News, nuggets and longreads 27 November 2021: Mega-City One

Here’s all the writing about brewing, beer and pubs that intrigued or informed us in the last week of November, from architectural faux pas to supermarket draught.

There’s a planning row brewing in Manchester. This time, it’s not that developers want to demolish a historic pub but, rather, change its context. The Briton’s Protection is a cult favourite. As Jim Cullen reports at Beers Manchester, however, plans to build an enormous tower block right next to the 19th century pub could lessen its appeal:

Quote “We have been working with our leading Manchester-based team to design a scheme which will complement the neighbouring buildings – including the much-loved Briton’s Protection ……” I nearly choked on my beer! And the next absolute zinger? “Throughout the design process we’ve been focussed on designing an ambitious yet complementary scheme…..” Now I don’t know about you, but “complementary”? DOES THAT LOOK COMPLEMENTARY??? IT’S A PUB SANDWICH!!!

Tricky one, this. Cities do grow and develop and pubs surviving at all can feel like a miracle. And we think of The Albert on Victoria Street in London. That’s become a tourist attraction in its own right precisely because it is an ornate Victorian jewel surrounded by towering glass and concrete.

Keg taps.

Staying in Manchester, Ross from the Beernomicon podcast talks about his changing relationship to both taprooms and “old, reliable” pubs:

Over the past years, as I’ve gone through my own craft beer journey (as arsey as that sounds) I’ve wanted the craftiest of craft places. Exposed brickwork, big bronze piping leading to bold lightbulbs, concrete bars, fucking endless uncomfortable chairs, picnic tables, 10-20-30 beers on tap, countless Phoebe Bridgers songs playing out; I wanted that. And god forbid there would be a taproom in an industrial estate, damn, now you’re talking. Get on Uber and lets go sit in a drafty brewery with one toilet. Heaven… Going to new taprooms in new cities you felt like you had discovered a secret society.

Cask ale

To make it viable, cask ale needs to cost more, say some. Like hell does it, says Tandleman, in a brief but punchy post:

Yes, folks, a perishable product, often kept badly and served in appalling condition, should cost more, to save it. Such logic would make a cat laugh. For the umpteenth time, what you need to do with cask beer is keep it well and turn lots of it over. This increases quality and confidence, which then means more sales. A virtuous circle. Maybe when everyone does that, then we can talk about price. Until this happens, then charging more to make it better, just isn’t on.

And here’s a chaser from the frontline:

A brewery.

For Culture Matters Keith Flett has been thinking about how, in practice, people can go about drinking beer ethically. Never a knee-jerker, he understands the complexity of this conversation:

Modern beer has built an image of itself as progressive, against discrimination and for equality. The reality is often very different… Craft beer, as a visit to any bar, taproom or event will underline, is predominantly about middle-aged, middle-class, white blokes. This is not surprising as the beer is usually far from the cheapest around, and so attracts those with disposable incomes and ample leisure time. Whereas those who actually work in the largely non-unionised and not well-paid bars that sell modern beer, or the breweries that produce it, are often not from that demographic.

The Tavern on the Hill
SOURCE: Stephen Jackson.

The very idea of a Blackhorse Beer Mile seems mad to us – and especially to Jess, who grew up in Walthamstow when Blackhorse Road really wasn’t the kind of place to have a ‘scene’. We did notice a while ago that something was going on in E17 but Stephen Jackson’s write-up of the crawl tells us things have come a long way since then:

A short bus ride from the tube station dropped me a brief walk from the first stop of the day, Tavern On The Hill. Previously a pub known as the Warrant Officer it has been taken over by Wild Card Brewery and now offers a range of their beers, both cask and keg, in a back street pub. Now I won’t say that I’m overly keen but they had to unlock the doors for me, the first customer of the day. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Wild Card had a cask offering and it would have been rude not to try it and as Best Bitters go it was pretty good, and in excellent condition. This is a classic old style pub and it is good to see breweries taking on places like this alongside their brewery taprooms.

