News, nuggets and longreads 24 August 2019: Greene King, Kveik, Wellington Boots

Here’s everything on beer and pubs from the past seven days that struck us as especially noteworthy, from Suffolk to Thailand.

The big news of the week – or is it? – is the takeover of Eng­lish region­al brew­ing behe­moth Greene King. Roger Protz, who has been writ­ing about brew­ery takeovers for half a cen­tu­ry, offers com­men­tary here:

In every respect, this is a far more wor­ry­ing sale [then Fuller’s to Asahi]. Asahi will con­tin­ue to make beer at the Fuller’s site in Chiswick, West Lon­don. It’s a com­pa­ny with a long his­to­ry of brew­ing. CK Asset on the oth­er hand has no expe­ri­ence of brew­ing and its main – if not sole – rea­son for buy­ing Greene King will be the own­er­ship of a mas­sive tied estate of 2,700 pubs, restau­rants and hotels. The Hong Kong com­pa­ny, which is reg­is­tered in the Cay­man Islands, is owned by Li Ka-Shing, one of the world’s rich­est men. He has a war chest of HK$60 bil­lion to buy up prop­er­ties and com­pa­nies through­out the world.

This did­n’t make quite the splash the Fuller’s sale did for var­i­ous rea­sons: it was­n’t a brew­ery-to-brew­ery sale, for one thing, so is hard­er to parse; and Greene King is far less fond­ly regard­ed by beer geeks than Fuller’s.

We’re anx­ious about it not because we espe­cial­ly love Greene King but because it’s poten­tial­ly yet anoth­er sup­port­ing post knocked out from under British beer and pub cul­ture. See here for more thoughts on that.

Mystery yeast.

Lars Mar­ius Garshol has been try­ing to get to grips with a mys­tery: is the yeast strain White Labs sell as Kveik real­ly Kveik? If not, what is it?

If this yeast was not the ances­tral Muri farm yeast, what was it doing in Bjarne Muri’s apart­ment? It very clear­ly is not a wild yeast, but a mix of two domes­ti­cat­ed yeasts. It does­n’t seem very plau­si­ble that the air in Oslo is full of those. On the oth­er hand it does­n’t seem at all plau­si­ble that this was the ances­tral Muri yeast… Two things seem clear: this is a domes­ti­cat­ed fer­men­ta­tion yeast, and it’s prob­a­bly not the ances­tral Muri yeast. The lat­ter sim­ply because it does­n’t seem well suit­ed for that par­tic­u­lar brew­ing envi­ron­ment.

A tea room.
Lyons Cor­ner House, 1942. SOURCE: HM Government/Wikimedia Com­mons.

Not about pubs, but adja­cent: Thomas Hard­ing has writ­ten an account of the his­to­ry of his fam­i­ly’s busi­ness, J. Lyons & Co, which is reviewed in the Guardian by Kathryn Hugh­es. We became fas­ci­nat­ed by Lyons while research­ing 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, because of this kind of thing:

From the 1920s you could pop into a Lyons tea shop to be served by a “nip­py”, a light-foot­ed wait­ress got up like a par­lour­maid. If you were a work­ing girl of the newest and nicest vari­ety – a sec­re­tary, teacher or shop assis­tant – you could eat an express lunch on your own in a Lyons with­out risk­ing your respectabil­i­ty. If you were feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly smart, you could go up to “town” and stay in the art deco-ish Strand Palace or Regent’s Palace hotels, ver­nac­u­lar ver­sions of elite insti­tu­tions such as Claridge’s or The Savoy. In the evening you might ven­ture out to the “Troc”, or Tro­cadero, in your best togs, where you could enjoy a fan­cy din­ner and dance to a jazz band.

SOURCE: Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

Mark John­son has writ­ten an account of a week­end spent at Thorn­bridge Brew­ery’s Peak­ender fes­ti­val with a typ­i­cal dash of acid:

I just can’t under­stand any­body being dis­grun­tled about a lit­tle mud. We have worn our wellies on our last two vis­its to Peak­ender and not need­ed them. We wore them in 2019 because, guess what, it is still a fes­ti­val and this time we hap­pened to need them. Wad­ing through the show­ground site for two days was not an issue to us at all. Maybe it is because of where we live, I don’t know, but when I see peo­ple mut­ter­ing to them­selves about the state of the ground, whilst try­ing to make it to the toi­let wear­ing FLIP FLOPS… heav­en for­bid… I don’t know…

Buffy's Bitter.

Paul Bai­ley (no rela­tion) has some inter­est­ing notes on the demise of Buffy’s Brew­ery (one we’d nev­er heard of) and the prob­lem with ‘badge brew­ing’:

The clo­sure was blamed on there being too many brew­eries in Nor­folk, and with over 40 of them all com­pet­ing for a slice of a dimin­ish­ing mar­ket, some­thing had to give. Like many indus­try observers, I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised to learn that Buffy’s had gone to the wall, but Roger Abra­hams, who found­ed the brew­ery, along with Julia Savory, claimed that the micro-brew­ing sec­tor was close to sat­u­ra­tion point, and that com­pe­ti­tion between brew­ers “had become very aggres­sive.”

We don’t know any­thing what­so­ev­er about brew­ing in Thai­land but it turns out to be a com­plex busi­ness, accord­ing to this arti­cle from the Bangkok Post:

No one but the ultra rich are allowed to brew beer for sale in Thai­land. The law is as unjust and out­ra­geous as that. And no law­mak­er has suf­fered the bit­ter taste of inequal­i­ty in the brew­ing indus­try quite like Future For­ward Par­ty MP Taopiphop Limjit­trako­rn, who in Jan­u­ary 2017 was arrest­ed for brew­ing and sell­ing his own craft beer… On Wednes­day, Mr Taopiphop, 30, took Deputy Finance Min­is­ter San­ti Prompat to task over his min­istry’s reg­u­la­tion that stops brew­ing start-ups from exploit­ing the grow­ing thirst for new flavours.

Final­ly, much to the amuse­ment of British com­men­ta­tors, Amer­i­can pop super­star Tay­lor Swift has been writ­ing about Lon­don, includ­ing a pass­ing men­tion for pubs:


There are more links from Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day most weeks and from Alan McLeod on Thurs­day.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 December 2017: Helensburgh, Hammers, Home-brewing

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in this final week of 2017.

It’s been slim pick­ings with the Christ­mas break and the ubiq­ui­ty of Gold­en Pints (check out the hash­tag on Twit­ter) but we found a few things to chew on. First, there’s this stream of rec­ol­lec­tion by Peter McK­er­ry at Brew Geek­ery which amounts to a tour of pubs that have meant the most to him over the years:

Then it was the Clyde Bar in Helens­burgh, a well-healed town on the Clyde coast, dur­ing a pro­longed peri­od of unem­ploy­ment in my ear­ly 20s. I’d drop in for a few Tennent’s on ‘Giro Day’, and it was here that I wit­nessed taxi dri­ver and reg­u­lar, Der­mot, res­cue eight pence from the trough WHILE I WAS URINATING IN IT. While that event is imprint­ed onto my mind (it was a 5p, 2p and a 1p), it gives a false impres­sion of the pub. It was a great live music venue, and fea­tured in a video from pur­vey­ors of beige jock rock, Travis, if such triv­ia inter­ests you.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 30 Decem­ber 2017: Helens­burgh, Ham­mers, Home-brew­ing”

Beer in Pubs, 1951

Spread from LHATM.

It’s always exciting to come across specific notes on how beers of the past looked and tasted, especially when those notes are from someone inside the industry.

Through a foot­note to a foot­note in some­one else’s book we recent­ly came across Licensed Hous­es and Their Man­age­ment, a three-vol­ume guide­book pub­lished in mul­ti­ple edi­tions from 1923 onwards and edit­ed by W. Bent­ly Cap­per. It’s made up of a whole series of essays and arti­cles by dif­fer­ent authors cov­er­ing every­thing from book-keep­ing to ‘han­dling female staff’. We’re going to post a few more bits from it in the Bits We Under­lined for­mat at some point but, for now, the stuff on beer seemed too inter­est­ing not to share in its own right.

The sec­tion is called ‘Ales and Stouts and Hints on Cel­lar Man­age­ment’ and is cred­it­ed to an anony­mous ‘A Brew­ery Cel­lars Man­ag­er’. (Worth not­ing, maybe, that the accom­pa­ny­ing pics are from Fuller’s.)

First, we should say that, through­out, it is made clear that beer should def­i­nite­ly pos­sess ‘bril­lian­cy’, i.e. must be com­plete­ly clear. We’ve col­lect­ed lots of exam­ples of peo­ple not mind­ing a bit of haze in their beer, or even pre­fer­ring it, but there was cer­tain­ly a main­stream con­sen­sus that clar­i­ty was best by the mid-20th Cen­tu­ry.

There are three types of dis­pense list­ed: straight from the cask, via beer engine and ‘the Scot­tish method of draw­ing’ – that is air or top pres­sure. (The cause of so much strife in CAMRA dur­ing the late 1970s.) There is also a love­ly men­tion of what are now known as sparklers:

With the beer engine, there is some­times a dif­fi­cul­ty dur­ing the win­ter months of pro­duc­ing a good head on the beer… To com­bat this there are sev­er­al excel­lent fit­tings on the mar­ket in the shape of ‘noz­zles’ or ‘sprin­klers’ which are fit­ted to the spout of the engine. These agi­tate the beer as it pass­es into the glass and pro­duce a head, with­out affect­ing the palate in any degree.

Right, then – time for the main event: BEER. This sec­tion begins by high­light­ing the impor­tance of choos­ing good beers and the strength of ‘local con­di­tions and prej­u­dices’:

In Lon­don, for instance, one class of beer will find favour in one dis­trict, whilst in anoth­er part of the town the same beer would not be appre­ci­at­ed. The same thing applies through the whole of the coun­ties…

The author then very use­ful­ly breaks it down by style:

Mild Ales… In some parts a dark, sweet ale must be served. This must be as fresh as pos­si­ble and quite bril­liant. In the indus­tri­al cen­tres this beer will be in very great demand… In the res­i­den­tial or sub­ur­ban areas, a mild ale of a lighter colour is more in favour…

Ron Pat­tin­son has explored the dif­fer­ence between urban and coun­try milds but we love the idea of Metroland Mild!

Bur­ton… is a heavy-grav­i­ty ale, very red in colour, and with a dis­tinct dry-hop flavour. There is a very steady demand for this beer all the year round, but in win­ter-time the sales in some dis­tricts equal those of mild ale… [It should be] nei­ther too bit­ter nor too sweet, but [have] a round, full-bod­ied flavour.

Colour and flavour notes! Red ale – sounds quite trendy, does­n’t it?

Bit­ter… Bit­ter ales form the great part of the saloon and pri­vate-bar demand. These beers are the most del­i­cate and sen­si­tive of all brewed. The colour must be as of bright pol­ished amber, and the pun­gent aro­ma of the hops must be well in evi­dence. It is very impor­tant… that the palate is quite clean as the great charm of bit­ter ales lies in their del­i­cate palate flavour… There is lit­tle doubt that the Bur­ton-brewed ales are the best of this vari­ety, although great progress has been made in oth­er parts of the coun­try by brew­ers and com­pe­ti­tion is very keen in this beer.

In case you don’t know how social class mapped to bars, the saloon and pri­vate-bar were the rel­a­tive­ly posh ones. Bit­ter was a pre­mi­um prod­uct, the craft beer of its day, drunk for flavour as much as alco­hol con­tent or nour­ish­ment. (There’s more from us on the his­to­ry of bit­ter here.)

Stouts… are brewed from high­ly roast­ed malts and are there­fore dark brown in colour. The palate should be full and creamy, but not too sweet. Avoid stouts that are not in con­di­tion or that have too bit­ter a flavour. There is lit­tle doubt that among the best stouts the best are those brewed in Lon­don…

An ear­ly use of creamy to describe beer, there? From long before nitro was a thing, too. But what is the dif­fer­ence between stout and porter?

Porter… is a light-grav­i­ty black beer which is usu­al­ly much sweet­er than stouts.

There you go. Sort­ed. Sort of.

There are many more edi­tions of LHATM stretch­ing back 25 years from this one – if you have a copy from before World War II, per­haps you can check whether this advice changed over the years?

Ask not for whom the Bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The Bell Pub, Walthamstow, East London.

By Boak

Of all the excit­ing beer devel­op­ments in Lon­don since we’ve moved away, none have intrigued us as much as the sud­den dis­cov­ery of demand for good beer in our for­mer home of Waltham­stow. This arti­cle high­light­ed the fact that not one, not two, but three (THREE!) for­mer­ly rough pubs were due to re-open under new man­age­ment.

We went back to Waltham­stow last week to have a look at the devel­op­ments. Both the Che­quers and the Cock are still being refur­bished, which left us with the Bell.

The Bell is one of those large pubs-on-a-junc­tion that you get in Vic­to­ri­an sub­urbs of Lon­don, the prod­uct of rapid expan­sion in hous­ing plus lim­its on where licenced premis­es could be built. I went in once or twice as a teenag­er and remem­ber it being huge and most­ly emp­ty. The best thing I could say about it then was that it wasn’t as rough as it looked.

Like oth­er pubs of its ilk, it passed through many man­agers and a few half­heart­ed refur­bish­ments in an attempt to bring it back to life, but nev­er man­aged to shake its rough rep­u­ta­tion. The Beer In The Evening com­ments make for a fas­ci­nat­ing mini-his­to­ry of the last ten years.

Why have the Bell’s new own­ers (appar­ent­ly) suc­ceed­ed where oth­ers have failed? First­ly, an ambi­tious but very taste­ful refur­bish­ment, which has involved strip­ping out lots of twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry addi­tions and empha­sis­ing the orig­i­nal fea­tures (and com­ple­ment­ing what’s there with old fur­ni­ture). The pic­tures on the web­site actu­al­ly make the pub look more mod­ern than it feels. We com­ment­ed a lot on how impres­sive the refur­bish­ment was, how much more ‘pub­by’ it felt now than we’d ever known it, and how, despite the vast space, it felt cosy.

Sec­ond­ly, they are open­ly going for a more ‘aspi­ra­tional’ mar­ket (craft beer and jazz fea­ture heav­i­ly in the mar­ket­ing) – but they are still man­ag­ing to attract and wel­come a range of clien­tele that reflect the local area.  Extreme­ly wel­com­ing and talk­a­tive bar staff help here.

Third­ly, the beer selec­tion and qual­i­ty is now the best in Waltham­stow (which is get­ting hard­er and hard­er to do, and might be dif­fi­cult to main­tain if Antic open the Che­quers as planned)  There are eight hand-pumps (plus a mix­ture of keg­gy stuff). We had to be some­where else that after­noon, so we were lim­it­ed as to what we could try in the time avail­able. We were delight­ed with Brodie’s Lon­don Fields, which we could have eas­i­ly drunk all after­noon. We also sam­pled their Land­lord, which we’re com­ing to think is a good test of whether a pub can look after its ale or not.  They passed with fly­ing colours.

We don’t want to exag­ger­ate the qual­i­ty of the beer selec­tion –  the enor­mous com­pe­ti­tion in Lon­don means there’s prob­a­bly not much to drag the seri­ous beer geek out of their way to get here. How­ev­er, if we were still liv­ing in Waltham­stow, it would be our new local, no ques­tion.

Pic­ture to come when Bai­ley gets back.