News, nuggets and longreads 18 May 2019: ratings, lager, and lager ratings

Here’s everything that struck as particularly interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from Carlsberg to Cambridge.

First, some news: those Red­church rum­blings from the oth­er week are now con­firmed – the brew­ery went into admin­is­tra­tion and is now under new own­er­ship. This has prompt­ed an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion about crowd­fund­ing:


More news: it’s intrigu­ing to hear that Curi­ous is expand­ing. It’s a brew­ery you don’t hear talked about much by geeks like us – in fact, we’re not sure we’ve ever tried the beer – but it does turn up in a sur­pris­ing num­ber of pubs and restau­rants.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 18 May 2019: rat­ings, lager, and lager rat­ings”

News, nuggets and longreads 27 April 2019: numbers, mild, cult beer frenzy

Here’s everything that struck as as noteworthy in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from brewery numbers to the possible decline of lager.

Like many oth­er com­men­ta­tors, we’ve tak­en the total num­ber of UK brew­eries, and the amount by which it increas­es each year, as an at least par­tial­ly use­ful indi­ca­tor of the vigour of the craft beer boom. Accord­ing to a new report from accoun­tan­cy firm UHY, that growth might final­ly have begun to slow:

The craft beer boom in the UK has slowed sharply in the last year with the total num­ber of brew­eries increas­ing by just 8 ver­sus the 390 added in pri­or twelve months, our research shows… The total num­ber of UK brew­eries reached to 2,274 at the end of 2018, up from 1,352 five years ago… The craft beer mar­ket has become dif­fi­cult for new entrants as multi­na­tion­al brew­ers con­tin­ue to buy and invest the more suc­cess­ful “craft” brew­eries. The huge lev­els of invest­ment that the multi­na­tion­als then deploy through their “craft” sub­sidiaries throw up bar­ri­ers of entry against oth­er entrants. The multi­na­tion­als have been attract­ed by the high growth rates in the craft beer mar­ket and the pre­mi­um pric­ing they can achieve.

(This sto­ry got a bit man­gled in the retelling by some news out­lets which, tend­ing to pre­fer sto­ries of either total tri­umph or dread­ful doom, report­ed that only eight new brew­eries had opened in the past year.)


Relat­ed news: the total num­ber of pubs con­tin­ues to decline at a rate equiv­a­lent to 76 clo­sures per month, but the rate of clo­sures is quite clear­ly slow­ing.


Anoth­er nugget of news, unfor­tu­nate­ly from behind a pay­wall: finan­cial news ser­vice Merg­er­Mar­ket reports that both Truman’s and Five Points are active­ly court­ing investors or part­ners. There’s noth­ing we can link to at this stage but, well, keep your eyes peeled for fur­ther news.


Weyerbacher logo.

For Brew­Bound Justin Kendall offers com­ment on the strug­gles of yet anoth­er ear­ly-wave Amer­i­can craft brew­ery, Weyer­bach­er:

Most of Weyerbacher’s finan­cial issues stem from a 2014 expan­sion project that cost $2 mil­lion and includ­ed the addi­tion of a 40-bar­rel brew­house. Over the years, how­ev­er, the com­pa­ny dealt with increased com­pe­ti­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the pump­kin beer cat­e­go­ry — as it strug­gled to grow sales and pay down debt.

We were expect­ing to see dou­ble-dig­it growth for a num­ber of years … and with the mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion that hap­pened in pump­kin and all of those oth­er things, that just didn’t pan out,” [Josh Lampe] said.

The mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion that hap­pened in pump­kin! What a time to be alive.


Illustration: beer bottles.

