News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 December 2018: Stats, Social Clubs, Suburban Pubs

Here are all the blog posts, articles and news stories around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Norway, Maine, to Canley.

First, something with a bit of weight behind it: UK government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a report on the health of the pub market. The overall conclusion it reaches is that, yes, lots of pubs have closed in the past 20 years, but “the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remaining flat since 2008, once inflation is taken into account”.

There’s also an interactive tool which will give you a readout for your town or city, e.g.

ONS chart on Bristol pubs -- down from 375 to 285 since 2001.

The report suggests increasing employment in the pub trade might be down to the growth in food service, and a trend towards bigger rather than smaller pubs. (But we wonder if the introduction of RTI in 2013 might also be an influence, effectively ending  informal (unreported) employment in most sectors.)


Children's party at a social club.

Historian of clubs Ruth Cherrington has written about her memories of playing bingo with her parents at the Canley Social Club and Institute in Coventry, and what it all meant:

Our local club was conveniently situated just across the street from our house on a postwar council estate. Mum told us that Dad was thrilled to bits when plans for the clubs were drawn up in the late 1940s. Having a local place to drink and play games like billiards and cribbage over a pint or two meant he would no longer have to trek to his old haunts on the other side of town. Like many local men on the estate, he threw himself into setting up the new club on the land allocated by the Corporation specifically for that purpose. The club opened in a wooden hut in 1948 and affiliated to the Club and Institute Union in 1950.

(PDF, unfortunately.)


Norway, Maine, brewpub.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has taken a moment to breathe and reflect on how ordinary it has become to find decent and interesting beer in unlikely places:

Human experience requires constant recalibration, and mine occurred about halfway through my dry-hopped pilsner, Impersonator. I was focused on the overly American hop character and lack of assertive malt flavor when it hit me: I am in a brewpub in Norway, Maine. My critical apparatus had been set to “world standards.” I quickly recalibrated to “18-month-old brewpub in rural Maine,” and all of a sudden it was looking mighty impressive. There were no flaws in that or any beers we tried, and part of my complaint was, admittedly, preference (I don’t want to taste IPA in my pilsner).


Debit card illustration.

We wrote about cashless/cardless pubs and bars earlier this week, and it’s a topic generally in the air. David Holden at Yes! Ale reports the reality on the ground where consumers are expected to carry both cash and cards if they expect to visit more than one venue in the course of an evening:

Yes, I had to go back out in the wind and rain but at least I am in a position to get cash out at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t have to go into an open branch to get cash. In Koelschip Yard I was in the position to open my wallet and draw a card out to make a payment. There are many reasons why not everyone can do this. These reasons may be why one potential customer has to “give this one a miss” or ask their mate “Do you mind getting the round in here?”.


Hofmeister lager.

And here’s another reality check, from Paul ‘no relation’ Bailey: beers that you can’t actually buy, even if you really, really want to, might as well not exist. His experience was with the award-winning revived version of Hofmeister.


Vintage illustration: McSorleys

We were surprised to come across someone this week who didn’t know Joseph Mitchell’s brilliant 1940 essay on New York City tavern McSorley’s, AKA ‘The Old House at Home’. So now, in what might be a one-off, or could become a regular feature, welcome to Classics Corner:

It is equipped with electricity, but the bar is stubbornly illuminated with a pair of gas lamps, which flicker fitfully and throw shadows on the low, cobwebby ceiling each time someone opens the street door. There is no cash register. Coins are dropped in soup bowls—one for nickels, one for dimes, one for quarters, and one for halves—and bills are kept in a rosewood cashbox. It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years.


And how can we not finish with Hilary Mantel doing her version of 20th Century Pub?

Want more reading? See Alan.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 November 2018: Jopengasse, Bermondsey, Cold Comfort

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from conclusions on cask beer to booze in cold climates.

First, an astonishing revelation – researchers have discovered that living in a cold, dark climates makes you want to drink more:

Senior author Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre, said: “This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”


The old city of Gdansk.

We’re not generally that interested in Wot I Dun on my Holiday blog posts but knowing that Barm, AKA @robsterowski, is a serious scholar of European beer, and being long-time Polonophiles ourselves, we were excited to read his account of a visit to Gdańsk. He did not disappoint:

This is Ulica Piwna in Gdansk. In the past when the town was predominantly German, the street was called Jopengasse. Both names redolent with beery history, for Jopengasse is named after the legendary Danziger Jopenbier (or perhaps the beer is named after the street), whereas Piwna literally means Beer Street… Danzig in the 19th century also had a Mälzergasse, maltsters’ street. The street then called Hinter Adlers Brauhaus, “Behind Adler’s Brewery” is now called Browarna, brewery street and the one-time Hopfengasse is now Chmielna, both meaning Hop Lane.


We thought it was odd when Moor and Cloudwater opened bars on the Bermondsey Beer Mile but it’s now got even weirder with the announcement of plans by New Zealand brewery Panhead to launch a spearhead there too. The full story is at Australian industry news site BrewsNews in a story by Matt Curtis:

Lion-owned Panhead Custom Ales is set to open a taproom in the UK before the end of 2019… This new retail site will be headed-up by Fourpure, itself acquired by Lion in July 2018. The project will be led by Fourpure Marketing Manager and former 4 Pines marketing head Adrian Lugg, according to its co-founder Dan Lowe.

There’s further commentary, insightful as ever, from Will Hawkes at Imbibe:

Little Creatures, founded in 2000 in Western Australia and now owned by Kirin, is preparing to open in King’s Cross, and Panhead, a Kiwi brand also owned by Kirin, is set for Bermondsey. There are also persistent rumours that Sierra Nevada, which is independently-owned but still huge, has similar plans. Brewdog, Britain’s only representative in the big-craft league, opened a brewpub in Tower Bridge earlier this year… The value of brewpubs to big brands is simple: provenance is important to craft-beer drinkers, so it pays to muddy the water.


Source: Kirsty Walker.

At Lady Sinks the Booze Kirsty Walker is on a mission: to go drinking in the towns where the former members of defunct pop group One Direction were born. Obviously. She has started with Bradford, hometown of Zayn Malik, where she had a perfect pint of Timothy Taylor Boltmaker in “Car Wash and Tyre Centre Land” and got chatted up by a bloke who gladly drank a foul pint of Sam Smith’s she’d abandoned:

The pint I had just returned wasn’t just on it’s way out, it was downright rancid, and yet this specimen gulped it down like it was that pint of Boltmaker I pined for. I drank the Sovereign. It was fine, it was good in fact. How someone could taste both this and the pint of swamp water I had just consumed and say they were both the same was beyond me.


Pint glasses in a pub.

We’ve featured both previous pars of Pete Brown’s reflections on the health of the cask ale market and can’t omit his concluding post which is full of fascinating details:

On my questionnaire, before we got onto the business side of things, I asked respondents how they felt about cask themselves. Now – I split the data by size of pub, by whether it was freehold, leased, tenanted or managed, whether or not it had Cask Marque accreditation, and there was little variation in the data. The one difference that was significant was when I compared publicans who said they personally adored cask and drank it themselves to everyone else. These were the guys for whom cask ale was making money, who put in the extra time, who trained their staff properly.


The lingering existence of Young & Co is fascinating: the brands are now owned by Marston’s and brewed… in Bedford, maybe? But the heart and soul of the brewery remains in Wandsworth, south London, even if the site of the old place is in the process of becoming a residential and retail ‘quarter’. For the Brewers Journal Tim Sheahan has interviewed the keeper of the flame, John Hatch:

John is the head brewer at Wandsworth’s Ram Brewery. He’s also the assistant brewer, head cleaner, packaging operative and everything in-between… You see, the Ram Brewery is no normal brewery. Instead, it’s a truly unique operation housed on the grounds of the old Young’s brewery. A passion project that came into being upon the news that Young’s was to shutter it’s London brewing business back in 2006, Hatch has ensured that although the brewery would be leaving the site, brewing wouldn’t.


