News, nuggets and longreads 14 September 2019: racism and railway arches

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Norway to Manchester.

First, a cou­ple of updates on sto­ries from the past few weeks.

1. Lars Mar­ius Garshol was curi­ous about the ori­gin of a par­tic­u­lar pack­aged yeast thought to derive from a Nor­we­gian farm­house strain; he now has an answer.

2. Last week, Wether­spoon reduced the price of one of its cask ales in an odd Brex­it pro­pa­gan­da moment; in the after­math, SIBA ticked Tim Mar­tin off and he respond­ed, as sum­marised at Beer Today.

3. Tan­dle­man con­tin­ues his sur­vey of Samuel Smith pubs, this time with a cameo from Humphrey Smith him­self.

Illustration: "Odd One Out".

When Chalon­da White (@afrobeerchick) received a racist email say­ing that black peo­ple “do not belong in this indus­try” she shared it on Twit­ter. An out­pour­ing of sup­port and protest devel­oped around the hash­tag #IAm­Craft­Beer. For ViceBeth Dem­mon sum­maris­es the sto­ry, and what it means:

This inci­dent is an acute reminder of the racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion still deeply embed­ded in the craft beer indus­try. The Brew­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, the Unit­ed States’ lead­ing non-prof­it group ded­i­cat­ed to pro­mot­ing craft beer, recent­ly released the study “Brew­ery Diver­si­ty Bench­mark­ing: A Foun­da­tion for Change,” which out­lines racial and gen­der demo­graph­ics of those employed in the beer indus­try… The num­bers con­firm what most already know: Craft beer is over­whelm­ing­ly white and male. Based on their data, 88.4 per­cent of brew­ery own­ers are white, with only 1 per­cent of brew­ery own­ers iden­ti­fy­ing as Black.

Sign from the Eaton Cottage.
SOURCE: BBC/The Eaton Cot­tage

The new CAMRA Good Beer Guide is out and this sto­ry from the BBC high­lights how impor­tant inclusion/exclusion can be to pub­li­cans, and how emo­tion­al the response can be:

A land­lord has crit­i­cised his cus­tomers after his pub failed to make it into the Good Beer Guide… Philip Bir­chall put up a notice in the Eaton Cot­tage in Nor­wich offer­ing a “huge sar­cas­tic thank you” to mem­bers of the Cam­paign for Real Ale (Cam­ra)… As a result of the pub not fea­tur­ing in the guide Mr Bir­chall said he had decid­ed to grad­u­al­ly reduce the num­ber of real ale pumps… “Peo­ple like drink­ing here and remov­ing the pub from the guide is tan­ta­mount to a demo­tion.”

La Tans
SOURCE: Brus­sels Beer City/Eoghan Walsh.

This piece on the rela­tion­ship between beer and food in Brus­sels by local expert Eoghan Walsh should have made the round-up last week but we missed it:

It’s a sticky Fri­day night in inner city Brus­sels, and the foot­path on Rue de Lom­bard is jammed. It’s the eve of the BXL­Beer­fest beer fes­ti­val and vis­it­ing beer tourists have decamped to Nüet­nige­nough, loi­ter­ing in front of the restaurant’s sinewy art nou­veau entrance. The restau­rant doesn’t do reser­va­tions, and those hop­ing to get a spot have gath­ered into hun­gry clumps around the door, beer and menu in hand, sweat­ing and wait­ing… This has been the rhythm at Nüet­nige­nough… since Olivi­er Desmet opened it a lit­tle over a decade ago. The restau­rant has been a base for him to pros­e­ly­tise for beer as a legit­i­mate accom­pa­ni­ment to a good meal. In the Brus­sels of 2019 this may seem an unnec­es­sary strug­gle, but for much of the restaurant’s short life it was an excep­tion, not the rule.

Mother Kelly's
SOURCE: Beervana/Jeff Alworth.

