News, nuggets and longreads 24 July 2021: decoction, dimples, De Baets

Here’s all the writing around beer, pubs and brewing that leapt out to us in the week past, from packaging problems to dirty old rivers.

No news this week – let’s jump straight into the good stuff with a piece for Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, by Matt Curtis, on why canned beers sometimes don’t seem quite themselves. He calls this “can shock”:

“I’ve experienced the phenomenon with pretty much every beer I’ve packed since joining the industry,” Zoe Wyeth, a production brewer at Villages in South London, and previously for Suffolk-based Burnt Mill, tells me. “It’s pretty strange that a beer can taste how you’d expect when taking a sample straight from the [tank] but opening up a can straight off the line it feels like something is a bit off.”… Zoe agrees with my assessment that freshly packaged beer tastes “unbalanced, like all those lovely hop aromas and yeast esters are disjointed from the malty background.” It’s interesting to hear that tank samples taken before packaging don’t taste this way, reinforcing my theory that the very act of packing and immediately shipping beer is having a short-term negative effect on its flavour… Bottle shock isn’t solely the premise of beer either. In fact the term comes from the wine trade and is also sometimes referred to as “bottle sickness.”


At Casket Beer Kevin Kain has been inspired by Matt’s forthcoming book, Modern British Beer, to reflect on trends in beer glassware in the UK:

For Five Points Brewing Company in London, glassware is an “advertiser and an amplifier”, as Ed Davy from the brewery notes. It’s no secret that glassware offers a wonderful opportunity to advertise a brand… Regarding amplification, Davy says “well-designed glass can improve the drinking experience by intensifying existing elements of the drink.” While different styles of glassware can amplify in different ways, he adds “you can create feelings of nostalgia by serving cask ale in ‘traditional’ dimpled jugs”, and this is something the brewery does at its taproom for its cask beer.

Eoghan Walsh continues his series of posts about the history of Brussels beer in 50 objects with a bottle of water from the river Zenne:

Right from its founding, Brussels’ residents tinkered with the Zenne digging channels and creating new man-made islands. The Grand Île was one of these, engineered in the 11th century and home to a church honouring the mythical dragonslayer. It was here that the densest congregation of Brussels breweries emerged, remaining a brewing centre even as the Zenne’s influence on Brussels’ form and function declined. These were household breweries, or breweries in outhouses, cantilevered over the river and brewing for the neighbouring streets in the most populous district in Brussels. The earliest brewers harvested the Zenne to make beer, their successors extracting water to clean their equipment. 

Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

At Craft Beer & Brewing, Joe Stange prods Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets to elaborate on his claim that “yeast is the biggest myth about saison”:

I mean that for many people, a saison can be made only with “saison yeast.” But what is it? A “saison yeast” seems, for some, to be a yeast named “Saison Something” or “Something Saison,” sold by a commercial yeast company. It’s a sort of magic powder: You add it to a wort, and you get a genuine saison… My point is that these two (or three) yeasts do not represent all the strains that have been used for making saison—nor all those that could still be used… Meanwhile, could some other classic or newly discovered yeasts—such as a local wild yeast—be used for brewing a genuine saison, respecting its spirit? Of course!

SOURCE: Tandleman.

Tandleman provides notes on a new opening in London – Pivo, a specialist Czech beer bar. This sounds like the kind of place we’ll want to pop into next time we’re in town:

This is a modern looking two roomed establishment with contemporary rather than traditional furniture, a big bar, large windows and a downstairs area, which you could describe either as cosy, or claustrophobic, depending on your sensibilities.  We chose upstairs and were rewarded with good views of the whole room. Service was quick and pleasant considering that it was the first couple of hours of opening, the choice of beers was good and rather unusual. Prices were very fair indeed, ranging from around £5.50 to £7 or so a pint, for beers that you won’t usually encounter, plus Budvar, which you will.

Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

Pivo also gets a mention in Anthony Gladman’s piece on decoction for Good Beer Hunting – an article we watched him researching in real time via Twitter, with questions and hints popping up over the course of the past few months. In it, he gets an answer to something that’s always puzzled us – if we accept that decoction makes better lagers, why should that be the case?

“If you have [malt] that converts the minute you add water, that’s not the point of brewing,” [Eric] Toft [of Schönram] says. “I want to be able to create the wort myself, rather than having it done in the maltings. I try to get malt that’s not as highly modified as it could be. I always ask the maltsters to leave the mashing to me. I’d rather spend an extra half hour, hour in the mash. With decoction I achieve this higher degree of apparent attenuation that I can’t with infusion, at least not in the same time.”… Toft runs trial brews once or twice a year to compare the results of infusion and decoction mashing on the same batch of malt. In his 90-hectoliter (77-barrel) brewhouse, a decoction brew will use an extra 10 liters of fuel oil. “By using 10 liters of oil more per brew I get a final attenuation of 87%. If I do a step infusion I save the 10 liters, but I only achieve 84%,” he says.

