Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting in this final week of May.
First, some very sad news: Roger Ryman, brewing director at St Austell and creator of Tribute and Proper Job, has died of cancer at the age of 52. This obituary by Cornwall-based beer writer Darren Norbury at Beer Today says it all, really. We met Mr Ryman a few times and he was always a pleasure to deal with and remarkably open in response to any question we asked.
“That is pretty much all down to our landlord,” Chatwin, 40, says. “I think at the end of the day, [with] him being an old publican and an individual as opposed to a massive company, we will be able to salvage that somehow… On the other hand, we owe a lot of suppliers money, about £30,000. Pretty much all of them have been pretty understanding because they are often in the same boat as us… But I think it will come to a crunch point. It’s a massive elongated chain, isn’t it? As soon as one person in that chain is like, “Fuck, I need money,” then the whole pyramid falls down. But at the moment everybody has been pretty nice about the situation.”
Here’s a round-up of beer-related news, commentary and history from the past week, from Carlsberg to classified information.
The week’s big news was the announcement of a ‘joint venture’ between multinational giant Carlsberg and the UK’s largest independent brewery, Marston’s. The new company, Carlsberg Marston’s, is 60% owned by Carlsberg and does not include Marston’s estate of 1,400 pubs. Carlsberg now owns, to all intents and purposes, not only the Marston’s brand but also Brakspear, Ringwood, Banks’s and others.
The passing mention came in a pamphlet dated Wednesday May 22 1721 and written by the then-23-year-old Whig satirist and polemicist Nicholas Amhurst (1697-1742). Amhurst implied that porter was a poor person’s drink, writing that “Whigs … think even poverty much preferable to bondage; had rather dine at a cook’s shop upon beef, cabbage, and porter, than tug at an oar, or rot in a dark stinking dungeon.”… The fact that Amhurst (who is buried in Twickenham, less than a mile and a half from where I am writing this) felt no need to explain what porter was suggests it would have been a familiar word to his audience, even if no one had ever put it into print before.
Jan “Hanz” Charvat (Zlý Časy, Pivkupectví, Bad Flash): The news caught me in Vietnam and I had to sort everything out with the staff over WhatsApp. The pub was fully closed over the first weekend and on the first Monday we opened the takeaway window, which has remained open throughout. The turnover is 15% of the normal. This covers the wages of the person at the window and maybe the energy costs. I’ll borrow money for the rent and the rest. The sales at Pivkupectví (the bottle shop) are the same, maybe a little higher.
Milwaukee’s leaders stepped up in a crisis, and largely handled it well. But, for the city’s brewers and saloonkeepers, this wasn’t the only battle to fight. From a business standpoint, it probably wasn’t the most important battle in the fall of 1918, nor the second, and maybe not even the third. After all, when the President criminalizes your beer supply, a university threatens to shut you down completely, the Senate tries to brand you a traitor, and a pandemic ravages your community—all at the same time—how do you decide what takes priority?
Is it even possible to write about pubs without getting lost in philosophical questions about what makes a pub a pub? For Wired magazine, Tristan Cross writes about how yearning for his South London prompted him to build a virtual reality replica of the pub from scratch:
Finally, after weeks of effort and days of rendering, I’ve done it. I’ve made Skehans, and I’ve brought my friends inside. Despite beaming at being able to hear to their utterly depraved nonsense again, it’s still not quite right… I’m there, in Skehan’s with my nearest and dearest, but they can’t see or hear me. It’s like I’ve died and been sent to haunt them on a night out. The simulation is nearly there. It has the pub and the people, but you, the player, are absent.
Jeff Alworth continues his survey of classic beers at Beervana with notes on Anchor Steam, somehow finding new things to say, and wrapping it all up in an elegantly readable package:
In choosing the combination of two-row and pale, Anchor created the blueprint that would dominate craft brewing for two decades. The pale malt available then was so free of character it was often called ‘sugar’ for its capacity to ferment cleanly. The caramel malts provided body (not typical in lagers), sweetness, and flavor. Until well into the 2000s, that was the character of most craft beer… They chose an old hop variety in Northern Brewer, first grown in England in 1934. This, combined with the open fermentation, gave the beer a distinctly British flavor. When craft breweries started opening up along the West Coast in the 1970s and 80s, they followed this general profile…
[It’s] not only me who thinks baking yeast can make good beer. Kristoffer Krogerus did a scientific evaluation of Suomen Hiiva and found it to be “perfectly usable for beer fermentations”. Brulosophy also did a recent experiment with baking yeast and although people could tell the difference, 1 in 3 preferred the version with baking yeast… So a lot of different bread yeasts really do produce good beer. Why?
A footnote from us: a few years ago, we wrote about Cornish swanky beer, including a recipe, and recommended fermenting with baking yeast. That really seemed to annoy people even thought it worked, based on the evidence of our own tastebuds.
McEwan’s Pale Ale… Always in pint screwtop bottles. I used to drink this in Dumbarton when in certain pubs. McEwan’s Pale Ale was also the first beer I ever tasted. Darkish, not too sweet and hardly strong at all. A great thirst quencher. And I liked pints bottles. Sometimes it was a Belhaven Screwtop or, if flush, Whitbread Pale Ale.
The comments are great, too, though, with plenty of other people joining in the game. Us? We’re still thinking.
The Campaign for Real Ale has taken the interesting step of launching a consumer beer retail platform, Brew2You. The idea is that drinkers download an app and use it to buy beer from local brewers and pubs. CAMRA doesn’t take a cut but it does add a 5% admin fee to cover costs. We’ll probably be giving it a go.
Finally, from Twitter – cor, blimey, what a turn up!
Mark Johnson’s detailed consideration of how the re-opening of pubs might work in practice is extremely though-provoking, not least his constant exhortation that, yes, most of the suggested measures will make pubs less convivial and occasionally frustrating but the alternative – no pubs for a year – doesn’t bear thinking about.
And for Look at Brew, Rachel Smith writes about her confidence that whatever coping mechanisms we develop during these strange times, we’re creatures of habit who will return to the old ways as soon as the opportunity arises:
I wonder how many new habits will have been formed over these weeks of altered routine. I like my new habit of ambling riverside, I like seeing the way the local nature changes week by week under the watchful eyes of the old oaks, just a few minutes from the town centre. It seems the high street’s death has been put on a fast track, though, as larger retail outlets may never recover from this period which has seen folk resort to online ordering and staying super local, supporting smaller independent shops nearby. But what about pubs? Pubs are different. There is no substitute for going to the pub, no matter how hard some voices may try to convince us otherwise. As nature is returning to some parts of the country during lockdown, so too will wildlife of a different nature return to the pubs and social clubs when this is over.
We’ve taken to talking about the COVID-19 event as The Great Disruptor. Lots of stuff that would otherwise have been unthinkable, or years down the road, will just happen. However things unfold, we don’t think UK pubs will look or feel the same at the end of 2021 as they did at the end of 2019.