Amer­i­can beer writer Jeff Alworth is in the UK. If you enjoy, as we do, see­ing Britain through the eyes of an out­sider, check out this post on brew­eries and bars in rail­way arch­es – some­thing we take quite for grant­ed but which, now he men­tions it, is odd:

Brew­ing, accord­ing­ly, is a space-inten­sive busi­ness that requires sub­stan­tial cap­i­tal invest­ment. For under­fund­ed start-ups, this can be daunt­ing. A solu­tion cho­sen by about a fifth of London’s brew­eries is the rail­way arch… Train lines criss­cross the city, many of them ele­vat­ed on old Vic­to­ri­an viaducts. They’re as wide as a city street, raised 15–25 feet above the ground, and sup­port­ed by a repeat­ing line of arch­es. As space became tighter and tighter in Lon­don (an old prob­lem in a city once the cap­i­tal of a glob­al empire), peo­ple began to make use of pro­vi­sion­al spaces. Decades ago, some clever entre­pre­neur iden­ti­fied those viaduct arch­es as a huge source of real estate and began leas­ing them.

Final­ly, from Twit­ter, push­ing back the date of the ear­li­est Ger­man theme pub in the UK that we’re aware of…

For more read­ing and links check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day and Alan McLeod on Thurs­day.

Impressions of Ostend and Brussels: Bizarro World

There is a man with a piece of pencil lead under his fingernail drawing nudes in a notebook while drinking a milky coffee.

Two bar staff are danc­ing and mim­ing along to ‘Dolce Vita’ by Ryan Paris as they wash glass­es. A man with a shop­ping trol­ley, dressed head to toe in cus­tom embroi­dered den­im, lum­bers in and rais­es a hand at which, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, he is brought a small glass of water; he downs it, waves, and leaves. On the ter­race, two skin­ny boys in art­ful­ly tat­ty clothes eat a kilo of pis­ta­chios and sip at glass­es of Pils. A group of Eng­lish­men in real ale T‑shirts arrive: “Triples all round is it, lads? Aye, four triples, pal.”

Every take on Tripel is a take on West­malle, which marks the cen­tre line. Some are more sub­tle, like the one from De Ryck; oth­ers are all caramel and spice­less sug­ar, like De Ranke Gulden­berg. De la Senne Jambe de Bois is West­malle in the throes of a midlife cri­sis, great fun but in your face, and per­haps a touch unsta­ble. Some, like St Bernar­dus, seem exact­ly like West­malle until you have West­malle when the enchant­ment drops from your eyes and you realise there can be only one. Eight per cent, nine per cent, ten per cent, and yet three in a row is no prob­lem at all – the hang­overs don’t arrive, even if they knock on the door in the small hours only to be seen off with a glass or two of holy tap water.

Three hun­dred bot­tled beers, six­teen on draught, and the bewil­dered young man with the trans­la­tion app orders a Moji­to, even­tu­al­ly. Mus­sels shells scat­tered across the floor, kicked out of the way or crushed under foot as the evening wears on. A den­im dude in red suede shoes mounts a stool and stares at us, or through us, as he mulches a mouth­ful of free peanuts. Twen­ty stu­dents crowd around a table for six, order­ing the occa­sion­al hot choco­late to keep the wait­er on his toes; behind their backs, he rolls his eyes. Kwak on draft is irre­sistible to sea­side trip­pers who order it by the litre, served in a ver­sion of the famous horn-like glass the size of a con­cert trum­pet. Speak­ing of which, the brass band from the square comes in, uni­form but­tons popped and peaked hats askew, hop­ing for lubri­ca­tion after a tough hour blow­ing ‘Lon­don­der­ry Air’ and ‘Super­man March’ into a Nordzee breeze. The voice of an Eng­lish­man car­ries over it all: “These are pre­mi­um beers, these, and I mean pre­mi­um,” where pre­mi­um means strong, as the sly mar­keters always meant it to.

Belgian bar late at night.

