News, nuggets and longreads 13 July 2024: Hey Jude

Every Saturday we round up the most interesting writing about beer and pubs from the past week. This time: lots of lager.

First, some big news: Marston’s is breaking away from the Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) partnership and pulling out of brewing, to become a pub company only. We read the story first in this piece by Sophie Witts at The Caterer but check out Darren Norbury for emotional content and Roger Protz for pointed commentary:

“Marston’s has pulled down the shutters on 190 years of beer making… CMBC said the closure of the regional breweries was due to a fall in demand for cask beer – a fall not seen by independent producers who say the category is recovering well from Covid and lockdowns…”

This follows a more general pattern in the industry of breweries turning into pub company’s (e.g. Young’s, Fuller’s) masked for most people by the fact that the pubs continue to sell the same beers as ever. Down here in the West Country, though, we’ve noticed Young’s pubs starting to sell more St Austell beer. So who can say how long those partnerships, formal or otherwise, will ever last.

A jumble of pubs.

Via Substack we stumbled across Lisa Dotzauer’s piece entitled ‘W is for What’s on cask please? – the slow public death of my local’, which paints a depressingly recognisable picture of pub life away from big urban centres:

My local pub occupies a lovely spot in the village, it has a large fenced outdoor area with trees providing shade, as well as additional outdoor seating on the patio. The building itself is a Grade II listed building, which makes my historian-heart beat just that tiny bit faster, and as the only remaining pub in the village[vii], should thrive… Given that the village was once home to five pubs and a brewery, should, is the word indeed… Yet, how my heart aches… I don’t know how you like your Premium Czech Lagers, but I like mine with some good amount of carbonation. The one in front of me was certainly lacking the freshness CO₂ provides. And when it comes to Pale Ales? I prefer refreshing bitter notes and an orange kick, over the stale wet cardboard notes the ale was giving me…

(Yes, we know, but that’s not the point of the piece.)

An Art Deco pub with an amazing 1930s sign that looks like something from The Great Gatsby.
The Steps Bar in Glasgow. SOURCE: Dermot Kennedy/Pub Gallery.

Dermot Kennedy’s photographic project documenting Art Deco pubs in the UK continues with a second post about city centre pubs:

Architects designing in city centres in the 1930s didn’t usually have the space for the detached, low slung streamlined style of art deco pub that became popular in the suburbs. Instead they were often forced to build on the end of or even in the middle of an existing terrace. Even new developments, especially in the bigger cities required that a pub be part of a larger mixed-use block. The exteriors though were still recognisably art deco with one or more of curved corners, Crittall metal windows and horizontal banding. Some though were added to an existing older block and relied on a frontage with art deco tiling or a frieze with art deco letting. The interiors of city art deco pubs have generally survived better than their suburban counterparts, and a few are essentially unaltered inside.

A hand holding a glass of golden lager. Just out of focus behind is a person with a beard in a black brewery branded polo shirt.
SOURCE: Cliff Lucas/Good Beer Hunting.

For Good Beer Hunting Adrian Tierney-Jones has written about a Brussels craft brewery focused on producing lager – a bold move in a country where locally-produced pils is popular but hardly critically feted:

Apart from Brasserie de la Senne, which uses the method for Zenne Pils, Brasserie de la Mule is the sole Belgian brewery practicing decoction mashing. Its lagering times are also generous, with eight weeks at 0.5˚C (33˚F) being standard. All the beers are organic. For [founder and head brewer Joel] Galy, this approach is not an act of resistance to the monolithic nature of Belgian lager brewing. Neither is it one of blind faith, in that he saw a gap in the market and rushed pell-mell toward it. The story of the brewery is more of a deliberate and planned vision as well as one of a goal—or, perhaps, more precisely, an aim in bringing into this rumbustious part of Brussels a beer-drinking experience that has its roots in the cheery, communal pub culture of Bavaria.

This also feels like another item of evidence to file alongside Utopian’s acquisition of a pub and Bohem opening its second London outlet. Lager is where it’s at in the 2020s, right?