Tiger Beer
SOURCE: Chris Taljaard on Unsplash.

Every now and then we like to dip into the marketing trade press to see what people who sell and advertise beer are thinking. This week, we enjoyed an interview with Sean O’Donnell, global brand director for Tiger Beer, by Amit Bapna of The Drum:

Asia is a huge continent, which makes marketing beer here super interesting. On-premise consumption (bars, restaurants, hawker centres) in many Asian countries is significantly greater than in many Western markets. The experience that beer brands can create in these venues can be very creative… Secondly, the biggest beer occasion in Asia is with food, again quite different to many Western markets. When you think of many Asian foods you think of spicy and hot, so beer’s role and taste profile is different. In general, Asian beer brands are less bitter and more refreshing than beers in the West, hence craft beer in Asia is only very small in scale.

We suspect people who know more about craft beer in Asia than us will have something to say about that.

Finally, from Twitter, a sign that recently announced changes to draught beer duty might be prompting changes in the market:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 20 November 2021: Tangled timelines

In the past week, we came across lots of good writing about beer and pubs. Here’s the best of it, from portraits of pubs to experiments in fiction.

First, a recipe. If you’ve ever wanted to try making historical ‘cock ale’ but worried that you’d be lumbered with a lot of work to end up with a large batch of rank-tasting chicken beer, Dr Christina Wade has the answer:

I am making only a small portion of this recipe, one beer bottle worth, for reasons. So if one bottle of beer is 500ml and this recipe is based on 8 gallons of ale which is 30,280ml, then one bottle of beer is around 1/60th of the recipe. I bet you didn’t think you would have to do math on a beer blog, but here we are… I used those stock pots cause they seemed a bit fancier and just dropped them into some boiling ale… My ratios are one chicken stock pot per bottle of ale (500ml).

We are promised an update on how it tasted sometime soon.

Sahti producer next to his brewing vessels.
Pekka Kääriäinen. SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

Lars Marius Garshol continues his exploration of Sahti with an account of a visit to a major Finnish producer, Lammin Sahti. As always, it’s packed with interesting details, both technical and human:

I asked Pekka how he started and he told me he started brewing in 1970, when he was 14. He picked up brewing from a friend, simply because he thought it was interesting, he said. “But my mother didn’t like it. She said: ‘In this house no sahti will be made.'”

“So what did you do,” we asked, inevitably.

Pekka looked at us in his usual expressionless, determined way, then shrugged. He just kept brewing and his mother simply had to accept it.


News, nuggets and longreads 13 November 2021: It tolls for thee

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck us as particularly revealing, interesting or entertaining – from Hanna Aberdam to Cleopatra.

It’s been a while since we started one of these round-ups with a brewery takeover story. Bells was founded by Larry Bell in 1983 and is a big deal in the story of US craft beer but this week, it was acquired by Japanese-Australian multinational Lion/Kirin. At Good Beer Hunting Kate Bernot has the facts and stats; Stan Hieronymus offers some personal notes; and Jeff Alworth wonders why this was presented as “joining forces” with New Belgium, with no mention of Kirin. Jeff writes:

It’s hard to overstate what an important brewery Bell’s is. It’s one of the key pioneer-era American craft breweries, founded in Kalamazoo in 1985. It has grown to become one of the most successful breweries in the world… Larry has been the brewery’s avatar since day one. Since his name is on the bottle (and now cans), he’s often referred to by first name only, even by people like me who have never met him… Larry clearly tried to keep the brewery independent. After 38 years, he’s tired and ready to retire—and he also mentioned recent health problems. Running a business like this is incredibly stressful, and he’s earned his retirement. Yet I don’t doubt he wanted it to go a different way. Thus, I suspect, the strange way he delivered the news.

We quite liked the brewery’s flagship Two Hearted Ale when we tried it, by the way.

