Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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Where is this? You emerge out of the Hauptbahnhof, the central nervous system of the city, and are immediately floored by its noisy, car-laden, babel of voices as people flurry about as if in a snowstorm. It is a place where you have your mid-morning brunch of a long, slim glass of Weizen alongside either a pale ghostly sausage or a deeply sun-tanned brown pretzel; around you in the tree-shaded beer garden, the chatty, garrulous, gossipy and contemplative soul of the people who live in the city is revealed as the conversation all around ebbs and flows like the sea in a cove on a day when the wind can’t quite make up its mind what to do.

Where is this? Another beer garden, this time plonked in the midst of one of the city’s broad green spaces, a place of waterfalls, temples and yoga classes, upon which dogs run and people lounge. On a sunny day it is a vital escape from the city. Even though the hum of traffic can be heard in the background, the green space is restful with the sound of birdsong. There’s no escaping beer though: this beer garden is overlooked by an 18th-century Chinese pagoda, whose weathered frame is enlivened by the golden bells that hang off it. I try a glass of Urbock, a copper-coloured, robust creature, with a crystalline sweetness, a rich caramelisation, a lingering bitterness, and a weight of flavour from its 7.2% ABV.

Where is this? Inside the bar it’s all wooden panels, old black-and-white photos on the wall and a quiet and restrained mood. The food is traditional for the city, sausages, chunks of meat as if hewn from the rocks of an ancient cliff and a glass of Dunkel, deep chestnut brown, with a chocolate, rye, and biscuit nose; on the palate toasted, pumpernickel bread, floral hop notes, followed by a dry and crisp finish, appetising and refreshing and my glass is empty all too soon. I order another.

I think you might have guessed by now. This is in Bavaria, in Munich of course, one of the great beer cities of Europe, a place that I love but also occasionally roll my eyes at and wish I was in Berlin or Bamberg instead. This is a city that it pays to take a beer pilgrimage to, and if you can stand the crowds and the extraordinary sights of public drunkenness also make your way to the Oktoberfest. If you really want to immerse yourself in the culture of beer then Munich is one of those stations of the cross, where you go on a beer pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage is such a basic word, a word that slides into everyday speech with the ease of a towel thrown at an exhausted athlete after a race well run. It is an easily used word, promiscuous perhaps in the way it makes friends with everyone, its use thrown about like a stool or a series of punches in a pub fight; it is a word that suggests everything and nothing.

A shopping centre is a place of pilgrimage; others might say that they went to see their football team on a pilgrimage; there are favourite bands whose day has long gone but still the pilgrims come, grey of hair, slightly stooped of gait, remembering what was once and what could have been; there are historical pilgrimages and family plots in a graveyard that mean nothing to anyone but you. These all merit pilgrimages.

As does beer, which is why as the summer comes and thoughts turn to travel, I would suggest that if you really want to get into the soul of beer, whether it’s a Leipziger Gose, a West Coast IPA, or even a Best Bitter brewed in the middle of the English countryside, it’s time to make that pilgrimage. Munich was one of mine.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

 

Roll out the barrel…

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The famous red barrel

Watneys Red Barrel was the beer that prompted the formation of real ale movement the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in 1971 because this fizzy liquid, held in pressured keg containers, was deemed tasteless and a threat to traditional real ale. In the first CAMRA Good Beer Guide, drinkers were infamously advised to “avoid it like the plague”.

The beer became the poster child for all that was bad about keg beer – compared with cask-conditioned real ale whose condition (let’s call it sparkle) was due to natural carbonation and not injected gas.

It has taken almost 50 years before we have now reached a stage where Watneys is making a return via a £400,000 crowdfunding plan, albeit with the company stating it will produce decent beer this time! Since it is questionable what residual value is left in the brand and with the beer likely to be vastly different, I’m left to ponder the value of such a resurrection?

Anyway, the potential return of “Grotneys” is merely an aside to the main event on CAMRA’s near half-century anniversary – the movement’s revolutionary action to allow keg products at its major event, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), for the first time.

Having shunned those beers for all those years it has finally succumbed to recognising things aren’t as simple as keg beer bad, cask beer good. Life is so much more nuanced today. We have a situation where the majority of the output from the newer craft brewers is keg. This is mainly because keg is easier to look after through the supply chain – ensuring it has consistency at the point of dispense isn’t difficult – and the brewers can charge a lot more for it than cask beer.

Keg is the liquid younger consumers are downing, leading to the sad decline in cask beer sales, which had fallen 6.8% in volume terms in the year to July 2018, according to the British Beer & Pub Association, with few signs of a turnaround since. In fact, if you look at Fuller’s sale of its brewery to Asahi, it’s the opposite of a turnaround. If cask beer had been flying out the door that deal probably wouldn’t have materialised.

What appears to be a major change of heart by CAMRA isn’t strictly the case. The reality is keg beer has been served at GBBF for a number of years at the international bars, where drinkers have been able to enjoy keg lager imported from the Czech Republic and Germany. Such beers are supposed to be held in pressured containers. Cask versions of these beers would be ridiculous and, in most cases, impossible to produce because of the methods and ingredients involved.

It is therefore rather strange that the US Brewers Association has sent over a consignment of cask versions of American breweries’ keg beer to GBBF for some years. They have been well received by many but I’m not among them as the exercise has merely highlighted how specific styles of beer are better suited or designed for keg while others are at home in cask format.

Against this backdrop, the major debate about beer today surrounds its final condition when it’s served in the boozer – and this is where cask has been losing out. Unless it’s looked after – from brewery to pub cellar to the point of serving – what is in the customer’s glass won’t reflect the product created by the brewer.

In demanding the beer the brewer intended, my own drinking habits have increasingly skewed towards buying keg beer from craft brewers but, in reality, the brews I’ve enjoyed most have invariably been cask. When attending tap takeovers at my local, The Great Northern Railway Tavern in north London, the standout brews have all been cask but produced by renowned companies that predominantly brew keg beer.

Memorable beers have been Siren Craft Brew’s Suspended In Fog, Magic Rock Brewing’s High Wire, Northern Monk’s Eternal, and Cloudwater Brew Co’s Pale Ale. These were the best of these brewers’ selections on tap when served in a pub with top cellar credentials. This goes to show that unlike in the 1970s when keg was the biggest threat to cask, today’s biggest threat to cask is cask.

 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.

Shattered dreams

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Crowdfunding has dined out for far too long on the story of Camden Town Brewery delivering a highly profitable exit for its investors on Crowdcube in 2015.
Since then, the reality is there has been little positive news accompanied by the occasional blow-up to upset the party. Until recently, that is, as we’ve seen a increasing number of failures in recent weeks, with the craft brewing industry in the eye of the growing crowdfunding storm. The credibility and validity of this route to raise money is now firmly under the spotlight.
There’s no doubt crowdfunding has been a terrific boon for the craft beer industry and has been the first, middle and last port of call for many businesses looking to raise money. However, the ease with which they have been able to do this has sadly come at a high price. The lack of due diligence undertaken at the time of many fund-raises is coming home to roost.
Very little of what’s been contained in the crowdfunding documentation – I hate to call them prospectuses because that gives them more credibility than they deserve – has ultimately been delivered. Much has been promised to investors but, sadly, they’ve been badly let down on too many occasions.
One of the disappointments has been Two Heads Beer Co, which recently closed the three Beer Boutiques it acquired following a £375,000 crowdfund last summer. The objective of raising the money was to open more stores but the company seems to have adopted a reverse store-opening programme.
Then there’s been The Bottle Shop, which raised £400,000 to build a cold chain platform and open more units. While the former was delivered as promised, no headway was made on adding bars or shops to the business. The company called in the administrators earlier this year, wiping out all the crowdfunding investors.
Most interesting of the bunch has been Hop Stuff, which recently had its brewery seized by the landlord after failing to pay its rent – and taxes. It’s unclear exactly what Hop Stuff Brewery’s future holds but perhaps its parlous state shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise because it had the most doubtful business model I’d heard in a long time.
The plan was to open a number of bars under its Taprooms concept supplied by Hop Stuff but with the “unique” aspect of selling beer from other breweries too. That sounds like a bog-standard pub to me – or am I missing something? I think I must be because the valuation placed on the business at the time of its latter fund-raise was a staggering £25m. I say latter as the company went to the crowdfunding well on three occasions and brought in a total of £1.5m from investors. I’m not sure exactly what the company is worth right now.
For anybody wondering where a figure as high as £25m comes from, I can tell you – it’s pretty much plucked out of the air. There’s nothing scientific about it – it’s all art. When businesses use crowdfunding platforms they are encouraged to use large numbers in their pitch because this shows they have big growth plans and it helps draw more investors into offering their money.
The most recent craft beer company to hit the buffers was Redchurch Brewery, which called in administrators last month. The company was immediately bought, with the new owners hailing the “great news”. Yes, it is good news the employees can remain on board but Redchurch had raised almost £900,000 in two crowdfunding rounds in 2016 and 2017 and in the company’s statement there was no mention whatsoever of those investors, who were wiped out once more.
Most startups fail but it seems to me many crowdfunded businesses adopt an attitude of easy come, easy go. The lack of reference to their investor community when these companies hit the rocks suggests they cared little for the enthusiastic investors who made it possible for them to reach for their dreams. I predict many more nightmares to come.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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What shall I write is the question that anyone who lives by the pen (or laptop these days, naturally) all too often asks themselves? Where shall I wander on the page, what shall I dredge from the deep river of memory — which beer, which brewery, which brewer, which city has attracted my attention, has made me want to live there forever, or at least until my liver gives out?

