News, nuggets and longreads 16 November 2019: novelty, nostalgia, nourishment

Here’s all the beer and pubs news, opinion and history that grabbed us in the past week, from Manchester estate pubs to meat stout.

First up there’s the welcome return of Chris Hall, always a thought-provoking and thoughtful voice, and a bloody good writer, too. He’s written at length about the tendency towards novelty in British craft beer, and what he sees as a worrying absence of maturity:

Discussions and debates in blog comment threads and on Twitter have waned. Craft beer consumers scroll and double-tap now, and have changed both the social media landscape and production schedules as a result. There’s no time to type, or respond, or think. When it does happen, it’s often as privately as possible, and typically with the safe, reaffirming vacuum of a private group chat or forum. The craft beer consumer feeds on their own opinions in reflection, and debates, when they do happen, are feverish in their heat and lifespan, destroying themselves in the process.


In response – and it is nice to see blog posts prompting responses – Dave S has stuck up for the novelty tendency while Bring on the Beer argues that the answer to this problem is speaking up for beers that aren’t IPAs.


Craft Brew Alliance logo.

It’s been a while since we had a good AB-InBev takeover story. This week’s is lacking a little dramatic impact because it’s merely the conclusion of a long, slow manoeuvre. Jeff Alworth, always our first port of call for clarity on US industry news, summarises the story:

In August, it was the shoe that didn’t drop. AB InBev (ABI) had had the opportunity to buy Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) as a part of an arrangement struck three years ago, but finally passed in August, paying the Portland-based brewery collective $20 million instead. That was perplexing. CBA’s biggest asset, Kona, was a brand ready-made for an industrial giant. It has enormous brand potential that extends nationwide—vanishingly rare in the current clogged craft market—and products tailor-made to be scaled up at any of the twenty North American plants owned by ABI.


Illustration: Men silhouetted in steam.

For Ferment, the magazine distributed to customers of beer subscription service Beer 52, Robin Eveleigh writes about an issue that’s moved up the agenda in recent months: the apparently cavalier attitude to health and safety at some UK breweries. It might, Eveleigh argues, be a cultural problem:

[It’s] the rapid expansion in Britain’s craft sector which some old hands say gives cause for concern. The craft beer boom has spawned almost a thousand new breweries in the last five years, and the Society of Independent Brewers’ (SIBA) latest annual report estimates indies will generate almost 900 new jobs this year alone. Inside of a decade, we’ve seen hobby brewers catapulted from cooking up 40-pint batches in garden sheds and back rooms of pubs to helming huge plants with scores of employees pushing out thousands of litres at a time.


The Gamecock
SOURCE: Stephen Marland/Manchester Estate Pubs.

The Gamecock at Hulme is a funky looking post-war building but currently derelict, as Stephen Marland reports for Manchester Estate Pubs:

The Gamecock ever in the shadow of one of the few remaining housing blocks… Nobody knows precisely when it ceased to be a pub, suffice to say that at some point, it sadly ceased to be a pub… It now stands abandoned, slowly reclaimed by nature – as bramble and dock scramble over its sharp interlocking volumes of brick and once bright white cladding.


Obadiah Poundage porter.
SOURCE: Goose Island/YouTube.

Goose Island (AB-InBev) has collaborated with beer historian Ron Pattinson on what might be the most painstaking historic recreation to date, as written-up by Ed Wray:

[Obadiah Poundage porter] was made with heritage barley, old English hop varieties and historic malting techniques. Though probably not that much brown malt, unlike when I had a go at making historic porter. A portion was aged in oak vats where it underwent a secondary fermentation with Bretanomyces clausenii (probably my old friend WLP645). This was then blended with a freshly made version as the porter brewers did back in its heyday at a ratio of 1:2.


Although on the painstaking front, we need to know more about this revival of Mercer’s Meat Stout:

For more reading check out the links round-ups posted by Alan McLeod on Thursdays and Carey’s The Fizz.

News, nuggets and longreads 9 November 2019: Gushers, Sparklers, Fuggles

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that seized our wandering attention in the past week, from Fuggles to brewing family struggles.

