News, nuggets and longreads 27 April 2019: numbers, mild, cult beer frenzy

Here’s everything that struck as as noteworthy in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from brewery numbers to the possible decline of lager.

Like many oth­er com­men­ta­tors, we’ve tak­en the total num­ber of UK brew­eries, and the amount by which it increas­es each year, as an at least par­tial­ly use­ful indi­ca­tor of the vigour of the craft beer boom. Accord­ing to a new report from accoun­tan­cy firm UHY, that growth might final­ly have begun to slow:

The craft beer boom in the UK has slowed sharply in the last year with the total num­ber of brew­eries increas­ing by just 8 ver­sus the 390 added in pri­or twelve months, our research shows… The total num­ber of UK brew­eries reached to 2,274 at the end of 2018, up from 1,352 five years ago… The craft beer mar­ket has become dif­fi­cult for new entrants as multi­na­tion­al brew­ers con­tin­ue to buy and invest the more suc­cess­ful “craft” brew­eries. The huge lev­els of invest­ment that the multi­na­tion­als then deploy through their “craft” sub­sidiaries throw up bar­ri­ers of entry against oth­er entrants. The multi­na­tion­als have been attract­ed by the high growth rates in the craft beer mar­ket and the pre­mi­um pric­ing they can achieve.

(This sto­ry got a bit man­gled in the retelling by some news out­lets which, tend­ing to pre­fer sto­ries of either total tri­umph or dread­ful doom, report­ed that only eight new brew­eries had opened in the past year.)

Relat­ed news: the total num­ber of pubs con­tin­ues to decline at a rate equiv­a­lent to 76 clo­sures per month, but the rate of clo­sures is quite clear­ly slow­ing.

Anoth­er nugget of news, unfor­tu­nate­ly from behind a pay­wall: finan­cial news ser­vice Merg­er­Mar­ket reports that both Tru­man’s and Five Points are active­ly court­ing investors or part­ners. There’s noth­ing we can link to at this stage but, well, keep your eyes peeled for fur­ther news.

Weyerbacher logo.

For Brew­Bound Justin Kendall offers com­ment on the strug­gles of yet anoth­er ear­ly-wave Amer­i­can craft brew­ery, Weyer­bach­er:

Most of Weyerbacher’s finan­cial issues stem from a 2014 expan­sion project that cost $2 mil­lion and includ­ed the addi­tion of a 40-bar­rel brew­house. Over the years, how­ev­er, the com­pa­ny dealt with increased com­pe­ti­tion — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the pump­kin beer cat­e­go­ry — as it strug­gled to grow sales and pay down debt.

We were expect­ing to see dou­ble-dig­it growth for a num­ber of years … and with the mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion that hap­pened in pump­kin and all of those oth­er things, that just didn’t pan out,” [Josh Lampe] said.

The mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion that hap­pened in pump­kin! What a time to be alive.

Illustration: beer bottles.

For Drinks Retail­ing News Antho­ny Glad­man has pro­duced a fas­ci­nat­ing piece on the strug­gle of inde­pen­dent bot­tle shops to attain sup­plies of the most sought after beers:

Any­thing DIPA or hazy goes real­ly fast,” says Dan Sandy, man­ag­er of east Lon­don craft beer store Kill The Cat. Beers from Cloud­wa­ter, Ver­dant and Deya are sub­ject to fierce com­pe­ti­tion because they will draw in cus­tomers and dri­ve sales of oth­er beers once peo­ple are through the shop door.

Every­one wants Deya cans but it’s not mak­ing very many,” says Jen Fer­gu­son, co-own­er of Hop Burns & Black, a craft beer retail­er in south east Lon­don. “The num­ber of Deya cans mak­ing it through to the dis­trib­u­tors is very small.”

Anoth­er exam­ple is Not­ting­ham brew­ery Neon Rap­tor. Alex Fitz­patrick, co-own­er of Brix­ton bot­tle shop Ghost Whale, found its beers became hard to get hold of seem­ing­ly overnight. “What hap­pened? Who pressed the but­ton that gave it this mag­ic rain­bow aura around every­thing it does?”