Today I feel like writing about how travel is crucial in understanding a beer culture, how leaving your safe suburban (or Rus in urbe) home and reaching out to a beer city (or town) is an essential act when it comes to immersing yourself in the world of beer. Anyone can sit at home and drink a lemon and lime gose and tell their social media feed that they comprehend everything about the style, or that the coconut-flavoured Tripel from a cuckoo brewer in the badlands of Boston (Lincs rather than that big city in the US) is just how a monk really intended it to be.

However, in my view to really understand where a beer comes from and what it really tastes like and how it is drunk and where it is drunk, you need to gulp this beer style in the city or the region where it is made. In Leipzig you can drink Leipziger Gose, perhaps at the Bayerischer Bahnhof, where the beer is brewed on a platform above the bar, or hunker down in the Gosenschenke ohne Bedenken, an old-style wood-panelled tavern where Putin was reputed to sup when he worked for the KGB here. The latter is a traditional Gose pub, which has recently started brewing its own on the premises, but it also still sells Ritterguts’ tongue-curlingly sour version (an ideal snack accompaniment is a piece of black bread smeared with pork fat).

Home of Schlenkerla

Over the last few years some of the places I have immersed myself in have seen me drink Gose in Leipzig, West Coast IPAs with the Pacific swell just over there and sit in the dark confines of Braueri Heller’s tap room in Bamburg, where Schlernkerla Rauchbier is the everyday drink of those who come in to read a paper or hang out with their mates.

There is that feeling that for a brief snatch of time, however short or transient, you are part of something; that the beer style that you rarely see in the UK or has been disembowelled by all kinds of adjuncts, is just the daily beer of the locals who come and go. For those of us who love beer culture these sort of trips are a kind of pilgrimage

However, I recently realised that there is a downside to this dependency on travel: after co-organising the Exeter Beer Weekend I decided that all this travel was all well and good, but that I was in danger or ignoring the beer culture that was going on in my own city, Exeter and throughout the whole southwest.

There are breweries cropping up all over the place, while those like Verdant, Deya, Moor and Lost and Grounded are quenching the thirsts of beer lovers all over the country. Here in Exeter, Topsham Brewery mix music and their own beers at a lively tap down on the historic quay, while just outside the market town of Crediton the lagers of the newly commissioned Utopian are rapidly taking all of us by storm; add to that Powderkeg and others in the surrounding countryside and I’m beginning to temporarily lose that itch to travel (it’ll come back). Someone in the pub the other night said something that chimed within as we discussed our growing beer scene: local is the new global. She might well be right.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Opposite Ends of the Scale

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One of the UK’s most non-PC comedians, the late Bernard Manning, used to have a running gag at his shows in which he would pick an overweight member of the audience and a slimmer one and suggest the thin one looked like he had been in a famine his larger mate had caused.
This oddly reminds me of the brief time I spent working in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, when I discovered the Californian city had an extremely polarised population. Half seemed crazed, teetotal health fanatics on a weight-loss regime, while the other 50% were obese individuals on the path to early death from massive overconsumption of food and alcohol.
The health-conscious members of my office were firmly in the former camp and found it hard to accept I’d pop to a bar for a few beers after work. Apart from Fridays, which was the only acceptable drinking evening for my colleagues, my bar visits were invariably solo missions. To the majority in the office my behaviour suggested a raging alcoholic – just like the stereotypical English blokes they’d read about.
I wonder whether we’re falling into a similar polarised situation in the UK when it comes to drinking alcohol? Of most interest is the younger grouping of Generation Z – the 18 to 24-year-olds. It’s clear total alcohol sales are falling in the UK, and this is particularly prevalent among Generation Z.

Gen Z: More likely to drink mocktails than cocktails?

Research by KAM Media found that in 2018 almost two-fifths (39%) of the group claimed to be teetotal, which is more than twice the average level in the UK across the whole population. Proof of this move to a healthier lifestyle can be seen in almost half (49%) of respondents heading to the gym at the end of the day compared with a modestly higher 51% who go to the pub. This represents a serious 20% uplift in gym-goers since 2015.
However, countering these numbers is evidence from the Stonegate wet-led pubs business, which last year enjoyed a record-breaking fresher’s week. Chairman Ian Payne thinks part of the fall in consumption is simply down to the higher strength of beer today. Whereas a few years ago 3.8% ABV was the normal level for a beer and 5% Stella something akin to “loopy juice”, craft beer today is so packed with flavour and alcohol Payne says it’s impossible for most people to drink more than three pints in a session.
KAM Media founder Katy Moses suggests government statistics show levels of obesity, diabetes and alcohol problems are the same as before. There has been no noticeable decline in-line with the healthier trends we are seeing among Generation Z. “There seems to be two extremes of healthy and indulgent,” she says.
While this is undoubtedly the case, Moses suggests the middle ground is the dangerous (uncertain) part of the market for leisure and hospitality operators. But is it? We are seeing massive potential in what is undoubtedly the bridge between these two polarised camps – low and no-alcohol beer and spirits.

The ever-increasing range of low- and non-alcohol beers on offer

Drinks businesses around the world have recognised new product development in this area could provide the double-whammy of tempting non-drinkers into the category while appealing to regular drinkers who want to consume less and perhaps alternate between low-alcohol beer and their 10% triple IPA.
Certainly sales for low and no-alcohol beer in Western Europe have risen 18% in the past five years, according to Euromonitor, which predicts a further 12% climb by the end of 2022. I suspect low-strength beers might not have particularly appealed to Bernard Manning but, thankfully in many respects, the world has moved on and the market needs to adapt to the desires, demand and sensitivities of the younger generation.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Bellwoods Jelly King Tangerine

As the trip started, on the train from Euston, in the month of February, I will detail the Manchester visit, for Cloudwater’s Family & Friends, in this month’s blog.

After checking in, The Editor and I started at The Crown & Kettle, which had a superb Buxton IPA on cask. A wonderful Burning Sky Arise, again on cask, at The Smithfield  Tavern, was followed by The Marble Arch with their famous Pint beer being dispensed in the same fashion.

Superb beers in great condition in wonderful local pubs. Finally, we ended in Cafe Beermoth, which was hosting a Bellwoods TTO. This Toronto brewery produces excellent beers, and, spoiler alert, one of them was ultimately to prove Beer of the Festival. However, although it is a great bar, Cafe Beermoth could have been a craft-bar in London, or, indeed, anywhere in the developed world and so lacked the charming difference of earlier in the evening.

Friday morning, we were late and yet surprisingly close to the front of the queue.  Once in, there seemed vastly more glasses than people outside and punters are almost never late for a pre-paid, unlimited pour festival. It soon became apparent that less than half the tickets had been sold.

Room to stretch out

Whilst this is not sustainable for the organiser, it meant for a fantastic experience for the festival-goer, with no crowds, waiting nor queues. For the most sought after brewers, Hill Farmstead, Monkfish, Other Half, Trillium and The Veil, there was a token system so that everybody would get some.

This seemed a very good idea, but wasn’t really tested, given the limited tickets sold. Modern Times bourbon BA imperial stout Modem Tones, De Garde spontaneous wild ales, J Wakefield Space Oddity, a Denali dry-hopped Berliner Weisse, Mikkeller Spontan, Trillium IPA, Other Half DIPA, but the undoubted beer of the festival was the aforementioned Bellwood’s Jelly King Tangerine, a dry-hopped sour that absolutely screamed of fruit.

Afterwards, we spent the afternoon in the Briton’s Protection, a lovely old-fashioned pub 5 minutes walk from the venue. Buxton, again, and a superb Cloudwater Burning Sky collab Reassuring Trial IPA, both on cask. The evening was spent in Refectory, Northern Monk’s bar and Cafe Beermoth again (not sure why).

Oasis

Saturday will go down as a day of infamy, in the beer scene. I hadn’t checked any media, mainstream nor social, before meeting the Editor, for breakfast, at around 07:45. His expression was one of complete shock, and, when he asked, “Have you heard the news?” I assumed that there had been a natural disaster, terror attack or North Korea had launched a missile!

In fact, he told me that the Festival has been cancelled! Social Media said that the Council had turned up at the evening session, presumably after noise complaints from local residents, and realised that there was no alcohol licence. Authorities rarely stop an event, correctly understanding that evicting angry, drunk punters is a recipe for trouble.

However, the Council had made it abundantly clear that the event was not to continue on Saturday, with the organisers facing a large fine, and possibly jail time, if they did.  The agents renting the venue had apparently told Cloudwater that it had a full licence, but it is inexcusable not to get that in writing.

Rumours and counter rumours swirled as people decided whether to travel or take refunds. As we were pot-committed, with pre-paid hotels and train tickets, we weren’t going anywhere.  After walking down to the venue, and seeing some unfortunate punters turn up unaware of any problems, we popped over to Albert’s Schoss, for a couple of Czech lagers and to re-group.

The organisers maintained that the present venue was definitely out, and had therefore packed up and loaded the Lorries, but they were looking at alternatives, and the plan seemed to be one massive session with both morning and afternoon combined. It seemed absurd that any venue with a licence would still be free at the last minute on Saturday, far and away the most popular day for weddings, etc.

Moreover, there would have been no pre-planning at a new venue and logistics mistakes would be made. We both thought the one-session idea particularly stupid, full of queues which they would “justify” by saying that we were there for eight or nine hours. It was agreed that we would only go back to the original venue or take a refund.

We went back to Upper Campfield at about 13:00 and after a few minutes chatting to brewers, it was announced that they had got permission to carry on and were to start unloading the Lorries. We decamped to the nearby Briton’s Protection to await imminent confirmation. After 45 minutes the official announcement came that the evening session would be largely unaffected whilst the morning would be reduced to just three hours, but with a pro rata refund on our tickets.

One can gripe that the decision to unpack cost us a full-length session but I suspect that it was necessary to convince the Council that Cloudwater were taking it seriously and accepting responsibility.

Having been so close, we were near the front of the queue to get in and were OK, but, because Saturday had sold out, it took almost 15 minutes to get everyone in, which is bad at the best of times, but dreadful when the session had already been cut to three hours. Inside, it was much busier but not disastrously so: however the truncated time meant that the Guaranteed Pour system didn’t work, which is as a shame as it is a good idea.

The main complaint, rather than the licensing fiasco was that, as Friday hadn’t sold out, they kept beers on and didn’t rotate. This is completely unacceptable penny-pinching as the tickets had been sold on that basis, which meant people like ourselves who had bought more than one session ended up drinking many of the same beers again.

Overall it was a fantastic trip and I loved the Manchester pubs, and cask most of all. The Festival itself was a Curate’s Egg: fantastic beers and Friday morning, as half-full, was unbelievable, but the licensing was a rookie mistake and the beers should have been rotated.

Albert’s Schloss

A very good article from Will Hawkes on the much-missed London Beer City https://www.willhawkes.net/blog/2019/2/7/how-i-ended-up-running-a-beer-week-by-mistake. He pitched the idea at LBA in June 2014, two months before the inaugural event. Thanks again for all his hard work, and it was very sad to see it finish in 2017, after four great years.

A few events at Mikkeller Bar, which appears to have cut its prices, so that they are now merely expensive, rather than ludicrous, especially as the location is as central as it gets.  Angry Chair TTO with  3 Little Birds Berliner Weissse,  Mango Gose, El Cicuy, a Bourbon BA Russian Imperial Stout with cinnamon and vanilla, Popinski, another Russian imperial, this time with peanut butter and marshmallow and Simple Math, an imp stout with cinnamon, coconut and coffee.  Tired Hands TTO, which was obviously good, as I have managed to lose all my notes!

Craft Beer Rising was, as normal, a strange Trade Show, in which some, excellent independent beer, was interspersed with dreadful faux-craft brands from the macros. Timmy Taylor’s landlord on cask, opposite the American import stand, including Foolproof’s The Grotto IPA, Fifty Fifty West Coast Haze IPA and New Holland Dragon’s Milk imperial stout, provided a great contrast and attracted the crowds.  The Siren CBR after-party at The Old Fountain saw Soundwave, a Suspended and the Tropical Chocolate Cake, all on cask. No biggie (geddit?) on keg continued the West Coast IPA theme.

In brief news, Brouwerih de Molen is now part of Swinkels Family Brewers and RateBeer fully acquired by AB InBev, which immediately renders it useless.

