News, nuggets and longreads 24 August 2019: Greene King, Kveik, Wellington Boots

Here’s everything on beer and pubs from the past seven days that struck us as especially noteworthy, from Suffolk to Thailand.

The big news of the week – or is it? – is the takeover of Eng­lish region­al brew­ing behe­moth Greene King. Roger Protz, who has been writ­ing about brew­ery takeovers for half a cen­tu­ry, offers com­men­tary here:

In every respect, this is a far more wor­ry­ing sale [then Fuller’s to Asahi]. Asahi will con­tin­ue to make beer at the Fuller’s site in Chiswick, West Lon­don. It’s a com­pa­ny with a long his­to­ry of brew­ing. CK Asset on the oth­er hand has no expe­ri­ence of brew­ing and its main – if not sole – rea­son for buy­ing Greene King will be the own­er­ship of a mas­sive tied estate of 2,700 pubs, restau­rants and hotels. The Hong Kong com­pa­ny, which is reg­is­tered in the Cay­man Islands, is owned by Li Ka-Shing, one of the world’s rich­est men. He has a war chest of HK$60 bil­lion to buy up prop­er­ties and com­pa­nies through­out the world.

This did­n’t make quite the splash the Fuller’s sale did for var­i­ous rea­sons: it was­n’t a brew­ery-to-brew­ery sale, for one thing, so is hard­er to parse; and Greene King is far less fond­ly regard­ed by beer geeks than Fuller’s.

We’re anx­ious about it not because we espe­cial­ly love Greene King but because it’s poten­tial­ly yet anoth­er sup­port­ing post knocked out from under British beer and pub cul­ture. See here for more thoughts on that.

Mystery yeast.

Lars Mar­ius Garshol has been try­ing to get to grips with a mys­tery: is the yeast strain White Labs sell as Kveik real­ly Kveik? If not, what is it?

If this yeast was not the ances­tral Muri farm yeast, what was it doing in Bjarne Muri’s apart­ment? It very clear­ly is not a wild yeast, but a mix of two domes­ti­cat­ed yeasts. It does­n’t seem very plau­si­ble that the air in Oslo is full of those. On the oth­er hand it does­n’t seem at all plau­si­ble that this was the ances­tral Muri yeast… Two things seem clear: this is a domes­ti­cat­ed fer­men­ta­tion yeast, and it’s prob­a­bly not the ances­tral Muri yeast. The lat­ter sim­ply because it does­n’t seem well suit­ed for that par­tic­u­lar brew­ing envi­ron­ment.

A tea room.
Lyons Cor­ner House, 1942. SOURCE: HM Government/Wikimedia Com­mons.

Not about pubs, but adja­cent: Thomas Hard­ing has writ­ten an account of the his­to­ry of his fam­i­ly’s busi­ness, J. Lyons & Co, which is reviewed in the Guardian by Kathryn Hugh­es. We became fas­ci­nat­ed by Lyons while research­ing 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, because of this kind of thing:

From the 1920s you could pop into a Lyons tea shop to be served by a “nip­py”, a light-foot­ed wait­ress got up like a par­lour­maid. If you were a work­ing girl of the newest and nicest vari­ety – a sec­re­tary, teacher or shop assis­tant – you could eat an express lunch on your own in a Lyons with­out risk­ing your respectabil­i­ty. If you were feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly smart, you could go up to “town” and stay in the art deco-ish Strand Palace or Regent’s Palace hotels, ver­nac­u­lar ver­sions of elite insti­tu­tions such as Claridge’s or The Savoy. In the evening you might ven­ture out to the “Troc”, or Tro­cadero, in your best togs, where you could enjoy a fan­cy din­ner and dance to a jazz band.

SOURCE: Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

Mark John­son has writ­ten an account of a week­end spent at Thorn­bridge Brew­ery’s Peak­ender fes­ti­val with a typ­i­cal dash of acid:

I just can’t under­stand any­body being dis­grun­tled about a lit­tle mud. We have worn our wellies on our last two vis­its to Peak­ender and not need­ed them. We wore them in 2019 because, guess what, it is still a fes­ti­val and this time we hap­pened to need them. Wad­ing through the show­ground site for two days was not an issue to us at all. Maybe it is because of where we live, I don’t know, but when I see peo­ple mut­ter­ing to them­selves about the state of the ground, whilst try­ing to make it to the toi­let wear­ing FLIP FLOPS… heav­en for­bid… I don’t know…

Buffy's Bitter.

