News, Nuggets & Longreads 5 November 2016: ‘Chavs’, Antics and Dirty Tricks

Oof, it’s a big one today, taking in everything from sabotage anti-marketing to the origins of Gold Label barley wine.

John Holmes of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group has written on his private blog about the troubling implications of an updated take on Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’:

The modern pastiche gives us an obese mother, mouth wide open, burger in one hand and phone in the other while her baby shares her chips. The baby is in a onesie with ears while the mother is dressed in leopard-print leggings and a top so small that only anatomically-dubious drawing protects her decency. In combination, these stylistic choices seem designed to define the woman as, for want of a better word, a ‘chav’ and it is hard to escape the sense that we are intended to both judge and blame her for being in a disgusting state and, worse, for inflicting the same destiny on her young child.

Detail from Bourbon County label.
SOURCE: Goose Island, via Chicago Tribune.

Josh Noel at the Chicago Tribune, author of a book about Goose Island brewery, wasn’t satisfied with the vagueness around the origin date of Bourbon County Stout and did some digging which proved that breweries are often the worst sources when it comes to their own histories:

Legend says that the industry’s first stout aged in a bourbon barrel was initially tapped in 1992, at Goose Island’s Clybourn Avenue brewpub… Even the bottles say it, right there in the brown glass, between the words BOURBON and COUNTY — ‘Since 1992.’… But on the eve of this year’s release, I’ve concluded that there’s almost no chance that Bourbon County Stout came into this world in 1992. Dozens of interviews and hours of research point to the first keg of Bourbon County Stout being tapped in 1995.

The Ravensbourne Arms.

London-based pub group Antic is fascinating and weirdly opaque — we’ve never managed to get them to respond to queries by email or Tweet for starters. For 853, a website about local issues in South East London, Darryl writes about their weird antics (heh) with regard to the Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham and how the collapse of local journalism has removed a key element of scrutiny:

Lewisham Council granted planning permission for flats above the Ravensbourne Arms as well as development of surrounding land twice, in 2014 and August 2015… The applications don’t mention the pub itself, but this should have rung alarm bells. Housing above pubs can be a way of securing the future of a venue (the new Catford Bridge Tavern will have flats above it). But such developments are also a very good way for developers to shut down the pub itself – these are cases that demand vigilance… The applicant was given as “Antic London”. There is no company of this name registered at Companies House in the UK, nor in Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man.

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Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale

A meticulously recreated 19th Century pale ale produced with the close involvement of beer historian Ron Pattinson? Yes please.

As with the Fuller’s Past Masters beers, there was never a moment’s doubt that we had to taste Goose Island Brewery Yard, but the talked-about price — £20 for a 750ml bottle — did give us a moment’s pause. Fortunately, when we asked around for where it could actually be bought (lots was given away as, essentially, marketing bling) we were pointed toward Clapton Craft who had it at a much more reasonable £12 a bottle. We ordered two, along with some other interesting stuff to justify the postage, intending to drink one now and leave the other for at least a couple of years.

Brewery Yard in the glass: beer foam.

First, putting aside matters of history, expectation and industry politics, how is it as a beer? The aroma is unmistakably ‘Bretty’, which is to say very like Orval. (It’s a different strain of Brettanomyces, apparently, but, until we’ve had more practice, the distinction seems lost on us.) There’s also something like hot sugar. In the glass, it looks like an extremely pretty bitter, at the burnished end of brown, topped of with a thick but loose head of white. The taste was remarkably interesting with, once again, Orval as the only real reference point: Brewery Yard is thinner, drier and lighter-bodied despite a higher ABV (8.4%). There was something wine-like about it — a suggestion of acidity, perhaps, or of fruit skins? There was also a strong brown sugar tang, as if a cube or two had been dissolved and stirred in. That’s a flavour we’ve come across before, in two of the Fuller’s Past Masters beers — 1966 Strong Ale and 1914 Strong X — and not one we’re all that keen on. So, as a beer, we didn’t love it wholeheartedly, and probably wouldn’t spend £12 on another bottle.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 23 April 2016 — Takeovers, Spruce, Helles

Here’s what’s grabbed our attention in beer news and writing in the last week, from spruce beer to brewery takeovers, via brewery takeovers and, er, more brewery takeovers…

→ Let’s get AB-InBev’s acquisition spree out of the way first: Italian website Cronache di Birra broke the news yesterday that the global giant as acquired Birra del Borgo. Here’s the most incisive commentary so far:

→ Related: remember when we pondered what it must feel like to sell your brewery? Well, we’ve now been treated to two substantial pieces in which the founders of breweries absorbed by AB-InBev reflect on the experience. First, Jasper Cuppaidge of Camden Town was interviewed by Susannah Butter for the Evening Standard, perhaps expressing more insecurity than he intended or realised:

“Everyone has their opinions. We’re more craft than ever because that gives us the ability to brew more beer ourselves. The beer tastes as good as last week, if not better. Some people want to remain independent but it’s like, Mike there wears Converse, I like Vans. Everyone has their cool thing.”

