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.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 11 March 2017: Queues, Le Coq, Suffragettes

Here’s all the beer and pub writing that grabbed us in the last week, from business rates to faux-Belgians.

Writ­ten as part of his jour­nal­ism degree James Beeson’s piece on the threat to pubs from forth­com­ing busi­ness-rate hikes, aimed at main­stream audi­ences, is a handy primer:

Accord­ing to rates and rents spe­cial­ists CVS, 17,160 pubs will have to pay more in busi­ness rates from April, and this is just the start, with rates expect­ed to rise by £421m in the next five years.  This hike means that pubs will need to pour an extra 121 mil­lion pints to fund increas­es in prop­er­ty tax­es paid to coun­cils. CVS esti­mate that high busi­ness rates have con­tributed to one in five pub clo­sures in Eng­land and Wales over the last six years.

As it hap­pens, in his bud­get on Wednes­day the Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer, Philip Ham­mond, announced busi­ness rate relief for pubs, as report­ed by the Morn­ing Adver­tis­er, albeit cou­pled with an increase in beer duty.

Price list in a pub.

We’ve already linked once this week to Peter McK­er­ry’s thought-pro­vok­ing piece on why peo­ple choose to drink at home or the pub but there’s been more chat­ter around this inter­est­ing sub­ject, notably from Mark John­son who argues that drink­ing at home isn’t real­ly cheap­er. He roots his argu­ment with a wel­come dis­cus­sion of price-per-litre and rel­a­tive val­ue:

Bot­tles of good beer aren’t cheap. I very rarely pur­chase, in my most fre­quent­ed bot­tles shops, a beer for under £3. Most of the time I’ll pur­chase 5 or 6 bot­tles at a time and this shop is nev­er under £25… 5 or 6 pints in the pub doesn’t cost me £25+… A pint of cask beer in my favourite pub ranges from £2.60 – £3.60, depen­dent on strength and pur­chase price. This is for a 568ml mea­sure of beer as opposed to the stan­dard 330ml size for bot­tles or cans in the beer shop. In terms of quan­ti­ty equiv­a­lent (ml to ml) 6 beers in the pub will cost approx­i­mate­ly £18.60. The bot­tles will cost me approx­i­mate­ly £43 for the same amount of beer.

A queue at Magic Rock's brewery tap.

Stay­ing with the same author, Mark also asked this week why on earth peo­ple would go to Hud­der­s­field and join a long snaking queue for the Mag­ic Rock brew­ery tap when there are so many oth­er great pubs in town:

This is an anec­dote that can­vass­es my feel­ings at present about any­thing that involves queu­ing or FOMO. This won’t be the only time I see peo­ple queue for a pub I’m sure. It’s just like those that scur­ry for online beer releas­es the moment it goes on sale. It is only for cer­tain brew­eries with cer­tain beers. It is the same ones doing the rounds on Face­book forums. There’s no fren­zy for beers that aren’t uni­ver­sal­ly praised, just like there seems lit­tle desire to drink in estab­lish­ments that don’t have some form of buck­et list sta­tus behind them.

(For what it’s worth, if we’d gone all the way to Hud­der­s­field specif­i­cal­ly to vis­it the MR tap for what­ev­er rea­son, we’d prob­a­bly have joined the queue, but when we found a sim­i­lar line run­ning out of the door at the Wild Beer Co bar in Bris­tol the oth­er week, we walked.)

The Crynes on a beer festival balcony.
The Crynes at the GBBF in the 1980s.

For Craft Beer Lon­don, the web­site that accom­pa­nies the book and very use­ful smart­phone app of the same name, Will Hawkes trailed the Lon­don Drinker Fes­ti­val with a pro­file of two key fig­ures in the British beer scene, Chris­tine Cryne and her hus­band John:

We’ve had hate mail!’ says Chris­tine. ‘Some stal­warts think hav­ing keykeg is the sell-out of sell-outs.’ She doesn’t seem over­ly con­cerned. ‘For me it’s about also being com­mer­cial. We need to make this beer fes­ti­val a suc­cess. Young peo­ple don’t dis­tin­guish between real ale and non-real ale – for them it’s all craft. That’s what we’re doing here: for peo­ple who aren’t into real ale, we want to encour­age them to try it. If we don’t do that, how will we get those young­sters in in the first place?’