And onto March, which will all be about some shocking news…

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.

Bohem and Adnams team up for hoppy wheat beer collab

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Fergus Fitzgerald flanked by team Bohem

Adnams’ respected head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald recently joined Bohem Brewery for the day to create a hoppy wheat beer collaboration packed with mandarins and US hop Sabro.

Although original discussions were around a creation along the lines of Schneider Weisse renowned Tap 5 Hopfen-Weisse beer the commitment to lager production by Bohem dictated that a lager yeast be used thereby reducing the clove and banana characteristic in the beer.

To overcome this missing aspect the brew was given a unique character through the use of Sabro hops – that have a Sorachi Ace dill-like flavour along with mango fruit character. This was complemented by the addition of 50kg of fresh mandarins into the kettle.

Fitzgerald says the appeal of brewing a collab with Bohem was the use of its Czech Republic-built decoction kit: “It’s an unusual way of production and until I’d actually brewed on it then I didn’t know it’s impact on a beer. It will give some spiciness and body to this wheat beer even though we are using lager yeast [on a mix of two-thirds wheat and one-third barley in the grist].”

It represents the first time Bohem has used wheat or fruit in any of its beers so the ultimate outcome will certainly interest Bohem head brewer Petr Skocek. For Fitzgerald fruit has played a part in a number of Adnams beers including one brew with juice from the peel of oranges that took two weeks to extract the required level of zest. “We did not do it again!” he says.

The collab beer – named Mandarinka – will spend a total of five weeks in tank at the Bohem Brewery and be released as a quaffable 4-4.4% zesty brew that will be available in keg at select bars.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

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So is this the best city in the UK in which to drink beer? I’m talking about Sheffield, naturally, which several years ago was declared the top of the ringing, singing tree of UK beer (much to the wry smiles of those who live in, say, Norwich, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh, London and Liverpool no doubt).

There is certainly a swarm of good pubs in Sheffield, an eternal fountain of great beer and, even though the architecture is a bit of a mixture of postwar all-sorts, it is also a comfortable and friendly city in which to drink beer. So that’s one question over and done with, even if the answer is a bit black-and-white.

It is also a city of ghosts that drift through its streets. There are closed pubs with the names of long gone breweries such as Stone’s picked out on the facades; across the road from the Wellington (owned by Neepsend), there is a memorial to the Don Brewery, which once stood on this spot and sent its beers across the road.

At the White Lion, on London Road, a surviving multi-coloured window has the name of Windsor Ales picked out in white, lounging above a green-tiled lower wall. Time has passed, the brewery has gone, but let us not dwell on the past, this is the now.

Beer exhilarates the city of Sheffield, the breweries in and around the city inject new life into its bloodstream, all of which I was reminded of on a recent visit last month, as a guest of the Indie Beer Feast, an event organised by the indomitable Jules Gray of the Hop Hideout bottle shop.

This is a bounteous event, which for the second year running was held in the historic surroundings of the Abbeydale Picture House, the kind of classic cinema that our parents and grandparents used to attend, perhaps courted in or just watched the latest James Bond or Carry On.

As for the Beer Feast, beers from the likes of Abbeydale, Neptune, Turning Point, Orbit, Cloudwater, Affinity, St Mars of the Desert and Wild Card could be sampled and a small team of us judged a selection of beer.

I also walked along a canal for a quick visit to St Mars of the Desert and look forward to seeing how they grow (they used to be Pretty Things in the USA if you didn’t know). There was also plenty of time to visit some of the pubs that make a sure claim for Sheffield’s call for greatness.

Old favourites such as the Bath Hotel and the Fat Cat still attract and intrigue me, but this time I also asked for recommendations, which is how I found myself in the Broadfield Ale House, around about 6pm on a Saturday evening. As soon as I entered, I was embraced by the life of a busy pub, amid a hubbub of voices, the warm aroma of food in the air and the firm stand of a golden glass of Pilsner from pub owners True North Brewery.

Here was a pub as I imagined it to be at the weekend, lively and lusty, families, friends, football fans (Bramall Lane isn’t that far away), dogs, Saturday night before the reward of Sunday morning, the vitality of our public houses.

And in that moment, as the coolness of the Pilsner passed my lips, Sheffield was Britain’s best beer city, though as I write, the memory still fresh, I tell myself that part of the joy of beer and pubs is that I look forward to continuing that search for the best.

