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Blogging and writing

Self-published eBooks are the future of beer writing

Books about beer seem to be evolving in ways we like quite a bit: getting more specific, exploring fresh territory, enjoying the freedom of new business models.

When it comes to beer, most publishers seem hung up on the same handful of topics and formats: lists of beers you must drink, beginners’ guides, compilations of trivia and the occasional breezy personal memoir.

But perhaps things are changing.

Mark Dredge’s rather good Lager felt significant, specifically because a decade ago it probably wouldn’t have been published. In the age of Camden Hells and pilsner hipsterism, however, Mark was able to convince someone to take a risk with it. It’s a good book – we hope it’s sold well.

Not needing to sell well is one of the great advantages of eBooks, however. If an eBook doesn’t sell, it’s disappointing. If a print publication is slow to move, that’s someone’s office or warehouse or spare bedroom piled high with boxes for years to come.

(On an unrelated note, does anyone want to buy a copy of 20th Century Pub?)

Years ago, we identified the publication of Evan Rail’s Kindle-only eBook Why Beer Matters as a turning point. It was short, heartfelt and somewhat un-commercial – the kind of beer book you’d never find in Waterstones. And yet, it seems to have sold tolerably well and because Evan self-published via Amazon, the bulk of that money went into his pocket.

In a similar vein, two new eBooks published in the past month take full advantage of the medium to offer deeper takes on niche topics.

Craft: an argument by Pete Brown

Veteran beer writer Pete Brown used lockdown to challenge himself: could he write and publish a book in 13 weeks? He chose the topic of ‘craft beer’ – what, if anything, does it mean? And why is it important?

Speed of production is another advantage of self-published eBooks. A traditional publisher might have commissioned this in March 2020 for release in May 2021. The speed of writing, editing and publication gives this book an underlying urgency and currency – the very qualities which make blogging so exciting.

Disclosure: Pete unexpectedly sent us a PDF of Craft: an argument, but we’d have bought it anyway – £6.99 as an eBook via Amazon UK, £9.99 as a print-on-demand paperback.

It amounts to 200 pages of what you might call thoughtful belligerence – perhaps a fair summary of Pete’s personal brand – and feels a bit like being told to sit down, shut up and drink your beer while I explain this whole bloody mess. At points, it even feels as if Pete is arguing with himself.

Does craft beer exist? If so, what defines it? Could another word or phrase do the same job? Roaming through archive sources, summarising online debates and conversations he’s had with brewers, Pete valiantly strives towards a coherent answer.

We can’t imagine this book will change the minds of many people who think craft beer is meaningless, or hate the term, or have a fixed idea of what it ought to mean. But, as it happens, Pete’s view seems to chime with ours: it’s too late to bury or change the term; craft beer definitely exists and has meaning; but if you’re after a simple, rules-based definition – tough shit.

Beer geeks will tell you they’re bored of this debate. Traffic to any blog post on the topic suggests they’re fibbing. If you enjoy thinking about the language of beer, this summary of a decade’s-worth of debate and reflection is well worth £7 and a couple of hours of your time.

Anton Dreher

Vienna Lager by Andreas Krenmair

Andreas has several advantages when it comes to writing about Vienna, one of the early lager styles but now a minor one. First, he is Austrian. Secondly, because he is Austrian, he has access to sources in German. Third, he is as meticulous in his approach to research as he is in his home-brewing.

This eBook, available for £4.99 at Amazon UK, and worldwide via your local Amazon store, is a must-have reference for anyone with an interest in brewing an historically accurate Vienna beer, and benefits enormously from its self-published status.

A traditional publisher would have told Andreas to be ‘less generous’ to his research – in other words, to cut out 60% of the detail he’s worked so hard to dig up. They’d also have told him it needed a narrative, so he’d have been forced to trek across Europe in a camper van, or some such nonsense, as a framing device.

As it is, this is a book by a geek, for other geeks – a repository of information rather than bedtime reading.

The most detailed account in English of the trip to Britain made by lager pioneers Sedlmayr and Dreher in the 1830s? It’s here. The story of the rise and fall of the Dreher brewery? Every date, fact and event you could possibly wish to know about.

