News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 July 2018: Films, Maps, Infographics

Here’s everything about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from SIBA to Ales by Mail.

First, an inter­est­ing nugget of news: a few months ago, SIBA’s mem­bers reject­ed a bid by lead­er­ship to make room in the organ­i­sa­tion for larg­er brew­eries; now, rather on the qui­et, the mem­ber­ship has been over­ruled. One SIBA mem­ber con­tact­ed us to express dis­ap­point­ment, but also res­ig­na­tion, and relief that at least it didn’t seem to be caus­ing a huge row: “SIBA needs a peri­od of calm and a sense of busi­ness as usu­al.” Steve Dunk­ley at Beer Nou­veau, mean­while, offers com­men­tary from a small brewer’s per­spec­tive:

SIBA is repo­si­tion­ing itself to include, and be fund­ed, by big­ger brew­eries, at the expense of the small­er ones. It’s set­ting its stall out to cam­paign for tax breaks for large com­pa­nies, at the expense of small­er ones.  It claims to be the voice of Inde­pen­dent British Brew­ing, yet run­ning the very real risk of clos­ing down a lot of its small mem­bers, dri­ving away a lot more, and not attract­ing even more. SIBA has around 830 mem­bers, less than half of the almost 2,000 British brew­eries there were in 2016, yet still claims to be the voice of the indus­try. It states itself that the major­i­ty of its mem­bers pro­duce less than 1,000hl, yet its actions don’t rep­re­sent them.

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Thought for the Day: SIBA & the Family Brewers

St Austell Brewery.

Last week SIBA members voted not to permit larger independent brewers to join as full members, against the urging of SIBA’s leadership. And we reckon, well, fair enough.

Yes, fam­i­ly brew­ers are an endan­gered species and worth pre­serv­ing. Fuller’s and St Austell are fine brew­eries whose beer we gen­er­al­ly love, and a dif­fer­ent breed from Greene King and Marston’s. They’re cer­tain­ly a mil­lion miles from AB-InBev and are ‘good­ies’ in the grand scheme of things. (Dis­clo­sure: we’ve had occa­sion­al hos­pi­tal­i­ty from St Austell over the years.)

At the same time, Fuller’s and St Austell already have sig­nif­i­cant advan­tages over gen­uine­ly small brew­eries, not least estates of pubs which those small brew­ers are effec­tive­ly locked out of. They also have nation­al brands, and appar­ent­ly sub­stan­tial mar­ket­ing bud­gets.

If we ran a real­ly small brew­ery and were strug­gling every day to keep our heads above water, com­pet­ing for free trade accounts and scram­bling for every last sale, we’d be pret­ty pissed off at the idea of those two brew­eries muscling in on what lit­tle ben­e­fit SIBA mem­ber­ship seems to bring.

And much as we admire Fuller’s and St Austell we don’t think either is per­fect­ly cud­dly. If they were keen to join SIBA as full mem­bers it was prob­a­bly out of a (entire­ly rea­son­able) desire to secure some fur­ther com­mer­cial advan­tage. If we’re wrong, if we’re being too cyn­i­cal and it was sim­ply a mat­ter of long­ing to belong, then they clear­ly have more work to do get­ting that mes­sage across.

Help­ing those small brew­ers to sell a bit more beer, with­out strings attached, would prob­a­bly be the most direct­ly con­vinc­ing way to go about it.

Further Reading

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 March 2018: London Drinkers & Bristol Dockers

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past week in the world of beer and pubs, from beer festivals to Friday skiving.

From Roger Protz comes a reflec­tion on the Lon­don Drinker beer fes­ti­val which has been organ­ised by north Lon­don Cam­paign for Real Ale activists annu­al­ly since 1985, but which this year is sad­ly wind­ing up:

It’s not because the fes­ti­val lacks suc­cess. On the con­trary, it’s one of CAMRA’s longest run­ning and most suc­cess­ful events. But the Cam­den Cen­tre is due to be knocked down and rede­vel­oped and find­ing – and afford­ing – a replace­ment venue is dif­fi­cult if not impos­si­ble.…

As inter­est­ing as the news itself, though, is Roger’s account of pio­neer­ing the very con­cept of tast­ing notes in the 1980s, and being jeered at for dar­ing to sug­gest that there might be choco­late notes in a dark beer.

Illustration: fanzine style picture of a pint and a packet of crisps.

Phil at Oh Good Ale seems to have found an inter­est­ing voice late­ly – a sort of stream of con­scious­ness that coa­lesces into com­men­tary if you let it. This week he wrote with some panache about the pass­ing cul­ture of Fri­day lunchtime pints:

1983, Chester

I knew we were on when I saw Tom going back for a pud­ding. Most days, we’d clock out at lunchtime, go to the can­teen for some­thing to eat – a hot meal served with plates and cut­lery, none of your rub­bish – and then it’d be down the Ces­tri­an for a pint or two, or three.… On this par­tic­u­lar Fri­day Tom went back to get some apple crum­ble and cus­tard, which he ate with great rel­ish and with­out any appear­ance of watch­ing the time, hearti­ly rec­om­mend­ing it to the rest of us; a cou­ple of peo­ple actu­al­ly fol­lowed his lead. Then he looked at his watch with some osten­ta­tion and led the way out of the can­teen.… It wasn’t a 15-minute week­day ses­sion or a stan­dard 45-minute Fri­day ses­sion; that Fri­day, we were on.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 March 2018: Lemondrop, Brewdog, Hardknott

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, covering everything from Pink IPA to Gothenburgs.

First, a blast of pure rav­ing enthu­si­asm to cheer every­one up as Steve The Pour Fool Body wax­es lyri­cal about the “new rock-star flower-bomb” hop vari­ety that “makes your beer taste like Lemon­Heads can­dy”. It sounds good; we want to try it.

Illustration: "No! Bad dog."

Now on to the prob­lem sto­ry of the week, BrewDog’s Pink IPA. We con­sid­ered pro­vid­ing a round-up of all the ‘hot takes’ but decid­ed instead to point to one real­ly sub­stan­tial, thought­ful post by Oli (@CraftBeerCommie) guest post­ing at Craft Queer. It express­es a counter view to ours (“the idea itself doesn’t seem so dread­ful even if the exe­cu­tion is ter­ri­bly clum­sy”) and puts this spe­cif­ic inci­dent into a broad­er con­text of BrewDog’s behav­iour over the years:

Brew­dog as a com­pa­ny has a long his­to­ry of mis­un­der­stand­ing (some might be so bold as to say abus­ing) social com­men­tary as a mar­ket­ing tool.… [In] the company’s ear­li­er years, the bad humoured, unapolo­get­i­cal­ly offen­sive tone and actions of the company’s founder-own­ers was able to shel­ter beneath the veil of an appro­pri­at­ed rev­o­lu­tion­ary lan­guage and DIY punk ide­ol­o­gy.… After this, how­ev­er, it seems that, as with so many oth­er com­pa­nies, Brew­dog inten­tion­al­ly courts con­tro­ver­sy as a means of mar­ket­ing itself. The search for an ini­tial, per­haps viral reac­tion of offence before the sec­ondary “A-ha! Here’s the punch­line” is yet again deliv­ered in a man­ner that relies as much on cus­tomer enrage­ment as it does engage­ment.

For more on this sub­ject check out Alco­hol by Vol­ume where the opin­ions of women in and adja­cent to the beer indus­try have been col­lat­ed.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 February 2018: Lancashire, Lager, Lambic

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from northern pubs to northern clubs via Belgium.

First up, a post from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss which offers some insight from behind the bar into what pub­go­ers real­ly want to drink, and how they feel about being con­front­ed by a world of choice:

Mar­ket­ing a prod­uct to peo­ple who already love that prod­uct is about trends and loy­al­ty and sur­pris­es. Find­ing new fans is a more dif­fi­cult endeav­our, espe­cial­ly if you’re so far down your own rab­bit hole that you don’t know what they don’t know. A large per­cent­age of drinkers aren’t invest­ed in the brew­eries you care about/you are. Many peo­ple don’t under­stand what they’re buy­ing. A lot of drinkers aren’t actu­al­ly sure what the dif­fer­ence is between cask and keg. And yes – some drinkers, to our con­stant unfair deri­sion – tru­ly believe that cloudy beers are off. It’s time to admit it: we’re answer­ing the wrong ques­tions about beer.

Four brewers.

