News, Nuggets and Longreads 9 March 2019: Politics, Tokenism, Firestarters

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that prompted us to bookmark, favourite or ReTweet in the past week, from US politics to the politics of beer culture.

First, an important and eye-opening post from Craft Beer Amethyst on the subject of tokenism in the world of beer:

Reading Wiper & True’s Vic Helsby in the Independent saying that International Women’s Day risks becoming tokenistic unless diversity and inclusion become a reality in the industry really hit home with me, because I see this as the most important and under-addressed problem in beer and beyond – how to transform the cultural space into a place where we no longer need words like diversity and inclusion because everyone is seen as completely equal and no less or more deserving of special attention? How do we reach a point where we stop talking about women in beer and minorities in beer and just talk about beer?


A bottle of Cloudwater V 10 enveloped in steam.

Now things are a little less raw Will Hawkes has taken a moment to reflect on last week’s Cloudwater beer festival hoo-ha, observing (as did we) that reactions to the threat of the event being cancelled were mixed, and revealing:

On the one hand, there were people who felt understandably aggrieved at having coughed up £60, plus train fares, for an event that didn’t seem to be happening; On the other, there were people who felt the first group were being a bit neggy, and should just, you know, chill… It’s obvious that many people feel craft beer is a community… The problem is that not everyone feels this way. For those whose interaction with beer is less intimate, for those who earn their crust elsewhere, this idea of community can be a problem. After all, who benefits from the notion that a commercial relationship is also a friendship? Breweries, definitely. Pub landlords, Bottle-shop owners, distributors, yup. Drinkers? Only in the most nebulous sense.


Letter from America.

For Bloomberg Joshua Green reports on research into how the politics of American drinkers manifests in their choice of alcoholic drinks:

Democrats will be heavy consumers of cognac and brandy, both favored by African-American drinkers, who overwhelmingly lean left. Mexican beers such as Corona, Tecate, and Modelo Especial are also popular with Democrats, especially those who don’t turn out regularly on Election Day—that is, they’re popular with young people, whose turnout numbers lag behind older groups. And because Heineken drinkers are concentrated in the Northeast—not friendly territory for Republicans—they, too, skew Democratic… Republicans have an entirely different alcoholic profile. “They’re big bourbon drinkers,” [researcher Will] Feltus says…


Betty Bowes

A new source for us, television history website Rediffusion, offers an archive article from the defunct independent broadcaster’s in-house magazine from 1958 by Peter Ling, about Betty Bowes, manager of the studio social club:

In Television House, Betty has to know people. Not always their surnames, perhaps, and probably not their jobs — but she knows a thousand faces, and can fit a Christian name to most of them. Best of all, she knows what they like to drink. Mostly it’s straightforward; the Studios come in thirsty and hot, needing beer; the Fourth Floor splice the mainbrace with something stronger; a Third Floor customer might occasionally ask for a Pimm’s Number One… But the Fifth Floor demands — and usually gets — anything and everything: “I think I know most drinks by now.” Betty Hashes a smile as bright as a new penny. “A ‘Cameraman’s Kick’, for instance —That started with the camera-boys from Wembley; it’s a lager-and-lime, but lots of other people besides cameramen have taken it up now.”


Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

The Guardian saved us the trouble of digging in the archives ourselves this week by resurfacing a piece by Peter Corrigan from 1988, about the drinking culture of Fleet Street:

[The pub] was something more than an extension of the newspaper: for some a home from home, for others an air-lock between the desk and suburbia. A man could get the bends going straight from one to the other. Not all journalists get on with each other, so each office pub would have a few satellites to accommodate political overspills. Most of the Daily Mail staff, for instance, use the Harrow, while others frequent the Mucky Duck, as the White Swan is traditionally known, or the Welsh Harp, which once housed a glum group of Mail men known as the Fingertip Club, because that best described how they were hanging onto their jobs.

But that did remind us of a similar piece from the US, from half a century earlier, by H.L. Mencken, that we’d come across in the back catalogue of the New Yorker:

Between 1899 and 1904 there was only one reporter south of the Mason and Dixon line who did not drink at all, and he was considered insane. In New York, so far as I could make out, there was not even one. On my first Christmas Eve in the newspaper business but two sober persons were to be found in the old Baltimore Herald office, one of them a Seventh Day Adventist office boy in the editorial rooms and the other a superannuated stereotyper who sold lunches to the printers in the composing room. There was a printer on the payroll who was reputed to be a teetotaller—indeed, his singularity gave him the curious nickname of the Moral Element—but Christmas Eve happened to be his night off.


And finally, a short but evocative tale of pub life featuring the late Prodigy front-man Keith Flint:

For more reading check out Stan Hieronymus on Mondays and Alan McLeod on Thursdays.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 19 January 2019: Bottleshares, Boddies, Brand Loyalty

Here’s everything on beer and pubs we felt the urge to bookmark in the past seven days, from coolships to kask kontroversy.

Joe Stange is now writing for Craft Beer & Brewing and has announced his arrival with an excellent piece on Franconia which succeeds in finding some new angles on this much-written-about beer region:

Here is another thing you can see upstairs, in the attic: a wide, riveted copper coolship… Or rather: You can see it, until the boiling-hot wort hits the pan—littered with a surprising amount of hops pellets for a burst of aroma—and opaque steam rapidly fills the attic. After that, it’s difficult to see anything in there for a while. This coolship is the kind of thing you might expect to see in a lambic brewery, or in an ambitious American wild-beer brewery, or in a museum. Its original purpose, however, has nothing to do with sour beers. It is simply an old-fashioned way to cool wort. Andreas Gänstaller uses it every time he brews lager… “The wort streams out really clear,” he says. “The beer is much more clear because all the bad stuff goes away in the steam.”


Illustration: beer bottles.

If you’ve ever fancied organising a bottle share, or wondered exactly what a bottle share is, then you’ll find this primer by Rach Smith at Look at Brew useful. In in, she explains how the bottle share she runs in Brighton works, and offers tips on setting up your own:

Think about the order in which you’ll be pouring. If there are pale/low abv beers for example, start with them and leave the big, bold Imperial stouts for last so you don’t completely destroy your taste buds early on… [And] don’t judge. It’s not about who can bring the rarest beers, it’s about socialising, learning a little bit along the way and having a damn good time.


Icon: NUGGET.

An interesting point from Ed – could the reason cask beer numbers are down be because we lost a few big brands that made up the bulk of the numbers, such as Boddington’s?


Sierra Nevade Brewing Co neon sign.

With #FlagshipFebruary in mind (see last week’s round-up) Kate Bernot has written about consumer promiscuity for The Takeout:

“I say this whole idea of promiscuity and no brand loyalty is grossly misdefined,” says Lester Jones, chief economist for the National Beer Wholesalers Association. “It was pretty easy 25-30 years ago to find a brand that you liked and trusted and had relations to. I don’t think people have changed, I think it’s just taking longer to sift through the multitude of choices…. Instead of accepting the fact that their job is a lot harder, it’s easy for brewers to turn and say ‘The consumer is fickle. He doesn’t know what he wants.’ No, the consumer knows what he wants and the consumer is tasting to find what he wants, but given so many choices, it just takes longer,” Jones says.


Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

All this is well and good but what people really want to know is this: where’s the beef at? Well, Jessica Mason wrote this piece arguing that the embrace of cask beer by the likes of Cloudwater signals a resurgence in the health of its image

[Cloudwater’s Paul] Jones [says] that a lot of traditional breweries up and down the country are ‘complete pros and legends’ within cask beer, even if they’re not turning their hands to more modern beer styles. ‘I think something of a hybrid offering from us really ought to diversify what cask beer is and what it could be in the future.’

Wild Card’s head Brewer Jaega Wise, who recently won the title of Brewer of the Year, will be relaunching its cask-beer offering next year. However, she stresses that it will be on the brewery’s terms, reminding how modern brewers are reiterating cask’s relevance, but are not willing to bow to outdated stereotypes.

…which prompted this comeback from Tandleman:

So we need modern craft brewers to show us the way and revive cask? These are the same people that give you cask beer that looks like chicken soup and undermine the work done by brewers for many years to ensure clean, clear, bright beer with distinct flavours.We’d more or less lost the “It’s meant to be like that” nonsense until craft got its hands on cask. Now it is back with a vengeance, as overturning the orthodoxy has given bar staff the right to say it once more, even if the beer looks like a mixture of lumpy fruit juices and smells like Henderson’s Relish.

More point/counterpoint than beef, really, but it’s fascinating how the fault lines (cultural, generational) continue to reveal themselves in new forms.


And finally, there’s this reminder of how many opportunities for disaster are built into the cask ale supply chain:

As ever, for more links, checkout Stan on Mondays (usually including lots of stuff beyond beer, but still about beer) and Alan on Thursday (generally threading links together to make some sort of point).

Magical Mystery Pour #21: Cloudwater DIPA Version 10

The third of series of beers chosen for us by Rebecca Pate (@rpate), who blogs at Brewing East, is Cloudwater Double IPA Version 10.