For brewers, though, it’s the practical information that will have the most value. Where other authors might say ‘close enough’ or ‘impossible to know’, Andreas keeps digging. The water chemistry of Klein-Schwechat, the family tree of the Dreher yeast, the exact colour of Vienna beer c.1870 – there’s nothing shrugged off or guessed at.
The recipes, the meat of the book for many, are both historically accurate and achievable for the modern home-brewer.

In fact, you might think of this as a single perfect beer recipe – the 1870 Dreher clone – with 200 pages of background notes.

Highly recommended and, if there’s any justice, the inspiration for a Vienna Lager revival in 2021.

* * *

Self-published eBooks might be scrappy – both of these contain the odd typo, as do our own efforts in the same field – but that’s a price we’re willing to pay for something different.

These are precisely the books both authors wanted to write, not something tweaked or tamed by an editor with an eye on the mainstream.

Categories
Blogging and writing

Not this again: the birth of the term ‘craft beer’

As the question is in the air again, here’s our attempt to answer the question “Where did ‘craft beer’ come from?”

A decade or so ago, it seemed as if this was all anyone was talking about – what is craft beer? Is there a better phrase we could be using? Is it meaningless? An Americanism? A con trick?

We enjoyed the debate, formulated an opinion, and have stuck by it, more or less, ever since.

And in our 2014 book Brew Britannia we gave a brief account of the history of the term and how it took hold in the UK, drawing on research by Stan Hieronymus and others.

Since then, we’ve picked up a few extra instances of its use, or similar, and thought it might be helpful to everyone involved in researching and writing about beer to have a timeline at hand.

Timeline

1883 | “the great craft of brewing” – anonymous, Holmes’ Brewing Trade Gazette, 01/09/1883

1930s | “the craft of brewing” – Worthington Brewery advertising

1934 | “neither an art nor a science, but a traditional procedure” –  A. Drinker, A Book About Beer

1946 | “Maybe it can hardly be called a craft in the strict sense, but cider-making is an interesting old country work” – Norman Wymer, Country Crafts

1967 | “Craft Brothers” – Ken Shales, Brewing Better Beer

1973 | “In the last decade, brewing has turned from being a craft industry into a technology.” – R.E.G. Balfour, chairman and MD of Scottish & Newcastle, quoted in What’s Brewing, 08/1973

1975 | “This is all some way from the small craftsman brewer.” – Conal Gregory and Warren Knock, Beers of Britain, via Gary Gillman

1977 | “craft-brewers”, “craft-brewed” – Michael Jackson, The World Guide to Beer

1982 | “A craft brewery down to the last detail.” – Michael Jackson, Pocket Guide to Beer

1983 | “The recent return to the craft brewing of ‘real ale’ as championed by the consumer group CAMRA…” – Elizabeth Baker, the Times, 07/03/1983

1984 | “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery”, “craft brewing” – Vince Cottone, New Brewer, 09/1984

1986 | “I use the term Craft Brewery to describe a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients” – Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest [SOURCE]

1993 | “They’re riding on the tails of the craft beer movement” – Steve Dinehart of the Chicago Brewing Company quoted in What’s Brewing 08/1993

1994 | “craft ale” – Ed Vulliamy, Observer, 27/10/1994

1995 | “independent craft breweries” – Roger Protz, Observer, 26/02/1995

* * *

A couple of those are new additions – the 1973 Balfour quote and the 1983 one from Elizabeth Baker.

Our view is this: the phrase ‘craft beer’ is a natural development after a hundred years or so of people talking about ‘the craft of brewing’.

And it’s not really any surprise it beat designer beer and boutique beer because they’re both, frankly, a bit wanky, while ‘craft’, per some of the examples above, has a simpler, more down-to-earth, traditional quality.

Updated 4 April 2020.

Categories
bristol Generalisations about beer culture pubs

The thrill of the new

For ages, we’ve thought the trick to showing Ray’s parents a good time was taking them to proper pubs. It turns out we should have been going to craft beer bars.

Now, we’ve had some bloody good fun with them in places like the Merchant’s Arms and the Annexe, playing euchre and sharing bags of pork scratchings over pints of Butcombe or London Pride.

The other weekend, though, as we crawled around central Bristol with them, we were inspired to take them to Small Bar.

The specific trigger was a round of awful, buttery Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter at the William IV – a pub which rarely has any atmosphere at all but does at least usually have cheap, decent beer.

