News, Nuggets and Longreads 30 March 2019: Magic Rock, Bottle Shop, Light Ale

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from takeovers to light ale.

First, some big news which would be more excit­ing if it had­n’t seemed inevitable, and if we had­n’t been through this cycle mul­ti­ple times in the past decade: Hud­der­s­field­’s Mag­ic Rock has been acquired by multi­na­tion­al brew­ing com­pa­ny Lion.

We’ve always found Mag­ic Rock­’s Richard Bur­house to be a frank, thought­ful sort of bloke, and his state­ment strikes home in a way these things often don’t:

Of course, I realise that this news will not be uni­ver­sal­ly well received but I’m also con­scious that inter­na­tion­al­ly renowned brew­ing com­pa­nies don’t invest in Hud­der­s­field every day, and I’m delight­ed that the jour­ney we start­ed eight years ago has got us to this point… I’m proud that we con­tin­ue to be a good news sto­ry in the town; the deal with Lion secures growth and longevi­ty for Mag­ic Rock, gen­uine job secu­ri­ty for our employ­ees and enables us to hire more peo­ple and con­tribute more to the econ­o­my of the local area going for­ward.

It’s inter­est­ing that of the four brew­eries involved in the found­ing of Unit­ed Craft Brew­ers in 2015, three have now been bought by multi­na­tion­als. We said at the time that UCB rep­re­sent­ed a state­ment of ambi­tion, which ideas seems to have been borne out by the pas­sage of time. Any­way, that’s one rumour down, leav­ing one more (that we’ve heard) to go…

More news, not per­haps unre­lat­ed to the above:

Light split (HSD and Light Ale).

Justin Mason at Get Beer. Drink Beer. has been research­ing and reflect­ing upon one of the most pop­u­lar 20th cen­tu­ry beer mix­es, light and bit­ter:

Light and Bit­ter is, as you might expect, a half of Bit­ter (usu­al­ly a bit more, three quar­ters was­n’t uncom­mon) served in a pint glass or mug with a bot­tle of Light Ale as an accom­pa­ni­ment. This was to be mixed as you saw fit, either in mea­sured stages but more usu­al­ly as half the bot­tle, tak­ing it almost to the top, and the oth­er half when you were down to the half pint lev­el again… I could­n’t remem­ber the last time I saw any­body order or drink a Light and Bit­ter in any pub I was in for at least ten years…

A mural in south London.

Stay­ing in the realms of the old school, Desert­er has been tour­ing the work­ing men’s clubs of south Lon­don:

Have you ever walked past those huge old build­ings that have a Courage sign from anoth­er epoch, but offer no encour­age­ment to enter? They’re mem­bers’ clubs, where the beer is as cheap as fibs and ‘refurb’ means a new snook­er table. Lib­er­al Clubs, Work­ing Men’s Clubs, Social Clubs. A mys­tery to most. A sanc­tu­ary to some… Roxy and Gail had become mem­bers of a CIU club and that enti­tled them to vis­it any of their 1800+ clubs in the UK and take in their spe­cial ’70s-ness, low-price pints, mas­sive func­tion rooms and strong cue-sports pres­ence. I bor­rowed a card and kicked off our club tour at the Peck­ham Lib.

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2002 & 2009.

Archive arti­cle of the week: can you imag­ine a news­pa­per today pub­lish­ing any­thing as niche and geeky as this set of ver­ti­cal tast­ing notes by Michael Jack­son on J.W. Lees Har­vest Ale from 1995?

The exact influ­ence of age is open to argu­ment. Nine­ty-nine out of a hun­dred beers will go down­hill. Only the strong and com­plex might improve. Before this tast­ing, I would have said that Lees Har­vest Ale might devel­op favourably for three to six months. Now, I think six or sev­en years. Beyond that, oxi­da­tion cre­ates Madeira-like notes, which can become dom­i­nant. From day one, the herbal flow­er­i­ness of the hop can recede, but it was still def­i­nite­ly evi­dent in the 1990.

For more good read­ing, check out Alan on Thurs­day and Stan on Mon­day.

Where Can We Buy Your Beer?

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

With (give or take – counts vary) something like 1,600 breweries currently operating in the UK a common complaint is the difficulty for smaller operators of getting those beers to consumers.

Big pub com­pa­nies, chains and super­mar­kets dom­i­nate the mar­ket, buy­ing beer from a cho­sen few brew­eries will­ing to meet their demand­ing terms. In many regions one or two large play­ers (e.g. St Austell) con­trol many of the pubs leav­ing a fist­ful of free­hous­es to fight over. And, so we gath­er from inter­views and off-the-record chat, new small brew­eries can some­times find them­selves mus­cled out by bet­ter-estab­lished play­ers of more or less the same size.

Yes­ter­day we got involved in some Twit­ter chat about beer from Devon (there’s a poll, actu­al­ly, if you feel like vot­ing) and a ver­sion of what seems to us to be a com­mon con­ver­sa­tion unfurled. To para­phrase:

A: There’s no good beer in [PLACE]!

B: Yes there is – brew­eries X, Y and Z are awe­some!

A: But I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly seen those beers for sale any­where.

B: Ah.

In this con­text we’re begin­ning to think the sin­gle most impor­tant bit of infor­ma­tion a small brew­ery can share is intel­li­gence on where we can actu­al­ly buy their beer, if it’s any­thing oth­er than fair­ly ubiq­ui­tous.

It might be in the farm­ers’ mar­ket in Fulchester every third Sun­day of the month; it might be in the del­i­catessen in Dufton; the bot­tle shop in Barch­ester; or the Coach & Hors­es in Cast­er­bridge. We will go out of our way (a bit) to find a beer that sounds inter­est­ing, or to try some­thing new on our beat, but we need a few hints, ide­al­ly with­out hav­ing to email or direct mes­sage the brew­ery. (And some­times, even when we do that, we get ‘No idea, sor­ry’, or ‘It’s should be in a few pubs round Borset­shire this month’.)

A dai­ly updat­ed page on the brew­ery web­site, Face­book page or Twit­ter would prob­a­bly work best.

We cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate that in the case of cask ale, even if a brew­ery knows a pub has tak­en deliv­ery, it can be hard to say exact­ly when it’s going to go on or, equal­ly, if it’s already sold out. Even so, would­n’t a quick exchange of info between pub­li­can and brew­er – a text mes­sage or social media nudge – be mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial here?

But per­haps there are good rea­sons why this does­n’t often seem to hap­pen.

In the mean­time, if you don’t know where your beer is on sale, and can’t tell peo­ple who want to buy it, then it almost might as well not exist.

Penzance’s 19th Century Beer Shops

From the Jour­nal of the Sta­tis­ti­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don, Vol II (1839):

Not any fam­i­lies of this [labour­ing] class brew at home. The num­ber of beer-shops at the same time in both places [Pen­zance and Madron] was 37. The num­ber of pub­lic hous­es in Pen­zance has not var­ied dur­ing the last five years, with the excep­tion of one new house opened about two years ago near some exten­sive rows of hous­es recent­ly built. In Madron they have increased dur­ing the same peri­od from 3 to 5. The num­ber of beer-shops in the town and parish has been in each of the same five years, respec­tive­ly, 28, 36, 41, 41 and 37… In Pen­zance there are only about half-a-dozen skit­tle-ground, called “kayle-alleys,” all of which are attached to pub­lic-hous­es or beer-shops; but out of the town, most of the beer-shops have them. It is stat­ed by a per­son who fre­quents the pub­lic-hous­es in Pen­zance, that no peri­od­i­cal pub­li­ca­tions are tak­en in there exclu­sive­ly for the labour­ing class­es, and that the news­pa­pers which are to be found in them are the provin­cial jour­nals, and such of the Lon­don papers as are gen­er­al­ly read by all class­es of soci­ety.

Give or take a cou­ple that have closed, we reck­on (count­ing on fin­gers) that, these days, there are about fifty pubs in Pen­zance and Madron, so slight­ly more than in the 1830s, but then the pop­u­la­tion has tripled.