News, Nuggets & Longreads 7 April 2018: Tap Rooms, Masculinity, The Luppit

Here’s all the writing and news about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Chicago to Rochdale. But we’ll start with some bits of news.

Detail from an advert for Skol, 1960.

For Punch Gray Chap­man takes a deep look into atti­tudes around gen­der in rela­tion to beer, inspired by Helana Darwin’s research that we men­tioned in one of these round-ups a few weeks ago. The arti­cle is called ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About “Bitch Beer”’:

Beer is inex­tri­ca­bly tan­gled up in gen­der, and no one under­stands this bet­ter than the women who choose to drink it. Much of its his­to­ry is root­ed in a blue-col­lar, can­vas cov­er­alls-tinged vision of mas­culin­i­ty that’s still evi­dent in almost every aspect of its sup­ply chain; label art com­mon­ly recalls Axe Body Spray at best, car­toon porn at worst. Less aggres­sive but more ubiq­ui­tous is the prac­ti­cal­ly algo­rith­mic aes­thet­ic of craft beer bars, with their ware­house-indus­tri­al inte­ri­ors and a Ron Swan­son-esque pen­chant for rough-hewn wood and leather, evok­ing a nos­tal­gia for a time and place where Real Men and their work-cal­loused hands made things.

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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.