Mellow Brown vs. the Amarillo Kid?

The tension between new world and old school is being played out at Spingo Ales in sleepy Helston, Cornwall, but which side has the upper hand?

A brew­ery has oper­at­ed from the rear of the Blue Anchor, a ram­bling gran­ite-built pub on Hel­ston’s main drag, since at least the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, and to say it has a cult rep­u­ta­tion among enthu­si­asts of tra­di­tion­al British beer would be an under­state­ment.

It was as we were wind­ing up an after­noon drink­ing ses­sion that we first met the head brew­er, Tim Sears, in the back yard of the pub and asked whether he would mind telling us which vari­ety of hops were used in Spin­go Jubilee IPA. (We were obsess­ing over East Kent Gold­ings at the time.)

Amar­il­lo,” he said, with a just-notice­able curl of his lip.

An Amer­i­can vari­ety not­ed for its pun­gent pop-art tan­ger­ine aro­ma, Amar­il­lo was first released to the mar­ket in 2000. There are pint glass­es at the Blue Anchor that have been in ser­vice longer.

That’s Gareth’s doing,” he con­tin­ued. “He’s the brew­ery man­ag­er. See those sacks of spent hops?” He point­ed to a cor­ner by the gents’ toi­lets. “That lit­tle one’s mine; his is over­flow­ing! I tell him he uses too many.”

Fas­ci­nat­ing,” we thought, Spock-like.

A few weeks lat­er, we got hold of Tim’s email address and explained that we were inter­est­ed in find­ing out more. “Ten­sion is a bit strong!” he replied, “but I know what you mean.” And so, on a paint-peel­ing­ly hot after­noon in July, Bai­ley took a trip to the brew­ery.

* * *

Poster for the Bruges Beer Festival at the Blue Anchor.
Poster for the Bruges Beer Fes­ti­val at the Blue Anchor.

As he lives in Penzance, Tim agreed to pick me up and save me a bus fare, “As long as you don’t mind me smoking and Dutch music… Gezondheid, tot dinsdag!”

Sure enough, as we hur­tled along the coast road, weav­ing around trac­tors and con­voys of Ger­man tourists, the car stereo played a stream of oom­pah-ing Ned­er­landse pop-rock.

What’s the Dutch con­nec­tion?” I asked.

Bel­gian beer,” he replied. “About ten… twelve… ten or twelve years ago, we went on a trip, a coach trip, to Bel­gium, and I loved it. I got on well with the bloke who ran the hotel where we were stay­ing and now he’s sort of a pen pal. I write to him every week, in Dutch.”

Tim isn’t a native Cor­nish­man but has been brew­ing Spin­go Ales at the Blue Anchor in Hel­ston since 1981. “I’d been home brew­ing for a while and win­ning awards,” he said, lift­ing a hand from the steer­ing wheel to cir­cle his cig­ar in air for empha­sis, “so when I saw that they were adver­tis­ing for a new brew­er I said, ‘Yes, please! I’ll have some of that.’” The land­lord gave him a six week tri­al: “I nev­er did find out if I’d got the job.”

Peo­ple some­times talk about the Blue Anchor as if it’s been exact­ly the same, and brew­ing the same beer, for 400 years. It’s more com­pli­cat­ed than that, but ‘Mid­dle’, its flag­ship beer, is cer­tain­ly near­ing its 100th birth­day, hav­ing first been brewed to cel­e­brate the return of Hel­ston boys from the First World War, in 1919. “As far as I know, it’s the same recipe,” Tim said, “but the orig­i­nal paper­work isn’t avail­able. It’s been 1050 OG, Gold­ings, as long as I’ve been brew­ing it.”

Ye Olde Special Brew.

Else­where, there have been tweaks: Spin­go Spe­cial went from 1060 to 1066 to cel­e­brate the mar­riage of Charles and Diana in 1981, and at some point, crys­tal malt got added to the recipe. “Devenish [a defunct region­al brew­ery] used to sup­ply the malt and they weren’t too care­ful clean­ing out the chutes for our order, so we got pale malt with a bit of crys­tal mixed in, which I used for spe­cials. Nowa­days, we mix it our­selves.”

To put some space between it and the amped-up Spe­cial, Christ­mas Spe­cial went up to 1076. (It’s now back down to 1074, to avoid the high­er duty brack­et.) Spin­go Best, too close in grav­i­ty to Mid­dle, got qui­et­ly dropped, as did a 1033 ‘Ordi­nary’: “We called that Mrs Bond, because she was the only one that drank it.”

Tim is clear about his own tastes: “I don’t like a hop­py beer. I pre­fer that malty sweet­ness – that sort of Cor­nish tra­di­tion­al taste.”

(We have long felt that West Coun­try ale is almost a style in its own right – less atten­u­at­ed, heav­ier in body, with bare­ly any dis­cernible hop char­ac­ter. If you’ve tried the bland, sweet Sharp’s Doom Bar, or St Austel­l’s HSD, then you’d recog­nise Spin­go Mid­dle from the fam­i­ly resem­blance, though it’s less smooth, and less con­sis­tent, than either of those big­ger brew­ery brands.)

Obvi­ous­ly, you’ve got to have hops,” he con­ced­ed, “but they’re there for bit­ter­ness. They shouldn’t make your beer smell of fruit. I can’t stand when peo­ple say they can smell lemon or cit­rus or pas­sion fruit, or what­ev­er.”

I can’t stand when peo­ple say they can smell lemon or cit­rus or pas­sion fruit…”

A cou­ple of years ago, his col­league Gareth, and Ben, a son of the Blue Anchor’s licensees, went on a three-week course at Brewlab in Sun­der­land. They came back with new ideas. The stout Ben designed for his course­work is now a reg­u­lar at the pub, and is called, obvi­ous­ly, Ben’s Stout. Corn­wall isn’t stout-drink­ing coun­try, but it ticks over. “Ben doesn’t drink it, though,” said Tim. “He drinks my Bragget – no hops, malt, hon­ey, apple juice, first brewed to com­mem­o­rate the town’s char­ter, grant­ed by King John in 1201.”

But it was Gareth upon whom the course had the most pro­found effect. “The IPA, that was my beer orig­i­nal­ly, brewed for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2002. But then Gareth got hold of it and now it’s all–” A faint shake of the head. “Amar­il­lo.”

At the pub, Tim, in sleeve­less T‑shirt and wellies, dis­ap­peared up the gran­ite stair­case into the steam of a brew­ery which is cramped and hot on the best of days, and hand­ed me over to Gareth, who was just con­clud­ing his morn­ing shift.

We had devel­oped a pic­ture of a mav­er­ick young hip­ster obsessed with ‘craft beer’, per­haps rid­ing around the brew­ery on a skate­board. In fact, though he is younger than Tim by some years, he is soft­ly-spo­ken, prac­ti­cal­ly-mind­ed, and, in his black work­ing t‑shirt, more mechan­ic than artist. A Hel­ston local, he worked his way up to the post of brew­ery man­ag­er from clean­ing bar­rels and the occa­sion­al stint behind the bar.

I do like hop­py beers,” he said, sip­ping instant cof­fee from a chipped mug at a plas­tic table in the pub’s gar­den, “but I most­ly drink more mel­low things, if I’m hon­est. Mid­dle, St Austell HSD – things like that.”

I most­ly drink more mel­low things, if I’m hon­est.”

This did not bode well for our hopes of find­ing a British ver­sion of the feud­ing Bjergso broth­ers: Tim and Gareth do not hate each oth­er. They are def­i­nite­ly not ‘at war’. So I decid­ed to poke the nest with a stick: what did Gareth think of Tim’s asser­tion that hops should real­ly only be used to add bit­ter­ness?

I dis­agree with him about that,” he said, with some­thing just approach­ing roused pas­sion. “Hops should be there to give flavour. Def­i­nite­ly.”

Anoth­er new Spin­go ale for which Gareth takes the cred­it (or per­haps the blame, from Tim’s per­spec­tive) is the 4% gold­en Flo­ra Daze. When we first tried it on the week­end it was launched, in March 2012, it seemed star­tling­ly dif­fer­ent to its sta­ble-mates, and we observed con­ser­v­a­tive reg­u­lars at the bar recoil­ing at its lemon-zesti­ness.

We have our beer dis­trib­uted through Jolly’s – LWC – and they want­ed some­thing lighter and hop­pi­er,” Gareth said. “I’d just learned recipe for­mu­la­tion at Brewlab and Flo­ra Daze is what I came up with.”

Gareth (left) and Tim, at the brewery door.
Gareth (left) and Tim, at the brew­ery door.

A short while lat­er, we all three recon­vened at the top of the steps by the brew-house, where Tim was stir­ring the mash with a wood­en brewer’s pad­dle. He fin­ished it by swing­ing a great wood­en lid onto the blue-paint­ed tun dat­ing from the 1920s, and cov­ered that with eight old malt sacks, for insu­la­tion.

Per­spir­ing and out of breath, he leaned on the sta­ble door and took a long draught from a cool pint of Spin­go Mid­dle. “Jolly’s want­ed some­thing under 4%,” he said, pick­ing up the Flo­ra Daze sto­ry, “but we just can’t go that low. Spin­go Ales are strong – that’s what makes them spe­cial.” He admit­ted, though, that he did roll his eyes on first see­ing the recipe. “Gareth usu­al­ly brews it, but I can do it, and have. I fol­low the recipe and stick to the spec.” He paused before deliv­er­ing the punch­line: “I just don’t drink the stuff.”

In the qui­et tug of war, Tim seems to be slow­ly get­ting his own way, and Gareth acknowl­edged that both the re-vamped IPA and Flo­ra Daze have, at Tim’s urg­ing, become less intense­ly hop­py. “I’m hap­pi­er with them as they are, though,” Gareth said. “They’re more in bal­ance now.”

Gareth’s real influ­ence is in the pur­suit of con­sis­ten­cy, as he explained show­ing me around the crowd­ed pub cel­lar which dou­bles as a home for six hot-tub-sized fer­ment­ing ves­sels. “Our beer is slight­ly dif­fer­ent every time,” he acknowl­edged, with a mix of pride and anx­i­ety. “It’s a small brew-house, we do every­thing by hand, and the malt and hops vary from batch to batch. The weath­er, too — that can have an awful effect. Oh, yeah – a big effect.”

But he is work­ing on this prob­lem and has insti­tut­ed lots of small changes. In the last year, for exam­ple, he has tak­en the rad­i­cal step of hav­ing lids fit­ted to the fer­ment­ing ves­sels, so that the beer is no longer exposed to the air. Noth­ing fan­cy, though – just sheets of Per­spex. There’s a sense that, with too much steel and pre­ci­sion, it would cease to be Spin­go.

Fermenting vessels at the Spingo brewery.
Fer­ment­ing ves­sels at the Spin­go brew­ery.

But per­haps this most tra­di­tion­al of British brew­eries will see more change yet. Tim, not per­haps as con­ser­v­a­tive as we thought, con­fessed that he had some­times won­dered about brew­ing some­thing to reflect his inter­est in Bel­gian beer. And Gareth, some­what wist­ful­ly, and almost embar­rassed, mut­tered: “I have… Well, I have thought about a sin­gle-hop beer, Amar­il­lo – some­thing a bit stronger.”

A US-inspired Spin­go IPA?

Yeah, I sup­pose that’s the kind of style I’d be going for…” He shook his head. “But, no, we’ve got enough dif­fer­ent beers for now.”

* * *

In the end, what we found at the Blue Anchor was­n’t high dra­ma or a bit­ter feud, but a kind of dia­logue, and our orig­i­nal choice of word, ten­sion, feels about right. We sus­pect that sim­i­lar debates are occur­ring in tra­di­tion­al brew­eries up and down the coun­try, and around the world, per­haps not always in such a civilised man­ner.

If you enjoyed this, check out the #beery­lon­greads hash­tag on Twit­ter for oth­er peo­ple’s con­tri­bu­tions, and also (need we say it?) get hold of a copy of our book, Brew Bri­tan­nia, to which this is some­thing of a com­pan­ion piece.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 12/07/2014

The Connoisseur. (Of whisky, not beer.)
From 1905. Sad­ly, he’s drink­ing whisky, not beer, but we like the image too much not to share it.

It’s time for our weekly round-up of interesting stuff from around the internet. Don’t take it too serious – not many do. Read between the lines and you’ll find the truth.

The sched­ule for Lon­don Beer Week (9–16 August) looks pret­ty impres­sive. If you’re a beer geek plan­ning to vis­it the UK, this might help you decide where to stay and when. (Are there pol­i­tics behind the fact that the site does­n’t men­tion this is also the week of the Great British Beer Fes­ti­val…?)

