Categories
Generalisations about beer culture marketing

Where is that lager with your town’s name on really from?

We’re back on this again: should consumers be told, at point of sale, if a beer is brewed somewhere other than at the brewery whose name it bears?

Bristol Beer Factory is a substantial, well-established brewery, so we had no reason to doubt that its Infinity lager is brewed here in Bristol. And because we never doubted it, we never thought to research it.

If we had, we’d have found this page on the website which explains its provenance in some detail:

For lager that was particularly important and challenging for us with our restrictions on space to fit the necessary bespoke lager tanks into our compact site on North Street. Anyone who has been on a tour of our brewery will know that space is already at a massive premium. Thus, the reason we have not brewed a lager before now: we did not have the space to add the necessary tanks and equipment to brew a world-class lager. So, it became clear, we needed to find a creative solution… We started looking all over for a partner brewery… Utopian Brewery, near Crediton Devon, had recently been set up by Richard Archer and were now producing fantastically brewed, British lagers… [and] we quickly established that Utopian were the brewery that we were looking for.

That is a pretty decent degree of transparency, isn’t it?

You might observe that this important information is delivered quite a long way down quite a long page, after a history of Helles as a style – why not put it in the first paragraph?

But maybe that’s quibbling.

The problem is that where we really need the information, as buyers, is on the front of the can, or the font in the pub, or the beer menu, or the blackboard with the beer list.

When we Tweeted about this the other night we certainly didn’t think it was a ‘scoop’. If anything, we felt a bit daft.

How could we, living in Bristol and reasonably switched on to goings-on in the industry, have missed this important detail?

And if we didn’t know, what are the chances that most people ordering a pint in the pub will have any idea at all?

“But they probably don’t care!”

Well, imaginary heckler, we come back to a point we’ve made before: if it doesn’t matter where it’s from, why put Bristol in the name of your brewery? There’s clearly some perceived value in local, independent, and all those other nice ideas.

People in Bristol, perhaps more than in many other parts of the UK, like to buy Bristol Things – or, if they must, Somerset or Gloucestershire Things. Devon? Might as well be Tasmania.

On Twitter, Ed Wray provided a reason why transparency might be difficult:

That makes sense. 

Let’s say Bristol Beer Factory decides to put ‘Brewed by our friends at Utopian in Devon’ on packaging and in point-of-sale copy.

Then, two months later, they decide they need to increase capacity and start working with a second partner, or switch to a bigger brewing partner.

They’d have to reprint labels, reissue font lenses, update website pages, brief staff and customers…

Keeping it vague certainly makes sense in terms of efficiency.

As consumers, this is very much not our problem. But we get it.

What this has done is reminded us to check the origins of craft lagers.

Is (some) Lost & Grounded Helles still being brewed in Belgium, for example? We think so, but there’s no easy way to find out.

Categories
20th Century Pub bristol pubs

A gap where the pubs should be

Our exploration of Bristol has been biased towards the north where we live so, in an effort to address that, we decided to take a bus as far south as possible and then walk back.

Or at least, that was the intention, but we were seduced by the sexy new Metro Bus M1 with its phone chargers and free wi-fi so ended up in Hengrove Park, which isn’t quite as far south as Bristol goes. It’s still terra very much incognita for us, though.

Preliminary research indicated we probably wouldn’t find much in the way of targets for #EveryPubInBristol.

We expected a lot of Sizzling Horse chain pubs in retail parks, then a bit of a gap before getting back into the much more heavily-pubbed areas of Bedminster and Totterdown.

We began at The Wessex Flyer, a Brewer’s Fayre attached to a Premier Inn, on the other side of Hengrove Park from the shiny new hospital and college. It pleasingly over-delivered, managing to feel more pub-like than The Bristol Concorde and with Proper Job on in decent condition.

Why did this one feel more like a pub?

Possibly because there was a partition for eating (‘Please wait to be seated’) which concentrated the drinkers in one corner. There were only a few punters in, watching the football mostly, but they were gathered together which made it feel more lively. The staff were also way more pleasant than they had any need to be – human beings who talked to us like human beings.

We then went for a long walk across the pub desert that is Knowle West.

Categories
beer reviews Beer styles

BWOASA: Fuller’s comes through

Fuller's barley wine.

After our depth-testing was a bit of a failure last week, we were starting to get really worried: was this going to be a month of posts about the absence of barley wine, old ale and strong ale?

Then we realised there was at least one safe bet: Fuller’s.

The Old Fish Market isn’t a pub we’re mad keen on, tending to the businesslike in terms of atmosphere, though it does the job from time to time when we want a fix of one of our favourite London breweries.

Crucially, we also know it carries both Golden Pride and 1845 in bottles, and so on Friday night, before Ray caught a train to London, in we went for a bottle of each, with a chaser of ESB.

We don’t drink Golden Pride often, perhaps once every couple of years. There’s a lingering sense in our minds that it’s a bit… trashy, maybe? It’s not bottle-conditioned, it’s less complex than some other Fuller’s strong ales, and has a less interesting backstory. Which is why a mission like this is helpful in focusing the mind: it’s a great beer, and we’re lucky it still exists.

Copper-coloured and jewel-like, it delivered everything we expect from the ideal barley wine: sweetness, fruitiness, richness. Sherry, fruitcake, dates and prunes. Golden syrup, honey and brown sugar. An avalanche of marmalade.

Again, we found ourselves wondering where the boundary between this type of beer and old-school double IPA might lie. Perhaps side-by-side the distinction would be clearer.

Anyway, yes, here it is – the official standard reference barley wine, against which others should be judged.

* * *

We used to love 1845, the classic bottle-conditioned strong ale, but apparently we’ve grown apart.

Perhaps it was the close comparison to Golden Pride but, even at 6.3%, it seemed thin, harsh and unpleasantly earthy. As it warmed up, it gained some weight, and the bitterness fell back into something like balance, but it lacked fruitiness.

Its main effect was to make us really, really want a pint of ESB.

* * *

We’re lucky to have ESB, too. At its best – and on Friday, it was at its best – it’s a beer that brings the depth and density of a nip-bottle-sipper into the pub pint glass.

Even after drinking Golden Pride at 8.5%, ESB at 5.5 tasted chewy, charming and luscious. You know the flavours but, just in case: marmalade, fruitcake, mild spice, cherry and orange zest. Hot cross buns perhaps sums it up.

Maybe this is why we don’t drink Golden Pride more often – because ESB provides 80% of the pleasure with far less boozy intensity, while still feeling like a special treat.

* * *

We floated out of the OFM quite happy, feeling that we were finally on the right track.

Categories
beer reviews

New To Us #2: Cocksure

Our mission to try beers from breweries we don’t know has stalled in week two: almost everywhere we went at the weekend, it was familiar names only.

We did manage a single (ugh) ‘tick’, though – Cocksure African Hibiscus & Honey golden ale, 4.8%, at the Drapers Arms. Its style was listed as ‘Wacky’.

Cocksure is based in Totterdown having moved into Bristol from Gloucestershire last summer, just as Moor relocated from rural Somerset to where the craft beer taproom action is a few years back.

This particular beer didn’t taste of hibiscus to us, or honey; we mostly got yeast-bite and peaty phenols. Still, at least it was different – not generic hazy cask session IPA.

Everyone in the pub seemed intrigued by it and we saw lots go over the bar. On Sunday, when we went back, it was still on (perhaps not a ‘same again’ beer?) and still generating interest, and positive noises from some of the regulars.

So Cocksure goes on to the interesting, jury’s-out list.

Categories
pubs

The bare minimum

The above Twitter conversation got us thinking once again about ‘proper pubs’, and reaching a conclusion: barebones isn’t everything – there are some minimum entry requirements.

We had a perfectly fine time on our visit the Myrtle Tree and, a little sleazing aside, we were made to feel reasonably welcome.

But, still, we’re not sure it’s a ‘proper pub’, because it lacks atmosphere and that sense of timelessness that you find in, say, the Merchant’s just up the road.

A ‘proper pub’ can’t have cold light and pale walls. It can’t be dominated by TVs and flashing fruit machines. If you need to have a conspiratorial conversation, there should be a corner in which to do it. Ideally, there’ll be some sepia tones.

The Myrtle Tree fails all these tests for us and so we would classify it as something else: a plain old, straight-up, stripped-t0-the-bone boozer.

Boozers have their place, too, of course, but beyond the strange appeal of Bristol-style flat Bass, there’s not much for pub obsessives to look at or enjoy at the Myrtle Tree.

To put all that another way, ‘properness’ is a positive quality, not merely the absence of contemporary adornments.