What’s wrong with Rochefort 10? It’s one of the most expen­sive beers around – more than €5 per bot­tles in most cafes and around €3 even in super­mar­kets – and yet we strug­gled to enjoy it. But­ter. Rub­ber. The store cup­board tang of dust and card­board. Oh, that’s just com­plex­i­ty, you might say, and maybe it is, but, oh, give us sim­plic­i­ty if so. Then there’s St Bernar­dus 12 – every­where, sud­den­ly, on draught and in bot­tles, refus­ing to be a lux­u­ry prod­uct despite its fla­grant, self-evi­dent lux­u­ri­ous­ness. Bel­gian beers have their ups and downs, though – Abt 12 was dull and explo­sive for a stretch about five years ago – which is why you have to feel your way with it, and believe the evi­dence of your sens­es.

Between the remains of Ger­man coastal for­ti­fi­ca­tions and the air­port, a patio scat­tered with cheap fur­ni­ture and pro­mo­tion­al umbrel­las, with pushchairs and mobil­i­ty scoot­ers parked side by side. Insult­ing­ly bad food at insult­ing­ly high prices is the price you pay for an hour of tran­quil­i­ty and glass­es of Duv­el just out of the mid­day sun. Pen­sion­ers drink beer, par­ents drink beer, wasps drink beer… The Nazis drank beer, too, or at least the man­nequin tableaux in the exhi­bi­tion sug­gest they did. A plane screams over and sets the cut­lery drum­ming. The end of the sea­son, the end of all sorts of things.

Wheat beer is out. It’s bare­ly on menus except as a token offer­ing, one of a hand­ful of brands. When you order it, wait­ers look star­tled, as if you’ve men­tioned an ex they’ve not thought about in years. It’s a joke, a drink for old ladies and tourists, an embar­rass­ing rel­ic of the recent past. In its mug, with slices of fruit float­ing around under the scum, Blanche de Bruges looks unap­petis­ing, too. Tell you what, though – it still tastes great.

Cheese cubes.

Brus­sels, Thurs­day night: EU offi­cials, lob­by­ists and camp fol­low­ers off the clock and on the town, sharp shirts unbut­toned, hair down, lan­yards swing­ing. Twen­ty-eight por­tions of fries, please, for me and my friends at the Europe-wide Union of Train Buf­fet Oper­a­tors, with six ketchup, six may­on­naise, six Andalouse… Out­side an embassy, three young peo­ple run by with glass­es of wine and chunks of cheese lib­er­at­ed from a recep­tion that is still under­way against the win­dows above. On the square, snatch­es of Ger­man, Ital­ian, Span­ish and accent­ed Eng­lish, the com­mon lan­guage of “Can you spare a cig­a­rette?” and “Who wants anoth­er round?”

A cube of cheese, speared on a cock­tail stick, swiped through mild mus­tard and dust­ed with cel­ery salt – the per­fect counter to, and prompt for, a mouth­ful of strong beer. Some­times, often, it seems to be made of the same mate­r­i­al they use for stress balls. Occa­sion­al­ly, it has the added bonus of fridge burn, cubed hours before in the lull between shifts. And you nev­er quite know if €6.50 is going to get you half a kilo or five miser­ly nuggets. But that’s all part of the fun of the por­tie kaas.

Cluttered bar.

In the win­dow of the coastal cafe sits a yacht-dweller with the fig­ure of Hen­ry VIII, eat­ing mus­sels and sip­ping Cham­pagne through kiss­ing lips. Real­ly, Beer Guide? This one? Inside, Cham­pagne Char­lie aside, it’s a caff, albeit one with pre­ten­sions, where locals prop paper­backs against the salt cel­lar while they work on ham­burg­ers and vol-au-vents. Most of the tables are emp­ty – the sum­mer sea­son is wind­ing down, the week­end is over – and the wait­er is already checked out, surf­ing on a Span­ish beach. Two beers, of course, come with a com­pli­men­ta­ry Kil­ner jar of bar­be­cue flavoured corn balls. The EPOS is bro­ken and the repair­man arrives rid­ing pil­lion on his girlfriend’s motor­bike, the pair of them creak­ing past Cham­pers Chuck’s table in their leathers. He rais­es an eye­brow as he sucks white wine and gar­lic from a shell.