→ Their beer cov­er­age isn’t always par­tic­u­lar­ly deep but this piece from Seri­ous Eats on how beer prices are set has lots to chew on: “Typ­i­cal­ly, in a restau­rant, you want to keep your food costs and so forth at 33 per­cent… So, a lot peo­ple sim­ply mul­ti­ply [the prod­uct cost] by 3.”

‘How To Blow $9 Bil­lion: The Fall­en Stroh Fam­i­ly’, from Forbes mag­a­zine. (2000 words; via Tim Holt.)

→ Back in 2011, local his­to­ri­an Patrick Car­roll attempt­ed to sift facts from the mass of myths and out­right fibs sur­round­ing the his­to­ry of the leg­endary Blue Anchor pub at Hel­ston, Corn­wall. (3,500 words.)

Derek Dellinger argues that beer styles should be tak­en less seri­ous­ly while seem­ing to take them quite seri­ous­ly: When I pick up a bot­tle and there’s no style or descrip­tion at all, noth­ing but a cute name and a gov­ern­ment warn­ing, I become so annoyed that I will almost nev­er buy that beerGive me at least an idea of what the beer is — how­ev­er you want to do that.” (1600 words.)

→ Emma has writ­ten about the appar­ent­ly sen­si­tive sub­ject of women drink­ing alone in pubs and the harass­ment they some­times expe­ri­ence.

Tan­gen­tial pub con­tent, but a good read any­way:

For 30 years, the Rip­ley Road was the go-to des­ti­na­tion for the smart set of the day: young, ath­let­ic gen­tle­men at first; rad­i­cal, bloomer-wear­ing ladies lat­er. The ten miles between the Angel Inn at Thames Dit­ton and the Anchor hotel at Rip­ley were world-famous, and busy with cyclists on all man­ner of machines.

Hay­ley Fly­nn explored a well-pre­served 1960’s shop­ping arcade in Man­ches­ter but could­n’t get into the locked-up and dor­mant El Patio pub. (via Pubs of Man­ches­ter Twit­ter | Web)

→ And, final­ly, does any­one know if this is actu­al­ly legal..?

Where the Boddies is Buried

In its heyday, Boddington’s Bitter was among the most highly-regarded of British beers, and the pride of its home city of Manchester. These days, it is rather unloved and rootless. Where did it all go wrong?

Michael Hard­man, one of the founders of CAMRA, men­tioned it, along­side Young’s Ordi­nary, as typ­i­fy­ing the ‘intense bit­ter­ness’ that, as a young man, he sought in a pint of ale: it was what those ear­ly cam­paign­ers were fight­ing for.

Beer writer and CAMRA stal­wart Roger Protz has sim­i­lar­ly rosy mem­o­ries: “The first time I drank it, in a pub in Hyde, Cheshire, I thought I had died and gone to heav­en: I could­n’t believe beer could taste that good.”

John Keel­ing, head brew­er at Fuller’s and a native Man­cun­ian, named it as his num­ber one ‘desert island beer’: “In 1974 at the start of my brew­ing career there was no bet­ter drink­ing beer than Bod­ding­ton’s.”

And the blo­goshire’s very own Tan­dle­man told us in an email:

It was a very dry beer, yet intense­ly bit­ter through­out, though not great­ly hop­py. I’m guess­ing ear­ly hop addi­tions to give that inten­si­ty of bit­ter­ness through­out. Good mouth­feel too – not thin at all.

But it isn’t just a mat­ter of nos­tal­gia. Con­tem­po­rary sources note, albeit with­out wax­ing lyri­cal, that Bod­ding­ton’s was ‘well hopped’ (Frank Bail­lie’s Beer Drinker’s Com­pan­ion, 1973), ‘One of the best’ (the first edi­tion of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, 1974) and ‘excep­tion­al­ly bit­ter’ (GBG 1977).

A high­ly evoca­tive descrip­tion of how Bod­ding­ton’s tast­ed in its prime comes from a let­ter to What’s Brew­ing from Mike Field of Bat­ley, pub­lished in May 1984: “[It had a] bit­ter­ness that clawed at the back of the throat and took you back to the bar for anoth­er one.”

