These are all the stories about beer and pubs we enjoyed most, or learned the most from, in the past week, from Wetherspoons to museums.
From Jeff Alworth, an epic – a two-parter pondering the question of why we like certain beers and dislike others:
Let’s try a thought experiment. Select one of your favorite beers and think about why you like it. If I ask you to tell me the reasons, my guess is that you will talk about the type of beer it is and which flavors you like. Since you’re reading this blog, you might talk about ingredient or even process (Citra hops! Decoction mashing!). If I asked a casual drinker, someone who drinks Michelob Ultra, say, I’d hear different reasons, but probably something along the lines Elizabeth Warren offered: it’s “the club soda of beers.” No matter one’s level of knowledge, our opinions about beer appear to come from the liquid itself.
Tandleman has been observing what he calls the “slightly tense calm” of early morning in a Wetherspoon pub:
By 8.50 there is a palpable sense of expectation in the air. Eyes flick towards the bar. A few more arrive. Minutes tick away and suddenly there are people coming back to their tables with pints of beer and lager. One dedicated soul has two, which he arranges carefully in front of him, rims almost touching. Overall pints are evenly split between lager and John Smith’s Smooth.
There were 42,450 pubs at the beginning of 2018 but 914 fewer by the end of the year, a rate of 76 net closures a month. But 235 vanished during the first half of this year, or nearly 40 a month, according to government statistics… The commercial real estate consultancy Altus Group, which compiled the data, said government measures designed to staunch the flow of pub closures appeared to be having some effect.
It’s always exciting to see that there’s been a new post by Stephen Marland at Manchester’s Estate Pubs and this week we got two:
There is something in cask-ale culture that has long looked with distaste upon an abundance of bubbles. In this world, quite at odds with that of the bottle-conditioning Belgians, fizz is foreign. The bartender who can pump a pint of Bitter to the meniscus-straining lip of a session glass achieves the approbation of the penny-pinching pub-goer… These old geezers were the ur-Icemen… Do I commit an injustice against them? Is this an aesthetic choice, rather than one of economy? Or perhaps an ideological one—a manifesto statement on the seriousness of cask ale?
Like everyone has a favourite ring on the cooker, everyone has a favourite corner of the bar, and mine is front right for both. I think I had a John Smiths, I can’t remember, but it certainly wouldn’t be anything either craft or Spanish. I was on holiday from more than work, I declared myself on holiday from beer geekery… When we returned to O’Malley’s the following day, our host actually greeted us. “How’s life Richi?” asked Darren with a cheery demeanor. Richi shrugged. “You want the real answer or the bullshit customer answer?” We asked for the real answer. “I hate my life, I hate my job, I wish I was on holiday like you, now what do you want?”
It was odd seeing some internet opprobrium being meted out to London brewer Partizan when they announced they had created a collaboration series of beers with the Guinness Open Gate Brewery. Craft die-hards taking a pop at the macros and anyone too close to them is not unusual, but I didn’t see anyone having a go at another Londoner, 40FT, when it did something similar. Partizan seems to be held to a different standard… Three collaboration brews were created, two at Open Gate and one at Partizan. The theme of the series was Italian-style aperitifs.
And Ian Webster tells us where to drink in that great pilgrimage place of British brewing, Burton upon Trent.
A bit of pub ownership news:Stonegate has bought Ei Group (formerly Enterprise Inns). This adds 4,000 pubs to the Stonegate estate making it the largest in the UK. Never heard of Stonegate? Not many people have. It operates through sub-brands and tends to keep its name off fascias and in-pub collateral.
Compare [1990s lager ads] to recent advertising by Maltsmiths—a pseudo-craft sub brand invented by the marketing masterminds at Dutch multinational, Heineken—and you’ll see something quite different. In its advertising there is no nod to the provenance of its ingredients or the brewery in Scotland where it is made. Instead we see a young, female brewer, cartwheeling over hose pipes and around fermentation vessels seemingly in celebration of the beer’s very existence. Honestly, if health and safety got wind of this there’d be hell to pay.
