News, nuggets and longreads 7 December 2019: Marble, micropubs, more takeovers

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from authenticity to Austria’s part in the birth of lager.

First, some takeover news from the US: Ballast Point has been sold again, sort of, as has Anderson Valley. It feels as if there’s often a flurry of buying and selling of breweries just before Christmas as people seek to seal deals before the end of the calendar year. The twist this time? It isn’t multi-nationals doing the buying. Here’s Jeff Alworth on Ballast Point:

Now that we’ve had 48 hours to digest the news that Kings and Convicts, a tiny, two-year-old brewery, has indeed purchased Ballast Point, new questions have emerged. Initially everyone was trying to learn who Kings and Convicts (K&C) were. Was the deal legit? And, because Ballast Point was purchased for a billion dollars just four years ago, the question everyone wanted answered—what was the (fire?) sale price?


Portrait of Jan Rogers.
SOURCE: Good Beer Hunting/Lily Waite.

For Good Beer Hunting Lily Waite has profiled Marble, the pioneering Manchester microbrewery that began its life behind one of Britain’s best pubs:

“I came here for a drink, got involved in a lock-in, and came away with a job,” Marble’s founder, owner, and director Jan Rogers tells me over a pint. “That was it!”… Often found with her trusty vape in hand, Rogers is a woman with a firecracker wit and just as much energy—her calm is someone else’s boisterous; her excited is your or my whirlwind. She’s razor-sharp of both mind and expletive-laden tongue. In an industry dominated by men, she may not exemplify a “typical” brewery owner but, frankly, I can’t imagine her giving a flying fuck—and it’s not like that’s slowed her down.

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BWOASA: Marble Barley Wine from a dusty old can

One of the good things about this little project has been the nudge to go to different places, such as Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green.

Though we still think of it as that new bar we must get to at some point, it turns out to be five years old, and now part of a substantial chain. Time slips away.

We had formed the idea, perhaps based on murky social media photos, that it was a small, dark space on the corner of a back street. In fact, it’s in a large railway arch with a decent beer garden and, on a sunny April afternoon at least, perfectly airy and bright.

Though Mother Kelly’s does have draught beer, its selling point is really the wall of fridges on the customer side, packed with intriguing beers from sought after breweries. We figured there might be at least one barley wine lurking in there.

There were three, but they took a while to find, during which squinting, bent-backed hunt we concluded that fancy packaging designs and quirky names are great and all that but they don’t half make it a challenge to work out what you’re buying.

We chose the cheapest of the three at a drink-in price of £12 for 440ml. It was the 2017 vintage of Marble’s wonderfully clearly-named 12.4% barley wine, BARLEY WINE. Being an antique, the can had spots of rust across its top, and crumbs and dust, so we asked for a quick clean up before pouring. We got it, albeit grudgingly – maybe a bit of filth on your tinny is considered all part of the fun these days?

Marble Barley Wine in the glass.

Sitting down to drink a beer that you already resent is a good test of quality. Any irritation we felt in this case passed the moment we tasted it, which really was fantastic – almost, maybe, perhaps £6-per-nip good.

It seemed positively luminous in the dainty glassware, cycling orange, red and gold depending how the light struck it. The condition was also excellent proving that cans can work for this kind of beer.

Between appreciative purring, we talked it over: on the one hand, it did rather resemble Gold Label, but it also reminded us of a very particular beer: an attempt to recreate Ballantine IPA using Cluster hops. Raspberry jam, marmalade, chewy syrup sweetness, clean-tasting and double-bass resonance. Just wonderful.

And one more small twist: because of the difficulty of pouring two clear glasses from one can, we got to try this with and without (a tiny bit) of yeast haze. On balance, though it was hard to resist the sheer visual appeal of yeastless, slightly yeasty actually tasted better – softer and silkier, with a little less jangle.

We continue to hold Marble in high regard and will probably go back to Mother Kelly’s some time, when we’ve saved up some pocket money.

Patreon’s Choice #1: Bag of Marbles

This is the first in a series of posts about beers chosen for us by our Patreon subscribers and features beers from Manchester brewery Marble.

It was Steve Lamond (@BeersIveKnown) who suggested that we try Lost Your Marbles and we added a couple of other interesting looking beers from Marble to fill out the box. We bought them (and all the beers for this particular series of posts) from Beer Ritz because, though the website is still mildly frustrating, we like the range on offer and find the service fuss-free.

