Saturday’s ad is for the British beer by Inde Coope, Double Diamond Burton Pale Ale, from probably the 1950s. The ad shows a nice illustration of a tray with a bottle and two glasses, one full, with a second bottle about to be opened. But I confess I’m confused about this bit of the ad copy. “Get outside a Double Diamond and you feel more like yourself again.” Is “get outside” a British idiom for drink a beer?
Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 72nd birthday. I first met Michael in the early 1990s, shortly after my first beer book was published. He is all but single-handedly responsible for the culture of better beer that exists today. He began writing about good beer in the 1960s and 70s and his writing has influenced (and continues to influence) generations of homebrewers and commercial brewers, many of whom were inspired to start their own breweries by his words. There are few others, if any, that have been so doggedly persistent and passionate about spreading the word about great beer. I know some of my earliest knowledge and appreciation of beer, and especially its history and heritage, came from Michael’s writings. Michael passed away in August 2007, seven years ago. I still miss him, and I suspect I’m not the only one. Last year, J.R. Richards’ new documentary film about Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter: The Movie, debuted, which I helped a tiny bit with as a pioneer sponsor.
I did an article three years ago for Beer Connoisseur, for their Innovator’s Series, entitled Michael Jackson: The King of Beer Writers, A personal look back at the man who made hunting for beer a career. I reached out to a number of people who also knew Michael for their remembrances as well as my own, and as a result I’m pretty pleased with the results (although the original draft was almost twice as long).
I’ll again be playing some jazz and having a pint of something yummy in his honor, which has become my tradition for March 27, which I’ve also started declaring to be “Beer Writer’s Day.” Join me in drinking a toast to Michael Jackson, the most influential modern beer writer who’s ever lived.
At the Great Divide Brewing’s media party in Denver over fifteen years ago.
On stage accepting the first beer writing awards from the Brewers Association with Jim Cline, GM of Rogue, Stan Hieronymus, who writes Real Beer’s Beer Therapy among much else, and Ray Daniels, formerly of the Brewers Association.
At GABF in 2006, still wearing the same glasses. But my, oh my, have I changed. Sheesh.
This is an interesting report from the British Parliament, specifically from the Health Committee. It’s a memorandum by Dr. Phil Withington and Dr. Angela McShane entitled Fluctuations in English Drinking Habits: An Historical Overview.
The overview includes a chronology beginning around 1550 and discusses increases and decreases in alcohol consumption in five periods since then, which they summarize as follows below.
In terms of consumption (inevitably crudely measured at times) it can be seen that England experienced a significant rise and consolidation of drinking levels during the “early modern period” (1550-1750). Between 1550 and 1650 there was a commercialisation of “old world” production and distribution plus the introduction of tobacco. The 100 years after 1650 were in turn characterised by the assimilation of, and moral panics about, new commodities, in particular coffee and gin. In the following two hundred years, which coincided with industrialisation and massive increase in population, there was a marked decline in the consumption of alcohol. The post-industrial or post-modern era (post-1960) seems to have returned to the kind of trends in the early modern period: increased consumption—especially conspicuous and public consumption among certain sections of the population—facilitated by powerful business organisations that are extremely competent at managing their relationship with political authority.
The dense information about continuities, discontinuities and gender is fascinating reading, but takes time to digest. It’s still marinating in my brain. I’m especially intrigued by this statement. “The medical industry now has the technology, knowledge, and incentives (especially commercial) to identify and treat many of the biological consequences of alcoholic consumption. This is in definite contrast to previous centuries, when medicine was more likely to use alcohol as a treatment rather than cure its related maladies, and when the primary impact of medical practitioners was, it seems, to create, legitimise and/or popularise new kinds of intoxicants.” The memorandum also notes that “[i]ncreased female consumption of alcohol may go some way to explaining the increases in general consumption since the 1960s since half the population was tacitly barred from drinking before then.” So that would suggest that per capita consumption is actually falling if one of the primary reasons for an increase is essentially a twofold increase in the number of people consuming alcohol.
As prohibitionists incessantly nip at the heels of drinkers, doing everything they can to curb consumption, I think it’s constructive look at the bigger picture. Patterns of consumption tend to ebb and flow, and are affected by a variety of factors: economic, social, legal, and others. So whenever some prohibitionist group claims their new law, or awareness campaign, or what have you, has caused consumption to go down — or more often claims whatever they’re proposing is necessary precisely to decrease peoples’ drinking — it’s important to remember that people have always enjoyed alcohol, and will continue to do so, and changing the laws merely changes those patterns, it doesn’t really effect much over the long haul. I wonder if anyone has taken a similar look at historical drinking patterns in America?
Given that craft beer on this side of the pond has seen double-digit growth almost every year for over ten years, the news that sales of beer in Great Britain has shown positive growth in two consecutive quarters may not not seem like something that’s newsworthy. But this is the first time it’s happened in more than ten years, as pub closures and other factors have had troubling consequences for British beer. The latest figures, released by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), show total beer sales up 0.8% in the 4th quarter of 2013, with off-trade (primarily retail) up 3.9%, although pub sales were down 2.2%.
