News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 May 2018: Boozers, Brussels, Benin

It’s Saturday morning and time for us to round up links to all the writing about beer and pubs we’ve found stimulating, entertaining or engaging in the past week, from Huddersfield to West Africa.

But first, it’s pub geek Christmas: Historic England has listed five notable post-war pubs, this being the first fruit of a research project by Dr Emily Cole we first got excited about back in 2015. It was lovely to see not-beer-Twitter get all excited about this story yesterday and we suspect some of these pubs will find themselves a bit busier than usual today. We’re planning a trip to The Centurion for next month.


A moose head at The Grove

At Beer Compurgation Mark Johnson reflects on his support for Huddersfield Town, his connection with his father, and how all this become entangled with his affection for one particular pub:

For many fans, football is about the matchday rituals and experience as much as it about the 3pm Saturday kick-off. For my father and I the routine became embedded – the Grove at 1pm. It stopped requiring organisation with others coming from elsewhere. The texts about attendance weren’t necessary. We were in the Grove at 1pm.

You don’t have to be interested in football to enjoy this post which is really about the precariousness of important relationships, whether they are with people or places. (Suggested song pairing: ‘In My Life’ by the Beatles.)


Adnams sign on brewery wall, Southwold.

It’s worth reading a pair of articles by veteran beer writer Roger Protz for his tracking of one particularly important question: how committed are the established family brewers to cask ale? St Austell (and its subsidiary Bath Ales) seems very much so; Adnams? Maybe not quite so much:

When I sat down with chairman Jonathan Adnams in the opulent splendour of the Swan Hotel fronting the brewery I checked I heard him correctly when he said early in our conversation: “By 2019 keg production will overtake cask.”

Surely not Adnams falling to keg? What has caused this astonishing turn round?

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 19 May 2018: Boozers, Brussels, Benin”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 April 2018: Beer Duty, Beavertown, Baudelaire

Here’s all the writing about beer from the past week that most engaged, informed or entertained us, from the Fall of the Craft Beer Empire to Gamma Ray in Waitrose.

Well, most of the past week — we wrote this post at breakfast time on Friday and scheduled it to post, so if anything exciting happened on Friday afternoon, we probably missed it. We are now on holiday for a week and a bit which means no round-up next weekend. If you want a fix of links in the meantime check out Stan Hieronymus’s Monday post and Alan McLeod’s on Thursday.


Adapted from ‘The End is Nigh’ by Jason Cartwright on FLICKR, CC BY 2.0

We’ll start with a piece by Pete Brown which prods at the kind of would-be sensational news story based on a piece of research you have to pay to read in full:

“Have you noticed a decline in the demand for craft beer? Why do you think this is?”

I stared at the question, cognitive dissonance making me feel momentarily floaty…. The reason I was confused is that it hasn’t happened – not yet. When I got these questions, I’d just delivered the keynote speech to the SIBA conference. To write it, I’d had to do a lot of digging. I’d discovered that craft beer volume increased by 23 per cent last year, and that analysts are predicting continued growth until at least 2021. I’d learned that business leaders in the food and beverage industry had named craft beer the most important trend across the whole of food and drink – comfortably ahead of low alcohol drinks, artisan coffee and craft spirits – for the fifth year running.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 April 2018: Beer Duty, Beavertown, Baudelaire”

Pub Life: Brussels Edition

All the usual trappings: mirrors, coat-hooks, brown wood, low-light, stern overseer, aloof bar staff, glinting glassware of every variety, and two English tourists experiencing mind-expansion.

They have two beers on the go already but are too excited to stop there.

“Bruv, bruv — you’ve got a lot of beers, man. Like… a lot. What would you personally recommend?”

The barman (dunking glasses in soapy water, running a hand around the rim, dunking again, rinsing in cold water) pauses to think. “Personally? I like this.” He presents a bottle of Orval like a waiter with a vintage wine.

“Yeah, open it up, bruv — open it up. Let’s do this.”

“You want two glasses?”

“I got money, bruv — my pockets ain’t shallow. We can have a bottle each.”

“Of course but you have two beers already and it is quite strong.”

“OK, we’ll have one of these, too.”

The tourist points at the lager tap from which the other barman is in the process of pouring eight 25cl glasses, slicing at the foam with a knife so that it surges up smoother behind the cut.

“That? Uh… that’s just a normal pils. Let me give you this with two glasses and if you want something else, no sweat — order it when you’re ready.”

The tourists are now sharing three beers between them, swigging and laughing, getting louder as time passes. Both barmen avoid their gaze, slide past the spokesman’s upraised hand, and ignore his ever more insistent calls: “Bruv! Sir! Mate! Hello! HELLO?” Eventually the boss barks and the other barman reluctantly attends.

“What would you recommend? Something mad. Something different.”

“Okay, how about…” He presents a bottle of gueuze.

“Yeah, two of them.”

“Uh… It’s a little bit… This one is a special beer, quite sour. Why don’t you share? I’ll give you two wine glasses.”

The tourist presents his wallet, waving a wad of cash.

“I can pay, bruv! Just give me two. Oh, no — tell you what, give me a big bottle! You got that in a big bottle?”

“Yeah but, I mean… It’s like, fifteen euro. Seriously, have this small one and if you don’t like it, you haven’t–”

“But if we do like it, can we part exchange for a big bottle?”

The barman considers, and shrugs.

“OK, sure.”

They do not like it.

But by this point, it doesn’t matter, because they are giggling, their stools involuntarily rotating beneath them, feet slipping from the rests. They are slapping their thighs, crying, weeping with laughter. Draining glasses, draining bottles, slurping down yeasty dregs. Having fun… for now.

Neither the elderly woman with her newspaper and espresso, nor the middle-aged couple holding hands as they consult a tool catalogue alongside two perfect chalices of blonde beer, seem to notice or care.

When we leave, the spokesman has his hand in the air again: “Bruv, bruv — what you got with fruit in it?”

The barmen pretend they can’t hear as they urgently restock the fridges, urgently clean some glasses, urgently disappear into the darkest corners they can find.

The Global Aspect of Alterno-beer

Detail from a sign reading Praha, Prague, Praga, Prag.

Zak Avery’s latest blog post touches on the links between British and American brewing and how that has contributed to a ‘craft beer culture’. (The penultimate paragraph is particularly perceptive.)

Earlier this week, we set about trying to identify key turning points in the development of what we’re calling (for the moment) an ‘alterno-beer culture’ in the UK and, although we pondered the issue of cultural exchange, weren’t able to pinpoint many specifics.

Surely, though, the development of cheap trans-Atlantic flights from the seventies onwards; the opening up of Prague after the fall of Communism; and the birth of Brussels as a tourist destination with the coming of Eurostar, must all have contributed to a broadening of people’s beery horizons.

It’s certainly fascinating how many brewers, from all over the world, have official biographies which contain variations on this sentence: “Their interest in beer had originally been fired by a visit to Belgium in 1980.” (In this case, that’s beer writer Michael Jackson describing the founders of US brewery Ommegang.)

Of course, the only beer that tastes better than the free stuff is that which you drink on holiday, but isn’t it also natural to take for granted what you have around you? In our case, it took German and American beer to jolt us into really appreciating straightforward British ales, as per Zak’s Australian Chardonnay analogy.

Kerstbiers at the Poechenellekelder

marzipansantas

We’ve just got back from a week away in Germany. On the way out, we spent a night in Brussels checking into our hotel not long before 10.30 pm on a rainy Tuesday night. That gave us just enough time to dash to our favourite pub, the Poechenellekelder, to try a few items from their very extensive Christmas beer menu.

Tsjeeses by Struise caught our eye because of the mysterious name which became less so once we said it aloud and saw the label, which features a cartoon of a very stoned Jesus with smoke curling from his mouth and ears. Tacky branding aside, it was a perfect Belgian blonde and absurdly drinkable at 10%. Not too sweet, not too bitter, definitely spicy but nothing you could pick out. Everything was in balance. It reminded us what we love about Belgian beer.

Palm Dubbel was  less exciting, but certainly not unpleasant. It reminded us of Leffe Radieuse, with the same kind of fruit flavour which makes you wonder if cherries have been added somewhere along the way.

Zinnebier Xmas (Brasserie de la Senne) reminded us of Fuller’s London Porter but was much easier to swig — less intense and with a lighter body. Roasted grains mixed with sour-fruit aromas. Fabulous.

Forestinne Nordika from Brasserie Caracole was the last we could squeeze in as the bar emptied and bills were paid. Luckily, it was also a hit, with a powerful sweet orange-peel aroma and flavour that we loved.  There was more fruit than spice and we guessed from the colour that it had been made with something like English pale ale malt as the base.

All in all, a successful start to our trip.

Still to come: we find a brewery making stout in Cologne; catch ourselves ticking mulled drinks; and find a surprising amount of decent beer in Northern Germany.