News, Nuggets and Longreads 16 February 2019: Beer Duty, BridgePort, Brussels

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck as especially noteworthy, from colonialism to brewery closures.

For the Guardian Dutch jour­nal­ist Olivi­er van Beemen offers an arti­cle based on an extract from his book Heineken in Africa: a Multi­na­tion­al Unleashed. It offers a glimpse into the prac­tices of a Euro­pean brew­ing giant oper­at­ing in Africa, and how, despite the rhetoric of cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty, it can­not help but echo the behav­iours of the colo­nial era:

Fur­ther research [into pro­mo­tion girls] in DRC, the coun­try where the most abuse was report­ed, revealed that unwant­ed advances came not only from cus­tomers but also from Heineken staff. “The enor­mous uncer­tain­ty of keep­ing a job com­bined with the absence of employ­ee rights of legal sta­tus makes PW [pro­mo­tion women] vul­ner­a­ble for mis­use from sev­er­al stake­hold­ers,” the inter­nal report notes. Often, the women, who earned very lit­tle, had to sleep with man­agers if they want­ed to keep their job. But if they need­ed to see a gynae­col­o­gist or get an abor­tion, which was often ille­gal and dan­ger­ous, they had to sort every­thing them­selves, and pay for it. They also had to drink five to 10 large bot­tles of beer every work­ing day, in order to per­suade cus­tomers to con­sume more.


Sighing bar staff.

This week’s big viral sto­ry, for quite under­stand­able rea­sons, was this expres­sion of right­eous fury by Cana­di­an beer writer Robin LeBlanc in response to a bizarre sex­ist ram­ble in an Amer­i­can brew­ing mag­a­zine by its pub­lish­ers, Bill Met­zger, who has since resigned:

That’s right, folks. He man­aged to take a piece about cask ale and turn it into a whiny, self-indul­gent, sex­ist, heav­i­ly misog­y­nist, and creepy as hell work. In fact he did this so expert­ly that it actu­al­ly broke my brain and I need to break it down and go over most of the par­tic­u­lar­ly offen­sive quotes with you all because if I don’t I’m going to keep think­ing about it until I have a brain aneurysm.

Alright. Let’s start with the very first sen­tence of the arti­cle.

Like most men, I strug­gle with my my pri­mal self.”

Oh boy, strap in folks, because we know exact­ly where this is going.


De la Senne beers in Brussels.

For Brus­sels Beer City Eoghan Walsh pro­vides a run­down of the his­to­ry of cult Bel­gian brew­ery de la Senne, con­struct­ing his tale around five spe­cif­ic beers:

Before there was Brasserie de la Senne, there was Zin­nebir. Bernard Leboucq was home-brew­ing in the base­ment of a cen­tral Brus­sels squat in 2002, and he was invit­ed to brew Zin­nebir as the offi­cial beer for that year’s Zin­neke parade. Yvan De Baets, already pas­sion­ate about beer, was a social work­er work­ing along­side youth groups on the parade. A meet-cute was inevitable.

I saw this guy pulling a big trol­ley of beer,” says De Baets, “and I told the guys work­ing with me to take care of the kids, I have to meet him. He offered me a beer, a sec­ond, a third.” Two years lat­er De Baets joined Leboucq as unof­fi­cial brew­ing advi­sor in their first iter­a­tion of Brasserie de la Senne.


The Quest for the Perfect Pub

The Pub Cur­mud­geon has dis­sect­ed a large­ly for­got­ten book from 1989 in which broth­er Nick and Char­lie Hurt report on a three-month Quest for the Per­fect Pub:

The thir­ty years since the book was pub­lished have, not sur­pris­ing­ly, not been kind to the pubs list­ed. Some, for­tu­nate­ly, are still in exis­tence in lit­tle-changed form, such as the Yew Tree at Cauldon in Stafford­shire and the Traveller’s Rest at Alpra­ham in Cheshire. Oth­ers, such as the Stagg at Tit­ley in Here­ford­shire and the Durham Ox at Shrew­ley in War­wick­shire, have very much gone down the gas­tro route and can no longer be regard­ed as com­mu­ni­ty booz­ers, while many, such as the Horse & Jock­ey at Delph in the for­mer Sad­dle­worth dis­trict of York­shire and the White Lion at Pen-y-Myny­dd in Flintshire have long since closed. Indeed, I doubt whether either of those long sur­vived the pub­li­ca­tion of the book, and the Horse & Jock­ey has long been a roof­less, crum­bling ruin.