Old drawing of a brewery.
Dreher’s brewery. SOURCE: The Penny Illustrated Paper, 28 May 1870, via The British Newspaper Archive.

Andreas Krenmair has made yet another breakthrough in his attempts to pin down the specifications of historic Vienna beer. This time, it’s the colour:

Back in 2015, when I started looking more closely into the historic specifications of Vienna Lager, one question where I started speculating and couldn’t really get a good answer was the question of colour. I based this off historic records that I had found in one of Ron Pattinson’s books, Decoction!. The provided value of 6.3 (no units) seemed reasonably close to be SRM, but as Ron commented below my posting, the beer colour is not in SRM, and that he’s not sure what exactly it is… Well, today I can proudly proclaim that I have finally discovered not only what the 6.3 means but also how the value relates the modern beer colour units like SRM or EBC.


We don’t normally do this but we’re going to finish with one of our own Tweets — a short thread, in fact, and the kind of thing we might normally put on the blog, but wanted to experiment with.

Want more? Alan posts a splendidly splenetic links round-up every Thursday.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17/11/2018: Cloudwater, Collaboration, Klein-Schwechat

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from yeast family trees to the curse of good press.

First, though, let’s have a bit of good news: John Prybus, the character behind the cult status of The Blue Bell in York, will continue to run the pub after a vigorous local campaign to prevent the pub company that owns it booting him out in favour of a manager.


Cloudwater cask beers on a bar in Manchester.

Cloudwater abandoned cask-conditioned beer, but have now come back round to the idea. While some have bridled at the hype surrounding this event (controlled launch of cask beers into selected pubs, lots of social media buzz) it’s prompted some thoughtful debate. For example, there’s this cautious welcome from Tandleman, who avoids the knee-jerk anti-craft response:

Cloudwater has been seeking out pubs where their cask credentials are such that they will look after the beer properly, going as far as having a little interactive online map where you can seek out those who know how to coax the best out of beer from the wickets. Additionally, a vetting process, which while hardly the Spanish Inquisition, at least gets enough information about prospective sellers of the amber nectar to judge whether they’ll turn it into flat vinegar or not. Good idea. Quality at point of sale is paramount and Cloudwater are to be praised for making such efforts as they have in the name of a quality pint.


Handshake illustration.

At Pursuit of Abbeyness Martin Steward has been thinking about collaboration brews. While acknowledging the downsides, he avoids cliched cynicism and reflects pleasingly deeply on how this relatively new commercial practice fits into the evolution of our beer culture:

Craft beer distribution today has little to do with tied public houses, or even national bar chains. The off-licence trade revolves around independent bottle shops that stock mainly local products, and the global mail order services facilitated by the internet and advances in canning and logistics technologies. The on-licence trade consists of specialist craft-beer bars and brewery tap rooms which, like the bottle shops that are sometimes also on-licence tap rooms, have a distinctly local bias… Collaborations enable brewers to expose their brands through those fragmented modern distribution networks, and an Instagram story of a collaborative brew day instantly reaches the followers of each collaborators’ brands, wherever they are around the world.


One of our favourite writer-researchers, Andreas Krenmair, continues his obsessives probing into the history of Vienna beer with the unearthing of a water profile for the brewery well at Klein-Schwechat:

By pure accident, I stumbled upon an analysis of the brewing water (well water) of the brewery in Klein-Schwechat, in the book “The Theory and Practice of the Preparation of Malt and the Fabrication of Beer, with Especial Reference to the Vienna Process of Brewing” by Julius E. Thausing. It’s actually the English translation of a German book. One problem with the analysis is that it doesn’t specify any units for most of the numbers. It does specify the amount of residue after the water has been evaporated (in grams), but that was it… So by itself, the analysis is unfortunately not really helpful. If anybody knows how to interpret the numbers, I’m grateful for any help with it.

The open, collaborative groping towards the truth continues.


Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

More deep level research, this time into yeast strains: Kristofer Krogerus and qq who comments here from time to time continue to collaborate on unpicking the ever-increasing pile of genetic information on brewing yeast:

Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire – Was fully expecting this to be a Beer2 strain! 1469 is meant to come from Timothy Taylor, who got their yeast from Oldham, who got their yeast from John Smith’s. The John Smith yeast also went to Harvey’s (the source of VTT-A81062, a Beer2 strain). So it’s a bit of a surprise that 1469 is in the heart of the UK Beer1 strains, closest to WLP022 Essex (‘Ridleys’). So either the traditional stories aren’t true, there’s been contamination/mixups, or we’re looking at John Smith being some kind of multistrain with both Beer 1’s and Beer 2’s in it.


Pete Brown's chart of cask + craft sales.

Pete Brown has shared more of the background research that informed this year’s Cask Report, observing that the cask ale and craft beer segments of the market, if viewed together as ‘flavourful’ or ‘interesting’ beer, tell an interesting story:

Drinkers who say they understand what craft beer is and claim to drink it were asked to name a craft beer brand. A majority of them – 55% – named a beer the researchers felt was a ‘traditional ale’. Tellingly, the [Marston’s On-Trade Beer Report’s] authors say that 45% ‘correctly’ named a brand they deem to be craft – implying that those who named a traditional brand were incorrect in doing so… Perhaps you agree. Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Blimey, over half of people who think they’re drinking craft beer don’t even know what it is.’ Maybe to you this is a sign of how bigger brewers have co-opted the term ‘craft’ and made it meaningless. Maybe you just think these people aren’t as knowledgeable about beer as you are. Or maybe – just maybe – they’re right and you’re wrong.


Black Sheep bottle cap.

Another possibly related nugget via @LeedsBeerWolf: one of the financial backers of Yorkshire brewery Black Sheep is attempting to mount a coup against the founding family because they are“failing to capitalise on an exploding demand for craft beer”, as reported by Mark Casci at the Harrogate Advertiser. (Warning: the site is rendered barely readable by aggressive ads.)


Closed sign on shop.

This week’s not-beer longread (via @StanHieronymus) is food writer Kevin Alexander’s piece for Thrillist about how he killed a restaurant by declaring it The Best in the US national media:

Five months later, in a story in The Oregonian, restaurant critic Michael Russell detailed how Stanich’s had been forced to shut down. In the article, Steve Stanich called my burger award a curse, “the worst thing that’s ever happened to us.” He told a story about the country music singer Tim McGraw showing up one day, and not being able to serve him because there was a five hour wait for a burger. On January 2, 2018, Stanich shut down the restaurant for what he called a “two week deep cleaning.” Ten months later, Stanich’s is still closed. Now when I look at the Stanich’s mug in my office, I no longer feel light and happy. I feel like I’ve done a bad thing.

A grim tale worth bearing in mind next time you see, or get asked to contribute to, a listicle about pubs.



If you want more links, check out Alan’s Thursday round-up at A Good Beer Blog.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 November 2018: Pricing Policy, Peterloo, Park Hill

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs from the past seven days that’s grabbed our attention, from 19th century politics to Taylor Swift.

On his wide-ranging blog, a kind of personal notebook, trade union activist and historian Keith Flett highlights a connection between 19th century political radicalism and brewing:

Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773-1835) was one of the best-known English radical leaders of the first half of the nineteenth century, active before the Chartist movement… [John] Belchem argues that a crisis in stewardship of the Bristol brewery he owned led Hunt to move from his Wiltshire farm to Bristol to assume direct control. It was in Bristol that he found an audience for his radical politics and began on the career that led him to Peterloo on 16th August 1819.


Cash Money Pound Signs.

There was a minor kerfuffle around Cloudwater’s decision to make its upcoming beer festival a £60-a-ticket all-in affair with accusations of hypocrisy and elitism being levelled. (Mostly, it seemed to us, expressions personal entitlement masquerading as concern for the supposedly excluded.) Mark Johnson has put together a thoughtful reflection on the topic, comparing the beer festival to a Taylor Swift concert:

Taylor Swift didn’t put on a concert that catered to fans of Motorhead or Five Finger Death Punch or Mobb Deep. It didn’t exist to make every single person in attendance happy. That seems okay. It was for those that wanted to be there. Things can exist that aren’t suitable for all. Just don’t pretend or argue that they are.


Kegs and casks behind the Free Trade Inn, Newcastle.

Having worked in and around the beer and pub industry for years Rowan Molyneux’s thoughts on cask ale and where it sits in the scene, in the form of ‘love letter’, are well worth reading:

Eighteen keg lines, two taps dedicated to cocktails, and four cask on… It was a tough decision, but in the end a half of Origin on keg was exactly what I needed after the train journey; zingy, refreshing, and chilled. As my companion and I gazed up at the rest of the extensive beer range, sorely tempted by the BA Toffee Strannik… we spotted something we didn’t expect. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord… It was in perfect condition and tasted great… The happiness this brought me actually took me aback a little. Since when am I somebody who is excited about cask beer? And then I asked myself, wait – when did I stop being somebody who is excited about cask beer?


A man crouched over his brewing apparatus.
Dmitriy Zhezlov with his unusual brewing kit.

It’s been a while since we featured a mindbending expedition report from Lars Marius Garshol who, this time, calls in from 800km east of Moscow where Dmitriy Zhezlov brews farmhouse ale from undried rye malt:

Once the malts had been ground Dmitriy brought out the korchaga, a ceramic vessel that’s really the key to Dmitriy’s beer, since it is both the mash tun and the lauter tun. The korchaga is heated in the oven, and then the wort is lautered directly out of it through a small hole near the bottom, which is closed with a wooden plug. To make the mash filter Dmitriy soaked rye straw in water to soften it, and then covered the bottom with carefully cut lengths of straw. The straw has to go above the hole, and the higher layers need to be longer.


Park Hill.
One of our own photos of Park Hill.

Stephen Marland, AKA The Modern Moocher, has been researching the pubs of Park Hill, Sheffield – an architecturally significant housing development made newly famous by its recent appearance in Doctor Who:

I’m a virtual visitor to the four pubs that served the population of Park Hill Estate… I arrived late on the scene from not too distant Manchester, sadly much too late to stop and have a pint in The Parkway, Scottish Queen, Link or Earl George… Grade II* listed the building’s structure has prevailed, the original social structures, tenants and consequently their pubs have not.


Tennent's lager advertisement, 1978.
Tennent’s lager advertisement, 1978.

It’s interesting to read that Tandleman – not someone who dishes out praise easily – giving his caveated endorsement to Tennent’s Lager. It’s a reminder that true discernment is about more than parroting what everyone else says, and trusting your own tastebuds.


We and others have moaned about how little respect AB-InBev shows Bass, one of the best-known brands in the world; maybe they’ve listened, a bit?

A spokesperson said: “Bass is a pale ale pioneer and we can’t wait to reintroduce shoppers to this historic brand, whose name lives on as a hallmark of great-tasting beer. “The pale ale category has many good players, but Bass is the only one who can say that it has been on board the Titanic, flew on the Concorde and embarked with Shackleton to the ends of the earth.”

(We heard from an ABI insider a while ago who told us they had been beating this drum within the UK arm of the company so it’s not a total surprise.)


Finally, there’s this:

More reading required? Check out Alan’s Thursday round-up.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 27 October 2018: Brixton, Babies, Beer Festivals

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week, from financial stories about big beer to blog posts about Dorchester.

Canadian beer writer Jordan St. John came to the UK in August and in typically reflective style, elegantly expressed as ever, has shared some outsider observations:

The next day at the Great British Beer Festival, more change is evident. For one thing, the crowd is significantly younger than when I was there in 2013. It’s a Tuesday and most of  London’s brewery staff has the day off and is in attendance. I run into people from Moor and Windsor & Eton, but really I’m there to talk to the people from Fourpure. They have just recently launched their Juicebox IPA in Ontario, but sadly the beer didn’t clear customs in time for the launch. Even more recently than that, they’ve announced the sale of the brewery to the Kirin owned Lion PTY Ltd. Check it out: Purchased by the Australian subsidiary of a Japanese Brewery to be a cat’s paw in England to compete with Meantime, which is owned by Asahi, another Japanese Brewery.


Bill Coors.

Beer industry magnate Bill Coors has died at the age of 102. Rejecting the reverential tendency Jeff Alworth has written a clear-eyed reflection on Coors’ life and legacy:

Wealth and success have always been enough to launder bad behavior into institutional respect and honor, but we shouldn’t let these statements become canonical. In the decades of his chairmanship, the idea that he had a “commitment to bettering lives around him” would have been greeted with sour laughter by many. Bill Coors had a dark side, and it is at least as important to note as his tenure as chairman.


A baby.

Perhaps picking up on a theme established by Becky last week, Rachael Smith explains how important The Pub has been to her in early motherhood:

Kerthudd! That’s the sound that a half-full infant’s beaker makes when it hits a hard tiled floor, thrown from the height of a highchair with all the gusto and might a fourteen month old can muster whilst sleepy and full of chips. Well, mostly full of chips, I’m sure half his portion were on the floor by the end of the session, minus the one half-eaten fry that was gifted to the staff member who took her time to get to his level and say hello… Whilst I was chatting with a friend, my child had been communicating in his own little way with another little kid on the table next to us. They had their own little language going on and were getting on like a house on fire. At the end of lunch a slip of paper was popped on to my table, as I looked down a lopped-off giraffe’s head looked straight back up at me (it was, I soon realised, the top of the children’s menu), next to it in crayon were names, a number, and the words; play-date?


Keg taps.

An interesting observation from Alec Latham: there is a constant three-way push and pull between supermarkets, craft beer bottle shops and pubs. He writes:

I was put in mind of this over the weekend when I went to visit a new bottle and tap room in Harpenden opened by Mad Squirrel Brewery (Hemel Hempsted)… I noticed how many chillers there were on the shop floor and enquired whether the cans and bottles could be consumed on site – a daft question – of course they could… But then he also mentioned something I’d noted myself subconsciously, but without joining up all the dots: takeaway sales of cans from beer shop shelves are reaping diminishing returns, whereas sales of cans from the fridges to be cracked open in the shop are increasing.


Gary Gillman has been digging into the history of beer festivals  – what filled the gap between Oktoberfest and CAMRA’s 1975 Covent Garden Beer Exhibition? Part 1 | Part 2.


The Dorchester Brewery c.1889.
SOURCE: Alfred Barnard/Hathi Trust.

Meanwhile, Alan McLeod continues his research into the provincial beer styles of Britain with further information on the apparently once legendary Dorchester Ale:

A lady, who had been my fellow passenger, turned to me as we drove up the avenue, and said, “I suppose, of course, you mean to try the Dorchester ale, which is so celebrated.” “Is it very fine?” I asked.

“Dear me, have you never tasted Dorchester ale?” “No, madam, nor have I ever been in this town before.” She looked at me in some surprize, as my speech was not Irish nor Scotch. When I told her I came from the United States, she gazed upon me with the greatest curiosity…

(Read the comments, too.)


An interesting bit of financial newsAB InBev has cut its dividend after a tough year in some markets:

“We can’t remember a more disappointing set of figures from AB InBev,” said RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones, noting that most regions missed analysts’ estimates for volume growth.


And finally, faith in human nature, and so on and so forth: