Categories
opinion

News, nuggets and longreads 9 October 2021: of data and donkeys

Here’s all the booze and pub writing that grabbed us in the past week, from hop substitutes to Pubtober.

The news that BrewDog’s mobile app left the personal data of more than 200,000 ‘Equity for Punks’ open to exploitation isn’t all that interesting to us in its own right. What is interesting is the sense that it’s yet another blow for a brewing company which is not, it seems fair to say, having a great year. ‘Move fast and break things’ doesn’t seem to be working. Which makes us wonder how long can it be before the founders think, sod this, and exit with their big comedy buy-out cheques.


Another bit of news: Brains is selling 99 pubs, including the famous City Arms in Cardiff. It had already entered into a partnership with Marston’s for the management of its pub estate. Again, not that interesting in its own right, perhaps, but indicative of the direction of travel for an old brewing company of a type which seems increasingly endangered.


Mark Johnson has emerged from a period of silence with an exasperated admonishment for those who bang on about how “you can’t get normal beer anywhere these days”:

Jarl is a good beer. Have I mentioned Jarl before? I like Jarl. I could see Jarl in every pub up and down the land and never tire of it. Am I repeating myself? I like Jarl… But still… I don’t actually want to drink Jarl all the time, despite previous suggestions. I like the variation and the choice. I like the current beer climate of irresistible opportunity… The idea that brewers could start pushing the idea of beer to the limit, in the ingredients used and the method undertaken to get there, was what drove the beer scene forward. Endless openings – the antithesis or even antidote to the rapidly declining pub scene.


For Craft Beer & Brewing Ryan Pachmayer provides an overview of the use of ‘liquid hop terpenes’ as an alternative to hops in brewing:

While many brewers are just trying to keep up with demand for their IPAs, Brandon Capps has had great success in using hop terpenes in some limited-release IPAs. The owner and founder of New Image Brewing, in the Denver suburb of Arvada, combines the terpenes with more conventional hops (in T-90 pellet form) to achieve the final flavor in several of his popular IPAs… “I’ve been using this as more of a finishing salt to date,” Capps says. He uses terpenes for up to 20 percent of the hop bill, focusing on the unique flavor contributions they bring to the base beer, in conjunction with conventional hops.


We’re not necessarily going to link to all of Eoghan Walsh’s ‘50 objects’ pieces but, frankly, this is one of the most interesting runs of beer writing we’ve encountered in a while. It’s going to be turn into a book, right? This week, he turned his attention to Schaarbeekse Kriek:

Schaarbeek is famous for two things: donkeys and cherries. The Brussels municipality, now largely residential, was once farmland. From the 12th century, donkeys (ezels in Dutch) were driven down the Ezelweg road, carrying produce for central Brussels’ food markets. The clacking of their hooves on cobblestone streets caused the people living there to shout “Daar zijn de ezels van Schaarbeek!” – “There go Schaarbeek’s donkeys!” Schaarbeek was the Ezelstad, Donkey Town, and its residents nicknamed ezels.

(Forget it, Jake – it’s Donkeytown.)


We’ve long said that the trick to maintaining or reviving a blog is to get a project. At Bring on the Beer Michael has declared this ‘Pubtober’ and is writing about a new pub each day, such as The Old Arcade in Cardiff:

The Old Arcade is a monument to the game with the odd-shaped ball. It is a celebration in pub form of rugby’s players and of the nations and clubs that have played it over the past 150 years. Every great day in Welsh rugby can be found here somewhere, and some of its darker ones too.

This is proper, old skool blogging which adds to the sum of human knowledge. We’ll certainly be checking these posts out next time we go exploring in Newport, Cardiff and around.


Mining historical sources, as ever, Gary Gillman highlights an interesting nugget: did brewery workers in Burton drink sour beer on the job?


Finally, from Twitter, a plug for this book, which we’re in, and have finally seen in the, er, pulp:

You can read more about it in the Guardian.

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

Categories
News opinion

News, nuggets and longreads 4 September 2021: Limbo, Dodo, Eko

Over the past week, we’ve bookmarked all the new writing on beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting, from quiet pubs to treasure maps.

First, though, notes from the frontline. Dave Hayward, of the shop and bar A Hoppy Place in Windsor, has written about the challenges faced by the trade in this strange time when things are open, but not normal:

This August Bank Holiday just gone has helped us to finish off the summer school holiday period of trading. The great unlocking. The first 6 weeks “restriction free”, wherein everything would go “back to normal”. How do you feel that went for you? It was an interesting time, certainly. But was it the reopening that so many in hospitality hoped for? I think that for nearly everyone – this inbetweenland has been pretty underwhelming… I think we should be talking about what’s left of our pubs – and what we need to do to recover things. I think we should be talking about how hundreds of breweries are cutting their noses off to spite their face. I think we should be talking about the damaging shift in consumer habits and how we should absolutely not be encouraging them.

And here’s another point of data, from The Dodo Micropub in West London:

We suspect lots of people are trying to second guess when other people are going to be in the pub so they can pick ‘the quiet night’. Things have yet to settle, for quite understandable reasons.


SOURCE: Eko Brewery.

At Hop Culture Hollie Stephens has profiled Anthony and Helena Adedipe’s Eko Brewery in London:

Eko Brewery derives its name from Eko, the original name of Lagos, the most populous city in Africa and Anthony’s family’s home. From the beginning, the pair both wanted the beers to reflect their heritage. Anthony is from West Africa. Helena is Congolese. “We wanted to incorporate that into what we do,” says Anthony. “There’s an element of risk in that because it hadn’t been done before. We were so keen to try it and [to] try and see if there was a market for African-inspired beer.” And now, thanks to Anthony and Helena’s tenacity, Eko Brewery is making huge waves in a sea of sameness… In homage to their African heritage, Anthony and Helena focus on brewing with classic African components. Traditionally brewed with ingredients such as maize, sorghum, and cassava (a starchy root vegetable, popular in Latin American, Caribbean, and African cuisines), African beer typically forgoes the hops. This means the beers are often sweet or sour. And they are sometimes fuller in form.


SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

Eoghan Walsh’s epic tour through the history of Brussels beer continues with entry number 8 on the statue of Karel van Lotharingen in the Grand Place:

At 7pm on August 13, 1695, the skies above Brussels commenced to rain fire down on the city. French king Louis XIV, frustrated with the progress of his Nine Years’ War, determined to make an example of Brussels. For three days the Sun King’s troops pummelled the city with a barrage of cannonballs and firebombs, stopping only once, briefly, to reload. To keep their aim true they used the ornate spires of Brussels’ Town Hall, on the Grand Place, as their target… The buildings around the Town Hall were obliterated, including the one that used to stand at number 10: the Maison de l’Arbre d’Or (“House of the Golden Tree”), known locally as the Brauwershuys and home to Brussels’ brewers’ guild.


Three pints of beer, each slightly different.

There’s been a lot of chat about beer styles in the past week or so – this being one of those topics that comes up on the beer blogging randomiser every couple of years. This time round, among familiar arguments, there are some new angles and interesting nuggets:


SOURCE: Franz D. Hofer/Tempest in a Tankard.

Franz D. Hofer has shared detailed notes on Augsburg and its beer at Tempest in a Tankard. We visited Augsburg in 2007 and this post, as is often the case with Franz’s writing, makes us want to go back:

No one knows how Die Drei Königinnen (The Three Queens) got its name, not even the owner. But the patrons who flock to this lively Wirtshaus don’t seem much bothered by these arcane details of local history, devoting their attention instead to the beer and satisfying food on offer at this chic tavern… Located in a quiet neighbourhood just beyond the southern edge of the Fuggerei, Die Drei Königinnen also conceals a secluded treasure of a beer garden in its courtyard. You’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret as you drink in the autumn sunshine shimmering through the leaves of the majestic trees rising up over this small oasis of calm. Near the back of the garden is a covered seating area held aloft by slender iron columns. This was once an outdoor bowling alley, a historical remnant that stands as a testament to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century leisure pursuits.


SOURCE: Martin Taylor/Google Maps.

Pub ticker Martin Taylor is one of the most consistent bloggers in the game and we often find ourselves referring to his back catalogue when we want to know what a pub in a strange town is really like. Now, he’s started to put together a map so you can more easily find what he’s written about particular places.


Finally, from Twitter, notes from the holiday we wish we’d had…

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday and the one Stan Hieronymus shared on Monday.

Categories
opinion

BOOK REVIEW: 50 Years of CAMRA

The decision by CAMRA to commission a warts-and-all official history by Laura Hadland made something of a statement: it is keen to balance celebration with reflection – and perhaps ready to show its sensitive underbelly to the world.

50 Years of CAMRA (RRP £16.99, 245 pages) will be most interesting to CAMRA members, either nostalgic or curious, and to scholars of British beer history.

It is built around a combination of archive research, with special emphasis on What’s Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper; and interviews with longtime CAMRA members, both in leadership positions and the rank-and-file.

Until now, we’d have said our own Brew Britannia offered the most detailed and balanced account of the early years of CAMRA, but Hadland’s book benefits from the space to zoom in on certain details that we had to summarise.

She also has input from founder member Graham Lees – something we never achieved, despite many grovelling emails.

Before opening the book, we had a particular test in mind: what might she say about the founding date of CAMRA?

Researching Brew Britannia we worked out that the official founding date didn’t tie in with another detail of the story – that the founders read a story in the Mirror about the poor quality of British beer on their way home from the trip to Ireland on which CAMRA was formed.

It’s a minor detail, it doesn’t really matter in terms of the grand narrative, but it is a flaw in what for decades was the accepted origin tale.

In a footnote to Brew Britannia we suggested that the trip must have been a week later than supposed and that the article probably prompted the founding of CAMRA; Hadland, based on new testimony from founder member Michael Hardman, argues otherwise.

What matters to us, really, is that this point is considered at all. It’s a sign of due diligence.

Throughout the book, similar rigour is displayed in terms of pinning down the facts, with reference to original sources and first-hand testimony.

Elsewhere, criticisms of the Campaign, arising both internally and from outside, are clearly set down and thoroughly interrogated.

“With nearly 200,000 members it is not surprising that CAMRA cannot always present a united front”, she writes. What it does present, through this book, is the ability to look at itself with clear eyes.

From institutional sexism to the constant debate over the organisation’s focus (is it ale, pubs, or something else?) and the failure of the CAMRA Revitalisation project, Hadland makes space for thoughtful comments from veterans, newcomers and objective outsiders.

Most talk sense, even if they often contradict each other, giving the sense that the instinct to debate and to compromise are among CAMRA’s strengths, not its weaknesses.

Although clearly and engagingly written, the book isn’t a narrative history to be read from cover-to-cover. Instead, it is arranged around big themes, each chapter or section bouncing the reader back and forth through the decades like a tiddly timelord.

We were particularly pleased to see space given to topics such as the role of women in CAMRA over the years and to a note on the founding of the Lesbian and Gay Real Ale Drinkers Group (LAGRAD) in 1995.

If you’re interested in the history (and future) of CAMRA, you’ll want this on your shelf. Every time you dip into it, you’ll learn some new detail; and as a reference, it will prove invaluable.

We bought our copy from the CAMRA bookshop. It’s also available via, for example, bookshop.org.

Categories
opinion

News, nuggets and longreads 10 July 2021: brewers, startups and dives

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from baby breweries to Belgian baths.

The big news is that the UK Government has declared its intention to remove remaining coronavirus restrictions in England from 19 July, including requirements to wear face masks while moving around pubs, and the ban on bar service. Some people are delighted. Others are apprehensive, given the direction of travel of the daily statistics. Based on some of the pubs we’ve visited lately, this won’t actually make all that much difference: masks have been slipping, literally, for some time now. One piece of anecdotal evidence: Ray’s parents had been hoping to come to Bristol for a pub trip later this month but are now feeling hesitant, having found the presence of some rules reassuring. It seems to us that it’s more than restrictions keeping people away from pubs.


Roger Protz has been speaking to Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Marston’s, about the future of pubs and of cask ale:

“Cask has taken a terrible hammering,” he says. “The beer market is no longer a cask market. It’s a changing demographic – young people are not drinking cask and brewers are putting their money behind craft beer.” If Hobgoblin and Wainwright’s are now Marston’s top brands, what’s the future for such famous beers as Banks’s Mild and Bitter from Wolverhampton and Marston’s Pedigree from Burton? “Banks’s and Pedigree haven’t performed well,” he says bluntly. “The market is changing and the Banks’s market is disappearing. There are no mild drinkers left – the industry has gone.. We’re working hard to ‘premiumise’ the sector with branding and glasses, which means we will have to charge more. People will pay £7 for a pint if it’s part of a good experience.”


For Pellicle Laura Hadland (author of the recently published official history of CAMRA) profiles Brewster’s Brewery and its founder, Sara Barton, in Grantham, Lincolnshire:

Sara looked to the past for inspiration to create Brewsters’ visual aesthetic. Art Nouveau was characterised by the use of long sinuous lines that ran organically without rules or restriction. Visual representations of women were common, and were adopted by Brewsters to represent female emancipation… A typical figurative Art Nouveau image was used on the packaging; a successful design at first, but as uneasiness about sexism in the industry became a growing topic of discussion it was seen as inappropriate by some. Ironically, the flowing, flimsy garments of the Art Nouveau heroine which attracted negative comment were originally a statement of her independence from the stifling girdles and restrictions of Victorian society… Sara was not deaf to the complaints. The messaging needed to be clearer.


