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: Archive.org

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:

BASS
William Bass & Co
(Marston’s)
Burton-upon-Trent

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?