For Deserter Tristan Parker has written about the history and present incarnation of The Fellowship at Bellingham, south London – a pub we studied for 20th Century Pub and visited during its final days as a half-derelict, quiet, down-at-heel boozer. These days, though…
Locals seemed understandably pleased to have a buzzy new pub, as what felt like most of Bellingham appeared to be inside. This was a good sign: The Fellowship was redeveloped to serve the community and on day one that’s exactly what it was doing. Let’s hope that continues… Inside, it’s a vast space that still retains some of the look of the old venue, plus a bit of kooky art and kitsch wallpaper here and there. Reminders of the pub’s past also adorn the walls, including boxing gloves and photos of ‘Our ’Enry’ battling Ali.
Meanwhile, Jane Peyton has been hanging out at The Blackfriar, a famous Victorian-Edwardian pub just beyond the boundary of the City of London, and expresses great enthusiasm for its over-the-top 1905 decorative scheme:
It’s show-time! That phrase sings in my head each time I visit London’s Blackfriar pub. If Walt Disney had been a pub designer this is what he would have devised. Every surface of this spectacular Arts & Crafts/Art Nouveau hostelry is decorated and then decorated again. More is more is more. If minimalism is your style then either wear sunglasses in this pub or go to the post-industrial concrete bunker boozer nearby.
Born in Kenya and raised by his great uncle (his father threw him out when he was six years old), Jonny first came to the UK when he was 13 to complete his schooling, before returning to Kenya to work on his uncle’s farm. His goal was to gain enough experience to qualify for further study at Devon’s Seale-Hayne agricultural college, but there were a couple of bumps in his road back to the UK. Firstly, his father tried to have him kidnapped because he thought Jonny was wasting his time with farming and should join the Kenyan army. Fortunately it was thwarted when Jonny bought the would-be kidnappers a pint and convinced them it would be a bad idea. Secondly, the college wouldn’t admit him based on his time working in Kenya, demanding instead that his practical experience be undertaken in the UK.
Finally, here’s a fantastic photo of a late legendary Bristol pub landlord.
The company’s investors – many of whom were local to Woolwich – will receive nothing from the sale, which came a month after the company’s Twitter account announced: “Nearly there with something great for Hop Stuff!” One of the founders of the company, James Yeomans, set up a new company, JY Advisory Ltd, in March, while Hop Stuff was in turmoil, according to Companies House records. His wife, Emma Yeomans, who founded the company with him, resigned from Hop Stuff in April.
Slowing down proceedings and starting negotiations well beyond “reasonable” terms aren’t the only ways that large pub companies are trying to restrict the number of publicans going free of tie. In Heineken’s case, the acquisitions of Beavertown Brewery and Brixton Brewery were in part to offer beer with “craft” credentials to their 2,000-strong Star Pubs & Bars’ estate, intending to remove one motive for publicans to look elsewhere. This in turn has shut out other large breweries and distributors who had hoped to sign large contracts with Star and Punch pubs.
(For years, people have been saying we need more coverage of the business side of pubs and brewing; it feels as if we’re getting there, to the point that there’s a sense of competition to break stories fastest, have the sharpest take, dig up the best source. Good news, that.)
Beer is awful. At least, it is at first. Beer is this orange mess you have to force yourself to like because everyone else is drinking it. That first pint you get as a teenager, that wondrous moment when you get to drink what everyone else drinks… and then you taste it and it’s bitter and flat and gross… Of course, you have to train yourself. You have to force yourself to have more and eventually you get used to it. After a while you sort of like it. Then you really like it. Then you end up an alcoholic like me.
