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News, nuggets and longreads 14 August 2021: Ethics, pottery, super yeast

We’re on our travels (London) so it’s just a quick round-up this morning. Still, there’s plenty of good stuff to read, from the technicalities of yeast to the significance of pottery.

First, a potentially interesting resource is emerging at Laura Hadland’s website – a directory of sustainable, ethical brewing companies in the UK. In the wake of recent campaigns against sexism and bullying, various people have been asking “But who should I buy from?” This attempts to answer that question. What will be especially interesting, we suppose, is whether people pipe up now to say, “Er, actually, that brewery might not be so squeaky clean…”


Throughout the pandemic, we’ve enjoyed Mark Johnson’s reflections on pubs under varying degrees of restriction. He has a knack for honestly interrogating his own feelings and reporting from the gut. In his latest piece, he reflects on his first trip to the pub in the wake of the removal of restrictions:

I enter the pub, walk up to the bar area for the first time since March 2020, order a beer, go to take a seat and then just… stay. Stood up. Still a reasonable distance from any staff. Pint resting on the bar. And I’m just there. No drama. No feeling of trepidation. No reticence from staff. Just having a pint in a pub… For somebody who can over-romanticise much about beer drinking, nothing about the action felt monumental. It felt noteworthy but undramatic.


Eoghan Walsh’s mission to record the history of Brussels’ beer in 50 objects has reached number five: The Coudenberg Cruche. That is, a chipped old jug:

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands, and patron of rapacious conquistadors. Charles would start his days in Brussels with a warm beer, and go from there. Breakfast of fowl at five in the morning, then mass. A 20-course noonday lunch of game from the nearby Warande hunting grounds, and heaps of oysters, eel pies and anchovies. More anchovies at eight, and a midnight supper… Charles would wash it all down with lashings of chilled beer (or wine) – particularly beer from Mechelen, where he grew up – served from ceramic jugs into his four-handled mug. With this diet, it is no surprise gluttonous Charles regularly suffered debilitating attacks of gout.


We’ll be honest – some of this goes over our heads – but Lars Marius Garshol’s attempts to explain the science behind why Kveik is a ‘super yeast’ gets it closer to our heads than most writers could manage:

When I say kveik is unusually robust, what do I actually mean? It can handle higher temperatures than most yeasts. It has higher alcohol tolerance (13-16%) than most yeast (8-10%). It can be dried (that’s unusual). Richard once remarked that kveik dried by farmhouse brewers at home was in many cases healthier after rehydration than dried yeast from multi-billion-dollar companies. It can be frozen (also unusual). It can probably handle higher sugar concentrations than most yeasts (not documented, but I’m pretty sure it’s the case). It can be stored for longer than most yeasts.


At Craft Beer & Brewing Annie Johnson offers tips on brewing saison with extracts:

A typical all-grain grist might consist of 100 percent pilsner malt, or it may include portions of wheat, spelt, or other grains. (What did the farm have for surplus that season?) For our purposes, a straight pilsner-malt extract, or pilsner extract with a bit of Munich for color, plus flaked, malted, or torrefied grains such as oats, spelt, or wheat work nicely. Other options include rye, corn, or rice—but keep in mind that you can’t use corn grits or ground rice unless they’re pre-gelatinized. You can use a cereal cooker for that; otherwise, be sure to get the flaked versions. However, don’t over-complicate the mash bill—this is not a kitchen-sink beer.

We’ll admit that this leapt out to us because we haven’t brewed for years but, having moved into our own place, the temptation is rising – and extract brewing would make it a lot less time consuming. Maybe soon.


At Lior Locher’s Beer Musings, Lior Locher offers a small, lyrical piece about growing up around the smell of hops:

Hops smell like home. Like summer holidays. Like barbecues. Like stories from aunties and uncles. Smells allow us to bypass our rational mind altogether as memories and clusters of feelings emerge. Walkaround full-body polaroids.


Finally, from Twitter…

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 7 August 2021: Whiplash & Weinhard

Here’s everything interesting on beer, brewing and pubs that we spotted in the past week, from public house public art to oral history.

First, news of an interesting crowdfunding campaign from Manchester: a post-war estate pub in Collyhurst happens to have a notable fibreglass frieze by sculptor Alan Boyson which the landlord would like to preserve and repair. The Modernist Society is supporting him, aiming to raise £2,500 to cover the cost of restoration; they’ve also provided a potted history of the frieze and the pub on the crowdfunding page.


