News and links 16 January 2021: Brains, pub names, the rise of craft beer

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that helped distract and entertain us in the past week, from Cardiff to cans.

First, commentary on a bit of news that we neglected as it landed over Christmas: Tandleman has thoughts on the sort-of-takeover of Brains by Marston’s. We say sort-of because this is another of those commercial arrangements that is hard to explain in plain English:

So what has happened? In short, Covid-19 has happened. Wales has been particularly hard hit by restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic causing “significant financial pressure” to Brains. The company had already concentrated business on a core number of  around 160 pubs with the remaining 40 or so being closed or sold off in March 2020.  Clearly this wasn’t enough to stave off problems, as this was followed by an announcement before Christmas that rival pub chain Marston’s was to take over on 25-year lease, 156 Brains pubs in a bid to save 1,300 jobs.  The deal includes a supply agreement to continue the availability of Brains brands in the pubs, which will be leased to Marston’s at an annual rent of £5.5 million. Brain’s managed houses will also be run by Marston’s.

And there are further thoughts, with contextual historical notes, from the Pub Curmudgeon:

Too many pubs now have beer ranges that are hard to distinguish from one another. Promoting the fact that Bloggs’ pubs are the best place to find Bloggs’ beers has to potential to create a unique selling proposition. It also must be noted that the integrated approach has been adopted by newer breweries such as Joule’s and Wye Valley who have built up significant tied estates that heavily feature their own beers. Clearly there is life in that model yet.

An A-board advertising craft beer.

Recent changes in the US brewery landscape have got Jeff Alworth thinking about the long-term success of the craft beer segment:

Beer used to be considered déclassé, beneath the attention of polite society. Now it’s served in every good restaurant. Big companies had enough money to keep craft out of expensive sports and entertainment venues, but it became too popular and ballparks and stadiums had to start offering it. Beer has also seeped into venues it never appeared before like movie theaters. Grocery stores and gas stations sell growlers. Beer is everywhere, and that beer is overwhelmingly the various varieties of craft beer… We beer fans may overestimate the average drinker’s knowledge of terpenes or fermentation techniques, but grab a typical pubgoer and send them back in time and they’d know more than most ‘experts’ did in 1986.

Greene King sign

At the end of a year when a much-needed debate about symbols of slavery and racism got a bit lost amid a moral panic over statues, Greene King has decided to rename some of its pubs:

The pub company and brewer is renaming three pubs currently called The Black Boy, in Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury and Shinfield, as well as the Black’s Head, in Wirksworth… The decision to change the name follows detailed consultation with a range of stakeholders and thorough research of the pubs’ histories… While the pub name ‘Black Boy’ exists throughout the country, there is not a consensus on its origins and many of those consulted felt the name to be offensive and discriminatory.

SOURCE: Emma Inch/Pellicle.

For Pellicle Emma Inch has profiled a brewery we’ve never heard of – Good Things of East Sussex. What makes this particular brewery newsworthy? (Always a good question to ask.) In this case, it’s the environmental mission around which it is built:

Along with childhood friend Russ Wheildon [Chris Drummond] initially set up Crafted Crate, a beer subscription service. Through this, the pair visited hundreds of breweries right across the country, gaining their unique insight into the brewing industry.

“We found every time we left a brewery, we were writing down notes like ‘okay, yeah, love the way they did that. Perhaps a little change and we could make this more sustainable’ and that just kind of got us into the process, got us into brewing,” Chris says.

The cover of the Beer Map of Great Britain, 1970s.

For Ferment, the magazine that accompanies a beer subscription service, Matt Curtis has written about regional character in beer, as a foretaste of a longer work in progress:

With the rise of craft beer… came a gradual move to a greater amount of homogeneity, as brewers attempted to recreate the most in-vogue styles at their own breweries. As brewing equipment and processes improved – as did communication with the rise of the internet, meaning a new recipe or idea can be shared with another brewer on the other side of the world in seconds – so did this march towards uniformity… I can’t escape the feeling that in a regression from regionality, we’re losing something that makes beer truly special.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

(We will never get bored of shots of old skool classic beers in cans; it’s just funny.)

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


News, nuggets and longreads 9 January 2021: aerosols, Allegra glasses, aalhouses

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from fruity esters to Brussels beer slang.

Once again, let’s get the grim reality of now out of the way first. For New StatesmanSarah Manavis has written about aerosol transmission of COVID-19 in enclosed spaces:

People who have had coronavirus are truly baffled as to how they managed to catch it, because they wore a mask, distanced and followed official guidelines. This is not a problem of ignorance or denial, but a lack of education – and that, like so much else during this pandemic, is the fault of the government… Little has been said since the spring about the dangers of meeting indoors, even as restrictions are tightened.

And with pubs forced to close once again (see above) the Government has announced a new round of one-off grants for leisure, hospitality and retail businesses. Again, they’ve ignored the supply chain – breweries get nothing, for example – but hopefully for some, this will be the necessary bare minimum to see them through to the easing of restrictions in spring.

In the meantime, could they operate as vaccination centres? Some operators certainly seem to think so.

On a less gloomy note, the London Beer and Pub Guide has published its end-of-year stats and finds that 2020 hasn’t yet wrought disaster on the city’s beer scene:

We started 2020 with 323 Guide entries (this includes pubs, brewery taps, tap rooms, bottle shop bars, etc) and, rather bizarrely, we end the year with 323. Not surprisingly, this year saw a sharp reduction in the number of new places added to the Guide: from a record total of 80 in 2019, in 2020 we added just 25. Only four of those 25 were added after mid March… Balancing the 25 new entries were 25 deletions, and while many of these are due to the pandemic, this is not the case for them all.

A ripe peach.

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for a beer subscription service, Mark Dredge provides a useful explainer about esters – what they are, how they influence the taste of your beer and why they’re no longer talked about only in relation to quirky German and Belgian beers:

For his hazy modern IPAs, [Sam] Dickison [of Boxcar Brewing] is trying to great an ester profile of “addictively delicious fruit”. Think Fruit Salad sweets, peach, apple and vanilla. To get that he uses a blend of different yeasts: “I like blends because I feel like a lot of yeasts have some aspects where I’d prefer less of one thing and more of the other stuff. It’s interesting to see if in a blend, flavours from another yeast can mask some of the flavours you’re not so keen on.”

Cactus in a desert.

SOURCE: Christoph von Gellhorn on Unsplash.

At Bring on the BeerMichael has provided some practical tips on how to do Dry January if you’ve decided it’s for you:

The arguments over lo/no have been done to death but the one truth is that the range, and quality of that range, is growing. In 2016 all I had was Becks Blue and Kopparberg Non Alcoholic Cider. Now there is an absolute plethora of options and styles from brands such as Hammerton, Brooklyn, Budweiser, Birra Moretti, Peroni, Drop Bear, Pistonhead, Guinness Open Gate, Big Drop, St Peters, Adnams, Sharps, Tiny Rebel, Northern Monk, Br*wD*g…. the list goes on and on.


At Beer Food TravelLiam has been exploring words for food and drink in Yola, an almost-extinct language spoken by English-ish settlers in Wexford, Ireland, and their descendents:

Back in 1867 an Englishman called William Barnes published a book with the typical-for-the-time long title of A Glossary with Some Pieces of Verse of the Old Dialect of the English Colony in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy, County of Wexford, Ireland, which included information collected by Wexford native Jacob Poole around 1823… Barnes goes into great detail on pronunciation and origins of the language, suggesting it is closely connected to the language spoken in Somerset, Dorset and Devon in the past…

Verscheuren, Brussels.

This, in turn, inspired Eoghan Walsh to dig into the booze-related dialect of his adopted home for Brussels Beer City, providing 27 Brusseleir words for drinking and drunkenness:

Beeke (noun): small beer

Boemele (verb): to get drunk regularly

Druuge leiver (noun): drunk, drinker (literally, dry liver)

Allegra stemless glass.

SOURCE: Adapted from a product image at Festival Glass.

Finally, here’s something you don’t see often these days: a review of a beer glass, the Allegra stemless. It’s by Marianne Hodgkinson from the Time at the Bar podcast and makes, among others, this interesting observation:

Stemless Allegras are undeniably attractive to look at, and in a world where looks equal likes, the natural benefit of breweries adopting this glassware is the free advertisement they will get online as every beer geek worth thier salt snaps and tags thier products into the public eye. Though one might argue that these glasses drift dangerously close to #propervaseware, the effect will still financially benefit the breweries.

From Twitter, there’s this thread of retro Kitsch:

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

Blogging and writing News

News, nuggets and longreads 2 January 2021: Future Shock

After a couple of weeks off, partly because beer writing and blogging also went into hibernation, we’re back with our first round-up of 2021.