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Brett In Unexpected Places

When is a quality control problem not a problem? When it makes a good India pale ale into a great one.

The Windjammer in the centre of Dartmouth is a funny pub — quiet on both our visits, despite friendly people behind the bar and a well-worn, cosy interior. The counter is literally ship-shape, the walls are papered with nautical charts, and the back wall is covered in at least 30-years’-worth of yacht club pennants from around the world.

What caught our eye, once we’d dismissed the house bitter and guest ale as boring-going-on-bad, were bottles of Goose Island IPA. We used to trek across London in search of it but now, it’s everywhere. But, at the Windjammer, we were offered something that swanky craft beer bars could do well to copy: a choice of bottles from the shelf (room temperature), cellar (recommended ‘for this particular beer’) or fridge.

We went with a cold one and asked for a large wine glass to go with it; it cost £4.75.

It poured hazy and, at first, we just thought it was ‘off’. It took a moment for our palates to recognise what we were tasting: Brettanomyces, plain as day.

We didn’t think we were ‘Brett-heads’ or even that we were entirely confident in spotting it in beer unless cued by packaging but this was so pronounced that there could be no mistake. It tasted like one of our Orval blending experiments, and was utterly delicious. The Brett provided a wild top note, like a Gypsy fiddler sneaking into the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Where GI IPA can sometimes, these days, seem rather on the candied side, this was bitter, lemon-pithy and bracing.

If Goose Island was still a tiny one-man-band as it was at its founding in Chicago in 1988 then this oddity might not be all that surprising, but it is now owned by AB InBev (as in Anheuser-Busch, as in Budweiser) — a company which, if nothing else, is famed for the consistency of its products and the rigour of its quality control. How could this have happened?

Our first thought was that it might not be GI IPA at all but another of the same brewery’s beers mislabelled — Matilda, maybe? — but that seems less likely than that some Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe.

We came back for more a couple of nights later and enjoyed it just as much, perhaps all the more so for the knowledge that it was an un-repeatable experience: a few bottles of this one batch, packaged a year or so ago, are probably the only ones with this particular ‘problem’. If you want to try to find them yourself, though, look out for a best before date of 17 July 2015 and what we think is a batch number of 0947.

UPDATE 09/04/2015: Mike Siegel, Brewing Innovation Manager at Goose Island, has emailed to say: ‘The IPA you had was brewed July 17, 2014 in Chicago at our Fulton Street Brewery.  This batch was actually flagged as having an elevated micro count and held back.  After re-plating and a thorough analysis and tasting, it rechecked as clean and ready to go.  I would love to get my hands on some of these bottles to see exactly what has happened over the past nine months.’ So, not a confirmation based on a QC sample as we’d hoped for, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s impossible.

Sorry for the quality of the photo, which was snapped on a smartphone under ‘intimate’ lighting.

Memorable Beers #1: Goose Island IPA

We first tried Goose Island IPA in the Rake, probably around Christmas of 2006.

We never spend Christmas together but have always compensated with a sort of ‘office Christmas do’ a week or so before. When we lived in London, that usually meant taking a day off work, Christmas shopping for as long as we could bear it, and then chasing beer from midday onwards.

Borough Market is like the set of a Dickens adaptation at Christmas: roasting chestnuts, carols and mulled wine on the air. Expensive apples.

Were we just in a ‘peace on Earth and goodwill to all beers’ kind of mood, or was drinking that IPA really like tasting in Technicolor? We said wow a lot and marvelled at its slight haze. We may even have giggled with excitement. We declared it our favourite beer for some time thereafter.

These days, though we still enjoy it, we find GI IPA muted and too full of crystal malt — not Seville orange marmalade so much as seaside fudge.

If we write another fifty or so posts in the next twenty-five days, we’ll hit 1000 by the time we hit our fifth anniversary of blogging; as that date approaches, we are also feeling nostalgic. Hence this series. Yeah, we like round numbers — sue us.