It owed some part of its rep­u­ta­tion to what the 1978 Good Beer Guide called its ‘dis­tinc­tive straw colour’, and Ewart Bod­ding­ton, brew­ery chair­man from 1970 to 1989, is said (by Mr Field) to have put the beer’s pop­u­lar­i­ty down to the fact that it ‘looked like lager’.

Boddington's bee logo c.1979.Some­where along the line, how­ev­er, even as Britain was in the midst of the late-1970s ‘real ale craze’, Bod­ding­ton’s edge began to grow blunt. The sto­ry is told by the brief entries in suc­ces­sive edi­tions of the Good Beer Guide: by 1983, it had ceased to be ‘excep­tion­al­ly bit­ter’ and had become, instead, ‘A pop­u­lar light quaffing bit­ter’, and the 1984 edi­tion not­ed that ‘locals are con­cerned that the bit­ter has lost some of its dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter’.

While it is pos­si­ble that pol­i­tics might have coloured local per­cep­tions to an extent– when Bod­ding­ton’s took over the near­by Old­ham Brew­ery in 1982, it caused a seri­ous falling-out with CAMRA – there are many accounts like this one from blog­ger Paul Bai­ley (no rela­tion):

[As] far back as the late 1970s, when I was still liv­ing in Man­ches­ter, rumours abound­ed that Boddington’s had reduced the hop­ping rate of their most famous prod­uct to make it less aggres­sive­ly bit­ter (bland­er), so as to increase its appeal to a wider audi­ence. This was con­firmed by some­one we knew who worked at the brew­ery, although the com­pa­ny stren­u­ous­ly denied it  (they would, wouldn’t they?). We end­ed up vot­ing with our feet and switched to drink­ing in Holts’ pubs, where the bit­ter still tast­ed like bit­ter, and was also quite a bit cheap­er as well!

Mike Field­’s let­ter to What’s Brew­ing quot­ed above, along with com­plaints at the 1984 AGM, prompt­ed the brew­ery liai­son offi­cer, micro­bi­ol­o­gist Kevin Buck­ley, to look into the mat­ter. In a report in the April 1984 edi­tion of What’s Brew­ing, he con­clud­ed as fol­lows:

The tra­di­tion­al bit­ter was fer­ment­ed to a very low final grav­i­ty – around 1000 – remov­ing all fer­mentable sug­ars. Now fer­men­ta­tion is allowed to stop at an ear­li­er stage… This affects the palate of the beer, increas­ing the ‘palate full­ness’ or ‘body’ of the beer, so the light, slight­ly thin palate becomes smoother… In com­bi­na­tion with the reduc­tion in ‘bit­ter­ness’ and the use of less fra­grant hop, the net effect is to pro­duce a beer with a ‘smoother mouth­feel’, less after-palate, less alco­hol and less hop-aro­ma.… The colour of the beer has also appar­ent­ly increased – to mim­ic the more com­mon­ly accept­ed ‘nation­al’ bit­ters.

And it worked, even­tu­al­ly: ‘bland­ed out’, Bod­ding­ton’s did indeed become a nation­al brand in the 1990s, after the brew­ery was sold to Whit­bread. Launched in cans in 1990, it was the best sell­ing canned bit­ter for almost a decade, sup­port­ed by glossy but self-mock­ing adverts cap­i­tal­is­ing on its Man­cun­ian roots in the era of the Hap­py Mon­days and Oasis.

But it was­n’t real­ly Bod­ding­ton’s – it was an impos­tor, espe­cial­ly when, after 2004, new own­ers Inter­brew moved pro­duc­tion out of the City. Some Man­cu­ni­ans con­tin­ued to drink it out of habit or nos­tal­gia, while CAMRA mem­bers and oth­er beer geeks would­n’t be seen dead with a pint of its ‘smooth’ keg incar­na­tion.

They weren’t inter­est­ed in ‘creami­ness’ – instead, they yearned for that dry, gold­en, tru­ly bit­ter beer of 30 years before.

Filling a Boddington’s-Shaped Hole

Marble Manchester Bitter.The first brew­ery to attempt to plug the gap was Mar­ble who launched ‘Man­ches­ter Bit­ter’ in (we think) around 2001. Nev­er intend­ed as a clone, MMB start­ed from the idea that Bod­ding­ton’s Bit­ter in its prime was actu­al­ly a sin­gle expres­sion of a localised style. In 2011, head brew­er James Camp­bell was quot­ed by jour­nal­ist Will Hawkes: “It’s a pale, mid-strength, hop­py bit­ter beer, as was drunk in Man­ches­ter 30 years ago. That’s the tra­di­tion here.”