Another bit of interesting news: the latest edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide once again records not only an increase in the number of UK breweries but also the highest number since it was first published in 1974. In total, Roger Protz reports, there are 1,902 currently in operation, compared to 1,823 in 2019. (There was a dip last year, but not a huge one.) Proof, perhaps, that the industry as a whole is more resilient than the conversation around it sometimes suggests.

Pictures from a Brewery by Asher Barash

There are surprisingly few novels featuring breweries – has anyone put together a definitive list? – but Gary Gillman has unearthed a particularly interesting example, Pictures from a Brewery by Asher Barash. Gary has been writing about Jewish-owned breweries in Galicia in Eastern Europe for some time and this book, written between 1915 and 1929, would seem to be an interesting historical source, albeit one to be handled with care:

The heroine of the book is Hanna Aberdam, called Mrs. Aberdam or in the Polish honorific Pani Aberdam. The period described is not made explicit but seems to be the first years of the 1900s, by which time she has run the brewery for 30 years, under lease from a Polish grandee called Count or Graf (the German form) Stefan Molodetzky… Mrs. Aberdam is described as a kindly person, born of a well-to-do merchant family. When her first husband, a pious scholar, dies young, she remarries a shopkeeper of no great business ability and decides to enter business herself to provide for her family… She leases the town brewery, which previously had gone bankrupt. It overlooked a body of water called in the book “the lake”, fed by underground springs… A theme in the book is how the successful Jewish businesses in these small towns were an organic part of their community, helping to support townspeople through employment, and co-religionists with charity. For example, Aberdam would lead a drive to provide a dowry for an indigent bride, or help Jews who lost their homes in a fire.

Craft Beer World and The Craft Beer World
SOURCE: Joe Tindall.

At The Fatal Glass of Beer Joe Tindall reflects on what Mark Dredge’s book Craft Beer World meant to him as a beginner and compares the new edition, The New Craft Beer World, with the original, from 2013:

The accessibility of craft beer is one obvious change that has occurred in the intervening years between Craft Beer World and its sequel. “Back in 2012 when I wrote the book there were only a few places where I could buy or order interesting beers”, Mark says, “it’s now become normal to find great beer everywhere.”… Back then, I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me that in the not too distant future, I’d be picking up a can of Mikkeller’s American Dream lager during my weekly shop at Sainsbury’s. I certainly wouldn’t have believed that I would purchase said can only once before losing interest, such is the variety of craft beer in 2021.

The cover of Mallory O'Meara's book.

For the London Review of Books Sophie Lewis reviews Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara. Thought not uncritical, there’s enough here to make us think it might be worth a read:

O’Meara [exposes] the racism and misogyny underpinning the contempt for Cleopatra in Greek and Roman culture – an animus that fixed on her love of drinking. She gives an account of antiquity’s invention of the double standard for drunkenness: in noblemen, it enhanced natural virility, ‘while in women [of all classes] it destroyed their honour and inverted the gender hierarchy’. One of the appealing features of O’Meara’s book is her love for carousing women: ‘working-class women brewing – topless and up to their elbows in beer’; Moll Cutpurse; Calamity Jane; Yang Guifei (concubine of the Tang emperor Xuanzong) with her wine-flushed cheeks and jewel-encrusted cups; ‘an affluent Egyptian woman named Chratiankh (birth and death dates unknown)’ whose tomb inscription was said to read: ‘I was a mistress of drunkenness, one who loved a good day, who looked forward to [having sex] every day, anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent.’


At Ancient Malt and Ale Graham Dinely provides in-depth notes on the history and behaviour of yeast in brewing:

The spores can be wind and air borne on dust and insects. This became obvious to me in our last house in Manchester. After about 12 years of brewing and washing equipment there, any sweet juice drinks left out overnight by the kids in the summer months would be slightly fizzy by the morning, as did any yoghurt… It was obvious to me that the yeast had established itself in the microbiome of the house, along with 130 years worth of other microorganisms. This sort of thing must happen in every brewery, no matter how much attention is devoted to hygiene and sterility.