The Morning Advertiser article also mentions the announcement concurrently that Marston’s will build a new £7 million bottling plant, which the BBPA believes translates to increased confidence on the part of British brewers. The credit for all this good news is thought to be the decision by the UK government’s Chancellor to “cut [the] Beer Duty in last year’s Budget,” meaning lower taxes on breweries. According to the BBPA’s Chief Executive, Brigid Simmonds. “These figures demonstrate that cutting beer duty helps increase beer sales, stimulates industry investment and saves jobs. We hope the Chancellor takes note and freezes beer duty in his next Budget to give a further boost to British beer and pubs.”
This is important on our side of the world because there are currently two bills before Congress with the same goal, to lower the excise tax of beer to stimulate our economy and create jobs in the brewing industry and related support industries here, too. That it appears to have worked in Great Britain is a promising development that may make it more attractive to legislators in justifying the tax cut.
Today is the 61st birthday of Charlie Bamforth, who is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science at U.C. Davis (and was my teacher when I took the brewing short course there). His two most recent books are Beer Is Proof That God Loves Us Grape vs. Grain. He’s a terrific advocate for beer. Join me in wishing Charlie a very happy birthday.
Charlie with John Dannerbeck from Anchor Brewing, at a reception held there for the launch of Charlie’s new book.
Charlie being courted by both wine and beer on his publisher’s blog, Cambridge University Press.
This week’s work of art is by the English artist, John Henry Henshall, who painted The Public Bar, occasionally known as In The Pub, in 1883.
It’s a little unusual for the time, in that it shows the view from behind the bar, looking out at a cross-section of patrons. Also, notice the Bass sign hanging on the wall at the left.
We’ve had the Big Three — Bud, Miller and Coors — for so long now that it would probably take me a few years to stop using the term. In the UK, once upon a time it was the Big Six; and they included Allied Breweries, Bass Charrington, Courage Imperial, Scottish & Newcastle, Watneys, and Whitbread. Until yesterday, only S&N remained. With the announcement earlier today of Carlsberg and Heineken’s buyout of Scottish & Newcastle, the last vestige of a bygone era will soon disappear, as well. England’s esteemed Financial Times today has a somewhat sad commentary on this entitled Few Crying into Beers at Decline of Big Six Breweries. As they observe, the change in the beer market and the mergers that began around 1989 have now come to a final solution, and with no one left to mourn them.
Here’s a few statistics. Since the turn of the century, imported beer to the UK has increased by 50%. During that same time, the number of large breweries fell by two-thirds. Today, a mere six remain, with 34 more considered regional breweries. Since the 1980s, the number of breweries has actually tripled, but that’s because of the UK’s own microbrewery revolution, which today includes over 500 small breweries whose total production accounts for only 2% of the nation’s beer market. Before today’s buyout, Heineken enjoyed only 1% of the total British market, but after the deal is approved they will have something in the neighborhood of 30%, making them Great Britain’s biggest beer company.
Maybe none of this matters. After all, as the FT’s editorial makes clear, British pub-goers, publicans and pub operators, and even CAMRA’s real ale aficionados will all be dishearteningly unmoved by today’s news. I can’t help but think that’s a mistake. So much of our early microbreweries owe such a great debt to the heritage and history of English ales that it seems a shame to let this dismal milestone pass so cavalierly. Perhaps I’ve romanticized these old breweries too much, but I don’t feel the same loathing for their products or their business practices that I usually do for our Big Three. That may simply be the 1,000-mile expanse of ocean separating me from everyday contact, who knows? But even though the British beer industry is nowhere near deceased, this is just one more wound that will again forever alter its landscape. I, for one, in the words of the immortal Edgar Allen Poe, “am drinking ale today.”
It looks like the brewing brouhaha involving several large multi-national beer companies that I wrote about last week is going to be resolved more quickly then anybody had anticipated. The Carlsberg Group and Heineken today agreed to a $15.3 billion buyout of Scottish & Newcastle. The deal is structured such that Carlsberg will get sole ownership of BBH (Baltic Beverages Holding), giving them access to the lucrative Russian beer market, and will also receive S&N’s markets in China, France and Greece. Heineken will gain control of S&N’s markets in Great Britain, India, the United States and a few others. Business experts don’t seem to think there will a problem in getting the deal approved or with any counter-offers.
Note: Portfolio’s online website has a good overview of this story, too.
London’s famous Pearl Restaurant, located a stone’s throw from the Holborn tube station, is situated in a grand old bank building, the former Pearl Assurance Company’s headquarters. Inside there’s granite everywhere, opulent chandeliers and modern decor. Their food seems to be reviewed favorably by just about everybody and executive chef Jun Tanaka has one of the best reputations in the London restaurant scene, having worked at at least seven Michelin-rated places over the past decade before his own oyster opened to reveal the Pearl. He’s now “worked with beer gourmand Gustavo Bertolucci to find the best beers to match his dishes.”
While I don’t know if a schwarzbier will be on the actual beer list, it was the closest style to swine I could find. What hints that are given, in a story in Wine & Spirit Magazine, sound quite tasty.
Combinations include Kasteel Cru from Alsace to match salmon in filo with pomegranate, cauliflower and walnut salad and Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Ale with spiced loin of venison. Greenwich’s Meantime brewery’s Chocolate Stout is also being recommended as a partner to desserts.