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.