Beer being poured, from an old advertisement.

With CAM­RA’s dec­la­ra­tion of May as the month of mild in mind, Ron Pat­tin­son has tak­en a look at how beer style come in and out of favour:

When styles start to decline, it can hap­pen sur­pris­ing­ly quick­ly. It always kicks off the same way: young drinkers don’t adopt it. Then a style begins to be asso­ci­at­ed with old men. And no-one wants to drink what grand­dad’s drink­ing… Lager sales real­ly took off in the late 1970s. The young drinkers who adopt­ed it back then are now around 60. How long before Lager becomes asso­ci­at­ed with old blokes?

Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

One of the upsides to putting this round-up togeth­er slight­ly lat­er than usu­al is that it meant we caught a post from this very morn­ing by the Pub Cur­mud­geon in which the details of var­i­ous region­al quirks of dis­pense from the 1970s-90s are recalled:

But, in the 1960s and 70s, if you went in the aver­age pub across much of the Mid­lands and North, you would be like­ly to be served your beer in an over­size glass with a thick head reach­ing almost to the top, where­as in the South you would get beer from a hand­pump with a head no more than a quar­ter of an inch deep, or often just a thin coat­ing of foam on the top. It’s also worth adding that, in the South, you would often get keg beer with lit­tle or no head as well. Get­ting a pint a total­ly flat-look­ing beer with plen­ty of CO2 still dis­solved in it was a touch dis­con­cert­ing.

And final­ly, from Twit­ter, one of those too-neat expla­na­tions that nonethe­less sort of, maybe, kind of, checks out:

For more links and com­men­tary check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day and Alan McLeod on Thurs­day.

A New Axis: Classic | Standard | New-Local

A pint of beer.

Where are we in the cycle? At the point where seeing Elland 1872 Porter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Thornbridge Jaipur, Fyne Ales Jarl, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Bank Top Mild on offer in our local is tremendously exciting – that’s where.

Andy Hamil­ton, who writes about booze and for­ag­ing, and for­ag­ing for booze, is pro­mot­ing a book and con­vinced the Drap­ers Arms to hold a mini fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing some of the beers it men­tions.

The Drap­ers has a pret­ty seri­ous com­mit­ment to local beers, list­ing dis­tance trav­elled for each beer, and aver­age dis­tance for the entire list, on the menu black­board.

In fact, that’s a trend reflect­ed across Bris­tol: it’s not unusu­al to walk into a pub and find the whole beer list made up of beers from with­in the city bound­aries.

The beer list at the Drapers Arms.

That can be great – we’ve dis­cov­ered some impres­sive West Coun­try brew­eries this way, and it’s cer­tain­ly fuelling the Bris­tol brew­ery boom – but is also mild­ly frus­trat­ing.

Let’s con­sid­er Jaipur. It’s a beer that’s well into its sec­ond decade and has gained the sta­tus of a clas­sic. In bot­tles, it’s rea­son­ably easy to find in super­mar­kets. But how often do we get to drink it on cask? Twice, maybe three times a year? And that’s most­ly in Wether­spoon pubs.

Old Peculi­er is anoth­er beer we’ve encoun­tered on cask only a hand­ful of times in more than a decade of beer blog­ging, and which we’re hop­ing will still be on when we pop round to the Drap­ers after post­ing this. We felt a gen­uine thrill when we saw the A‑board out­side the pub announc­ing its arrival last night.

All this has made us think that as well as our long­stand­ing wish for more pubs to make a point of hav­ing one of each colour (brown, yel­low, black) per­haps there ought to be anoth­er axis: big clas­sic + stan­dard + local/new.

We can imag­ine going into a pub with that kind of mix and start­ing on the clas­sic, try­ing the new­com­er, and then decid­ing where to stick for a third round depend­ing on how the first two tast­ed.

In the mean­time (this kind of thing is always fun) what’s your sug­ges­tion for a line-up which cov­ers brown/yellow/black and clas­sic/­s­tan­dard­/lo­cal-new?