Will Hawkes, one of the few bona fide nose-pok­ing jour­nal­ists work­ing in beer, sniffed out the sto­ry that Mahrs of Bam­berg was open­ing a brew­ery in Lon­don. Now, for Imbibe, he has all the fas­ci­nat­ing details, includ­ing the fact that the brew­ery is now called Bray­brooke Beer Co and actu­al­ly end­ed up in Northamp­ton­shire:

It’s the result of a col­lab­o­ra­tion between restau­ra­teurs Luke Wil­son and Cameron Emi­rali, who run 10 Greek Street, dis­trib­u­tor Nick Trow­er of Bier­craft and Stephan Michel, the own­er of Mahr’s Bräu, the craft-beer world’s favourite tra­di­tion­al Ger­man brew­ery.… The result is a keller­bier, an unfil­tered and unpas­teurised amber lager inspired by Mahr’s world-renowned ‘Unge­spun­det’ (known as ‘U’). It’ll be made with Ger­man malt and hops, fer­ment­ed with Mahr’s yeast, and brewed in the tra­di­tion­al way, includ­ing a sin­gle decoc­tion step and four weeks’ lager­ing.

Vintage SIBA sign on a pub in London.

If you’re inter­est­ed in the non-sexy behind-the-scenes busi­ness of the beer indus­try then this post from brew­er Steve Dunk­ley of Beer Nou­veau offers an inter­est­ing take on moves by the Soci­ety of Inde­pen­dent Brew­ers (SIBAinto dis­tri­b­u­tion and whole­sal­ing, and its deep­en­ing con­nec­tions with pub com­pa­nies:

SIBA have cre­at­ed an expen­sive box-tick­ing exer­cise that repli­cates what brew­eries already have to do legal­ly. They’ve removed a route to mar­ket for non-mem­bers, are tak­ing mon­ey from Pub­Cos intent on drop­ping cask from local brew­eries, and are risk­ing fur­ther reduc­ing choice for drinkers whilst also increas­ing prof­its for Pub­Cos at the expense of brew­ers and drinkers alike.… I real­ly can’t see how they can claim to rep­re­sent the inter­ests of inde­pen­dent brew­eries, and I can’t see how CAMRA can con­tin­ue to use Fly­ing Firkin [which SIBA recent­ly acquired] as a rec­om­mend­ed whole­saler whilst it runs the very real and emerg­ing risk of reduc­ing con­sumer choice.

Collage: a fractured pub.

This week saw the release of sta­tis­tics from the British Beer and Pub Asso­ci­a­tion (BBPA) sug­gest­ing that though beer con­sump­tion over­all is up, sales of beer in pubs and bars (the on-trade) was down by 2.4% based on the pre­vi­ous year, equat­ing to some 88 mil­lion few­er pints. Tan­dle­man has some thoughts here: “For those with jobs and ‘just about man­ag­ing’, choos­ing to drink cheap beer at home as pub prices increase on those already wage squeezed, is rapid­ly becom­ing a no brain­er.”

(We’ve said sim­i­lar our­selves: the prob­lem is that nobody has any mon­ey!)

Illustration: lambic blending.

For Beer Advo­cate Gail Ann Williams and Steve Shapiro offer a por­trait of a new wave Bel­gian ‘nano-blendery’. As well as a dis­cus­sion of the cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of a new blendery charg­ing what by Bel­gian stan­dards are eye-water­ing prices for chal­leng­ing prod­ucts (cin­na­mon Fram­boos!) it’s also full of inter­est­ing details on the process:

Sou­vereyns com­bines three inoc­u­lat­ed wort com­po­nents for all of his beers, rely­ing on rela­tion­ships with three Lam­bic pro­duc­ers: Girardin, Lin­de­mans (in Vlezen­beek), and De Troch (in Wambeek). In par­tic­u­lar, he believes the De Troch influ­ence is key to his fla­vor sig­na­ture. “De Troch is one of those brew­eries that is so under­rat­ed. The Lam­bic [it] makes is phe­nom­e­nal but peo­ple only relate that brew­ery to sweet­ened prod­ucts,” he laments, refer­ring to quick­ly-pro­duced fruit beers which sub­si­dize the old brewery’s lim­it­ed Oude Gueuze pro­duc­tion.

(We’re not quite sure when this piece appeared online but we only noticed it this week.)

We’ll fin­ish with this archive film from the BBC on the boom in north­ern clubs dur­ing the 1960s. It con­tains lots of shots of foam­ing pints.