Two round, dimpled, handled mugs of beer on a wooden taproom table. Both have thick heads of foam. In the background, out of focus, a person is leaning on the table.
SOURCE: Andreas Krennmair/Daft Eejit Brewing.

Actually, still on that theme, it’s interesting that Andreas Krennmair could travel to Chicago, get a train 50 minutes out of the city, walk to an industrial estate, and find Vienna beer that totally impressed him:

Goldfinger’s Vienna Lager is very much Czech in the best way possible… The beer was so good, I tried not to down it too quickly… I tried [every beer] on the menu. I don’t remember all the details of all of them, but a lasting impression for me was that every single one of them was absolutely flawless, full of flavour, and so enticing that you would have wanted a second one of every single one of them. Goldfinger Original, Vienna Lager, German Pils, Mexican Lager, Heller Bock (it was the end of Maibock season, after all) and Hefeweizen were on tap, and all of them excellent examples of their respective styles. Not just excellent, but formulated and brewed to absolute precision… [When] you have an Austrian go to a small brewery in Chicagoan suburbia, drink their beer and suddenly reminisce about all the great Bavarian beers it reminds him of, you know the brewery is doing something very right…

At The Drinks Business Jessica Mason reports on a talk by Inka Kosonen about the practical ways in which women are locked out of brewing:

One area Kosonen insisted was still being overlooked in terms of gender equality is the availability of basic sanitary bins in workplace toilets. For breweries and beer businesses, she shed light on how the consideration that these are basic female needs that are oft overlooked… Kosonen explained: “In the workplace or at your brewery, where there are toilets, are there also sanitary bins? If not, that is illegal. It is not just about meeting the minimum.”

On a related note, several of our local taprooms and pubs have excellent selections of free sanitary products in the toilets… Except when you need them, of course, in an emergency. Then it’s just empty boxes.

Finally, from social media, a remarkable piece of film from 1964 about the Salford pubs left behind after ‘slum clearance’:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 6 July 2024: A Very British Coup

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from election pledges to ‘earthiness’.

We normally put some news here, up top, but not much has been going on. There was something on Thursday though, wasn’t there? Oh, yes, a General Election. Labour won it rather convincingly (terms and conditions apply) in case you somehow missed the coverage.

We’ve been around long enough to know that elections rarely change anything overnight and that pubs and beer are often way down the agenda after, say, the health service, or the education system. Still, we’ll be watching with interest to see if anything comes of the new administration’s pledge to “give communities a strong new ‘right to buy’ beloved community assets to revamp high streets and end the blight of empty premises”.

There’s commentary from Keith Flett (left) and the Pub Curmudgeon (right) if you want more context.

A country pub next to a stream in a village. There are English flags flying from the front of the pub and a couple of cars and bikes parked nearby.
SOURCE: Pellicle/Matthew Curtis.

For Pellicle Katie Mather has written about a pub at Pendleton, Lancashire, called The Swan With Two Necks which, she argues, is perfect:

But pubs don’t just become perfect on their own. The Dilworths know this more than most. They’ve been running The Swan With Two Necks for 37 years, and over that time they’ve seen their fair share of changes sweep over their idyllic little countryside pub… “We opened at 10.30am on Tuesday the 25th of August, 1987,” Steve says, his sharp memory for exactitudes leaving no room for doubt. “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was yesterday, as far as I’m concerned.”… Of course, Christine had been right by his side for the big moment. “Here I was, only 23, skinny as a rake… I had a blue leather suit on, my hair all permed,” she tells me. “They were mortified!” The village had been dubious about a young couple taking on such a traditional pub and in their interview the pub co. had admitted they’d wanted an older couple to take it on. “It was funny though, after we’d only been here a week it just felt so right.”

In a follow-up discussion with Katie on BlueSky we pondered on whether it might be possible to visit all the Swans With Two Neckses in the country. WhatPub suggests there are 9 of them, if you also include Swans With Two Nickses. We’ll start with the Bristol one and see how we go.