Paul Bai­ley (no rela­tion) has some inter­est­ing notes on the demise of Buffy’s Brew­ery (one we’d nev­er heard of) and the prob­lem with ‘badge brew­ing’:

The clo­sure was blamed on there being too many brew­eries in Nor­folk, and with over 40 of them all com­pet­ing for a slice of a dimin­ish­ing mar­ket, some­thing had to give. Like many indus­try observers, I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised to learn that Buffy’s had gone to the wall, but Roger Abra­hams, who found­ed the brew­ery, along with Julia Savory, claimed that the micro-brew­ing sec­tor was close to sat­u­ra­tion point, and that com­pe­ti­tion between brew­ers “had become very aggres­sive.”

We don’t know any­thing what­so­ev­er about brew­ing in Thai­land but it turns out to be a com­plex busi­ness, accord­ing to this arti­cle from the Bangkok Post:

No one but the ultra rich are allowed to brew beer for sale in Thai­land. The law is as unjust and out­ra­geous as that. And no law­mak­er has suf­fered the bit­ter taste of inequal­i­ty in the brew­ing indus­try quite like Future For­ward Par­ty MP Taopiphop Limjit­trako­rn, who in Jan­u­ary 2017 was arrest­ed for brew­ing and sell­ing his own craft beer… On Wednes­day, Mr Taopiphop, 30, took Deputy Finance Min­is­ter San­ti Prompat to task over his min­istry’s reg­u­la­tion that stops brew­ing start-ups from exploit­ing the grow­ing thirst for new flavours.

Final­ly, much to the amuse­ment of British com­men­ta­tors, Amer­i­can pop super­star Tay­lor Swift has been writ­ing about Lon­don, includ­ing a pass­ing men­tion for pubs:


There are more links from Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day most weeks and from Alan McLeod on Thurs­day.

Yes, Greene King – More of This

For some years now we’ve been repeating one message: old family brewers should be focusing on their heritage, not trying to keep up with BrewDog. So we were delighted to hear that Greene King has upped its historic beer game.

Their new lim­it­ed edi­tion bot­tled her­itage range does­n’t quite approach the full-on authen­tic­i­ty of Fuller’s Past Mas­ters series being, as far as we can tell, only vague­ly ‘inspired by’ archive recipes rather than painstak­ing­ly recre­at­ing them. What is notable is their use of a once near-extinct vari­ety of malt­ing bar­ley, Cheval­li­er, the revival of which you can read about here:

Start­ing a few years ago with only a hand­ful of seeds, by 2013 half a tonne was avail­able for brew­ing.… Now the 2015 har­vest is nudg­ing 200 tonnes and there’s Cheval­li­er malt aplen­ty. With anoth­er 15 tonnes reserved for seed, the expec­ta­tion is that sim­i­lar har­vests will be pos­si­ble in future years.… “Peo­ple that have tast­ed it say that it has a very rich, malty flavour. We’ve had com­ments back from the States such as, ‘It’s the most aro­mat­ic malt that I’ve ever brewed with.’ … There’s a per­cep­tion of a dif­fer­ence, of rich­er malti­ness.”

We bought one bot­tle of each of Greene King’s her­itage beers at our local Tesco super­mar­ket for £2.49 each. That’s a touch prici­er than many bog stan­dard super­mar­ket ales but then the bot­tles are full-pint sized and the beers are both rel­a­tive­ly strong.

Suf­folk Pale Ale at 5% ABV knocked our socks off. We found it vig­or­ous­ly bit­ter, almost too much so, with a remark­able fresh­ness that sug­gests the pop of just ripe goose­ber­ries. (It’s bot­tle-con­di­tioned which per­haps helps.) It has a beau­ti­ful aro­ma which is hard to pin down – a cer­tain sap­pi­ness might be the way to describe it, with some sug­ges­tion of fresh-baked bread. There’s noth­ing of the new world about it though the use of Ger­man hops (obvi­ous once you read the label) offer a sub­tle twist, herbal rather than fruity. If you can’t both­ered to brew one of the 19th cen­tu­ry pale ale recipes from Ron Pat­tin­son’s book this is a decent sub­sti­tute. It’s deli­cious, thought pro­vok­ing, and per­haps the best Greene King beer we’ve ever tast­ed. In fact, it’s one of the best beers we’ve come across in recent months.

Vin­tage Fine Ale at 6.5% less bril­liant but it’s still very much a step in the right direc­tion for Greene King. Deep red-brown in colour it has a dis­tinct autum­nal feel. On the plus side there were the var­i­ous facets of rich­ness – gold­en syrup, Christ­mas pud­ding and plums. The only things hold­ing it back were a husky stale note (which we sus­pect might dis­ap­pear with a few months age­ing) and the fact that Fuller’s already makes sim­i­lar but bet­ter beers in this style. On the whole, though, we liked it and would – indeed prob­a­bly will – buy it again.

