As a student in Newcastle when times were hard (which they often were) I would head to The Carriage alone and stare into a pint until I felt that I could face the world again. I can’t say I always felt better after sitting in the pub alone for hours,but it made me feel like I was able to go home and talk to my friends. After all alcohol is a depressant but it also loosens the lips and it meant that I felt able toconfide in mylong-sufferingflat mate who regularly dragged me out ofmy pit of despair.
Jessica Mason AKA the Drinks Maven has joined the wave of discussion around cask ale that always follows publication of the Cask Report with observations on opportunities missed during the craft beer hype of the past half-decade:
This might have been the pivotal point where cask appreciators repositioned ale. Effectively, reminding how it is naturally flavoursome, freshly created and diverse in its myriad of varieties. All of this would have been compelling; as would flagging up the trend for probiotics and natural ingredients… But the vernacular surrounding cask ale lacked something else: sheer excitement.
Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer in the past week, from cask anxiety to Berlin boozers.
The latest Cask Report was published (PDF, via Cask Marque) but for the first time in a few years we couldn’t summon the energy to read it, hence no mention in last Saturday’s round-up. But there has been plenty of commentary in the past week and a bit which we thought it might be worth rounding up:
Martyn Cornell – “Why is finding a properly kept pint of cask ale such an appalling lottery in Britain’s pubs”?
Ben Nunn – “[Are] we… heading for a world where real ale is, like vinyl, a niche product – not really for the mainstream, sold only in specialist outlets and usually restricted only to certain styles or genres?”
Pub Curmudgeon – “Maybe it is also time to question whether handpumps can be more of a hindrance than a help.”
Steph Shuttleworth (Twitter) – “[We] don’t currently have any reports that are nuanced or in-depth enough for the industry to rely on… Cask is a significant part of many craft breweries e.g. Marble, Magic Rock, Thornbridge, but we can’t draw lines as to who is in which market…”
Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from PR disasters to art installations.
Last year Kirst Walker wrote up a pub crawl of Runcorn’s Victorian pubs with her trademark spark; this year, she notes plenty of changes, giving the exercise a certain academic interest as well as pure entertainment value:
Time for the Lion, where everybody knows your name! Last year’s winner was where we we would end the night once more. I didn’t double up last time but as we’d already had time bonuses, sambucca, and sandwiches I threw caution to the wind. Alan bought a round of pies like a freaking billionaire and we had a group de-brief with plans to repeat the operation next year on the same weekend… The Lion has lost much of its original room layout since it was refurbished and part of it converted into houses, but it’s still the type of traditional corner pub which is a hub for the community, and in my opinion it as better to try and save the pub than keep the entire sprawling space.
The most remarkable thing about the price of Alesmith Speedway Stout Hawaiian is not that it is five-times higher than the price of Rochefort 10, but that it is three-times higher than Alesmith’s ordinary Speedway Stout… That premium buys you some toasted coconut flakes, some vanilla and some rare Hawaiian Ka’u coffee beans, which are indeed three-times more expensive than your bog-standard joe… If you can taste the difference after those beans have had beer fermenting on them, I complement you on your sensitive palate. If you think it justifies a 200% premium, I have a bridge to sell you.
I can’t help but notice how same-y the selection is everywhere; As though there had once been a list of approved Belgian beers that no one has updated since the mid 2000’s. Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium is that list, and looking at the selection in the dusty shop windows it feels like no one has come along with the gravitas to approve new additions to the canon; it is stuck in amber… Cafe Bebo helps to ease me into the contemporary. It even has beers from breweries founded this century. I order De La Senne Zinnebir and some cheese from the Orval Trappist monastery to snack on.
The artwork is a send-up of the two composite nations – Flanders and Wallonia – and their antagonism of eachother. It employs satire, humour and caricature to make an important point: please dump the baggage of the past and let’s move on… Unlike the easy-goingness of the beer, the label artwork is utterly loaded.
We can imagine this making for an interesting series, reverse engineering the branding process to work out what breweries want us to understand from the small choices they make in their graphic design.
We first met in a bar on the Belgian coast in 2003. Not quite fat, subtly bespectacled, wire-bearded in ginger-grey and sporting an unseasonably short-sleeved Caribbean shirt, his Burnley accent untrampled by decades in Essex… He had this idea that lambic beer was on its last legs and in passing would also bring to an end a culture of Payottenland cafés run by ageing widows, who used nutcrackers to pluck the corks from bottles of gueuze. Something must be done. His ridiculous idea was to compile a guidebook to what remained.
For Good Beer HuntingEvan Rail has written a fantastic piece about what is ostensibly a minor technical point in the dispense and presentation of Czech beer, the side-pull tap, which really illuminates an entire culture:
They were visible from the front door, a series of taps with horizontal handles, and because they were still new their brass fittings, they gleamed inside the dimly lit front room. The rest of the pub was just like it had been before, with its historic patina of 70-plus years of hard riding. The only real standouts were the taps, which the newly hired bartenders seemed to be still figuring out. Using side-pull faucets is almost always a two-handed operation, with one hand holding the glass while the other adjusts the flow accordingly, with each degree of the handle’s turn increasing the rate of dispense. Compared to the simple taps the pub had used in its previous, grouchy-old-man incarnation, the side-pull taps were a reassuring indication that the new owners actually cared about beer.
(It also makes us yearn all the more for someone to commission a book of essays on European beer from Evan. Please. Someone.)
Conceived of by Day Bracey, a comedian and podcaster, and Mike Potter, a craft beer enthusiast and beer blogger, Fresh Fest sought to raise awareness of a still-nascent black brewing scene and help brewers get their products to drinkers who might still be exploring craft beer. In September, following up on the huge success of the festival, Potter will launch Black Brew Culture, an online magazine that will highlight the black beer scene and the creators that populate it. The men, both Pittsburgh natives, told MUNCHIES that both the festival and the magazine aim to right a historic wrong: the exclusion of people of color from the hugely profitable craft beer industry, a sector that generates about $70 billion annually.
Reverse snobbery is certainly at play when simple things like a pale ale are dismissed as ‘poncey’. And reverse snobbery towards beer can be frustrating for those of us who love the stuff. It’s an inferiority complex that, we might think, denies people the pleasure we get from great beer… But I’m quite sure we should avoid anything that further divides craft beer from those who have decided, however arbitrarily, that it’s not for them. Delighting in reverse snobbery by, say, composing Tweets wearing negative reviews from the Sun article as a badge of pride seems, to me, a little smug (craft beer already looks pretty smug from the outside).
This was an event with the sort of friendly, welcoming atmosphere missing from so many beer festivals, where total newbies could taste and discover, and openly dislike, and rapturously applaud, and ask questions and learn about the beer they were drinking… When that person asked their question, they were heard and answered properly, with genuine warmth, and offered more beer to taste to help them understand better. There are no judgements in the funk dungeon.
Pubs should see their cask offer as central to their business model rather than being just one amongst a range of products. In a sense selling cask represents a whole system of running a pub. There’s not much you can do about lager sales, but if your best-selling ale isn’t cask you’re doing something wrong. Think carefully about which beers will appeal to your customers and draw people in. Try to stock something that has a connection to the area or the history and traditions of the pub, rather than a brand from the other end of the country that was never seen locally until a few years ago.
And finally, remember that London pub knocked down by property developers in an effort to dodge planning laws? Well, the process of rebuilding it, brick by brick, has begun.
The Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, the only building on its street to survive the blitz. Developers demolished it in 2015 without permission, to prevent the 1920s pub from being listed. Now – after a long court battle and several delays, the developers have begun to rebuild it. pic.twitter.com/RNIJ1thhUd