beer style in Mexico:

Mexican lager brewing didn’t start until in the mid-1880s with brewers primarily from Germany and Switzerland, many of whom had trained in the United States. The growth at this time was due to the completion of a rail line between El Paso, Texas and Mexico City, providing access to grain and brewing equipment, including refrigeration. This kicked off a period of dramatic growth in domestic production… Some of the literature about these early breweries is incorrect or misleading by confusing when a brewery opened, and when it began making lager. For example, it is true that Compania Cervecera Toluca y Mexico, makers of Victoria, began operations in 1865, but they were producing ales. It was not until two decades later that a new owner, Santiago Graf, began making lager.

Paper model of a pub.

Do you fancy printing and making a tiny model of the Betsey Trotwood, a pub in Clerkenwell, London? Well, here you go. It’s by Andrew Frueh, based on an original photogrametric scan by David Fletcher.

Liverpool c.1907.

For the British Library’s Untold Lives project, cataloguer Lesley Shapland explores the story of her great-great-grandfather John Barlow:

On 29 December 1884, John was having a drink after work in the Farmer’s Arms, New Ferry, when he accidentally picked up the wrong pint of beer and drank from it. The pint’s owner, John Whitehouse, alias Mantle, objected and an argument quickly escalated into a fight… Unfortunately, John sustained fatal injuries and died next morning in the Borough Hospital, Birkenhead.

Finally, from Twitter… how big is Ron’s beer cellar?

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


News, nuggets and longreads 7 November 2020: Festbier, Fuggle, fierce creatures

How on earth can it possibly be a week into November already? Well, it is, and here’s everything on beer and pubs that’s grabbed us in the past week, from hazy beer to misty West Cornwall.

First, though, the big news is that it’s finally happened – a second national lockdown in the UK. Well, sort of. It’s much softer than back in March and we’re all a bit better at it so there’s already a sense of things being generally less disrupted.

Pubs, however, are once again closed. Initially, the legislation as drafted forbade the sale of takeaway beer – a lifeline for many pubs during the last round. After much lobbying from CAMRA, SIBA and others, that was amended, although the new rules are still fairly restrictive: pre-orders only, collection only, sealed containers.

The Prime Minister wants to open things up again from 2 December but he doesn’t sound massively convinced that will happen. Still, the ONS reports that infection rates might be stabilising, and the daily rates provided by the COVID Symptom Study project seem to show a decline, so… fingers crossed.

An ox.

For Belgian Smaak, Breandán Kearney writes about something we’d never noticed before – the tendency of Belgian breweries to put animals on their beer labels, from wolves to oxen:

The Flemish lion, black and yellow with red tongue and claws, takes centre stage in the logo of Brouwerij Verhaeghe, appearing on all of their beers. The Walloon rooster adorns the Belgian Pale Ale Le Coq (6% ABV), brewed by beer company Brasserie Gosselin F. at Brasserie de Blaugies. Indeed, it’s difficult to scan the shelf of a Belgian bottle shop without coming across an animal, whether it’s the iconic Orval trout, the delirious pink elephant of Huyghe, the Golden Dragon of Van Steenberghe, or the Belgian draught horse of Palm.

Dublin hop stout.

Liam at BeerFoodTravel has done some digging into the history of non-alcoholic beer in Ireland, prompted by a report of a tragic brewery death:

On a Sunday morning in January 1896 there was a freak accident at no 45 Stafford Street in Dublin, when an unfortunate individual named William J. Keogh tumbled out of the open and unprotected upper storey window while coming down a stairway and fell 25 feet into an internal courtyard while allegedly, and ironically as we shall soon see, under the influence of drink. A company called the Hop Stout Brewery was named as owners of the building at the inquest into his death… A company brewing non-intoxicating drinks is not something that many people would associate with late 19th century Dublin but the above mentioned brewery was just such a producer…

The Gurnard's Head.

SOURCE: Pellicle/Lily Waite.

This piece for Pellicle by Lily Waite has a structure that mimics the experience it records: a long walk finishing with a much-needed pint. The fact that it covers some of our old stamping grounds in West Cornwall makes it all the sweeter:

The Gurnard’s Head in an unmissable pub. Not in the way that reviews laud it—though the pub has indeed won many awards—but by virtue of it being painted bright yellow. Against muted browns and greens of the Cornish countryside, on a lane flanked by bramble and bracken, the pub stands out. It was a welcome sight, not least because it was only the third pub we’d been to since March 2020.

A milk carton of IPA.

The Beer Nut will occasionally hide a little industry commentary among the tasting notes on his blog. In this post, he draws a tentative conclusion from several weeks of drinking: the hazy NEIPA might be dead. (We pass no judgement on whether that’s good or bad news.)

Vintage illustration of pumpkins.

Helen Anne Smith at Burum Collective has been reflecting on seasonal beers and German-style Festbiers in particular:

I drank my first ever seasonal beer about six years ago, on my first date with my wife. I was a student at the time, I hadn’t a clue what craft beer was but I knew I didn’t like it. Yet there I was, sitting in a bar, on a dark and rainy night in late October, pint of pumpkin beer in hand… As much as I still love pumpkin beer, I have started to turn my attention to other beers which are considered seasonal, like Festbiers and Märzen. But how have they become associated with this time of year?

Fuggles illustration.

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for a beer subscription service, Hollie Stephens offers an update on the status of that most English of hops, the Fuggle:

Once the undisputed ruler of the hop fields of England, the Fuggle hop has seen a downturn in recent years. In the middle of the 20th century, Fuggles accounted for more than three quarters of the English hop harvest, but unfortunately this heyday for the classic hop appears to be in the past. Fuggle’s acreage in the UK has been threatened in recent years due to the crop’s susceptibility to Verticillium wilt… It is not just susceptibility to wilt that could threaten the future of this classic British hop, but demand too. As the COVID-19 pandemic places restrictions on the on-trade consumption of beer, the effect trickles down the supply chain to hop farmers.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 31 October 2020: Pubs, clubs, festivals

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the past week, from aerosols to online events.

As is now customary, we’ll start with the grim stuff: Spanish newspaper El Pais justifiably went viral this week with one of the best explanations yet of why indoor spaces are a problem for COVID-19 transmission. With some brilliant illustrations, it conveys the risks attached to hanging out with family at home, going to bars and attending classes – in that order. It’s not cheerful news but it is, at least, clear, and that’s a start.

Outdoor beer festival.

SOURCE: Nicci Peet/Good Beer Hunting.

For Good Beer Hunting, one of our neighbourhood beer writers, Nicci Peet, provides an illustrated account of how Bristol went about staging its annual craft beer festival in September this year:

Everything feels muted: quieter, more relaxed. There is still laughter and chatter but it’s somehow softer, maybe because the music has been turned down. That’s not to say the mood is subdued—everywhere I turn, there are smiling faces, and people talking to their friends across designated tables. Single-use cups start stacking up after being decanted, a visual record of how many beers everyone has tried. And there are still so many yet to drink… I don’t know what I’d been expecting from a beer festival in late 2020, but the reality is both stranger and more laidback than I’d imagined. COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, and all we can do is adapt to it.

Poperings Hommelbier

SOURCE: Breandán Kearney/Belgian Smaak

For Belgian Smaak, in association with Visit Flanders, Breandán Kearney provides an in-depth look at a cult Belgian beer, Poperings Hommelbier, and Brasserie Leroy:

The cities of Poperinge and Ieper are located in the north western reaches of Belgium in a region known as the Westhoek (“hoek” means “corner”). It’s a place with a diverse range of breweries: think, among others, Trappist Westvleteren, De Struise, Kazematten, Deca, St. Bernardus, Vandewalle, and De Plukker. The two cities enjoy a friendly rivalry dating back to the 14th century when politics forced a division of commercial activities. Ieper were exclusively permitted by authorities to work in the lucrative industry of linen production. Looking for alternatives, the inhabitants of Poperinge took to hop farming, even though it offered less opportunity for wealth. Neither city has forgotten the story.

The wall at Pogge

SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City

Staying in Belgium, Brussels Beer City author Eoghan Walsh tells the story of a Belgian cafe preserved as part art installation, part museum exhibit:

The canny drinker might have already spotted a glitch or two in the image. The rules for billiards are tacked up behind the bar, but there’s no billiard table. Shiny enamel adverts for Brasserie de la Senne hang alongside more age-worn examples from Campbell’s, Carlsberg Beer, and Whitbread – unexpected but not necessarily unusual. And what about those orange and green illustrations dotted around the bar’s three walls, tagged with the word Pogge, sitting awkwardly alongside the pastoral landscapes and photos of dear departed punters. The bar feels dusty, and yet there is grime on the windowsills. And then the more jarring dissonances. Those windows are absent of window panes, for one.

Calculating the best seat in the house.

We’ve already linked to it once this week but we can’t omit this excellent piece from publican Rowan Molyneux on the experience of trading under ever-tightening restrictions:

There’s a regular who’s been particularly resistant to booking, and he’s just walked through the door. We’re full, all tables occupied, apart from a couple of stools which are reserved for ten minutes time. As my colleague is politely apologising, the guy is looking around at the tables where there are plenty of seats free, but are already occupied by our other regulars. One household per table here generally means one person per table. The majority live alone and pop in here to see their mates… He makes a gesture of frustration and walks out to try his luck down the road. My colleague shrugs at me. Should have booked, we agree… We both know that you shouldn’t have to book to come to the pub.

A social club.
Conservative Club, Bath.

Tandleman reminds us that pubs aren’t the only venues struggling this year with a shout-out for social clubs:

In the midst of all the rightful angst about the way our pubs are suffering in this pandemic, I was brought up sharp by a letter, hand delivered, from my local Cricket Club, of which I am a member. While I won’t give away figures too much in case they are confidential to members only, I will say that in the case of my club, the loss of income since March is now in six figures, leading to a potential loss of approximately half that amount by April 2021… The income has not only been lost through gate money – a small part – but through the ban on events such as wedding receptions, birthday parties, christenings, funerals etc. Annual events such as fireworks displays, beer festivals and more have had to be cancelled. Bar takings have been decimated. I could go on, but it is a grim picture and one that for the foreseeable future doesn’t look like improving.

Beer culture summit.

Stan Hieronymus has flagged an interesting online event running from 11-14 November – the second annual beer culture summit. Speakers include Dr. J Jackson-Beckham, Garrett Oliver, Randy Mosher and Kate Bernot. Even after all this nonsense is over, we suspect online events will become a more regular part of our lives because, let’s face it, we would never have made it to Chicago, but we might splash for a ticket to listen to interesting speakers from the comfort of our own sofa.

From Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, including a tiny picture of us, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.