Finally, from Twitter, some remarkable – you might almost say incredible – statistics…

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


News, nuggets and longreads 17 July 2021: objects, culture and fairy tales

Here’s all the writing about brewing, beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past seven days, from coolships to Scotch Ales.

First, we ought to offer some brief notes on Monday’s further relaxation of COVID-19 regulations in England but, ugh, what’s left to say? We’ll be continuing to be careful – masks on public transport and indoor spaces – but perhaps taking advantage of the relaxation to skip some of the more theatrical stuff, such as wearing a mask to cross the two metres between our table and the street at the local beer garden. Others, like Martin Taylor, will be glad to see bar service return – with sensible caveats. It seems as if most people are in a similar frame of mind, at least according to new survey results from the Office for National Statistics.

A woman shouting through a loudspeaker
SOURCE: Patrick Fore/Unsplash

The story about sexism, bullying and harassment in the UK craft beer scene isn’t going away. A month or so on and it’s still on the front page of the BBC news website

“They are almost a victim of their own success,” said Erika Percival, chief executive of advisory firm Beyond Governance. “They grow, they’ve got great ideas, they’re really entrepreneurial… Then it gets to a point where you end up with a challenge of having structures that work with a small number of people but not with a large number of people.” That’s why it is key, she said, to have corporate governance measures in place. It means “you have got the right structures so that you can intervene at the right points in time before decisions are made and move along too quickly and you can’t go back”.

…and it was also the subject of Radio 4’s The Food Programme last week.

Marble, one of the UK breweries which attracted criticism, issued this statement on Thursday, which seems to have hit the mark:

The roof at Cantillon brewery in Brussels.

We’ve long been advocates of long-term projects as fuel for blogging so were pleased to see that Eoghan Walsh at Brussels Beer City has launched ‘A History of Brussels Beer in 50 Objects’ starting with ‘#1: Cantillon Coolship’:

It is not particularly old. Nor is it particularly impressive. But Brasserie Cantillon’s coolship is living history. As the vessel where Lambic’s alchemical brewing magic begins, it symbolises Brussels’ unique centuries-long brewing tradition. And as Brussels’ last active coolship, it binds that heritage to the city’s modern beer scene… Five metres squared, 30 centimetres deep, and housed in an attic room, the coolship was built out of salvaged spare brewery parts and installed when Cantillon started brewing in 1937. It is essential to the mythology of brewing Lambic, Brussels’ indigenous beer style.

Montana on a map.

At Beervana, Jeff Alworth asks whether regional preferences still exist, with reference to a print-only article by Kate Bernot which reveals that, in Montana, Scotch Ales live on:

Unlike Kate, I wasn’t able to access Nielsen’s state-level data. Through a bit of clandestine back-channeling, I was able to find a source willing to make a dead-drop in the tailpipe of an abandoned Camry on Burnside containing Nielsen’s regional data. (In fact it arrived, less atmospherically, as a series of screenshots in my inbox.) Regions are far less helpful because they average across states. One wouldn’t be able to easily discern this Montana Scotch ale phenomenon by looking at the Mountain region (eight states), where the style is the 20th most popular, two slots below fruit/veg beers. Nevertheless, one can see quite a few interesting tidbits by comparing the regions. Preferences do vary.

A glass of saison.

Joe Stange has written about saison for Craft Beer & Brewing, kicking off a thoughtful piece with the rhetorical equivalent of an air-horn:

Let’s get this much straight: Saison is not a style. It’s a story. Maybe that won’t sit well with some brewers who like to see the wider beer world through a codified set of style guidelines. Such guidelines make sense for competitions (as long as the guidelines evolve with the times). But when it comes to learning about beer, they’re shorthand—a poor map. The map is never the territory. That’s true for any style of beer, but it’s especially true for a story. Rather than an imperfect map, any static description of saison is more like a rough sketch from a single chapter of a fairy tale. What’s really cool is that this fairy tale is essentially true.

Now, that’s how you sell a piece and grab your readers.


We hadn’t heard the word ‘Gullah’ until we watched High on the Hog on Netflix last week; now, at Good Beer Hunting, Jamaal Lemon opens a three-part exploration of the historic beer culture of Charleston, South Carolina, with a Gullah proverb – “Mus tek cyear uh de root, fa heal de tree.

Thanks to my enthusiasm for beer and brewing, I’m always excited to check out taprooms and alehouses wherever I go. That weekend was no different. I called one of my buddies, and we linked up at a brewery. Three hours later, we’d popped into three different spots, all within a quarter-mile radius. While standing in line waiting to order another pint, he nudged me and muttered a question: “Where are all the Black people?”  Depending on who you ask, there are two ways to answer that question, though neither gets at the whole truth. Going to breweries is some white-people shit. Alternatively: Black people don’t drink beer… In Charleston, one of the many reasons there are so few faces of color in breweries is homegrown, tracing back some 150 years—though less than a mile away from where we stood that day—to the Schützenfest.

Finally, from Twitter, the beer writing equivalent of one of J.G. Ballard’s condensed novels…

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


News, nuggets and longreads 3 July 2021: Allsopp’s, brown ale, Devon

There’s been some interesting writing about beer, pubs and brewing in the past week. Here are our highlights, from brown ale to brands reborn.

First, a bit of deja vu: someone is reviving the historic Allsopp’s brand to brew an IPA and a pale ale.

You might recall that, back in 2017, BrewDog were attached this this particular brand revival. Beer writer Pete Brown, who has a stake in this new project, says it’s nothing to do with them any more. We’re intrigued, not least because it sounds as if the intention is to use original recipes and even some version of the Allsopp’s house yeast.

Petteri leans on his bar.
Petteri’s bar. SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

Lars Marius Garshol provides another report from Finland, on the trail of Sahti culture. This time, the story concerns Petteri Lähdeniemi who runs a small commercial brewery with a bar in the middle of nowhere. This, Lars makes clear, is something quite different to a hip urban taproom:

He says he arranges karaoke nights and rock concerts here, which seems a bit odd, as while the area is dotted with farms it’s hardly densely populated. But he explains the bar is mainly “a hobby”, and that the brewery is what really generates income. Most of his business is selling to the Alko, the government alcohol monopoly stores, and various bars… He explains that the area just inside the door is where he sells beer for takeaway. The rest of the bar is for consumption on the premises… Petteri explains that if you come to buy beer to take away but you go four steps inside the door instead of just three you walk out of the takeaway sales zone, and then you’re technically breaking the law. The door is the obvious way to walk between the patio and the bar, but that’s not legal if you’re drinking on the premises, so you have to go round the back and in a separate door. Finnish alcohol regulations are just as strict and nonsensical as in the rest of the world.


News, nuggets and longreads 26 June 2021: Rhubarb and rainbows

Once again, here we are, rounding up all the most interesting news and commentary on pubs and beer from the past week, including thoughts on Pride, more on ancient Sumeria and a giant tankard.

First, a little update on The Rhubarb, our nearest pub, which is in danger of being turned into flats: there is now an organised campaign, centred around Facebook and the story has been covered by the Bristol Post and Bristol 24/7. Now, we promise not to go on about this too much – if you don’t live in Bristol, or Barton Hill in particular, why should you care especially? But it’s interesting to us to see a local campaign from the inside, having previously studied and written about them without that personal connection.

SOURCE: Brussels Beer City.

From Eoghan Walsh at Brussels Beer City comes an in-depth study of the brewery architecture of the Belgian capital (#secondmentions). It has lots of photos and a map, should you find yourself wanting something to do between drinks next time you’re there. Here’s what prompted him to write it:

In 1989 Belgian geographer Martine Louckx published Itinéraire de la Bière: 55km à travers Bruxelles et le Brabant flamand occidental. The book was a 55km tour through the ailing brewing landscape of Brussels and Flemish Brabant, stopping along the way at working breweries and the remains of breweries that had closed down. Louckx’s tour reveals the parlous state of an industry gutted by de-industrialisation and consolidation… The surviving buildings were enough material for her to be able to identify three broad types of Brussels brewery architecture: the rural brewery; the urban brewery; and the usine-îlot or “factory island” brewery. 


Dr Christina Wade continues her exploration of those Sumerian cuneiform tablets with a piece on the legal aspects of beer c.4000 years ago:

If an alewife
For the price of beer
Barley has not accepted,
but by the large stone
silver has accepted,
and the market price of beer
to the market price of barley has reduced,
against that alewife
they shall prove, and
into the water they shall cast her.


SOURCE: Miller/Flickr.

For Pellicle, Lily Waite explains what Pride means in the context of beer and why ‘rainbow washing’ AKA ‘pinkwashing’ is a problem:

American brewing giant Miller has a long history of gay marketing, starting in the 1970s with the sponsorship of the leather and BDSM oriented Folsom Street Fair. Budweiser and Coors have both marketed towards US queer communities since the ‘90s—though there’s little evidence of any UK equivalents… While, as the saying goes, “Pride is a protest, not a party,” rainbow capitalism is almost as old as Pride itself. Brands, including breweries such as Miller, Budweiser, and Coors, have been sponsoring pride for decades. Though this has increased in recent years, prompting criticism from much of the queer community. 


Here’s a headline for you: ELY PUB’S ‘QUIRKY’ TANKARD INVESTIGATED BY COUNCIL. Personally, we’re all for giant quirky tankards. More of this sort of thing!


Ed Wray provides a brief correction to the often-made claim that you can make beer by chucking grains in water and walking away:

It has occurred to me that if some sort of primitive beer is this easy to make then why don’t we see it naturally forming on a regular basis? If ancients could make beer by simply getting wild grains they’d picked wet then surely now grains are farmed on an industrial scale shouldn’t it be happening all the time? When barley fields are flattened after heavy storms shouldn’t there be reports of beer puddles forming? Or if a grain silo or lorry has a leaky roof shouldn’t spontaneous outbreaks of brewing happen? Come to think of it, if it was that bleedin’ easy, why don’t teenagers desperate to get hold of some alcohol mix wholemeal flour and water a few days before parties?

Finally, from Twitter…

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


News, nuggets and longreads 19 June 2021: Jalebi, Rhubarb, Pink Boots

From Cork pubs to Pink Boots, here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially noteworthy in the past week.

First, the proper newsy news:

  1. The end of coronavirus restrictions in England had been scheduled for Monday 21 June. As everyone expected, that has now been postponed until at last 19 July. You can still go to the pub, you can still sit inside a pub, but you still also have to follow a few rules.
  1. The fallout of the open letter from former BrewDog staff continues – the brewery, and James Watt in particular, have set out a plan for fixing the company culture (LinkedIn). If you can get through the paywall (it’s a roll of the dice) then, for context, check out this commentary by Melissa Cole for the Telegraph.
  1. And, closer to home, there’s a planning application in for The Rhubarb, the only pub left in Barton Hill, Bristol, and guess what? They want to turn it into flats. Our thanks to Garvan, landlord of The Drapers Arms, for letting us know about this. Is there anything to be done? Is it too late to object? Bloody hell, we hope not. More to follow in a separate post, probably.

Sumerian tablet.
Not a Gregg’s Steak Bake. SOURCE: Braciatrix/Cuneiform Digital Library.

At Braciatrix Dr Christina Wade reports on her findings from studying 155 cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia looking for references to beer:

The royal tablets, including one from Girsu in the Lagash II (2200- 2100 BCE) period, talks about Gudea and the building of the temple Eninnu, which included a brewery. It discussed the importance of cleanliness in a brewery particularly with regard to those who serve it (‘let hands always be washed’); and stated ‘that in Eninnu’s brewery, the “house with the clean arms”, emmer beer like the waters (of) Papsir might bubble.’ So the importance of cleanliness in brewing and serving is an ancient tradition. You can keep this in mind when you are scrubbing your mash tun for the millionth time.

SOURCE: Great Western Malt/Beervana.

At Beervana, Teri Fahrendorf shares an account of how the Pink Boots Society was founded in 2007, as part of a three-part oral history of her life and career in beer facilitated by Jeff Alworth. This section, on the nature of professionalism, is pretty inspiring:

Pink Boots made the difficult decision to limit membership and focus on professional development. They decided against including non-professions—like women homebrewers or consumers. It was an important decision, because it began to create the expectation that women weren’t marginal: they were professionals and deserved to be paid… “One woman came to me and said, ‘I do all the tweets and all the social media for the brewpub my boyfriend works at, but I do it for free.’ So I said, ‘A buck a tweet until you hit fifty and then after that they’re free. You have to make some income.’ Another woman said, ‘My husband is a beer writer and I edit all his stuff, can I join?’ I said, ‘He’s got to pay you for the editing work—and it’s worth it!’ And I made him pay her five bucks on the spot in front of me and told him he had to pay it every month. A woman emailed me they were really upset they couldn’t join. She wrote, ‘I’m the president of our homebrew club; I teach homebrew classes; I’ve taken the Cicerone. Why can’t I join?’ And I wrote, ‘That’s all great, but you gotta be charging at least ten bucks for your homebrew classes. You’re wasting that Cicerone degree if you’re not using it, so I recommend you go to three different restaurants and tell them you’ll write a beer menu for them for free in exchange for a good recommendation. Then you write beer menus for money.’ They were all like, ‘Thank you so much! I had no idea I could make money at this.’”

SOURCE: Sanju M. Gurung on Unsplash.

For Porch Drinking, Ruvani de Silva writes about a new frontier in dessert beers: Jalabae, a double IPA brewed with the Indian sweet jalebi. You know jalebi, even if you’ve never eaten it, from the window displays of shops like Jeevans in East Bristol:

When Ravi Patel launched Other Desi Beer Co. in [Connecticut in] 2019, one of his primary aims was to share the tastes and flavors of the Indian food that he grew up with through the medium of high-quality craft beer. With several Indian-cuisine-inspired brews already under his belt, including the delightfully bright and zingy 3 Ranis Pink Guava Hibiscus Sour and the deep, layered High Chai Stout featuring cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon, Patel has now pulled off the coup of brewing what may be the first beer to feature India’s national sweet, the jalebi… Jalebi is ultra-sweet curlicues of corn or chickpea flour flavored with saffron and lemon juice, then soaked in sugar syrup so that the sticky liquid oozes into your mouth as you bite into it. With a history dating back to the 15th century CE, jalebi is popular all over India, with each region favoring its own of the main seven varieties.

SOURCE: Tempest in a Tankard.

Franz D. Hofer continues to provide a great public service via Tempest in a Tankard with notes on travelling and drinking in Germany. This week, he shared an account of a visit to Traunstein in the Bavarian Alps:

Traunstein has been known since the Second World War as the “cultural capital of the Chiemgau.” On any warm day, the main market square is thronged with people relaxing with a coffee, an ice cream, or a beer. Today, it’s still enough of a beer town to support three breweries for its 22,000 residents — a ratio of breweries to citizens that’s higher even than that of Bamberg… From the train station it’s a mere 10 minutes to your first beer at Wochingerbräu. Wochinger’s claim to fame is that it’s “the finest beer from Traunstein’s smallest brewery.” And the beer is, indeed, fine enough to make Wochinger worth a journey… Not only is the beer fine. Wochinger’s tranquil beer garden, set in a small grove of oak and horse chestnut trees, is one of the most pleasant in the region. It radiates that intangible atmosphere that makes it more than just a collection of tables strewn about under leafy trees: shade ranging from dappled light to deep woods; a “sunniness” emanating from the yellow Gasthaus fronting the brewery; a calmness surrounding the rustic architecture of the former stables.

Calvert’s brewery c.1830. SOURCE: Zythophile.

At Zythophile, Martyn Cornell continues to drip-feed tantalising details from the research for his upcoming epic on the history of porter and stout, such as this account of a visit to London by a Canadian brewery in 1832:

William next went through the stables, where he saw “about 20 Hosses like elephants” (spelling was not one of his strengths), and was told that the brewery owned some 70 horses in total. After that he was taken to see Calvert’s new ale brewery, built “on the most improoved plan & verey extensive.” This was not yet two years after the passing of the Beer House Act in England, which had led to more than 30,000 new beerhouses openings, and most of the big London porter brewers, of which Calvert’s was one, had started brewing ale as well as porter to supply these new outlets. Ale brewing looks to have been conducted with considerably more attention paid to hygiene: William commented that “I could not help remarking the vast differance which appeared in these two conserns with regard to cleenleness in the Porter brewery they appeared to pay no attention to it at all but in the Ale Brewery everey thing was as cleen as Parlors.”

Benny McCabe. SOURCE: J.J. O’Donoghue/Tripe & Disheen.

The last piece is a few months old, now, but only came to our attention this week when someone kindly messaged us to suggest we might enjoy reading it. It’s a profile of Cork publican Benny McCabe by J.J. O’Donoghue for Tripe & Disheen which overflows with optimism and enthusiasm despite, you know, everything:

Benny says he has never gone looking for a pub to take on or take over; the owners come to him, as he is a safe pair of hands, and as most punters will know well by now, Benny loves an old pub, the older and more storied it is, the better… “My father being a publican, on his day off he went to his buddy’s pubs.” Young Benny soaked it all up, “and I just have the memories of all these old pubs that are now ghosts.”… “You never really own a pub,” Benny says. What he means is that while it’s yours on the deeds, you are in fact ever only a guardian. “It’s a spiritual thing.”… “You’re a custodian of the four walls and the four walls are only the sum of the people that drink in them.”… From the Sin É, Benny came south of the river to The Mutton Lane and then west a little, over to The Oval. His recipe for restoration is minimalist: “Those progressions, sometimes it’s a bit like cooking fish, just add a bit of salt man. Don’t ruin it, don’t fucking ruin it.”

Finally, from Twitter…

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