We had a bit of a time getting hold of this, too, because being a limited release, and much in demand, it tends to sell out pretty quickly. We ended up buying several bottles direct from Cloudwater via Eeebria as part of a mixed case of six bottles of DIPA and IPA which cost us £20. Individual 330ml bottles of DIPA from other retailers tend to go at around £4.50-£5.

Rebecca says:

I’d be lying if I denied being on the Cloudwater bandwagon and haven’t systematically tracked down every version of their evolving DIPA; however, this great DIPA adventure represents the first time I’ve found myself caught up in hype surrounding a beer. I’ve stepped back slightly since, stumbling upon all versions following v5 more naturally and without a frenzied hunt as it became more readily available around London. Regardless of the hype, Cloudwater have done incredible things for the Double IPA. When I enjoyed my half pint of this v10, I noted that the aromas took on a more savoury edge than previously, but the intense fruitiness in the body – likened by many to a fruit cup – was still present without much to indicate its 9% ABV. It’s almost magical how easily this goes down.

This is a really tricky beer to write about for various reasons. As we hinted at here in our non-review of a previous version there is so much talk about Cloudwater, and this beer in particular, that you either end up sounding like a wilful contrarian, or part of the cult. And with the announcement that it is to cease producing cask ale the other week Cloudwater has only become more political.

Then there’s the fact that each version really is a different beer. As we write this, Version 11 is just being launched, at which point Version 10 becomes an irrelevance.

Finally, of course, there’s the fact that if you don’t drink a DIPA as fresh as possible — ideally before it has even been brewed — then you can’t possibly have an informed opinion. This one is weeks old, for goodness sake. Or perhaps it needs a bit of time to mellow. It’s usually one or the other.

What follows is our best attempt to ignore all of that and to give our honest reaction to this specific bottle of beer, asking, first and foremost whether we liked it, before unpacking the whys and how comes.

Cloudwater DIPA in the glass.

This beer was not designed to be clear. From the first splash in the glass it was dirty and only got dirtier. There were no lumps or clumps — just something like a mango lassi or smoothie. It did not look unappealing to us but it might to you depending on your programming with regard to suspended yeast.

The smell was close to the ideal for an IPA, a jumble of freshly-picked, under-ripe tropical fruit, and mysterious, exotic aromas that brought to mind the alien plantlife of the Eden Project’s rainforest biome. Very exciting. Just wonderful.

Unfortunately, what we tasted was garlic, crisp green leaves and (to a much lesser degree) that same musty note that marred Verdant Headband. Pushing on, that faded somewhat, bringing to the fore suggestions of pineapple and unrefined sugar. The problem is we just don’t get this kind of flavour profile, where salad dominates over sweet fruit. It does not make us happy. We can, however, tell that this is a good example of the sub-style — it is 90 per cent clean-tasting, without the rough edges that mar many similar beers, and is crammed full of flavour.

Lettuce, spring onions and pineapple.
Adapted from public domain images at Wikimedia Commons.

We did not, when push comes to shove, like it, but we didn’t exactly choke on it either. It’s constantly interesting, if nothing else, and, oddly, going back to the haziness, one of the things we liked best was the rather milky, silky texture.

We’ll no doubt give Cloudwater DIPA another go in a few versions time. It will have been through a few more regenerations by then and might well be much more to our taste.

BREAKFAST DEBATE: Is the Cloudwater News the End of the World?

Eggs with sriracha chilli sauce.

The highly-regarded Manchester brewery Cloudwater is to stop producing cask ale — is this a portent of doom, or a drop in the ocean?

The news dropped this morning in a characteristically open blog post from brewery boss Paul Jones:

We worry that cask beer has backed itself into a corner that risks becoming unattractive to modern breweries. Where we can just about tolerate today’s market pricing for our keg and bottled beer… we see little sense in continuing to accept the labour of racking, handling, and collecting casks whilst we make insufficient margin… When we take into consideration the sort of beer the cask market laps up we see high demands for traditional beer, albeit with a modern twist. In comparison, the keg and bottle market demands our most innovative and progressive beer… There’s another often encountered set of issues we face with the cask beer market – if cask beer isn’t bright the quality is often questioned (and in some cases our slightly hazy casks are flatly refused, regardless of flavour), but if casks are still conditioning out, and because of that, or because of inadequate VDK re-absorption at the end of fermentation, tasting of diacetyl, then it’s all too often good to go.

In other words, for a brewery like Cloudwater, producing cask is fairly thankless task, offering poor financial returns, little satisfaction for the brewers, and huge risk to reputation because of point-of-sale issues beyond their control.

