News, Nuggets and Longreads 16 March 2019: Potatoes, Preston, Pubs

Here are all the blog posts and news stories about beer that seized our attention in the past week, from potato beer to ancient Irish pubs.

First, some food for thought: SIBA, the body that represents a significant chunk of the UK’s independent breweries, has published its annual report. (Unfortunately, in flippy-flappy skeuomorphic online booklet form. UPDATE: Neil at SIBA sent us a link to a PDF.) Some of the key messages:

  • The public perceives craft beer to be from small, independent producers, and made using traditional methods.
  • Young people do seem to be pulling away from alcohol, with only 16% of 25-34 year olds drinking beer more regularly than once a week, down from 26% in 2017.
  • The number of breweries producing keg beer has increased, and craft lager especially is on the up.

Preston
SOURCE: Ferment.

Better late than never, having finally got round to reading it in a hard copy of Ferment, the magazine from beer subscription service Beer52, we wanted to flag Katie Taylor’s piece on the beer scene in Preston, Lancashire:

A former Victorian textiles giant left to the fates of so many Northern towns, the city sits patiently on direct rail routes to nearly every UK city you can think of; it’s two hours from London, two hours from Edinburgh. Deprivation has cast its shadow for some time, but after over a decade of diligent local action and positive steps towards self-sufficiency it feels like recently, Preston’s time might finally be arriving… The hipsters of Preston are made of different stuff though. For a start, they’re not interlopers searching for cheap loft spaces – instead they’re local, young and they’ve never left.

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Brewery Life, St Helens, 1920s: Free Beer and Vitriol

What was life like in a large regional English brewery in the years between the wars? Fortunately for us, Charles Forman asked someone, and recorded their answer.

We picked up a copy of Industrial Town, which was published in 1978, from a bargain bin somewhere and have previously flagged its commentary on spitting in pubs.

The observations of a nameless brewery worker, born c.1902, are no less interesting, describing life at Greenall Whitley’s St Helens outpost:

In the brewery the day turn used to be on at six in the morning. You had to get malt out, which came in hundredweight sacks, and put it in the dissolving tanks. You got a dipstick out which stated the quantity of water that was wanted to dissolve the malt in. When you go that quantity you let them know on the mash tuns where the malt is left. The mixture is pumped up to the coppers, where they used to put the malt and hops to boil. There were three copper boilers altogether – the biggest one held 500 barrels.

When they’re satisfied they’ve got enough hops, they shut that manhole and put the steam on to get it to a certain heat for boiling the brew. They’re supposed to boil it just over an hour, but sometimes you were waiting for empty vessels, so you had to boil it longer. There were only two of us there, so you couldn’t go away and leave it.

There is a bit more detail of the brewing process given – the brewery employed hopbacks, and sent the beer into vessels at 70°F before fermenting for a full week.

One especially interesting detail (well, to us; well, to Jess) is a brief discussion of excise inspections:

There’s a certain gravity to work to in the beer. Once they get it to the gravity they want, you can’t do anything till the excise officers come along and check it… On the job, if you got it wrong, there’d be an enquiry about it. If it was too high, they’d break it down with boiling water to make sure it was the right gravity that they’re tied down to.

Cleaning is the less sexy side of brewing but, by all accounts, takes up a huge amount of most brewers’ time. The subject of this oral history recalls cleaning vats as a job for brewery juniors: “It was repetition work – just do the job till it’s done. We used sand and mixed it up with with vitriol…”

But what was Greenall Whitley’s beer like in the 1920s? It’s always exciting to find historic tasting notes of any kind, but this one is only brief and vague: “The beer was all right”.

[They] had different strengths. They don’t brew any stout now – it’s only bitter and mild. We used to get beer free at half past ten and half past two in the afternoon. The chap dished it out in the cellar. You’d have to take a can with you. Two pints a day, that’s what it used to be. One chap got sacked for pinching it – they were very keen on that.

You can pick up copies of this book for very little and if you’re interested in St Helens, industrial history, or working class life, it’s certainly worth a couple of quid.

Main image: the St Helens brewery in the 1930s, via the Brewery History Society Wiki.

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 28 July 2018: Blackburn, Belfast, Banked Bass

Here’s everything in the world of beer and pubs that caught our eye in the past week, from the colour of pre-WWI beer to the mysteries of fermentation.

First, though, an admission: we put this together on Thursday evening and scheduled it to post automatically. If anything exciting happened on Friday it might not be reflected.

Right, down to business.


Blackburn

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for subscription service Beer52, Katie Taylor has written about the pubs of Blackburn, Lancashire:

“If you asked anyone in here what craft beers they enjoyed, they’d probably think you were on about bottles,” said [bar manage] Hilary [Carr]. “And they don’t drink those.”

I ask what a local drinker would call a beer brewed in a local microbrewery. She answers: “Real ale.”

So with all this love for good, local real ale, what’s stopping northern craft beer brewers from moving in? I ask Hilary to join me for a sit down and she brings her coffee mug – it says “Prog Forever” on it.

“It’s the price,” she says. “All our beers are £2.50 a pint. Nobody will pay more than that and to be honest, they don’t need to!”

(This is actually from last week but we missed it then.)


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

For Good Beer Hunting Stan Hieronymus writes about the fermented food guru Sandor Katz and how his evangelism is leaking into the world of beer:

“Mixed culture is probably the most annoying buzzword right now,” says Todd Steven Boera at Fonta Flora Brewery in North Carolina. “And we use it on our menu boards, labels, everywhere. If you asked 10 random people, I think you would get 10 different answers what it means.”

Mixed culture may not tell consumers as much about what to expect in a glass as Boera would like, but it makes sense in the context of the first of two beers Boera and Katz collaborated on.


The John Hewitt pub in Belfast.

At An Seisiún Mac Siúrtáin (a pen name) has written a long piece about the experience of trying to drink any stout other than Guinness in Belfast:

Before independent beer was a thing in Northern Ireland (prior to this decade, the only independent breweries were Hilden and Whitewater)’ Guinness was my session beer of choice. It had a hint of satisfying roastiness, there were no evil flavours or wateriness like you’d get in macro lagers and the nitro serve – while it stripped some flavour out – meant it went down smoothly without making you feel gassy and bloated like the carbonated beers. It’s therefore the ultimate session beer – enough taste to be morish but not enough to be sickening, and the nitro means it goes down easier and leaves room for more. While Yardsman and Belfast Black are objectively better beers with more flavour, they are not quite direct substitutes in terms of the purpose they serve the drinker.

There’s a fascinating little ‘ouch’ in there for craft beer advocates, too: what if the craft clone of your favourite big brand beer isn’t an improvement but merely the equivalent of supermarket own-brand cornflakes?


A clear pint of Bass pale ale.

On his travels in Stockton-on-Tees Martin Taylor found the tradition of ‘banking Bass’ alive, if not quite well:

“Do you still sell Bass ?”  I squeaked.

“Of course”  Next time I’ll ask if they’re actually open or something daft like that.

I was directed to the other side of the bar.  But where was the famous bankers fridge ?

Still there, but with just four bankers cooling down, rather than the twenty of a decade ago.  Still looked the business though.


Beer glasses.

Just in case you missed it when we Tweeted it last week, do check out this magnificent find by Gary Gillman (@beeretseq): a chart from the period before World War I depicting in full colour various types of European beer, each in their typical glassware. (Detail above.) Gary has now tracked down the source of the image in the Toronto library and found that it came with a table of figures.


If you want more, check out Alan McLeod’s thoughts from Thursday and Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up.


Finally, here’s one to provoke some thought:

News, Nuggets and Longreads 13 January 2018: Rawtenstall, Lincolnshire, Mars

Here’s everything that’s grabbed our attention in beer and pubs in the past week from jam sandwiches to Mars exploration, via a few rounds of India pale ale.

The ‘World Cup Of…’ has become a popular Twitter meme, allowing users to vote for their favourite biscuits/films/sub-species in a series of rounds until only the best are left standing. Now, south London relaxed-lifestyle blog Deserter has used just such an exercise to identify the top ten pubs on its manor. You might not agree with the final round-up, especially if you know that part of the capital well, but there’s no doubting that it’s a handy starter set and plenty to keep any visitor busy for a long weekend.


Jam sandwiches.

Katie at The Snap and the Hiss has done something we’ve always wanted to and visited Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall, Lancashire:

Mr Fitzpatrick’s OG mixtures have been brewed since 1836 and as far as anyone is willing to reveal, the recipes haven’t changed since the family moved to England in 1899. The menu is extensive, with these fabulous Fitzpatrick cordials at the centre of it all…. I chose a cold fizzy Rhubarb and Rosehip, which was unreasonably delicious. Yes, it would be sensational with a dash of vodka, but alone it was totally passable as a social drink. I also picked a Hot Temperance Toddy, which is Blood Tonic, lemon and honey. I was immediately cured of every illness known to Western medicine and could suddenly sing in a perfect soprano.

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The Alpine Gasthof: Let’s Crack This

We’ve been working on an article about German Bierkellers in English towns in the 1970s and as a side quest found ourselves looking into one of the UK’s weirdest pubs: The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

We’ve never been, though it’s very much on the wishlist, but Tandleman wrote about his visit earlier in the year:

Perhaps the oddest of Sam Smith’s pubs is its take-off of a German local pub, uprooted it seems, in looks if nothing else, from Garmisch or some other Alpine resort. Only it is in Rochdale. Not only is it in Rochdale, but it is on a busy main road, which if you follow it for not too long, will take you to Bacup. This is the Land that Time Forgot. Don’t do that… Not only is it incongruously in Rochdale, but it is in a less than salubrious part of town… The pub has the usual German style high sloping roof and inside is, well, a sort of pastiche of a German pub, but done, unusually for Sam’s, sort of on the cheap.

Although there are lots of photos, and though everyone seems quite fascinated by the place, there don’t seem to be many concrete facts. When was it built? Why?

We didn’t hold out great hopes for any information from the brewery which is notoriously tight-lipped but did get this, which is a start:

The Alpine Gasthof was built in the 1970s (don’t have the exact date to hand) because the previous pub we had on that site had to be demolished for road widening. To have a bit of fun we decided to build a pub modelled on the Brauerei Gasthof Hotel in Aying, Germany because at that time we were brewing Ayinger beer under licence.

We can well imagine Sam Smith’s execs going to Aying during licence negotiations and being charmed by the original, pictured here in a shot taken from the gallery on the hotel website:

Brauereigasthof-Hotel-Aying exterior.

Although, oddly, the pastiche doesn’t look that much like it. Here it is photographed in 2013, via Ian S on Geograph.org.uk under a Creative Commons Licence:

The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

With a bit more to go on we reckon we can guess that the date of its construction was around 1972, at the tail-end of the theme pub craze (Further reading: Chapter 5 in 20th Century Pub) and just as the German Bierkeller trend was kicking in. That’s also when Sam Smith’s started brewing Ayinger-branded beers. But we’re awful short on actual evidence. We thought this might be something…

Google Search result.

…but there are two problems. First, though Google Books has the date of publication as 1972 the particular issue referencing the Alpine Gasthof might be from, say, 1978. We’ve come across this problem in the past. It’s hard to know until you have the journal in front of you, fully readable. Secondly… It says Wetherby, Yorkshire. Surely some mistake? But, no, apparently not — there is at least one other (slightly odd) reference to an Alpine Gasthaus in Wetherby, giving the address as Boroughbridge Road, LS22 5HH. That led us to this local news story about the burning down in 2005 of the Alpine Lodge, a two-storey chalet-style building in Kirk Deighton (Wetherby). There are various other bits out there including this interview with the couple who ran it for several decades and a teasingly indistinct photo taken from a moving car in bright sunlight on this Facebook nostalgia website. We’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here, with some tweaks — hopefully no-one will mind.

The Alpine Inn AKA the Alpine Lodge.

What a bizarre building to find there on the side of the A1.

And that leaves us with two Alpine-style Sam Smith’s pubs to be puzzled about.

So, do drop us a line if you know anything concrete about the origins of either pub (that is, not reckonings or guesses); have friends or family members who might have drunk in them; or live near either Rochdale or Wetherby and fancy popping to your local library to look at newspapers for 1972.

Bottled Milds 5: The North Country

This final batch of bottled milds are all from the North — a term which, of course, covers a great deal of territory.

Though the Midlands has a strong claim to mild it is The North with which it is most associated in the popular imagination — part of the stereotypical image of a northerner along with flat caps and whippets, as in this article on the crowd-sourced comedy website NewsBiscuit:

In a move which is sure to be welcomed by ‘hard working families’ and ‘lovable northerners’, the Government has announced that whippets, pipes, pints of mild and dolly tubs are all to be zero-rated for VAT.

As with CAMRA and beards there is some truth in the association: we found a relative abundance of mild on our last trip to Manchester, albeit mostly kegged; and yet as early as the 1970s CAMRA was declaring it all but extinct in London and the Home Counties.

Apart from the question of whether they’re any good — the main point of these posts — there’s a secondary line of enquiry: do they have anything in common with each other? And, if so, can we say northern mild is any way distinct from Midlands mild?

  • Brass Castle Hazelnut Mild (Beers of Europe, £2.89 500ml)
  • Ilkley Black (Beer Ritz, £2.96 500ml)
  • Moorhouse Black Cat (Beers of Europe, £2.05 500ml)
  • Rudgate Ruby Mild (Beer Ritz, £3.00 500ml)
  • Thwaites Dark Mild (Morrisons, £3.96 4 × 440ml)

Continue reading “Bottled Milds 5: The North Country”