Clone or not, how close does it come to its inspi­ra­tion? Tan­dle­man:

It does reflect… the dry­ness and colour of the orig­i­nal Bod­ding­ton’s Bit­ter, but not the strength – it is much stronger.

When we drank it at the gor­geous­ly tiled Mar­ble Arch pub last week, we found it hard to dis­tin­guish from any num­ber of oth­er ‘pale’n’hop­py’ beers from the north of Eng­land, though per­haps less flow­ery or per­fumed than some exam­ples. If we could arrange for a pint of 1970s Bod­ding­ton’s Bit­ter to be trans­port­ed through time and space, would it strike us the same way? We sus­pect so.

Lees MPA poster, Manchester.

In 2013, anoth­er Man­ches­ter brew­ery released a beer inspired, at least to some degree, by Bod­ding­ton’s. J.W. Lees is a large fam­i­ly con­cern found­ed in 1828, with a rather con­ser­v­a­tive image. Their Man­ches­ter Pale Ale (MPA) at 3.7% on cask is an attempt to do some­thing that, by their stan­dards, is a bit ‘out there’, i.e. not brown. MPA is the name of this par­tic­u­lar beer, but, again, seems to imply that there might once have been an entire set of beers in this style – gold­en, dry, and ‘ses­sion­able’.

Per­haps part­ly because we’re suck­ers for con­text and cues pro­vid­ed by pack­ag­ing and brand­ing, we fell hard for MPA as con­sumed in a Man­ches­ter pub. While its bit­ter­ness did­n’t claw at the back of our throats, it did trig­ger that pleas­ant chain reac­tion: pint-thirsty-pint-thirsty-pint… The crusty-bread char­ac­ter we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed in the same brew­ery’s bit­ter is present and cor­rect, but com­ple­ment­ed with more and brighter hops. It won’t excite green-nos­triled lupulin addicts fran­ti­cal­ly seek­ing their next fix, but as a beer to set­tle on for a few hours, it would be hard to beat.

Our own con­tri­bu­tion to this nascent sub-style was a set of notes emailed to Matt Lovatt at Kirk­stall Brew­ery who pro­duced a beer under the name Revi­tal­i­sa­tion! for our appear­ance at North Bar in Leeds. We ref­er­enced this recipe from Ron Pat­tin­son and Kris­ten Eng­land to sug­gest all pale malt and a bit of sug­ar, and then lots of Gold­ings hops to achieve dry bit­ter­ness with­out much aro­ma.

Matt put a lot of thought into inter­pret­ing our sug­ges­tions and came up with a beer that, as a beer inspired by Michael Hard­man’s mem­o­ries of Bod­ding­ton’s or Young’s, was prob­a­bly not quite right. It was, how­ev­er, very clean, pleas­ing­ly aus­tere, and extreme­ly drink­able – we would have stayed on it all night if we’d been allowed.

The Cream of Manchester

We could­n’t leave the north with­out drink­ing at least one pint of the real thing – or at least, the beer that bears the brand of the real thing these days. We found ‘smooth’ keg Bod­ding­ton’s Bit­ter on offer at a pub in cen­tral Man­ches­ter along­side a ‘super cold’ vari­ant, though the stan­dard ver­sion makes your teeth chat­ter. It came with an inch of shav­ing foam on top – weird-look­ing even in a part of the world where a ‘tight creamy head’ is the norm – and bub­bles clus­tered on the inside of the appar­ent­ly slight­ly grub­by glass. It tast­ed… well, not bad, real­ly. Extreme­ly bland, of course, with a touch of sweet­corn, and rem­i­nis­cent of, say, Estrel­la Damm, but not ter­ri­ble.

None of the beers men­tioned above are the best or most excit­ing you will find in Man­ches­ter – it is a city crammed with great bars and pubs – but we think they do tell you some­thing about its cul­ture and his­to­ry, and drink­ing three beers that aren’t Bod­ding­ton’s can help you dis­cern its out­line.

A final tip from Tan­dle­man: “If you want a beer that tastes pret­ty much as I recall the orig­i­nal Bod­ding­ton’s Bit­ter, I’d sug­gest Lin­fit Gold Medal from the Sair Inn near Hud­der­s­field.  It is a near as I’ve ever had.  Quite a lot stronger though at 4.2%.”

We’re sure we read some­thing some­where at some point about the Bod­ding­ton’s yeast strain being ‘cleaned up’ in the 1980s – if you can think where, let us know in the com­ments below.

UPDATE 02/09/2015: Anoth­er pos­si­ble expla­na­tion for the decline of Bod­ding­ton’s Bit­ter in the 1980s has come to light through the April 1993 edi­tion of CAM­RA’s What’s Brew­ing. When quizzed by Roger Protz, Bod­ding­ton’s brew­ing man­ag­er Peter Laws and gen­er­al man­age Ian Kendal sug­gest­ed that the change might be the result of a change in prim­ing sug­ars: ‘The brew­ery had used a blend of of cane sug­ar and a vari­ety called Ambrose… When [Tate & Lyle] phased it out Bod­ding­ton’s switched to anoth­er blend from the same com­pa­ny called DAS… Kendel and Laws think that stands for “dark ale syrup”, a sin­gu­lar­ly inap­pro­pri­ate name for Bod­ding­ton’s Bit­ter.’

Going Long in August 2014

Reading in the pub (illustration)

We’re writing something longer than usual (1500+ words) for Saturday 30 August 2014. Join us!

Our last attempt to nudge the Blo­goshire into pro­vid­ing us with meati­er read­ing mate­r­i­al was on 1 March, fol­low­ing on from sim­i­lar exer­cis­es in Novem­ber and Sep­tem­ber last year.

This time, to give peo­ple time to recu­per­ate and work on their mas­ter­pieces, we thought we’d set a longer dead­line, hence 30 August.

Here’s the deal if you want to join in:

  • Write some­thing longer than usu­al. (Our stan­dard posts are 300–700 words long, so we aim for at least 1500 before we con­sid­er it a ‘long read’.)
  • You could just stretch a nor­mal post out by adding lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of unnec­es­sary words, phras­es, sen­tences, and indeed para­graphs. But that’s quite the point. Instead, choose a sub­ject which requires more words.
  • We’re not in charge and there are no ‘rules’; you can write what you like, post when you like; and you don’t have to men­tion us or link to this blog in your post. (Though of course it would be nice.)
  • If you want us to include your con­tri­bu­tion in our round-up, let us know. The sim­plest way is by Tweet­ing a link with the hash­tag #beery­lon­greads.
  • TIPthink of some­thing you want to read but that does­n’t seem to exist – an inter­view with a par­tic­u­lar brew­er, the his­to­ry of beer in a spe­cif­ic town, the sto­ry of a famous pub – and then write it.
  • Drop us a line if you want advice or just to run your idea past some­one.

Last time we did this, we had a flur­ry of mes­sages from peo­ple say­ing: ‘I did­n’t know this was hap­pen­ing!’ We’ll issue a few reminders at tac­ti­cal inter­vals but, in the mean­time, put it in your diaries!

We haven’t decid­ed what we’re going to write about yet. If you have any sug­ges­tions (our Newquay Steam Beer post was prompt­ed by an email from a read­er) let us know in the com­ments below.

Beery Long Reads, March 2014

'I Deny Being A Hipster Who Denies Being A Hipster' by Lorena Cupcake, from Flickr Creative Commons.
SOURCE: Lore­na Cup­cake, Flickr Cre­ative Com­mons.


by Chris Hall (@cshallwriter)

For a long time, I’ve used the word affec­tion­ate­ly, refer­ring to hip­sters in the same way I might say ‘Oh Mor­ris­sey, you sil­ly Quorn sausage.’ I see peo­ple doing things that seem naive or gullible, fash­ion-fol­low­ing or amus­ing­ly trendy, and I think, some­what patro­n­is­ing­ly, oh, hip­sters, shak­ing my head in father­ly amusement/disapproval. In the past year or so though, I have become increas­ing­ly aware and sen­si­tive to the use of the word hip­ster in a decid­ed­ly non-affec­tion­ate way.

[Read more at the Beer Diary…]


[/ezcol_1third]Birmingham Beer Bash logo.[ezcol_2third_end]My, How We’ve Changed

by David Ship­man (@othertonaleman)

I don’t know any more where (or who) it came from, or how it got shared, but ini­tial­ly sen­si­ble dis­cus­sions fuelled by beer became bold­er. A vision was born. Only an out­line at first, blurred but recog­nis­able. We cre­at­ed the Birm­ing­ham Beer Bash.

[Read more at Oth­er­tonales…][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]Kona Brewing logo.[ezcol_2third_end]Nine­teen nine­ty-five: beer change afoot

by Stan Hierony­mus (@stanhieronymus)

Fif­teen years after Ken Gross­man and Paul Camusi began sell­ing their Sier­ra Neva­da beers in 1980 America’s beer renais­sance demand­ed atten­tion.

[Read more at Appel­la­tion Beer..][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]Banana Bread Beer bottle.[ezcol_2third_end]Banana Bread Beer: an endur­ing odd­i­ty

by Leigh Lin­ley (@LeighGoodStuff)

The aro­ma is the first thing you notice. You try to stop your­self think­ing ‘Well it does smell like Banana’, but you can’t. It’s there all right; sweet and almost cloy­ing, recall­ing those foam banana sweets.

[Read more at The Good Stuff…][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]Cardboard beer mats.[ezcol_2third_end]Card­board Stu­pid – more box than beer

by Justin Mason (@1970sboy)

Card­board, a heavy duty paper in all its forms, from the box your lat­est online order came in to the handy beer mat you scrib­bled that tele­phone num­ber on in a hur­ry has had a long asso­ci­a­tion with beer and our drink­ing habits…

[Read more at Get Beer. Drink Beer.][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]Detail from a photo by Dianne Tanner: bottled beer.[ezcol_2third_end]The Price of Craft Beer

by Matt Cur­tis (@totalcurtis)

My more avid Twit­ter fol­low­ers will have recent­ly wit­nessed a brief tirade against what I felt was an exces­sive­ly high price for import­ed cans of Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s IPA, one of my very favourite dou­ble IPA’s. The cheap­est price I could find was £6.49 for a sin­gle 455ml/16oz can…

[Read more at Total Ales…][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]Ontario Beer Label.[ezcol_2third_end]Your Sun­day Morn­ing 1940s Ontario Beer Update

by Alan McLeod (@agoodbeerblog)

I give you excerpts from a late draft of Ontario Beer: A Heady His­to­ry of Brew­ing from the Great Lakes to the Hud­son Bay. Final tweaks con­tin­ue…

[Read more at A Good Beer Blog…][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]Small Beer Illustration.[ezcol_2third_end]Has The Brew­ery Boom Made Beer Worse?

by Con­nor Mur­phy (@likethemurphys)

With so many nascent brew­eries now in oper­a­tion, it’s fair to say there’s been a net decrease in expe­ri­ence through­out the brew­ing trade and, giv­en the appeal of craft, there has been an increase in those keen to cash in on demand… That’s not to say the boom has been bad for beer but the cur­rent state of flux has caused qual­i­ty to waver over the last cou­ple of years.

[Read more at Beer Bat­tered…][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]Detail from the cover of Home Brewing Without Failures by H.E. Bravery.[ezcol_2third_end]Home­brew­ing in the UK

by David Bish­op (@broadfordbrewer)

It’s my opin­ion that the boom-and-boom of home­brew­ing is sym­bi­ot­ic with the gen­er­al surge of inter­est in beer… 2013 was anoth­er good year for home­brew­ing, and 2014 is already full of promise.

[Read more at Broad­ford­brew­er…][/ezcol_2third_end]


[/ezcol_1third]The Golden Heart, Spitalfields.[ezcol_2third_end]The Snug Bar Preser­va­tion Soci­ety

by Boak & Bai­ley (@boakandbailey) with pic­tures by Ten Inch Wheels (@teninchwheels)

Nowa­days, the idea of a com­mu­ni­ty cam­paign to save a pub hard­ly seems remark­able — they are seen as an endan­gered species, the cru­el prop­er­ty devel­op­ers’ har­poons glanc­ing off their leath­ery old skin — but a hun­dred years ago, thing were very dif­fer­ent. Then, a cull was under­way. [Read more…][/ezcol_2third_end]

We’ll add any strag­glers to this list and when we find out about them either in the com­ments below or through Twit­ter.