The thing about Bel­gian Pils, the prob­lem, is that it looks so beau­ti­ful. Those small ribbed glass­es, sparkling amid the relent­less brown; the beer itself, clear and gold­en, with foam eter­nal; and the con­text, the ordi­nar­i­ness of it, the lack of pre­tence. The two-Euros-a-glass­ness. We used to drink it, and enjoy it, before we Knew About Beer, but know we Know About Beer, it seems a waste to drink Jupil­er or Maes when there’s Chi­may to be had. We got close more than once on this trip, though, and next time… Next time, we’ll crack.

Tus­sling at the bar, jab­bing and head­lock­ing, two roofers get car­ried away and one goes crash­ing across the Art Nou­veau tiles, drag­ging an enam­el sign off the wall with a sound like orches­tral cym­bals. The wait­ress tuts as they rehang the sign, sheep­ish as school­boys.

Because Bel­gian beer tends towards rich and sweet, it’s excit­ing to find beers that are dry, bit­ter and light on the tongue. De la Senne has this mar­ket nailed with Taras Boul­ba and Zin­nebir but De Ranke’s XX does the job bet­ter again, find­ing space for spice and sug­ar, too. “What do you have that’s dry?” would be a good phrase to learn in Flem­ish and French for next time.

Ques­tion 14b.

Jes­si­ca and Ray­mond check out of their hotel at 11 am. It takes them 30 min­utes to get their bags to left lug­gage, 15 min­utes to walk to Saint-Gilles, 30 min­utes to drink cof­fee and buy wool. If they want to eat lunch and make a 2 pm check-in for Eurostar, how many beers can they drink? (Show your work­ing.)

We hit Snack Murat at mid­day and order two don­er kebabs with fries. It’s an ordi­nary kebab shop on a typ­i­cal­ly untidy Brus­sels street cor­ner that has some­how become our go-to. Turk­ish pop on TV, Ital­ian nanas and Ara­bic-speak­ing lads nosh­ing from plas­tic trays, accom­pa­nied by the con­stant crack­le of hot oil. We’re done by 12:20, which is why they call it fast food, and in Cafe Ver­schueren by half past, leav­ing us an hour and a quar­ter for a final beer in Bel­gium. Or two, we hoped, if we played it right. You don’t drink Tripel fast, or you shouldn’t, but we do, and then it’s deux saisons et l’ad­di­tion, s’il vous plaît, to avoid 30 min­utes try­ing to catch the waiter’s eye. Sai­son isn’t designed for down­ing, not with that explo­sive car­bon­a­tion, but down it went and out we went, and farewell to Bel­gium until next time, with a feel­ing of farewell for­ev­er.

This piece was made possible with the support of Patreon subscribers like Lorraine Moulding and Jan Hjalvor Fjeld who got to see us write it in real time over the course of a week. Do consider signing up.

Pints West: a mine of information

We’ve found ourselves getting a bit excited when we find a new edition of the local CAMRA magazine, Pints West, in the display holder at The Drapers Arms, because we always learn so damned much.

The lat­est issue, for autumn 2019, is just out and is a good exam­ple of why we like it so much.

First, with #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol in mind, there’s a com­pre­hen­sive update on what’s going on with local pubs based on exten­sive field­work from the Bris­tol Pubs Group. It tells us which pubs have closed, reopened and changed hands, usu­al­ly before we hear via social media.

We’re fas­ci­nat­ed by the fate of The Merchant’s Arms in Sta­ple­ton which just sits there with its big, blank, board­ed-up facade; Pints West always gives us an update – stale­mate, appar­ent­ly, with the own­er deter­mined not to re-open it as a pub despite its ACV sta­tus.