Black Sheep pump clips on the bar of a Yorkshire pub.

Industry journalist Glynn Davis has an excellent interview with Mark Williams, CEO of Keystone Brewing, which is in turn part of the Breal Group. Breal has been buying up struggling UK breweries for a couple of years now – Black Sheep, Purity, Brew by Numbers and Brick so far. The interview is interesting because it’s provides so much detail on numbers, and on Breal’s longer-term plans:

Breal Group, is not going to shy away from this fact as he reveals clearly in numbers and money terms that the company has a plan to build a business with £100 million of sales by the end of 2028, which involves it adding £70 million of additional revenue from further acquisitions. And then it intends to sell the business… “We’ll have a portfolio of desirable aspirational brands that creates value for a later buyer. It will be a regionally national operation,” he says, adding that Keystone is on the lookout for breweries that are ideally solvent to fill in the gaps on the map between its existing breweries… the targets are more likely to be regional brewers – rather than ‘craft’ brewers – with at least £10 million of sales as Williams reveals he is talking to two breweries that would add £20 million in revenues. He foresees three or four acquisitions in total that will include pubs in the deals as he would ideally look to have 25-30% of sales generated through the company’s own outlets.

If you enjoy these round ups and want a little more subscribe to our Patreon. Every Saturday, shortly after we publish here, we share footnotes there with additional context and deep cut links.

The interior of the Knight Life Taphouse with benches, barrel tables, high stools, and big shop-style windows out onto a high street.
SOURCE: Micropub Adventures/Scott Spencer.

We visited Poole a few weeks ago and found quite a few pleasant pubs but didn’t really get round to writing up most of that trip. Fortunately, Scott Spencer at Micropub Adventures has done a much better job at exploring and taking notes on the micropubs, taprooms and bars of Dorset in his latest post:

A short bus ride towards Poole brings me next to the Knight Life Taphouse which opened in December 2021 in a former bank. The brewery itself is located in Bournemouth. A great vibrant decor inside which is quirky and unusual… A range of their own beers were being served, and love the idea of the spray cans instead of pump clips on the bar. Such a unique feature. 11 beers all on keg, 9 of them being their own. Tried 2 of their sour beers here starting with Pie Sub Lime, a tasty and tart key lime pie sour. Secondly was True Lovers Ink, a fruity blackberry pastry sour, delicious.

But is it just us that struggled to parse Pie Sub Lime without seeing the unappetising word ‘slime’?

A German beer garden in late summer or early autumn with trees and wooden benches.
SOURCE: A Tempest in a Tankard/Franz Hofer.

It’s not likely we’ll make it to a Munich beer garden this year so we enjoyed Franz Hofer’s write-up of a visit to the Gutshof Menterschwaige, an out-of-town Garten with stories swirling around it:

The short walk from the [Waldwirtschaft] to the Menterschwaige takes you down a path toward the foot bridge spanning the Isar, and then up to a wooded trail along the embankment high above the Isar. It’s this kind of walk that gives you a sense of how the topography of the Isar Valley favoured the sinking of beer cellars from Munich all the way up to Bad Tölz at the foot of the Alps. The cellars no longer store beer, but the stands of trees still cast their shade over the cellars for those of us who enjoy the respite of the beer garden… The chime of clinking glasses in the distance fill the evening air, a telltale sign that the Menterschwaige isn’t far off. Villas line the path that lead to the Menterschwaige, a onetime estate of the Wittelsbach dynasty. A small Swiss-style hut stands just off to the side of the beer garden… It’s this rather unassuming chalet that contributes to the Menterschwaige’s latter-day allure, for it’s here that King Ludwig I is said to have met Lola Montez for their nightly trysts. (That’s the same King Ludwig whose marriage celebration in 1810 occasioned the first Oktoberfest.) Hold that thought till we get a beer.

A nose.
SOURCE: Alexander Krivitskiy at Unsplash.

At Substack Jen Blair has some interesting thoughts on the language we use to describe the flavours and aromas in beer:

From time to time, oft-used flavor descriptors will make me stop and think, “But what does that mean exactly? What are we trying to convey? What does it mean to me when I use it?” More recently, that descriptor has been “earthy.”… The thought popped up when I was recording a podcast episode with my cohost and owner of Pilot Brewing, Rachael Hudson.5 We were discussing hop growing regions and flavor descriptions of hops when I briefly derailed the conversation by asking Rachael what she thought “earthy” conveyed. Like me, she had a hard time breaking it down further. It’s not geosmin, exactly. It’s not necessarily mushroomy or moldy. Is it decay? I’m not sure… Before I dive into the research I did, I’d like to point out something that I think a lot of us get stuck on, including me. Aroma is adiaphorous – it is neither good nor bad. Its molecular structure is neither good nor bad. Aromas are – for the most part – neither beneficial nor detrimental.

Finally, from social media, let’s all go to Flaming Moe’s…

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


News, nuggets and longreads 29 June 2024: The Mean Season

Every Saturday we round up the best writing about beer from the past week. This time we’ve got normal blokes, brut IPA and Dorito beer.

First, some news about BrewDog. Its Waterloo megabar has been the focus of negative stories for months now. The latest is about the firing of an Asian member of staff who was distressed to find members of a far right group drinking in the bar on their way to a protest:

The former staff member said members of the EDL had gathered unchallenged at the “punk” brewer’s flagship bar in Waterloo, ahead of a rally to mark St George’s Day on 23 April… BrewDog… is understood to have been informed by police a day earlier that EDL members were likely to gather in the Waterloo area and might visit the bar. Police told the company not to close the venue and offered assurances that officers would be present… [The staff member] said staff were not told about this and said the lack of advance warning was a factor in her reaction.

What message does this send about BrewDog as a brand? That its bars are welcoming to the far right and that it lacks the capacity to look after the wellbeing of its staff in very basic ways. It feels a long way from the reputation it enjoyed a decade ago.

Cask Bar & Kitchen, AKA the Craft Beer Co, in Pimlico, London.

The most thought-provoking piece this week came from Ella Doyle at Time Out. It’s an outside-the-bubble view of where UK craft beer is at in 2024 with plenty of acute observations, like this from a London bar manager:

Somewhere along the line, a new trend started to sweep through London. Squaring up to the bearded, beanie-wearing men in shorts was a new kind of counterculture: the normal bloke… The normal bloke was not interested in skinny jeans, nor plum sours. He’d go for a packet of scampi fries over the chorizo bar snacks. He ordered a round of lagers, filmed himself outside the Blue Posts, and fancied a fry up on the weekend… Having alternative tastes was no longer cool; instead, trendy Londoners were being obsessively, aggressively mainstream… It was partly a generational thing (as [beer writer Pete] Brown says, ‘craft beer drinkers were suddenly in their 40s’), partly another passing trend, but the interest for fancy craft beer was waning. Rising from its ashes was a different drink: Guinness. We were (still are) obsessed with the stuff. And with it, classic lagers, John Smiths and a shit load of ‘Mediterranean lager’.

The texture of parched, cracked earth with the words Dry P.A. superimposed.

Whatever became of Brut IPA? At Beer Diary Phil Cook has some thoughts based on his own experience in the New Zealand beer industry and from a review of blog posts from 2018:

From a candidate for “next big thing” to the endangered species list in a matter of months. What went wrong? Where did they go?… The reference to the champagne type went over a lot of heads — and even if someone knew that the “brut” version is dry, they might not know that it means dry and so would miss what it implied about the beer. There had also (in New Zealand at least) been quite a few wine-beer hybrids kicking around in the few years before, so people often wondered if this was another. And I saw lots of folks assume that the term signaled strength or intensity — as in “brute” or “brutal” — which definitely isn’t what these beers were, and wasn’t what a lot of people wanted after years of extreme IPAs (as proven by the rise of NEIPA)… The alternate history I wonder about is whether the “style” would’ve survived longer if it’d simply been called Dry IPA: simpler, easier to grasp and harder to confuse with anything else, and still a strong contrast with the other main varieties on offer at the time…

Six tortilla chips laid out in rows.
SOURCE: Tamas Pap at Unsplash.

At Craft Beer & Brewing Joe Stange has written an article that might almost have been designed to make people mad: how do you brew beer with tortilla chips? As you might expect if you know his work, however, it’s actually a very thoughtful piece:

Tortilla chips are just fried corn tortillas, obviously—or pressed and fried masa harin – and before corn becomes masa, it goes through a process called nixtamalization. That is, the dried corn soaks in an alkaline solution—usually with lime, a.k.a. calcium hydroxide – to become something that’s more edible, nutritious, and easily ground into flour. As with pretzels and lye, that solution is also a big part of what gives corn tortillas and chips their flavor… Not surprisingly—considering there are upwards of 9,500 breweries in the United States, and the sheer laws of probability dictate that a few of them are trying out whatever is the most ridiculous thing you can imagine even as you read this – some brewers have been using nixtamalized corn with intention.

A glass of pale lager with a thick head of white foam.
SOURCE: Alistair Reece/Fuggled.

We liked this recent post from Alistair Reece about one of his local breweries because it (a) contains pictures of pretty glasses of beer; (b) highlights something that Czech-style beer dispense is something missing from the UK beer scene; and (c) tells a story about the feedback loop between drinkers and brewers:

Nearly two years ago I got my act together to visit a few local Charlottesville area breweries that I had heard glowing reviews of, including Selvedge Brewing in their old Woolen Mills location… The driving force behind that first visit was that they had recently hired a new brewer, who… was a fellow fan of central European lagers. Naturally then, Josh and I talked at length that visit about decoction mashing, extended lagering, and the joys of doing things the old school way… A few weeks back Josh did a double decoction with Moravian malt, chucked some Bohemian hops into the boil, and even got hands on the lauded H strain of yeast from Pilsner Urquell to make Coat Czech, his version of a 12° světlý ležák (pale lager to you). Josh was recently in Czechia, visiting many of the best pubs and breweries in both Prague and Plzeň – I may have given him several pointers – and this beer was the outcome of drinking in the home of great pale lagers.

A frame from a comic strip with three men with hop beards and sunglasses. One is saying "Our logo is a hop beard with sunglasses." The second says "It looks like us." The third says "I wanted a hop with boobs."
SOURCE: David Bailey/Pellicle.

David Bailey creates cartoons for Pellicle and this week’s piece offers some brutal observations about the typical owners of the typical craft brewery:

We’re just 3 guys making beers we want to drink… hazy, juicy, hoppy beers… I was an engineer… I was a graphic designer… I was in tech and a keen home brewer… Our logo is a hop beard with sunglasses… It looks like us…

Finally, from BlueSky…

Now then

[image or embed]

— TenInchWheels ( Jun 28, 2024 at 22:36

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


News, nuggets and longreads 22 June 2024: Footie footie footie

Every Saturday, we round up the best writing about beer from the preceding week. This time we’ve got sexiness, waiting and burnout.

First, some news about pubs. There was apparently a sharp acceleration in the number of pubs closing in the first quarter of 2024, according to a report compiled by commercial property intelligence company Altus. Of the 472 pubs that closed between April 2023 and March 2024, a remarkable 236 closed in the first three months of this year – equivalent to around 80 per month. We couldn’t find Altus’s original release but it’s based on “government figures”, which we assume means data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Most of the hospitality news outlets and newspapers ran the story including The Drinks Business and The Morning Advertiser.

The word 'Gorgeous' in a curvy font with glittery sparkles.

The most interesting, provocative post of the week was from Katie Mather who asks whether in trying to purge beer of sexist imagery, we’ve also denied it the right to be sexy:

There has always been a difficulty between treading the line between sensuality and straight-up sexism in advertising. Internalised misogyny throughout society objectifies women, and using their bodies to sell, well, anything you can think of, underlines the perceived cheapness of women, and their usefulness only as a commodity… I wanted to have a go at untangling some of these ideas because I sometimes find the sexism in beer arguments difficult to engage with… Beer is seriously unsexy. Is that why women who don’t love beer for all its flavours and styles and aromas don’t drink it? I don’t know. Has anyone asked them? What do women want?

Perhaps we’re ready to have this conversation now, with more nuance. Whereas a decade or more ago, it felt as if hard lines had to be drawn to keep things simple and drive action.

A view through the front doors and windows of a dark Brussels cafe.
SOURCE: Brussels Notes/Eoghan Walsh.

Eoghan Walsh has written again about the reality of his life in Brussels: ferrying his kids around, waiting for them, drinking a beer or two in one bar or another. This week it was a place that fancies itself as a restaurant where, nonetheless, he found a place to perch:

It’s quiet when I arrive at the Chapeau Blanc, during that interstitial lull on a Friday when the work week’s over but the weekend hasn’t quite got itself going yet. The tables on the right as I walk in are set for dinner, and a waiter says I’m not allowed to sit at one even though the kitchen doesn’t open for another hour. But there’s a pair of tables in a small alcove facing the entrance without any cutlery, and I’m welcome to sit there if it’s just a drink I’m having… Waiting for the beer to come, it’s not long before the entrance door opposite my table is pushed open and a slow trickle of reservations begin to file through. It’s families mostly, Dutch-speaking ones, though they do the Brussels thing once they are in the bar and address the staff in French. But once they’ve been directed to their seats behind me they lose their object permanence, the cries of their restless children and their muffled conversations coalescing into ambient white noise, and I might as well be alone save for the staff behind the bar. 

An abstract image of hands raised in protest.

Ruvani de Silva has written for Pellicle about how diversity and inclusion in the beer industry seems to have stalled, or even started rolling backwards:

[Diversity, equity and inclusion] is so 2021. For many in the beer industry, as well as in the wider world, diversity, equity and inclusion has become old news, no longer worthy of column inches… While DEI advocates understand the complexities of running what are often small businesses on tight margins, the prevailing attitude of DEI being the first thing to be thrown under the bus of austerity further adds to the burnout we are experiencing… With many people now stepping back from social media and those who remain becoming increasingly cautious of raising their heads above the parapet, the support and sense of community that helped to fuel DEI activism has fizzled out.

The word 'Citra' in a font and colours reminiscent of the 'Spam' logo.

This is a brief but fascinating piece from Stan Hieronymus about how just because a hop has a brand name doesn’t mean it’s a consistent industrial product:

I originally thought to post this because for too many years I’ve received the occasional email asking, “What happened to [add your favorite hop name]. It is not the same as it used to be.” My catchall answer is that hops are an agricultural product. These charts are proof, but… There is something else to consider. That’s a T90 pellet lot at the top, and a Cryo lot at the bottom. That the T90 lot is quite woody and the Cryo lot not at all woody suggests removing green matter (which happens when hops are cryogenically concentrated) eliminates the woody character found in “old fashioned” hops. Cool. Unless there’s something else in the green matter that might make the beer taste like some of us prefer.

It’s not really about the text, though – it’s about the remarkable spider graph accompanying it. Go and take a look.

A Dungeons & Dragons setup with little buildings on a tabletop.
SOURCE: RPG Taverns.

Connecting with an ongoing trend we’ve been observing around board game cafes comes news of a pub dedicated to the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons in South London:

Set in a converted pub, RPG Taverns offers Londoners a safe place to relax and play D&D with six elaborately themed rooms ranging from an enchanted forest with giant mushroom seats to a ghostly graveyard… Now hundreds of people come to play there every week, with a mix of experts and complete beginners… Although there are similar venues; at RPG Taverns they have a creative team who designs all the games and the world – so people who have never played before can simply buy a ticket and get stuck in.

Finally, from BlueSky, which now seems to embed nicely…

The Hoy, Deptford

[image or embed]

— Will Hawkes ( Jun 19, 2024 at 22:36

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


News, nuggets and longreads 15 June 2024: Hope & Glory

Every Saturday we round up the best writing about beer from the past week. This time: cask ale, old pubs, smoothflow bitter.

First, some news, the particular relevance of which will become apparent shortly: Cornish craft brewery Verdant is releasing a cask version of its popular keg beer Lightbulb. Verdant has been releasing cask beers in traditional styles for some time (porter, best bitter) and we’ve generally been pretty impressed with them. Some Bristol craft breweries take the same approach: they’ll make cask ale, but that’s for dark mild; the hoppy stuff stays in keg. So this small news item feels somewhat significant. Could it be that cask has to die before it can be reborn? Well…

A pile of metal beer casks in a pub yard.

Not really being on Twitter these days (we pop in once or twice a week to check DMs, which people still send us) we were insulated from what was apparently a pretty spicy day or two of debate about cask ale earlier this week. It kicked off when American writer Jeff Alworth posted about cask ale under the provocative title ‘What if CAMRA had valued quality over romance?’:

These beers should be vying with lagers as the growth style in the US, and they should be the pride of Britain. Instead, they’re unknown here and on life support there – or receding into the background as boutique beers… As I review the case file on this tragedy, I can’t help going back to an important decision CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) made and defended for decades… One decision in particular was pivotal in driving the industry away from technologies that would have elevated quality above romantic stories: defending at all costs the method of drawing cellar air straight into casks, causing the beer to lose its pep in mere hours, and spoil in a few days. Would cask be a robust market today if they hadn’t been wedded to a romantic story?

We don’t know exactly what went down online but we do know that Jeff has now added this to the post: “Note: post updated at the end in response to a large, collective ‘you’re wrong!’ from British cask fans on Twitter.” We also read Peter ‘Tandleman’ Alexander’s response which described the discussion as being like an old-fashioned chatboard ‘flame war’:

Well, where are we really? In sheer volume, cask is a declining segment of the market, but there are many variations. In many cities, finding good to excellent cask beer is not a problem. In no particular order, I’d suggest that applies to:Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Chester, Wolverhampton, York – and likely Bristol and Norwich. This list is not definitive and the bonus is that usually, the quality of beer in the surrounding areas is also dragged up by proximity.  Even London is showing signs of recovery, with my own experience of  recent improvement and many defenders springing to its aid on X.

John Smith's packaging close up.

For food newsletter Vittles Jimmy McIntosh has written a rather mischievous piece about ‘Where to find the best pints of John Smith’s in London’. At least we think it’s mischievous. It’s not 1 April and it’s extremely deadpan. The point is that it would be very weird if people talked about smoothflow keg bitter with the same semi-mystical reverence generally reserved for Guinness:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you won’t have failed to notice that one beer is having more than a bit of a moment right now: John Smith’s. The beloved creamy bitter from Tadcaster has gone from fusty old-man’s drink to fad beer almost overnight, thanks in no small part to northerners in London, perfectionist landlords and an army of online influencers who can be seen rating pints in the capital’s best pubs. The hype is inescapable. You see it in the pub gardens, where rumbustious boys with football scarves tied around their heads compare cream-topped glasses, endlessly angling them to confirm that they have, indeed, got the perfect pint. You see it in the effusive puff pieces from privately educated journalists who’d never drunk a drop of the brown stuff until 2023. You see it on social media, in the hyper-local London meme accounts which have made the consumption of John Smith’s a conscientious lifestyle choice, along with Perelló olives and wild garlic.

The brown stuff! Heh.

A sketch of a street in Athlone with historic buildings.
‘Scene of the Last Struggle in Athlone – Connaught Side’. SOURCE: Liam K/Google Books.

Liam K has returned to a favourite subject: when we say a pub is ‘ancient’ what does that really mean? And what are the various ways stories can be twisted to make outlandish claims for the great age of Irish pubs in particular?

There is that grey area for many as to the question of whether a rebuilt pub is the age of its first founding versus the age it is from its last rebuild, and it can be seen as subjective in truth. A good example of this conundrum would be The Palace Bar in Dublin, which, by the way, is a wonderful example of an Irish urban pub. That establishment was completely rebuilt in 19001, with the then owner Patrick Hall operating from 1 Burgh Quay while it was being erected. The ‘complete transformation of the old establishment’ was done by July of the following year and it reopened ‘after rebuilding’ on the 10th of July 1901, making it Edwardian if one was to be a pedant about it, but certainly of late Victorian design and fair to be classed as that. This public house recently celebrated its bicentenary, and I don’t know of its complete earlier history, although there are plenty of mentions of it being a public house in the 19th century, and a Thomas Corcoran was letting it as ‘A Public House’ as early as 1828 so the date of 1823 could well be correct for the site, even to there also seems to be a piano seller at that address at that date…

In his opening preamble he’s somewhat apologetic about repeating himself, and for his obsession with this subject, but it doesn’t strike us that way. It’s more that we’ve been watching him develop this argument over the course of several posts, and several years. Maybe it will achieve its final form in a book about the history of beer and brewing in Ireland. That’d be cool.

A dark corner of Burp Castle with a warm red lamp made from an old Corsendonk beer bottle and a beer menu on a blackboard.

We enjoyed Phil Cook’s sharp account of visiting three bars in New York City. Phil is a New Zealander living in Australia who has worked behind bars and around breweries for many years, and has his own perspective on a well worn beer geek beat:

Burp Castle was so close by as to be irresistible after that. I had added it to my map after reading a piece in Good Beer Hunting and had remembered the general Belgian monastic vibe but forgotten its own particular quirk: a rule to speak only in whispers… Halfway through my first beer, I had fully acclimated; it was just like switching from hanging out in a busy bookstore to being in a library (fittingly enough, for the day we had). A place where a serene, meditative mood was the norm rather than a piece of lucky timing (or, worse, the sign of a ‘dead’ day) felt truly special… The bartender twice broke out of his muted default. Once, when I was contemplating my second beer and asked his opinion of a relatively-local tripel, he brightened and said without hesitation “oh, that shit’s beautiful” (he was not wrong). Then, after a few more couples and groups had filtered in and the volume level crept up, as it does, he very gently – but with the direct insistence of an exam proctor – shushed the crowd. We’d previously heard him training a fill-in bartender: “the whispering thing is kind of a joke, but also kind of not”…

The fireplace and a big mirror at the Nell Gwynne on The Strand.

Finally, some fiction, from Andrew ‘The Dulwich Raider’ Grumbridge at The Deserter. It’s about a London publican on an afternoon off pub crawling around the city, bumping into old friends and acquaintances, before returning to his own pub only to discover… Well, have you read John Cheevers’ story ‘The Swimmer’? Or seen Frank Perry’s 1968 film version with Burt Lancaster?

He crossed Strand in a lull in the traffic and did a little skip up onto the pavement on the other side. He was, despite his age, still sprightly. Anyone looking would have seen a dapper, handsome man with grey in his hair but joy in his step. His jaunty lope radiated optimism. His wife used to say it was his optimism that kept him youthful… He turned into Adelaide Street and the Harp came into view, its large front window open to the street where a few customers leant on the brass counter. Oh my, what a sight. Here, perhaps, was another reason he hadn’t asked the young woman to accompany him. He loved to savour this moment, this pub. Somehow it wasn’t the place for small talk. Not at first anyway, not until you had drunk in the people and the surroundings, not to mention the ale. Back in the day, he’d often arrive twenty minutes early to meet friends, just so he could have a little time alone in lamp-lit pub glory.

Finally, another little capper on that ‘cask is dead’ story, from a pub we really must visit:

For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday. And sign up for our Patreon for extra footnotes on this post, including an explanation of the title and cover image, plus bonus links.