News, Nuggets and Longreads 30 March 2019: Magic Rock, Bottle Shop, Light Ale

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from takeovers to light ale.

First, some big news which would be more excit­ing if it had­n’t seemed inevitable, and if we had­n’t been through this cycle mul­ti­ple times in the past decade: Hud­der­s­field­’s Mag­ic Rock has been acquired by multi­na­tion­al brew­ing com­pa­ny Lion.

We’ve always found Mag­ic Rock­’s Richard Bur­house to be a frank, thought­ful sort of bloke, and his state­ment strikes home in a way these things often don’t:

Of course, I realise that this news will not be uni­ver­sal­ly well received but I’m also con­scious that inter­na­tion­al­ly renowned brew­ing com­pa­nies don’t invest in Hud­der­s­field every day, and I’m delight­ed that the jour­ney we start­ed eight years ago has got us to this point… I’m proud that we con­tin­ue to be a good news sto­ry in the town; the deal with Lion secures growth and longevi­ty for Mag­ic Rock, gen­uine job secu­ri­ty for our employ­ees and enables us to hire more peo­ple and con­tribute more to the econ­o­my of the local area going for­ward.

It’s inter­est­ing that of the four brew­eries involved in the found­ing of Unit­ed Craft Brew­ers in 2015, three have now been bought by multi­na­tion­als. We said at the time that UCB rep­re­sent­ed a state­ment of ambi­tion, which ideas seems to have been borne out by the pas­sage of time. Any­way, that’s one rumour down, leav­ing one more (that we’ve heard) to go…

More news, not per­haps unre­lat­ed to the above:

Light split (HSD and Light Ale).

Justin Mason at Get Beer. Drink Beer. has been research­ing and reflect­ing upon one of the most pop­u­lar 20th cen­tu­ry beer mix­es, light and bit­ter:

Light and Bit­ter is, as you might expect, a half of Bit­ter (usu­al­ly a bit more, three quar­ters was­n’t uncom­mon) served in a pint glass or mug with a bot­tle of Light Ale as an accom­pa­ni­ment. This was to be mixed as you saw fit, either in mea­sured stages but more usu­al­ly as half the bot­tle, tak­ing it almost to the top, and the oth­er half when you were down to the half pint lev­el again… I could­n’t remem­ber the last time I saw any­body order or drink a Light and Bit­ter in any pub I was in for at least ten years…

A mural in south London.

Stay­ing in the realms of the old school, Desert­er has been tour­ing the work­ing men’s clubs of south Lon­don:

Have you ever walked past those huge old build­ings that have a Courage sign from anoth­er epoch, but offer no encour­age­ment to enter? They’re mem­bers’ clubs, where the beer is as cheap as fibs and ‘refurb’ means a new snook­er table. Lib­er­al Clubs, Work­ing Men’s Clubs, Social Clubs. A mys­tery to most. A sanc­tu­ary to some… Roxy and Gail had become mem­bers of a CIU club and that enti­tled them to vis­it any of their 1800+ clubs in the UK and take in their spe­cial ’70s-ness, low-price pints, mas­sive func­tion rooms and strong cue-sports pres­ence. I bor­rowed a card and kicked off our club tour at the Peck­ham Lib.

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2002 & 2009.

Archive arti­cle of the week: can you imag­ine a news­pa­per today pub­lish­ing any­thing as niche and geeky as this set of ver­ti­cal tast­ing notes by Michael Jack­son on J.W. Lees Har­vest Ale from 1995?

The exact influ­ence of age is open to argu­ment. Nine­ty-nine out of a hun­dred beers will go down­hill. Only the strong and com­plex might improve. Before this tast­ing, I would have said that Lees Har­vest Ale might devel­op favourably for three to six months. Now, I think six or sev­en years. Beyond that, oxi­da­tion cre­ates Madeira-like notes, which can become dom­i­nant. From day one, the herbal flow­er­i­ness of the hop can recede, but it was still def­i­nite­ly evi­dent in the 1990.

For more good read­ing, check out Alan on Thurs­day and Stan on Mon­day.

Retro Bottles from Harvey’s

A £37.50 mixed case from Harvey’s of Lewes brought us a selection of 24 gloriously old school beers in tiny 275ml bottles.