Old Peculi­er, Lon­don Pride and Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry Nova would do us nice­ly, for exam­ple.

The Mother lode: Attitudes to Beer, 1963

In 1963 Guinness hired Public Attitude Surveys Ltd to compiled research into the attitudes of drinkers towards stout, and the state of the beer market more generally.

The result­ing report feels to us like an impor­tant doc­u­ment, record­ing sta­tis­tics on dif­fer­ent types of beer, and dif­fer­ent types of drinker, based on gen­der, social class and atti­tudes to alco­hol.

It’s about Guin­ness but almost acci­den­tal­ly gives us great insight into the rise of lager, the death of mild, and so on.

Unless we’re mis­tak­en, this is a source that has­n’t pre­vi­ous­ly made its way into the pub­lic domain or oth­er­wise been much exploit­ed, though there were some con­tem­po­rary news­pa­per reports pick­ing up on its find­ings. We only have our hands on a copy because it came as part of the col­lec­tion of Guin­ness papers we’re sort­ing through on behalf of the own­er.

It begins with a sum­ma­ry of what was learned from pre­vi­ous ‘Nation­al Stout Sur­veys’ car­ried out in 1952–53 and 1958–59:

Guin­ness was marked­ly more depen­dent on the heavy drinker than Mack­e­son, the next most suc­cess­ful stout on the mar­ket… Recruit­ment to Guin­ness was not to any sub­stan­tial amount from sweet stouts… [And] Guin­ness was much more depen­dent on the old­er drinker – those over 45 – than Mack­e­son and the oth­er sweet stouts.

This helps us under­stand what Guin­ness was wor­ried about: that younger drinkers were turn­ing away from dark, bit­ter, heavy beers. That’s a prob­lem when your flag­ship prod­uct – more or less your only prod­uct – is a dark, bit­ter, heavy beer.

Graph -- main drink by sex

This is the first big splash from the doc­u­ment. It shows that in the ear­ly 1960s women hard­ly touched draught bit­ter or mild, and weren’t espe­cial­ly keen on the then fash­ion­able bot­tled ales either. But lager and stout – two oppo­site ends of the spec­trum you might say – were about equal­ly pop­u­lar with men and women.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Moth­er lode: Atti­tudes to Beer, 1963”

Beers of the 20th Century Pub, Part 1: 1900–1959 – The Rise of Mild

While it has generally been well received one thing a couple of people have told us they’d have liked more of in 20th Century Pub (please buy a copy) is beer.

It’s absence was the result of hav­ing only 80,000 words to play with, and hav­ing already writ­ten an entire book focus­ing on beer and brew­ing cov­er­ing a big chunk of the same peri­od.

Also, we rather defer to Mar­tyn Cor­nell and Ron Pat­tin­son in this ter­ri­to­ry. Why read us on beer before World War II when you can read both or either of them? (We’d be sur­prised if one or both of them don’t pop up with cor­rec­tions in the com­ments below.)

Still, there’s some­thing fun about the idea of map­ping one project against the oth­er, espe­cial­ly if it’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to try some­thing cre­ative.

At this point we’d like to thank  Patre­on sup­port­ers like Owain Ainsworth and Jonathan Tuck­er for giv­ing us the impe­tus to spend rather more of our spare time than was entire­ly sen­si­ble work­ing on this post and its sequel. Thanks, gang!

This piece gen­er­alis­es by neces­si­ty: of course there were region­al vari­a­tions, and indi­vid­ual pubs which did­n’t fol­low the pat­tern, and brew­eries that bucked trends. Hav­ing said that, by the turn of the cen­tu­ry, region­al dif­fer­ences were in the process of being smoothed out with the rise of stan­dard-set­ting nation­al brands such as Bass and Guin­ness, Ter­ry Gourvish and Richard Wil­son have argued, so gen­er­al­is­ing about this peri­od isn’t entire­ly inap­pro­pri­ate.

So, here it is: a time­line of beer in Eng­lish pubs from 1900 to 1959, with lots of quo­ta­tions, facts and num­bers along the way.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Beers of the 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, Part 1: 1900–1959 – The Rise of Mild”

Watering the Mild and Other Wheezes, 1955

Running a pub has always been a matter of margins which can encourage dodgy behaviour, from watering the beer to serving up slops.

