News, nuggets and longreads 31 August 2019: London, Lambeth, Lancashire

Here’s everything that struck us as noteworthy in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from judging beer to assessing malt.

First, a bit of news: Founders Brew­ing Co has final­ly sold off the major­i­ty of itself to Mahou, hav­ing ini­tial­ly sur­ren­dered a 30% stake in 2013. This comes in the con­text of accu­sa­tions of endem­ic racism at the Michi­gan brew­ery which have tar­nished its image in the past year or so.

And anoth­er: accord­ing to fig­ures released by Lon­don City Hall, the num­ber of pubs in the city has sta­bilised at just over 3,500. In 13 bor­oughs, the num­ber of pubs actu­al­ly increased and the num­ber of small pubs across the city went up, buck­ing a trend towards larg­er pubs that’s been evi­dent since 2003. There’s also a map show­ing the num­ber of pubs for each bor­ough – a fas­ci­nat­ing at-a-glimpse read­out with traf­fic light colours that we sus­pect would look sim­i­lar for most cities in the UK these days.

Old engraving of Lambeth Palace.
Lam­beth Palace in 1647. SOURCE:

At A Good Beer Blog Alan McLeod con­tin­ues his inves­ti­ga­tions into old British beer cat­e­gories ask­ing this time why Lam­beth Ale was called Lam­beth Ale:

Let me illus­trate my conun­drum. If you look up at the image above, which I am informed is a 1670 illus­tra­tion of the sights at Lam­beth, you will note two things: a big church com­plex and a lot of grass. Here is a sim­i­lar ver­sion dat­ed 1685. I have fur­ther illus­trat­ed the con­cept here for clar­i­ty. Lam­beth Palace is and was the Lon­don res­i­dence of the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury, head of the Church of Eng­land. It sits in what is known as – and what was at the time in ques­tion – Lam­beth Marsh. Grass.

Tractors at Rivington.
SOURCE: Katie Mather/Pellicle.

Katie Math­er reports for Pel­li­cle from “Man­ches­ter’s Lake Dis­trict” where Riv­ing­ton Brew­ing Co is oper­at­ing from a farm, pro­duc­ing Amer­i­can-style IPAs and sour beer:

We do suf­fer from a mas­sive sense of imposter syn­drome,” Ben says as we stand around the tiny lean-to, clutch­ing mugs of diges­tive bis­cuit-coloured tea. “When oth­er brew­eries give us good feed­back we think… But we’re mak­ing it in here. Are we good enough?”

A perfect pint of Bass in Plymouth.

For Der­byshire Live Col­ston Craw­ford has writ­ten about the resur­gence of Bass, not only as a cult brand but as a beer real­ly worth drink­ing:

Noth­ing the var­i­ous own­ers of the brand have done to try to ignore it has, it would seem, dimin­ished its pop­u­lar­i­ty in this part of the world and peo­ple keep on telling me that Bass right now is as good as it’s been for many a year… There are a num­ber of pubs serv­ing mul­ti­ple brews around the city who will not remove Bass from the pumps, as there would be an out­cry if they did… This sug­gests that the own­ers of the brand – cur­rent­ly the con­glom­er­ate AB-InBev – have missed a trick while con­cern­ing them­selves with flog­ging us Bud­weis­er.

There’s even a poll: does Bass taste bet­ter than it has done for years?

Judge with beer.

Chris Elston at Elston’s Beer Blog has been reflect­ing on what it means to judge beer in our every­day lives, in the wake of his expe­ri­ence at the World Beer Awards:

How can you judge a beer when you haven’t even tried it? We all do it though, every time we go into the bot­tle shop or super­mar­ket, we do it. We’re not just choos­ing the beers we’d like to drink, we’re judg­ing those we’re not sure about or the ones we feel we don’t want. These are the beers that lose out, or rather, we lose out because we’ve judged that they are not worth pur­chas­ing. Which again is wrong.

If you want more read­ing and com­men­tary, Stan Hierony­mus posts a round-up every Mon­day, while Alan McLeod has the Thurs­day beat cov­ered.

That Little Bit of Magic

Cask ale collage.Drink­ing extra­or­di­nar­i­ly good Bass at the Angel at Long Ash­ton on Sat­ur­day we found our­selves reflect­ing, once again, on the fine dif­fer­ence between a great pint and a dis­ap­point­ment.