A layperson’s-terms write-up of academic research into the British craft beer market by Maria Karampela, Juho Pesonen and Nadine Waehning provides a narrative of stagnation and stored-up problems, along with some interesting specific details:

Our research with brewers across Scotland and England found that those who identify themselves as “craft” brewers:

> Are typically beer aficionados who have decided to transform their enthusiasm into a living and set up their own businesses – with the vast majority being micro-businesses employing fewer than ten people.

> Are motivated by a lack of tolerance towards the standardised, predictable beer flavours that have so far dominated the market.

> Tend to use traditional – instead of industrial – methods to make beer and experiment with different types of beer, hop varieties, old or quirky recipes and unusual or exotic ingredients.

Via @ThurnellReadSoc


Adrienne Heslin
SOURCE: Breandán Kearney/Good Beer Hunting.

To wide acclaim this week, for Good Beer Hunting, Breandán Kearney tells the sad but ultimately triumphant story of the founding of the West Kerry Brewery in Ireland:

Adrienne Heslin and Padraig Bric left their chalet in the Italian resort town of Tropea for a short snorkeling trip off the town’s beach. Heslin was using the time away to plan her artistic projects. Bric’s focus was on a potential renovation to his parent’s pub and guesthouse. Eight years previously, their son Hugo had suffered Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, dying during the night as he lay between his mother and father in bed. This holiday was for thinking about the future… Bric was a nervous swimmer, and together the couple waded into the turquoise, blanketed reefs around the Gulf of St. Euphemia, an inlet leading to the Tyrrhenian Sea.


Fuggles illustration.

Scholars of hop history have been grappling with the precise history of Fuggles, one of the most famous English hop varieties, for years. What is true and what is a handy marketing myth? Now Martyn Cornell declares ‘The surprising secrets behind the origins of the Fuggle hop uncovered at last’:

Its genetic parentage has been a mystery, since it appeared to be unrelated to other English hop varieties, and the long-accepted story of when it was discovered, by whom, and when it was first launched turned out to be dubious at best. Now research by Czech botanists, and a Kentish local historian, has answered all the questions: it turns out that everything you have read until now, in every book and article, on the year the Fuggle hop was first launched has been wrong. In addition, the surprise answer to the exact parentage of the Fuggle hop turns out to be … well, read on.


Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

Did you know countries following the German brewing tradition had their own version of the beer sparkler that caused controversy among drinkers in the 19th century? No, us neither, but fortunately Andreas Krenmair is on hand to tell the story:

Most people think that this is probably a problem only cask beer aficionados in England face, but at least in the 19th century, lager beers in Germany and Austria directly dispensed from wooden casks were served in a similar way: besides the regular tap, a device called Mousseux-Pipe, sometimes also called Bierbrause (lit. “beer shower”), was also quite common. I’ve never seen an actual photo or illustration of one, but the descriptions of it make it sound very much like a sparkler: when beer was dispensed from a cask through the Mousseux-Pipe, it foamed up and produced a bigger, denser head… Just like its modern counterpart in England, the use of Mousseux-Pipen was not uncontroversial either: in Tyrol, the use of syringes of similar devices to create artificial foam in beer was prohibited from 1854 on for sanitary reasons. A letter to the editor in a newspaper from 1871 laments the “strict non-enforcement of this edict got rid of syringes” and popularized beer showers that produced a thick and dense foam that helped defraud customers through underpouring.


Yellowstone Park geyser.

What exactly might cause your beer to ‘gush’ out of the bottle uncontrollably on opening? Kate Bernot at The Take Out has the answers:

Some beers are bottle conditioned, meaning brewers add a small dose of sugar to the beer bottle before filling it so the yeast can continue to feed on the sugar after the beer is bottled… But if a brewer miscalculates and adds too much sugar to the bottle, the yeast will have a field day, gorging itself on sugar and creating too much carbon dioxide. Then, when you open the bottle, kaboom… “The great brewers who bottle condition their beers would simply not make that mistake,” Charlie Bamforth, distinguished professor emeritus in the University of California Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, tells me. “If it was a tiny brewery that wasn’t as in control as they should be, well…”


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more links and good reading check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up and Carey’s The Fizz.

News, nuggets and longreads 2 November 2019: table beer, table skittles

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from rare birds to pig’s ears.

