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.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 9 December 2017: SIBA, Spitfire, Shaving Foam

There’s everything in beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week from the ethics of milk production to fake restaurants.

Let’s get actu­al news out of the way before we get into the fun stuff. First, as has rumoured for a while, Nor­wich’s Red­well Brew­ery has been strug­gling and for­mal­ly went into admin­is­tra­tion on Mon­day last. But – good news for those fac­ing redun­dan­cy in the run up to Christ­mas – it has now been acquired by a group of sav­iour investors. Doug Faulkn­er at the East­ern Dai­ly Press broke the sto­ry here.

SIBA, the body that rep­re­sents (some) small brew­ers (with increas­ing con­tro­ver­sy) has acquired a major­i­ty stake in cask ale dis­tri­b­u­tion com­pa­ny Fly­ing Firkin. This fur­ther mud­dies the waters around SIBA’s role – isn’t it these days a pri­mar­i­ly com­mer­cial oper­a­tion in com­pe­ti­tion with its own mem­bers? Their respons­es to that and oth­er ques­tions are here, in a PDF.(Via the Brew­ers Jour­nal.)

The Cam­paign for Real Ale (CAMRA) will have a new nation­al chair from April next year as the forth­right Col­in Valen­tine hands over con­trol to Jack­ie Park­er, the cur­rent vice-chair. (Via Beer Today.)


Detail from the poster for the 2017 Pigs Ear festival.

Also sort of news, we guess: Rebec­ca Pate has ded­i­cat­ed her­self to review­ing  beer fes­ti­vals and events this year and her notes on the East Lon­don CAMRA Pig’s Ear fes­ti­val are just about still top­i­cal as it runs until 23:00 tonight: “[As] a show­case of a huge amount of excel­lent and inter­est­ing cask beers, Pigs Ear demon­strat­ed that cask events can achieve a great atmos­phere with lim­it­ed fuss, pro­vid­ed that the beer selec­tion is worth­while.”

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Plum Porter: Dividing Opinion

A plum.

We were a bit excited to come across Titanic Plum Porter in the pub last night, a beer many people worship and others despise.

We can’t say we’ve drunk it often enough to form a real­ly sol­id view on how it is meant to be but have always enjoyed it. The first time we recall encoun­ter­ing it (that is, when we were pay­ing atten­tion) was at the Cas­tle Hotel in Man­ches­ter where it struck us a heavy, rich porter with a fruity twist. At the Welling­ton in Bris­tol it seemed lighter in both colour and body and more like a British answer to a Bel­gian kriek or fram­boise – tart, and dom­i­nat­ed by the hot crum­ble flavours of bruised fruit. Even at five quid a pint (yikes!) we had to stop for a sec­ond round.

When we Tweet­ed about it, acknowl­edg­ing what we under­stood to be its mixed rep­u­ta­tion, here’s some of what peo­ple said in response:

  • When it’s good, it’s very good; when it’s bad, it’s hor­rid. Con­sis­ten­cy seems dubi­ous.” – @olliedearn
  • WHAT?! In what world is it divide opin­ion? Every­one I know loves it.” – @Jon_BOA
  • My bete noire, was always dubi­ous about it (even though I love oth­er Titan­ic brews) – per­haps I need to revis­it…” – @beertoday
  • Hav­ing lived in Stoke + cov­ered the Pot­ter­ies beer scene I’d say it’s a good advert (flag­ship, I dare say!) for local beers, despite flaws.” – @LiamapBarnes

So, pret­ty bal­anced, from Ugh! to Wow!

Over the years we’ve seen yet harsh­er com­ments, though, some of which struck us as more about Titan­ic’s place on the scene than about this beer in par­tic­u­lar. In gen­er­al, we find Titan­ic’s beer rather mid­dling – not bad, not great – but it is nonethe­less a major pres­ence in the Mid­lands and North West, and on super­mar­ket shelves nation­wide, and ubiq­ui­ty breeds con­tempt. For some time, too, its own­er Kei­th Bott was chair­man of increas­ing­ly con­tro­ver­sial indus­try body SIBA, so per­haps the beer tastes a bit of pol­i­tics, the nas­ti­est off-flavour of all.

