Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from PR disasters to art installations.
Last year Kirst Walker wrote up a pub crawl of Runcorn’s Victorian pubs with her trademark spark; this year, she notes plenty of changes, giving the exercise a certain academic interest as well as pure entertainment value:
Time for the Lion, where everybody knows your name! Last year’s winner was where we we would end the night once more. I didn’t double up last time but as we’d already had time bonuses, sambucca, and sandwiches I threw caution to the wind. Alan bought a round of pies like a freaking billionaire and we had a group de-brief with plans to repeat the operation next year on the same weekend… The Lion has lost much of its original room layout since it was refurbished and part of it converted into houses, but it’s still the type of traditional corner pub which is a hub for the community, and in my opinion it as better to try and save the pub than keep the entire sprawling space.
The most remarkable thing about the price of Alesmith Speedway Stout Hawaiian is not that it is five-times higher than the price of Rochefort 10, but that it is three-times higher than Alesmith’s ordinary Speedway Stout… That premium buys you some toasted coconut flakes, some vanilla and some rare Hawaiian Ka’u coffee beans, which are indeed three-times more expensive than your bog-standard joe… If you can taste the difference after those beans have had beer fermenting on them, I complement you on your sensitive palate. If you think it justifies a 200% premium, I have a bridge to sell you.
Here’s all the beer and pub related news, opinion and history that’s grabbed us in the past week, from kids in pubs to Never Gonna Give You Up.
First, money. As part of the publicity around its Great British Beer Festival (last day today) the Campaign for Real Ale published the results of a survey suggesting that the majority of British drinkers who expressed an opinion find the price of a pint of beer unaffordable.
Affordability is quite an abstract concept, isn’t it? In my experience as someone who’s lived in extreme poverty and in relative comfort and all the incremental stages of debt, exhaustion and erratic spending in-between, things like pints come down to how much you value them. They’re not essential – unless you have an addiction – and yet as part of our culture they’re a central point of our social lives.
I think there are many who are making the choice between going out for a pint and other things… Simple choices like; Sunday afternoon at the local pub with the family or a full day out at the beach with sandwiches and maybe an ice cream and a few bob on the amusements. I reckon it’s about 50 miles from our house to Scarbro’, so the biggest cost of the day is fuel… Round here, the price of the first round of say, a pint, glass of prosecco, three soft drinks and a few snacks would just about cover the fuel costs of a return journey to the seaside. The second round would more than pay for the picnic and sundries and we’ve only been in the pub for about an hour, max.
Perhaps the greatest step CAMRA could take toward restoring growth in cask beer would be to invest in training and equipment for pubs that show loyalty to cask and price it fairly. For some reason, this call for quality brewing falls on deaf ears at CAMRA, who this week lamented how expensive pints have become. The party line of championing cask above all else appears to include the millions of cheap, dull, vinegary pints poured across the UK each year. Some of them even at their own festivals.
We don’t often find ourselves saying this kind of thing because, without making a big whoop-de-doo about it, we tend to go to the kind of pubs that suit our budget, with the occasional managed blow-out when we get the urge to drink something exotic.
But Amsterdam really challenged us.
On paper, it might not seem that big a deal: beer from smaller breweries in fairly imprecise measures of 250-300ml seemed to cost between €4-€6, which puts it in the £5-£6 a pint territory that’s increasingly common in higher end UK bars. But it often felt like poor value for money because even the Special Beers didn’t always seem that special. A session of not-bad beers that barely left us abuzz could easily cost €40.
And even if the point, as we’ve sometimes said, is that you’re renting space in a nice pub or bar, then the fact that we didn’t quite warm to most of the establishments we found ourselves in, following guidebooks and advice, rather nullifies it.
Then, just to reinforce that feeling, we spent two nights in Brussels drinking the world’s best (don’t @ us, as the kids say) and, let’s be honest, pokiest beers at €3-€4 per 330ml bottle, in characterful bars and cafes, where beer is treated with reverence but not pretension.
Just to be clear, we’re not pretending to have got the measure of Amsterdam based on a week’s stay; we loved the city as a whole; and will certainly go back.
We just found it interesting to have that reality check: £4.50 for a full pint of truly great cask suddenly doesn’t seem so scary after all.
Keg beer dispense quality is not often talked about in the UK, at least in contrast to the perpetual hand-wringing that goes on with regard to cask ale. But it deserves to be a very big issue, because a huge number of pubs and bars in the UK are not set up to serve craft keg beer in the best condition…. That’s because most keg dispense equipment in the UK has been designed to suit low-carbonation, sterile-filtered big-name lager brands, which are relatively easy to look after. But modern craft beers come in a bewildering variety and they need individual treatment, be that a higher temperature of serve or a different gas mix.
I knew I had mere hours with a man I didn’t know. But with a hundred questions in my head none of which could be answered by someone intent on impressing me, I would need to put my questions aside and make him feel at ease enough to remove his veneer. But how would I do that? Strangely enough, I did know. I needed just two simple props: a pub table and some beer.
Reines and I are sharing a quiet moment at the after-party of the town’s homebrew competition and festival, which he organizes. Things are getting a little philosophical because, well, we’ve been drinking since lunchtime. We’ve just spent a half hour kneeling on the floor in front of his new sound system, listening to Nordic heavy metal at a volume I was sure would echo across the fjords and all the way back to my home in England.
Our favourite thing? Fritz the bucket. (Oddly misnamed Franz in the text.)
I am fully aware and appreciative of the costs involved in creating beer and I am in no doubt that prices are fair (for the most part). I just know that I’m not flush enough. So what am I suggesting here? That breweries should make no-frills beer for us poor people too? That there should be a pay-it-forward scheme involved? No, of course not. I’m just highlighting the fact that keeping up with trends in craft beer is exclusionary in it’s nature and there should be some awareness of this. Not everybody can take part. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who can’t or don’t take part are any less enthusiastic about beer than the people collecting new cans like Pokémon cards.
There’s been a fair bit of news on the sexism-in-beer front this week:
Brewers! You will want to get your hands on the new e-book by Andreas Krenmair, Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer. He’s undertaken lots of painstaking research to come up with recipes for everything from Dreher-style Vienna lager to Mannheimer Braunbier. We bought a copy and have already found lots to chew on even though we don’t have any immediate plans to brew.
Here’s something a bit different: from the BBC World Service programme Outlook, some audio, on the subject of Rwandan ‘banana beer’. Christine Murebwayire grew up in a family of banana beer brewers and then, many years later, used it to drag her family out of poverty:
“A lot of people like to drink banana beer but some educated, smart people feel uncomfortable drinking it because it’s not a very sophisticated drink. So I thought, if I could make a smarter drink to drink on social occasions, it will appeal to a bigger market….”
(We think you should be able to listen to this worldwide; apologies if not.)
This week we’ll finish not with a Tweet as usual but with a film trailer: Walk Like a Panther is a real sign of the times — a Full Monty style comedy about a community banding together to save the local pub from closure.