News, Nuggets & Longreads 6 January 2018: There’s a New Year for That

So it’s 2018 and apparently we’re still doing this every Saturday morning: rounding up all the news and commentary on pubs and beer that’s caught our attention in the past week so you can digest the very best with your weekend brekkers.

First, a bit of news, as broken by Will Hawkes for Imbibe: the industry-funded ‘There’s a Beer For That’ campaign is morphing into something else, abandoning consumer advice and engagement in favour of hard-nosed anti-beer-duty campaigning. From where we’re sitting this move makes sense: TABFT never quite came together, and bringing down the price of a pint seems to us to be about the only thing the beer industry might realistically campaign for that could increase pub-going across the board.


Wetherspoon pub sign, Penzance.

This next piece was actually published last summer but passed us by until it was included in a year-end round-up from At the Table and thus went mildly viral. In it Megan Nolan looks back on how, heartbroken and broke after the end of an intense relationship, she fell into the arms of that notorious seducer J.D. Wetherspoon:

On weeks when I wasn’t working, I went to a Wetherspoons near my house to apply for jobs. Limitless refill coffee saw me through to lunchtime, and then a soup and half baguette for £2.30. The pub had the atmosphere of a barely-maintained care home mid-morning. I stared in appalled awe at the elderly Irish men who congregated each day, faces livid with booze. I remembered stories my dad had told me about men in his hometown who had moved to London and failed to find regular work. They lived in abject poverty in shared bedsits, but when they came home for a visit to Ireland would scrape together enough to buy drinks for everyone at the bar – they so badly wanted to pretend they had made it. What was going to happen to me?


Fuller's Vintage Ale 2016.

We’ve been without fully functioning internet for almost a week (it’s back now) which meant we missed the window to turn a casual Tweet from New Year’s Eve into a quick blog post. Fortunately, Alan McLeod did the heavy lifting instead, reflecting on whether the high prices being asked for old bottles of Fuller’s Vintage Ale in any way reflect it’s value:

On beer trading marketplace, if it truly had that value I should be able to sell it back to Fullers or at least my government retailer for something expressing the wholesale current value. It’s been kept in a cool dark cellar and subject to optimum protection. As usual, my claims to provenance were impeccable. If I go back through my tax records I would likely be able to find the receipt for buying it. I expect it would say I spent something like $6.95 CND. Yet… the box was gone and the label encrusted with a bit of mould. Who would want that? I couldn’t sell my Captain Scarlet Dinkie toys in that condition – and I wouldn’t anyway so stop asking.

FWIW, all we wanted to do was make sure our friends knew that the bottle of beer they were about to sling into the bathtub full of ice for general consumption during the evening’s debauch might deserve a little more ceremony in its consumption. Which, we guess, is part of the marketing value for Fuller’s of putting those seemingly mad price-tags on the beer. That and, as Alan suggests, encouraging people to buy twelve of the new batch rather than the usual three, just in case they might one day pay for a house.


Illustration: Testosterone.

We really didn’t know whether to link to this last piece from Bryan Roth for Good Beer Hunting or not. When we bookmarked it for inclusion it had yet to acquire any baggage — we just liked that it highlighted a different, less pointed idea of exclusion in the beer industry, which is to say not active harassment or directed prejudice but rather a constant background blokeishness that might be quietly off-putting to anyone other than a certain type of blokey bloke. That’s something we recognise in the UK industry, too, though of course it takes a slightly different form here.

Since then, however, the article has generated an enormous amount of drama and criticism, ranging from nitpicking complaints about journalistic protocol and structure (it is a bit of a ramble), to the now obligatory outrage over supposed ‘political correctness’, spiced with accusations of hypocrisy.

But let’s keep this simple: we read the article, we found it interesting, it is an attempt to prompt people to do the right thing, and we admire Mr Roth’s discovery of a new angle. It’s up to you whether you wish to engage in the wider soap opera but, as an article in its own right, it’s worth seven minutes of anyone’s time.


Marble Brewery beer mat.

Manchester brewery Marble is engaged in a dispute over a lovely but confusing beer called Pint which it sells not only as a cask ale but also in 500ml cans. Jim at Beers Manchester offers a heartfelt, understandably partisan summary of the situation:

Because a product – a beer – has a name “Pint”, it would appear that it would be ill advised to sell it in 1/2 litre cans. Because ONE PERSON reported it as being potentially misleading. Because its name was in bold – and the measurement information was in the same size as most other canned beers… So. Change size or rename an iconic Mancunian Pale Ale? … [If] it’s the latter, I’d like the numpty who reported this to Trading Standards to reveal him/herself. And explain the thought process that leads to a small business having to change something so special to me – and many many others.

(Much as we understand the frustration, as with the Tiny Rebel situation before Christmas, we find ourselves out of step with the general mood here. For one thing, we’ve always found Pint a pain in the arse to order in a pub — “Pint and a half of Pint, please” is vaguely amusing the first time but quickly palls — and, for another, can’t imagine anyone expecting Trading Standards, which after all has yer actual legislation to enforce, to give AB-InBev a pass in the same situation.)


The Session, that venerable institution that some say predates the invention of the internet itself, is in a spot of bother this month as the intended host didn’t get round to organising a topic due to a small matter of California wildfires. But at the last minute one of the co-founders, Jay Brooks, has stepped in with an emergency topic for Session #131, or rather three short topics. If you have a beer blog, or want to, now’s your chance to join in. We’ll be posting something later today.