We read it bleary-eyed with our morning tea and then discussed over breakfast with this particular question in mind:

Boak: This does worry me. My impression — and it is just an impression — is that younger drinkers are less interested in cask than our generation was, and that this is part of an increasing divergence in the  market whereby cask is about price and keg is where the really good beer is. I keep thinking about that pub in Bolton that was selling some well-kept but pretty terrible cask ale purely, as the landlord admitted, to reach a price point his customers demanded, while at the same time my brother tells me [he works at Tap East] that some customers won’t drink cask at gunpoint even if the beer is better and cheaper than the nearest keg alternative.

Bailey: I think there’s some hysteria here, though. How many keg-only craft breweries do we actually have? Off the top of my head it’s BrewDog, Lovibonds, Camden, Buxton (kind of) and now Cloudwater. Let’s say there are a few more I don’t know about, or even let’s say the top twenty coolest craft brewers (definition 2) go keg-only — that’s still only a handful of the 1,800 total. Most brewers are really into it. And I don’t think we can equate the era of the Big Six with what’s going on today. Cloudwater’s keg beer isn’t Watney’s Red Barrel.

Boak: No, although there’s a different kind of homogeneity in craft beer. And your first point… That sounds complacent to me. I can easily see this being a tipping point for some breweries that have been considering going keg-only. Cloudwater is a role model for a lot of smaller, newer breweries — more so than BrewDog who have tended to alienate people. And I reckon we could quickly slip into a situation where the places that are known for good beer ditch cask altogether. Or where more distributors start to find it too much hassle to handle cask when keg is easier and more profitable so that even pubs that want to stock cask can’t get a steady supply of the good stuff.

Bailey: But that hasn’t happened! People are borrowing trouble. Cask ale is everywhere and, admittedly with a bit of research, you can reliably get good cask ale almost everywhere in the country. Sure, chalk this up as a warning sign and be wary, but do you really think we’re worse off for cask now than around 2005 when we started taking an interest?

Boak: I think maybe London is worse than it was, and I think it’s on the verge of getting much worse again. I love Fuller’s but the fact that we can have such a variable experience of cask ale in Fuller’s own pubs worries me. Oh, I don’t know… Maybe it’s not worse but cask in London hasn’t made much progress and I still find it hard to get satisfying pints there which surely can’t be right in the age of the Craft Beer Revolution.

Bailey: OK, so if this is one warning sign, what might be some others?

Boak: If a big regional went keg-only, I would be very concerned — Fuller’s, Adnams, one of the breweries that’s been experimenting with craft beer in keg. Or Oakham. Or Thornbridge! If they went keg-only, that would really freak me out.

Bailey: Me too but I can’t see that happening any time soon. I’d be more worried if Doom Bar or Greene King IPA suddenly became keg-only beers because I bet there are a lot of pubs that would ditch cask altogether without those — would literally, 1975-style, rip out their beer engines and lose the capacity to sell cask. The infrastructure would disappear.

Boak: If the Craft Beer Company stopped selling cask that would be a really bad sign. They seem pretty committed to it at the moment — lots of pumps — but who knows? I’d love to know how much they actually sell and what the split is with keg.

Bailey: That micropub in Newton Abbot sells 60 per cent keg, 40 per cent cask.

Boak: Hmm. Related to that, I guess micropubs might be the counterbalance, because (that one in Newton Abbot aside) they’re so cask-led, and so flexible when it comes to purchasing, that they might give that side of the industry a boost. But they’re not, to generalise, popular with young people, are they? So they don’t do much to win the next generation over to cask.

Bailey: There’s Wetherspoon’s, too — they’re playing with craft keg and cans and what have you but there’s no indication that they want to ditch cask. If anything, they seem more committed to it now than ever. Maybe what we need is a big chart with plus and minus columns for the health of the cask ale market in the UK.

Boak: That’s our homework, then. On balance, the reaction to this particular news does seem over the top, but I have to say I’m less confident in my view that The Battle has Been Won than I was when we wrote the book. I think it’d be pretty catastrophic if the only cask ales you could get anywhere were Doom Bar and GK IPA.

Bailey: Me too, I suppose, although I’m only a tiny bit concerned. As I’ve said before, we can’t be on a permanent war footing–

Boak: But we have to be ready to remobilise if the threat re-emerges and, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, make sure that the next generation is educated in the danger signs so that they don’t repeat the mistakes of history.

This has been edited to make it vaguely coherent. We actually rambled a lot more and you don’t need details of our discussion about what to have for tea.