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News, nuggets and longreads 24 October 2020: Existential crisis

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from despair to… well, more despair, mainly.

With some pubs trading as per the new normal, others facing restrictions and many forced to close altogether, there’s palpable sense of despair and frustration in the industry. The rules aren’t clear, they don’t always seem to make sense (substantial food offerings) and even the new government support on offer doesn’t seem to provide much hope.

Veteran pub manager Mars Pascale, currently based in Manchester, provides a raw, emotional readout of how it feels trying to make a living selling beer in this climate:

And what the bar staff are thinking? I think they’re probably thinking why did I have to come on my own and occupy a whole table just for myself, and I think to tell them don’t worry, I drink a lot, but then again, I’m a slow drinker, I’m good on the long run, I can’t stay here for hours anymore… And isn’t it what I think when working the bar myself? Is he/she going to spend money for two at least, are the takings today going to justify me being here, my pay, my work, my job…? And everything feels so mechanical, take the order, deliver to the table, try not to stop in between, go to the door, do your track and trace, hand over a menu, show them the table, take the order, deliver to the table…

On a similar note, Mark Johnson, whose partner runs a pub, provides a snapshot of how people are feeling and the boiling resentment behind the entire conversation:

I look at my mate who works in a bar, smiling through a final night of socialising in the pub. Pubs mean everything to them. They love their job but there might not be one to come back to. “I have £27 in my bank,” they reveal to me later on, through a forced smile… Those that have raised the issues of mental health detriment this year by restrictions haven’t considered the impact on the workers in this industry.

Finally, the Pub Curmudgeon offers a clear summary of the problem of forcing pubs to trade under new rules and regulations:

If people have a compelling reason to go to the pub, then they may still be willing to jump through the hoops, although of course now across large swathes of the country you can’t even meet up with anyone outside your own household. But that swift pint on spec – forget it… It’s all very well saying that people should support pubs, but if the experience has been turned from something pleasurable to a grim rigmarole it becomes increasingly hard to see the attraction. And most ordinary people go to pubs because they enjoy it, not out of a sense of duty.

We’ll say it again: people mixing indoors and sharing air is a problem; pubs are one place where that happens, like it or not; and all the sanitiser in the world won’t change that. The Government needs to step up and make it feasible for pubs to close without closing for good, or throwing their staff under the bus.


A cat outside the craft pint.

SOURCE: Suzy Aldridge.

We were delighted to see a new post from Suzy Aldridge, even if it is a sad one. She is pissed off that BrewDog has chosen this moment to expand its “industrial McCraft” bar operation into her home city of Lincoln:

It’s not you, Brewdog, it’s me. Entirely irrationally this feels like a very personal punch in the gut… The Crafty Bottle, the independent bottle shop on The Strait that I put my heart and soul into for the past four years was, amongst a multitude of small businesses in Lincoln, a victim of the pandemic. I weeped at the prospect of not returning there after lockdown even though The Strait and the beer industry were not going to be the same places I left. I’m outside of the beer industry now, literally walking past Small Beer on my way to work staring over like a small child at the window of a sweet shop.


Rothaus Pils

Somehow, even with all this going on, Tandleman has managed to get out and visit a place we’ve been curious about – the German Gymnasium at King’s Cross in London:

It is a fine imposing building with a large bar and tables downstairs and a galleried restaurant above. Surprisingly the choice of German beers is a bit limited, but with most of them coming from Rothaus, I wasn’t complaining. Pricey enough – but hey, I don’t eat out that often – certainly well below what E aspires to – so bugger the expense and well worth the cost for both food and drink.

We also agree with his judgement re: Camden Hells – it is a reliably decent lager.


A desert highway.

SOURCE: Losu Lopez at Unsplash.com

For the North American Guild of Beer Writers’ Reporter’s Notebook Beth Demmon writes about Mexico-US craft beer collaborations during a time when trade and borders are both restricted:

The Mexican state of Baja California is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the entire country’s cerveza artesenal, serving as home to multiple burgeoning homebrew clubs and cross-border initiatives such as Dos Californias Brewsters, a women’s beer group supported by the United States Consulate in Tijuana… Control over this typically fluid segment of the border tightened when COVID-19 hit North America in the spring of 2020, leading the governments of both countries to quash non-essential travel in late March, followed by the closure of so-called non-essential businesses like craft breweries.


Keg taps.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has begun the post-mortem already: what does the pandemic mean for beer culture in the long-run? He makes astute observations, asks good questions and draws a few tentative conclusions, too:

For the better part of a decade, breweries thrived on variety. It’s a safe bet that the median number of beers made by American breweries numbered a few dozen. What happens, however, when the channels to sell that variety collapse? … [Many] breweries have had to focus as their draft options dwindle. They no longer have taprooms with dozens of handles, and trying to package such a wide range for delivery or curbside sales doesn’t make sense.


Finally, from Twitter, an important reminder:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

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News

News, nuggets and longreads 17 October 2020: memory, colonialism, beer styles

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting in the past seven days, from Egypt to European beer styles.

We usually put some news at the top here but, frankly, the news around beer and pubs has been variations on the same few themes for weeks now. Further restrictions on opening are either here or imminent, depending on where you live, and everyone is struggling. Even so, we reckon the industry is making a mistake by lobbying against lockdown – it’ll just damage trust. Ah, well. Let’s have some distractions.


Breakfast now being served.

Jordan St. John has written about a confusion of sense and memory that we haven’t experienced and don’t quite understand, which makes it all the more fascinating:

Since about April, I’ve been getting periodic involuntary flashes of autobiographical memory; awfully specific granular moments of sensory memory brought on by some random set of variables in my environment. It’s the kind of thing Proust wrote about, essentially a limited kind of Hyperthymesia, which in my case seems to be focused specifically around moments with food and drink… I’ve had a pint of Otley 01 (no longer exists) at The Rake in Borough Market with black pudding and mustard flavoured crisps. I’ve had a pint of Fuller’s Steam Effort (a 2018 one off with Redemption) at The Harp Covent Garden triggered by the consideration of whether to put Anchor Steam in the online version of the George Brown course. I’ve had a mixed grill at the Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich, and had to consult with my dining companion from February of 2008 on which kind of mustard he thought might have been on the table (we think Keen’s).


A nose.

SOURCE: Alexander Krivitskiy at Unsplash.

Sticking with sensory perception, Stan Hieronymus provides his “biannual reminder” that less is more when it comes to the perception of hop character in beer:

Researchers at Kyushu University found that the olfactory sensory neurons can exhibit suppression or enhancement of response when odors are mixed, meaning that perception is not the simple sum of the odors… “It has been previously considered that each odor ‘activates’ a specific set of receptors, and that the response of neurons in the nose to odor mixtures is a simple sum of the responses to each component, but now we have evidence in mice that this is not the case,” said Shigenori Inagaki, the lead author of a paper published in Cell Reports.


A bar window in Egypt.

SOURCE: Omar Foda/Photorientalism.

For Good Beer HuntingOmar Foda, a writer who is new to us, delves into beer and colonialism in Egypt in the 20th century:

Erik Carl Kettner had a dilemma. The Dutch employee – appointed by Heineken to head up the recently acquired Pyramid Brewery in Cairo – wanted to teach his charges about the Ten Commandments of Management. It was necessary to convey the importance of efficiency, organization, and training; to prioritize communications, supervision, and discipline… So he held a competition among the department heads to see who could reproduce them best. After collecting the answers, he announced the winners to the whole company: the ‘Awad brothers, who were in charge of the brewery’s cellars… This contest was well-meaning, but, in general, the moves Kettner and Heineken would make in response to the ground shifting underneath them would only inflame relationships within the company. The working environment would quickly turn toxic.

The photo above comes from another piece by Foda on Stella beer which is also worth reading.


Pasteurising process at Watney's c.1965.

Gary Gillman shines a light on brewing scientist John Lester Shimwell and his views on pasteurisation, published in 1937:

“No one, surely, would contend that pasteurised, carbonated beer is better than unpasteurised, naturally-conditioned beer, and it is therefore perhaps not untrue to say that the quality of beer, as at present retailed, is just as good as bacteria and yeast will allow it to be, since pasteurisation is enforced at the dictation of yeasts and bacteria.”


Price list in a pub.

Did you know renowned beer writer Tim Webb had produced a comprehensive guide to European beer styles, available online via the European Beer Consumers’ Union? No, neither did we until @thebeernut pointed it out to us. It’s a work in progress, we gather, and will no doubt keep the pedantic busy for a few hours.


A nugget from Ron Pattinson: notes from 1943, on a strong ale from Essex, that give us a glimpse into what vat-ageing brought to the party: “a pine-apple flavour developed and the beer was ready for consumption at the end of two years”.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading with additional notes check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

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Blogging and writing

News, nuggets and longreads 10 October 2020: architecture, yeast culture, the nature of time

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that’s caught our attention in the past week, from looming Lockdown 2 to the philosophy of yeast.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the same grim news cycle, fretting over restrictions on pub opening hours and the possibility of their total closure for another stretch, as the UK Government struggles to keep COVID-19 under control. If the capricious paywall will let you read it, this summary of the debate from Chris Giles and Alice Hancock at the Financial Times is helpful:

Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said that in the UK, the “concrete evidence was a little bit thin”, but that was more because everyone was understandably “panicking in a pandemic” rather than setting up studies that would provide proof… “Trying to tease out evidence from noise is not an exact science,” he said, “but based on pragmatic thinking and given what we know about superspreading events . . . pubs and restaurants are where some outbreaks are seeded”.

With tighter restrictions due to be rolled out on Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already announced yet another package of support for business, this time focused on those legally obliged to close, or to switch to a takeaway collection or delivery model.

It includes payment of a proportion of wages for furloughed staff and an increase in the size of cash grants available. So, somewhat helpful for pubs but, as others have pointed out, not much to use breweries or other industries reliant on pubs.

To echo points we made in our monthly newsletter a few weeks ago, we agree that it’s unfair to “blame pubs” – the Government needs to own this. At the same time, we do feel fairly sure that the biggest risk is people mixing indoors; pubs aren’t the only place that happens but, sorry, they’re simply not as important as schools; and closing or restricting pubs is justified based on the evidence we have. But that ought to come with the necessary support, both from Government and from drinkers who are able to buy takeaway.


Newcastle

We like this piece from Newcastle brewery Wylam on the closure of its taproom because it’s full of hard detail on the economics of running a brewing-hospitality business in 2020:

[Over] the past four weeks since the further tightening of restrictions… we have seen the following reduction in the year on year trade at our Tap Room:

 

Sept week 1 minus 36%

Sept week 2 minus 55% – Rule of 6 announced

Sept week 3 minus 79% – 10pm curfew announced

Sept week 4 minus 84% – Illegal to drink with anyone outside your household [in the North East of England]


Illustration: 'Yeast'.

At Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymus has, as always, been connecting dots and asking thought-provoking questions. This time, inspired by a piece by Clare Bullen, he’s got us reflecting on yeast culture or, rather, the culture around yeast:

Until 1980, a guard at the Carlsberg brewery gate in Copenhagen handed out small quantities from a “yeast tower” to locals who asked… “The old founder of Carlsberg knew that this sharing of yeast was a fundamental ‘law’ and security for any brewhouse. Imagine that your yeast went wrong and you did not have the possibility to get I from another brewery. In other words, there is a strong relationship between cultivating yeast, keeping the culture healthy and distributing the risk,” [Per] Kølster wrote.


Brussels architecture

Belgium’s beer is beautiful and distinctive. Its architecture is… not universally admired, shall we say. At Belgian Smaak, Breandán Kearney explores the “shared strangeness” of these two worlds:

Taste in design is subjective, of course, but it seems what people see as ugly in Belgium is its violently extreme patchwork of architecture, a kind of chaotic diversity that is challenging for the human mind to process and which it happens is not unlike the idiosyncratic nature of its beers… In fact, some of the words used by visitors to Belgium to describe its architecture—quirky, characterful, complex, and intense—are the exact same words used by many beer enthusiasts to describe the country’s beer.


A pub clock.

For Good Beer Hunting Evan Rail wonders what will happen when we run out of historic beer styles to revive, and whether the concept of history even makes sense:

If we keep resuscitating these previously extinct historic beer styles, we will run out of them—unless, of course, some contemporary beer styles also disappear along the way. It’s not hard to foresee the extinction of Amber Ale, Brown Ale or even Black IPA. Some of us can even imagine the complete and total disappearance of Milkshake IPAs… Some of us think about the extirpation of Milkshake IPAs a lot.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this reminder that all sorts of stuff goes on in pubs:

For more good reading, with commentary, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up of beer news notes.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 3 October 2020: Beer Orders, Bridgnorth, black market sahti

Here’s all the best reading about beer and pubs from the past, including pieces on racial equity and robot waiters.

First, a bit of what looks suspiciously like good news: people are still opening interesting pubs and bars.

The bit of Bristol where we live (for the moment…) has just got its first proper, full-on craft beer bar. Sidney & Eden is a spin-off from local specialist beer shop Bottles & Books and opened a few weeks ago. Every time we’ve walked past, it’s been as close to rammed as current circumstances permit.

There’s also Katie and Tom Mather’s project in Clitheroe, this new micropub and several others that have passed through our timeline.


A knackered old pub sign.

For VittlesPaul Crowther provides a neat summary of what went wrong with the 1989 anti-monopoly Beer Orders, focusing on how it all but destroyed three beloved regional beers:

You might think the disconnection of Newcastle Brown, Boddingtons and Bass from their birthplaces was a justified casualty in the breaking up of the Big Six because it would surely lead to smaller, local breweries taking their place, de-monopolising the market? Well, that’s not what happened; in fact, the opposite happened… Allied Breweries merged with the Danish company Carlsberg, the fourth largest brewer in the world responsible for 6% of all beer sold worldwide. Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form drinks giant Diageo, which now focuses on its spirit brands and is the world’s second largest distiller.


A sahti brewer.

An award-winning sahti brewer. SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

Farmhouse brewing expert Lars Marius Garshol went to a sahti brewing competition in Finland and, once everyone had got a bit more talkative after a few brews, gathered some interesting intelligence:

Several people claimed that out in the countryside some of the sahti brewers sell their beer illegally, and that this trade is of considerable proportions. Some of the illegal brewers sell as much as 50,000 litres a year, they claimed. Even though it’s illegal the locals tend to quietly accept it, and usually there is a code of honour involved. No selling to under-age drinkers, for example.


Robot.

SOURCE: @hauntedeyes at Unsplash.

For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Katie Mather reflects on what we can learn from the suggestion that robot waiters should have been deployed during lockdown:

What a great idea, if all you credit serving staff with is the physical act of bringing your food and drinks to the table without major incident… Do bar staff enjoy their work? I can’t speak for everyone, but I do. But can it also be the worst? Absolutely. And does it pay well? Hahahaha.

Further reading: a bit we wrote a few years ago on the persistent fantasy of the robot bartender.


Illustration: "Odd One Out".

For PellicleDavid Jesudason provides a summary of what is actually being done – first steps – towards achieving making the beer industry more inclusive, speaking to a slew of influential figures:

Prof. Sir Geoff Palmer — Professor emeritus in the school of life sciences at Heriot-Watt University and human rights activist: A black person is sometimes not even aware of the options. I wasn’t. I got my A-levels and I took a degree—I took botany because I thought it was easy! The most dangerous place for racism is in the interview room. Somebody could look at that [Edward Colston] statue and say they defaced my statue, I’m not going to have them in my place. That’s how racism works, it’s as simple as that. The fact is all the prejudices of the person who is interviewing will influence that decision.


Holden's Brewery.

Tandleman provides an honest account of the fretting and excitement that surrounds every pub trip these days, especially if there’s any travel involved:

I was the only one that had been to Bridgnorth before, but my tales of Black Country beer, cheese and onion cobs the size of a baby’s head and pork pies convinced them that this fine market town in Shropshire was the place to be. To sweeten the deal we stayed at the Golden Lion, run by Holden’s Brewery, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing actually. This is a tale of more or less unfettered joy. Of ale supped and food scoffed.


Finally, from Twitter, an extremely tickling image:

You’ll find more good reading with commentary in Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 26 September 2020: curfews, critical theory, conservatism

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from curfews to critical theory.

First, the big news in the UK has been the rather sudden introduction of a 10 pm closing time for pubs, as part of a tightening of restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. There must be a belief that this will help but the scientists say it wasn’t their idea.

From where we’re sitting, it seems as if it’s not enough to make a difference and, at the same time, perhaps too much for pubs to bear.

And it might have been good to see the Chancellor announce additional support for pubs in his not-a-Budget speech on Thursday; as it is, an extension of the VAT cut, which doesn’t apply to booze, was about it.

Unfortunately, the latest data (PDF) does seem to indicate that eating out is a problem:

Since 10 August, people who test positive are also asked about places they have been and activities they have done in the days before becoming unwell; eating out was the most commonly reported activity in the 2-7 days prior to symptom onset.

Still, at least the contact tracing app that was due in May has finally arrived. It seems pretty slick, the privacy setup is sound and when we used it to check into The Drapers Arms last night, it worked like a dream.


A brain.

For Good Beer Hunting Lily Waite has generated a lot of excitement with a piece applying critical theory to beer. Now, frankly, we struggled to follow some of the arguments, but the sense of bewilderment was enjoyable in its own right. And it was certainly fun watching Beer Twitter enthuse about something, rather than grumbling. Anyway, here’s a taster:

Broadly, postmodernism is characterized by skepticism toward reason. It’s seen as a reaction to the thoughts and values of modernism, which was a late-19th-century and early-20th-century philosophical, intellectual, and artistic movement… Postmodernism manifests differently in different fields, but broadly, it’s a school of thought that wields irony, distrust, and even anarchy against the authoritative “truths” of modernism… And that’s where Lucky Charms IPA comes in.


Clubbing.

Source: Pim Myten at Unsplash.

Proof that Lily’s piece is thought-provoking can be found in the fact that it provoked thoughts from Dave S at Brewing in a Bedsitter. He wonders if the Sarah Thornton’s concept of subcultural capital might apply to beer as well as clubbing:

This is inspired by the idea of cultural capital, which the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu introduced in the 70s to describe the accumulation of knowledge, cultural artifacts, behaviour and social contacts that can help “the right sort of chaps” to smooth their way through life, particularly in the public and professional spheres, even without needing to be particularly rich in cash. Thornton’s subcultural relocation of the idea refers to tangible and intangible stuff that makes a clubber “hip” – the clothes, the dance moves, the hairstyle, the collection of white-label vinyl, and the stock of stories about legendary clubs and raves they’ve been to and scene insiders that they’ve hung out with.


Ruvani.

Source: Ruvani/Fuggled.

Veteran beer blogger Al Reece has decided to invite guest posts from beer writers whose voices need raising up. First up it’s Ruvani on her experience as a second-generation South Asian immigrant discovering the British beer scene in the 2000s:

Back in 2005 I liked beer, but was honestly a bit more of a wine gal. Walking into Earl’s Court that day, something began to change. That huge cavernous space, not a pretty events arena by anybody’s estimation, but so alive and buzzing with the hubbub of beer nerds poised over their programmes, clamouring at each of the endless progression of bars, full of questions, specifications, speaking – or so it felt – their own language. I was fascinated. I wanted to be on the inside, to learn how to navigate this enormous room full of more beer, more types of beer, more breweries than I could ever have imagined could exist in the geographical confines of Great Britain.


US magazine Craft Beer & Brewing magazine has polled its readers to find out how their buying habits have changed during the pandemic. It turns out they’ve become more conservative in their tastes.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this sign of the times:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.