News, nuggets and longreads 12 September 2020: cats, culture wars, craft beer w**kers

Here’s all the reading about pubs and beer from the past week that struck us as especially fun, thought-provoking or important, from gruit to wood-ageing.

We found plenty to think about in Zoe Williams’s piece on pubs for the Guardian which rightly observes that whether you do or don’t feel like going to pub during a global pandemic has become yet another facet of the supposed culture war:

Meanwhile, the pub-goer-as-patriot brigade has been out in force, embodied, as so often with a culture war, in the person of Nigel Farage, back in the boozer from noon on 4 July, the first day they were allowed to open in England, uttering out loud that a pint was a “patriotic duty”, as unaware of his own absurdity as a dog with its head stuck in a bucket… The debate travelled along the same faultlines as the bizarro fights before it – vegan sausage rolls, moderately tasty or an insult to real men? Blue passports, a waste of energy or the peak of true Britishness? Pubs-as-identities collided in the person of Tim Martin, the combative founder and chairman of Wetherspoons, ardent Brexiter, believer in herd-immunity, defender of the boozer. His pubs became a muster point for an economy-first, libertarian, anti-mask, it’s-just-the-flu worldview.

From our point of view, it’s frustrating to hear people arguing that if you don’t feel like going to the pub right now, you must be a closet temperance campaigner, a snob, or both. There are lots of good reasons you might choose not to go; and lots of reasons you might personally decide it’s a risk worth taking. But the idea that’s it’s somehow a political decision, rather than one based on the objective facts of a rampant and dangerous disease, is baffling.

A sea of wooden casks.

We enjoyed Roger Protz’s notes on wood-aged beers, which made us want to track down some of the mixed-fermentation beers from one of our local breweries:

Wiper and True, founded in 2012 in Bristol, has built a Barrel Store close to the brewery. The store enables the brewery to produce oak-aged beers and this summer it launched two beers made by mixed fermentation. Wort – the sugary extract produced during the mashing stage – is produced in the brewery then transferred to the Barrel Store where fermentation takes place in oak, using Brettanomyces and Cerberus yeast cultures – Cerberus is a strain widely used, in the U.S. in particular, to make sour beers, a modern interpretation of Belgian Lambic… The two beers are Narrow Sea, based on the Belgian Saison style, and Hinterland, a 7.3 per cent IPA brewed with Citra, Ekuanot, Loral and Simcoe hops. Could this be akin to the IPAs sent to the Raj in India in the Victorian period?

Bog myrtle.

For Good Beer Hunting, Eoghan Walsh reports on new interest in gruit, a mix of herbs used to flavour and preserve beer in the days before hops became ubiquitous. His article is built around a report of gruit beer festival in Münster, in northern Germany:

Münster seems an unlikely home for a new generation of German brewing radicals. It has none of the historical brewing cachet of its neighbors Cologne and Düsseldorf to the west, nor the urban edge of Berlin’s new wave craft beer scene to the east, nevermind the internationally celebrated traditions of Bavaria to the south. But once upon a time, Münster was home to a thriving brewing center, plugged into a pre-modern, northern European gruit-making culture where the people in control of the gruit demurred only to bishops and mayors… What went into a particular gruit mixture was determined by geography and climate, but the basic components were largely the same: bog myrtle as a primary ingredient in addition to yarrow, wild rosemary, caraway, juniper, wormwood and whatever other herbs and spices were indigenous or available to a gruit maker.

Elland 1872 porter pump-clip.

We continue to enjoy the single-beer personal essay as a form and Pellicle keeps commissioning them. The latest is Neil Walker’s piece on Elland 1872 Porter:

It was 2006 and we were in Headingley, undergraduates at Leeds University, and unbeknown to us enjoying one of our last gatherings in this pub when smoking was permitted… Thin white ribbons of smoke rising from ashtrays on a busy bar, dotted with pints and short wine glasses, a gentle haze across the room as shafts of light hit the fog in the air… The setting of our meeting—one last beer before what felt like an unnecessarily long hibernation away from this newfound family—moved me to look towards the darker, stronger end of the beer list, finally settling on a pint of Elland Brewery’s 1872 Porter. I was only meant to be staying for one, but even before the intensely smoky, port-decanter aroma hit me, I knew I was in for something special.

Keg taps.

For Ferment, the promo mag for beer subscription service Beer52, Anthony Gladman writes about the bad habits of ‘beer wankers’ and how they limit the growth of the craft beer market:

“The majority of people I know don’t go into craft beer places,” says Sanj [Deveraj]. He tells me attitudes of those inside are just too off-putting. “The term craft beer wanker exists for a reason.”

“I’ve seen it so many times. I used to work in The Rake and someone would come in and go ‘what lagers do you do?’ and they would get laughed at.” When I ask who was laughing, Sanj tells me it was the bar staff. Let’s consider that for a moment. A customer being belittled by a member of staff in the hospitality industry. Hospitality. You see what’s wrong here, don’t you?


Ron Pattinson continues to explore the footnotes and dead-ends of beer history, this time providing detailed notes on a beer style that doesn’t really count as beer, and that you never hear anybody raving about:

“If sweetener-sweetened beer owes its origin to the war, sugar-sweetened Malzbier (Karamelbier) appeared around 16 years earlier. The original method of production, which is still used, consists, if it is bottled beer, of adding sugar to the beer after fermentation (vat fermentation), then it is filled into bottles and, after sufficient sediment has formed, further fermentation is prevented by pasteurisation… The formation of sediment can be accelerated by the application of heat, which is often done, and can easily be carried out in such a way that the bottles are either brought into warm rooms or straight into the pasteurisers, which have been appropriately warmed up.” – Obergärige Biere und ihre Herstellung by Dr. Franz Schönfeld

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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

News pubs

News, nuggets and longreads 5 September 2020: Colonialism, Steinbier, cycling

Here’s everything on beer and pubs from the past week that struck as particularly readworthy, from hot stones to vans full of wort.

First, a bit of news that we suspect offers a hint of things to come: villagers in Halse, Somerset, have raised £330,000 to buy and preserve their local pub. We wrote about community pubs in 20th Century Pub and have long thought there’s more mileage in the idea. The coronavirus crisis has put many pubs in sudden, sharp danger; it has also made people reflect on the fondness they have for pubs and their importance in communities.

A colonial diamond mine in South Africa.

For Good Beer Hunting beer historian Tom Acitelli provides an overview of how colonialism spread aspects of European beer worldwide, squashing local drinking cultures in the process:

The first professional European brewer arrived in what’s now Namibia and South Africa in 1694, when Rutgert Mensing schoonered in from Amsterdam. He brought with him a lot of technical knowledge, as well as the support of the Dutch authorities who had begun colonizing the area 40 years before. Mensing quickly set about building a brewery in a part of present-day Cape Town… He found an already-growing market. In the decades ahead of Mensing’s arrival, the Dutch and other European colonizers had begun to recreate the Ales that were popular back home, so much so that that same area of Cape Town became known as the “Tavern of the Sea.”

Beer taps.

At Burum Collective editor Helen Anne Smith sets out something of a manifesto for both the website and her current project interviewing queer people in the beer industry:

The title of this piece is in reference to my twitter bio. It has been ‘queer and works in beer’ for about a year now because even though it’s a small thing, hopefully someone who is in beer or someone who wants to work in beer will see it and will know that they aren’t alone. Over lockdown, I realised it wasn’t enough, I needed to do more, be louder, be prouder, fight for those who need it… I will continue to work as hard as I can making the bar that I work in a friendly and inclusive environment, I will keep signal boosting on twitter, start raising money for local charities and to get Burum Collective to a point where I am able to step back from blog content and be able to pay people from queer and BIPOC communities to write and tell their own stories. But whilst I continue to apply for grants, work hard and save money; I need the beer industry to step the fuck up.

A Steinbier brewery.

Historical brewing expert Andreas Krennmair has turned his attention to another obscure but glamorous beer style – Carinthian Steinbier, brewed with hot stones. His commentary is based on an interesting new (old) source:

Carinthian Steinbier is interesting because it survived for a fairly long time, until 1917 to be exact, despite repeated attempts to completely supplant it with what was called “kettle brewing”, i.e. brewing involving metal kettles. During other research, I recently stumbled upon a 1962 article that is probably the most detailed description of Carinthian Steinbier tradition that I’ve found so far… In Die Steinbiererzeugung, ein ausgestorbenes Gewerbe in Kärnten (lit. “stone beer production, an extinct industry in Carinthia”), Josef Grömmer discusses Steinbier brewing in Carinthia, the common brewing practices over time including the last few surviving breweries up to the demise of Steinbier in Carinthia.

A caravan.

SOURCE: Lily Waite/Pellicle

For PellicleLily Waite offers a profile of Mills Brewing and its unorthodox, untidy approach to the process:

To transfer wort from kettle to fermenter, Jonny Mills has to pump it out of the door of the brewhouse, through a small garden, over a fence, and into a 1000 litre tank in the back of his van. A fraction of a second later, he has to race the wort to the van to ensure the hose doesn’t slip from underneath the brick balanced carefully atop it, and douse the inside of the van in hot, sticky liquid… Once the wort is safely in the tank, the van then slowly sloshes and wobbles its way a half-mile down a bumpy country lane, to a tumbledown outbuilding in an overgrown yard in the neighbouring town of Berkeley. Here, the wort is slowly transferred to an old open-top fermenter, and if the recipe so requires, a bag of hops is weighed down with the cumbersome steel door from a tank the next room over.

Brighton Pavilion.

A useful bit of local intel: Joe Tindall at The Fatal Glass of Beer has provided a round-up of the breweries of Brighton. It comes with bonus reflections on what it means for a brewery to really be from a place:

Basing your brewery in Brighton is a great idea, from a marketing perspective. It’s a popular summer destination, so you have that association going for you; it’s well known for its bohemian character, so there’s that, too. There are recognisable landmarks like the Laines, or the skeleton of the burned out pier that now eerily shadows the slick, pointless i360 tower. You could draw on these in your branding… Not such a great proposition financially though. Rents are high, second only to London. So you can see how one might form a dastardly plan to claim, or at least heavily imply, to have a brewery based in Brighton, whilst taking care of the inconvenient of business of brewing beer somewhere cheap in the Sussex countryside.


For Ferment, the promotional magazine for beer subscription service Beer52, Eoghan Walsh of Brussels Beer City writes about the entanglement of beer and bikes in Belgian culture:

“If the scent of Belgium is that of a good ale, then the defining sound of the nation is the swish of bicycle tires on wet roads, the whistling of wind through spokes, the juddering thrum of steel frames on cobblestones,” English author Harry Pearson wrote of the twin obsessions of his adopted country in his book on the subject The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman. It is in Flanders where the twin obsessions of beer and cycling have been elevated to totems of national (or should that be regional) identity. And more often than not, just as with my visit to a chilly late-winter Ghent, they come together. While beer is a year-round passion in these parts, it is impossible to exaggerate the degree to which cycling saturates Flanders from the beginning of the classics season with the Omloop in late-February, through to the one-two punch of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix races on consecutive Sundays in April.

Finally, from Twitter, we couldn’t resist this pocket history of a pub, from Victorian to prefab to post-war:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 29 August 2020: Festbier, Horner, Chinese beer

Here’s everything that struck us as especially interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past seven days, from industry morale to questions of national identity.

First, as the dust begins to settle (for the moment, at least) Lily Waite has asked people in the beer industry to look back on the past six months and reflect on the stress and strain of it all:

For some back at work in the on-trade, the break from the tedium of lockdown is a blessed relief. “For me the struggle was boredom,’ says Paul Crowther, who returned to work at The Yard House in Tynemouth at the end of June. ‘I’m used to working a lot and being outside the house and the monotony of my routine was unbearable; I was very happy to come back to work not for money but to get out of the house.’

Demolition of the Windsock

Geoff Quincy has wrapped up his epic history of The Windsock at Dunstable, a pub remarkable for its architecture, with the tale of its demise:

The Windsock was a bespoke building. By 1983 many of its original features and fittings had been tampered with or were wearing out. The Windsock had been built and was in its early years occupied by a large wealthy brewer. Under their ownership it was maintained by their site contractors who dealt with ongoing maintenance, repairs and gardening. Once the building was in private ownership these resources were no longer available. As a result the grounds, road surfaces and external skin of the building were very obviously showing the signs of nearly 14 years of exposure to the weather and desperately needed an overhaul if not entire replacement.

Lederhosen on display.

Jeff Alworth has been thinking about Festbier, or Oktoberfestbier – he gets into all that – and has concluded that it might be “the finest of all lagers”:

It’s an expressive and varied style that offers more flavor oomph than many lagers. Yet it remains a quintessential session beer, with all the crisp lager character found in pilsner or helles. The pleasure of drinking them in the soft sunlight of early autumn amid a crowd of revelers is hard to beat… We’ll have to do without the crowd this year, but at least we have the beer.


Still on German beer styles, Evan Rail has written about the resurrection of Horner Bier in an unexpected place:

The only beer style name-dropped by Mozart himself, Horner Bier was one of the true oddballs of pre-lager Continental brewing: Instead of barley or wheat, the long-extinct beer from Horn, Austria, was made with 100 percent oats. Not bitter nor malty, Horner Bier was sour, thanks to the addition of potassium bitartrate, a.k.a. cream of tartar (though how that actually worked has long been lost to history, along with the rest of the beer’s production secrets)… With a shoutout in Mozart’s lyrics to “Bei der Hitz im Sommer ess ich,” it has been an obscure point of obsession for many writers who cover Old World brewing, by which I mean me.

