News, nuggets and longreads 18 May 2019: ratings, lager, and lager ratings

Here’s everything that struck as particularly interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from Carlsberg to Cambridge.

First, some news: those Red­church rum­blings from the oth­er week are now con­firmed – the brew­ery went into admin­is­tra­tion and is now under new own­er­ship. This has prompt­ed an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about crowd­fund­ing:

More news: it’s intrigu­ing to hear that Curi­ous is expand­ing. It’s a brew­ery you don’t hear talked about much by geeks like us – in fact, we’re not sure we’ve ever tried the beer – but it does turn up in a sur­pris­ing num­ber of pubs and restau­rants.

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News, nuggets and longreads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawling, Carlsberg, Craftonia

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from Leeds to low alcohol beer.

For the Guardian Dave Simp­son writes about the devel­op­ment of the post-punk scene in Leeds in the late 1970s, which took place in pubs, with the York­shire Rip­per as a dark back­ground pres­ence:

Today, with its wood and tiles and punk sound­track, [the Fen­ton] is almost as it was; Gill observes that the juke­box has moved rooms. “Pre-mobile phones, you’d have to go where you knew peo­ple would be,” Mekons singer Tom Green­hal­gh explains, remem­ber­ing “intense polit­i­cal debates and insane hedo­nism”, and leg­endary scene char­ac­ters such as Bar­ry the Badge. “A huge gay guy cov­ered in badges from Arm­ley Social­ist Worker’s par­ty. He was rock-hard, but then he could just grab you, snog you and stick his tongue down your throat.”

Roger Protz has been writ­ing about lager in Britain for 40 years so his com­men­tary on where the new ‘Dan­ish Pil­sner’ Carls­berg has just launched in the UK fits in was bound to be inter­est­ing. Where oth­ers have been cau­tious­ly pos­i­tive, Mr Protz essen­tial­ly dis­miss­es the beer as more the same:

I was asked for my views by Carlsberg’s Lon­don-based PR com­pa­ny, who sent me some sam­ples. The bot­tled ver­sion said it was brewed in the UK – pre­sum­ably this means the Northamp­ton fac­to­ry – while the can says “brewed in the EU”. I said this made a mock­ery of the new beer being called “Dan­ish Pil­sner”… I added that 3.8 per cent ABV was too low to mer­it being called Pil­sner: the clas­sic Pil­sner Urquell is 4.4 per cent and all claims to be a Pil­sner should be judged against it. I found the Carls­berg beer to be thin and lack­ing in aro­ma and flavour.

A foot­note from us: we were asked to take part in mar­ket research by Heineken ear­li­er this week, which leads us to sus­pect some sim­i­lar post-Cam­den rein­ven­tion is in the pipeline there, too.

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A Brutalist Brewery: Arup and Carlsberg in Northampton, 1974

The March 1974 edition of the Arup Journal is an amazing artefact, offering a blow-by-blow breakdown of the design and construction of Carlsberg’s state of the art Danish brewery in Northampton.

You can read the full mag­a­zine here in PDF form, and it’s a love­ly thing in its own right – all white space and sans serif, as styl­ish as the build­ings it depicts.

Arup Journal, March 1974, cover.

Arup is an archi­tec­ture firm found­ed in 1946 by Ove Arup, born in New­cas­tle  upon Tyne in the UK to Dan­ish par­ents in 1895, and edu­cat­ed in Den­mark. Though he died in 1988 the com­pa­ny lives on, its name a byword for mod­ernism.

In 1970, Arup was com­mis­sioned by Carls­berg Brew­ery Ltd to design a new plant in Northamp­ton in the Eng­lish Mid­lands, just as the lager boom was begin­ning to bite. The cost of the project was £15 mil­lion; Carls­berg sup­plied the brew­ery equip­ment and defined the neces­si­ties of the space accord­ing to pro­duc­tion need; and Arup com­mis­sioned Dan­ish archi­tect Knud Munk to pro­duce a design that would “express the best in mod­ern Dan­ish archi­tec­ture”.

As well as lots of detail in the text the mag­a­zine also includes process charts…

Process chart of lager brewing at Carlsberg.

…inte­ri­or shots…

A control panel at the brewery.

…and lots of dra­mat­ic black-and-white pho­tog­ra­phy of the brew­ery build­ing at var­i­ous stages of con­struc­tion, set in the flat land­scape against dra­mat­ic skies…

The exterior of the brewery.
CREDIT: Col­in West­wood.

