News, nuggets and longreads 18 September 2021: of cats and casks

As usual, we’ve spent the past week looking out for interesting stories about beer, brewing and pubs. Here’s our regular round-up of the best of what we found, from Belgian classics to Derg-Lind.

‘Person bags dream job’ stories are usually dreadful PR clickbait but this one, from BBC East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, is rather heartening: a professional historian has been given the job of collecting oral history recordings from Lincolnshire pubs. Architectural historian Marc Knighton says:

“We know about the historic fabric – the buildings are there – but we want the intangible history… The legends, the ghosts.”

When we were researching 20th Century Pub we relied heavily on a couple of local oral history projects from Waltham Forest and York and think they’re a great thing.

Poking around in unusual sources Martyn Cornell consistently finds new angles on, and details from, beer history. This week, a 19th century Australian newspaper revealed the extent to which cats were part of the landscape of brewing:

“A malt-house would be a paradise for rats but for the destroying angels, in the shape of cats, that the maltster keeps to guard his portals. The rat that would attempt to eat the sack that held the malt would speedily be killed by the cats in the brewery that Mr. Aitken has built. He actually doesn’t know how many cats he has. He said at one time, mildly, about 1,000; afterwards, that he was personally acquainted with at least 50, but that there were wild ones in the recesses of his cellars at whose presence he trembled. There must be queer games played on the roofs of a brewery on moonlight nights.”

SOURCE: BeerFoodTravel/Google Books.

It seems as if English people insisting on writing about Irish red ale has finally goaded Liam into polishing up his long-gestating three-part epic on that subject. Part one landed this week, digging into the deep history of the style – or, rather, its absence:

On the 15th of July 1856 Eugene O’Curry, who was Professor of Irish History and Archaeology in the Catholic University of Ireland, delivered a lecture relating to ecclesiastical manuscripts… In it O’Curry relates in his own words a fragment of a story where Conn and his companions were led to a ‘royal court, into which the entered, and found it occupied by a beautiful and richly dressed princess with a silver vat full of red ale, and a golden ladle and golden cup before her.’ This was translated from Old Irish and O’Curry could not date it exactly but implies it must be from before the middle of the 11th century. Looking at a copy of his source material reproduced in old Irish script, the word that is important to our story is ‘Derg-Lind’ and later in the same source the word is repeated as ‘Derg-Laith’, which was translated as the Irish words for ‘Red Ale’.

De Dolle logo

For Pellicle John Rega writes about the appeal and history of De Dolle Oerbier, which isn’t as old as its personality might suggest, and which is very much at the mercy of the supply chain:

Then in 2000, De Dolle faced a massive shock. Rodenbach, after a change of ownership, cut off its yeast supply. [Brewer] Kris [Herteleer] attempted to propagate the strain (or, to be more accurate, various strains) as best he could, but the complex nature of this yeast made it difficult to tame. Over time, it changed… A hungrier, more robust team of yeasts—as well as bacteria including Lactobacillus and Pediococcus—now holds sway, producing a beer with softer acidity and stronger fermentation. Kris has adjusted with a stronger malt profile and yet more hops… Recently De Dolle has been forced to adapt yet again, as its original maltster, Huys, went out of business. Kris tells me how he had to tweak for the loss of a particular malt within his complicated grain bill featuring a blend of six pale and caramel malts, now sourced from Dingemans. 

SOURCE: The Beer Nut.

The Beer Nut has provided a bumper set of entertaining tasting notes on a bunch of beers from British breweries such as Cloudwater and Newbarns:

I expected a big kick from the hops as none of Rakau, Simcoe and Galaxy are shy and retiring. Sure enough the aroma is an insanely strong funky, savoury buzz, like long-fermented silage and hot sparks of flint. The flavour goes all out for dryness, an extreme sort of sesame paste with added chalk dust and oily sage. “Earthy undertones” says the label but they’re far from undertones, leaving no room for the promised peach, passionfruit and apricot. This is the opposite of juicy and was probably sucking juice from the other cans in the fridge.