Let’s hope these sell well, that the Pale Ale becomes a reg­u­lar, and that there are more her­itage beers to come. But, seri­ous­ly, when do we get the funk? Bring out the nip bot­tles of 5X and let’s get some blend­ing going.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 May 2016: Pilsner, Mild and Pubs

These are all the blog posts and articles touching on beer and pubs that have given us pause for thought, or told us something we didn’t know, in the last week, from Pilsner to pubs.

→ We some­how missed this one last week so it gets top billing today: Evan Rail’s blog is back from what­ev­er Inter­net worm­hole it got lost in (this is great news, gen­er­al­ly) and his lat­est post is about the influ­ence of the Czech influ­ence on Euro­pean lager brew­ing in the 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies. It makes a strong case, with ref­er­ence to some love­ly pri­ma­ry sources, for Czech brew­ing get­ting more cred­it than it has tend­ed to in the past:

For its low-grade Bav­ière, the brew­ery used Ger­man hops (gen­er­al­ly Haller­tau, Woln­zach and a less-expen­sive cul­ti­var, Bav­ière Mon­tagne), which it bought from J. Tüch­mann & Söhne and Bernard Bing in Nurem­berg. But for the high­er-grade Munich and the Bock that was lat­er renamed Pil­sner, the brew­ery gen­er­al­ly used 100% Saaz, pur­chased from hop ven­dors like the Kell­ner broth­ers and Son­nen­schein & Lan­des­mann, both in Žatec (aka Saaz), right here in Bohemia.

Detail from a Whitbread advertisement, 1937, showing beer with food.

→ For Eater Matthew Sedac­ca pon­ders how ‘food­ie cul­ture’ (which includes craft beer) sur­vived, and even thrived dur­ing, the Great Reces­sion. We don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with all of his con­clu­sions but it’s a great ques­tion:

A large dri­ver behind the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the “food­ie” ide­ol­o­gy dur­ing and post-reces­sion has been linked to the mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion’s shift in atti­tude towards mate­r­i­al goods —€” name­ly, they don’t real­ly want them. Sev­er­al reports have high­light­ed the phe­nom­e­non that, unlike the baby boomers and sev­er­al mem­bers of Gen X, mil­len­ni­als pre­fer con­sump­tion of ‘expe­ri­ences.’

→ Alec Lath­am con­sid­ers the var­i­ous ways in which pubs in St Albans, where he lives, have mutat­ed, changed or oth­er­wise been rein­vent­ed:

Some pubs come back from the dead, oth­ers change the ori­en­ta­tion of their ‘swing’… Though Mokoko’s isn’t a beery place, it’s still a great bar. After all, cock­tails are peo­ple too.

Greene King sign

→ In an inter­view with Aus­tralian Brews News the ven­er­a­ble brew­ing pro­fes­sor Charles Bam­forth has railed against gim­micks in brew­ing, like a Dog­fish Head beer made with chewed-up and spat-out grains: ‘Come on! You’re only going to do it once aren’t you?’ It’s not all grump­ing, though: he thinks black IPA, for exam­ple, is the right kind of bound­ary push­ing.

→ Ed vis­it­ed Greene King and brings us this inter­est­ing nugget, among oth­ers:

I also got to try their XX mild at last… Hav­ing var­i­ous milds in the port­fo­lio from the brew­eries they’ve tak­en over they ratio­nalised it to just one recipe, and had tast­ing tri­als to decide on the best one. Despite the name it’s sold under it was actu­al­ly the Hardys and Han­sons mild that won.

→ Gary Gill­man con­tin­ues to dig up tast­ing notes and opin­ions on Bel­gian beer from the 19th cen­tu­ry like this 1836 1847 diary entry men­tion­ing West­malle. (The mak­ings of a longer arti­cle or e‑book here, per­haps?)

→ Not read­ing but lis­ten­ing: on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio Lon­don this week a lis­ten­er asked if any­one remem­bered an estate pub in South Lon­don called The Apples & Pears. Peo­ple did (@ 2h 20m):

It was a very mod­ern pub… Myself and my three girl­friends used to dri­ve up on a Sat­ur­day night in our Austin A40… We used to go around ’72, ’73… We used to dress to match the era of the car, lots of long beads, head­bands, floun­cy frocks, sort of 1920s flap­pers was our style…

→ Carlisle is get­ting a State Man­age­ment Scheme muse­um with Her­itage Lot­tery fund­ing – fan­tas­tic new! Let’s gen­er­al­ly have more brew­ing, beer and pub muse­ums and exhi­bi­tions, please. (There’s no web­site that we can find so this Tweet with a screen­shot of a Word doc­u­ment will have to do.)