A few years ago, when we were try­ing hard to make the Farmer’s Arms in Pen­zance our local, we had a ses­sion on Ring­wood Forty-Nin­er that made us think it might actu­al­ly be a great beer.

But every pint we’ve had since, there or any­where else, has been pret­ty dread­ful.

What gave it the edge that first time? And what was miss­ing there­after? Extra high fre­quen­cies, or an addi­tion­al dimen­sion, some­how.

This elu­sive qual­i­ty is what we tast­ed in eight pints of Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord out of ten at the Nags Head in Waltham­stow for sev­er­al years in a run, and what is so often not there when we encounter it as a guest ale any­where else.

It’s what makes rec­om­mend­ing or endors­ing cask ales in par­tic­u­lar a mug’s game: “Is it only me that’s nev­er got the fuss about Lon­don Pride?” some­one will say on Twit­ter. No, it’s not, and we don’t doubt that you’ve nev­er had a good pint, because it can taste like dust and sweet­corn, and does maybe more than half the time we encounter it. But when it’s good, oh! is it good.

Bass isn’t a great beer in absolute terms, but it can be, hon­est.

Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best can be a wretched, mis­er­able thing – all stress and stal­e­ness – and might well have been every time you’ve ever encoun­tered it. But the next pint you have might be a rev­e­la­tion.

Are the lows worth endur­ing for the highs? Yes, and it might even be that they make the highs high­er.

(We’ve prob­a­bly made this point before but after near­ly 3,000 posts, who can remem­ber…)

Bristol, Where Headless Pints are a Feature, not a Bug

A Bass pale ale advertising lantern.
The William the Fourth, Sta­ple Hill.

Here’s a thing: the perfect Bristol pint doesn’t have foam. It comes up to the very brim, and the merest  hint of scum might draw a tut.

At least that’s what we’ve been told by sev­er­al dif­fer­ent peo­ple on sev­er­al dif­fer­ent occa­sions that this is the case, and that Bris­tol his­tor­i­cal­ly likes its pints ‘flat’.

A few months ago we had to nego­ti­ate heads on our beers with a mem­ber of staff in a pub more often fre­quent­ed by elder­ly men who angled the glass and trick­led the last inch­es with great care: “Look, I agree with you, but I’ve been work­ing here for a while and this lot have got me trained to serve it flat.”

At which point, an inter­rup­tion from a grey-hair with a sad-look­ing decap­i­tat­ed pint: “Yeah, prop­er Bris­tol style, we’re not up north now.”

To Jess, this idea does­n’t seem so alien: she recalls a gen­er­al pref­er­ence for com­plete­ly head­less pints in East Lon­don before about, say, 2005.

There, it often seemed to be tied to the ques­tion of val­ue, and a refusal to be at all influ­enced by the super­fi­cial: foam’s a mar­ket­ing trick to make mug pun­ters pay for air, innit?

In Bris­tol, we won­der if it’s a com­bi­na­tion of that, plus the influ­ence of scrumpy cider drinkers, whose pints are froth-free by default.

But we can’t say that in prac­tice we’ve encoun­tered many flat pints in Bris­tol, though, and one of the few handy sources, Fred Pearce’s 1975 guide to the pubs of Bris­tol, fea­tures plen­ty of shots of white-capped glass­es.

Maybe we’re hav­ing our legs pulled, or per­haps this is more com­plex than we’ve realised  – maybe only cer­tain brands or styles get the millpond treat­ment – but either way, it would be a bit sad if a gen­uine bit of local beer cul­ture has been lost.

Even if it’s good news for us as drinkers who very much pre­fer a bit of dress­ing around the top of the mug.

As you might have guessed, this is real­ly our way of flush­ing out more infor­ma­tion. Do com­ment below if you can tell us more.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 12 May 2018: Bass, Bavaria, Bambini

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from the masculinity of beer to the fascination of Bass.

Dea Latis, an indus­try group ded­i­cat­ed to pro­mot­ing beer to women, and chal­leng­ing the idea that beer is a male pre­serve. It com­mis­sioned a study from YouGov into wom­en’s atti­tudes to beer which is sum­marised here, with a link to the full report:

Beer Som­me­li­er and Dea Latis direc­tor Annabel Smith said: “We know that the beer cat­e­go­ry has seen mas­sive progress in the last decade – you only need to look at the wide vari­ety of styles and flavours which weren’t avail­able wide­ly in the UK ten years ago. Yet it appears the female con­sumer either hasn’t come on the same jour­ney, or the beer indus­try just isn’t address­ing their female audi­ence ade­quate­ly. Overt­ly mas­cu­line adver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tion of beer has been large­ly absent from media chan­nels for a num­ber of years but there is a lot of his­to­ry to unrav­el. Women still per­ceive beer brand­ing is tar­get­ed at men.”

