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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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