Here’s everything that struck as especially interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from GMO yeast to dogs in taprooms.
Here’s everything that struck as especially interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from GMO yeast to dogs in taprooms.
First, a bit of news: Summer Wine, one of the middle wave of new British craft breweries (definition 2) has announced it is shutting down.
It is with great sadness that we announce Summer Wine Brewery Ltd including SWB Tap has ceased trading. We’d like to thank our loyal staff & customers. We’ve made great friends & great beers over the last 12yrs. Thank you for the memories, we’ll cherish them for a long time.
Based in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, it had a loyal following but, from our remote perspective, always seemed to be overshadowed by local competitor Magic Rock. There’s an end of an era feel to this announcement, as there was to the news of Hardknott’s shuttering in 2018.
I tell tourists, of the dog fountain in Berczy Park, that people are basically the dogs they choose to live with and to my left is a blonde man in a Roots cabin sweater who is ferrying beer back to his table. Under the table is a nine month old Golden Retriever puppy (named Roo) in a Toronto Vs. Everybody sweater. It’s good to know my hypothesis continues to bear up under scrutiny.
Here’s everything on beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting or entertaining in the past week, from Burton to Osaka.
The current fuss around Bass in certain corners of the beer world must seem baffling if you don’t get it. You might even have tried Bass and found it underwhelming – that can happen. Now, Ian Thurman, AKA The Wicking Man, is a passionate advocate for this historic brand and has declared 11 April National Bass Day 2020, which seems like a good opportunity for sceptics to give it one last chance:
First of all, have a pint or two of Draught Bass on Easter Saturday. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram etc. please let people know the pubs you’ll be in. Don’t wait until Easter Saturday, tell us now where you’ll be and use the hashtags #DraughtBass, #NationalBassDay, #NBD2020… If you’re a landlord why not promote the day and let folk know that you’ll have Draught Bass on the bar. I’ll be offering free downloadable posters. Please PM me with your contact details through Twitter @TheWickingMan . A number of pubs have already offered to be the lead in their area. If you’re interested in doing the same please let me know.
Smithwicks have never been very good at promoting their not-so-recent history, or at least not if it varies from the fake-lore and new-stalgia that’s created by their marketing department goblins, as they weave their wicked magic over the actual history of the brewery to create some quasi-real world where their red ale is the same as one that was produced a 300 hundred odd years ago in a (possibly mythical) brewery from that age. I’ve written before of my doubts regarding their self-promoted history and how even that has changed over the years, it’s as if they feel uncomfortable about anything that deviates from that arrow-straight history that springs from 1710 to the present, so I feel duty bound to write about a period not terribly long ago when yet another Smithwicks marketing department decided that the company needed a rebrand for the swinging sixties – and so was born their Time brand.
I wouldn’t for one moment decry desperate business owners for being miffed at a campaign that they perceive as seeking to undermine their footfall at a needy time of year. But I would like to know if it’s been proven that that’s where their ire should be directed. Blunt, hostile rejection of the ‘other’ camp is completely illogical and does more harm than any abstinence campaign ever could. If a pub does put out a tweet saying ‘Forget (or stronger) Dryanuary’ it makes it less likely that folks will come into their pub to partake of a soft drink or two, so they’re basically shooting themselves in the foot.
At Appellation Beer, Stan Hieronymus has been thinking about how we taste beer, the perception of flavour, off-flavours and whether any of that helps us have more fun:
There’s good reason for those in the beer business to learn to identify what are classified as off flavors, and it useful to some to understand what causes them… However, I’m not convinced that the “Best way to be a better drinker is drink bad beer and learn what has gone wrong with it.”… I think the best way to be a happy… drinker is to drink great beer and learn what makes it great. Learning to identify positive attributes expands the number of beers you might appreciate.
Blogging is dead, people sometimes say, but it’s so frustrating that great information is left lying in Twitter where hardly anybody can find it within ten minutes of transmission. On that note, here’s @BEERMINGHAM with a thread listing the best places to drink in Birmingham.
Derailleur employs about 70 people, many of whom have physical and intellectual disabilities. They are given on-the-job training and perform tasks ranging from brewing, labelling, sales and delivery, as well as serving food and drink at the brewery’s three pubs – two in Osaka and one in the central city of Nagoya… Mr Yamagami – known affectionately as Yama-chan – spent his youth drinking illicitly produced alcohol and getting into fights, but decided to apply for a job at the brewery after he lost his sight… “It’s fun to be able to work alongside my friends,” says Yama-chan, a 47-year-old former fishmonger. “Handling the bottles by touch alone is the sort of work I can do without any problem. I need help getting around, but apart from that I can do my job freely. I really enjoy it.”
And, finally, here’s a taste of Bristol street photographer Colin Moody’s latest project:
Down to the wire. Pub Series. Women’s darts league. Masonic play Jolly Colliers A Team North Street Over the next few months I’m looking for real pubs. Community hubs. Your local. pic.twitter.com/QhusgNSOW5
Here’s everything on the subject of beer that we picked up during the Christmas and New Year deadzone, from booze-free pubs to home-brewing.
First, there’s this story of BrewDog’s new non-alcoholic bar. Like almost every PR claim to be “the first ever”, the PR doesn’t hold up to scrutiny (here’s one example, here’s another, there are lots more) but it still seems significant to us: no- and low-alcohol beer really is having some sort of moment. Out in the real world, we’ve seen more of it being drunk, heard more people talking about it and, indeed, drunk a little bit more of it ourselves. This new surge seems to be driven by people who like beer rather than by people opposed to it on moral grounds, as has tended to be the case in the past.
In fact, changes in social attitudes have been doing a lot of the anti-drink lobby’s work for them. Over the past ten years, there has been a gentle but significant fall in per-capita alcohol consumption, probably more than they would have hoped for in 2009, but largely without help from public policy. As I’ve said in the past, the moderate consumption of alcohol in social situations has increasingly been stigmatised, and the range of occasions on which people will consider an alcoholic drink has shrunk. Just look at all those pubs that no longer open at lunchtimes, or are virtually deserted when they do, and observe amongst a party of diners in a pub how many of the adults have a soft drink.
I replaced my Saaz and Styrian Goldings with hops that I knew were in better shape in our markets. (It’s tempting to use region-appropriate ingredients, but if they’re not high-quality, skip them.) I simplified my water additions to a small dose of gypsum to punch the hops forward a bit. And the yeast … here, I got complicated… Over the years, from various sources, I’ve learned that Dupont has a few cultures living in the brew. Despite our desire for single manageable organisms, you can’t get there with just a single strain of yeast. (This is a good tip for a number of complex Belgian beers—mix strains!)
The only sadness visiting the two breweries is the dramatic decline of their Mild ales. Batham’s brews 8,000 barrels a year and only 2 per cent of that production is now Mild. Holden’s is slightly bigger, brewing 10,000 barrels a year, and Jonathan says he brews Mild only once every three weeks… Tim Batham says bluntly: “Mild is dying because the people who drink it are dying. But we’ll continue with it as long as people drink it.” Jonathan Holden offers a tad more optimism as sales of his bottled Mild are selling well.
There were a couple of tables out the front of the pub, with old chaps standing around chain smoking cigarettes, slowly drinking their dark amber coloured beer and occasionally engaging each other in conversation, nodding at all those who enter the pub as if they owned the place. Had it not been for the fact that they were speaking French, they could have been anywhere in the UK… Walking into the pub, I felt like I was in my local; the pub itself has a carpet, which is unlike Europe, it has low tables and stools with fixed seating on the back wall.
Martyn Cornell has found something amazing: “the Edwin Fox, last remaining wooden sailing ship to have carried India Pale Ale from London to the thirsty east”. You can read the full story at Zythophile:
In her three decades as a working ship, the Edwin Fox carried an enormous variety of cargoes and passengers: troops to the Baltic during one of the side-campaigns of the Crimea War, supplies and ammunition to Balaclava, wounded soldiers back home, rice for Hong Kong and South Africa, coolies from China to the plantations of Cuba, coals to the Coromandel coast, convicts for Australia, cotton, sugar, more troops to and from India, emigrant families to New Zealand, as well as beer… Her transport of IPA from London to India, according to modern commentators who prefer the thrill of a good story to the labour of checking its veracity, brought the Edwin Fox the nickname “the booze barge”.
Before the war, there were more than 6,000 breweries spread across Belgium and France, with the majority of the French breweries located along the northern border with Belgium and Germany. World War I profoundly changed the face of brewing in Western Europe. Germany-backed Austria-Hungary’s desire to punish the Serbs for the assassination drew Russia and France into the war to defend the Serbs. Germany’s strategy involved a lightning-quick strike through neutral Belgium into northern France to capture Paris. Unfortunately for the Germans, the French and English halted their advance and created a brutal four-year stalemate that encamped millions of soldiers from both sides directly through the heart of Belgian and French brewing country.
The UK ended March 2019 with 39,135 pubs, 320 more than a year earlier, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It is the first net increase since 2010… The rise marked a dramatic turnaround compared with the previous nine years, during which the UK pub network declined by an average of 732 each year, comparable data showed… While the ONS figures showed an increase, industry trade body the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) warned that its own statistics, which capture a higher number of pubs, showed a turning point was yet to be reached.
As ever, it’s worth remembering that there are pubs, and there are pubs – it still seems that suburban backstreet pubs are more at risk than big ones in city centres and on high streets, and that certain neighbourhoods are at greater risk of becoming publess.
Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from authenticity to Austria’s part in the birth of lager.
First, some takeover news from the US: Ballast Point has been sold again, sort of, as has Anderson Valley. It feels as if there’s often a flurry of buying and selling of breweries just before Christmas as people seek to seal deals before the end of the calendar year. The twist this time? It isn’t multi-nationals doing the buying. Here’s Jeff Alworthon Ballast Point:
Now that we’ve had 48 hours to digest the news that Kings and Convicts, a tiny, two-year-old brewery, has indeed purchased Ballast Point, new questions have emerged. Initially everyone was trying to learn who Kings and Convicts (K&C) were. Was the deal legit? And, because Ballast Point was purchased for a billion dollars just four years ago, the question everyone wanted answered—what was the (fire?) sale price?
For Good Beer HuntingLily Waite has profiled Marble, the pioneering Manchester microbrewery that began its life behind one of Britain’s best pubs:
“I came here for a drink, got involved in a lock-in, and came away with a job,” Marble’s founder, owner, and director Jan Rogers tells me over a pint. “That was it!”… Often found with her trusty vape in hand, Rogers is a woman with a firecracker wit and just as much energy—her calm is someone else’s boisterous; her excited is your or my whirlwind. She’s razor-sharp of both mind and expletive-laden tongue. In an industry dominated by men, she may not exemplify a “typical” brewery owner but, frankly, I can’t imagine her giving a flying fuck—and it’s not like that’s slowed her down.
Standing in the drizzle of an unseasonably chilly Saturday, the fans of Altrincham FC aren’t fazed. They’ve got their scarves and their pride, but they’ve also got the best bar in any league. Well, according to Paul Rooney who runs it, anyway. He’s a lifelong Manchester United fan, but ten years ago he stopped making the pilgrimage to Old Trafford and started watching the Robins at Moss Lane instead… “It just got too expensive,” he says, opening our conversation with complete honesty. “To be honest, it’s not a great experience there anymore. I’m in my mid-thirties and so I might not have been old enough to drink back then, but I remember when you could stand and watch the game and have a beer. The atmosphere in the higher leagues is vanilla now. I’m not prepared to pay for it.”
We tend to leave wine be – we just don’t know enough about it and don’t have time to learn – but this piece by Rachel Monroe on ‘natural wine’ for the New Yorker is crammed with parallels to, and sideways insight into, the world of beer:
In place of Parker’s muscular Bordeaux, the wines of the moment were often described as glou glou, French for “chuggable”: light reds frequently made via carbonic maceration, a fermentation technique that results in fresh, fruity wines. (It’s also quick; the wines are often ready to sell a few months after the grapes are harvested.) They sometimes tasted self-consciously unconventional. Millennials with appetites for difficult beverages—sour beers, bitter spirits, kombucha, apple-cider vinegar—appreciated wines that were cloudy and effervescent, with a noticeably fermented funk. Wine bars celebrated previously obscure styles and regions: pét-nat, skin-contact, Georgian, Slovenian.
Faversham is just south of the coast, between Maidstone and Canterbury in East Kent, the near-about birthplace of the East Kent Golding—a hop prized around the world for its aromas of lavender, thyme, and honey. It doesn’t matter if you’re the oldest brewery in the world or the youngest, the respect for this 230-year-old hop variety is often unmatched… You needn’t double-check the programme to know what they’re celebrating at the festival—hops are everywhere. The town is drenched in them. If they’re not working as a bittering or aroma agent in people’s pints, then they’re draped over shop fronts, or crawling through fences.
Real acceptance into the inner sanctum of the regular pub crowd takes time and patience. Here’s a quick guide:
1. Find a pub where most people sit around the bar.
2. Pick a barstool on the edge of where you perceive the regulars sit.
3. Take a newspaper – you don’t want to seem like you need them to entertain you. Do not take a book. Repeat. Do not take a book. This scares people and will set you back hours in your mission.
Here’s a blog post of a type for which we have a real soft spot: a detailed, footnoted history of a specific pub, namely The Four Horseshoes in Reading, AKA The Long Barn. Writing for The Whitley PumpEvelyn Williams explains its origins, its place in a famous local libel case, its rebuilding, reinvention and eventual demolition:
On the front page of the Tory supporting Berkshire Chronicle on 24 September 1825 was a letter from James Leach of the Four Horseshoes addressed to ‘Brother Landlords’. He described how the renewal of his licence for the public house had been refused by magistrates at the annual licensing sessions… Leach wrote that around midsummer he had been given notice to quit by Mr Stephens and when he attended the magistrates sessions he was surprised to be told that his licence would not be renewed but was not given any reason. In particular he focused on the treatment he received from one of the magistrates, John Berkeley Monck one of the Whig MPs for Reading.
For a few months, it looked like Simon Young’s minuscule stake in Britain’s craft beer boom was building into a tidy little nest egg. The Suffolk-based copywriter spent years trickling investment – £1,500 – into south London brewery Hop Stuff, and his 0.3 percent share in its nascent success was worth a reported £60,000… Then, like a Friday lunchtime sesh degenerating in queasy slow motion to 4AM gutter oblivion, it all went wrong. The writing was quite literally on the wall – in the form of a forfeiture notice from Hop Stuff landlord for unpaid rent.
Caru cu Bere (the beer wagon) has a sterling reputation for local beer and cuisine, located in a beautiful Art Nouveau building in the old Lipscani area of the city. An inn has existed on that site for over 130 years, and the beer was originally transported in on wagons, so the story goes. Based on the recommendations we’d received, our expectations were high and we’d even remembered to book a table (!), so it was disappointing to find that the food was a little flavourless, the house beer was pretty average and the service was bordering on rude – the classic complacency traits of an established institution which doesn’t need to work for its business. The building is, indeed, rather beautiful, but that’s pretty much all I’d bother visiting for.
For, oddly, Gear Patrol, Ben Keene, who commissioned us to write for Beer Advocate a few times, has taken an interesting approach to the listicle, asking a group of American brewers which beers they think don’t get enough attention. Here’s an interesting tip, for example:
“While regular Birra Moretti is a relatively bland industrialized lager, the La Rossa is a wonderful German-style doppelbock made in Italy. Clear, malty, and bitter enough to balance the sweetness. It arrives in the United States in very good condition and not as oxidized and old tasting as most of the doppelbocks from Germany and it is relatively easy to find.” — Ashleigh Carter, Bierstadt Lagerhaus
There are lots of things to enjoy in Martyn Cornell’s account of being whisked away to Blackburn, Lancashire, to drink a stout brewed with Bovril but our very favourite bit is Phil Dixon’s account of his Dad’s home-brewing regime:
“It was mashed in a bath, and then the wort was transferred into one of those top-loading washing machines to be boiled with hops, and then it was pumped out and fermented. So we couldn’t have a bath for a week and we couldn’t wash our clothes.”
Finally, here’s a Tweet that will make at least some of our readers wince:
When guys turn 30 they have to pick a subclass: – podcaster/streamer – beer guy – guy who bikes to work – golfer
Here’s all the beer and pubs news, opinion and history that grabbed us in the past week, from Manchester estate pubs to meat stout.
First up there’s the welcome return of Chris Hall, always a thought-provoking and thoughtful voice, and a bloody good writer, too. He’s written at length about the tendency towards novelty in British craft beer, and what he sees as a worrying absence of maturity:
Discussions and debates in blog comment threads and on Twitter have waned. Craft beer consumers scroll and double-tap now, and have changed both the social media landscape and production schedules as a result. There’s no time to type, or respond, or think. When it does happen, it’s often as privately as possible, and typically with the safe, reaffirming vacuum of a private group chat or forum. The craft beer consumer feeds on their own opinions in reflection, and debates, when they do happen, are feverish in their heat and lifespan, destroying themselves in the process.
It’s been a while since we had a good AB-InBev takeover story. This week’s is lacking a little dramatic impact because it’s merely the conclusion of a long, slow manoeuvre. Jeff Alworth, always our first port of call for clarity on US industry news, summarises the story:
In August, it was the shoe that didn’t drop. AB InBev (ABI) had had the opportunity to buy Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) as a part of an arrangement struck three years ago, but finally passed in August, paying the Portland-based brewery collective $20 million instead. That was perplexing. CBA’s biggest asset, Kona, was a brand ready-made for an industrial giant. It has enormous brand potential that extends nationwide—vanishingly rare in the current clogged craft market—and products tailor-made to be scaled up at any of the twenty North American plants owned by ABI.
[It’s] the rapid expansion in Britain’s craft sector which some old hands say gives cause for concern. The craft beer boom has spawned almost a thousand new breweries in the last five years, and the Society of Independent Brewers’ (SIBA) latest annual report estimates indies will generate almost 900 new jobs this year alone. Inside of a decade, we’ve seen hobby brewers catapulted from cooking up 40-pint batches in garden sheds and back rooms of pubs to helming huge plants with scores of employees pushing out thousands of litres at a time.
The Gamecock ever in the shadow of one of the few remaining housing blocks… Nobody knows precisely when it ceased to be a pub, suffice to say that at some point, it sadly ceased to be a pub… It now stands abandoned, slowly reclaimed by nature – as bramble and dock scramble over its sharp interlocking volumes of brick and once bright white cladding.
[Obadiah Poundage porter] was made with heritage barley, old English hop varieties and historic malting techniques. Though probably not that much brown malt, unlike when I had a go at making historic porter. A portion was aged in oak vats where it underwent a secondary fermentation with Bretanomyces clausenii (probably my old friend WLP645). This was then blended with a freshly made version as the porter brewers did back in its heyday at a ratio of 1:2.
Although on the painstaking front, we need to know more about this revival of Mercer’s Meat Stout:
This is Phil Dixon, holding the original recipe for Mercer’s Meat Stout, which has now been reproduced by the Three Bs brewery in Blackburn. pic.twitter.com/SxTw9t4XRj
Our research with brewers across Scotland and England found that those who identify themselves as “craft” brewers:
> Are typically beer aficionados who have decided to transform their enthusiasm into a living and set up their own businesses – with the vast majority being micro-businesses employing fewer than ten people.
> Are motivated by a lack of tolerance towards the standardised, predictable beer flavours that have so far dominated the market.
> Tend to use traditional – instead of industrial – methods to make beer and experiment with different types of beer, hop varieties, old or quirky recipes and unusual or exotic ingredients.
Adrienne Heslin and Padraig Bric left their chalet in the Italian resort town of Tropea for a short snorkeling trip off the town’s beach. Heslin was using the time away to plan her artistic projects. Bric’s focus was on a potential renovation to his parent’s pub and guesthouse. Eight years previously, their son Hugo had suffered Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, dying during the night as he lay between his mother and father in bed. This holiday was for thinking about the future… Bric was a nervous swimmer, and together the couple waded into the turquoise, blanketed reefs around the Gulf of St. Euphemia, an inlet leading to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Its genetic parentage has been a mystery, since it appeared to be unrelated to other English hop varieties, and the long-accepted story of when it was discovered, by whom, and when it was first launched turned out to be dubious at best. Now research by Czech botanists, and a Kentish local historian, has answered all the questions: it turns out that everything you have read until now, in every book and article, on the year the Fuggle hop was first launched has been wrong. In addition, the surprise answer to the exact parentage of the Fuggle hop turns out to be … well, read on.
Did you know countries following the German brewing tradition had their own version of the beer sparkler that caused controversy among drinkers in the 19th century? No, us neither, but fortunately Andreas Krenmair is on hand to tell the story:
Most people think that this is probably a problem only cask beer aficionados in England face, but at least in the 19th century, lager beers in Germany and Austria directly dispensed from wooden casks were served in a similar way: besides the regular tap, a device called Mousseux-Pipe, sometimes also called Bierbrause (lit. “beer shower”), was also quite common. I’ve never seen an actual photo or illustration of one, but the descriptions of it make it sound very much like a sparkler: when beer was dispensed from a cask through the Mousseux-Pipe, it foamed up and produced a bigger, denser head… Just like its modern counterpart in England, the use of Mousseux-Pipen was not uncontroversial either: in Tyrol, the use of syringes of similar devices to create artificial foam in beer was prohibited from 1854 on for sanitary reasons. A letter to the editor in a newspaper from 1871 laments the “strict non-enforcement of this edict got rid of syringes” and popularized beer showers that produced a thick and dense foam that helped defraud customers through underpouring.
What exactly might cause your beer to ‘gush’ out of the bottle uncontrollably on opening? Kate Bernot at The Take Outhas the answers:
Some beers are bottle conditioned, meaning brewers add a small dose of sugar to the beer bottle before filling it so the yeast can continue to feed on the sugar after the beer is bottled… But if a brewer miscalculates and adds too much sugar to the bottle, the yeast will have a field day, gorging itself on sugar and creating too much carbon dioxide. Then, when you open the bottle, kaboom… “The great brewers who bottle condition their beers would simply not make that mistake,” Charlie Bamforth, distinguished professor emeritus in the University of California Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, tells me. “If it was a tiny brewery that wasn’t as in control as they should be, well…”
Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:
In first class you get helpful trilingual people coming to your seat offering to get you things from the buffet. They're good at carrying things on a moving train, and apologetic when they run out of cheap beer and have to upgrade your beer.@_DiningCarpic.twitter.com/5c2e20mOa8
Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from rare birds to pig’s ears.
The detailed love letter to a specific beer is one of our favourite types of beer writing, even if the beer itself isn’t one we’re enthusiastic about. Lily Waite’spiece on Kernel Table Beer for Pellicle is an excellent example:
“Table Beer is our attempt to do a cask beer,” Evin [O’Riordain] tells me. “Its specific inspiration is those cask beers… I think that cask gives a lot of body to a beer, especially low-alcohol beer; that’s one of the magical things that cask does… It’s also because it’s served slightly warmer and because there’s slightly lower carbonation it becomes fuller [bodied]. We took that inspiration from [Phil Lowry’s] ABC and [Redemption] Trinity, asking ‘can we put that into a keg and a bottle?’”