We left feeling down in the dumps, the session in jeopardy, and Small Bar, Bristol’s craft beer central, seemed as if it might be the antidote – a short, sharp shock to jolt us all back to life.

“You might not like it,” we got in, preemptively.

Ray tried to identify something vaguely like Dad’s usual bitter and the staff reacted rather wearily, as if they get asked this all the time. In the end, it was two-thirds of Lost & Grounded Kellerpils that did the job. Ray’s Mum, who drinks lager when she’s not on whisky, got a murky pale ale – the kind of thing we don’t really enjoy, as a rule. And do you know what? She loved it.

In fact, they both thought Small Bar was great. It had a vibe, a bit of a crowd, and despite being the oldest people there by some stretch, they didn’t get looked at twice.

After that we thought we’d try them on BrewDog, which they also liked a lot: Punk IPA, it turns out, is a decent substitute for Butcombe. (Not sure BrewDog will be pleased to hear this, mind.)

They’re now planning to bring a couple of friends up for a craft beer crawl later in the summer.

For our part, we’ve learned a lesson: don’t make assumptions about what people will enjoy based on what they’ve enjoyed in the past, or based on their age.

Next time, we might take them on a taproom crawl – they’re probably cool enough to enjoy it, unlike us.

Categories
News

News, Nuggets and Longreads 9 February 2019: London, Chuvashia, Viborg

Here’s everything that struck us as especially interesting in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from the origins of craft beer to best practice in bars.

A couple of years ago we put together a short history of beer weeks with input from Will Hawkes, then involved in organising London Beer Week. Now, Will has written his own piece revealing just how much stress and work was involved, and for how little reward:

It had all been a terrible error. I should have known that I was doing something very stupid before I started; I’d asked around to see if anyone else in the London beer demi-monde was interested in helping, and got a series of responses along the lines of “Good idea! No, sorry, I’m too busy,” generally from people with enough time to be discussing the idea with me in a pub in mid-afternoon… Not only that, but I was never really sure why I was doing it: it just sort of kept on happening, for four long years.


For The Takeout Kate Bernot writes about the experience of drinking out as a woman, and how much she appreciates concrete steps taken by bars to make women feel safe:

The Rhino bar in Missoula, where I live, has posted flyers indicating its bartenders have undergone “bystander intervention” training. The bar has also hosted police-led classes on the topic. “What our training specifically talked about was intervening in things like sexual assault,” Missoula Police Deparment detective Jamie Merifield told KGVO years ago. “When you see someone in trouble, the training helps you to intervene, and not just turn a blind eye. Most people would want to help, they just don’t know how.” In a similar vein, other establishments around the country have introduced “angel shots,” drinks that people can order as a signal to bartenders that they’re in trouble.

Categories
News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17/11/2018: Cloudwater, Collaboration, Klein-Schwechat

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from yeast family trees to the curse of good press.

First, though, let’s have a bit of good news: John Prybus, the character behind the cult status of The Blue Bell in York, will continue to run the pub after a vigorous local campaign to prevent the pub company that owns it booting him out in favour of a manager.


Cloudwater cask beers on a bar in Manchester.

Cloudwater abandoned cask-conditioned beer, but have now come back round to the idea. While some have bridled at the hype surrounding this event (controlled launch of cask beers into selected pubs, lots of social media buzz) it’s prompted some thoughtful debate. For example, there’s this cautious welcome from Tandleman, who avoids the knee-jerk anti-craft response:

Cloudwater has been seeking out pubs where their cask credentials are such that they will look after the beer properly, going as far as having a little interactive online map where you can seek out those who know how to coax the best out of beer from the wickets. Additionally, a vetting process, which while hardly the Spanish Inquisition, at least gets enough information about prospective sellers of the amber nectar to judge whether they’ll turn it into flat vinegar or not. Good idea. Quality at point of sale is paramount and Cloudwater are to be praised for making such efforts as they have in the name of a quality pint.


Handshake illustration.

