News, Nuggets & Longreads 22 September 2018: Brussels, Muscles, Beer Tie Tussles

After a two-week break, here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs, from Autovac mild to pilot plants.

First, an interesting nugget from Birmingham: the long-derelict Fox & Grapes on Freeman Street in the city centre has finally been pulled down as part of high-speed rail construction. Why does this matter? Because it was the last remaining bit of Old Birmingham.

The window of Mort Subite in Brussels.

Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John recently visited Brussels and has written a long, entertaining, insightful piece recording his impressions of the city, and reflecting on the place of Belgian beer in the global craft beer scene:

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.

Detail from the poster for National Lampoon's European Vacation.

Still in Belgium we find Alec Latham dissecting the label of De la Senne’s Taras Boulba to the nth degree:

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.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 22 September 2018: Brussels, Muscles, Beer Tie Tussles”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 September 2018: Side-Pulls, Strikes, Sour Beer

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from parallels with McDonald’s coffee to black beer festivals.

Chris ‘Podge’ Pollard died on 19 August. The author of several well-loved books on Belgian beer he was perhaps better known for his rite-of-passage guided tours. Veteran beer writer Tim Webb, who worked with Pollard on multiple projects, provides a touching remembrance via the British Guild of Beer Writers website:

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.

A few bits of news:

A side-pull beer tap.
By Ben Chlapek for Good Beer Hunting.

For Good Beer Hunting Evan 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.)

Men at a beer festival.
SOURCE: Munchies.

For Munchies (Vice) Lauren Rothman reports on America’s first black beer festival:

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.

Illustration: red coffee cup.

From the ever-thoughtful Joe Tindall at The Fatal Glass of Beer comes commentary on a controversial article in tabloid newspaper the Sun, drawing connections to an advert for McDonald’s coffee currently airing on TV:

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).

Rennies indigestion tablets and sour beer.

A sign of the times: Katie Taylor reports on Abbeydale’s Funkfest sour beer festival which took place on a Sheffield industrial estate:

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.

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

From the Pub Curmudgeon comes a substantial, constructive manifesto setting out what pubs should be doing to make cask ale special:

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.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 25 August 2018: Bibles, the Blue Bell, Mr Bigot

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from skittle alley rats to Jesus.

Well, most of the past week, as we wrote this on Friday morning and scheduled it to post at the usual time. And it’s a bit lighter than usual, too, perhaps because August is when everyone disappears on holiday.

First, for VinePair Cat Wolinski investigates how American churches are using the appeal of craft beer to engage in their communities:

“We’re not trying to force a message on people,” Spencer Nix, CEO and co-founder of Reformation Brewing, says. “We’re trying to live out our values and our vision.”

Jeff Heck, CEO and co-founder of Monday Night Brewing, agrees. “Our posture going into a neighborhood is not like, ‘We’re going to be the savior of this neighborhood.’ Instead, we’re coming in and we’re trying to ask the question, ‘What does the neighborhood need?’”

John Pybus

We visited The Blue Bell in York for the first time earlier this year and added it immediately to our mental list of Proper Pubs — distinctive, worn-in, intimate and warm. Now for York Mix Nick Love brings news of a threat to its existence, or at least its character:

[The] charismatic landlord John Pybus, who’s made the Blue Bell such a success, is facing an uncertain future… He has been served a Section 25 notice by the pub’s owners to end his tenancy and force him to leave his business and his home… He’s become collateral damage of a widespread strategy by the UK’s largest pub companies (pubcos) to resist and indeed to legally circumvent new pub laws that were introduced to try and make the industry more equitable.

Michael Collins

From Martyn Cornell comes one of those posts that uses beer as the sugar to help a dose of history go down: did Irish revolutionary Michael Collins drink a pint of Deasy’s porter on the day in 1922 when he died?

One source says that Collins actually “loathed the sight of porter”. However, he certainly did drink Deasy’s most famous beer on occasions. When he came home to Cork from Frongoch prison camp in North Wales in December 1916, after the British government released the surviving prisoners taken at the end of the Easter Rising, “the Big Fellow” spent three weeks, in his own words, “drinking Clonakilty wrastler [sic] on a Frongoch stomach,” before returning to Dublin. But Collins’s preferred drink actually appears to have been whiskey: “‘a ball of malt’ was his usual,” according to one biographer, and another named Jameson’s as his favourite.

Pub sign advertising a tasting tray of Irish beers.

One of our favourite new blogs, An Seisiún, this week told the story of what happens when a pub’s owners insist on offering things the pub doesn’t want anything to do with:

The biggest question of all however: would my social anxiety and acute sense of embarassment allow me to go up to the bar and ask for a f***ing tasting tray of f***ing Smithwicks of all things? In what can only be called the biggest victory against my shyness since the first time I asked someone out for a date, I did just that. And just like then, it couldn’t have went worse.

Vintage photo of a man and woman sitting in the sun with a pint of beer.

Kirsty Walker at Lady Sinks the Booze has gathered some memories of family holidays, many centred around pubs and beer:

In Stogumber, Somerset, we had a local pub which advertised its skittle alley, but we were dismayed to learn that it was in an outbuilding that was full of tractors. The landlord promised to clean it out if we came back the next day, and sure enough we played skittles in a barn with a row of tractors staring at us and rats scuttling about whilst my nana screamed to God to save her from these unholy minions.

The march at Stone, 3 November, 1973.
The march at Stone, 3 November, 1973, with Christopher Hutt at dead centre.

Roger Protz has dug out a copy of his very first beer book, the fascinating Pulling a Fast One from 1978, and used it as the starting point for
an extended reflection on the changes in British beer 40 years have brought

Of course, beer choice is demonstrably better today as a result of the rise of the craft beer movement. But let’s not kid ourselves. The global brewers and their pubco pals dominate the market and charge wickedly high prices for their products.

Finally, here’s an interesting nugget from Twitter which suggests the direction AB-InBev’s craft beer adventures might be taking: breweries, distributors, media in every region, all interlinked and cross-promoting.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 August 2018: Bartram’s, Belgium, the Barley Mow

Here’s everything published on beer and pubs in the past week that grabbed our attention, from teetotal tendencies to the extraordinary nature of ordinary pubs.

First, some trademark thoughtful reflection from Jeff Alworth at Beervana who asks ‘What If We Just Stopped Drinking?

[What] if we just keep drinking less and less until we’re consuming it like our old auntie, who only pulls out the sherry for special occasions? This won’t happen immediately, but the trend lines are pretty clear… A dirty little secret of the alcohol industrial complex: it relies on very heavy drinkers, many of them alcoholics, for the bulk of sales. Among drinkers, the median consumption is just a couple drinks a week. That’s the median–some “drinkers” basically don’t drink at all. That means, of course, that someone’s doing a lot of drinking…

A Belgian Brown Cafe.

There’s a new links round-up in town: Breandán Kearney at Belgian Smaak has put together a rather wonderful rattle through all the Belgian beer and bar news from the last few months. How can you resist a 15 item list including such headers as CHINESE HOEGAARDEN and BEAVERTOWN GOES BELGIAN?

The mad collection at the Prince of Greenwich.
SOURCE: Deserter

For Deserter the pseudonymous Dirty South gives an account of a day spent trying to entertain a sullen teenager in the cultural pubs of South London:

The Prince is run by Pietro La Rosa, a Sicilian who has not only brought Italian hospitality and splendid Italian food to SE10, but opened a pub full of curios that he and his wife Paola have collected from their travels around the world. An enormous whale’s jaw bone hangs over various objets d’arts, a rhinoceros’ head protrudes above an antique barber’s chair, surrounded by artwork from afar.

‘It’s mad,’ concluded Theo.

The Bridge Inn, Clayton.
SOURCE: John Clarke.

Here’s something we’d like to see more of: veteran CAMRA magazine editor  John Clarke dusted down a pub crawl from 30 years ago and retraced his steps to see how time had treated the boozers of Clayton, Greater Manchester:

The Folkestone was closed, burnt out and demolished. New housing now occupies the site. The Greens Arms struggled on and then had a brief existence as the Star Showbar… The Grove also continues to thrive as a Holts house and the war memorial remains on the vault wall. No such luck with the Church.

The Barley Mow, London.
SOURCE: Pub Culture Vulture.

Ben McCormick has been writing about pubs on and off at his Pub Culture Vulture blog for a few years now and a recent flurry of posts has culminated with what we think is a profound observation:

[The Barley Mow] must be the best Baker Street boozer by a billion miles… I was on the point of writing there is nothing special about the place, but stopped abruptly on the grounds that’s complete horseshit. There ought to be many, many more examples of pubs like this dotted around central London and further afield. But there aren’t.

Any pub, however, ordinary, becomes extraordinary if it resists change — that makes sense to us.

A bit of news: Bartram’s, a brewery in Suffolk, seems to have given up brewing (the story is slightly confusing) which has given the local newspaper an opportunity to reflect on the health of the market:

Now Mr Bartram is currently no longer looking to export overseas, and is not producing any beer. “There are about 42 breweries in Suffolk – when I started 18 years ago, there were just five,” he said. “There is a lot more competition. The market is saturated, it’s ridiculous.”

Another Suffolk brewer, who declined to be named, claims overcrowding in the marketplace is true of the cask ale industry that Mr Bartram is part of, but not the key keg ale market.

Also unclear: the key market for keg ale, or the keykeg ale market? Anyway, interesting.

If you want more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up and Alan McLeod’s regular Thursday linkfest.

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars

Here’s all the beer and pub related news, opinion and history that’s grabbed us in the past week, from kids in pubs to Never Gonna Give You Up.

First, money. As part of the publicity around its Great British Beer Festival (last day today) the Campaign for Real Ale published the results of a survey suggesting that the majority of British drinkers who expressed an opinion find the price of a pint of beer unaffordable.

Cash Money Pound Signs.

There were various bits of interesting commentary around this, from musings on the question of value from Katie Taylor

Affordability is quite an abstract concept, isn’t it? In my experience as someone who’s lived in extreme poverty and in relative comfort and all the incremental stages of debt, exhaustion and erratic spending in-between, things like pints come down to how much you value them. They’re not essential – unless you have an addiction – and yet as part of our culture they’re a central point of our social lives.

…to Richard Coldwell’s reflections on the difference between affordability and priorities:

I think there are many who are making the choice between going out for a pint and other things… Simple choices like; Sunday afternoon at the local pub with the family or a full day out at the beach with sandwiches and maybe an ice cream and a few bob on the amusements. I reckon it’s about 50 miles from our house to Scarbro’, so the biggest cost of the day is fuel… Round here, the price of the first round of say, a pint, glass of prosecco, three soft drinks and a few snacks would just about cover the fuel costs of a return journey to the seaside. The second round would more than pay for the picnic and sundries and we’ve only been in the pub for about an hour, max.

Jonny Garrett, meanwhile, is unimpressed with this focus on price which he regards as ultimately damaging to the image of cask ale:

Perhaps the greatest step CAMRA could take toward restoring growth in cask beer would be to invest in training and equipment for pubs that show loyalty to cask and price it fairly. For some reason, this call for quality brewing falls on deaf ears at CAMRA, who this week lamented how expensive pints have become. The party line of championing cask above all else appears to include the millions of cheap, dull, vinegary pints poured across the UK each year. Some of them even at their own festivals.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars”