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.

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.


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 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.