For Drinks Retail­ing News Antho­ny Glad­man has pro­duced a fas­ci­nat­ing piece on the strug­gle of inde­pen­dent bot­tle shops to attain sup­plies of the most sought after beers:

Any­thing DIPA or hazy goes real­ly fast,” says Dan Sandy, man­ag­er of east Lon­don craft beer store Kill The Cat. Beers from Cloud­wa­ter, Ver­dant and Deya are sub­ject to fierce com­pe­ti­tion because they will draw in cus­tomers and dri­ve sales of oth­er beers once peo­ple are through the shop door.

Every­one wants Deya cans but it’s not mak­ing very many,” says Jen Fer­gu­son, co-own­er of Hop Burns & Black, a craft beer retail­er in south east Lon­don. “The num­ber of Deya cans mak­ing it through to the dis­trib­u­tors is very small.”

Anoth­er exam­ple is Not­ting­ham brew­ery Neon Rap­tor. Alex Fitz­patrick, co-own­er of Brix­ton bot­tle shop Ghost Whale, found its beers became hard to get hold of seem­ing­ly overnight. “What hap­pened? Who pressed the but­ton that gave it this mag­ic rain­bow aura around every­thing it does?”


Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

With CAMRA’s dec­la­ra­tion of May as the month of mild in mind, Ron Pat­tin­son has tak­en a look at how beer style come in and out of favour:

When styles start to decline, it can hap­pen sur­pris­ing­ly quick­ly. It always kicks off the same way: young drinkers don’t adopt it. Then a style begins to be asso­ci­at­ed with old men. And no-one wants to drink what granddad’s drink­ing… Lager sales real­ly took off in the late 1970s. The young drinkers who adopt­ed it back then are now around 60. How long before Lager becomes asso­ci­at­ed with old blokes?


Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

One of the upsides to putting this round-up togeth­er slight­ly lat­er than usu­al is that it meant we caught a post from this very morn­ing by the Pub Cur­mud­geon in which the details of var­i­ous region­al quirks of dis­pense from the 1970s-90s are recalled:

But, in the 1960s and 70s, if you went in the aver­age pub across much of the Mid­lands and North, you would be like­ly to be served your beer in an over­size glass with a thick head reach­ing almost to the top, where­as in the South you would get beer from a hand­pump with a head no more than a quar­ter of an inch deep, or often just a thin coat­ing of foam on the top. It’s also worth adding that, in the South, you would often get keg beer with lit­tle or no head as well. Get­ting a pint a total­ly flat-look­ing beer with plen­ty of CO2 still dis­solved in it was a touch dis­con­cert­ing.


And final­ly, from Twit­ter, one of those too-neat expla­na­tions that nonethe­less sort of, maybe, kind of, checks out:

For more links and com­men­tary check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day and Alan McLeod on Thurs­day.

News, nuggets and longreads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawling, Carlsberg, Craftonia

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from Leeds to low alcohol beer.

For the Guardian Dave Simp­son writes about the devel­op­ment of the post-punk scene in Leeds in the late 1970s, which took place in pubs, with the York­shire Rip­per as a dark back­ground pres­ence:

Today, with its wood and tiles and punk sound­track, [the Fen­ton] is almost as it was; Gill observes that the juke­box has moved rooms. “Pre-mobile phones, you’d have to go where you knew peo­ple would be,” Mekons singer Tom Green­hal­gh explains, remem­ber­ing “intense polit­i­cal debates and insane hedo­nism”, and leg­endary scene char­ac­ters such as Bar­ry the Badge. “A huge gay guy cov­ered in badges from Arm­ley Social­ist Worker’s par­ty. He was rock-hard, but then he could just grab you, snog you and stick his tongue down your throat.”


Roger Protz has been writ­ing about lager in Britain for 40 years so his com­men­tary on where the new ‘Dan­ish Pil­sner’ Carls­berg has just launched in the UK fits in was bound to be inter­est­ing. Where oth­ers have been cau­tious­ly pos­i­tive, Mr Protz essen­tial­ly dis­miss­es the beer as more the same:

I was asked for my views by Carlsberg’s Lon­don-based PR com­pa­ny, who sent me some sam­ples. The bot­tled ver­sion said it was brewed in the UK – pre­sum­ably this means the Northamp­ton fac­to­ry – while the can says “brewed in the EU”. I said this made a mock­ery of the new beer being called “Dan­ish Pil­sner”… I added that 3.8 per cent ABV was too low to mer­it being called Pil­sner: the clas­sic Pil­sner Urquell is 4.4 per cent and all claims to be a Pil­sner should be judged against it. I found the Carls­berg beer to be thin and lack­ing in aro­ma and flavour.

A foot­note from us: we were asked to take part in mar­ket research by Heineken ear­li­er this week, which leads us to sus­pect some sim­i­lar post-Cam­den rein­ven­tion is in the pipeline there, too.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, nuggets and lon­greads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawl­ing, Carls­berg, Crafto­nia”

News, Nuggets and Longreads 2 March 2019: Retirement, Simplification, Adjuncts

Here’s all the bookmarkworthy writing about beer and pubs that landed in the past week, from the mysterious behaviour of dads to corn syrup.

First, some depress­ing news from the north west of Eng­land, in a sto­ry that’s unfold­ing right now: Cloudwater’s much-antic­i­pat­ed Fam­i­ly & Friends beer fes­ti­val has run into a licenc­ing issue and may not go ahead today. In a state­ment issued first thing this morn­ing, the brew­ery said:

The police have informed us that Upper Camp­field Mar­ket is not, as we have been assured on many occa­sions by the man­ag­ing agent act­ing on behalf of Man­ches­ter City Coun­cil, licensed for the sale of alco­hol. The attend­ing police offi­cer ear­li­er this evening, the two licens­ing offi­cers, a licens­ing solic­i­tor, and even the night-time tzar of Greater Man­ches­ter, appear to have exhaust­ed every option to allow us to oper­ate in Upper Camp­field Mar­ket tomor­row. If we ignore the licens­ing team, and run tomor­row any­way, I risk an unlim­it­ed fine or six months impris­on­ment.

It’s a reminder of just how much behind-the-scenes bureau­crat­ic bat­tling has to go on to put on any event with booze, and gives a glimpse into why entre­pre­neurs so often seem to end up regard­ing local gov­ern­ment as the ene­my.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets and Lon­greads 2 March 2019: Retire­ment, Sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, Adjuncts”

Q&A: Harmonising European brewing methods, 1973

Newspaper headline from 1975Via Twitter, we’ve been asked to provide more information on plans by the European Common Market in 1973 to “harmonise European brewing methods”, as mentioned in Fintan O’Toole’s book  Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain.

Mr O’Toole quotes from a sto­ry in the Dai­ly Mir­ror (25/06/1973) head­lined EUROBEER MENACE:

A Com­mon Mar­ket threat to British beer unit­ed labour and Tory MPs yes­ter­day. The threat came in reports of a plan by Mar­ket author­i­ties to ‘har­monise’ brew­ing meth­ods in mem­ber coun­tries.

Mr. William Wil­son, tee­to­tal Labour MP for South Coven­try, and Tory Sir Ger­ald Nabar­ro both plan to raise the issue with Food Min­is­ter Joseph God­ber “in the inter­ests of the beer drinkers of Britain.”

Sir Ger­ald said: “This would be a dis­as­ter. Our beer is world famous for its strength, nutri­tion­al val­ue and excel­lence.”

It’s not hard to work out what peo­ple thought har­mon­i­sa­tion might mean: mild and bit­ter banned, Ger­man-style lager every­where, by order of Brus­sels.

But there’s very lit­tle detail in the sto­ry and it reads like typ­i­cal fuss-about-noth­ing tabloid report­ing wil­ful­ly miss­ing the point for the sake of caus­ing out­rage. (On the same page: NOW FRIED ONIONS ARE BANNED AT WIMBLEDON.)