But there’s more: we don’t dri­ve (and wouldn’t dri­ve to the pub if we did, obvi­ous­ly) so the pub crawls focused on walk­ing and pub­lic trans­port are always inspir­ing. This quar­ter, Vince Mur­ray sug­gests a cou­ple of trips in South Glouces­ter­shire by bus while Dun­can Shine gives a run down of all the pubs along the Bris­tol-Bath Rail­way Path. We’re already work­ing out ways to tack­le some or all of those on the list.

We were also struck by a piece in the last edi­tion by Robin E Wild on the best val­ue pubs in the area – a pos­i­tive way to address the fraught issue of the some­times exclu­sive price of beer.

In gen­er­al, there’s an open­ness about it that shows CAMRA at its best. All brew­eries are cov­ered with enthu­si­asm and hon­esty, regard­less of their par­tic­u­lar cask-ale cre­den­tials. Licensed premis­es of all kinds get a look in and there are heart­en­ing tales of local activism to save appar­ent­ly doomed pubs.

Now, dis­clo­sure, before some­one brings it up: in the past, before we moved to Bris­tol, we pub­licly rolled our eyes at one of the car­toons in the mag­a­zine. It irri­tat­ed us then and look­ing back, it’s still irri­tat­ing. But we haven’t noticed any­thing like that since.

Any­way, our piece said, we’re off to explore a cou­ple of the pubs men­tioned in the most recent edi­tion – and isn’t that what a local CAMRA mag­a­zine ought to inspire?

News, nuggets and longreads 8 September 2019: Stevenage, Sheffield, Sam Smith

Better late than never, here’s everything that grabbed us in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from the Faroes to Wetherspoon.

One of our favourite sub-gen­res in beer writ­ing is the nos­tal­gic pub crawl and Mar­tyn Cor­nell has deliv­ered a clas­sic of the form, revis­it­ing his youth­ful haunts in the new town of Steve­nage in Hert­ford­shire:

When I start­ed going into pubs reg­u­lar­ly, about 1968/69, the drinkers at the Che­quers were most­ly Old Town­ers whose ances­tors had lived in North Hert­ford­shire for, prob­a­bly, 500 years or more, and who spoke in a notice­ably dif­fer­ent accent from the tens of thou­sands of New Town­ers, like my par­ents, who had moved to North Hert­ford­shire in the ear­ly and mid 1950s from North Lon­don sub­urbs such as Willes­den and Burnt Oak, 30 miles to the south.

Craft beer in Sheffield
SOURCE: Kirsty Walk­er.

Kirsty Walk­er at Lady Sinks the Booze end­ed up on an organ­ised pub crawl in Sheffield and used the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make some typ­i­cal­ly sharp obser­va­tions of the local pubs and bars:

Kom­mune… is your typ­i­cal HWP or Hip­ster Ware­house Project. The fol­low­ing are signs you may have entered one: you try to pay with cash for some­thing and you get a look as if you’ve tried to barter a live chick­en; chips cost five pounds; peri­od­i­cal­ly a loud per­son starts shout­ing that the pup­pet show/comedy improv/ritual killing will start in five min­utes; every third per­son is either a dog, a child, or has a beard.

The Sportsman, a strange-looking modern pub.
SOURCE: Ger­ald Reece/Brownhills Bob.

Via @pezholio on Twit­ter, here’s a col­lec­tion of vin­tage pho­tos and notes on the pubs of Brown­hills in the West Mid­lands from ‘Brown­hills Bob’, with images sup­plied by Ger­ald Reece.

The Faroe Islands.

For Pel­li­cle, vet­er­an writer and indus­try com­men­ta­tor Phil Mel­lows reports from the Faroe Islands where craft beer (def­i­n­i­tion 2) is mak­ing inroads:

The rock in Søren Antoft’s hand is pit­ted with tiny holes like a black sponge. Once, it was the bub­bling vol­canic lava that solid­i­fied halfway between Shet­land and Ice­land to form the Faroe Islands. Now, it’s going to be reheat­ed to 800 degrees centi­grade before being plunged into the mash for a spicy, min­er­al-edged ale called Rinkustein­ur.

An image from the Gazette.

Excit­ing news for beer his­to­ri­ans: the excel­lent British News­pa­per Archive has added edi­tions of Holmes’ Brew­ing Trade Gazette for the years 1878 to 1886:

Dur­ing the Vic­to­ri­an era, tem­per­ance was one of the biggest moral, social and reli­gious debates of the day… This debate, played out in the pages of the Gazette, is a fas­ci­nat­ing one, with Vic­to­ri­an moral­i­ty com­ing into direct con­flict with Vic­to­ri­an enter­prise. The debate was to only esca­late with the com­ing of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, and was to reach a head across the Atlantic with the intro­duc­tion of pro­hi­bi­tion in the Unit­ed States. You can find out more about this debate by search­ing for the word ‘tem­per­ance’ in the pages of Holmes’ Brew­ing Trade Gazette.

Sam Smith logo from beer bottle.

Tan­dle­man reports from the front line of Humphrey Smith’s war on his own pub cus­tomers, vis­it­ing one of his locals, The Pleas­ant in Roy­ton:

Then hor­ror on hor­rors. A mobile phone rang in the bar and in hushed tones, after exchang­ing endear­ments with his/someone else’s wife/girlfriend or what­ev­er, the callee, said words to the effect of “I have to go. I’m in The Pleas­ant and mobiles aren’t allowed.” Seems Humph has put the fear of God into his cus­tomers on that one. Less so on the eff­ing and jeff­ing I’d sug­gest, but all of it was in the con­text of fit­ting bath­rooms, exchanges about how the day had gone and so on, so to my mind at least, harm­less enough. One lad called through to me say­ing that he did­n’t care (“could­n’t give a fuck”) about Humph’s rules. Soon­er or lat­er he’d shut the pub any­way, like he had the Yew Tree, he observed.

We’re all sick of (addict­ed to) Brex­it news, of course, but this Wether­spoon sto­ry is so odd we have to men­tion it: the pub chain has cut the price of Rud­dles by 20p a pint this week, appar­ent­ly as proof of the free­dom a no-deal Brex­it would bring. Except… there has­n’t been a no-deal Brex­it, not yet. Rumours on social media sug­gest this stunt was planned to land dur­ing a gen­er­al elec­tion, cur­rent­ly in lim­bo, which might make some sense.

And, final­ly, from Twit­ter…

As ever, for more select­ed beer read­ing, check out Stan on Mon­day and Alan on Thurs­day.

Everything we wrote about beer and pubs in August 2019

A bit of a low score this month – just 13 posts in total, although, to be fair, one of those was an absolute whopper.

Leeds has played a piv­otal role in the evo­lu­tion of British beer, as cov­ered in our first book, Brew Bri­tan­nia. We kicked off last month with an in-depth, in-their-own-words look at the city’s beer scene, fea­tur­ing insight from vet­er­ans such as Bar­rie Pep­per and rel­a­tive new­com­ers like Gareth Pettman. This piece end­ed up run­ning to 3,000 words and seemed to meet the gen­er­al approval of Leo­den­sians, to our great relief.

An update: Antony Ramm at Leeds Libraries (@rammalibrary), who first sug­gest­ed this arti­cle, is work­ing on an archive project around beer in Leeds in the past decade or two. If you’ve got orig­i­nal mem­o­ra­bil­ia or ephemera – leaflets, fly­ers, pro­grammes, papers and so on – he’d love to know about them for pos­si­ble inclu­sion in the col­lec­tion.

We also did some pon­der­ing on beer scenes more gen­er­al­ly – what makes a scene as opposed to just… some good pubs and beer? This prompt­ed some prick­ly but inter­est­ing reac­tions, both below the line and on Twit­ter.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Every­thing we wrote about beer and pubs in August 2019”