The detailed love letter to a specific beer is one of our favourite types of beer writing, even if the beer itself isn’t one we’re enthusiastic about. Lily Waite’s piece on Kernel Table Beer for Pellicle is an excellent example:

“Table Beer is our attempt to do a cask beer,” Evin [O’Riordain] tells me. “Its specific inspiration is those cask beers… I think that cask gives a lot of body to a beer, especially low-alcohol beer; that’s one of the magical things that cask does… It’s also because it’s served slightly warmer and because there’s slightly lower carbonation it becomes fuller [bodied]. We took that inspiration from [Phil Lowry’s] ABC and [Redemption] Trinity, asking ‘can we put that into a keg and a bottle?’”

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 2 November 2019: table beer, table skittles”

News, nuggets and longreads 26 October 2019: Westminster, Witbier, white men

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting in the past week from portraits of pubs to ponderings on the passing of time.

We always get a bit excited when big American publications write about English pubs. In this case, it’s the New Yorker, with a portrait of St Stephen’s Tavern in Westminster, London – the unofficial pub of parliament:

An old pub, St. Stephen’s Tavern, which describes itself as a “good old fashioned London boozer,” sits at the edge of Parliament Square (it was a favorite of Churchill’s). Inside, protesters escaping the crowds were sitting together with their signs, in groups of three or four, at tables full of pints and chips. It had started to rain, and the windows, through which you could see marchers pressed almost against the glass, were slightly foggy. On the TV, M.P.s were voting on an amendment put forward by Oliver Letwin, which would require Parliament to withhold approval of a Brexit deal until after legislation outlining its implementation had passed.


Wild hops, Richmond, London.

For Let’s Beer it for the Girls Rachel Auty gives an account of the making of a crowdsourced beer using hops grown in the back gardens of Harrogate:

Most of us have just harvested year two. Last year our combined contributions were chucked in a brew of Harrogate Brewing Co’s delicious Plum Porter – it’s naturally an absolute honour to drink such a great local beer knowing that particular brew contains hops that have grown in your garden. However, the haul from our collective efforts was fairly small and wasn’t enough to define a brew of its own nor present any kind of real flavour… This year was different.


Hoegaarden

Prompted by, er, us, Stan Hieronymus has written about the shifting identities of certain well-known beers:

Hoegaards Wit was one of 42 beers Michael Jackson awarded 5 stars in his first Pocket Guide to Beer in 1982. Jackson describes the brewing process as well as listing the ingredients. “A very distinctive top-fermenting culture is used, in open tanks, and the beer is warm-conditioned for a month before being given a dosage in the bottle,” he wrote. “When young, it is faintly sour and sometimes a little cloudy, but with maturity it becomes demi-sec and almost honeyish, and gains a shimmering, refractive quality called ‘double shine.’”… That’s not the way Hoegaarden White is brewed today.


Whitewash.

In the wake of some bizarre developments in court in the Founder’s Brewing case, Ruvani has written about racism and the cultural dominance of white men:

To me, this is not a beer-specific problem. It relates to every industry which white men feel belongs to them – particularly creative industries. These industries are not seen as falling into the traditional domain of POCs and therefore we are not welcome there. We are not seen as taste-makers, culture-creators. We are seen as the drones, the cogs who do the menial labour, whether we’re cleaning the office or fixing the computer. Culture, be it beer culture, literature or most other cultural arenas, is demarcated as white male territory, and anything that women or POCs or, heaven-forfend, female POCs, create is automatically ‘niche’, with all the connotations and barriers that come with that word. If we infringe into this hallowed space then they see it as fair game to mock us, deride us, question our competency and of course, make fun of our appearance and our culture.


A half of mild ale.

At Shut Up About Barclay Perkins the brewing historian Ron Pattinson provides a snapshot from the slow death of mild, in the aftermath of World War II:

Before the war there had been many London Milds with gravities over 1040º. By the time the war ended, few were above 1030º. And while before the war, most breweries made multiple Milds, after it many only brewed one… Some Best Milds were reintroduced in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but these mostly had quite modest gravities, rarely passing the dizzying height of 1040º. Even Mainline, a renowned strong Mild before the war, struggled to reach 3% ABV in its aftermath.


