On the face of it, this is an odd thing to do. Breweries without taprooms may give you a taste of their beer, but they are hardly places to kick back and put the world to rights over a good session. They can be interesting for beer lovers, but, if we’re honest, setting aside the few with special architectural, historical or brewing points of interest, one is much the same as another.
But perhaps there is something deeper going on:
When we knock on the door of a pokey little brewery at the ragged end of a rainswept industrial estate, are we really responding to a soul-deep thirst to express our gratitude, in person, to the brewers of our much-loved beer?
With several years of experience, Peter Hemings came into his own as a maltster and brewer, and may have taught these trades to other enslaved men in Virginia. On April 11, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, “Our brewing for the use of the present year has been some time over. About the last of Oct. or beginning of Nov. we begin for the ensuing year and malt and brew three, 60-gallon casks successively which will give so many successive lessons to the person you send… I will give you notice in the fall when we are to commence malting and our malter and brewer is uncommonly intelligent and capable of giving instruction if your pupil is as ready at comprehending it.”
In the New Town where I grew up, all the estate pubs had been built to look like New Town homes on steroids, following the ‘pub as a home from home’ idea, but their newness stripped them of any of the ‘sense of permanence and continuity’ that all the pubs in the Old Town had dripping from every brick and beam, and they felt like zombie pubs, lifeless and without character. A bar, in contrast, never feels ‘homey’: indeed, I’d suggest that the slightest pinch, jot or iota of ‘a home-like character’ turns a bar into either a pub or a teashop.
Last time I was in town, the brewer’s retail outlets consisted solely of the little basement bar on Viktoriagade; now there are over a dozen premises in Copenhagen alone, with more worldwide.
We know the Wetherspoon chain has a fascinating history – we wrote about it at length in 20th Century Pub – and now that history is going to be celebrated with a museum above a Wolverhampton superpub. We suspect this will have a certain kitsch appeal and become a pilgrimage site for Spoons worshippers in years to come.
Some sad brewery news: York Brewery has gone into administration. We’ve generally enjoyed York’s beers over the years, and certainly associated them with weekends away in one of England’s most fascinating cities, even if in recent years they’ve perhaps struggled to stand out.
Classics corner: Charles Dickens’s ‘dropsical’ inn
We promised to flag some famous bits of beer and pub writing and this week’s piece – one of Jess’s absolute favourites – is the description of a London riverside pub that appears at the start of Chapter 6 of Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend:
The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften the human breast. The available space in it was not much larger than a hackney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar bigger, that space was so girt in by corpulent little casks, and by cordial-bottles radiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by lemons in nets, and by biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made low bows when customers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snug corner, and by the landlady’s own small table in a snugger corner near the fire, with the cloth everlastingly laid. This haven was divided from the rough world by a glass partition and a half-door, with a leaden sill upon it for the convenience of resting your liquor; but, over this half-door the bar’s snugness so gushed forth that, albeit customers drank there standing, in a dark and draughty passage where they were shouldered by other customers passing in and out, they always appeared to drink under an enchanting delusion that they were in the bar itself.
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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?”.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
At Lady Sinks the BoozeKirsty 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.
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.
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.
1. The Grange, Thornton Heath – old, new, improved saloon bar. (And, from Google Street View, how it looks today.) pic.twitter.com/RaUkLvhWDM
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 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.
At Pursuit of AbbeynessMartin 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.