…which are either awe-inspir­ing or grim depend­ing on your point of view.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to think of this hulk appear­ing, with atten­dant talk of effi­cien­cy and automa­tion, at just the exact moment the Cam­paign for Real Ale was tak­ing off. This is about as far from all that imagery of wood­en casks, old inns and pewter tankards as you can get.

And the empha­sis through­out on the Dan­ish­ness of the project – Dan­ish brew­ers, Dan­ish archi­tect, offi­cial­ly opened by the Queen of Den­mark – while can­ny in terms of under­lin­ing the authen­tic­i­ty of the prod­uct was also at odds with the grow­ing sense that Local was some­how a sacred virtue.

We’ve been research­ing this build­ing and Carls­berg’s arrival in the UK on and off for years and this showed up in one of our peri­od­ic check-ins. There are times we wor­ry about the state of cor­po­rate archives and oth­ers when we feel like we’re liv­ing in the best pos­si­ble age, with digi­tis­ing get­ting cheap­er and com­pa­nies real­is­ing the val­ue of their own his­to­ry.

Can Tatty Old Lager Brands Be Fixed?

SKOL advert, 1962.

We got an email from someone at a public relations firm asking as to share our thoughts about a lager brand they’re working with.

We said no because, frankly, what’s in it for us? But we had to admit, the ques­tions were thought-pro­vok­ing, espe­cial­ly one about how the lager in ques­tion could be made to ‘seem more pre­mi­um’.

Note that word seem: pre­sum­ably, any change in the way the prod­uct is man­u­fac­tured is out of the ques­tion – this is an exer­cise in pre­sen­ta­tion.

In the days when brew­ers could con­ceal the strength, com­po­si­tion and ori­gin of their lagers, imply­ing ‘pre­mi­um-ness’ was a lot eas­i­er: foil, emboss­ing, her­aldry, and the name of a for­eign coun­try on the label.

Increas­ing­ly, how­ev­er, pun­ters want to know why you’re charg­ing them extra for a prod­uct, and have a right to know. Tesco’s  ‘Finest’ pas­ta, for exam­ple, isn’t just in a fan­cy-look­ing pack­et – the blurb makes clear that it was cut with bronze dies (appar­ent­ly that’s bet­ter) and is pack­aged by a par­tic­u­lar fam­i­ly firm in Italy.

If you real­ly can’t  come up with a sto­ry like that – if you’ve spent decades stream­lin­ing any romance out of the process to com­pete on cost, and don’t want to launch a gen­uine­ly decent sub-brand for the sake of the ‘halo effect’ – what options are left? Com­plete trans­paren­cy –embrac­ing the fact that your prod­uct is made in Britain, despite its liv­ery – seems to us to be the only avail­able route.

As we’ve learned while research­ing the career of ear­ly micro­brew­er Bill Urquhart, Carls­berg has been pro­duced in Northamp­ton since the ear­ly nine­teen-sev­en­ties. If we were Carls­berg, we’d hire the bloke who made this to pro­duce a beau­ti­ful film about the build­ing of the then state-of-the-art brew­ery, and its grand open­ing by Princess Benedik­te of Den­mark. We’d get twinkly-eyed retired brew­ers and ex-pat Dan­ish tech­ni­cal experts who came over with the plant to talk about their work togeth­er. Carls­berg, as we in the UK know it, is Dan­ish, but also British – and has been for forty years.

Telling that sto­ry won’t make the beer taste bet­ter, but being hon­est about it might make the brand more like­able, which is half the bat­tle.

The PR firm who approached us aren’t work­ing with Carls­berg, unfor­tu­nate­ly, so they’re screwed.

Sponsored by One Green Lager or the Other

Carlsberg and Heineken logos side by side.

When some­one asked us this week to remind them of the offi­cial beer of the Lon­don Olympics, we could­n’t remem­ber. “One of the lagers that comes in green tins,” we said. “Carslberg, we think. Yeah, that’s it, Carls­berg.”

Hav­ing checked, it turns out its Heineken, the Dutch one.

Or is it Dan­ish? No, it’s Carslberg that’s Dan­ish. The one that spon­sored Euro 2012 last month. Or was that Heineken as well?

It was­n’t Grolsch or Becks, was it?

They should toss a coin and let the win­ner keep green, or maybe play a foot­ball match for it.