Abstract illustration of pubs.

Roger Protz has writ­ten an inter­est­ing piece about the spe­cif­ic issues faced by those run­ning hous­es owned by giant pub com­pa­nies:

My agree­ment meant I could buy wines, spir­its and min­er­als free of tie but I was tied for beer and cider. The main Ei beer list had Dark Star Hop­head. Jack had sold three 18 gal­lon casks a week of Hop­head but Ei said I couldn’t have it as it was out­side SIBA’s deliv­ery area – SIBA has a 25-mile radius for beer orders.”

Courage Best is a pop­u­lar beer among reg­u­lars. Har­ry found he would have to pay £30 a bar­rel more than Jack had paid – and Jack had sold 100 bar­rels a year.


Carling Black Label beer mat.

At Ed’s Beer Site Ed pro­vides some fas­ci­nat­ing details of how Car­ling lager is actu­al­ly brewed:

Very high mal­tose syrup is used in the ket­tle to give 20% of the grist. For those not famil­iar with high grav­i­ty brew­ing very high mal­tose syrup is impor­tant because it reduces the amount of esters pro­duced dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion, some­thing which high grav­i­ty brew­ing rais­es.


Jim at Beers Man­ches­ter is angry about the weasel­ly ways of the UK’s larg­er brew­eries which are lob­by­ing for changes to Pro­gres­sive Beer Duty from behind the facades of var­i­ous organ­i­sa­tions, such as the Inde­pen­dent Fam­i­ly Brew­ers of Britain:

Let’s look at the IFBB in more detail.

Richard Fuller. Sec­re­tary of The Inde­pen­dent Fam­i­ly Brew­ers of Britain.

Hang on. Fuller. As in that brew­ery that is no longer “Inde­pen­dent”? Hmmm.


A notable brew­ery clo­sure: Bridge­Port Brew­ing of Port­land, Ore­gon – one of the first of the mod­ern IPA brew­ers, launch­ing its flag­ship hop­py pale beer in 1996 – is shut­ting up shop after 35 years. Jeff All­worth offers con­text and com­men­tary here.


And final­ly, from Twit­ter:

For more links see Stan Hierony­mus’s blog on Mon­days and Alan McLeod’s on Thurs­days.

Crossover Event: Beavertown & Heineken

Heineken sign

Beaver­town has sold a sub­stan­tial stake to Heineken  – they’re not spec­i­fy­ing how much but 49 per cent seems a rea­son­able assump­tion – and our Twit­ter men­tions have gone a bit mad.

That’s because a few weeks ago, you might recall, we wrote a piece reflect­ing on signs one might look out for to indi­cate that a brew­ery is ready­ing itself for sale, point­ing to Beaver­town as an exam­ple of a firm that seemed to be glow­ing hot.

Now, let’s be clear: our post was actu­al­ly pret­ty ten­ta­tive – might this, pos­si­bly that – and, though we named AB-InBev as a pos­si­ble suit­or in the quick Tweet we fired off before the post, we did­n’t spec­i­fy any names in the post prop­er because we did­n’t have a clue.

Even if we’d guessed Heineken would have been low down the list giv­en its fair­ly recent acqui­si­tion of anoth­er Lon­don brew­ery, Brix­ton.

(Although with­in min­utes of our post­ing mul­ti­ple peo­ple had mes­saged us to say, “It’s Heineken”, and prop­er jour­nal­ists soon fer­ret­ed out the sto­ry.)

So, yes, we’re feel­ing pleased that our log­ic was test­ed and seems to have held up but, no, we don’t feel like sooth­say­ers or a pair of Mys­tic Megs. What we came up with was half edu­cat­ed guess, half luck.

In the PR around today’s news Beaver­town has addressed a few impor­tant points head on, admit­ting to hav­ing swerved telling the truth because (as we acknowl­edged in our post) busi­ness­es don’t gen­er­al­ly talk about deals while they’re being nego­ti­at­ed and, indeed, are usu­al­ly legal­ly pro­hib­it­ed from doing so:

It’s been an uncom­fort­able few weeks as spec­u­la­tive rumours have been fly­ing about.  The real­i­ty is that some­times in busi­ness you can’t share every­thing and I’m a true believ­er in not talk­ing about any­thing unless it is a done deal, and up until this very day there was no deal.

It’s at this point, though, that we’ll refer to an even old­er post of ours, from May last year: brew­eries could avoid a lot of the crit­i­cism and high emo­tion that hits on takeover day, and lingers for months and even years after, if they made a point of say­ing from much ear­li­er on in the cycle some­thing like, “We some­times talk to poten­tial investors and would nev­er rule out sell­ing a stake in the com­pa­ny, just so you know.”

Peo­ple will prob­a­bly under­stand if you have to keep the specifics of par­tic­u­lar deals qui­et, as long as the very idea that you might be talk­ing to whichev­er glob­al giant isn’t a nasty sur­prise.

What­ev­er the logis­tics behind the deci­sion, how­ev­er good the news for the com­pa­ny, regard­less of whether the beer stays the same, there will always be peo­ple who feel stung when a com­pa­ny which was sell­ing a set of val­ues as much as pale ale decides that one of those val­ues does­n’t mat­ter any more.

Sponsored by One Green Lager or the Other

Carlsberg and Heineken logos side by side.

When some­one asked us this week to remind them of the offi­cial beer of the Lon­don Olympics, we could­n’t remem­ber. “One of the lagers that comes in green tins,” we said. “Carslberg, we think. Yeah, that’s it, Carls­berg.”

Hav­ing checked, it turns out its Heineken, the Dutch one.

Or is it Dan­ish? No, it’s Carslberg that’s Dan­ish. The one that spon­sored Euro 2012 last month. Or was that Heineken as well?

It was­n’t Grolsch or Becks, was it?

They should toss a coin and let the win­ner keep green, or maybe play a foot­ball match for it.

No Nonsense is Nonsense

John Smith’s have a care­ful­ly worked out ‘brand iden­ti­ty’: every­thing is writ­ten in the voice of a “no non­sense” York­shire­man.

Screenshot of marketing copy from John Smith's.

But the fun­ny thing is this: the idea that they can’t be doing with all that ponced up mar­ket­ing bull­shit… is mar­ket­ing bull­shit. There prob­a­bly are some “no non­sense” busi­ness­es that employ mar­ket­ing agen­cies, but we can’t think of any off the top of our heads.

Of course, big food pro­duc­ers (includ­ing brew­eries) have very good rea­sons to sug­gest that tak­ing an inter­est in the taste, ingre­di­ents and process of man­u­fac­ture is pre­ten­tious: we, the pun­ters, ought to know our place, viz. buy­ing and con­sum­ing with­out ques­tion.

When we asked for infor­ma­tion on the ingre­di­ents in John Smith’s Extra Smooth (we’ll explain why anoth­er time) Heineken cus­tomer care (ee, by ‘eck, etc.) told us that it uses “pre­mi­um malts”. There is def­i­nite­ly a tiny bit of non­sense in that phrase.

While we’re at it, here’s anoth­er exam­ple of ‘no non­sense’ as a brand val­ue, this time from New­cas­tle Brown.

License Brewed to Kill

Olga Kurylenko in a Bond tie-in Heineken ad
Olga Kurylenko in a Bond tie-in Heineken ad

Most crit­ics have picked up on one major irri­ta­tion in the lat­est films in the resur­gent James Bond fran­chise: prod­uct place­ment.

This time round, with Quan­tum of Solace, we’re expect­ed to believe that Heineken is James Bond’s beer of choice.

Heineken is a bog-stan­dard, bland lager, read­i­ly avail­able in every cor­ner of the Earth, usu­al­ly brewed under license. Is any­one con­vinced it’s the right beer for James Bond?

It makes about as much sense as his cur­rent pen­chant for Ford hatch­backs.