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

We’ve been following Dr Christina Wade’s posts highlighting mentions of beer on ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets for a while. Now, she’s had a go at making a beer based on information those tablets provide:

The first step in my process was making bappir, which is often translated as a kind of beer bread.  What exactly bappir was though, is highly contested. However, Peter Damerow argued that bappir was ‘registered instead using capacity measures just as the coarse ground barley’. Further, he found evidence of bappir being referred to as ‘crushed’. This led me to conclude that bappir might not be exactly a type of bread in our own modern definition, but more like a kind of cracker… So with this knowledge in mind, I was reminded of how I made malt biscuits for my malt tonic experiment a bit ago and opted to make my bappir in a similar manner.


Brewers' boots at the brewery.
SOURCE: Pellicle/Breandán Kearney.

At Pellicle Breandán Kearney profiles Whiplash Beer of Dublin:

Early one morning in October 2018, Alex Lawes travelled to Renmore Business Park in the Irish town of Kilcoole in Co. Wicklow. Several beers he had brewed were due gravity readings, dry hop additions, and temperature adjustments in the space he was renting… On arrival, Alex wasn’t able to enter the facility. He had been locked out. Without the beer sitting in those tanks, and with no production facility of his own, Alex—having recently just given up his day job at Rye River Brewing to pursue his own dream—didn’t know how he would be able to continue. He called a solicitor. Within days, Justice Caroline Costello was presiding over the matter in the High Court of Ireland.

The story is interesting, and Breandán’s narrative technique makes it more so, but what really stands out is this article’s acknowledgement of tension and conflict. When did you last read a piece about a brewery which includes a note saying the brewery in question had refused to answer one of the writer’s questions?


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

At Quare Swally brewer A.J. Cox writes about her personal experience of sexism in the beer industry – evidence that this conversation isn’t over, or going away:

Part of our discussion around unequal workplaces must include addressing the idea of who belongs in a brewery, so I’ll start there with an example that might seem harmless enough, but actually demonstrates the far reaching nature of patriarchal norms, and how they impact who is allowed to brew. Many men I have worked with or in close proximity to, claim they want diverse workplaces. I often have heard statements such as, “I don’t have a problem with a woman around as long as she can do the job,” or “I am fine with any gender who can do the job, but most women aren’t as strong as you.” What men don’t realize is that they’re asking for the rest of us to adhere to some very toxic standards of “doing the job.” Including but not limited to; physical demands that quite frankly I would say are problematic regardless of a person’s body size or fitness level. Many brewers bemoan our chronic back pain by the time we’re in our mid-20s and that’s considered standard practice; we lift, mash, haul and package until we are literally in pain.


SOURCE: Chronicling America/Beer et seq.

We’d never really thought about what World War II did to brewing worldwide given the importance of German and Czech hops. For Beer et seq., Gary Gillman provides notes on how the American brewing industry1 responded to the scarcity of noble hops from Europe:

Certainly once the war began for the United States, European hops from any source… including Great Britain, did not enter the U.S…. American hop growers made some efforts to grow a hop with European characteristics, and would keep trying for the next 30 years. Indirectly this led to the hops that power craft brewing, as the first star, the Cascade hop, was intended initially to replace European noble hops.


Henry Weinhard
Henry Weinhard. SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons.

We first heard of Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve when we interviewed Brendan Dobbin, one of the first brewers to use American hops in UK brewing. Now, at Beervana, Jeff Alworth tells the story of this unusual (cult?) beer in what amounts to its obituary:

To be clear, the 45-year-old brand was a zombie beer, having died decades ago when Miller shuttered the old Blitz-Weinhard plant on Burnside Street in downtown Portland. The company moved production to Full Sail for a time and then I don’t know what happened to it… And yet, as important as Henry’s was historically, as a beer it was pretty tame stuff. When we look into the past through our filter of nostalgia, we can sometimes convince ourselves Private Reserve was some kind of titan of flavor, yet it was very much a mass market lager. A slightly more flavorful one, true, and one that harnessed the new indigenous hops, Cascade, that would change beer forever, also true, but still a classic American domestic adjunct lager. It was good, in other words, for what it was.


Molson Coors brewery at Burton.

At Good Beer Hunting Mark Dredge has found an interesting angle for reflection on the importance of Burton-on-Trent – one that might benefit more writing about beer history. Getting out of the archives, he has spoken to people who grew up in Burton, and lived and worked in brewing:

Most of the group smile and laugh as they share their experiences growing up in Burton during the 1950s and 1960s. Though not Joyce, a nurse who moved to Burton from Ireland as a 17-year-old. She remembers the town’s distinct odor: “The smell was horrendous!”… If smell is the sense most associated with memory, the town’s since-vanished odor still remains vivid among those who experienced it. “What a cacophony of blinking smells!” says Steve Topliss, former Ind Coope head brewer. “Gee whiz. I loved it, but the smells were unbelievable.”