The head of a glass of beer with glinting light.

First, as we tackled these in ascending order of strength, was Saison du Pint at 3.9% ABV and £2.80 per 330ml can.

What a clever beer, both in terms of execution and concept. It’s the brewery’s standard pale bitter, Pint, but fermented with the same strain of yeast used for the Belgian classic Saison du Pont. A sort of unofficial collaboration, we suppose.

It comes with a huge cotton-wool head, a beautifully clear golden body, and a whiff of some sort of sticky banana dessert. It’s tempting to judge it against Saison du Pont to which, unsurprisingly, it does indeed bear a family resemblance, but by that standard it seems a little thin and lacking in luxury. As a quirky session ale, however — remember, 3.9! — it is absolutely a winner, with a peppery mustard-leaf prickle contributed by the yeast complimenting the base beer in wonderful ways. Sinkable but strange; made to quench thirsts but cutting a dandyish dash on the way.

A few years ago we gave some talks on the basics of how beer is made and used German wheat beer to illustrate the impact of yeast. This would be even better, tasted side by side with original Pint.

The only serious downside, really, is that we want to drink it by the pint, and several pints in a row, rather than from a diddy can at home.

A dark old ale in the glass with bottle.

Lost Your Marbles is the beer Steve really wanted us to try: “My beer of the year to date — love what [James Kemp, head brewer at Marble] is doing with his old ales series.” It’s a 9% ABV ‘Cognac Oak Aged Blend’ and cost £5.38 for 330ml. It comes in a plain bottle with an attractively designed card dangling round its neck on a black ribbon.

(How do we know the right card stayed with the right beer throughout its journey? We don’t, but let’s not fret about that.)

This dense, dark beer was fascinating too, in a less subtle way. Like a lot of old ales and imperial stouts at around this strength it seems to contain a bit of everything: demerara, the burn of spirits, bonfire toffee, Cola sweets, dessert wine, coffee essence… You get the idea.

The suggestion of sugar that had ‘caught’ in the base of a too-hot pan, and a hot whisky note, meant that it wasn’t quite to our taste, but it is clearly a well-made, undoubtedly interesting, deeply indulgent beer that will knock the socks of most people who drink it. Heck, we’d probably buy it again, because it came close enough to wowing us that the chances are on a different day, in a different mood, it would do just that.

The head of a glass of dark old ale.

In a similar vein, at the same price, comes Castle of Udolpho, a blend of young and Pinot Noir barrel-aged old ale at 10.4% ABV.

This beer was so dark that if it was badged as stout we wouldn’t argue. It came with an off-white head and distinct aroma of something like sour cherry, or even raspberry vinegar. There were flavours of condensed milk, chocolate and even caramel were balanced with a liqueur-like heat and bite, and then chased around the mouth by a Harvey’s-like funkiness that took a long time to die away. The body seemed oddly thin after Lost Your Marbles — perhaps a consequence of something (the source of that funk?) having chewed through some of the residual sugar?

Again, though there’s no doubting its complexity or the skill with which it was put together, something about it didn’t quite click for us. We liked it, but didn’t love it. Perhaps it struck us as a little harsh or overblown, but then the same applies to Harvey’s Extra Double Stout and we can’t get enough of that. Perhaps it’s just that when you turn the volume up like this the background noise is amplified along with the good stuff. Our guess is that a bottle of this left alone for five years would come together rather better. If you like big, boozy, complex beers there’s a very good chance you’ll swoon over this one.

* * *

Overall, we’re left with our high opinion of Marble. It’s a brewery that takes risks and does interesting things, whose beers are rarely less than enjoyable and often brilliant.

News, Nuggets and Longreads 13 August 2017: Steel, Skittles, Sexism

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week from dwile-flonking to brewery takeovers.

For the BBC David Gilyeat returns to a favourite silly season topic: traditional pub games. There’s nothing especially new here but it’s an entertaining round-up that draws on the expertise of, among others, Arthur Taylor, whose book on the subject is definitive:

Arthur Taylor, author of Played at the Pub, suggests Aunt Sally – which is played in Oxfordshire and parts of Buckinghamshire – has rather grisly origins.

‘It can be traced back to a barbarous business called “throwing at cocks”, when you threw sticks at a cock tethered to a post that if you killed you took home,’ he says.

‘What was barbarous turned into something that wasn’t, and the cock became a coconut shy… and eventually it became the game we know.’


Thornbridge, 2013.

For Good Beer Hunting Oliver Gray has investigated the manufacturing and sales of stainless steel brewing kit, much of which originates in China, even if the vendors might like buyers to think otherwise:

Chinese steel producers like Jinfu have begun establishing ‘reseller’ companies that sell their goods under different names. One such company, Crusader Kegs & Casks LTD, works out of Rushden, England, and was on site at CBC 2017. At quick glance, one would have no idea they weren’t selling British kegs. The capital U in the name is a St. George’s flag kite shield, and the reverse side of their business cards have a sword-wielding, armor-clad Templar, almost like they’re trying really, really hard to ensure they look as ‘British’ as possible.

There are plenty of other disconcerting details in the story which is a great example of the kind of insight generated by asking awkward questions.

(GBH has connections with AB-InBev/ZX Ventures; provides marketing/consultancy services to smaller breweries; and has also been one of our $2-a-month Patreon sponsors since May.)


Macro image: 'Hops' with illustration of hop cones, 1970s.

There’s some spectacular hop-nerdiness from Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer: a new study suggests that first-wort hopping makes no difference to the quality of the bitterness in the final beer. But many brewers disagree:

Fritz Tauscher at Krone-Brauerei in Tettnang, Germany, uses a slightly different process. He adds 60 to 70 percent of his hops as he lauters wort into the brewing kettle…. He explained that initially he added all his first wort hops (what he calls ‘ground hopping’) in one dose. ‘I thought the bitterness was not so good,’ he said. He opened his right hand, put it to his chin and slid it down his throat to his clavicle, tracking the path a beer would take. ‘It was, I’m not sure how you say it in English, adstringierend.’ No translation was necessary.


Beer is Best poster, 1937 (detail)

This is exciting news, brought to us by Martyn Cornell: the classic British ten-sided pint glass is back in production, and available at pub- and consumer-friendly prices. We look forward to drinking, say, Fuller’s London Porter from them in a proper pub at some point in the not too distant future.


Takeover news: Constellation Brands has acquired Florida’s Funky Buddha brewery, adding it to a portfolio which already includes Ballast Point. (Via Brewbound.)


GBBF controversy: in an open letter Manchester’s Marble Brewing has alleged that the local CAMRA branch effectively prevented their beers appearing at the Great British Beer Festival, suggesting that a dispute over an incident of sexist behaviour might be the cause. CAMRA head office has confirmed it is investigating the issues raised. (But don’t read too much into that statement.)


And finally @nickiquote has found the moment where Doctor Who and the real ale craze intersected:

Updated 14.o8.2017 15:29 — the disclosure statement for the GBH article has been amended at GBH’s request.

Q&A: Which Classics Might I Have Missed?

“I was drinking a bottle of Proper Job yesterday and thinking about how I only started buying it after reading your blog. Later, I drank some Beavertown Gamma Ray and Magic Rock Cannonball and wondered if, by drinking fancy craft beers usually modelled on American style, I was missing something. Can you recommend any perennial British beers, the kind of thing you perhaps take for granted but that might have been overlooked by people who’ve only come to love beer since craft really took off?”* — Brendan, Leeds

That’s an interesting question and, let’s face it, exactly the kind of thing we semi-professional beer bores dream of being asked.

To prevent ourselves going on for 5,000 words we’re going to set a limit of five beers, and stick to those available in bottles, although we’ll mention where there’s a cask version and if it’s better. We’re also going to avoid the temptation to list historically significant beers that we don’t actually like all that much — those listed below are beers we buy regularly and actually enjoy drinking.

Four strong Harvey's bottled beers.

1. Harvey’s Imperial Extra Stout is a big, intimidatingly flavoursome, heavy metal tour of a beer that makes a lot of trendier interpretations look tame. It was first brewed in the 1990s to a historically inspired recipe. We didn’t used to like it — it was too intense for us, and some people reckon it smells too funky– but now, it’s kind of a benchmark: if your experimental £22 a bottle limited edition imperial stout doesn’t taste madder and/or better than this, why are you wasting our time? It’s available from Harvey’s own web store.

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