And, although Brew Britannia was published in 2014, we’ve never really stopped writing it, so we were especially delighted by this nugget relating to an important early UK microbrewery:

In 1980 I was still living in shared accommodation and for convenience I was making beer from kits. At work we had a retirement celebration for some colleagues and one of the refreshments was a polypin of Pollard’s Ale… Pollard’s beer had a very distinctive, dry almost musty flavour that was very popular. At the end of the celebration there were a few pints left with the lees… so I took it home and added it to a 5 gallon kit brew that had just finished primary fermentation. I expected it to settle out, but instead it took off with a very vigorous fermentation and a strong sulphurous aroma that lasted just over a day. The Pollard’s was obviously metabolising something that the kit yeast had not. The resulting beer had that distinct Pollard flavour too. I have often wondered if that was a hybrid yeast. Pollard’s ales did not last that long, despite being very popular. The story that I heard at the time of its demise was that they had lost that unique yeast, and with no back up brewery to restore it, that was the end of Pollard’s. 

Finally, from Twitter, some pure wisdom from Liam…

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


News, nuggets and longreads 6 November 2021: The rules of the game

Here’s all the writing about brewing and boozing that leapt out at us in the past seven days, from rural Kent to urban villages.

After a year defined by stories of bullying, harassment and poor behaviour by brewery management, many have been left asking: “So, what next?” Well, the formation of a dedicated union for brewery workers would seem to be a pretty big step. How breweries respond to this will in itself be an interesting test of their values. The Brewery Workers’ Union is on Twitter as @BreweryUnion.

Vintage illustration: a man playing cricket.

At Pellicle, David Jesudason has written a piece about race, sport and pubs that proved to be particularly and unfortunately topical this week:

The White Rock… is a beautiful country pub that has a cosy wood-beamed lounge and a huge beer garden. I say beer garden, it’s more of a playing field. And in this huge green expanse (Kent’s real nickname should be the “beer garden of England”) I saw two poles and a strange wooden box… I discovered that the box was the ‘trap’ and I demanded to see the ‘bat’, which looked like an antique table tennis paddle. Just looking at it caused the pub regulars to stare, and the sudden urge to impress them overwhelmed me. It was time to pick the wooden bat up to which my teammates agreed and, of course, we decided to play for beers.


News, nuggets and longreads 30 October 2021: Line of Duty

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that told us something new in the past week, from fiscal policy to the death of the city centre.

As trailed, or leaked, in his Budget speech on Wednesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced some changes to alcohol duty in the UK:

  • freeze on beer duty to continue for another year
  • 5% duty cut on draught beer (with small print T&Cs not announced in the speech)
  • new duty bands applying to all alcoholic drinks
  • an additional duty cut for low-alcohol drinks (3.4% and lower)

CAMRA has welcomed the changes: “A new, lower rate of duty for draught beer and cider served in pubs and clubs establishes an important principle in the taxation system – that pubs are a force for good in our communities and should be supported to help them survive and compete with the likes of supermarkets.”

Others are less excited, arguing that the specific terms of the new rules will only benefit larger breweries which tend to produce standard strength beer and ship it in larger containers. SIBA and others are lobbying on that last point, while the terms of the ‘draught relief’ are still under consultation, and those in the know seem to think that has been successful.

Cassette tape.
SOURCE: Daniel Schludi/Unsplash.

For Ferment, the promo mag of an online beer subscription service, Adrian Tierney-Jones has written about nostalgia and its role in beer:

My initial thoughts on [Durham Bounty Hunter], as well as similarly sweetshop-flavoured dark beers from the likes of Salt and North, was that Durham had brewed this as a reaction to the strong market for pastry stouts… On the other hand, I also wondered if this trend for beers with the flavours of childhood is a sign that nostalgia remains a strong component of the current beer scene… After all, beer and nostalgia have always seemed to have gone hand in hand. Think of the grumbling pub-goers muttering that this or that beer wasn’t what it used to be in their day or that they used to get a good pint at the Dog and Duck (sometimes with the phrase once upon a time added, which imbues the statement with the quality of a fairy tale).