They look as if they’ve been pulled from a dusty shelf behind the bar at a pub that closed in 1983 – not ‘faux-vin­tage’ but evi­dence that, if you wait long enough, most graph­ic design starts to look cool again. Here, we’ve focused on four that belong to styles pop­u­lar in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry but which have long been aban­doned by most oth­er brew­eries.

Blue Label (3.6%) sends all the sig­nals of ‘light ale’ – a type of beer that all but dis­ap­peared with the arrival of ‘pre­mi­um bot­tled ales’ in the 1990s. Being based, how­ev­er, on the almost uni­ver­sal­ly adored Sus­sex Best – the brown bit­ter even the most des­per­ate hop-hounds con­ced­ed isn’t bor­ing – turns out to be rather good. The car­bon­a­tion is arguably too low – get­ting a head on the beer was tough and it slipped away instant­ly – except that this seems to give it a hop-oily, tongue-coat­ing rich­ness. The core flavour is tof­fee, yes, but it’s heav­i­ly sea­soned with dry­ing, grassy hops that leave a final twist of med­i­c­i­nal bit­ter­ness on the tongue. In short, it’s good beer in its own right, and much bet­ter, or at least more inter­est­ing, than many over-cooked bot­tled bit­ters avail­able in super­mar­kets.

India Pale Ale (3.2%) is sim­i­lar – amber-gold, caramelised sug­ar, stewed tea hop­pi­ness – but watery with it. We reck­on it’s a pret­ty good exam­ple of what IPA meant to British pub drinkers 30 or 40 years ago but how many beer geeks trained on Goose Island and Brew­Dog Punk have been let down by it in the last five years? It was­n’t any effort to drink but we’ll have anoth­er Blue Label next time, thanks.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Retro Bot­tles from Harvey’s”

QUOTE: Light Ale & Lager, 1965

You may like to serve only beer at your party. It is very good with hot cheese savouries, or with hot dogs. Choose your beer carefully if you have only one sort. Some of the light ales chill excellently and have better flavour than many lagers. Ladies seldom like the dark varieties, so have an alternative drink for them. You may like to buy a cask of beer, in which case ask for a Pin which hold 4½ gallons. Beer consumption is the most difficult to calculate, but 1¾ pints per head would be an average to base your guess  upon. You know your friends best.”

From Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book, 1965, reprint­ed as a Pen­guin paper­back in 1967.

A Lightplater while waiting for a train

Young's Light Ale

With our train due in an hour,we wan­dered out of the sta­tion in a small inland Cor­nish town in search of a pub. The first we came across was busy and smart enough; on enter­ing, a cheery-look­ing land­la­dy greet­ed us and engaged in a lit­tle light ban­ter. She then served us two pints and a half of the warmest, dullest bit­ter we’ve had in a while.

This seemed a per­fect time for a lit­tle exper­i­ment. “Is that Young’s Light Ale in the fridge?” we asked, spot­ting the label from sev­er­al metres away. It was, so we bought some, and used it to (a) reduce the tem­per­a­ture of our pints from luke­warm to cool; (b) put some fizz in them; and © lift the bit­ter­ness. They weren’t great pints there­after, but were at least pleas­ant enough to fin­ish.

All of this remind­ed us of (sor­ry) yet anoth­er pas­sage from Richard Boston’s Beer and Skit­tles (1976) in which he lists var­i­ous ‘tra­di­tion­al’ beer mix­es:

  • Light­plater – bit­ter and light ale.
  • Moth­er-in-law – old and bit­ter. (Oh dear. Bernard Man­ning much?)
  • Granny – old and mild.
  • Boil­er­mak­er – brown and mild.
  • Black­smith –stout and bar­ley wine.
  • Half-and-half – bit­ter and stout, or bit­ter and mild.

If you’re com­pelled to mix beers in an emer­gency as we were, or just fan­cy a change, these all sound like they might cre­ate some­thing drink­able.

Bai­ley’s dad, of course, nev­er com­plains about bad beer. If it can’t be ren­dered pass­able with the addi­tion of a bot­tle of Man­n’s Brown Ale, then it’s time to move on.