The Shades, Hartlepool, closed and boarded.
A closed and board­ed pub in Hartle­pool.

An inter­est­ing nugget from Tan­dle­man: look­ing back over his con­sid­er­able archive he found men­tion of a pub that was doomed in 2009 and won­dered what had become of it since. (It would be an inter­est­ing project to look back at a whole lot of sto­ries like this and see how often they have a sim­i­lar punch­line.)

Text from a bottle of Harvey's Imperial Stout: A Le Coq.

You might not have the stom­ach for the in-depth details of his fam­i­ly tree that fol­low but the head­line in this sto­ry about Albert Le Coq by Mar­tyn Cor­nell is a killer for beer his­to­ry nerds:

Le Coq is remem­bered as a 19th cen­tu­ry exporter of Impe­r­i­al stout from Lon­don to St Peters­burg, whose firm even­tu­al­ly took over a brew­ery in what is now Tar­tu, in Esto­nia to brew Impe­r­i­al stout on what was then Russ­ian soil. The brew­ery is still going, it took back the name A Le Coq in the 1990s, and an Impe­r­i­al stout bear­ing its brand has been brewed since 1999, though by Harvey’s of Lewes, in Sus­sex, not in Esto­nia. But every ref­er­ence to the com­pa­ny founder, Albert Le Coq, apart from in the offi­cial his­to­ry of the Tar­tu brew­ery – which is almost com­plete­ly in Eston­ian – says he was a Bel­gian. He wasn’t.

A bit of brew­ery clo­sure news from the US: two Cal­i­forn­ian out­fits have fold­ed in the past week, San Fran­cis­co’s Speakeasy Ales & Lagers and Orange Coun­ty’s Valiant Brew­ing.

And, final­ly, amongst the flood of cheer­ing, inspir­ing images and sto­ries that accom­pa­nied Inter­na­tion­al Wom­en’s Day on Wednes­day this 1908 car­toon stood out:

(You can see the orig­i­nal at the US Library of Con­gress web­site.)

Magical Mystery Pour 23: Magic Rock Salty Kiss + Special Guest Star

The penultimate beer of a set chosen for us by Rebecca Pate (@rpate) of Brewing East is an old favourite: Magic Rock’s take on the salty, sour native beer style of Saxony.

We’ve drunk this beer many, many times, and have writ­ten about it often, includ­ing in our short and short-lived colum­nette in the Guardian Guide back in 2015. Nonethe­less, we were very hap­py to give it fresh con­sid­er­a­tion, espe­cial­ly as we had a twist in mind.

Peo­ple have been telling us to try West­brook Gose (South Car­oli­na, USA) for ages but despite its being the­o­ret­i­cal­ly wide­ly avail­able in the UK we’ve only ever seen it accom­pa­nied by the words OUT OF STOCK. But this time luck was on our side and we man­aged to nab a sin­gle can at £4.90 for 330ml from Hon­est Brew.

Which leads us to a first point of com­par­i­son: Salty Kiss cost £1.99 per 330ml can from the same source, which means West­brook Gose has to be more than twice as good – stratos­pher­i­cal­ly bril­liant, in fact – to jus­ti­fy its ask­ing price.

We drank both side by side. They looked remark­ably sim­i­lar in the glass – hazy gold, soft peaks – but the West­brook gave off a more obvi­ous sour smell, like a lemon in the com­post bin.

The head on a glass of Salty Kiss.

Salty Kiss is made with goose­ber­ries but does not taste of them, is not green, and will not strike you as all that weird if you’ve ever had a Fen­ti­man’s lemon­ade. If any fruit comes to mind, it’s straw­ber­ries, but maybe that’s because of the design of the can, like a grown-up ver­sion of that exper­i­ment from Home Eco­nom­ics lessons at school where banana-flavoured milk dyed pink so eas­i­ly fools the palate. Gose’s eye­brow-rais­ing head­line ingre­di­ent is salt but we don’t real­ly taste it, per­haps because it is in bal­ance with begin­ner-lev­el sour­ness. Nor do we par­tic­u­lar­ly latch on to any corian­der, which pre­sum­ably means its been used with the light touch 21st Cen­tu­ry craft brew­ers (def 2) are so often chid­ed for lack­ing. Our impres­sion this time, as always, is that this is a classy, well-con­struct­ed beer that close­ly resem­bles the beers cur­rent­ly sold as Gose in Leipzig and around, only with a bit more punch, which is why it’s on the A Team.

