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.


Wellies
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.