Iceland (map)

David Nilsen has written an elegant evocation of the bars and beers of Reykjavik, Iceland, for Pellicle:

Reykjavik’s cafes and bars were islands of light and warmth in a city awash in its own atmospheric fury. The beer bars of Reykjavik—Skuli Craft Bar, Micro Bar, Mikkeller & Friends (now closed), and others—are cosy in a way that seems to intentionally compensate for the bleak pragmatism of the city’s exteriors. A warm, steamy window appears in the dark of a dripping side street. You open a door, and the idea of warmth enters you before the temperature itself does. The ceiling is low, as is the lighting, and the volume. The bars are different, each, but united in their ensconced insistence on hedonistic comfort. And then there’s the beer.


Illustration: Victoriana.

The always thought-provoking Jeff Allworth asks an interesting question: what happens when all those breweries that seemed new and exciting during the boom become ‘old school’ and ‘boring’ at the same moment?

This current crop of breweries has thrived on being new in a moment when the market rewards novelty. That is … not sustainable. A lot of yesterday’s commentary about Lompoc (including mine) revolved around how the brewery seems old-school, as if that’s an inherent trait. Of course it’s not, and once, Lompoc was seen as a young, exciting brewery… Or take Ninkasi Brewing, now a mere dozen years old. It once defined the cutting edge in Oregon. This isn’t an exaggeration—for a few years in the late aughts, it was the hottest brewery, the one exciting drinkers and causing competitors to respond. Yet twelve years is a lifetime in tastes, and now Eugene’s finest is now considered fatherly.


And finally, a plug for ourselves:

For more beer-related reading check out Alan McLeod’s roundup from Thursday.

News, nuggets and longreads 19 October 2019: Lancashire, language, local

Here’s everything that struck as noteworthy in beer and pubs in the past week, from foeders to the importance of L.

Martyn Cornell has been reflecting on the urge to nitpick over the language people use to talk about beer and brewing:

I had a small Twitter spat yesterday with Duration Brewing after they said they were installing a coolship and foeders at their brewery in Norfolk. A wave of grumpy old mannishness washed across me, and I tweeted that we don’t have coolships and foeders in Britain, we have coolers and vats. Why use a foreign word when we have English words that mean the same thing?


Wetherspoon pub sign, Penzance.

Benjamin Nunn at Ben Viveur is a fan of the Wetherspoon pub chain but not uncritical. In his latest post, he lists five things he likes and five he doesn’t:

3. Collectability. For those of us for whom brewery- and beer-ticking isn’t enough, there’s the challenge of trying to visit all the Spoons. It’s tremendous fun. Some have visited over 1000 and to them I doff my Wethercap. (If you’re even slightly interested in taking up this hobby, SpoonsTracker makes it easy!)


Casked in Rawtenstall.
SOURCE: Duncan Mackay/Pubmeister.

Is Rawtenstall in Lancashire “the Hackney of the north”? Duncan Mackay thinks it might be, unless it’s the other way round:

It’s one of several solid former mill towns that seem to be increasingly attractive to the Manchester diaspora. How else to explain two micropubs, a station bar, a brewery tap, a temperance bar and, wait for it, a nano pub, all doing a brisk trade on a dreich Sunday evening… Two of the above (Hop and Buffer Stops) have graced previous Good Beer Guides…. The new addition is Casked, described as a micropub but really a decent sized beer and gin bar that looks as if it occupies two former shops.


Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

For The Morning Advertiser Stuart Stone looks into why so many traditional British beers have updated their branding lately, and the importance of branding to consumers more generally:

Hobgoblin’s modern makeover is further vindicated by the fact that 41% of 18 to 25s and 39% of 26 to 35s agree that “I think modern beer brands understand me better as a consumer”, according to Streetbees – with only 14% of each age-group disagreeing with the statement. ­ Is falls to an average of 34% across all age groups and 27% among those aged over 46.

(Note the blooper, though: Georgina Young is head brewer at Bath Ales, a subsidiary of St Austell, not at St Austell proper.)


A nugget from Stan Hieronymus: what if all breweries localness was listed like ABV?

Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina has made a small change in the signage it uses at beer festivals.

A line that previously read “AUTUMN LAGER festbier, 6% ABV, 99% local” now reads “AUTUMN LAGER festbier, 6% ABV, 99% L.”


Finally, from Twitter, via @teninchwheels:

Stan has retired from link wrangling but do check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up for more good reading.