News, nuggets and longreads 11 December 2021: butter beer, cola beer

There’s been a lot of writing about brewing, beer and pubs in the past week. Here’s everything that struck us as particularly insightful or interesting, from London to Newcastle.

First, news of the ill-fated London Fields Brewery. Surrounded by scandal in its early years, it was acquired by Brooklyn/Carlsberg in 2017. But now…

For the sake of accessibility, that reads:

“It is with regret that we have taken a difficult decision and propose to close London Fields Brewery with a view to selling the business and finding new owners… We will close our taproom and e-commerce platforms and pause onsite brewing immediately… If you would like to reach out, please visit our website at and we will aim to get back to you pronto… We thank you all for your support on our journey so far and we’re hopeful that London Fields will continue in the near future, if a sale is agreed… Until then, stay safe and be kind.”

There’s more information at Beer Today:

This week, CMBC CEO, Paul Davies, said the company would enter into a period of consultation with the London Fields team. It would also explore market interest in the business… The taproom has closed with immediate effect, and brewing has been suspended. Hartlepool-based Camerons will brew some of the beers for on-trade customers.

SOURCE: Brussels Beer City/Eoghan Walsh.

At Brussels Beer City Eoghan Walsh explains the purpose and history of the Tire-Bouchon, a device we feel we’ve seen without understanding:

As early as the 1850s “Lambic et Lambic (gueuse)” were sold side by side. Once Lambic brewers and blenders mastered the bottle conditioning of Lambic, Gueuze began to take its now-familiar form: a blend of variously-aged Lambic, conditioned in green champagne bottles, and corked. Once opened by a countertop metal tire-bouchon (corkscrew), this Lambic Gueuze was (relatively) clear, foamy, and highly carbonated… Lambic was a 19th century beer, a hangover from Brussel’s pre-industrial past. Gueuze, a product of its modern, industrialising future, was a beer for the 20th century. And on café shelves across the city, earthenware Lambic jugs eventually ceded their place to the tires-bouchons of the iron foundries.

Dr Christina Wade has been in the lab again. This time, she’s made a version of 16th century butter beer “with sugar, warming spices, eggs, and you guessed it, butter”:

To make Buttered Beere… Take three pintes of Beere, put fiue yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloues beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other.

At Craft Beer Newcastle Robin Colwyn has written about the magic moments you sometimes get in pubs – a topic to which we’re naturally drawn:

The beer, the atmosphere, the light, everything, and this is comparable to similar moments in sport or the arts. In that conversation, I was comparing the buzz in the pub, to a time I was in the audience at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, when the play, the actors and the audience just connect. Or watching the Toon, when the goals fly in and that disbelief becomes joy and belief… Or sitting in The Mean Eyed Cat being drawn into a long rambling conversation by a young French woman, her girlfriend and their dog, as she became progressively merrier and more endearing.

Pilsner Coke logo.

Like us, Gary Gillman enjoys mixing beers, but this week, he pushed the boundaries of good taste by mixing beer with cola. But the thing is…

Over decades I combined beer in virtually every way imaginable, but not that way… I suppose I had the maven’s distrust of what seemed a gimmick drink… But this was the perfect opportunity to go for it, so we did… Given the Germans’ unquestioned mastery of all things brewing, I should have credited them with a better idea than (until this test) I did… Because it’s very good!

A brain.

We usually link to Alan McLeod’s weekly round-up in an endnote but, this week, it’s more than a collection of links and notes – it’s a blog post in its own right, or maybe two, or three:

Can we tie that argument all together: awards now suck because the dysfunction of style sucks because new craft sucks because young people who want new craft today… suck? Really? Isn’t something else the problem?  Hasn’t uncontrolled style division and propagation as a top down exercise itself caused craft’s cacophony as opposed to clarifying anything? Who pushed that propagation of sub-style after sub-style? Those who benefit from manufactured complexity. And who is that? Surely not the reader of a well thumbed copy of Modern British Beer.

Finally, from Twitter, yet another evocative painting of a pub:

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


The exploitation of publicans, 1838

Publicans often find themselves at the mercy of the aggressive business practices of breweries, pubcos and landlords – and that’s apparently been the case more-or-less since the modern pub came into being.

Continuing to dig around in the archives for information on 19th century gin palaces we came across a wonderful letter to the editor of the London Weekly Dispatch from 6 May 1838. It is entitled ‘On Buying A Gin Palace’ and opens like this:

An advertisement appeared in a Morning Journal a few days since, and if you will permit me to make a few observations upon it, you may perhaps save many inexperienced persons from being victimised.

The author, ‘S.J.M., late Mincing Lane’, goes on to quote the advertisement in full:

A first-rate gin-shop to be sold for £3,500, situated in a leading thoroughfare. It was fitted up regardless of expense, three years ago, and is held on lease for an unexpired term of 25 years. Trade, wholesale and retail, £4,500 per annum at a profit of 23 per cent. Any person unacquainted with the trade may be initiated by the party quitting. A person with £1,300, his own money, may be accommodated with the rest. Apply by letter, to A. B.

We tried to find the original of this advertisement but it doesn’t seem to be available online. We did, however, find quite a few from the same period using very similar language. Here are a couple:

A handsomely fitted-up GIN-SHOP and PUBLIC HOUSE, in a main thoroughfare, to be LET, for about one half Its real value – a respectable Brewer's house – the coming-in will not exceed £180. – circumstances having occurred which will be explained to purchaser, which causes this sacrifice to be made. Apply at Mr. Norman's, the Bull and Pump, High street, Shoreditch.
Morning Advertiser, 18 August 1838. SOURCE: The British Newspaper Archive.
TO PUBLICANS and Others – To be LET a most desirable public house and gin shop with a full-price trade of about seven butts in porter per month, with ales and spirits in proportion, most desirably situated in a good thoroughfare and commanding neighbourhood-coming-in £200. For cards to view apply at Mr. Austin's, Auctioneer, No. 20 Southwark-bridge road, Borough, near the Fox and Hounds Wine Vaults.

Morning Advertiser, 5 July 1838, SOURCE: Ibid.
Morning Advertiser, 5 July 1838. SOURCE: Ibid.

S.J.M. wanted to blow the lid on some of the tricks and tactics behind these ads which they called a “barefaced attempt at swindling”:

I do say, and with the experience of more than a quarter of a century, that a more shameful robbery could not be planned than is meditated by the unknown authors of this advertisement. The highwayman that robs at noon-day, or the burglar at night, is less culpable than these swindling rascals, who plunder the unwary by wholesale with impunity, under the mask of being principal houses in the trade. A robber risks his life or liberty, and if even he escapes detection, the parties robbed have still other resources left them wherewith to replenish; but this motorious tribe of plunderers commonly effect the total destruction of their victim.

Their analysis of the advertisement breaks it down in detail; we’ve added a few line breaks to make it easier to digest:

“A first-rate gin-shop situated in a leading thoroughfare.” Now if all that is meant were honest, as the house is not described, why not name the street? I will give the true reason: because if the street were named, the house most probably would be known, and some of its former victims would soon spread the fame of its swindling owners and occupiers…

“Fitted up regardless of expense,” as if all the outlay were not included in the amount demanded for the lease. Fudge! But the reader will see through this as he proceeds. Next, “trade wholesale and retail, £4,500 per annum.” Note the words “wholesale and retail,” as if gin shops generally had a shadow of what is in reality a wholesale trade, particularly when considered with the next allegation, “at a profit of 23 per cent.”

Now, to all that have more money than understanding (for it is to such alone this advertisement is addressed, and all others must see through the villainy at the first glance), the reason the wholesale department is coupled with the retail, is to prevent the fresh-caught victim from complaining; for if he should not in the first ten months realize over the counter £500, instead of £4,500, he could not proceed by action to recover his outlay for the false representation by which he has been deluded, as the rogue could say, he had not remained a year in the house, and perhaps the last month or two would have brought the wholesale connexion to town.

The really juicy stuff is around the buying price, however, where S.J.M argues a particularly nasty trick is being played.

First, that value of £3,500 is established – out of the reach of most people. And, S.J.M. suggests, basically a fiction.

But then, when the seller suggests that, actually, you only need £1,300 to buy your way in, it sounds like a bargain. They, or someone, will then cover the rest of the purchase price. “So then”, S.J.M. says, “the novice, male or female, widow or orphan, is invited by these heartless villains, if they have but £1,300 in the world…”

This suddenly sounds a lot like Charles Dickens explaining the London waste trade in Our Mutual Friend, or the operation of the legal system in Bleak House, and makes us wish he’d tackled brewing, breweries and pubs in the same depth.

It also echoes the conversation around pubs in the 21st century – that rents are kept enticingly low to lure people who can then be exploited in other ways.

From the 1830s, to the 1980s, to today, does anything ever change?

Main image: illustration by George Cruikshank from 1833 via the British Museum.

buying beer

Liquid popcorn: finding a time and place for non-alcoholic beer

Tough day. Lots on your mind. Open the fridge, grab a bottle, loosen and lose the cap. Sip. Close your eyes. Sigh.

The after work beer is a ritual or ceremony for many people. It’s about scrubbing dirt and dust from the throat. Cooling down. Stamping a firm full stop.

We’ve seen it enacted in hundreds of films and TV shows over the years, too. Sarah Lund in The Killing springs to mind, slumped by her fridge, clinging to a green lager bottle for comfort as the corpses pile up.

Oh, yes, the green bottle. This is a job for a small amount of a small beer – something without a big personality.

A few months ago, with a plan to watch a film on an uncomfortably warm evening, I fancied one or two unwinders. With that in mind, I let my evening walk take me past the CO-OP. I wandered in and up the beer aisle and after a moment decided, to my surprise, to buy a four-pack of Heineken 0.0.

Let’s be clear about what happened here: I looked at it on the shelf and wanted it. I’d had it before and retained, it turned out, a fond memory of the encounter. I could have had Pilsner Urquell, or Krombacher, but Heineken 0.0 was the one that grabbed me.

So I grabbed it.

