News, Nuggets & Longreads 29 September 2018: Runcorn, Rochefort, Rules of the Tavern

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.


Price list in a pub.

We tend to ignore click­baity brouha­has over indi­vid­ual expen­sive pints these days but Mar­tin Stew­ard at Pur­suit of Abbey­ness has wait­ed for the dust to set­tle before reflect­ing on one such recent inci­dent, pro­duc­ing a slow-cooked opin­ion rather than a flash-fried ‘hot take’:

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.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 September 2017: Bang Chang, Meerts, Cork Mild

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that got our brainboxes revving in the past week, with bulletins from Bhutan to Runcorn.

The Cask Mar­que Cask Report was pub­lished this week (PDF) writ­ten this year by Rosie Dav­en­port. We’re still digest­ing it, and, like oth­ers, debat­ing its val­ue, but in the mean­time James Bee­son has writ­ten an excel­lent sum­ma­ry with addi­tion­al indus­try com­ment for the Morn­ing Adver­tis­er:

The head­line sta­tis­tic from this year’s report high­lights that sales of cask beer are down by 5% over the past six years, and 3.8% in the past year alone. While it is undoubt­ed­ly dis­ap­point­ing, and indeed wor­ry­ing, to see cask suf­fer­ing a sharp decline in sales, this is symp­to­matic of a wider decline in beer drink­ing across the UK, with keg beer and lager also falling by 25% and 11% respec­tive­ly.


Brewing in an outdoor kitchen, Bhutan.

For Beer Advo­cate** Mar­tin Thibault has vis­it­ed the Himalayan king­dom of Bhutan to explore its farm­house brew­ing cul­ture:

So, Bang Chang and Sin Chang, the nation’s two types of farm­house ale, are often made from 100 per­cent organ­ic raw wheat cul­ti­vat­ed by each house­hold. In some cas­es, even the yeast cul­ture itself is coaxed from these same fields… Some of these farm­ers not only grow their cere­al and brew from it, they also make their own yeast bagels from bits of dried bark, leaves, and pow­dered maize or wheat, which are cooked and solid­i­fied. Aun Nam­gay, a Schar­chop woman from Rad­hi, a ham­let in the country’s sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed east, explains that her new­ly baked cakes need to be coat­ed in an old­er ‘moth­er’ bagel for the fresh ones to be tru­ly effec­tive.

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The Lost Runcorn Mega Brewery

Screenshot from A Round of Bass

The col­lec­tion of doc­u­men­taries about pubs from the British Film Insti­tute we’ve been eager­ly await­ing for some time has final­ly arrived, and our copy turned up this week. (We bought it with our own mon­ey, for the record.)

Quite apart from the aching nos­tal­gia for an age before we born pro­voked by the fad­ed films, there are lots of nuggets which demand fur­ther research.

For exam­ple, there’s the Run­corn mega brew­ery men­tioned in A Round of Bass (dir. Geof­frey Reeve, 1972). We’ve been to Run­corn sev­er­al times and nev­er noticed any sign of the ‘most mod­ern beer pro­duc­ing plant in Europe’. A quick Google turned up this aca­d­e­m­ic paper (PDF) by David W Gutzke which sum­maris­es the sto­ry as fol­lows:

Built by Bass Char­ring­ton, Britain’s pre-emi­nent brew­ery in the 1960s and 1970s, Run­corn was con­ceived as becom­ing west­ern Europe’s largest brew­ery. Even before it opened in 1974, how­ev­er, Run­corn was struck with paralysing labour dis­rup­tions, tech­no­log­i­cal prob­lems, and man­age­r­i­al mis­cal­cu­la­tions that would plague its his­to­ry until its clo­sure until 1991. What gave Run­corn broad­er sig­nif­i­cance was its role in reflect­ing the per­va­sive, but mis­placed, assump­tions about a new cor­po­rate cul­ture, new tech­nolo­gies, the emer­gence of nation­al brands, and adver­tis­ing as a vehi­cle for replac­ing local con­sumer tastes with nation­al mar­kets.

The paper is an inter­est­ing beer-focused com­pan­ion piece to Andy Beckett’s When the Lights Went Out and answers the rid­dle of why we didn’t spot any sign of a mon­strous­ly huge brew­ery on our trips to Cheshire:

Soon the entire brew­ery plant was dis­man­tled and sold, with some of it shipped to Roma­nia; Bass even dis­posed of the emp­ty brew­ing site. Noth­ing remained to remind the com­pa­ny of a scheme so grandiose but so calami­tous that its true nature was expunged from Bass’s offi­cial his­to­ries.