We’re going to wrap up with one of our own Tweets — a poll, in fact, to which more than 700 people responded. For now we’re not going to offer commentary other than to say that this is a reminder of how dominant pessimistic voices can seem, and how unpersuasive they apparently are.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 December 2017: Helensburgh, Hammers, Home-brewing

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in this final week of 2017.

It’s been slim pickings with the Christmas break and the ubiquity of Golden Pints (check out the hashtag on Twitter) but we found a few things to chew on. First, there’s this stream of recollection by Peter McKerry at Brew Geekery which amounts to a tour of pubs that have meant the most to him over the years:

Then it was the Clyde Bar in Helensburgh, a well-healed town on the Clyde coast, during a prolonged period of unemployment in my early 20s. I’d drop in for a few Tennent’s on ‘Giro Day’, and it was here that I witnessed taxi driver and regular, Dermot, rescue eight pence from the trough WHILE I WAS URINATING IN IT. While that event is imprinted onto my mind (it was a 5p, 2p and a 1p), it gives a false impression of the pub. It was a great live music venue, and featured in a video from purveyors of beige jock rock, Travis, if such trivia interests you.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 9 December 2017: SIBA, Spitfire, Shaving Foam

There’s everything in beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week from the ethics of milk production to fake restaurants.

Let’s get actual news out of the way before we get into the fun stuff. First, as has rumoured for a while, Norwich’s Redwell Brewery has been struggling and formally went into administration on Monday last. But — good news for those facing redundancy in the run up to Christmas — it has now been acquired by a group of saviour investors. Doug Faulkner at the Eastern Daily Press broke the story here.

SIBA, the body that represents (some) small brewers (with increasing controversy) has acquired a majority stake in cask ale distribution company Flying Firkin. This further muddies the waters around SIBA’s role — isn’t it these days a primarily commercial operation in competition with its own members? Their responses to that and other questions are here, in a PDF.(Via the Brewers Journal.)

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) will have a new national chair from April next year as the forthright Colin Valentine hands over control to Jackie Parker, the current vice-chair. (Via Beer Today.)


Detail from the poster for the 2017 Pigs Ear festival.

Also sort of news, we guess: Rebecca Pate has dedicated herself to reviewing  beer festivals and events this year and her notes on the East London CAMRA Pig’s Ear festival are just about still topical as it runs until 23:00 tonight: “[As] a showcase of a huge amount of excellent and interesting cask beers, Pigs Ear demonstrated that cask events can achieve a great atmosphere with limited fuss, provided that the beer selection is worthwhile.”

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 December 2017: Brixton, Walkabout, TransPennine Trains

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from sexist beer branding to chronic Oztalgia.

First, that brewery takeover news. Well, we say ‘takeover’ but in fact Heineken has actually acquired a non-controlling (49 per cent) stake in south London’s Brixton Brewery. With this, Camden Town and London Fields in mind, it begins to seem that the key to luring in investment from Big Beer is a good neighbourhood-specific brand name. We can certainly imagine Brixton Craft Lager competing for bar-space with Camden Hells in the near future. The general reaction seems to be neutral, shading positive — ‘good for them’ — but this slam from Yes! Ale reflects the counterview: “You may as well be pissin’ straight into the fermenter, Moneybags.”

Meanwhile, Spanish firm Mahou San Miguel has acquired a 30 per cent stake in Avery, a brewery in Colorado, while AB-InBev has acquired Australian upstarts Pirate Life lock, stock and (ahem) barrel. December is a busy time for this kind of activity every year now, it seems, perhaps for as obvious a reason as everyone scrambling to wrap up negotiations before the Christmas lull.

One final bit of reading on this: Richard Taylor of BrewDog writing at the BeerCast suggests that the Pirate Life story might signal how this will play out in future takeovers, with Big Beer winning over reluctant craft brewers with the offer of a separate smaller brewery to play around on making sour beers or whatever. “Hey guys, it’s fine”, he imagines the Big Beer negotiators saying. “We’ll build a new brewery for your core stuff and push it to market. You can keep the old kit and go wild on it. Brew what you like! Go for IT! HIGH FIVE. NOW. HIGH FIVE US LIKE A DUDE. RADICAL!’”

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 November 2017: Fenlands, FOBAB, Froth

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from pastry stout to cask quality.

First up, Canadian beer historian Gary Gillman has done something that, for some reason, nobody in the UK seems to have thought worthwhile, and looked into the history of that most controversial of widgets, the sparkler:

The sparkler was invented and patented in the early 1880s by George Barker. He advertised the device for sale in 1885 and identified himself as from the “Crown Hotel, Ince, near Wigan”.

(As always the mention of a sparkler summons Tandleman to the comments which are worth reading for additional context.)


Dunwich sign.

Dave S, a regular commenter here, lives in Cambridge and has been pondering  The Psychogeography of Fenland Mild. As well as some rather lovely prose evoking the landscape of East Anglia he offers this incisive suggestion:

My advice to a brewer wanting to make beer with a ‘sense of place’ is that they should stop worrying about where their ingredients come from and look at where their end product goes to. They should sell locally, and drink locally themselves. They should see what people respond to – what makes sense for their local drinkers, in their surroundings, with their climate – and adapt and evolve to the place where they’re based.

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