A fascinating nugget from Martyn Cornell: we’ve all heard about the London porter flood of 1814, a staple of did-you-know pieces for some years now, but Manchester had a go in 1831. He writes:
[The] vat that burst at Meux’s brewery, off Tottenham Court Road, containing nearly six times as much porter as the one that collapsed at Mottram’s brewery in Salford in 1831, but eight people, all women and children, died in the London flood, while the only real victim of the one in Salford was a pig that must have had a serious hangover the next day.
After our cathartic reunion, we quickly returned to our wry, laconic selves and moved on to The Royal Standard… The pub was of the carpeted, live sports, local boozer variety. Men sat drinking, singly and in pairs. I ventured to the gents and a solo drinker followed me. He joined me at the urinals, gave me a cheeky wink and said, “it go in one end and out the t’other, dun’t it!” This remarkable insight, delivered in a jaunty iambic hexameter, gave me pause for thought. Yes, I thought to myself, my God, yes — the fellow is right! He then asked me if I was a local, the flatterer. I admitted that, no, I lived near Kingston. He then proceeded to reel off an accurate list of all the riverside pubs south of Kingston Bridge. What a man.
And, finally, we don’t exactly why, but we love this image:
Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week in the world of beer and pubs, from retailers to railways. (A more fruitful week than last.)
First, big takeover news: Beer Hawk, the online retail outfit taken over by AB-InBev in 2016, has itself absorbed two others this week. First, it took on what remained of The Bottle Shop and then sucked in BeerBods, famous for its drink-along-together social media events.
(Disclosure: Chris France from Beer Hawk is one of our Patreon supporters and we were once paid to write an article for BeerBods.)
This all feels quite sudden and shocking and BeerBods in particular did at times approach feeling like a community so there’s been a bit of understandable emotion around it. But retail isn’t brewing – it doesn’t excite or interest people in the same way – and consumers will probably forget this fairly quickly.
The remaining independent shops and sellers, however, will no doubt be feeling the pressure.
In truth the Soho that the Coach and Horses epitomised – bohemian, transgressive, hopelessly drunk – no longer exists, and any attempt to return to the “features that have made it such a famous pub”, as Fuller’s pledges to do, are doomed to be an exercise in museum curation. What we most love about the past is that is no longer here… Yearning for the idealised pub of yore is not, however, a new pastime. It’s probably almost as old as pubs themselves. Indeed, reminiscing about how a given pub used to be is a staple of pub conversation. The nostalgic lament is, after all, practically a symptom of inebriation.
From Ian Thurman comes this interesting nugget: after he complained about the quality of a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord on Twitter, the brewery got in touch to ask for more information, sent someone in to deliver training at the pub, and fixed the problem.
4. There was a brief panic among beer geeks when it seemed as if Eurostar had set a limit on the amount of beer it was permissible to carry on cross-channel trains; Eurostar has since clarified that the rule isn’t as draconian in practice as it sounded on paper.
We’ll finish this with a Tweet:
‘Do you gollop your beer with zest? If so! You are unanimously elected a Member of Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers’. 1920s membership book for a Miss M. Bellamy of Leytonstone. 🍺 pic.twitter.com/pPHJTlQCHR
Here’s everything that struck us as interesting, amusing or eye-opening in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from Burning Soul to the future of CAMRA.
First, some sad news: Mordue Brewery has gone into administration. Founded in North Shields in 1995, Mordue was best known for its Workie Ticket real ale. The Newcastle Chronicle includes some telling lines from co-founder Garry Fawson:
“We have been looking to get investment over the last 12 months but with no luck. We then put the brewery up for sale and again no serious interest, which was particularly disappointing to Matt and I… If you have won the amount of awards that we have and still no interest in buying the business then we are just lost for words, to be honest… [The] market has changed dramatically. It has shrunk whilst at the same time there are now more breweries than there ever have been before.”
Chris Small: I used to work for the NHS. The job was fine and I was pretty good at it. It was money and I had a little place in Edgbaston but I had quite a bit of debt and I didn’t really have any savings to make this work, so I sold close to everything. I sold the flat, all the furniture, everything that I had at the time. I had four things: a van, my clothes, my mobile and I had…I’m not sure what else, there was definitely a fourth thing…
Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck as interesting, thought-provoking or otherwise noteworthy, from The Crumpled Horn to craft beer.
First, some bits of news.
> It used to be that if you wanted to buy Westvleteren beer you had to visit the monastery at prescribed times and purchase a limited amount under strict rules. (Or go into almost any beer shop, it seems, and pay over the odds.) Then, a few years ago, a telephone ordering line was introduced. Now, though, you can order it online. (But you still have to pick up your order in person.)
> When we visited the Fellowship at Bellingham, South London, during research on 20th Century Pub it was a near-wreck with only one decrepit room still operating as a pub. Now, finally, its reinvention as a ‘community pub’ is complete. We look forward to visiting.
Fourpure’s beers are broadly similar in style and quality to Beavertown’s, and are available about as widely. Yet somehow, Fourpure’s 100% acquisition was not greeted with anything like the outrage prompted by Beavertown’s minority sale. The rules of acceptable behaviour among craft brewers, it seems, are flexible, depending on who we’re talking about.
With more than 35 breweries offering their wares, it was difficult to pace yourself too much with so much to try. We managed to get round the majority, even if it was just for tasters from some. Locals Wiper and True and Wild Beer Co were there, among other national and international names in beer such as The Kernel, To Øl, Mikkeller, Verdant, Lervig, Left Handed Giant, Lost and Grounded and Northern Monk to name a few… Some of the sours on offer were among our absolute best beers of the day – Gipsy Hill’s People Like Us fruited sour, Wiper and True’s Barrel Ageing Cardinal Sour and the Pomelo Paloma by Commonwealth Brewing Company stay in our minds.
With the opening of Southgate Tube station on 13 March 1933, as part of the Piccadilly line extension to Cockfosters, and the completion of the nearby North Circular Road, the surrounding area was heavily developed during the 1930s and so Southgate became one of many new suburbs in London where Watney’s required larger, more suitable premises… The North London building was designed by the group’s Chief Architect, A. W. Blomfield, F.R.I.B.A., (Alfred William Blomfield, 1879-1949), who also oversaw the design of “The Giraffe” in Kennington, S.E.17. Both buildings would likely now be described as Neo-Georgian in their external appearance.
I think drinkers owe it to themselves to understand the risks inherent in overconsumption, and to savor and appreciate responsible drinking all the more so. Perhaps those sentiments can coexist, and perhaps an awareness of the duality makes the subject of alcohol even more fascinating to cover.
Finally, we’re finishing with one of our own Tweets:
Here’s all the beer- and pub-related writing that grabbed our attention in the past week, from GBBF politics to Jarl.
First, three bits of news:
1. CAMRA has announced that it will have a key-keg beer bar at its flagship national event, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). There’s commentary from Benjamin Nunnhere (this, he says, is a non-story) and Dave S, who argues that CAMRA has put too many restrictions and caveats on this to make it as meaningful as it ought to be.
2. Heineken has bought a chunk of Amsterdam craft brewery Oedipus. This fits the pattern.
The National Brewing Heritage Trust in Burton-upon-Trent has launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for an online catalogue of every item in its vast collection. They need to make £20,000 and £3,500 is already in the bag. We’ve chipped in; if you’re interested in Britain’s brewing history, you should too.
On a related note, here’s Jeff Alworth on the fragility of brewing archives, and how easy it is for them to end up in skips during periods of succession or corporate takeovers, quoting Matt Swihart at length:
Miller had no interest in the Olympia history or its archive. There was a 100-year-old plus library of old brewing journals, magazines, research articles, technical journals, and brewing records all stored in that library. Paul was sorrowful that it was all slated for the dumpster as of some coming weekend. I asked if I could have the library if I came up and picked it up. He graciously accepted and I went up the next day with my old Toyota pick-up with a camper shell, and filled the entire truck with everything I could.
