It’s Saturday morning which means another round-up of good reading about beer, brewing and pubs, from the Baltic to Bermondsey.
First, a couple of bits of news:
- Steve Holt, owner of Kirkstall Brewery, has stepped into rescue North Brewing: “The move will ensure North’s future, including its Springwell Brewery and Taproom, as well as the North Taproom sites in Leeds and Manchester. The transaction does not include the North Taproom in Birmingham, which will close.”
- Carlsberg Marston has decided to shut down the last example of Burton union brewing equipment still in use, in Burton upon Trent. Ian Webster has more background at The Beertonian: “[The] various incarnations of Marston’s have been proud of their Union Room, calling it the ‘Cathedral of Brewing.’ In 1991 their commitment expanded with the installation of more Unions. ‘No Burton Union. No Pedigree. End of.’ Not my words but those on marstonsbrewery.co.uk”
For The Guardian Jonathan Nunn has written about Nicholas Saunders, founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy and various other ventures in the UK. It’s not about beer, though The Kernel does get a mention, but about the complexity behind the idea of ‘artisanal’ foodie culture:
Passersby assumed it was all a posh hippy commune, and in some sense they were correct. For all its democratic impulse, many workers in the warehouse either had the title “Honourable” before their names, had been to the same public school as Saunders… Some resented the increase in “straight” customers that the Yard’s success was attracting. In 1977, when a Daily Telegraph article flooded the Yard with people from the home counties desperate for bargain basement coffee, Saunders temporarily shut it down. He may have distrusted the “freaks”, but Saunders also realised that if too many “straights” came then the Yard’s alternative atmosphere could not be maintained. Days later, an irritated customer came by to harangue Saunders with his thoughts on the matter: “So you stopped selling coffee because you were too successful? How British. How disgustingly British.”
Nunn also observes that graduates of Neal’s Yard and associated businesses dominate the UK artisanal food and drink scene even today. Until very recently (like, this week) Bristol had a specialist beer and cheese shop run by former Neal’s Yard people, via Bermondsey.
His final observation is a depressing one: when you try to create an alternative, it seems to either get co-opted (taken over by Holland & Barrett) or becomes part of the engine of gentrification:
“At times [the British food scene’s] institutions bring to mind Saunders’s criticism of the shops he was once trying to put out of business: meeting places for the in-group, expensive, making ordinary people feel like intruders.”
In the latest edition of her newsletter, The Gulp, Katie Mather asks: “When I say I want to go to the pub, what do I mean?”
I want to be chatted to when I go to the bar to choose from a good selection of beer, and feel like the people who work here are looked after and enjoy being there. I love a real fire, but controversially, it’s not a dealbreaker. I do, however, award huge bonus points for hauntings, witch marks, and fascinating or gory local history that can be linked to the pub—however tentatively. Points are deducted for tourism-baiting, although I’m not too harsh on this right now. It’s a difficult industry out there. Beautiful views from the windows are a tick. Funny or interesting regulars are a tick. Classic bar snacks are a massive tick—pickled eggs, butties wrapped in clingfilm, or pies from a local butchers’ shop all tot the points right up.
For Pellicle Will Hawkes provides a detailed profile of Störtebeker Braumanufaktur in Stralsund, Germany, which also acts a vehicle to explain the history of brewing in the DDR, and German attitudes to experimental beer:
It was once Stralsunder, founded in 1827, but its modern story begins in February 1990 amidst the wreckage of the former DDR… At the time East Germany breweries were in high demand—or some of them were. Export brands such as Radeberger and Lübzer, which had the best equipment and ingredients East Germany could afford, had an excellent reputation, and were quickly snaffled when the Treuhand—the organisation established to sell off state-owned East German companies—put them up for sale in 1990… Stralsunder was different. Having paid 1 million Deutschmarks (about £815,000 in modern pounds Sterling), [new owners] the Nordmanns were confronted with dozens of suppliers demanding back payment, coal-powered brewery equipment in terrible shape, lagering cellars not cold enough to do their job, and a supply chain in ruins coughing up awful ingredients.
Let’s stick with Will Hawkes: the December edition of his excellent newsletter is now free to read online and includes what amounts to an oral history of the London brewing scene in the 2010s. That’s a period that’s starting to feel like history, and in need of documentation. Will highlights various instances of people learning the ropes in London then shooting off around the UK, and the world, to found their own breweries:
“The brewers in East London were a tight bunch. There was zero competition, everyone was super open to sharing ideas and excitement about beers. Friday after work in the Cock Tavern you couldn’t move for brewers! I still brew like those early days at the Kernel: I make quite different styles now, but they are made in the same spirit.”
We’ve already linked to this in a full-on response post earlier in the week but, for completeness, do check out Ross Cummins on his top 5 Manchester pints (at the moment):
Now herein lies the first problem with this list. Holt’s Black is not available in every Holt’s pub in Manchester City centre. On a previous occasion I had tried to get Dave to try a pint of the black stuff in The Hare & Hounds and Lower Turks Head, both of which serve Holt’s beer (the latter being an actual Holt’s pub, and the former just serving Holt’s Bitter it seems). Yet neither had Black on draft… See I had first tried Black only a few months ago at The Ostrich in Prestwich, thanks to Cafe Beermoth‘s very own bar manager, Big Cal. He had harped on about it a few times, and so when I got the chance I tried it, and loved it. It became my go to at my local, The Cleveland, another Holt’s pub just down the round from my house. Thus I had assumed every Holt’s pub did it. Unfortunately not.
Finally, from Liam K on BlueSky…