Finally, from Twitter…

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

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News, nuggets and longreads 31 July 2021: Troubled waters

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that struck as bookmarkworthy in the past week, from bar work to the politics of the pub.

First, some reporting from the frontline of bar work, where the BBC has found some depressing stories of people being encouraged to ignore NHS track and trace:

Ralph (not his real name) can relate to this pressure. He’s 27, works in a bar in London and has been told to delete the app, although he’s decided to go against his manager… “Having the app is the right thing to do and whether or not I’ve got a manager telling me to have it, I’m going to keep it,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat… Ralph has also been told to ignore being pinged, even after doing a shift with a colleague who tested positive… “The app said I needed to isolate for 8 days, so I told my manager straightaway. He said to come in, take one lateral flow test and if that’s negative to continue working.”


On a cheerier note, faced with the possibility of a second year without a Great British Beer Festival, CAMRA has decided to run it as a virtual event in pubs across the country, running until 8 August:

With the support of CAMRA branches across the UK, pubs will be staging their own mini beer festivals, beer tastings, tap takeovers, brewery talks, special events or just adding some guest real ales and ciders to the bar – to support the pub and brewing industry, and the GBBF ethos for great beer and cider, camaraderie and good fun.

Pandemic or no pandemic, we quite like this idea.


For Sourced, Anja Madhvani has written in-depth about IPA and ongoing attempts to grapple with the colonial legacy in beer:

India Pale Ale is now so far removed from its origins that it could be time to look for a new label for our brews. But to my mind, separating these beers from their colonial titles should only be done if it comes with loud and impactful education, both within our businesses, and across our consumer base. Statues can be placed in national museums to remind us of past actions, but if we lose the story of IPA, we lose another context through which to understand a troubled relationship between Britain and the wider world. If we wish to topple the statue of the IPA name we must first know exactly what it represents. This dismantling must be done with intent for better futures, and not for the masking of past wrongdoings.


Hops

Stan Hieronymus continues to provide detailed reports from his particular beat, namely the world of hops. This week, it’s a worrying update on the effect of global warming on hop growing entitled ‘There will be hops, but climate change is real’:

Steve Carpenter, chief supply chain officer, figures this is the 59th harvest that he remembers (starting when he was a 5-year-old following his father around). He talked about 1980, when Mount St. Helens erupted in May, covering young plants with hot ash. “What I’ve discovered when these events happen, none are as bad as they seem initially,” he said. Given time, and there has been time, hop plants are resilient. “If you have a hop contract I wouldn’t worry at all. At least right now,” he said. (Right now, he allowed, because much can happen in a month. Last year, it appeared there would be a bumper crop. Then late heat, a hundred-year blast of wind and smoke for nearby fires turned a boom harvest into a bust harvest. “In the USA, we really felt the effects of the climate crisis last year for the first time,” Alex Barth, CEO at John I. Haas, said in the BarthHaas annual report.)


St George flags outside a pub.

For the popular academic magazine The Conversation postdoctoral researcher Diane Bolet has shared notes from her research into the connection between the decline of community pubs and support for radical-right political parties:

I found that people living in districts with one such pub closure per year are more likely to support UKIP than any other party by around 4.3 percentage points. The effect is magnified under conditions of material deprivation… UKIP support was only tied to the closure of a certain type of pub though – what I see as “community pubs”… My research suggests there is an element of socio-cultural degradation at play too. Closing social places that are at the heart of local communities contributes to social isolation and feelings that one’s socio-cultural heritage is under attack. The loss of these places leads people who usually frequent them to question their place within society and may lead them susceptible to the “left behind” narratives that are the stock and trade of the radical right.


The old Courage brewery on the Thames.

Martyn Cornell has provided detailed notes on the sources of water for London’s brewing industry between the 16th and 19th centuries, highlighting in particular the importance of river water:

The Thames was one resource, of course, and despite the mythology that surrounds the river’s historic alleged unwholesomeness, brewers made use of its water to brew their beer for centuries: In 1509 the Bishop of Winchester (who owned considerable land alongside the river in Southwark – much of it occupied by brothels[1]) and the Priory of St Mary Overies granted a license to the brewers of Southwark to have passage with their carts “from ye Borough of Southwark until the Themmys … to fetch water … to brew with,” so long as the brewers did not try to claim the passage as a highway… [It] was written in 1839 that four London porter brewers were still using Thames water to make their beer, though that represented “not a sixth part” of the total production of porter in the capital, and “the breweries have in most cases private wells.”


Finally, from Twitter, a hidden architectural gem…

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

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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.”


Bitter.

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.

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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.


Charleston

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.