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Here’s our regular Saturday morning round-up of the best writing about beer. This time: nitro stout, bottle shops, books.
First, a pep talk from Coach, AKA Pete Brown, who has noticed that craft beer is down in the dumps and doesn’t think it needs to be:
We seem to talk so much about the issues and problems in the industry, the gossip and scandal, the bad practice and culture, who’s gone under and who’s been bought out, that there isn’t much time for talking about the joy of beer and brewing and drinking… Things are still way better now then they were back in the day. I still believe that craft beer has the potential to grow further if it remains interesting and fun. So if you are feeling jaded and wondering where to go, I’d like to offer some prompts to rediscovering creativity and joy.
The provocations and prompts he presents are good ones and could inspire some interesting conversations in the pub this weekend. Or – gasp! – some blog posts.

A promo photo of London Black. SOURCE: Anspach & Hobday.For Pellicle Laura Hadland has written about Anspach & Hobday’s London Black nitro stout… but also about Guinness, indirectly. Can you produce a nitro stout, even a successful one, without sensing the market leader looming over you? Many breweries have tried over the years. Here, we get some hard facts which paint a picture of meaningful but modest success:
In just three years, London Black has single-handedly fueled Anspach and Hobday’s growth, upping their production volume by nearly two-thirds at a time when other breweries have battened down the hatches, or even gone bust… “It was a tough sell to have on,” says Jack Duignan, who owns and manages London pub The Sutton Arms with his dad, Mick. He ran London Black side-by-side with Guinness, but eventually decided to remove the former in mid-2023. “It’s absolutely nothing against the beer or brewery as they are good friends of ours, but it just didn’t work out here.”

Will Hawkes has now shared his March newsletter online and it’s full of great information about longer-term trends based on conversations with specialist beer retailers:
What is interesting about bottle shops – beyond the produce – is the way in which they’ve tracked the evolution of beer in London. The rise and fall of 75cl bottled beer; the domination of hops, then and now; the impact of Covid-19; the gradual demise of growlers, or flagons; the arrival of natural wine; and much more besides. If you want to know how beer has changed since 2014, ask someone who runs one of these places… As a proportion of [Hop Burns & Black’s] turnover, [beer] has fallen from 80 percent in 2014 to 43 percent now. Wine is now about 30 percent of Clapton Craft’s sales, having started at 0. For Mother Kelly’s, which closed its two bottle-shop-only sites in 2022, Covid-19 made a big difference. “We’ve seen our bottled beer, to drink in and takeaway, just disappear,” [Nigel Owen] says. “We’ve gone from 100 to 150 cases a week to about 10 cases a week now.”

The latest edition of Stan Hieronymus’s Hop Queries newsletter also has some fascinating facts and stats including this little surprise:
Citra and Mosaic production has been slashed the most, because they occupy the most aroma acres. Citra acreage is down 48 percent from its 2022 peak and Mosaic 44 percent since 2022… Several years ago, Citra surpassed Saaz as the world’s most popular aroma hop. Saaz could reclaim the crown this year.

John Grindrod writes brilliantly about post-war architecture and planning and this week his newsletter focused on pubs:
It’s funny how pubs take you back in time. For me there was The Forum, the octagonal pub on stilts from the Croydon’s Whitgift Centre, with its trad bar of psychedelic squelchy carpet and dark brown furniture pretending it was a historic inn despite its futuristic design. Of course, if it had been preserved it would now be a historic inn. When I think of the Bedford Tavern in Croydon (does Bedford have a Croydon Tavern, I wonder?) it reminds me of early 90s Christmas eve drinks with mates, all tinsel and alcopops.
(Disclosure: there’s an essay by us in one of the books he recommends.)

We’ve been pondering why we like the beer and brewery profiles at Craft Beer & Brewing so much. Because, in some senses, they’re quite boring. But perhaps that’s a feature rather than a bug? There’s comparatively little ‘storytelling’ or mythologising, on the one hand, and a decent amount of technical detail on the other – but pitched at a level we can follow. For example, what makes Rothaus Pils taste the way it does? We hope some UK lager dabblers take notes on Ryan Pachmayer’s article:

The production team initially brews Tannenzäpfle to a higher strength, 5.6 percent ABV, before diluting it down to 5.1 percent ABV just after filtration… The malt for Tannenzäpfle is 100 percent pilsner. Yet even compared to many other German pilsners of similar grist, the finished beer is noticeably a touch lighter… Rothaus takes care to keep unwanted oxygen out of the hot side of the process, mostly by purging pipes with hot water… The brewery creates its own sauergut, an acidified wort, to adjust the pH levels. The water comes straight from wells on site, and it is incredibly soft—similar to the legendary water at Pilsner Urquell in Bohemia. To its own water, Rothaus adds only a bit of calcium chloride.

Finally, from Instagram, news of the reissue of an important book which now comes with a fold-out map… (Grindrod, above, has notes.)
For more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.
News, nuggets and longreads 18 May 2024: Children of the Stones originally posted at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog