News, nuggets and longreads 23 May 2020: Marston’s, Duration, Urquell

Here’s a round-up of beer-related news, commentary and history from the past week, from Carlsberg to classified information.

The week’s big news was the announcement of a ‘joint venture’ between multinational giant Carlsberg and the UK’s largest independent brewery, Marston’s. The new company, Carlsberg Marston’s, is 60% owned by Carlsberg and does not include Marston’s estate of 1,400 pubs. Carlsberg now owns, to all intents and purposes, not only the Marston’s brand but also Brakspear, Ringwood, Banks’s and others.


Martyn Cornell informs us that yesterday was the 299th anniversary of the first known mention of porter in print:

The passing mention came in a pamphlet dated Wednesday May 22 1721 and written by the then-23-year-old Whig satirist and polemicist Nicholas Amhurst (1697-1742). Amhurst implied that porter was a poor person’s drink, writing that “Whigs … think even poverty much preferable to bondage; had rather dine at a cook’s shop upon beef, cabbage, and porter, than tug at an oar, or rot in a dark stinking dungeon.”… The fact that Amhurst (who is buried in Twickenham, less than a mile and a half from where I am writing this) felt no need to explain what porter was suggests it would have been a familiar word to his audience, even if no one had ever put it into print before.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 23 May 2020: Marston’s, Duration, Urquell”

News, nuggets and longreads 16 May 2020: Prague, palates, pints of plain

Here’s all the writing about beer, pubs and brewing of which we took particular note in the past week, from pawned trumpets to malfunctioning palates.

In Prague, Max Bahnson, AKA Pivni Filosof, has been surveying pub and brewery owners on the subject of business during lockdown and their hopes for after pubs are allowed to re-open there on 25 May. Some are philosophical, others angry, all of them interesting:

Jan “Hanz” Charvat (Zlý Časy, Pivkupectví, Bad Flash): The news caught me in Vietnam and I had to sort everything out with the staff over WhatsApp. The pub was fully closed over the first weekend and on the first Monday we opened the takeaway window, which has remained open throughout. The turnover is 15% of the normal. This covers the wages of the person at the window and maybe the energy costs. I’ll borrow money for the rent and the rest. The sales at Pivkupectví (the bottle shop) are the same, maybe a little higher.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 16 May 2020: Prague, palates, pints of plain”

News, nuggets and longreads 9 May 2020: VR, influenza, McEwan’s

Here’s all our favourite reading on beer and pubs from the past week, excluding #BeeryLongReads2020 contributions, which will get their own round-up tomorrow.

For Good Beer Hunting, American beer historian Brian Alberts provides an account of the flu pandemic of 1918 and how it affected drinkers and brewers in Milwaukee:

Milwaukee’s leaders stepped up in a crisis, and largely handled it well. But, for the city’s brewers and saloonkeepers, this wasn’t the only battle to fight. From a business standpoint, it probably wasn’t the most important battle in the fall of 1918, nor the second, and maybe not even the third. After all, when the President criminalizes your beer supply, a university threatens to shut you down completely, the Senate tries to brand you a traitor, and a pandemic ravages your community—all at the same time—how do you decide what takes priority?


VR pub: barman and bar.
SOURCE: Tristan Cross/Wired.

Is it even possible to write about pubs without getting lost in philosophical questions about what makes a pub a pub? For Wired magazine, Tristan Cross writes about how yearning for his South London prompted him to build a virtual reality replica of the pub from scratch:

Finally, after weeks of effort and days of rendering, I’ve done it. I’ve made Skehans, and I’ve brought my friends inside. Despite beaming at being able to hear to their utterly depraved nonsense again, it’s still not quite right… I’m there, in Skehan’s with my nearest and dearest, but they can’t see or hear me. It’s like I’ve died and been sent to haunt them on a night out. The simulation is nearly there. It has the pub and the people, but you, the player, are absent.


Anchor brewery, San Francisco.