This made us think about oth­er beers that strike us as fun­da­men­tal­ly decent but whose rep­u­ta­tions might be sim­i­lar­ly weighed down. Cop­per Drag­on Gold­en Pip­pin, for exam­ple, is a beer we’ve always enjoyed – good val­ue, straight­for­ward, but with a bit more peachy zing than some oth­ers in the same cat­e­go­ry. When we expressed this enthu­si­asm a while ago, though, there seemed to be a sug­ges­tion that we should­n’t enjoy it because the brew­ery has engaged in some com­pli­cat­ed and news­wor­thy busi­ness prac­tices.

And St Austell Trib­ute is a beer we’ll always stick up for. At the Nags Head in Waltham­stow c.2009 we drank tons of it and found it every bit as good as, almost inter­change­able with, the exem­plary Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord sold in the same pub. (Fur­ther read­ing: ‘The Land­lord Test’.) But these days, even though Trib­ute is prob­a­bly  bet­ter than its ever been in tech­ni­cal terms, it elic­its groans from many enthu­si­asts. That’s because it’s become one of those beers you find in pubs that aren’t very inter­est­ed in beer, pushed into the wrong bits of the coun­try by keen sales teams and big dis­tri­b­u­tion deals; and on trains, in hotel bars, under ran­dom rocks you pick up deep in the woods, and so on. That in-your-face nation­al pres­ence is not only annoy­ing in its own right but also makes it hard­er to find a pint that has tru­ly been cared for. But, as a beer, on its own terms… It can still taste great, and inter­est­ing with it.

The flip­side of all this, of course, is that some mediocre or even bad beers get a free pass because the peo­ple that make them are good eggs, or under­dogs, or have a good sto­ry to tell; or because they’re scarce, so that nobody ever real­ly gets to know them, and is too excit­ed when they do find them in the wild to be objec­tive­ly crit­i­cal.

It’s impos­si­ble to be objec­tive, obvi­ous­ly, but it’s good to try – to attempt to blank out every­thing else and have a moment where it’s just you and the beer.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 January 2017: Bucharest, SIBA, Tasting Beer

This week we have been reading various bits of what may or may not be clickbait, notes on beers from Romania and Norway, and ponderings on the nature of taste. There’s also been some less sexy but nonetheless important industry news.

For the Guardian Vic­to­ria Coren-Mitchell expressed a sel­dom-heard point of view: pubs are ter­ri­ble and beer is dis­gust­ing. This caused some irri­ta­tion either because the very idea struck peo­ple as offen­sive, or because they per­ceived it as a delib­er­ate attempt to bait beer- and pub-lovers for the sake of dri­ving traf­fic. We were just inter­est­ed to find put into words (with humor­ous intent, by the way) how a lot of peo­ple must feel:

Peo­ple real­ly love the pub. I say peo­ple. I mean my hus­band. Noth­ing makes my hus­band hap­pi­er than set­tling down in the cor­ner of some reeky-car­pet­ed local booz­ing house for a good old sit. Maybe a chat. And, obvi­ous­ly, a beer. A sit and a chat and a beer. Beer and a chat and a sit. Sit, chat, beer. Chat, sit, beer. Sit, sit, beer beer, chat chat chat, sit sit sit… And noth­ing else is hap­pen­ing! It’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter if you’re hav­ing some lunch or play­ing a pub quiz; that makes sense. I’m hap­py if there are board games or a pool table… But just sit­ting there, doing noth­ing, just slurp­ing away at a beer and wait­ing for the occa­sion­al out­break of chat: this is the pas­time of choice for lit­er­al­ly mil­lions of peo­ple!


Beer O'Clock, Bucharest.

The Beer Nut has been on hol­i­day again, this time in Bucharest, Roma­nia, and has done his usu­al thor­ough job of track­ing down all the beer of note from super­mar­ket lagers to brew­pub IPAs:

[The] oth­er Hop Hooli­gans IPA, by the name of Shock Ther­a­py… looks the same as the beer next to it, except for that hand­some mane of pure white foam. It does­n’t smell fruity, though; it smells funky: part dank, part old socks. That’s how it tastes too, with a kind of cheesi­ness that I don’t think is caused by old hops. When I look up the vari­eties I dis­cov­er that Waimea and Rakau are the guilty par­ties, and I’m not sur­prised. I’ve picked up an unpleas­ant funk from those high-end Kiwi hops before

Part 1: Craft Beer
Part 2: Big Indies/Contract Brew­ers
Part 3: Main­stream Brands

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