News, Nuggets & Longreads 27 October 2018: Brixton, Babies, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week, from financial stories about big beer to blog posts about Dorchester.

Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John came to the UK in August and in typically reflective style, elegantly expressed as ever, has shared some outsider observations:

The next day at the Great British Beer Festival, more change is evident. For one thing, the crowd is significantly younger than when I was there in 2013. It’s a Tuesday and most of  London’s brewery staff has the day off and is in attendance. I run into people from Moor and Windsor & Eton, but really I’m there to talk to the people from Fourpure. They have just recently launched their Juicebox IPA in Ontario, but sadly the beer didn’t clear customs in time for the launch. Even more recently than that, they’ve announced the sale of the brewery to the Kirin owned Lion PTY Ltd. Check it out: Purchased by the Australian subsidiary of a Japanese Brewery to be a cat’s paw in England to compete with Meantime, which is owned by Asahi, another Japanese Brewery.


Bill Coors.

Beer industry magnate Bill Coors has died at the age of 102. Rejecting the reverential tendency Jeff Alworth has written a clear-eyed reflection on Coors’ life and legacy:

Wealth and success have always been enough to launder bad behavior into institutional respect and honor, but we shouldn’t let these statements become canonical. In the decades of his chairmanship, the idea that he had a “commitment to bettering lives around him” would have been greeted with sour laughter by many. Bill Coors had a dark side, and it is at least as important to note as his tenure as chairman.


A baby.

Perhaps picking up on a theme established by Becky last week, Rachael Smith explains how important The Pub has been to her in early motherhood:

Kerthudd! That’s the sound that a half-full infant’s beaker makes when it hits a hard tiled floor, thrown from the height of a highchair with all the gusto and might a fourteen month old can muster whilst sleepy and full of chips. Well, mostly full of chips, I’m sure half his portion were on the floor by the end of the session, minus the one half-eaten fry that was gifted to the staff member who took her time to get to his level and say hello… Whilst I was chatting with a friend, my child had been communicating in his own little way with another little kid on the table next to us. They had their own little language going on and were getting on like a house on fire. At the end of lunch a slip of paper was popped on to my table, as I looked down a lopped-off giraffe’s head looked straight back up at me (it was, I soon realised, the top of the children’s menu), next to it in crayon were names, a number, and the words; play-date?


Keg taps.

An interesting observation from Alec Latham: there is a constant three-way push and pull between supermarkets, craft beer bottle shops and pubs. He writes:

I was put in mind of this over the weekend when I went to visit a new bottle and tap room in Harpenden opened by Mad Squirrel Brewery (Hemel Hempsted)… I noticed how many chillers there were on the shop floor and enquired whether the cans and bottles could be consumed on site – a daft question – of course they could… But then he also mentioned something I’d noted myself subconsciously, but without joining up all the dots: takeaway sales of cans from beer shop shelves are reaping diminishing returns, whereas sales of cans from the fridges to be cracked open in the shop are increasing.


Gary Gillman has been digging into the history of beer festivals  – what filled the gap between Oktoberfest and CAMRA’s 1975 Covent Garden Beer Exhibition? Part 1 | Part 2.


The Dorchester Brewery c.1889.
SOURCE: Alfred Barnard/Hathi Trust.

Meanwhile, Alan McLeod continues his research into the provincial beer styles of Britain with further information on the apparently once legendary Dorchester Ale:

A lady, who had been my fellow passenger, turned to me as we drove up the avenue, and said, “I suppose, of course, you mean to try the Dorchester ale, which is so celebrated.” “Is it very fine?” I asked.

“Dear me, have you never tasted Dorchester ale?” “No, madam, nor have I ever been in this town before.” She looked at me in some surprize, as my speech was not Irish nor Scotch. When I told her I came from the United States, she gazed upon me with the greatest curiosity…

(Read the comments, too.)


An interesting bit of financial newsAB InBev has cut its dividend after a tough year in some markets:

“We can’t remember a more disappointing set of figures from AB InBev,” said RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones, noting that most regions missed analysts’ estimates for volume growth.


And finally, faith in human nature, and so on and so forth:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 June 2017: Rating, Flyposting, Logging

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from flyposting to secret manoeuvring.

First, the big story of the week: for Good Beer Hunting Dave Eisenberg has ferreted out the news that Ratebeer, the website where serious beer geeks log scores and notes for the beers they drink, is now partly owned by AB-InBev:

Through its so-called ‘global disruptive growth group’ ZX Ventures, Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired a minority stake in RateBeer, one of the most popular and reputable beer ratings and resource websites in the world… But the deal isn’t exactly new. In fact, it closed this past October following eight months of talks.

That last bit is the weird wrinkle here. Usually, takeovers or partnerships, or whatever you want to call them, are announced immediately, but this was kept quiet (to paraphrase GBH‘s report) so that the partners could prove that RateBeer wouldn’t be changed by the arrangement. Reading between the lines what that means is that they were worried about suddenly losing half the membership overnight, which might still happen.

(GBH has connections with AB-InBev which are set out in a disclosure statement midway through the article. Judge for yourself whether you think this has skewed the reporting; we think pointedly not.)


Biscuit beers on a blackboard.

Barm at I Might Have a Glass of Refreshing Beer (AKA @robsterowski) attended the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival and used the opportunity to reflect on ‘wacky’ beers and craft beer culture:

Do you remember a couple of years ago, when cupcake shops were popping up left, right and centre, purveying sickly sweet icing (sorry, ‘frosting’) atop a tiny sponge cake base? Despite being mostly white sugar and refined flour, and unutterably disgusting to boot, they found ready cheerleaders among food media that normally pray dutifully to the idols of local ingredients and fresh produce… This appears to be the phase that ‘craft’ brewers are now passing through.

It’s interesting that some people seem to have read this post as a slam of a festival — ‘Why go to events you know you’re going to hate?’ — but, despite the author’s general tendency to speak his mind, this struck us as quite an objective, ultimately positive account: ‘I did enjoy myself, much to my surprise. More to the point, the punters who’d forked out to get in seemed to be having a good time too.’


BrewDog bottles in a supermarket.

Suzy AKA The Pub Geek is not impressed by BrewDog’s latest crowd marketing campaign:

They’re asking their ‘Equity Punks’ to flypost across a country which carries a potential £80 fine (higher for Scottish ‘punks’) legislated by the Highways Act 1980. Not only do Brewdog want  the ‘Equity Punks’ doing unpaid labour for the cause but they’re potentially breaking the law and they have actually paid for this privilege.


Detail from an old brewing log.

Brewer and beer writer Mitch Steele, late of Stone Brewing, is worried about the decline of the leather-bound hard copy brewing log and what that means for the legacy of the craft beer era:

I suspect there are a lot of craft brewers over the years who have followed a similar pattern. They have graduated from handwritten brew logs, that are filed and stored in a box somewhere, to spreadsheets, or maybe even to more complex equipment supplier automated databases or ERP systems. But in 100 years, who is going to be able to find any of it if they want to document how beers were brewed during our current times? Especially if breweries continue to grow quickly or get sold or close shop… I’m wondering right now if a concerted effort could be made by the industry to preserve some brewing logs from early craft brewers in a safe place, like a library or a museum, where researchers in the future could go back and learn about the techniques and ingredients being used today.


Mild taste-off: multiple milds in plastic beakers.

Ryan Moses, AKA The Beer Counsellor, has taken a month to organise his thoughts on the takeover of Wicked Weed by AB-InBev before reaching any conclusions. Acknowledging the full range of arguments he has nonetheless concluded that buying local is best thing consumers can do in this situation:

Let your love of craft beer inform your buying decisions of what and where you buy.  If you have local breweries near you, frequent them.  Buy their beer, their growlers, and their swag.  If you go to a local brewery and their beer isn’t as good as you had hoped, don’t frag them on social media. Send a personal email or letter to the owner/brewer expressing your concerns in a thoughtful and respectful manner. We must be the ones who control craft beer. Not the faceless conglomerates who could just as easily be selling ball bearings rather than beer.

Counterpoint: Michael Agnew at A Perfect Pint argues (using the strongest of strong language) that critics have a right, if not a duty, to ‘be mean’:

The criticism of my critique is often that I’m not giving brewers a chance. I’m too quick to name the problems. These brewers are young and passionate. They have dreams. I’m stepping on these dreams when all they need is time to work things out. It’s a difficult step to go from brewing ten gallons at a time to brewing ten barrels. Rather than publicly calling them out, I should go in and talk to them… In what other industry do we say this?

We’re probably more Agnew than Moses here but we think blogger and sometime blog commenter Dave S has this right:


A screengrab of the Braciatrix blog.

And, finally, a recommendation for a blog to watch rather than a pointer to specific post: at Braciatrix Christina Wade is considering ‘the history of beer through the women who brewed, consumed, sold, and sometimes, opposed it’. So far it’s proving to be something quite fresh. Take a look.

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 1 April 2017: China, Cream, Cask

Here’s all the beer news, beer writing and beer blogging that’s caught our attention in the past seven days, from China to Bamberg.

For Fortune magazine Scott Cendrowski reports on AB-InBev’s approach to cracking the Chinese market, where a lack of competition regulation makes it easy to lean on smaller brewers:

John Guy, a quick-talking Australian whose ­McCawley’s chain of bars in southern China had sales last year topping $10 million, says he has heard of bar owners being offered 1 million yuan (about $150,000) to switch all their draft beer to AB InBev brands. Guy prides himself on his range of overseas craft beers and says he would never accept such a deal. But other bar owners don’t have the same choice. ‘Some bars run at break-even and make money on tap bonuses—$15,000 a year on some,’ he says.

(Via @thebeernut.)