Adrian Tierney-Jones

Cask Beer Co. celebrates 10 years since finding the craft formula

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Martin Hayes: content with 10 years of CBC

He’d rather drink Foster’s in a pub that has heart and soul than sup the latest supposed craft brews in a specialist beer bar with 20 taps but where the bar staff talk down to him and make him feel small.

It’s this lack of basic hospitality that Martin Hayes, founder of The Craft Beer Co. (CBC), believes is the failing of so many operators of craft bars. In contrast his focus on looking after people is the key element behind the success of his business that now straddles nine bars and in June he celebrates 10 glorious years since the opening of Cask Pub & Kitchen in London’s Pimlico.

“The money people are looking for the magic potion of craft beer pubs and at the moment it is beer in keg that drinkers have never heard of. These people are looking at a bad pub and putting a craft name on it. Gastropubs were the same – nice plates and cutlery but it was microwave food. When you eat it you know it’s not quality but people think you can fool customers with presentation,” explains Hayes.

He reckons the majority of business people dabbling in the pub market do not understand the craft beer pub model and that many of them are accountants: “From small independent operators right up to those who run massive pub companies there is a lack of understanding.”

His own model for the craft beer bar – although he would prefer to simply call them pubs – has pretty much remained constant since June 2009 when Hayes took on the very unattractive Pimlico Tram. “It was a closed Greene King pub that had lots of serious anti-social behaviour,”he says.

 

He took on a free-of-tie lease, called it the Cask Pub & Kitchen, and brought in some of the early great craft beers from the likes of BrewDog, Otley, Thornbridge and Dark Star. For a number of months he operated it single-handedly with no bar staff. Word spread and he says people would travel from far afield: “Ten years ago we had great beer while the other pubs had rubbish beer. The difference is not as extreme now.”

It was two years until he moved onto opening his second pub – the first to be branded as Craft Beer Co. – in Clerkenwell. This very much fitted the mould he’d created: “We’ve grown the business in the shadows and on the side streets.” This has partly been dictated by his decision to run a financially lean business with zero borrowing.

“We’ve never raised any funds, we’ve no bank support, no credit cards and no overdraft in place,” says Hayes, who adds that this has enabled the business to stay independent and operate prudently while avoiding the temptation to take on large sites in prime locations that require A-grade fit-outs.

This did not necessarily deter Hayes from looking centrally because in 2014 he opened a unit in Covent Garden. Although it rigidly stuck to his model of only taking on questionable sites: “It was completely unwanted and a real lost cause. All my pubs have been like that. They’ve all been closed or dead.”

As with all CBC pubs its core formula was the “curation of the beers and real hospitality”. Because of this he says people will search out his pubs in their secondary locations – it just so happened that the Covent Garden site required very little searching and is easy to reach. More so than the others that are located in Brighton, Brixton, Islington, St. Mary Axe in the City of London, Old Street, Limehouse and shortly Hammersmith.

Hayes says the 10 years have flown by – “it seems like only yesterday” – since he took on the Cask Pub & Kitchen site. There will be anniversary celebrations across the weekend of June 8/9 when special cask beers are being produced by 10 brewers including Thornbridge, Magic Rock, Northern Monk, Siren, Burning Sky and Wild Beer Company.

But the big personal celebration has already taken place and was rather more low-key. It was in early 2018 when he purchased the freehold of the Cask pub. “It was the best moment of the whole thing. It was almost 10 years and we’d done some cool things. It was a real celebration for me,” he says. And it was an act that fully validated his model for the craft beer bar – whatever one of those is.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Waiting for a drink at Christmas.

Pubs are rammed with the Office Xmas Party crowd in December, so don’t need events, while January sees alcohol consumption drop so I’ve decided to combine both months for the purposes of this blog. The combination is also hideously late, for which I apologise.

The biggest news of the period was obviously Fuller’s. The Editor has covered it fully here (http://beerinsider.com/fullers-sale-sad-yes-but-not-the-end-of-their-story/). Clearly, it is very disappointing. Low sterling/yen may have helped the deal, but Asahi did not pay such a hefty price for Vintage Ales.

At best, they did it to push London Pride in Japan’s growing beer culture; at worst, they will develop the Thames-side site that Tokyo executives would have driven past many times from Heathrow.

Events have moved swiftly on with Head Brewer Georgina Young moving to Bath Ales in March, which clearly is not a good look for those hoping that standards will be maintained. At a recent (mid March) Brewers’ Journal lecture, Sam from Gypsy Hill noted that in 2015, 100% of beer made within the M25 was independent. After Fuller’s, Four Pure, Camden et al, it will be just 17% next year once BeaverWorld is on-stream, and that is if no one else succumbs to the lucre.

A fantastic list for The King’s Arms 5th Birthday Party. Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Verdant Maybe 1 More Psi NEDIPA, Bruery’s The Wanderer, Alesmith Vietnamese Speedway Stout, Stiegbergets Nuddle IPA and many more classics on keg. Fuller’s Vintage Ale on cask and 100ml shots of 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze and Orval 2016.

King’s Arms

Work commitments meant I couldn’t make the actual event, but luckily was able to enjoy them all the next day. The Fuller’s Vintage Ale was also on at The Earl of Essex, and, unbelievably, lasted for most of the Xmas period at both venues, even with all that I was drinking

Brew By Numbers hosted a MTB for the Danish Ale Farm in December. This event had been scheduled for Mikkeller Bar, London but was transferred at the last minute. Crisp, modern IPA’s and DIPA’s.   The Bermondsey stalwart also announced major changes: Co-founder Dave Seymour, remains a significant share-holder, but is stepping away from day-to-day operations at BBNo to pursue other interests.  And with absolutely no idea if they are connected or not, but the brewery also revealed that they would be opening a new Taproom and barrel-aging store in Peckham.

A slightly bizarre beer story on Bloomberg TV during the US government shutdown: Damian Brown, head of Bronx Brewery, was interviewed, as the Federal Government has to approve each new beer labels that cross the State-line. There was already a five week backlog by mid January.

Three thoughts:  the USA has far more red tape than the world’s largest ever single market, on our door-step, a large part of what governments do is just bureaucratic nonsense and finally it nicely links to this Blog Post (https://theburntoutbeerguy.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/is-craft-beer-burning-out/?fbclid=IwAR1ZKwALwn5G7S7gUA0WLh165B9TI30l8BCevravNmp-NmhI3uBX9vd0oR0) regarding Beer Burn Out as punters demand new styles, which leads to a constant drive for new recipes, when, by definition, there are more ways of screwing something up than making it work.

 

Burning Sky had two events at The Bottle Shop. In December, they launched the annual Burning Sky Cuvee 2018 and the Saison de Fete.  In 2019, the new Saison de Peche , a brilliant blend of white and yellow peaches, which was a gorgeous beer with a delicate sharpness, introduced by Head Brewer Mark Tranter.

Birrificio Del Ducato was previously distributing through, and running The Italian Job bar. Regrettably that is now a normal pub, rather than the Italian specialists outlet it began life as. The beer is now distributed by The Bottle Shop, who celebrated by hosting a TTO.

Highlights included Settembre, with a sharp white grape and tannin quality from the Malvasia grapes, Frambozschella, Beersel Morning with its blend of 3 Fontenien Lambic and their in-house Saison, and Kiss Me Lipsia a fantastically tart Himalayan salt Gose.

A brewery trademark dispute actually made the main BBC web-site (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-46390587). They even managed to successfully attribute it to and, then, correctly describe Rainbow Project 2014! Both breweries put out PR statements, which can be viewed here for those who are interested: https://twitter.com/BuxtonBrewery/status/1070685730203205633 and https://www.bateman.co.uk/yella-belly-gold-facts/.

The Foxglove soft-opened in 2018, and then properly in the New Year, which meant that it assisted this combination column. On Liverpool Road, Islington, this converted restaurant is friendly with a keenly priced beer selection, whilst Red Hat opened in Dalston, from Graceland, known for King’s Arms, The Axe, et al.

Moor launched Batallas Double Stout, a collab with La Quince, Madrid. There were three variations, all from a single brew, normal and both rum and whisky barrel-aged versions, the 1st projects from their SE1 Vaults.

Other Half TTO at The Experiment imported the queues from their New York tap-room, and judging from the horror-stories from those that did go, I was glad that I gave it a miss.

Bohem MTB at Union Tavern whilst Cloudwater, Enid St. hosted Magic Rock. The advertised highlights were the collabs but I kept going back to their own West Coast IPA, which was fantastic, back to the Old Skool, and heralded early 2019’s welcome trend of returning to the US IPA’s roots.

As always, Xmas Day marked by the traditional pre-lunch visit to the Wenlock Arms.

January closed with a packed Cloudwater TTO at the GNRT, and I promise February’s review will be more punctual!

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.