Jeff Alworth continues his survey of classic beers at Beervana with notes on Anchor Steam, somehow finding new things to say, and wrapping it all up in an elegantly readable package:

In choosing the combination of two-row and pale, Anchor created the blueprint that would dominate craft brewing for two decades. The pale malt available then was so free of character it was often called ‘sugar’ for its capacity to ferment cleanly. The caramel malts provided body (not typical in lagers), sweetness, and flavor. Until well into the 2000s, that was the character of most craft beer… They chose an old hop variety in Northern Brewer, first grown in England in 1934. This, combined with the open fermentation, gave the beer a distinctly British flavor. When craft breweries started opening up along the West Coast in the 1970s and 80s, they followed this general profile…


Illustration: 'Yeast'.

Lars Marius Garshol asks an intriguing question: is the distinction between baking yeast and brewing yeast a false one?

[It’s] not only me who thinks baking yeast can make good beer. Kristoffer Krogerus did a scientific evaluation of Suomen Hiiva and found it to be “perfectly usable for beer fermentations”. Brulosophy also did a recent experiment with baking yeast and although people could tell the difference, 1 in 3 preferred the version with baking yeast… So a lot of different bread yeasts really do produce good beer. Why?

A footnote from us: a few years ago, we wrote about Cornish swanky beer, including a recipe, and recommended fermenting with baking yeast. That really seemed to annoy people even thought it worked, based on the evidence of our own tastebuds.


McEwan's Pale Ale
SOURCE: Sontarans on Flickr.

Tandleman asks an interesting question: which long lost beers do you most miss? His own list is intriguing, including several names that don’t often crop up as candidates for The Canon:

McEwan’s Pale Ale… Always in pint screwtop bottles. I used to drink this in Dumbarton when in certain pubs. McEwan’s Pale Ale was also the first beer I ever tasted. Darkish, not too sweet and hardly strong at all. A great thirst quencher. And I liked pints bottles. Sometimes it was a Belhaven Screwtop or, if flush, Whitbread Pale Ale.

The comments are great, too, though, with plenty of other people joining in the game. Us? We’re still thinking.


Brew2You

The Campaign for Real Ale has taken the interesting step of launching a consumer beer retail platform, Brew2You. The idea is that drinkers download an app and use it to buy beer from local brewers and pubs. CAMRA doesn’t take a cut but it does add a 5% admin fee to cover costs. We’ll probably be giving it a go.


Finally, from Twitter – cor, blimey, what a turn up!


For more good reading, check out the round-ups from Alan and It Must Beer Love.

News, nuggets and longreads 2 May 2020: re-opening, reminiscing, reflecting

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that struck us as particularly interesting in the past week, from hop farms of the Weald to hardware stores of Worksop.

Various people have been pondering a set of important interconnected questions in the past week: when will pubs re-open? Will people want to go to them when they do? And how could it be done safely?

We share Tandleman’s anxiety that some people, having been forced to find ways to enjoy drinking £2 bottles at home, might struggle to find the motivation to return to £4 pints at the pub. His evidence is compelling, too: if it’s crossed even his mind, why wouldn’t it have occurred to others?

Mark Johnson’s detailed consideration of how the re-opening of pubs might work in practice is extremely though-provoking, not least his constant exhortation that, yes, most of the suggested measures will make pubs less convivial and occasionally frustrating but the alternative – no pubs for a year – doesn’t bear thinking about.

And for Look at BrewRachel Smith writes about her confidence that whatever coping mechanisms we develop during these strange times, we’re creatures of habit who will return to the old ways as soon as the opportunity arises:

I wonder how many new habits will have been formed over these weeks of altered routine. I like my new habit of ambling riverside, I like seeing the way the local nature changes week by week under the watchful eyes of the old oaks, just a few minutes from the town centre. It seems the high street’s death has been put on a fast track, though, as larger retail outlets may never recover from this period which has seen folk resort to online ordering and staying super local, supporting smaller independent shops nearby. But what about pubs? Pubs are different. There is no substitute for going to the pub, no matter how hard some voices may try to convince us otherwise. As nature is returning to some parts of the country during lockdown, so too will wildlife of a different nature return to the pubs and social clubs when this is over.

We’ve taken to talking about the COVID-19 event as The Great Disruptor. Lots of stuff that would otherwise have been unthinkable, or years down the road, will just happen. However things unfold, we don’t think UK pubs will look or feel the same at the end of 2021 as they did at the end of 2019.

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News, nuggets and longreads 25 April 2020: Bamberg, Barcelona, big data

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past seven days, from Dorchester to daytime drinking.

Joan Villar-i-Martí reports on an online edition of the Barcelona Beer Challenge, conducted via YouTube Live. In particular, he has thoughts on the participation of big brewers in craft brewing competitions, not least because of their frequent success:

[This is controversial because of the] exaggerated exaltation and esotericism about concepts such as naturalness and craftsmanship, as opposed to the horrendous artificiality of the ‘industrial’ stuff. Honesty and affection in the elaboration, versus perfidy and greed… I have always been critical of this series of myths, although time makes me understand that they were surely useful tools to broaden that limited concept of beer that the dominant actors had sold us. In any case, I think it is high time for us to forget all of it: in the end, they are all companies in the same industry but with a different history, structure, resources, objectives and products. All of them with their own peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses.


Sign on a wall: Zum Biergarten,

Kaleigh Watterson at The Ale in Kaleigh has been daydreaming about biergärten, and one specific biergarten in particular:

Our goal was Greifenklau, a beer garden so perfect it felt like I’d custom designed it in The Sims. A wide space providing a feeling of openness, seating both under cover and out in the open, benches comfortable enough for the long haul, complete with cushions on offer if you so desired. And then, there’s the view…. A choice of tables open to us, thanks to the early hour of the day, and we opt for one right on the far side. It’s right on the perimeter of the site, providing sweeping views up to a castle and over what appears to be an orchard, with a very welcome tree providing shade from the glaring heat. Probably the best seat in the house – proven later by the scramble to get it when we vacate.

We like this piece not only because it takes us there but also because it’s a document of the kind of conversation we’re having, and we suspect many beer geeks are having, day after day.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 25 April 2020: Bamberg, Barcelona, big data”

News, nuggets and longreads 18 April 2020: Liverpool, Collyhurst, Heywood

Here’s all the beer and pub related writing that grabbed our attention in the past week, including a bumper crop of notes on pubs and beer festivals in the North West of England.

We’ve been asking people one question for years: “Yes, but why is cask better? What’s actually different about it?” That CO2 is CO2 has made it difficult to understand why cask-conditioned ale should feel different and more subtle than keg – which we think it does, though we’re not by any means anti-keg, they added as if it was 2012. In fact, one of the people we asked about this while researching Brew Britannia was Ed Wray who did his best to come up with a sensible answer all those years ago. Now, he’s back with another plausible answer, via the IBD magazine:

Dr Frank Müller, Brewmaster at Riegele brewery…. “describes fermentation derived carbonation as a more delicate, more integrated effervescence than the coarse bubbles that result from CO2 delivered by gas suppliers and injected in-line. One theory briefly mentioned in the course of this conversation dealt with saturation aspects of CO2 around haze particles, visibly perceived or not evident. Arguably, a slow evolution of CO2 leads to a more gradual saturation and better mouthfeel properties in the final beer.”


The Lorimers

Steve Marland, AKA The Modern Moocher, provides another photographic dispatch from the weed-strewn yard of a former Manchester pub, this time reporting from outside what was once the Lorimer’s Arms at Collyhurst:

Typical of its time, developed to meet the needs of the new estates which replaced the slum clearance of the Sixties, in an area surrounded by industry… Once home to the Osborne Street Baths and Wash House, and a pub of an earlier age – The Osborne, still standing – ceased trading…. The pub had briefly become the centre for a telephone chatline service, prior to its current use as a place of worship – for the Christ Temple International Church.