Sure enough, it didn’t take much dig­ging to find a report from the Econ­o­mist from two days ear­li­er (23/06/1973) announc­ing that these pro­pos­als had already been aban­doned by the time the Mir­ror ran its piece.

"Ideal Suit in Lager" -- a hand with playing cards depicting lager brands.
Detail from the cov­er of Whit­bread Way No. 13.

Beer geeks, how­ev­er, were talk­ing about at least one spe­cif­ic tech­ni­cal issue: in the dis­cus­sion around har­mon­i­sa­tion pro­pos­als, there was a sug­ges­tion that only female (seed­less) hops ought to be used in brew­ing across Europe. In Eng­land, how­ev­er, male hops were his­tor­i­cal­ly grown along­side female, and peo­ple had a vague sense that male hops… er… made our beer taste more vir­ile? Or some­thing.

Richard Boston wrote about this in his Guardian col­umn for 29 Sep­tem­ber 1973:

You can imag­ine the con­ster­na­tion with which I received the ugly rumour that in order to con­form with the prac­tice of our Com­mon Mar­ket part­ners the male hop was going to be rout­ed out here too… I got straight on the blow­er to the Hops Mar­ket­ing Board… and asked their spokesman if it was true… “Absolute balls,” he replied.

The Econ­o­mist fol­lowed the Eurobeer sto­ry close­ly, report­ing on its progress over the next few years, as in this par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing piece from 2 Novem­ber 1974:

Much non­sense is talked by Euro­pean politi­cians about Brus­sels busy­bod­ies try­ing mad­ly to stan­dard­ise Euro­pean food and drink. Britain’s Mr Harold Wil­son is just about the worst offend­er. At long last it has pro­voked a Euro­pean civ­il ser­vant into putting the record straight. Anony­mous­ly, he is cir­cu­lat­ing a paper dis­sect­ing each com­plaint. Most are exposed as innacu­rate…

Plans for Eurobeer and Euro­bread – now with­drawn for review – nei­ther out­law nor stan­dard­ise nation­al brews and loaves. The aim is rather to demol­ish pro­tec­tion­ist bar­ri­ers which impede the free sale of these prod­ucts across nation­al bound­aries. Ger­many, for exam­ple, has strict rules which vir­tu­al­ly mean that if a beer is not brewed in the Ger­man way it can­not be called beer. The Commission’s Eurobeer plan would make Ger­many open its mar­ket to import­ed beers, includ­ing British ales, which meet a com­mon Euro­pean stan­dard.

In 1975, the UK Gov­ern­ment held a ref­er­en­dum on con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ty. The threat of Eurobeer came up repeat­ed­ly in ref­er­en­dum cam­paign mate­ri­als such as this pam­phlet from the Gov­ern­ment itself. A Q&A with the Con­sumer Asso­ci­a­tion in the Dai­ly Mir­ror for 30 May 1975 answers our ques­tion head on:

Q: What does ‘har­mon­i­sa­tion’ mean? Shall we be drink­ing Eurobeer?

A: Har­mon­i­sa­tion means get­ting our stan­dards in line with those of oth­er coun­tries to enable us to sell our prod­ucts to them. There are two types in the Com­mon Mar­ket:

TOTAL: When a Com­mon Mar­ket law says that only prod­ucts which com­ply with that law can be sold at all in the Com­mon Mar­ket;

OPTIONAL: When indi­vid­ual coun­tries can allow prod­ucts which do not con­form to the law to be sold in their own coun­tries…

But if there is a reg­u­la­tion on beer or bread, this will almost cer­tain­ly be option­al.

Odd­ly enough, even though the EC/EU didn’t imple­ment any such plan, by the late 1980s, lager was every­where in Eng­land any­way, much of it brewed in the UK under the super­vi­sion of con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean brew­ers, and sold under con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean brand names. Mar­ket eco­nom­ics and con­sumer demand did what the EC didn’t.