Our first impres­sions of West­brook Gose were of a much greater sour­ness. If Salty Kiss is Vic­to­ri­an pop, then this is some kind of sports drink designed to be chugged from a plas­tic bot­tle under the Fri­day Night Lights. The sour­ness is of a par­tic­u­lar type: a sweaty, cheese­cake funk; milk left too long in the sun. The oblig­a­tory fruit com­par­i­son: peach­es. It clings to the tongue like peach tin syrup, too. There’s a line beyond which this kind of thing ceas­es to taste much like beer and, from our per­spec­tive, this beer is on the wrong side. Which is not to say we did­n’t enjoy it – there is some­thing mor­eish about it, and it’s not insane­ly sour or any­thing. If you always Go Large when the option is pre­sent­ed then, of the two, this might be the Gose for you.

Going back to Salty Kiss after the West­brook Gose was a rev­e­la­tion. It was almost a dif­fer­ent beer – lighter, fresh­er, hop­pi­er, its pale ale DNA sud­den­ly ram­pant. Dif­fer­ent and, yes, bet­ter. Amaz­ing­ly great. We’re still in love.

Magical Mystery Pour #14: Magic Rock Inhaler + Special Guest

This fourth round of Magical Mystery Pour was chosen for us by David Bishop, AKA @broadfordbrewerAKA Beer Doodles (@beerdoodles), and kicks off with a new beer from Magic Rock.

In case you’ve missed the pre­vi­ous instal­ments Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour is where we ask some­one else to select a few beers which we then buy with our own mon­ey. The idea is to broad­en our hori­zons and get our­selves out of a rut we may or may not have been in. (We admit noth­ing.)

Most of the beers David chose for us are from York­shire and he sug­gest­ed we order them from Leeds-based retail­er Beer Ritz, which we did. Inhaler (4.5%) was £2.66 per 330ml can and David says:

It’s new to the Mag­ic Rock range and one that fits the bill for a post-bike-ride beer. Refresh­ing, juicy, ses­sion beer.… pack­aged for porta­bil­i­ty, or some­thing.

The can, like almost all craft beer cans, is very pret­ty and tac­tile. Mag­ic Rock beers ini­tial­ly fol­lowed the Brew­Dog colour-cod­ing sys­tem – green for pale ale, blue for IPA, red for amber, pink for prawn cock­tail and so on. This one is a lux­u­ri­ous black and red which made us expect cher­ries and choco­late until we read the label: JUICY PALE ALE.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Pour #14: Mag­ic Rock Inhaler + Spe­cial Guest”

What Happened to the United Craft Brewers?

United Craft Brewers logo.

United Craft Brewers (UCB) launched in the UK last year and seemed to be a pretty big deal, but has since fizzled out. How come?

Hav­ing writ­ten about it at some length last sum­mer, and being nosy, we approached one of the founder mem­bers, Richard Bur­house of Mag­ic Rock.

Our impres­sion from var­i­ous inter­ac­tions over the years – we’ve nev­er met him – is that he’s a rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward per­son not prone to spin and we thought we might rely on him to give us a fair­ly direct answer.

Here’s what we got from a short phone call.


So, what hap­pened?

Like I said when we agreed to speak, there’s not a lot to say. I’m con­scious of… I don’t want to crit­i­cise any indi­vid­u­als.

The main issue was not being able to come to a def­i­n­i­tion. I thought we were mak­ing progress but it sort of slipped away. It kept falling down on tech­ni­cal­i­ties, like, what hap­pens if you’ve out­side influ­ences and investors. What per­cent­age? Etcetera. It was all very neb­u­lous, hard to pin down.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “What Hap­pened to the Unit­ed Craft Brew­ers?”