We’ve already linked to this once this week but why not a sec­ond time? It’s a sub­stan­tial bit of work, after all.

There’s some inter­est­ing com­men­tary on this, too, from Kirst Walk­er, who says: “If we want more women in the beer club, we have to sweep up the crap from the floors and admit that flow­ers are nice and it pays not to smell of horse piss. How’s that for a man­i­festo?”

Bass Pale Ale mirror, Plymouth.

Ian Thur­man, AKA @thewickingman, was born and brought up in Bur­ton-upon-Trent and has a lin­ger­ing affec­tion for Bass. He has writ­ten a long reflec­tion on this famous beer’s rise and fall accom­pa­nied by a crowd-sourced direc­to­ry of pubs where it is always avail­able:

It’s dif­fi­cult for me to be unemo­tion­al about Draught Bass. It was part of grow­ing up in Bur­ton. But what are the facts.

The EU AB InBev careers’ web­site accu­rate­ly describes the rel­a­tive impor­tance of their brands to the com­pa­ny.

The UK has a strong port­fo­lio of AB InBev brands. This includes, glob­al brands, Stel­la Artois and Bud­weis­er, inter­na­tion­al brands, Beck’s, Leffe and Hoe­gaar­den, as well as local brands, includ­ing Bod­ding­tons and Bass.”

We’re fas­ci­nat­ed by the re-emer­gence of the Cult of Bass as a sym­bol of a cer­tain con­ser­v­a­tive atti­tude to pubs and beer. You might regard this arti­cle as its man­i­festo.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 12 May 2018: Bass, Bavaria, Bam­bi­ni”

Where is Bass From?

Bass Pale Ale

Making a flying visit to our local, The Drapers Arms, on Tuesday night we got drawn into a puzzle: who brews Bass, and where is it from?

This ques­tion arose because the pub has a cask of Bass ready to go live in the next day or so, in time for the week­end. Pol­i­cy at the Drap­ers is to write the ori­gin of each beer on both the jack­et cov­er­ing the cask and the black­board in front of the bar. That’s easy when the beer is by Stroud Brew­ery from Stroud, or Ched­dar Ales from Ched­dar, but Bass is com­pli­cat­ed.

As far as we know, the keg and bot­tled ver­sions are brewed at Sam­les­bury in Lan­cashire, while the cask is brewed by Marston’s in Bur­ton-upon-Trent. (Though there’s some­times talk of pro­duc­tion hav­ing moved, or over­spilled, to Wolver­hamp­ton.) And the brand is owned by AB-InBev whose head office is in Leu­ven in Bel­gium.

Our instinct was to make an excep­tion – Bass is Bass is Bass, so just write Bass. But that won’t quite do.

In the end, after wip­ing the chalk away a cou­ple of times, the last ver­sion we saw before leav­ing was some­thing like:

William Bass & Co

The land­scape of clas­sic beers (you can read that as sar­cas­ti­cal­ly if need be) has become quite mud­dled with brands, brand-own­ers and brew­ers mov­ing around, being tak­en over, con­tract­ing and licens­ing all over the place. Where is Pedi­gree actu­al­ly brewed these days? What about Young’s Ordi­nary, or Courage Best? New­cas­tle Brown is now being pro­duced in the Nether­lands, along with HP Sauce.

Of course big brew­ers like to keep it vague so they can shunt pro­duc­tion here, there or any­where, based on busi­ness need, but this should­n’t be infor­ma­tion con­sumers or retail­ers have to hunt around for, not least because the vac­u­um leaves room for con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and bar-room gos­sip.

More gen­er­al­ly, though we find a cer­tain romance in this grand indus­tri­al jig­gery-pok­ery, isn’t the whole real-ale-craft-beer thing of the past 50 years real­ly about mak­ing sure we don’t have to ask this ques­tion? About insist­ing that, good or bad, the beer we drink should clear­ly, and with­out foot­notes, be from some­where?