News, nuggets and longreads 16 September 2023: O’zapft is!

Each Saturday we round up writing about beer from the past week. This time we’ve got Ostend, spiced lager and the simplicity of bitterness.

First, an interesting story via ITV about an alcohol-free pub that has opened in Weymouth in Dorset:

The Dry Dock in Weymouth has been open for more than a month and has seen mass support from both locals and visitors to the seaside town… Sam Watson hopes his pub, located on St Thomas Street, offers a safe place “in the heart of the town centre”… The alcohol-free venue offers all the conventional features of a traditional pub, such as a television, pool table, dart board, restored jukebox, board games and pub quizzes every Wednesday… But unlike a regular boozer, it is non-alcoholic wine, beer, and cider on offer, as well as soft and hot drinks… As a recovering alcoholic, he believes that he is not alone in wanting a place to socialise where he doesn’t have to worry about his health.

A beach with a row of buildings against a grey sky.
Ostend in 2019.

This week’s chunkiest read is by Eoghan Walsh for Belgian Smaak and is an account of a voyage by tram along the 65-kilometre length of the Belgian coast, drinking and eating along the way:

The Ostend that Jean-Pierre and Henriette Desimpelaere arrived into with their son James in tow in 1983 was one where the ferries still ran and the tourists still drank… Forty years on, James Desimpelaere is in charge, and the hotel has been renamed (Het Botteltje, “the small bottle”), expanded, and modernised. Beer is everywhere at Het Botteltje. The bar has the booths, brass fittings, and polished brewery-branded mirrors of an old-style pub. The walls are covered in memorabilia from breweries past and present. There’s even a fingerpost near the entrance marked with the distances to famous breweries. It smells like a pub—unemptied slop trays, degreaser, and disinfectant—and those English tourists that came in the 1980s would easily recognise it as a pub.

The Lidl/Kalea Festbier gift box.

Thanks to social media every now and then beer enthusiasts in Britain will share an odd collective moment. This week, the cause of excitement – or hype, or hysteria – was a special box of beer from supermarket chain Lidl. At his blog Paul Bailey (no relation) explains the appeal of this unusual product:

[The] pack contained 10 x 500 ml bottles and according to the blurb on the side, all are beer specialties from privately owned breweries… The people behind this promotion might be pushing the point somewhat with one of the beers, Hofbräu Oktoberfest, as the brewery is owned by the Bavarian state, but leaving ownership issues aside, there are no foreign investors involved with the company. The other offerings are all, in the main, produced by small to medium family brewers all based in Bavaria. The pack itself represented good value at £24.99, so for a fraction under £2.50 a bottle, I now possess a variety of beers that are probably hard to come by in Bavaria (unless you know where to look), let alone south east England.

A mural of the Empire Windrush ship with the word 'migration' above.
A mural in Bristol. SOURCE: Gioconda Beekman on Flickr, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There are multiple fascinating threads in Ruvani de Silva’s latest piece for Pellicle. First, it’s a story about the immigrant experience in Britain. Secondly, it’s an interesting account of how brewing works in practice, with contracts and arrangements making it possible for a British brewer based in the US to produce a beer for the UK market. And, finally, it’s about a smoked lager with jerk spices, which sounds intriguing:

Windrush 75 is [Robyn Weise’s] first beer as Avenue and Road—a smoked helles lager with Caribbean jerk spices. The idea came to her when while sharing a post-work Aecht Schlenkerla smoked helles with a colleague. A longtime fan of smoked beer, Robyn began to consider how the flavour would pair with jerk spices and started experimenting at home, adding different combinations to the beer until she hit the right notes… Robyn’s goal was to make a beer that showcased her culture, but that also spoke to the wider immigrant experience—as well as being inclusive and easy-drinking.

Wild hops.

We’re always banging on about bitterness: why don’t more beers have more of it? Now Joe Stange, managing editor of Craft Beer & Brewing magazine, has written a piece called ‘The Bitterness Problem’ which attacks the question from multiple angles:

It’s a fascinating evolutionary quirk that we can both taste and enjoy bitterness… Consider the argument put forward by Yvan De Baets, founder-brewer at the Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels and one of the finest bitter-beer brewers in the business. He likes to say that our enjoyment of bitterness sets us apart from our animal selves—it’s a sign of culture and civilization… As people who taste and evaluate a lot of beer, we’re used to thinking about bitterness in a nonlinear way. Besides noticing how much bitterness, we tend to taste and describe different kinds and qualities of bitterness—soft, sharp, round, smooth, crisp, drying, resinous, quick, lasting, clean, firm, etc… Oddly, how our taste buds detect bitterness may be much simpler than that.

Converted warehouses in Bermondsey.

Each month, Will Hawkes sends out a newsletter, and makes the previous month’s newsletter available online to non-subscribers. The August edition of London: Beer City is online now and has, among other things, a profile of The Kernel, which is no longer a newcomer on the scene:

A lot has changed. Partizan no longer brews in Bermondsey. The other brewery most associated with The Kernel, Brew By Numbers, faces an even more uncertain future. Change is pervasive and relentless – but like the ravens in the Tower of London, we’ll know that modern brewing in the capital is in real trouble if The Kernel ever founders on the rocks… Its significance is such that it has become something of a heritage brand, widely regarded as a London classic, like Paddington Bear or double-decker buses. Perhaps it’s the largely unchanged pale brown labels, maybe it’s the commitment to historic recipes; but The Kernel has seeped into the fabric of modern London like no other small brewery.

Finally, from Mastodon, a classic ‘nugget’ about Usher’s of Trowbridge:

Nick Mitchell ( "Interesting Trowbridge Fact! Ushers of Trowbridge was #Wiltshire’s oldest #brewery, opening in 1824 and closing down in 2000. The #DPRK government wanted a #beer brewery, so it bought the plant, shipped it to Pyongyang, and since 2002 it has been the core of the state Taedonggang brewery. There was also a concern that it might be used to make chemical weapons…"

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 9 September 2023: What’s going on?

Here’s all the great writing about pubs and beer we bookmarked in the past week, from Doom Bar to Lady’s Well.

As longtime Doom Bar ponderers we’re intrigued by the news that Sharp’s (Molson Coors) is launching a keg version.

For years, now, it’s been one of the cask ales you see in pubs where cask ale isn’t a priority, as a sort of token gesture.

We can imagine many of those publicans welcoming a version that lasts longer and needs less care – but will it wash with drinkers?

Probably, to be honest, if it tastes more-or-less the same, but fresher.

And Doom Bar is famously quite a keggy cask beer anyway. (Via Darren Norbury at Beer Today.)

And here’s a bit more news, from our own neighbourhood: the couple behind plans to restore and reopen The Rhubarb Tavern have launched a crowdfunder.

We’ve already donated, as have, at the time of writing, 137 other people.

If you’d like to see the last pub in Barton Hill reopen, do consider chucking them a few quid.

A wooden barrel with metal hoops.
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

From Brussels Eoghan Walsh brings news of an interesting development: the birth of a new gueuze, from the Brussels Beer Project. This is quite a big deal, as he explains in the intro to his piece of oral history:

[The] Dansaert Gueuze – a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old Lambics made to the Oude Geuze specifications set down in EU law – is not just a milestone for BBP. It’s a landmark beer for Brussels too, because it’s the first of its kind to have been made in Brussels by a new producer for several generations. Lambic, indigenous to Brussels and once one of the city’s dominant beer styles, was virtually extinct by the early 1990s. There were only two lambic breweries left in Brussels, and only one – Brasserie Cantillon – still making beer the same way as previous generations of brewers. In fact, such was the complete eradication of the Lambic tradition in the 20th century that it’s entirely unclear who preceded BBP as the previous newest Lambic brewery.

A drawing of a large Victorian brewery.
Lady’s Well Brewery, James J. Murphy & Co., Cork.

Liam K at Irish Beer History continues his collection of 50 significant objects with a beer mat from 1969 advertising Colonel Murphy’s Stout:

In July 1968 the Watney-Mann brewery group quietly test marketed a batch of Murphy’s draught stout brewed at The Lady’s Well Brewery in Cork on a target audience in 20 of their Manchester pubs.1 This soft launch must have been a relative success as it in turn led to a bigger campaign in June of 1969 when Watney-Mann were joined by Bass-Charrington – both giants of British brewing at the time – in trialling and marketing that same Irish stout in their pubs in the hope of unseating Guinness’s grip on the bar counters of Britain. Now under the guise of ‘Colonel Murphy,’ it was trialled in 500 of their pubs in Manchester and Brighton, with the hope of launching it in 8,000 pubs across the island in the future. The name change and choice seems a strange decision, as nitrogenated draught Murphys had just been launched in Ireland the previous year with attractive, trendy branding.

The Crooked House before its demolition.
SOURCE: Peter Broster under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The burning down and demolition of The Crooked House, “Britain’s wonkiest pub”, has made it a cause célèbre, as Roger Protz pointed out in a post this week:

The wreckers of the pub have served a purpose by default. They have turned the spotlight on not only one pub in the Black Country but also brought to attention similar acts of violence against other licensed premises… In 2017 changes to planning laws in England were meant to provide extra protection to pubs by stopping them being converted or demolished without planning permission. But the law has been honoured more in the breach than the observance, as a scribe of Stratford-upon-Avon once remarked… Research by CAMRA has shown that more than 30 pubs this year alone have been converted or knocked down, with or without permission.

Part of the solution, he argues, could be the appointment of a pubs minister in government with “sweeping powers to overhaul planning laws and close loopholes”. An interesting suggestion.

Black Sheep bottle cap.

James at The Last Drop Inn has been thinking about brewery closures in the UK and the new type of brewery takeover, when firms with ‘capital’ in their name get involved:

For people in Yorkshire, recent months have seen two major independent breweries sold to Private Equity firms… Acorn Brewery from Barnsley now belongs to the P.E. firm Sonas Capital… For a slightly different reason, Black Sheep Brewery was recently bought by Breal Group… Both my wife and I have both worked in the food production industry for a company which went from being family-owned to part of a P.E. empire. And the speed and scope of cultural change when the P.E. boys took over was unbelievable. These companies basically only exist to trade and turn a profit. They care only about the bottom line, often at the detriment of staff morale and product quality. Of course, both Sonas and Breal are making all of the right noises…

From Mikey Seay on Substack, here’s a fun game: what’s the best six pack of beer you can put together for the least money? He managed a nice little bundle for less than $20, with a multibuy discount and some other tricks:

Tall Boys are your friend when getting the most from your beer money – especially when they are doubles… You can find, also, some DIPAs priced the same or only a little but more than their single counterpart… I challenge you this week to create the most banger six or 12 pack for your buck too – you’re probably going to need a place that has Sierra, or whatever the Sierra in your town is, it definitely helps.

Finally, from social media, a particularly beautiful sweater:

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.

News opinion

News, nuggets and longreads 18 February 2023: The Pylons

We’ve rounded up the most compelling articles and blog posts about beer and pubs from the past week, including trends, taprooms and signs of the times.

For the Financial Times Oliver Barnes reports on the energy crisis and pub closures:

“Energy costs are simply a pub killer,” said Steven Alton, chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, which represents independent pubs. He estimated that up to half of venues were suffering because they were locked into fixed-term energy contracts as prices peaked last autumn in “a grossly unfair and uncompetitive [energy] market”.

(We can see this one fine but you might get caught by the paywall.)

Keg taps.

At British Beer Breaks Phil Mellows observes a new phenomenon: brewery taprooms that live on even after the breweries that built them have folded. He lists several examples and says:

Businesses do fail, of course. That’s capitalism. But they include some high-profile shockers. Earlier this week, Southampton’s Unity Brewing gave up, announcing on Twitter that the accumulation of lockdowns, rising costs and falling sales made it “impossible to continue”… But hang on. It says here “The Unity Bottleshop & Tasting Room… will continue to trade… under a new brand.”

A stained glass window with a map of India and a train full of people, some with turbans.
A stained glass window at The Red Lion. SOURCE: David Jesudason.

In the run up to the launch of his guide to Desi pubs, due in May, David Jesudason continues to post interesting stuff via his Substack newsletter. This week, it’s a portrait of The Red Lion, West Bromwich:

The Red Lion’s big surprise is the custodian, Satnam Purewal, the son of original publican Jeet, who is a forward-thinking trailblazer and has shaped the pub to fit his personality. Being a sociology and psychology teacher he’s, as you’d imagine, an articulate advocate of the power of desi pubs. (“Pubs create social cohesion,” he told me. “And that’s the best thing about pubs.”)… But he also has created a modern, family and female-friendly pub. The novel features include a retractable roof, a quiet room suitable for children with autism and table service, which was brought in during the Pandemic but has ensured women avoid “the male gaze” of bar flies.