Once again, things are bleak. As various wags have pointed out, the only pubs you can now sit in for a drink are on Scilly and UK COVID-19 case numbers look scarier than ever. Still, at least vaccines are beginning to roll out – though even that has somehow become fraught and and confusing.

Still, beer continues to exist, and pubs continue to fascinate, and writing about them rolls on.

Brussels blood sausage.

At Brussels Beer City, with the help of his wife, Eoghan Walsh provides notes on whether there is such a thing as traditional Bruxellois Christmas food and, if so, which of the city’s beers might best pair with what:

Irish Christmas traditions are pretty standard when it comes to food, and are what you might expect from the archipelago of English-speaking islands in the northwestern corner of Europe: mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding, turkey, stuffing, ham, various iterations of potatoes (mashed, roasted, parsley), gravy. In asking around what constituted a Brussels Christmas, it became clear that no such culinary canon existed. For some people, game – rabbit often, sometimes small birds – featured highly, while for others it was all about salmon. Noting Brussels’ long history of migrant communities, people suggested dishes with Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, and French influences…

A pint and a book.

Suzy Aldridge has launched a new blog, Hobbyist Lobbyist, with a bit less beer than the old one but still plenty of room for, say, reflections on the magic of bar stools:

There’s just enough space on the curved end of the bar for your pint, your book, and a pot of olives. There’s four more seats at the bar but you’re just out the way enough that no-one needs to lean over you to order. You occasionally duck so they can read the blackboard behind you but you don’t mind, in fact you can recommend the stout – gesturing at your tankard. The bar staff are charming, the ebb and flow of customers sharing the bar with you is friendly and comfortable. You are at peace.

Alice Batham

For Burum Collective, Helen Anne Smith has interviewed Alice Batham, an early-career brewer with a name famous among beer geeks:

“My family own a brewery, so I have actually grown up in the industry. When I was younger, I used to go to the brewery with my Dad, it was only ever like a Saturday, or Sunday kind of thing. I was never pressured into going into beer. I went to University to do English and – it sounds like super cliche whenever I say this to people, but I went and lived in Australia for a bit. Their bar and pub scene is just so different and I realised how much I loved it and missed it.”

Rural Jamaica

In his ongoing research into porter and stout (there’s a big book on the way) Martyn Cornell continues to find new stories to tell. This week, he shone a light on the historic popularity of porter among working-class Jamaicans:

Draught porter was sold from draught porter shops, in existence in Kingston, Jamaica from at least the Edwardian era; from casks in refreshment parlors that also sold fried fish and bread; and also by travelling salesmen, who would call out “Draaf porter!” as they travelled on foot around rural villages in the Jamaican interior, carrying a large tin container with a spout, and cans in quart, pint, half-pint and gill (quarter-pint, pronounced “jill”) sizes, for serving… Draught porter, often referred to as “drought porter,” was brewed by Jamaica’s many soda water and soft drinks manufacturers using “wet sugar,” a type of molasses made by the hundreds of small cane-sugar farmers in the Jamaican countryside and sold in tins. Draught porter retailed for an exceedingly cheap 1½ pence a glass, and was the drink of Jamaica’s poorest classes.

Breakfast now being served.

Liam at Beer, Food, Travel has unearthed a fun little thing – a rundown of the correct names for drinks taken at various times of day, from 1892. At the time of writing, we ought to have put away our eye openers (6am), be working on our appetizers (7am) and looking forward to digesters at 8am. (Ugh.)

After a slow start, a decent number of Golden Pints posts did appear in the end. If we’ve missed yours, give us a shout.

Common themes? “What a year it’s been!” and plaudit for Lars Marius Garshol’s excellent book.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this, which you’ll either get, or you won’t:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-ups from Thursday – from the past three Thursdays, in fact.


News, nuggets and longreads 12 December 2020: awards, Aldi, a hero’s life

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that struck as as especially noteworthy in the past week, from Proustian memories to lethal sandwiches.

We wouldn’t usually have much to say about the British Guild of Beer Writers annual awards unless we’d won something and feel the need to awkwardly acknowledge it but this year’s list of winners is pleasingly different with gold tankards for John Stooke, Emma Inch, Lily Waite, Jaega Wise, Natalya Watson, Claire Bullen and (of course) Roger Protz. Lily Waite deservedly took the top prize and was named beer writer of the year.

Aldi craft beer.

We enjoyed these notes on Aldi own-brand craft beers from the Beer Nut for several reasons. First, the sheer flair with which he puts in the boot:

I needed to complete the set, of course, so also picked up Memphis Blvd. As Aldi’s answer to Elvis Juice it’s an IPA with grapefruit. Not that I’m a big fan of Elvis Juice or anything, but hey – 6.5% ABV and for buttons. It’s a lovely coppery red colour, but the fun pretty much ends there. There’s awesomely epic amounts of grapefruit and epically awesome amounts of bittering hops and they do not get on. The result tastes like an equal mix of orange peel and vomit, with a nasty dry metallic rasp for bad measure. While I don’t particularly like Elvis Juice I do particularly hate this.

Secondly, though, there’s a real point here: we’re all for making interesting beer affordable and accessible but doesn’t it also have to taste good? Or at least kind of OK? Otherwise, it’s just another kind of rip-off.

The River Ale House

For Deserter ‘Dirty South’ writes about the craving for real ale and how the growler has come into its own in 2020:

[At] some point in the week, the living ale becomes an itch that nothing else can scratch. Which is why I set off the other night in the direction of the River Ale House, in East Greenwich, with hope in my heart, a skip in my step and nowt in my growler… I made it to the River Ale House, delighted to see Trevor and his lovely assistant (Dave? Steve? Geoff?) dispensing fresh local beer with their customary cheer… As I left, I saw a man waiting outside with two growlers and a massive bucket. Clearly, I had much to learn.

Heineken sign

For Good Beer HuntingEoghan Walsh has been thinking about his late mother, cheap lager and the emotional associations of food and drink:

In the memory, I’m sitting in the front room of my family home in Cork, my forearm resting stickily on the lumpy pleather arm of our sofa… The TV throws shadows around the darkened room, as the dum dum dums herald the start of the London-set soap opera “EastEnders.” Next to me on the little wicker footstool is a triumvirate of Pringle tube, bottle of gas station pinot noir, and a hefty can of Heineken. Next to them is my mother, sitting in her customary chair in the corner of the room, glass cradled in her hand, feet tucked up underneath her and eyes focused on the latest drama in Albert Square.

Hops against green.

Hollie Stephens has written about wild hops in New Mexico for Pellicle – specifically, their ability to thrive with little water. As she points out, this could be helpful in coming years…

The hop bines I’m looking at—while not at their most majestic—are very much viable and alive. It seems like a miracle. For other varieties, surely such water deprivation would leave nothing but a shrivelled brown mess? “If I had Chinook or Cascade and had the same situation where I lost water, they would probably die” Brian [Lock] agrees. As we climb back into the Mule, I’m bristling with excitement for what I’ve just seen; hops deprived of water for many weeks that are alive and well. As we fight climate change whilst trying to make fantastic beer available to everyone regardless of geography, these hop varieties could be a game-changer.

Scotch egg.

This piece on the legal meanings of ‘a substantial meal’ by Jed Meers, a lecturer at the University of York, is a fascinating read, digging into the assumptions around class and culture that influence licensing decisions:

Tying alcohol consumption to a sit-down meal is a long-standing technique from the temperance playbook. Perhaps the best-known example is New York’s so-called “Raines Law” ­– legislation at the turn of the 20th century that required establishments to serve a table meal with any alcoholic drinks on a Sunday. It soon become synonymous with the “Raines law sandwich”; the cheapest possible composition of “waterproof ham” and “tough bread” that could charitably be described as a meal. According to hearings in front of the prohibition-era American Congress, establishments placed these on the table at the start of service to comply with the legislation and they “stood on the table, untouched, until Sunday was over”. These sandwiches were so hardy, Carson even recounts a story of them being weaponised in a bar room brawl, where “a man snatched up a venerable Raines law sandwich and brained his adversary with it in one blow”.

(It was actually published a couple of weeks ago but we only noticed it yesterday.)

A hobbit hole.

SOURCE: Lucas Grewez via Unsplash

The excellently-named Exit Pursued by a Beer is a new blog to us and this post explaining the ‘craft beer drinker’s journey’ with reference to the monomyth of Joseph Campbell tickled us:

Imagine a youth, has not yet started to drink. Perhaps they occasionally have a sip of their parent’s beer or are allowed a small glass of wine on special occasions. They receive a call to adventure – perhaps an invite to a party. They receive guidance from an older, wiser entity – perhaps an elder sibling buys them a six pack of the beer they like? The youth crosses a threshold from the natural world – their normal home life – into a world of independence and raucous celebration…

Finally, from Twitter, there’s what we suspect will be among the first of many such appeals:

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


News, nuggets and longreads 5 December 2020: Bristol, Bamberg, bogeymen

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from orange blossom to smoked malt.

First, we want to highlight a piece we intended to include last week but each assumed the other had bookmarked. That is, Eoghan Walsh’s account of the creation of Le Marlouf Moroccan Tripel:

Yassine Kouysse came to beer – and to brewing – late in life. Arriving in Belgium as a 19 year-old university student in 1998, Kouysse admits he was a reluctant convert to Belgian beer. He’d left Morocco before having had much time to explore what beers were on offer but in any case the Moroccan beer scene was “not an amazing experience,” Kouysse says. It was dominated by century-old Brasserie du Maroc, with its flagship Flag Spéciale Pale Lager, and post-colonial hangovers like Kronenbourg 1664. Despite working in bars to pay his way through school, it took 12 years and a revelatory glass of glass of Duvel before his eyes were opened to the possibilities of Belgian beer culture.

Harlestone Arms.

The Harlestone Arms. SOURCE: Courage/Pete Insole.

Bristol historian and heritage educator Pete Insole has provided a virtual crawl of the city’s lost pubs, with fantastically high-resolution photos and a very whizzy map:

Given that we cannot currently get out to the pub, this is a virtual pub crawl around some of the lost pubs of Bristol… At one point, each of these pubs were part of the Georges’ Brewery empire, but since the 1960s one by one each of them have closed, been knocked down or converted into housing or supermarkets… There was a time when there was literally a pub on every street corner and several in every neighbourhood. Each of the images on this tour come from the Courage Brewery archive of images.

Pils label

It had never occurred to us to ask “Whatever happened to Pils?” until Robbie Pickering, AKA Barm, AKA @robsterowski, answered that very question this week:

Isn’t Pils, or a bastardised descendant of it, the most popular beer style in the world?… Perhaps. But the term was understood much more narrowly in 1980s Britain by most beer drinkers. It wasn’t a hoppy golden lager modelled on the intensely bitter beer pioneered by Josef Groll at Pilsner Urquell. Nor was it the rather lighter version of it popularised by Dutch and Belgian brewers… For a generation, drinkers believed that a Pils was a strong bottled lager with gothic type on the label.

The beer that immediately sprang to our minds was Sam Smith’s take, available in their pubs until about 15 years ago – D-Pils, was it called? Or are we misremembering?

Clement Ogbonnaya

SOURCE: Tida Bradshaw/Pellicle.

For Pellicle Tutku Barbaros writes about a South London pub for South Londoners:

The thing about Clement [Ogbonnaya] is that we all trust him – he doesn’t need to specify he’s a Nigerian-born long time local resident to justify the pub’s slogan: “a pub for South London by South London.”… He politely refers to “a gap” in who was being represented and welcomed, noting “people that look like me and identify with me felt the same… Pubs are the cornerstone of British society, and I’m British, you know? I want to walk into a space and feel welcomed, not like awild west saloon where the music stops as I enter,” he says.

There are a couple of new beer media projects you might want to add to your bookmarks:

  • Time at the Bar is a podcast dedicated to beer history, produced by Marianne and Florean Hodgkinson. Their introductory blog post explains more.
  • The Female Gueuze is Sarah Sinclair’s new website/blog designed to “champion diverse personalities within the beer industry and to empower others to join”.

Schlenkerla Cap

Jeff Alworth has been profiling landmark beers over the course of the past few months and this week reachers Bamberg, where he paints a picture of a brewery that is at pains to remain unique:

Matthias [Trum] earned an economics degree at the university in Bamberg and then studied brewing at Weihenstephan, where he had a focus on brewing history as well as the craft of beer making. At Weihenstephan, “they don’t teach you anything about smoking [malt],” he explained… No one may have studied the process at a highly technical level outside the walls of Schenkerla, but the family has perfected the process over the century and a half of kilning over fire. “We often get questions from American craft brewers and American homebrewers—how do you do this, and how do you do that? And we always have to decline and say, ‘sorry, that’s a family secret that we have been working on for centuries.’”

A snug bar.

SOURCE: Finn Richards/It’s Nice That

Finn Richards has been taking gloriously warm, minimalistic photos of the snug bars in Irish pubs, which are now available as a calendar for 2021. Design website Its Nice That has some highlights.

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this reminder of a childhood favourite:

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