And over the past few months, that’s become a habit.

I’ve always been resistant to non-alcoholic beer. Those I’ve tried over the years simply haven’t tasted good. Or, at least, less pleasant than a glass of sparkling water.

I’ve tried quite a few other brands and, no, they don’t do the job.

Some low alcohol craft beers are technically impressive and enjoyable in their own way. The problem is that they often end up being rather intense. Very bitter, or very sweet, and heavily hopped to fill the hole. They’re not green-bottle after work brews.

No, it’s Heineken 0.0 that works for me. It is, first and foremost, not disgusting. It doesn’t taste cooked or artificial. More than that, though: it’s actually pleasant. I find it light, lemony and dry.

Other opinions are available, of course:

When I say non-alcoholic beer in this context is like liquid popcorn, that’s not a tasting note.

It’s about the part it plays in my personal slow shutdown rituals.

The bottle feels right in the hand. The foam prickles, refreshes and slips into the background.

And it certainly doesn’t make a fuss when you’re trying to concentrate on Randolph Scott, Gloria Grahame or some black-gloved killer roaming the streets of Milan.


News, nuggets and longreads 4 December 2021: new blogs in town

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs we especially enjoyed reading in the past week, from Lambic to Lewisham.

First, news from Brussels: the city now has a second Lambic brewery, as reported by Eoghan Walsh. Why is this a big deal?

Lambic, together with its offshoots Faro, Geuze, and Kriek, are ur-Brussels beers. In fact, until the arrival of industrial brewing in the 1860s, they were virtually the only beers brewed in the city and came to be closely intertwined with its folklore and culture. But where it once had dozens of Lambic breweries, since the mid-1990s Brussels has been home to only one – Brasserie Cantillon… The artisanal traditions that Cantillon have steadfastly kept alive were obliterated in the decades after WWII by the arrival of industrialised Lambic brewing championed by the Belle-Vue brewery in Molenbeek. It has been even longer since anyone started a new Lambic brewery, as far back as Belle-Vue in 1943, or even Cantillon in the late 1930s.

And while you’re there, check out this week’s related entry in the history of Brussels beer in 50 objects – ‘Les Mémoires de Jef Lambic’.

A show of hands

For Burum Collective Sarah Sinclair has looked into the steps some breweries have taken in the wake of allegations of bullying and harassment across the industry. It’s an interesting piece for several reasons, not least that the editor has added their own disclaimer: “I cannot pretend either myself or Rachel, my co-editor, are fully comfortable publishing something positive about companies… after a heavy year of feeling unsafe and let down”. The bit that especially struck us, though, was this dose of heavy reality:

My new bosses at Moonwake Beer Co. did not just take my word for it, they sat and read every post and took it as a serious learning opportunity for their business… These inherent discrimination issues within the industry, which really should not have been a surprise for anyone in our small microcosm, led to them working with our investors on 28 business practice policies… This measurable action impressed me as I’d simply not heard of brand new breweries having these things in place. It wasn’t until I spoke to our non-executive directors who previously run their own, now employee-owned business, that I realised without their prior experience and contacts this would have cost us upwards of £50,000 with third-party lawyers… This makes some sense as to why small, independent craft breweries may not have these.

Doing the right thing ain’t always cheap.


Gin palaces: elephantine features

Writers and artists in the 19th century were fascinated by gin palaces – and especially by their bold, gaudy architectural and decorative features.

The image above is from the Wellcome Collection and contrasts an old-fashioned tavern of the 16th century with a gin palace of the 1840s.

Trying to read the messages it is sending about the dangers of the gin palace, we think we can see:

  • tottering drunks
  • a transaction underway in the alleyway
  • a thin man emerging into the cold
  • a pawnbroker right next door

In other words, this gin palace might look grand, but it’s part of the industry of poverty.

The gin palace is also called The Upas Tree – the poisonous plant from which strychnine is produced.

In context, the criticism is even clearer. For our version above, we’ve cropped the picture; this character appears next to it in the original.

A drunk outside the Bacchus Club.

The building, though, does look astonishing. Improbably, even. How would that huge keyhole window in the centre work in practice? No, we think this is a fantasy.

It does pick up on the truth about gin palaces, though, which is that they often made enormous lamps or other sculptural features a key part of their marketing. This is from The Globe from 14 October 1837:

At a gin palace lately established in Shoreditch, the proprietor, in order to eclipse his other neighbours, has got a clock of large dimensions and splendid workmanship at the extremity of the saloon, and so constructed, that, when occasion requires, it will perform no less than sixteen tunes, and play, without intermission, for one hour, the following amongst other tunes and waltzes: Jim Crow, accompanied (of course) by some of the old women present); All ’round my Hat, The Light of Other Days, Farewell to the Mountain, Jenny Jones, &c. None but an eye-witness can imagine the effect of the music on the motely [sic] group assembled in this gin palace.

We dipped into the world of gin palaces in a series of posts last year…

…and there may be a few more coming in the next week or two.

In the meantime, you might also want to check out a blog that’s new to us, A Drinkers’s History of London, the anonymous author of which has also touched on gin palaces.