News, Nuggets and Longreads 16 March 2019: Potatoes, Preston, Pubs

Here are all the blog posts and news stories about beer that seized our attention in the past week, from potato beer to ancient Irish pubs.

First, some food for thought: SIBA, the body that rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of the UK’s inde­pen­dent brew­eries, has pub­lished its annu­al report. (Unfor­tu­nate­ly, in flip­py-flap­py skeuo­mor­phic online book­let form. UPDATE: Neil at SIBA sent us a link to a PDF.) Some of the key mes­sages:

  • The pub­lic per­ceives craft beer to be from small, inde­pen­dent pro­duc­ers, and made using tra­di­tion­al meth­ods.
  • Young peo­ple do seem to be pulling away from alco­hol, with only 16% of 25–34 year olds drink­ing beer more reg­u­lar­ly than once a week, down from 26% in 2017.
  • The num­ber of brew­eries pro­duc­ing keg beer has increased, and craft lager espe­cial­ly is on the up.

Preston
SOURCE: Fer­ment.

Bet­ter late than nev­er, hav­ing final­ly got round to read­ing it in a hard copy of Fer­ment, the mag­a­zine from beer sub­scrip­tion ser­vice Beer52, we want­ed to flag Katie Tay­lor’s piece on the beer scene in Pre­ston, Lan­cashire:

A for­mer Vic­to­ri­an tex­tiles giant left to the fates of so many North­ern towns, the city sits patient­ly on direct rail routes to near­ly every UK city you can think of; it’s two hours from Lon­don, two hours from Edin­burgh. Depri­va­tion has cast its shad­ow for some time, but after over a decade of dili­gent local action and pos­i­tive steps towards self-suf­fi­cien­cy it feels like recent­ly, Preston’s time might final­ly be arriv­ing… The hip­sters of Pre­ston are made of dif­fer­ent stuff though. For a start, they’re not inter­lop­ers search­ing for cheap loft spaces – instead they’re local, young and they’ve nev­er left.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets and Lon­greads 16 March 2019: Pota­toes, Pre­ston, Pubs”

Guidelines are only guidelines

Portman Group logo.

The Portman Group’s long-awaited revised guidelines for the naming, promotion and packaging of drinks landed yesterday, and there’s a view that they got it wrong.

First, though, there’s a bit that’s been wel­comed by peo­ple like Melis­sa Cole and Jae­ga Wise, and the line every­one was wait­ing for:

A drink’s name, its pack­ag­ing and any pro­mo­tion­al mate­r­i­al or activ­i­ty should not cause seri­ous or wide­spread offence.

That’s backed up by a sep­a­rate and more detailed guid­ance note which adds this spe­cif­ic detail…

Par­tic­u­lar care must be tak­en to avoid caus­ing seri­ous offence on the grounds of race, reli­gion, gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, dis­abil­i­ty or age.

… while oth­er­wise leav­ing things suit­ably vague, ready to be test­ed in prac­tice if and when com­plaints start to come in:

The Code rules are writ­ten as broad prin­ci­ples. This means that the rules are not over­ly pre­scrip­tive and allow the Pan­el to inter­pret and apply them on a  case by case basis, tak­ing mul­ti­ple fac­tors into account (over­all impres­sion con­veyed, pro­duc­er response, rel­e­vant research etc). This ensures that the Code, and its rules, are flex­i­ble to dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios, fit for pur­pose and respon­sive to inno­va­tion in the mar­ket…

We reck­on all this leaves brew­ers with a fair amount of room for manoeu­vre, while also pro­vid­ing a mech­a­nism for chal­leng­ing them. Of course the first time it’s test­ed will either upset free speech types (if the com­plaint is upheld) or the com­plain­ing class­es if it isn’t, but at least the  first draft of a sys­tem is there.

Four units

Now for the bit lots of peo­ple think they got wrong: in the eter­nal bat­tle against strong lagers and ciders, they’ve come up with advice on pack­ag­ing that would seem to catch IPA, Bel­gian-style beer and oth­er high-end prod­ucts in the cross­fire. Here’s the top line:

The Advi­so­ry Ser­vice rec­om­mends that con­tain­ers which are typ­i­cal­ly sin­gle-serve, and whose con­tents are typ­i­cal­ly con­sumed by one per­son in one sit­ting, should not con­tain more than four units.

Again, though, these are guide­lines, not rules, and this sec­tion would seem to get as close to say­ing ‘PS. Does not apply to craft beer’ as could rea­son­ably be expect­ed:

Hav­ing more than four-units in a sin­gle-serve con­tain­er will not auto­mat­i­cal­ly result in a prod­uct being found in breach of the Code; it is the view of the Advi­so­ry Ser­vice that the Pan­el is like­ly to take oth­er fac­tors into account when deter­min­ing whether a prod­uct encour­ages immod­er­ate con­sump­tion. It is not pos­si­ble to pro­duce an exhaus­tive list of mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors but the Pan­el may con­sid­er: whether the con­tain­er con­tained a ‘share’ mes­sage or a ‘per serve’ rec­om­men­da­tion, how eas­i­ly the con­tain­er could be resealed, whether the pro­duc­er was able to demon­strate that the con­tents were shared (by decant­i­ng) or typ­i­cal­ly con­sumed over more than one sit­ting, the pre­mi­um status/quality of the prod­uct and its posi­tion­ing in the mar­ket includ­ing the price at which it is gen­er­al­ly sold, alco­hol type (does the prod­uct degrade quick­ly once opened) and the over­all impres­sion con­veyed by the prod­uct pack­ag­ing (such as ter­mi­nol­o­gy used in the name and prod­uct descrip­tion). The mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors should be com­men­su­rate with the num­ber of units (above 4 units) in the sin­gle-serve con­tain­er. The Pan­el is also like­ly to take into con­sid­er­a­tion whether the pack­ag­ing con­tains respon­si­bil­i­ty mes­sag­ing, for exam­ple, the num­ber of units in the con­tain­er and a ref­er­ence to the Drinkaware web­site.

And, one final bit of extreme dev­il’s advo­ca­cy: we’ve fair­ly fre­quent­ly seen street drinkers – peo­ple obvi­ous­ly strug­gling with addic­tion to alco­hol– with cans of Brew­Dog Elvis Juice at break­fast time in cen­tral Bris­tol. At 6.5%, and with four cans for £6 in Tesco con­ve­nience stores, it’s actu­al­ly a rea­son­ably eco­nom­i­cal and palat­able way to get pissed.

So maybe the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem is the idea that there’s good booze and bad booze, when actu­al­ly it’s about sta­ble and unsta­ble lives.

Fur­ther read­ing

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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 21 July 2018: Films, Maps, Info­graph­ics”

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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 17 March 2018: Lon­don Drinkers & Bris­tol Dock­ers”