A topic always bubbling away in the world of beer is the apparent reluctance of ‘craft’ breweries to produce ‘trad’ styles. Jeff Alworth made a point about that on Twitter this week…

… and Gary Gillman offered some typically careful thoughts on why English ale styles might be difficult to replicate:

4. Whether bottled, cask, or keg, hop rates in Britain in the last generation, speaking generally, are relatively modest. Even in the 1970s craft pioneer Fritz Maytag was struck for example by the modest quantities used for dry-hopping bitter ale.

5. Such beers, when emulated in craft conditions and served cold and fizzy, do not show to best advantage. In contrast, Helles and pilsener retained a unity of style, so the path of emulation was clearer.

Guinness 0.0
SOURCE: Lisa Grimm.

We’ve been somewhat intrigued by the idea of non-alcoholic Guinness – how important is alcohol to the mouthfeel and flavour? At her blog Weird Beer Girl HQ, Lisa Grimm, an American living in Dublin, provides notes on both this beer and a newly-launched Guinness competitor:

[Heineken’s] Island’s Edge has been expressly positioned as a stout for people who don’t typically drink stout, and to that end, it includes tea and basil in the recipe to make it, to paraphrase, less bitter and more refreshing, though none of the flavours of tea or basil are noticeable in the resulting beer. So, having had a pint of it recently, I can confirm that it does, indeed, lack those flavours…along with most other elements of flavour. It’s oddly thin, creamy head notwithstanding, and barely registers anything beyond roasty water – it’s less a stout and more the ghost of one.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this vision of the high life…

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


News, nuggets and longreads 11 September 2021: Takeovers and startups

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from Kölsch to Dortmunder.

First, a bit of good old-fashioned brewery takeover news from Australia: Lion (Kirin) has bought Stone & Wood outright. Now, we’d never heard of Stone & Wood until this week, and gave up reporting every single global takeover a while back, but this is interesting because…

Meanwhile, there is evidence that BrewDog (settle down, stop booing) might be entering a new phase. As reported by Beer Today, it has entered into a joint venture with Asahi under the name BrewDog Japan:

BrewDog is looking to boost its sales in Asahi’s home country of Japan sixfold in five years. It already has a bar in Tokyo, but could set up a brewery there, too… BrewDog is also reported to be considering an initial public offering (IPO) in London, and is being advised by Rothschild.

A brewery.

For Ferment, the promo mag of a beer subscription service, Sarah Sinclair asks what it’s like to launch a UK craft brewery in 2021 compared to a decade ago:

In many ways, being a craft brewer is like being the hero of a Greek tragedy. There’s a strictly prescribed, formal journey these characters must undertake, from disillusionment with an existing career, to brewing 30-litre batches in their garage as a means of escape. An act of extreme faith and vision propels our hero into the heady days of a new commercial brewery (in which they must complete legendary trials: finding a distributor, losing an entire batch to an unreliable mobile canning line etc). Even as they ride high on a wave of hype juice, we the audience are looking out for the fatal flaw that will perhaps bring them low in Act 3 (and we’ve seen plenty of those lately).

Früh am dom

For Craft Beer & Brewing Jeff Alworth has written an overview of Kölsch, a beer style that, as we know it, isn’t as old as people might think and which definitely isn’t ‘an ale’:

This close forebear held onto its bitterness all the way into the 1960s, though in other ways it closely resembled modern Kölsch. At that point, local breweries still made other beer styles, but a culture was beginning to form around the pride of hometown Kölsch. By the 1980s, Kölsch had become so popular that Köln’s breweries banded together to protect it from lesser imitators. In 1985, two dozen of them signed a document called the Kölsch Konvention. It stipulated certain benchmarks to prevent the beer’s debasement… Americans sometimes call these “hybrid” beers, but the Germans have a better term: obergäriges lagerbier, or top-fermenting lagered beer. To call them hybrid is to suggest an awkward in-between state, but Kölsch is nothing of the kind – it’s exactly as it’s meant to be.

Eoghan Walsh’s tour through the history of Brussels beer continues with a post on the 18th century Brewer’s Oath which gives us a glimpse into the culture of guilds:

The brewers’ guild, like all of Brussels’ medieval artisan guilds, was a monopoly, a position they leveraged for self-enrichment. They also used it to occasionally flex political influence, having – alongside the other guilds – been granted consultative input into Brussels’ governance in 1421. Each guild was a member of a nation, a grouping of similar trades; brewers were part of the St. Jacques nation alongside bakers and pastry bakers, millers, coopers, cabinetmakers, tilers and wine traders. As well as the right to a say on administrative matters, the guild used their monopoly position to determine the quality, quantity and price of raw materials, the price of beer, the way it was brewed, and how it was sold. 

(This is a great example of how a project can enliven and sustain a blog; if you want to start or restart a blog, coming up with an angle like this removes the biggest obstacle – the lack of ideas, the blank page.)

Dortmunder -- no.

At Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, Ron Pattinson highlights a curious nugget from European beer history:

Style Nazis… Actual real Nazis. Not just people I disagree with. Ones with swastika armbands and NSDAP membership cards… Because in the countries occupied by the Nazis, they really did start interfering with style names. They weren’t happy with German-derived names being used for Dutch beer. In particular, Dortmunder.

Finally, from Twitter…

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

News opinion

News, nuggets and longreads 4 September 2021: Limbo, Dodo, Eko

Over the past week, we’ve bookmarked all the new writing on beer and pubs that struck us as especially interesting, from quiet pubs to treasure maps.

First, though, notes from the frontline. Dave Hayward, of the shop and bar A Hoppy Place in Windsor, has written about the challenges faced by the trade in this strange time when things are open, but not normal:

This August Bank Holiday just gone has helped us to finish off the summer school holiday period of trading. The great unlocking. The first 6 weeks “restriction free”, wherein everything would go “back to normal”. How do you feel that went for you? It was an interesting time, certainly. But was it the reopening that so many in hospitality hoped for? I think that for nearly everyone – this inbetweenland has been pretty underwhelming… I think we should be talking about what’s left of our pubs – and what we need to do to recover things. I think we should be talking about how hundreds of breweries are cutting their noses off to spite their face. I think we should be talking about the damaging shift in consumer habits and how we should absolutely not be encouraging them.

And here’s another point of data, from The Dodo Micropub in West London:

We suspect lots of people are trying to second guess when other people are going to be in the pub so they can pick ‘the quiet night’. Things have yet to settle, for quite understandable reasons.

SOURCE: Eko Brewery.

At Hop Culture Hollie Stephens has profiled Anthony and Helena Adedipe’s Eko Brewery in London:

Eko Brewery derives its name from Eko, the original name of Lagos, the most populous city in Africa and Anthony’s family’s home. From the beginning, the pair both wanted the beers to reflect their heritage. Anthony is from West Africa. Helena is Congolese. “We wanted to incorporate that into what we do,” says Anthony. “There’s an element of risk in that because it hadn’t been done before. We were so keen to try it and [to] try and see if there was a market for African-inspired beer.” And now, thanks to Anthony and Helena’s tenacity, Eko Brewery is making huge waves in a sea of sameness… In homage to their African heritage, Anthony and Helena focus on brewing with classic African components. Traditionally brewed with ingredients such as maize, sorghum, and cassava (a starchy root vegetable, popular in Latin American, Caribbean, and African cuisines), African beer typically forgoes the hops. This means the beers are often sweet or sour. And they are sometimes fuller in form.

SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

Eoghan Walsh’s epic tour through the history of Brussels beer continues with entry number 8 on the statue of Karel van Lotharingen in the Grand Place:

At 7pm on August 13, 1695, the skies above Brussels commenced to rain fire down on the city. French king Louis XIV, frustrated with the progress of his Nine Years’ War, determined to make an example of Brussels. For three days the Sun King’s troops pummelled the city with a barrage of cannonballs and firebombs, stopping only once, briefly, to reload. To keep their aim true they used the ornate spires of Brussels’ Town Hall, on the Grand Place, as their target… The buildings around the Town Hall were obliterated, including the one that used to stand at number 10: the Maison de l’Arbre d’Or (“House of the Golden Tree”), known locally as the Brauwershuys and home to Brussels’ brewers’ guild.

Three pints of beer, each slightly different.

There’s been a lot of chat about beer styles in the past week or so – this being one of those topics that comes up on the beer blogging randomiser every couple of years. This time round, among familiar arguments, there are some new angles and interesting nuggets:

SOURCE: Franz D. Hofer/Tempest in a Tankard.

Franz D. Hofer has shared detailed notes on Augsburg and its beer at Tempest in a Tankard. We visited Augsburg in 2007 and this post, as is often the case with Franz’s writing, makes us want to go back:

No one knows how Die Drei Königinnen (The Three Queens) got its name, not even the owner. But the patrons who flock to this lively Wirtshaus don’t seem much bothered by these arcane details of local history, devoting their attention instead to the beer and satisfying food on offer at this chic tavern… Located in a quiet neighbourhood just beyond the southern edge of the Fuggerei, Die Drei Königinnen also conceals a secluded treasure of a beer garden in its courtyard. You’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret as you drink in the autumn sunshine shimmering through the leaves of the majestic trees rising up over this small oasis of calm. Near the back of the garden is a covered seating area held aloft by slender iron columns. This was once an outdoor bowling alley, a historical remnant that stands as a testament to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century leisure pursuits.

SOURCE: Martin Taylor/Google Maps.

Pub ticker Martin Taylor is one of the most consistent bloggers in the game and we often find ourselves referring to his back catalogue when we want to know what a pub in a strange town is really like. Now, he’s started to put together a map so you can more easily find what he’s written about particular places.

Finally, from Twitter, notes from the holiday we wish we’d had…

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


News nuggets and longreads 28 August 2021: beards, barrels and The Bull

As always, here’s our Saturday morning round-up of noteworthy writing about beer, brewing and pubs from the past week, including notes on IPA, red ale and fictional pubs.

If you read one thing this week, make it David Jesudason’s essay on the IPA and imperialism for Good Beer Hunting:

The modern IPA is, like the plantation shutter or the Indian tonic water, part of a movement that Salman Rushdie described in the 1980s as “the Raj Revival.” In Imaginary Homelands, a collection of his essays written between 1981 to 1992, the writer (and former advertising executive) argues that British nostalgia for empire is embedded in racism, and bemoans how “the ideas of the past rot down into the earth and fertilize the present.”… The stereotypes that Rushdie laments, seen today on beer bottles like Fuller’s Bengal Lancer, are easy to shrug off “if yours isn’t the culture being ridiculed,” and if your culture “has the power to counter-punch against the stereotype,” as Rushdie notes.

SOURCE: Molson Coors.

At Zythophile beer historian Martyn Cornell has sharpened his knives and decided to do away with the myth of ‘Irish red ale’ once and for all. It’s an interesting target as, honestly, we’ve not come across one for sale in the past decade. The story, as you might guess, has more to do with marketing than history:

One question remains unanswered: who invented the expression “Irish Red Ale”? It was, presumably, someone in the Coors marketing department in Golden, Colorado: Pelforth called their version “Bière Rouge“, without adding “Irlandaise“. The term “red ale” was unknown in Ireland, except, as we shall see, among scholars of Irish mythology. The name of the originator of the phrase “Irish Red Ale” may be hidden somewhere in the corporate archives in Golden: it would be fascinating to find out who came up with the expression… The promotion by Coors of George Killian’s Irish Red Ale as an “authentic” beer with roots going back, supposedly, to 1864 seems eventually to have persuaded some in the swelling 1980s American craft beer scene that there actually WAS a genuine, historic Irish beer style called red ale.

SOURCE: Refreshing Beer.

We’d never heard of Epochal Barrel Fermented Ales until Robbie Pickering’s profile of the brewery appeared at I think I might have a refreshing beer earlier this week. It sounds like a fascinating operation:

A skilled home brewer, [Gareth Young] has set up his small brewery in Port Dundas to make beers influenced by the way it was done two hundred years ago. His beer is fermented with a multi-strain yeast, cleansed to rid them of excess yeast and then allowed to mature to completion in oak barrels with a handful of whole-cone hops. The finished product is naturally carbonated in the bottle… Although Epochal bills its beers as barrel-fermented, the real heart of the brewery seems to me to be a 60-year-old Grundy tank originally made for Ansells of Birmingham. This is used to “cleanse” the beer after primary fermentation… After two or three days in open fermenters (open as in unpressurised – there is a lid on them) the beer is transferred to the tank, which acts as a “MacGyver Burton Union” as Young calls the set-up.

Social distancing in the pub.

In case you might have got the impression that things were back to normal for us, they’re not. We’re still picking and choosing our pub trips with care and defaulting to sitting outside if that’s an option. But it seems as if Phil at Oh Good Ale is more cautious yet. In a blog post this week he sets out his feelings in detail – a useful exercise at a time when we’re all still trying to work out not only what’s allowed but what is sensible:

Is it safe to talk about? This is another. As it goes, I’m quite keen on Britain having good trading and political relations with Europe; I’m also a Labour Party member. So there have been plenty of opportunities, in the last six years, for me to learn that other people have strong negative feelings about people and things who I feel positively about. Usually I’ve been happy to stand by what I believe in – where appropriate, which on a beer blog it generally isn’t – and laugh off any hostility. Something about the politics around lockdown, though, has got to me, and made me not want to do anything even slightly like wading in. It’s partly that the topic of lockdown is hard to avoid if you’re writing about pubs and beer, and partly that I genuinely see the way we deal with Covid as… well, a matter of life and death; this makes it hard to engage in a highly polarised debate in a spirit of knockabout fun. And it doesn’t help matters that the effects of the other two big polarisations I mentioned – the effects of what happened in December 2019 and January 2020 – are still very much with us.

A village inn.

Here’s a bit of fun: if The Bull, the pub from long-running radio soap The Archers, was real, what would it be like? And how would the beer taste? For Pellicle, Paul Crowther and some expert correspondents give it serious thought:

I didn’t want to do anything too crazy or out of style for this beer. Shires has been drunk at the Bull since 1951 so I wanted this to be as traditional a recipe as possible… Bitter predominantly uses pale malt but needs a good portion of crystal malt to give it body and sweet caramel flavours. My Archers listeners imagined a copper, chestnut or dark amber colour which is in the darker range for a bitter, so I added a small amount of roasted barley to give it a deeper hue… The world of hops was a lot more limited in 1951 than today so I had to be careful to be historically accurate. Fuggle was released in 1875 and is considered quintessential in British traditional ales for its earthy bitterness.

From our local Proper Newspaper, The Bristol Post, comes a piece by food critic Mark Taylor on the rise of the brewery taproom in St Philips. It’s a useful summary of the state of play (worth bookmarking if you’re coming to town) that also includes intel on an opening due later in the year and this insight into what might be driving the boom:

One of the reasons why St Philips is becoming so popular for new businesses is the forthcoming Bristol University campus, which will open on the site of the former Post Office Depot on Cattle Market Road in 2025… The land behind Temple Meads railway station will be transformed with 10,000 new homes, 3,000 students and 800 university staff. The new campus will also help join the city centre to the east of Bristol with new walking and cycling paths.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this…

We contributed a piece to this book, along with several others; do get yourself a copy.

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


News, nuggets and longreads 21 August 2021: AOL, shandy, Fantôme

Here’s all the writing about brewing, beer and pubs of which we took special notice in the past week, from lager top to uniquely funky saison.

It has been suggested that the story about sexism, harassment and bullying in beer-related workplaces had just gone away – that people have got bored and moved on, with little or no action taken. But last night another open letter appeared, this time addressed to the management of the West Berkshire Brewery:

It alleges “bullying, racism, homophobia, sexism, sexual harassment, a disregard for staff’s physical and mental wellbeing”.

What’s remarkable about this wave of callings-out is that it isn’t stopping; each time it happens with regard to one workplace, employees and former employees of another are inspired to speak up.

Barr shandy.

For Pellicle Jemma Beedie asks “Is the UK going through a shandy renaissance?”

The origins of the name are delightfully obfuscated by a combination of legend and poor documentation. Shandy is a shortening of shandygaff. Difford’s Guide suggests the “shandy” part of shandygaff comes from mid-19th century slang. Shant of gatter translated to “pub water” – a pint of beer… There is also a possibility that shandy comes from the Scots word, chanty, meaning chamberpot. This would, in turn, mean that shant of gatter is more correctly read as “piss-water”; a fair cop, if the lager of 1850 was anything like the poor offerings we suffer in our chain establishments. The mass-market lager that isn’t improved by a splash of lemonade doesn’t exist.

As is quite often the case with articles at Pellicle, we started out rolling our eyes but, by the end, were half convinced. Certainly that John-Smith’s-Bitter-Lemonade combo sounds tempting, if only as a reminder of childhood.

The early beer internet.

Stan Hieronymus has been digging around in the remains of the early beer internet and reminds us how fragile and fleeting digital media can be:

Backing up a bit, in September 1994 All About Beer Magazine published a story headlined “Tapping the Net.” This was about the time the Netscape browser launched. Thus AABM provided, first, a primer for those who recently received an AOL CD in the mail, and second, a guide to resources that remind us there was/is more to the internet than the web. Not surprisingly, I can’t link to the story because AABM didn’t begin publishing online until 1996… By 1997, a few beer sites operated out of their own domains, which makes them much easier to find using the Wayback Machine.

If you want some UK context, here’s our attempt at something similar from 2015, with a focus on the Oxford Bottled Beer Database.

Lager beer in the 19th century.

For Craft Beer & Brewing beer historian Mike Stein of @LostLagers provides notes on pre-prohibition beer in America:

In Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, there is a historical marker honoring what is believed to be America’s first lager brewer. It reads, “In 1840 John Wagner brought lager yeast from his native Bavaria and brewed the nation’s first lager beer.” In many ways, Wagner was a saloon or brewpub brewer. His brewery was in the back of his house, his boil conducted in a kettle on a crane over an open hearth. Wagner’s home brewery was likely in line with those that came before him in 1840, even if—according to another Philadelphia brewer—Wagner was the first to use Bavarian lager yeast… Whether or not Wagner definitely was the first lager brewer in America, his lager predates the world’s first pilsner, commemorated two years later in Bohemia. There is little doubt among beer historians that America’s first lagers were darker than the popular pale, pilsner-style beers of today.

Illustration: a pint glass.

A writer who’s new to us, Ryan Bradford, wants to know when the hell beer became $7 a glass:

Truthfully, I don’t even know what craft means anymore. If a brewery is large enough to be poached by Anheuser Busch, does it still count as craft? Or are they just banking on people embracing an artisanal craze which allows the market to charge whatever it wants? This is the same phenomenon that allows places to get away with charging $10 for toast or charge exorbitant prices to flip your own pancakes. This is how we got $14 cocktails and chode bars with $2,000 annual membership fees… Side note: Whenever this subject comes up, I always think back to Ian MacKaye’s response regarding people buying $28 Minor Threat shirts from Urban Outfitters: “Do I think it’s absurd? Yes, I certainly do. Motherfuckers pay $28, that’s what they wanna pay for their shirts.”

We’ve all been debating the price of a pint for years and the problem is that nobody has any money. But we do think there’s something in this suggestion, in terms of inclusivity:

I’m not saying all beers have to be cheap, but would it hurt for each bar and brewery to offer a single $5 lager? That’s all I want. And then I’ll shut up.

Fantôme Saison.

Dany Prignon, founder of cult Belgian brewery Fantôme, is thinking about succession planning and is in search of a protege, according to an interview he has given to the Beer Idiots:

He is vague about what he wants to do. But first he needs to find an investing partner, who will work alongside him for a while to learn the methods that have made Fantôme so famous… “I think it is time for me to officially grow old,” he said.

Anyone fancy it?

Finally, from Twitter, a global truth…

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday and the (temporarily?) revived Monday round-up from Stan Hieronymus.