A sinister character on the phone, in silhouette.

Continuing the theme Steve Body at The Pour Fool has a typically entertaining, eccentric, fire-spitting tirade against AB-InBev which concludes that they’ve forever defiled the term ‘craft beer’ and are therefore welcome to it. Here’s his account of AB-InBev’s provocative party line, delivered by what Body calls a ‘suit’ who somehow, creepily, acquired his mobile phone number:

‘You should know that we consider the term “craft brewing” a misnomer. “Craft brewing” is what WE do. “Craft” implies precision and skill and the adherence to the proven standards and techniques of brewing. What all these little breweries do is amateur brewing.’

(His proposed alternative term is ‘indie beer’ which, of course, has been around for years, along with many other variants.)


Adapted from an image at A Better Beer Blog.

Alan McLeod at A Better Beer Blog (the artist formerly known as A Good Beer Blog) has been investigating the term ‘cream’ as used in relation to beer over the years. His conclusion? As we read it, it’s that historically there is no fixed meaning, or even continuity — it’s just an appealing sounding word that helps to sell beer:

When you consider all that, I am brought back to how looking at beer through the lens of “style” ties language to technique a bit too tightly for my comfort. The stylist might suggest that in 1860, this brewery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brewery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quibble in two ways. Fifteen years is a long time in the conceptual instability of beer and, even if the two beers were contemporaries, a key point for each brewery was differentiation. The beers would not be the same even if they were similar.

(See also: golden ale.)


Brakspear beer mat from (probably) the 1990s.

Feeling somehow related is a post from Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale! in which he highlights the fragility of the identity of any given beer over time, especially where takeovers and mergers play a part:

[From] the moment a brewery is taken over, its beers are effectively dead. More precisely, from the moment a brewery is taken over, its beers may cease to exist – or be replaced by inferior substitutes – at any time, and there’s nothing anyone outside the new owner company can do about it. The new owner hasn’t bought beers, it’s bought brands and their market share. If the new owner is genuinely committed to making decent beer, the beer backing up those brands may continue to be good, but even that can’t be guaranteed – and, of course, the new owner can’t actually be held to account by anyone else. Even when the new owner continues to make a particular beer the old way, nobody can tell whether they’re going to start cutting corners or simply stop making it – let alone stop them doing so.


Lone Wolf spirits logo.

For the record, but rather tedious: Those of you who follow the Midlands Beer Blog Collective or, indeed, read these round-ups of ours every Saturday, will have heard about BrewDog’s trademark run in with a Birmingham pub several weeks ago, but the story only blew up in the mainstream in the last week via Rob Davies in the Guardian. If you’re after a soap opera, here it is: James Watt of BrewDog responded; there were claims, counter-claims and calls for boycotts; and lots of people made essentially the same observation: ‘Not very punk, guys!’

Our take? We don’t think this does any more harm to BrewDog than any previous PR disaster — indeed, it contributes to the Main Objective — and it seems astonishing to us that there are still people out there who are surprised to discover that James Watt is a pragmatic businessman rather than a maverick freedom fighter.


Twitter Intel

Drip-drip-drip… Earlier this year Cloudwater triggered a scare around the health of cask ale. Now, from Melissa Cole, here’s news of another bruise that may or may not be a symptom of a more serious ailment:

And from the wonderfully nosy Will Hawkes, there’s the interesting news that Mahrs Bräu of Bamberg is planning to start brewing a version of its beer in the UK:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 February 2017: Lexicography, St Louis, Ateliers

Here’s all the beer and pub writing that grabbed our attention in the past seven days from different ways to say you’re bladdered to mysteries of the American palate.

First, for the BBC’s culture pages, lexicographer and broadcaster Susie Dent considers the 3,000 words in the English language to describe being drunk:

The concoctions those knights dispensed fill an even richer lexicon, veering from the euphemistic ‘tiger’s milk’ to the blatant invitation of ‘strip-me-naked’. Add those to the 3,000 words English currently holds for the state of being drunk (including ‘ramsquaddled’, ‘obfusticated’, ‘tight as a tick’, and the curious ‘been too free with Sir Richard’) and you’ll find that the only subjects that fill the pages of English slang more are money and sex.

(But has she quite got that bit on Bride-ale right?)


Barmen pouring IPAs.
SOURCE: Jeff Alworth/Beervana

These next two posts need to be read as one piece. First, Jeff Alworth argues — persuasively, we think — that the reason IPAs are so dominant in US craft beer is because it’s the first beer style Americans can really call their own, like jazz and comic books:

Americans are finding their palates, which is a sign of maturity. This is not a new point here at the blog, but it’s becoming more pointed. When a country develops its own beer culture, diversity declines. This is why Belgian and British ales don’t taste the same, nor Czech and German lagers. Americans have found their groove, and it is lined with the residue of sticky yellow lupulin.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 4 February 2017: Lexicography, St Louis, Ateliers”