The shuttered front of Juno.
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

We’re continuing to enjoy Lisa Grimm’s notes on the pubs of Dublin, a city we really would like to visit at some point. This week she wrote about Juno, of which her “expectations were not high”:

When the new signage appeared, I assumed ‘Juno‘ was a nod to Seán O’Casey, born just down the road. As there is now a cocktail called The Paycock on the menu, that would seem to track. I’m not sure there’s a hard-and-fast rule that every pub in Dublin needs to be mentioned in Ulysses and/or has a Brendan Behan anecdote, I am all for bringing in other local writers… In the summer of 2022, the doors began to occasionally open on weekends; as I walk by several times a day as a matter of course, it was important to stop in to investigate, For Science. At the time, only the main bar was open, and the single craft-y tap was a Brewdog one, but the Guinness was in good shape, and the décor was a good start – freshly-painted all around, with framed pictures and art that celebrated Dublin… without veering into theme pub territory…

A 1960s pub.
An Oldham pub.

We enjoyed this brief tour of the pubs of Oldham by Duncan ‘Pubmeister’ Mackay, with an emphasis on what’s changed:

The excellent closed pubs project lists 140 premises in Oldham, some with unusual names: the Filho Inn; Gold Diggers Arms; Help the Poor Struggler; and Turn of Luck. 3 different premises were called the Spinners, well it was a mill town. I love this picture. It’s most famous publican was Albert Pierrepoint, better known as a hangman, so probably not someone to argue with over last orders. One of several hundred he executed was a customer, James Corbitt, with whom he had sung duets in the pub. Pierrepoint caused a stir in his later autobiography when he said he was opposed to the death penalty, writing “if death were a deterrent I might be expected to know”.

A windmill in Amsterdam.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Amsterdam, in 2018.

Ron Pattinson has broken away from his usual beat to leave a useful record for future beer historians, observing changes in the Dutch beer scene in recent years:

IPA started turning up a few years back. But relatively mainstream ones, in the form of Brand or ‘t Ij. More recently, crafty stuff has been appearing. OK, Oedipus, now owned by Heineken, isn’t true craft any more. Some of the others are more worthy of the description. (If you think that it still means something.)… Great you might say. Not so much for me. Because they no longer sell any Trappist beers. As elsewhere in Holland, the range of Belgian beers available is being trimmed back. There’s still Leffe Gulden Draak, Kasteel, La Chouffe, Duvel and Tripel Karmeliet on offer. Even Duvel Tripel Hop. But that’s about it for Belgium.

Photographer Marge Bradshaw has an interesting project underway “exploring the experiences of women working in the micro pub and brewery trade”. The first is a portrait of Rachel who says: “I feel like I have to work twice as hard because I’m a woman and I have to battle with some people’s perceptions of me and the business… So when I did my cellar training I put my certificates on the wall, and I really shouldn’t have to do that.”

Finally, from Twitter…

…and from Mastodon:

A post from Adrian Tierney-Jones: “Good visit to Manchester and Liverpool pubs this week researching my next book - haven’t drunk so much cask beer for ages - here are some pix.” With pictures of cask ale and traditional pubs.

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.


News, nuggets and longreads 29 February 2020: Mindfulness, mixed fermentation, Magee

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from mindful drinking to robotic noses.

First, an interesting bit of news: Beer Advocate, the business built around rating beer that isn’t RateBeer, has been acquired by the people who own beer ticking app Untappd. As Todd Alström, Beer Advocate co-founder, writes:

We’ve been struggling to keep the lights on for over two years, and we still face some challenges, but I’m confident that this is the best path for all of us. Next Glass is committed to not only helping BeerAdvocate, but passionate about protecting and cultivating our unique culture, identity, and community… I also have a lot of respect for what Greg Avola, Untappd’s Co-Founder and CTO, and team have built over the past nine years, and this next chapter is a great opportunity to explore new features and opportunities.

This is more evidence that global craft beer, as an industry, is now well into the consolidation phase.

A brain.

For Vox, Derek Brown has written about how ‘mindful drinking’ has changed his life and enabled him to continue a career in booze while curbing the worst of his relationship with alcohol:

Alcohol isn’t really all that good for you. It certainly wasn’t always good for me. Though I used to joke that without it I wouldn’t have a job, friends, or a hobby, I now teetotal most of the week and drink cocktails, whiskey, and wine infrequently… Everything about that goes against the way I make my living as a spirits and cocktail expert, author, and bar owner. I don’t think everything we do has to be “good for you.” Neither should everything we do lead us down a fiery path of ruination. Lately, I’m more than content with a few fingers of bourbon followed by a drink without alcohol. And, when I indulge, it’s still with the guardrails on.