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14/11/2015

Here’s the beer news and commentary that most interested or amused us in the last seven days.

→ For Bel­gian Smaak, Bre­andán Kear­ney writes at length about a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Irish and Bel­gian brew­ers:

A hard-nosed Bel­gian farmer arrives at the his­tor­i­cal brew house in the Flem­ish vil­lage of Bokrijk on an old Dex­ta trac­tor to pick up the spent grain… Rob Hynes makes a bee line for the trac­tor. “That’s a thing of beau­ty,” he says. “I used to own one years ago but I sold it. I regret that.”

→ Des de Moor has been explor­ing the Mid­lands and wrote a long piece about Black Coun­try brew­eries for his web­site, Beer Cul­ture:

The name dates from this peri­od: con­tem­po­rary accounts talk of a blast­ed land of spoil heaps and per­pet­u­al twi­light, over­cast by fac­to­ry smoke in the day­time and lit by fur­naces at night. J R R Tolkein, who grew up in south Birm­ing­ham, based his chief vil­lain Sauron’s des­o­late domain in The Lord of the Rings on this land­scape. Its name, Mor­dor, even trans­lates as ‘black coun­try’ in the author’s invent­ed lan­guages.

→ In the age of ‘crowd-fund­ing fatigue’ Seth Fiegerman’s take for Mash­able, under the head­line ‘Crowd­fund­ing may not cre­ate the ‘next Face­book,’ but it’s great for craft brew­eries’, is an inter­est­ing one. (Via @BeerAttorney.)

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 14/11/2015”

What if… BrewDog & Greene King?

What if BrewDog entered into partnership with Greene King to roll out second-tier BrewDog packages in places where their flagship bars cannot reach?

Yes­ter­day, we promised a pre­dic­tion, but it would be more accu­rate to describe this as a bit of fan­ci­ful think­ing plucked more-or-less from thin air. We just want to put it in writ­ing so that, if it does come to pass, we’ll look dead clever.

1. We can’t stop look­ing at the keg beer menu at the new Greene King ‘craft beer con­cept’ in Cam­bridge as pic­tured on the Pints and Pubs blog: it fea­tures one GK beer, Hop Mon­ster, but four from Brew­Dog.

Keg beer list at the Grain Store, Cambridge, by Pints and Pubs, used with permission.

2. Wether­spoon’s Craft­work pack­age, which bor­rows heav­i­ly from Brew­Dog’s aes­thet­ic and fea­tures their beer in bot­tles and keg, hints at how such an arrange­ment might work.

Craftwork point of sale materials at Wetherspoon's.

3. Though they have ambi­tious plans, find­ing and fit­ting out suit­able premis­es seems to be hold­ing Brew­Dog back. Greene King, mean­while, have 1600 pubs up and down the coun­try, few of which any­one inter­est­ed in beer will touch with a barge­pole.

4. The Scot­tish Wun­derkinder have already dab­bled in fran­chis­ing.

5. They’ve been crit­i­cal of Greene King’s beer in the past, but they work hap­pi­ly with Tesco, argu­ing when this rela­tion­ship is crit­i­cised (as we read it) that they’re spread­ing the gospel of Craft Beer in an oth­er­wise bar­ren land.

6. For Greene King’s part, this would be a route to instant cred­i­bil­i­ty, even assum­ing that such a part­ner­ship might give a tem­po­rary hit to Brew­Dog’s own rep­u­ta­tion.

7. We keep com­ing back to the sim­i­lar­i­ties between Brew­Dog and David Bruce’s Firkin chain in the 1980s: that went tru­ly nation­al when he sold his com­pa­ny to a big­ger brew­ery which turned what he’d devel­oped over the course of a decade into a (not as good) out-of-the-box brand­ed pack­age.

Just to reit­er­ate: this is just guess­work, for fun – we have no ‘spe­cif­ic and cred­i­ble intel­li­gence’, as they say.

But what do you reck­on – are we bark­ing up the wrong tree? Or, to put that anoth­er way, if some­thing like this was announced next week, would you be sur­prised?

(And, as an aside, imag­ine what fun might ensue if Brew­Dog got a batch of GK’s Old 5X stock ale to play with…)