For Ferment, the promo mag for a beer subscription service, Nicci Peet has spoken to the founders of four ‘lockdown babies’ – breweries that started up during the pandemic – including Newtown Park in Bristol:

Starting a brewery in a pandemic might seem like an impossible task, but for Newtown Park it was an advantage. They could design everything around the market at the time; not just how they were going to sell and package their beer, but also staff levels and operations to ensure they weren’t over-committed. A canning line was a must, but not just for survival. “We wanted to build a direct-to-consumer brand, no matter what we did,” says Michael [McKelvaney], so having a canning line was important to them long term. “It was challenging being a brewery in small pack from the start. It’s a very tricky thing to do. Building a market direct-to-consumer is also tricky, so we’ve done it the hard way” he adds. 


We enjoyed this rattle through ‘The 10 Best Dive Bars’ dive bars by Grace Weitz for Hop Culture. The dive bar is a peculiarly American concept and even in listicle form, it’s hard not to get a scent of issues around gentrification and identity:

Delux Cafe has defied all odds in the South End neighborhood of Boston. As chain restaurants and bougie dining groups moved in, driving up rents and the price of eating and drinking, South End’s small businesses started being driven out. But not Delux Cafe. Located at 100 Chandler Street, the dive bar has remained for over five decades as a place to grab a cheap can of ‘Gansett. While the hole-in-the-wall has changed hands and names a few times during its historic run, it’s always been a place for locals to bathe in the glow of Christmas lights, revel at the collection of album covers on the wall, and enjoy a cheap pint or two.


At Brussels Beer City, Eoghan Walsh provides a vignette of the kind of institutional bar where people watch football, play pool and drink cheap lager:

Conversation turns distractedly to football. The barman says Busquets is too old. The lean player rolls around the name of the Czech goalscorer. The stout one in seesawing tones condemns the corrosive decadence hampering Belgium’s performance. The barman rouses himself, crosses the room to the bar. He reaches into a mini fridge, skips past the Orval, Goose IPA, and Karmeliet, and returns to the billiards table with two more dripping bottles of Jupiler… A tangle of bedraggled children run up the stairs, announcing the end of this evening’s swimming class and trailing in their wake the sweet-salty memories of afterschool Monday afternoons, stinging red eyes and shaming side-long looks. The barman gets up to dole out Haribos, paprika chips and Cote D’Or chocolate to children with the means to buy them.


Finally, from Twitter…

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

Categories
Generalisations about beer culture opinion

The UK loves Helles – or Hells, at least

Camden Town Brewery has done something Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson never managed: it has made a specific style of German lager, Helles, ‘a thing’ in British brewing.

Why do we credit Camden in particular? Because every time we order a Helles from any other brewery it’s presented to us by waiters and bar staff as ‘Hells’.

But Hells, minus the extra E, is Camden’s own brand name, and one they’ve invoked lawyers to protect.

It’s also the word that people have been seeing on keg fonts and packaging since 2010 – and even more so since the brewery was taken over by AB-InBev in 2015 and got heavy distribution.

It was a clever move, that slight tweak to the word. It gave them ownership, for one thing; it also removed any ambiguity over pronunciation. How would an English speaker naturally be inclined to pronounce Helles? As hells, of course, about, what, 80% of the time? German speakers and people who Simply Live to Travel will sound that second E – sort of like ‘hell-ezz’.

Helles means ‘light’. Beers badged as such tend to be very pale, light-bodied and with relatively low alcohol content. It’s got broad commercial appeal, as Camden Hells has proved, because that basically describes most mainstream lagers.

Calling your lager a Helles is a great way to have your cake and eat it: it’s simultaneously (a) a normal, non-scary lager that people will actually want to drink and (b) a craft beer with heritage worth an extra pound a pint.

See also: the fetishisation of the Willibecher beer glass.

Our impression is that the term Pilsner performs a similar function in the US market. In the UK, though, that sub-style is already associated with, for example, Tennent’s, Carlsberg and Holsten.

Whatever the reason, there seem to have been quite a few beers around with Helles on the can in the past decade, such as…

  • Hofmeister, 2016 (!)
  • Thornbridge Lukas, 2016 (?)
  • BrewDog Prototype, 2016
  • Purity, 2019
  • Cloudwater, 2019 (?)
  • Brick Brewery, 2020
  • Amity Brew Co Festoon, 2020
  • Lost & Grounded, 2021

You can also possibly, maybe, see the growth of interest in the term in the post-Camden era via Google Trends, based on frequency of searches:

Of course Camden wasn’t the first UK brewery to produce a Helles. Calvor’s first produced theirs in 2009, for example, and Meantime had one in 2004 – and would like everyone to know it.

It’s worth noting, we suppose, that brewer Rob Lovatt went from Meantime to Camden to Thornbridge, leaving Helles beers behind him as he went. Perhaps he deserves the credit, or the blame.