News, Nuggets & Longreads 13 August 2016: Ireland, North Korea, Hants

Here’s all the best beer- and pub-related reading we’ve come across in the past week, from Dublin to Pyongyang.

The week before last brought news of the death of Oliver Hughes, founder of Ireland’s Porterhouse Group and a key figure in Irish craft beer. There have been various obituaries and tributes but this one from the Irish Independent offers a good summary of his life, career and influence:

With Oliver Hughes’s flair for publicity they began by serving two beers called ‘Wiserbuddy’ and ‘Probably’ – which he said, prompted threatening letters from a solicitors’ firm on behalf of Dublin’s best-known brewery. Hughes negotiated a two-week truce and then promptly began advertising a nationwide radio competition for names for beers “formerly known as ‘Wiserbuddy’ and ‘Probably’”, which attracted another sheaf of solicitor’s letters.

The Japan Times reports that North Korea has just launched its first German-style beer festival which we’re going to call GDPRKBF. Does anyone else find it odd that this super-secretive totalitarian state keeps using beer as a sign that Things Are Fine Here, Honest? (The defunct British brewery mentioned in the article, by the way, is Usher’s of Trowbridge.)

Cartoon illustration: Richard Boston.

The Guardian, finally showing a bit of appreciation for the beer-related riches in their archives, has reproduced Richard Boston’s first Boston on Beer column from 1973 to mark its 43rd anniversary:

In the last week or so I have been talking about beer to a completely representative, sociologically precise cross-section of the community who, by an almost incredible stroke of luck, I happened to bump into in various public houses in London. The most widely expressed complaint was about keg (top-pressure) beer, which was unfavourably compared with the Real Thing which is pumped up by hand from the cellar… But grumbling about beer and pubs is a popular and time-honoured British pastime, and some complaints are better founded than others.

We were impressed by Hampshire brewery Vibrant Forest‘s Citra VPA at GBBF (disclosure: we had freebie trade tickets but paid for our beer) and, as luck would have it, Glenn Johnson has just written a short profile of the brewery based on a recent visit:

I want to shout out to all beer lovers about this brewery because their beers really are first class. ‘We won’t tolerate dull or boring’ it says on their website.  How very true. If Vibrant Forest were based in London you would get beer writers going all gooey eyed over them.  However, if you want to try their beers you will now find them all along the south coast across to Brighton and they also make regular trips to Bristol.

Detail from a vintage India Pale Ale beer label.

Paste Magazine conducted an epic taste-off of American IPAs which Jim Vorel has written up here:

[This] tasting ended up at an astounding, bewildering, quite frankly overwhelming 247 entrants. For perspective, the Great American Beer Festival tasted 336 American IPA entrants this year, meaning that we did only 89 fewer than the largest beer festival in the country… And where GABF awards medals only to the top 3 beers, we’ve ranked the entire top 50. To even make that top 50, it means that beer was in the top 20 percent of entrants. Literally every ranked beer is among the elite. So let’s get to it.

Via Jon Urch (@ClassDrinking)

1987 ad for Wrexham Lager.
Ad from Wrexham Ace, August 1987. SOURCE: Wrexham History.

Here’s something worth a browse if you’re interested in recent British brewing history: Wrexham History has begun digitising various documents as PDFs including this issue of the Wrexham Brewery in-house newspaper Wrexham Ace from 1987. (Via @jamesbxwm.)

And, finally, the responses to the latest brewery takeover news, of Texas’s Revolver Brewing by Miller Coors, have been jaded to say the least:

Beer styles real ale

A Lightplater while waiting for a train

Young's Light Ale

With our train due in an hour,we wandered out of the station in a small inland Cornish town in search of a pub. The first we came across was busy and smart enough; on entering, a cheery-looking landlady greeted us and engaged in a little light banter. She then served us two pints and a half of the warmest, dullest bitter we’ve had in a while.

This seemed a perfect time for a little experiment. “Is that Young’s Light Ale in the fridge?” we asked, spotting the label from several metres away. It was, so we bought some, and used it to (a) reduce the temperature of our pints from lukewarm to cool; (b) put some fizz in them; and (c) lift the bitterness. They weren’t great pints thereafter, but were at least pleasant enough to finish.

All of this reminded us of (sorry) yet another passage from Richard Boston’s Beer and Skittles (1976) in which he lists various ‘traditional’ beer mixes:

  • Lightplater — bitter and light ale.
  • Mother-in-law — old and bitter. (Oh dear. Bernard Manning much?)
  • Granny — old and mild.
  • Boilermaker — brown and mild.
  • Blacksmith –stout and barley wine.
  • Half-and-half — bitter and stout, or bitter and mild.

If you’re compelled to mix beers in an emergency as we were, or just fancy a change, these all sound like they might create something drinkable.

Bailey’s dad, of course, never complains about bad beer. If it can’t be rendered passable with the addition of a bottle of Mann’s Brown Ale, then it’s time to move on.

Beer history Blogging and writing

Before beer blogging, there was Boston on Beer

Detail from a poor-quality scan of Richard Boston portrait in the Guardian.

Richard Boston’s first weekly Boston on Beer column appeared in The Guardian on 11 August 1973. In an article marking its first anniversary (6 July 1974) he said a few things that might chime with beer bloggers.

This column has been going for nearly a year, and whereas when I started I thought I had enough material for about three weeks, having now written some 50,000 words I have enough to keep me going indefinitely.

He  also describes tottering stacks of ‘notes and rough drafts for articles on subjects ranging from canal-side pubs to beer glasses (why they have handles and dimples in the south and are clear and straight-sided in the north), as well as the results of the search for the best Gents’ and ‘amazing revelations about the awfulness of American beer’.

Every week, he came up with something to say, even if the occasional column seemed rather contrived under the pressure of a deadline.

Thirty years later (Guardian, 23 March 1989) he recalled the column’s success: ‘I had never heard of Camra… but just mentioning them in the Guardian and giving their address caused a surge in their membership so great that they had to take on extra staff in order to cope.’ This seems to be true: when his column went to print, CAMRA had c.2700 members; by September, it was approaching c.5000, by our reckoning.

In the same piece, he recalls why the column ended in 1975: ‘I became bored of the sound of my own voice going on about beer and pubs.’ Hmm. We know that feeling.

We’re ashamed to say we’d never read Richard Boston until Des de Moor told us about Beer and Skittles (1976), a book adapted from the Guardian columns. You can get a copy fairly cheaply through Amazon, or read the original columns in the online archive of The Guardian if your local library provides access.

See also: Orwell’s Beer Blog and this strange nineteenth century exercise in proto-blogging.