There’s also a bonus mention of The Vine, AKA The Valley, which was the one pub we chickened out of going into during our 20th Century Pub research tour of England in 2016-17.


Liverpool Beer Festival

Kirsty Walker has posted twice this week, noting with sadness that now she has time to blog, there’s nothing to blog about. Her piece on Liverpool Beer Festival was as entertaining as usual, though:

When you’ve been to as many beer festivals as I have (roughly 4000), it is possible to get to saturation point. I had never been to a beer festival in the metropolitan cathedral, and I wanted to go, but I knew it would be a CAMRA festival quite similar to most. How to shake things up? Simply, to take someone who has never been to a beer festival before and has only been drinking real or craft ale for about six months. Step up Vinnie, your time is now.


The Grapes, Heywood

After a pause, Tandleman has returned to his series of reports from Samuel Smith pubs in his neck of the woods, this time popping into The Engineer’s Arms and The Grapes in Heywood, AKA ‘Monkey Town’:

I turn to Heywood’s History site for enlightenment and two explanations are offered. I rather like the one with a pub connotation of course, whereby folklore had it that Heywood men used to have tails, and so the stools and benches in the town’s pubs had holes in them for the tails to fit through. The reality, the article concludes, is that the holes were there for carrying the stools. Hmm. I’ll reluctantly rule that one out then, but the same piece surmises that the nickname ‘Monkey Town’ is derived from the pronunciation of Heap Bridge – a local area – as ‘Ape’ Bridge, and probably dates from the 1840s-50s. Not quite so much fun, but let’s go with that.


Tandleman has also provided this relic from c.2000 which might or might not mean we need to rewrite our history of hazy beer in the UK:


At Beervana, Jeff Alworth offers reflections on the interpretation of beer history, tackling what has become a thorny topic: does Belgian Lambic beer have a long history, or is it a recent marketing gimmick? Jeff respectfully disagrees with some recent scholarship on the subject:

Raf Meert has devoted a website to revisiting the history of lambic, and has discovered some interesting material. Much of it is quite helpful. After what looks like a fairly comprehensive search, for example, he can find no reference to the word “lambic” before the early 19th century. Interesting! But many of the conclusions he draws seem unsupported by the data… He has helped refine my understanding of some of the history, particularly the development of the various lambic products after the 19th century. But some of his arguments seem faulty to me, and since I know his work has influenced people who care about these things, I’d like to point out where I think he erred.


Oatmeal Stout label

A nameless archivist at Wandsworth Heritage Service has put together an interesting piece on Young & Co branding over the decades illustrated with some lovely historic labels.


And finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

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

News, nuggets and longreads 11 April 2020: drinkability, gong, the absence of pubs

Here’s everything on the subject of booze and boozers that caught our eyes in the past week, from Bavaria to the back gardens of England.

For Craft Beer & Brewing magazine, Joe Stange has profiled Schönramer, asking in particular what makes its beer so drinkable:

The Schönramer Pils is, for my money, the best in Germany—bearing in mind that (1) it is virtually impossible to taste every Pils in Germany, though I’ve made a fair run at it; and (2) my personal tastes run hoppy (yet noble). Fresh Schönramer Pils is bitter, but malty enough to hold it; it is jam-packed with spicy-floral-lemony aroma and flavor; and it is difficult to stop drinking. To me, most other German Pilsners seem drab in comparison… The Hell, meanwhile, is simply addictive. It is a pure expression of light, sweet malt but with a touch more bitterness—a soft, smooth bitterness, mind you—than any Munich helles. And while it starts lightly sweet, it finishes dry, leaving you wanting more. And more. And so on.


Cooling with snow.
SOURCE: Lars Marius Garshol.

In our hour of greatest needs, Lars Marius Garshol has returned with another farmhouse brewing adventure, this time in eastern Norway. And guess what? He’s only found another weird yeast to investigate. It’s called gong and isn’t kveik, though it is closely related:

While the wort boiled, we headed into the house where Ågot, Sverre’s mother, was preparing the yeast. Sverre said that even when his father brewed, his mother was the one that handled the yeast. Entering the kitchen I was astonished to see pieces of cloth with a thin, dry crust of darkish-brown yeast on them. I’d read about people storing yeast by drying it on cloth, but never actually seen it… It turned out Ågot takes the harvested yeast and smears it on cloth, where it is dried. She has a box full of these cloth pieces with dried yeast on them. After they’re dried she cuts them into suitable sizes for the next brews.

Lars’s long-awaited book, Historical Brewing Technigues: the lost art of farmhouse beer, is due out anytime now.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 11 April 2020: drinkability, gong, the absence of pubs”

News, nuggets and longreads for 4 April 2020: Coping mechanisms, ecommerce, murder

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs that caught our collective eye in the past week, from online beer sales to digitally-enabled darts matches.

First, for Good Beer HuntingKate Bernot writes about how the global lockdown has prompted a leap forward in online beer sales in the US:

Under normal circumstances, an ecommerce portal would take breweries months of planning and roughly a month or two of web development work to execute. But the circumstances of the last month have been anything but normal. At least one brewery, in response to these turbulent times, was able to set up a web store in just two days… The need for a speedy solution is why there’s a new beer delivery truck rolling through the streets of Manhattan. It doesn’t have branded side bays or roll-up doors. It’s a beige 2003 Lexus GX 470 with a rusted trailer hitch and 250,000 miles on its odometer. The Lexus belongs to John Dantzler, CEO and co-founder of New York City’s Torch & Crown Brewing, and it’s one of the brewery’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Enterprise Inns

Publicans whose pubs are owned by large pub companies (pubcos) have begun campaigning to have their rent payments cancelled for the duration of the lockdown, as reported at This is Money:

Ed Anderson, 45, a publican with three pubs in Cheltenham and 25 years of experience in the industry, said it was ‘absurd’ that some landlord pub holding groups had failed to cancel rental fees during the pandemic… Typically, a pub tenant’s rental fees are derived from the pub’s finances. But, with no cash coming in, publicans like Ed face a huge financial hurdle, particularly if rental costs are simply deferred rather than temporarily scrapped altogether… An online social media campaign called #NoPubNoRent is calling on major pub groups like Star Pubs and Bars, Stonegate (Ei Group) and Greene King to cancel rents for tenants while the pandemic rages.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads for 4 April 2020: Coping mechanisms, ecommerce, murder”

News, nuggets and longreads 28 March 2020: Berlin, BrewDog, Brasserie de la Senne

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that struck us as especially entertaining, interesting or important in the past week, from notes on isolation to virtual globetrotting.

First, Jeff Alworth provides a preview of a chunk of the upcoming second edition of his book The Beer Bible. It’s a profile of Ulrike Genz, who has dedicated herself to the revival of Berliner Weisse in its home city:

Genz’s story began in 2012, while she was studying at Technischen Universität Berlin—but visiting VLB regularly. A professor at the school brought a keg of Berliner to a summer gathering. “So I tried for the first time real one of these beers, and I simply fell in love with it,” Genz said, describing the experience. “It was not that heavy in alcohol, and the next day was perfect. The taste was so nice.” At that point, the only commercial example was from Kindl, a debased version sweetened with artificial syrups—nothing like true Berliner weisse. The only way she could taste it again was to brew it herself—so that’s what she did.


Stools at the bar in a pub.

Mark Johnson seems to be a man whose feelings run near the surface and in his latest piece, he probes his own sense of loss at being denied access to his local pub during the enforced lockdown of British society:

In one announcement, the social diary was wiped away, like a cloth to a whiteboard. The decision as to whether to have a pint after work. The decision as to where to meet a friend on a Thursday evening. The decision as to how to spend a weekend. Gone. Taken for us… There were comments near criticising anybody saddened by the turn of events – “you can go a few weeks without the pub, unless you have a problem” – showing the ignorance and aggression widely associated with social media… It is missed and it is irreplaceable, for those who crave sociability or for those of us who live life as the latter stages of a game of Jenga, frail and prone to fall with each block removed.


Shabby decor at the Oxford, Totterdown.

In the same vein, Adrian Tierney-Jones has revived his blog with a post that asks why we all miss the pub so much:

I am in the dark woodland of another traditional pub, where the tidied-up god-knows-where-they-got-them-from trinkets of another age stand on parade with the steadfastness of RSM gargoyles. Toby jugs, framed hunting scenes, burnished brassed off plates and here and there the odd black-and-white photograph of a local in the throes of lifting a pint. This is a decor that decorum doesn’t have a language for, a decorative pattern once thought to be as modern as the H-bomb, but obviously not as destructive… So what do we like about pubs — obviously we love what is put forward in front of us on the plate and in the glass, as well as how the mood and the atmosphere fills the air; then there are the people and their feeble but lovable attempts at jokes, the locals and the blow-ins, and the reason for why we are there.


BrewDog bar sign.Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale has made his peace with BrewDog bars after years of irritation, admitting with great honesty that his change of heart is at least in part because he’s a bit better off these days and is no longer offended by the pricing:

I no longer read nefarious intentions into getting a price wrong on the menu, or naming a beer “Dead Pony Club”. (Apparently it was originally “Grateful Dead Pony Club”. Yeah, well… exits muttering…) Another thing that’s changed over the last eight years is my employment contract & consequent spending power – points 1-3 don’t bug me the way they used to. The prices were still high – all the pints were priced in the £5-6 range, and so were the beers advertised in smaller measures (2/3, a half or even a third, depending on strength). Point 3 above continued to irk me for a lot longer than 1 and 2, but I got over it; in the end I was a lot more bothered by the thought of a beer being priced at eighteen quid a pint!!! than I was by actually paying £6 for a third of something unusual (and very strong).


The Blue Bell
SOURCE: John Clarke

John Clarke has revived his long-dormant blog to provide us with a pub crawl in four dimensions, revisiting a 1988 CAMRA stagger around Shaw Heath, Stockport, to see how the pubs have fared in the past 30 years:

With so many pubs so close together there were bound to be some casualties – and time has not been kind to the pubs of the Shaw Heath area….


The sales team at de la Senne.
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

At Brussels Beer CityEoghan Walsh continues his month-long focus on women in the Belgian beer industry with an interview with the sales team at Brasserie de la Senne:

When Marta Resmini stepped out in 2015 as Brasserie de la Senne’s first sales and marketing representative, freshly minted business cards in her pocket, she didn’t get the reaction she was initially expecting. “I went to the first customer, to which I had to go with my business card,” she says. “He looked at my card and then paused for 5-10 seconds, and he was like, ‘Okay, so this is your phone number, what are you doing tonight?’ That was my first experience dealing out business cards.”

A lot has changed in the intervening five years. For one, Resmini gets fewer abortive pick-up attempts. She’s gained recognition as one of the most visible faces of the brewery, alongside Cleo Mombaers – her colleague in the sales and marketing team at de la Senne.


Finally, from Twitter, people have been having fun coming up with names for the virtual pubs that are filling the gaps left in their lives:

There’s more good reading in Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.

News, nuggets and longreads 21 March 2020: the show must go on

Here’s all the news and commentary on pubs and beer that grabbed us in the past week, from takeaway beer to brewery-side blending.

First, sigh, some news: pubs, along with other hospitality businesses, have been commanded to close by the Government. The situation will be reviewed every month but even the most optimistic pundits seem to think we can expect them to be shut for three months.

In our view, this is sad, but necessary.

If you’re someone who relies on pubs for your social life, we’d recommend investigating the various virtual meet-up options, from Twitter drinkalongs to video conferencing.

And if you make your livelihood through the pub trade, we hope the various business support measures the Government has introduced will go some way to cushioning the blow.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 21 March 2020: the show must go on”