News, nuggets and longreads 4 January 2020: BrewDog, boats, brewery cats

Here’s everything on the subject of beer that we picked up during the Christmas and New Year deadzone, from booze-free pubs to home-brewing.

First, there’s this story of BrewDog’s new non-alcoholic bar. Like almost every PR claim to be “the first ever”, the PR doesn’t hold up to scrutiny (here’s one example, here’s another, there are lots more) but it still seems significant to us: no- and low-alcohol beer really is having some sort of moment. Out in the real world, we’ve seen more of it being drunk, heard more people talking about it and, indeed, drunk a little bit more of it ourselves. This new surge seems to be driven by people who like beer rather than by people opposed to it on moral grounds, as has tended to be the case in the past.


Non alcoholic beer: 0,0

Related: the Pub Curmudgeon has an interesting angle on the years 2010-2019, reflecting on the limited progress made by the anti-alcohol lobby in legislative terms in that period. This is especially interesting because he’s tended to be among the most vocal in sounding the alarm about slippery slopes and the risk of a return to prohibition:

In fact, changes in social attitudes have been doing a lot of the anti-drink lobby’s work for them. Over the past ten years, there has been a gentle but significant fall in per-capita alcohol consumption, probably more than they would have hoped for in 2009, but largely without help from public policy. As I’ve said in the past, the moderate consumption of alcohol in social situations has increasingly been stigmatised, and the range of occasions on which people will consider an alcoholic drink has shrunk. Just look at all those pubs that no longer open at lunchtimes, or are virtually deserted when they do, and observe amongst a party of diners in a pub how many of the adults have a soft drink.


Dupont logo.

For Craft Beer & Brewing Drew Beechum has given an account of his attempts to clone a cult Belgian beer, Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux:

I replaced my Saaz and Styrian Goldings with hops that I knew were in better shape in our markets. (It’s tempting to use region-appropriate ingredients, but if they’re not high-quality, skip them.) I simplified my water additions to a small dose of gypsum to punch the hops forward a bit. And the yeast … here, I got complicated… Over the years, from various sources, I’ve learned that Dupont has a few cultures living in the brew. Despite our desire for single manageable organisms, you can’t get there with just a single strain of yeast. (This is a good tip for a number of complex Belgian beers—mix strains!)

 


Exterior of the Vine Inn.

For CAMRA’s What’s Brewing newspaper, but reproduced here on his website, Roger Protz has a report into the health of Black Country breweries and, more particularly, their famous milds:

The only sadness visiting the two breweries is the dramatic decline of their Mild ales. Batham’s brews 8,000 barrels a year and only 2 per cent of that production is now Mild. Holden’s is slightly bigger, brewing 10,000 barrels a year, and Jonathan says he brews Mild only once every three weeks… Tim Batham says bluntly: “Mild is dying because the people who drink it are dying. But we’ll continue with it as long as people drink it.” Jonathan Holden offers a tad more optimism as sales of his bottled Mild are selling well.


Toulouse
SOURCE: Henrique Ferreira via Unsplash.

From the recently revived Booze, Beats and Bites blog, Nathaniel Southwood gives an account of an English pub in, of all places, Toulouse in the south of France:

There were a couple of tables out the front of the pub, with old chaps standing around chain smoking cigarettes, slowly drinking their dark amber coloured beer and occasionally engaging each other in conversation, nodding at all those who enter the pub as if they owned the place. Had it not been for the fact that they were speaking French, they could have been anywhere in the UK… Walking into the pub, I felt like I was in my local; the pub itself has a carpet, which is unlike Europe, it has low tables and stools with fixed seating on the back wall.


The Edwin Fox
SOURCE: Zythophile/Edwin Fox Society.

Martyn Cornell has found something amazing: “the Edwin Fox, last remaining wooden sailing ship to have carried India Pale Ale from London to the thirsty east”. You can read the full story at Zythophile:

In her three decades as a working ship, the Edwin Fox carried an enormous variety of cargoes and passengers: troops to the Baltic during one of the side-campaigns of the Crimea War, supplies and ammunition to Balaclava, wounded soldiers back home, rice for Hong Kong and South Africa, coolies from China to the plantations of Cuba, coals to the Coromandel coast, convicts for Australia, cotton, sugar, more troops to and from India, emigrant families to New Zealand, as well as beer… Her transport of IPA from London to India, according to modern commentators who prefer the thrill of a good story to the labour of checking its veracity, brought the Edwin Fox the nickname “the booze barge”.


German soldiers with beer.
German soldiers distributing beer in 1914. (Flanders Fields Museum)

Here’s a story by Christopher Barnes we’ve featured before but it deserves another surfacing. It’s a wonderful account of the fate of European breweries during World War I originally published at the now defunct All About Beer which, Mr Barnes reveals, never paid him for his hard work. He’s now revived the piece at his own website, I Think About Beer:

Before the war, there were more than 6,000 breweries spread across Belgium and France, with the majority of the French breweries located along the northern border with Belgium and Germany. World War I profoundly changed the face of brewing in Western Europe. Germany-backed Austria-Hungary’s desire to punish the Serbs for the assassination drew Russia and France into the war to defend the Serbs. Germany’s strategy involved a lightning-quick strike through neutral Belgium into northern France to capture Paris. Unfortunately for the Germans, the French and English halted their advance and created a brutal four-year stalemate that encamped millions of soldiers from both sides directly through the heart of Belgian and French brewing country.


Finally, there’s this from Twitter:

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

That’s Not a Drink, This is a Drink

Because Jessica has been on call over the weekend (office job, not a surgeon or anything) she couldn’t drink, so we both decided to do the whole thing dry, which got us thinking about what constitutes a Drink, capital D.

On Friday night, needing to put a full stop on the working week somehow, we gathered the makings of ‘mocktails’ from the shops and spent a couple of hours experimenting.

Sourcing or devising recipes was was absorbing; working with ingredients — zesting lemons and limes, pounding mint leaves, crushing ice, salting the rims of glasses — was fun; and there was a real pleasure in beholding the pretty end products, even before we got to taste them.

It was the ginless tonic that really got us thinking, though. What made it look, feel and taste like a real, composed Drink, even though it was mostly just tonic and ice? A big, stemmed glass helped. The twist of lemon peel added some magic, as did the tablespoon of ginger beer, teaspoon of elderflower cordial, and squeeze of lemon juice. But really it was about the fact that we’d taken care and a little time, treating these simple components with a little care, expressly intending to fool ourselves.

Of course this eventually made us think about beer.

Beer, you might think, is a simple drink. You don’t add ice, and the habit of dropping chunks of fruit into wheat beer feels like some relic of the 1990s. But we keep thinking of a phrase Alastair ‘Meantime’ Hook uses when describing how beer is treated in Germany: “universal reverence”.

You can dump warmish beer into the first scratched, half-clean glass you lay your hands on. That’s certainly a beer. Or you can spend a few seconds choosing just the right vessel, cleaning it until it sings, and filling it to achieve the correct degree of clarity, with the perfect head of foam. That is a Beer.

It why sparklers are debated so endlessly — their use, or not, is a choice, and an act of reverence. It’s why, whatever the practicalities, the pint as a measure is so irresistible. It’s why even mediocre Belgian or German beers seem to taste that little bit better than they might in blind tasting — because chalices and doilies announce the arrival of something special. It explains marketing-driven pouring rituals, too: because they make you wait for it, a pint of Guinness retains a certain mystique, even when your head tells you it’s a pointless performance.

A pint of Courage Best served in a pub that has been selling the same beer (or at least the same brand) for 50 years and is proud of it, with spotless branded glassware and tasting as good as it ever can, is a Beer, even if the product and setting are humble and it costs less than £3.

Giving beer the VIP treatment isn’t free — sexy glassware gets stolen, and careful staff ought to cost more — but it is, in the grand scheme of things, cheap, being mostly a state of mind.

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  1. NAIPA — 1 part BrewDog Nanny State NA beer, 1 part apple juice, one slice very finely pureed banana, squeeze of lime juice, ice.
  2. Spicy Thing — one part ginger beer, one part soda water, tablespoon maple syrup, one slice green chilli (crushed), ice.
  3. Ginless Tonic — tonic, ice, twist of lemon peel, squeeze of lemon juice, tablespoon ginger beer, teaspoon elderflower cordial, ice.
  4. Fauxjito — soda water, juice of 1 lime, sugar syrup to taste, crushed mint leaves, crushed ice.