Sat facing the bar with my pint of handpulled Jarl I realised that this was all I wanted from this industry, that this was still as good as it got for me. I’d take this 16th century tollbooth-structure-come-pub over school chairs and Edison bulbs any day. I’d take this beer on cask over any clichéd milky Imperial Gose you can stick in a plastic keg. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy those places and those beers at times, but they are becoming like new Hip Hop to me.
I scuttled back to my hotel to soothe a bruised ego. I was supposed to be the voyeur, the foreign interloper in search of a bit of African exoticism I could parlay into a bottle-share anecdote when I got home. Confronted with my obvious and pathetic whiteness, I felt keenly out of place and uncomfortable in self-reflection. It turns out I didn’t really want to experience Kigali as it was, but instead a carefully packaged version that I could easily digest during my visit through the region. For the rest of the week, I drank macro lagers that tasted of nothing except an acrid taint of self-loathing.
Finally, there’s this:
An internet bore: "all large cities are now the same with no unique local features" Birmingham: "our train station has a pork scratching bar, thereby proving that you are mistaken". pic.twitter.com/Eedf8oXbot
About five years ago, if I was given a pound for every time I was told that the “beer bubble” was about to burst, I’d have, well, several pounds. Enough for a round of “London murky” in a trendy craft beer bar at the very least. At the time, it felt as though beer was reaching its apex. As it turned out, it still had further to climb before it did.
Now, however, I’m beginning to think that, although some of those hot takes came far too early, that in today’s market, they might be right.
“A Wegbier is a simply a beer that you drink while you’re walking,” Ludger Berges, owner of the Hopfen & Malz bottle shop in Berlin, says. “Actually, ‘Weg’ means ‘way,’ so it’s a beer for the road. If you’re on your way to a party or on your way home from a party, maybe it’s 10 minutes by foot, many people in Berlin will walk that distance, and many people will drink a Wegbier along the way. It’s cool, it’s relaxed. Everybody does it.”
The concept of Wegbier seems fairly specific to Germany. Despite the country sharing a border and lager-brewing (and -drinking) history with the Czech Republic, there is no Czech-language equivalent of Wegbier. Nor is the concept in neighboring countries like Belgium or Poland.
Pub tenants and MPs have been “duped and betrayed”, according to the British Pub Confederation, which said the MRO was little more than a myth.
It accused pub companies of seeking to scupper MRO applications by any means necessary, including spooking them with eviction notices. The group also cast doubt on the independence of assessments used to set rents.
The BPC chair, Greg Mulholland, who pushed the MRO option through parliament as a Liberal Democrat MP, said that in its current form “tenants do not have the rights they were promised by ministers”.
Reason, a conservative American publication which sits in around the same space as the UK’s Spectator, has an interesting piece by Alex Muresianu on how the imposition of steel tariffs has affected the US brewing industry:
The justification for import taxes is usually that they will protect American jobs from foreign competition. Tariffs on a specific good, like aluminum, might help workers in the industry which produces that good. However, workers in industries that use that good as an input suffer.
“I have heard from brewers large and small from across the country who are seeing their aluminum costs drastically increase, even when they are using American aluminum,” Jim McGreevy, president and CEO of The Beer Institute, said in March, when the group released a separate report detailing $250 million in higher costs created by tariffs and tariff-associated price increases.
Historic England is trying to save a revolutionary 18th century building in Shrewsbury that was built as a flaxmill and converted into maltings in the 1890s. They call it ‘the first skyscraper’. You can find out all about the Flaxmill Maltings at the History Calling blog.
And finally, there’s this eloquent account of why you might start a brewery, and what might move you to stop:
Plus the obvious issue to anyone who knows me – I'm a pretty decent brewer, but a fucking _terrible_ businessman. I hate sales calls, I hate marketing, I hate forward planning (all of which, you'll note, are somewhat crucial bits of running a business).