Whisky bottles.

For Pellicle Jemma Beedie has written about the Scottish half-and-half – a beer ordered with a dram of whisky for company:

Jen Laird, co-owner of The Grail—a specialist off-license in Doune, a historic village on the outskirts of Stirlingshire—explained: “From what I can gather the standard whisky measure was a quarter gill, which would make it close to a modern standard measure (35ml).” The Dictionary of Scots Language suggests that the phrase “a wee hauf” meant half of a half gill, so whichever way we look at it, it is poetic beauty.

Chinese beer.

SOURCE: Eric Prouzet via Unsplash.

Rick Green has been studying beer in China and has produced a long piece setting out his thoughts on what makes a beer truly Chinese, or not:

Most people outside of Asia, when asked what is Chinese beer, will probably say, “Tsingtao”. This is likely due to the fact that in 70 countries and territories outside of China, every Chinese restaurant carries this beer. Although Tsingtao Lager is a Chinese brand of beer made in China, is the beer really Chinese? If beer has only to be made in China to be called, “Chinese”, then wouldn’t that also apply to Budweiser, Carlsberg, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Goose Island?

And finally, from Twitter, there’s this desirable item:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 22 August 2020: Flights, Harp, Braumeisters

Here’s all the most attention-grabbing writing about beer and pubs from the past week, including interesting new hops and youthful memories.

First, news of more idiosyncratic behaviour from Yorkshire brewery Samuel Smith whose boss, Humphrey Smith, has declared that its pubs will not be bothering with track-and-trace. The brewery told The Times:

The reasoning behind [not having track and trace] is it’s against GDPR data protection to ask people’s names and addresses and most people would give false names and addresses. Sam Smith’s customers are locals and most managers know the customers and word would get around if Covid was in a pub.

(With thanks for Emma Stump for bringing this to our attention.)

Tasting flight at the Driftwood Spars beer festival.

At Craft Beer Amethyst Ruvani, a Brit based in Austin, Texas, explores how her beer drinking habits have been affected by the pandemic:

The closure of brewery taprooms, along with everything else, during lockdown brought a swift end to my consumption of beer flights. No more cute mini-pours. No more free samples in the store either. The option to try before buying suddenly vanished from my life and I found myself somewhat bewildered as to how exactly I had gotten so dependent on the culture of small pours… With purchasing choices suddenly, brutally limited, my drinking habits were thrown into sharp relief and I was forced to ask myself, for what felt like the first time in a very long time, what it was that I actually wanted.

Harp lager beer mat (detail)

We enjoyed Liam’s account of buying his first pint of beer – Harp Lager no less – in a provincial town in Ireland in 1984:

I stared at it for a minute watching the bubbles rise in quick succession from the base of the glass and breaking on the surface. This was my first proper drink in a bar, my first proper beer too, and I had somehow expected it to be a more momentous occasion. I picked up the glass and put it to my lips and had my first taste of beer… The music abruptly stopped with a mistimed twang of guitar strings. Everyone in the whole bar turned to look at me silently… before erupting into applause. I raised my glass and toasted my adoring fans.

Hops against green.

Stan Hieronymus offers some insider chat on developments in US hop breeding which is of interest as much for what it tells us about general trends as for the specifics:

The most anticipated new name this year is whatever HBC is calling HBC 692… HBC 692 is a daughter of Sabro and depending on who is describing the aroma and flavor is packed with “grapefruit, floral, stone fruit, potpourri, woody, coconut, and pine.” She is a high impact hop, bound for plenty of hazy IPAs… There are many other IPA-friendly varieties brewers are just learning or will soon learn the names of, but not all of them will produce beers that “smells like your cat ate your weed and then pissed in the Christmas tree.”

Braumeister Pils beer mat.

What does the term ‘Braumeister’ mean in the 21st century? That’s the question Ben Palmer, a British brewer working in Berlin, asks in his most recent post at Hops & Schwein:

In Germany, the Braumeister title is clearly defined. It is characterised solely by professional training and education… In the rest of the world, the definition of the brew master/master brewer is less stringent. Other institutions offering brew master level qualifications include the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Siebel Academy and UC Davis, just to name a few. And then obviously, there is the unique category of self-proclaimed brew masters without professional qualifications or training but with decades practical brewing experience, and sometimes those without the latter.

And from Twitter, there’s another nugget from photographer Colin Moody’s Bristol pubs project:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 15 August 2020: wine, IPA, Olga’s beer

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from disputes over duty to the language of beer.

First, news of the ongoing debate over changes to small brewers’ relief (SBR), which has now gathered petitions and, of course, put CAMRA in a pickle as it tries to find the correct position. This week, it issued a memo asking branches not to get involved in lobbying on SBR; it then had to issue a clarification (apology) making clear that individual members were, of course, free to sign petitions and lobby as they liked as long as they didn’t imply it was the Campaign’s official position.

Distancing tape.

For Tribune magazine philosopher and writer Tom Whyman has been reflecting on the future of the pub as a public space:

With a dedicated core of regulars, some sort of membership club which offered things like discount pints, exclusive beers, and preferential booking – or perhaps curated beer deliveries, with the staff knowing what everyone likes to drink – would provide the pub with the sort of secure, base-level monthly income which might underpin its long-term viability. Something closer to a private member’s club would also be preferred by people still wary of how responsible other drinkers are being in relation to the pandemic – it would be good to know you were drinking somewhere with people you could trust.

Convenience store and off licence.

It’s a classic format: beer geek tries extra strong cornershop lagers for thrills. But Tom Pears’ piece for Ferment, the magazine of beer retailer Beer 52, is an excellent example, with the added depth lockdown and plague bring to everything:

Finally, it was down to Karpackie. The beer that had haunted the back of my fridge and my dreams for weeks, demonic in its all-black can. The only attention that it pays to any form of branding is the ‘strong’ written in blood red on the front, which serves as both a warning and a tasting note. Foolishly, I’ve read online reviews, even watched a YouTube video, neither did much to temper my nerves. At 9%, it’s only 1% higher in abv that Super Tennant’s, yet it’s infinitely bleaker. A liquid headache, it impressively manages to smell and taste like glue, nail polish remover and petrol all at the same time.


Source: Lars Marius Garshol/Olga’s family.

Lars Marius Garshol has given us another detailed look at brewing on a specific remote Scandinavian farm, this time in Denmark, where people have an “easy, relaxed relationship… with beer as almost an item of everyday diet”:

Lotte said Olga’s last brew was in 1984, when she moved to a care home. The beer was actually served at a kind of celebration for her moving in at the care home. She died in 1988. Lotte took up the brewing again in 2005. She had brewed with Olga, so she knew what to do, but to be absolutely sure she had an older local woman with her “as a consultant.” That old woman had brewed until 2000, so she was probably the last person to brew on Møn before Lotte took up the brewing again.

Wine glasses.

For Burum Collective Rachel Hendry has written about “compound drinking” – that is, what you can learn about wine from drinking beer, and so on:

Whilst tasting wine came with pressures of a looming examination, with beer it was different. With no systematic approach, or a printed list of suitable aromas, I tasted openly, free of a need to point score or impress… Beers tasted of sharp, acidic tomato ketchup and hot dogs quietly smoking on a barbecue. Of leftover peach melba pie eaten for breakfast and the prickly spice of ginger as it wafts through the kitchen. I found I could talk about them with honesty, feeling less like an imposter with a borrowed vocabulary and more like someone who could confidently access their senses… Over time, comparisons and contrasts were made between wine and beer and I began to feel more certain about how my mouth responded to tasting, where tannins grazed my gums and the ways acid streaked down the sides of my mouth.

This week Good Beer Hunting shared three in-depth pieces unpacking exactly why brewing remains effectively closed to black people. The first piece by Mike Jordan digs into structural issues around funding – for various reasons, it is more difficult for black-owned breweries to get loans, grants and to access government support.

The second, by Toni Boyce, argues that a certain smugness and complacency around the idea of the ‘craft beer community’ has held back the discussion and prevented necessary change.

Finally, Dr. J Nikol Jackson-Beckham makes the business case for solving this problem: “The Kellogg report notes that in a little over 25 years, people of color will represent half the total population, and more than half of the working-age population, of the United States.”

Finally, from Matt Curtis for the blog of marketing agency Mash, comes a guide designed to help brewers label their IPAs in ways that will avoid irritating or disappointing consumers:

I can’t state this clearly enough: In a global market of over 20,000 breweries, you need to label your beer in a way that accurately describes to your customers what it’s going to taste like. If you’re going to sell an expensive ticket, the ride should be as advertised.

For more good reading – though not so much this week – check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.