At Pursuit of Abbeyness Martin Steward has been thinking about collaboration brews. While acknowledging the downsides, he avoids cliched cynicism and reflects pleasingly deeply on how this relatively new commercial practice fits into the evolution of our beer culture:

Craft beer distribution today has little to do with tied public houses, or even national bar chains. The off-licence trade revolves around independent bottle shops that stock mainly local products, and the global mail order services facilitated by the internet and advances in canning and logistics technologies. The on-licence trade consists of specialist craft-beer bars and brewery tap rooms which, like the bottle shops that are sometimes also on-licence tap rooms, have a distinctly local bias… Collaborations enable brewers to expose their brands through those fragmented modern distribution networks, and an Instagram story of a collaborative brew day instantly reaches the followers of each collaborators’ brands, wherever they are around the world.


One of our favourite writer-researchers, Andreas Krenmair, continues his obsessives probing into the history of Vienna beer with the unearthing of a water profile for the brewery well at Klein-Schwechat:

By pure accident, I stumbled upon an analysis of the brewing water (well water) of the brewery in Klein-Schwechat, in the book “The Theory and Practice of the Preparation of Malt and the Fabrication of Beer, with Especial Reference to the Vienna Process of Brewing” by Julius E. Thausing. It’s actually the English translation of a German book. One problem with the analysis is that it doesn’t specify any units for most of the numbers. It does specify the amount of residue after the water has been evaporated (in grams), but that was it… So by itself, the analysis is unfortunately not really helpful. If anybody knows how to interpret the numbers, I’m grateful for any help with it.

The open, collaborative groping towards the truth continues.


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

More deep level research, this time into yeast strains: Kristofer Krogerus and qq who comments here from time to time continue to collaborate on unpicking the ever-increasing pile of genetic information on brewing yeast:

Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire – Was fully expecting this to be a Beer2 strain! 1469 is meant to come from Timothy Taylor, who got their yeast from Oldham, who got their yeast from John Smith’s. The John Smith yeast also went to Harvey’s (the source of VTT-A81062, a Beer2 strain). So it’s a bit of a surprise that 1469 is in the heart of the UK Beer1 strains, closest to WLP022 Essex (‘Ridleys’). So either the traditional stories aren’t true, there’s been contamination/mixups, or we’re looking at John Smith being some kind of multistrain with both Beer 1’s and Beer 2’s in it.


Pete Brown's chart of cask + craft sales.

Pete Brown has shared more of the background research that informed this year’s Cask Report, observing that the cask ale and craft beer segments of the market, if viewed together as ‘flavourful’ or ‘interesting’ beer, tell an interesting story:

Drinkers who say they understand what craft beer is and claim to drink it were asked to name a craft beer brand. A majority of them – 55% – named a beer the researchers felt was a ‘traditional ale’. Tellingly, the [Marston’s On-Trade Beer Report’s] authors say that 45% ‘correctly’ named a brand they deem to be craft – implying that those who named a traditional brand were incorrect in doing so… Perhaps you agree. Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Blimey, over half of people who think they’re drinking craft beer don’t even know what it is.’ Maybe to you this is a sign of how bigger brewers have co-opted the term ‘craft’ and made it meaningless. Maybe you just think these people aren’t as knowledgeable about beer as you are. Or maybe – just maybe – they’re right and you’re wrong.


Black Sheep bottle cap.

Another possibly related nugget via @LeedsBeerWolf: one of the financial backers of Yorkshire brewery Black Sheep is attempting to mount a coup against the founding family because they are“failing to capitalise on an exploding demand for craft beer”, as reported by Mark Casci at the Harrogate Advertiser. (Warning: the site is rendered barely readable by aggressive ads.)


Closed sign on shop.

This week’s not-beer longread (via @StanHieronymus) is food writer Kevin Alexander’s piece for Thrillist about how he killed a restaurant by declaring it The Best in the US national media:

Five months later, in a story in The Oregonian, restaurant critic Michael Russell detailed how Stanich’s had been forced to shut down. In the article, Steve Stanich called my burger award a curse, “the worst thing that’s ever happened to us.” He told a story about the country music singer Tim McGraw showing up one day, and not being able to serve him because there was a five hour wait for a burger. On January 2, 2018, Stanich shut down the restaurant for what he called a “two week deep cleaning.” Ten months later, Stanich’s is still closed. Now when I look at the Stanich’s mug in my office, I no longer feel light and happy. I feel like I’ve done a bad thing.

A grim tale worth bearing in mind next time you see, or get asked to contribute to, a listicle about pubs.



If you want more links, check out Alan’s Thursday round-up at A Good Beer Blog.