Tom Berkley’s 1955 com­ic mem­oir We Keep a Pub is either a gold­mine or com­plete­ly use­less depend­ing on your view of the semi-fic­tion­al James Her­riot school of writ­ing.

It tells the sto­ry of Bill and Irene Day, appar­ent­ly stand-ins for Berkley and his own wife, who return to Britain from colo­nial work in Malaya and decide to run a pub. The brew­ery they approach sends them out on a series of place­ments to learn the trade and the book is an account of the char­ac­ters they meet and cus­toms they observe in a string of Lon­don pubs.

For exam­ple, in one pub, Bill and Irene become fas­ci­nat­ed by the snack counter which offers two items: veal-and-ham loaf and Melton Mow­bray pie. What is the dif­fer­ence between the two? They look iden­ti­cal. Irene decides to find out by order­ing a slice of each, and Bill observes that “the snack girl gave her a nasty look”. It is only when they see a cus­tomer order Melton Mow­bray (pre­mi­um) but receive veal-and-ham (cheap) that this gen­tle fid­dle becomes clear.

The behav­iour in the cel­lar of the land­lord of this pub, a Mr Law­son, also goes some way to explain­ing the decline of mild in the 1950s. He explains to Bill that mild ale, being unfined, is eas­i­er to adul­ter­ate: “You can’t put noth­ing back into the bit­ter.”

[He told me] that if waste beer were put into fined beer it turned it cloudy, but that a rea­son­able amount did not harm to bright beer.… [All] beer col­lect­ed in drip cans was invari­ably poured into the mild ale, and not, as I had naive­ly imag­ined, thrown away, or even returned to the brew­ery as ullage as so many peo­ple think. And at the Gor­get Hotel the same was done with the fil­tered dregs from bar­rels of fined beers, and the lees of bot­tled beer and used glass­es. It did not mat­ter to Mr Law­son what kind of beer it was: bit­ter beer, light ale, brown ale, Bur­ton: accord­ing to him it was all fit to go into the ale.

Bill won­ders if any­one ever notices this jig­gery-pok­ery:

Mild-ale drinkers nev­er notice noth­ing – not if you don’t over­do it; and that reminds me: when you was pulling up mild-and-bit­ters last night I see you giv­ing ’em half-and-half. That’s no good. All you want is a drop o’ bit­ter at the bot­tom o’ the glass and fill up with mild. Mild’s cheap­er than bit­ter. See? You got to watch the stocks.”

As well as the unof­fi­cial meth­ods of recir­cu­lat­ing waste beer there is also the brew­ery’s own pre­ferred approach, the uti­liz­er, “a sort of chi­na buck­et that hung from a hook in the ceil­ing”:

[Waste] beer from the var­i­ous bars drained into the uti­liz­er, whence it was sucked into the pub­lic bar by a lit­tle aux­il­iary pump on the beer engine at a rate of about a spoon­ful per glass…

(Fur­ther read­ing on p.112 of this 1923 paper on pub cel­lars.)

The next pub, the Block & Anchor in the East End, is a sim­i­lar­ly grot­ty, pen­ny-pinch­ing place. The staff pay for their own drinks by short-chang­ing cus­tomers. When Rosie the bar­maid­’s cig­a­rette ash drops into a cus­tomer’s beer she apol­o­gis­es, tips it into a drip can, replaces the pint, and then serves some­one else the beer from the drip can lat­er in the shift. The man­ag­er, Mr Grainger, tips three buck­ets of slops into a half-emp­ty cask of mild. Perce the Pot­man is sup­posed to clean the lines every Sat­ur­day but evi­dent­ly nev­er does.

I noticed that the bot­tles had been put on the shelves straight from the box­es with­out being pol­ished; that the shelves were dirty; that the pewter was tar­nished a dull dark-grey colour. There were pud­dles of beer on the counter; glass­es were cloudy and smeared with fin­ger marks. The elec­tric-light bulbs were spat­tered with fly spots.

Pour­ing slops into the mild is bad; is let­ting down beer with water bet­ter, or worse? We sup­pose it depends on whether you pri­ori­tise hygiene or intox­i­ca­tion. One of the best pas­sages in the book con­cerns Mr Grainger’s furtive­ness over this illic­it activ­i­ty:

I’d bet­ter do the cel­lar today,” he mut­tered, with a side­long glance at the clock. “You ain’t got time to go down there today. See?”

Of course Bill for­gets and does go into the cel­lar where he dis­cov­ers a fun­nel jammed into the top of a cask of mild, half full of water, with two more buck­ets of water at its side. Fear­ing he has been rum­bled, Grainger becomes tense and knocks back sev­er­al gins.

Mr Grainger worries
Car­toon by ‘Starke’.

Even­tu­al­ly, he con­fronts Bill.

You know, a man can’t be hon­est in this line,” he blurt­ed out, gig­gling fool­ish­ly to cov­er his embar­rass­ment.

I decid­ed to help him.

No, I sup­pose he can’t,” I mum­bled com­mis­er­at­ing­ly, “not with his staff guz­zling all the prof­its.”

No,” he said sad­ly… After a silence last­ing sev­er­al sec­onds he he glanced up at me, and I saw tears in his eyes.

He cleared his throat.

A man’s got to try and make it up some­how, or else get the sack,” he mum­bled.

Lat­er, dis­cussing the busi­ness with Irene, Bill makes two fur­ther obser­va­tions:

  1. It is use­ful to know that cus­tomers won’t notice six gal­lons of water in thir­ty gal­lons of ale, and “thir­ty bob a buck­et for water is not so bad”.
  2. Grainger chose his water­ing hours care­ful­ly: after all, which excise offi­cer ever worked after mid­day on Sat­ur­day?

The pub that fea­tures in the third act, the White Lark, is a respectable place with decent man­agers, the Han­dens. Mr Han­den is proud of his beer and holds the view that it is bet­ter to sell two casks of good clean beer than one of the dirty stuff:

I’m proud o’ my bit­ter; that’s what makes your name – and you don’t want to muck around with your mild too much, either. All mild-ale drinkers ain’t dumb, though there’s many as thinks they are.

But even they are wink­ing­ly dis­hon­est in var­i­ous small ways. For exam­ple, Mrs Han­den always accepts a drink when offered by cus­tomers; if they’re poor, she takes a Guin­ness, and drinks it; but if they’re well off, she accepts a neat gin, takes a sip, and hides what remains beneath the bar to be sold to a cus­tomer lat­er, thus being paid twice for the same drink.

The dirty tricks aren’t all on the pub­li­cans’ side, though, and Mr Han­den clues Bill in on one of the brew­ery’s bits of sly­ness: they send in spies (Slimy Grimes, one is nick­named; the oth­er Mephistophe­les) to check that staff aren’t drink­ing to excess, that things are being run prop­er­ly, and that open­ing times are being observed. You’d call these mys­tery shop­pers now, we sup­pose.

And then, worse, there is Mr Green, the brew­ery’s inspec­tor, who turns up with shak­ing hands, accepts a run of free and dis­count­ed drinks, asks for the loan of some mon­ey (a bribe) and leaves hav­ing decid­ed that there’s no need to actu­al­ly go down into the cel­lar, up to the kitchen, or look at the books.

Of course all of the above has to be tak­en with a pinch of salt. As with oth­er of these We Ran a Pub mem­oirs there’s a streak of class dis­dain run­ning through the whole thing. The authors are gen­er­al­ly of the offi­cer class, regard work­ing class peo­ple as filthy brutes, and the pub­li­cans as worse again because they have the nerve to believe them­selves respectable.

Being fic­tion­alised, there’s no way to know what real­ly hap­pened, whether it hap­pened to Berkley him­self, or whether this amounts to a col­lec­tion of trade mythol­o­gy.

But, any­way, it’s worth a read.

Now, when is the first We Ran a Craft Beer Bar mem­oir due?