Ah, summer… or at least that part of spring that is after filing taxes. Tax Filing Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day are the only three actual dates that turn the calendar for me. The real seasons are (i) winter plus mud month plus fretting about the furnace and tax forms, (ii) the months of joy, the time of year when all the good movies are set in, and (iii) the long goodbye to all signs of life on the planet. Last week’s cruddy news was clearly the last burst of the bad time before the coming of… the good time. It all makes sense.
What has that got to do with beer? Other than that the months of semi-public semi-irresponsibility are here? Do you think I could sit around my yard listening to a ball game on a tiny AM radio in view of the neighbours and passers by wearing plaid shorts and a funny hat drinking a beer in November or March? No, that would be weird. Now? It’s expected. You know what else is expected? The week in beer news. Let’s go!
First, all bow to Bristol as Boak and Bailey have posted a remarkable post on the 1960s opening of a Guinness brewery in Nigeria based on a collection of records shared with them by the daughter of the plant’s technical director:
David Hughes’s 2006 book A Bottle of Guinness please gives an excellent summary of the rise and fall of the Ikeja brewery. After 1985, the import of barley was banned, and so Nigerian Guinness began to be brewed entirely with local sorghum. Stout ceased to be produced at Ikeja after 1998, with production moving to Ogba, further away from Lagos again. Fiona’s father, Alan Coxon, went on to become head brewer at Park Royal from 1972 until 1983–84. He left Guinness after a dispute with management over, as Fiona understands it, plans to gradually and slyly reduce the ABV of Guinness’s core products.
Value. Interesting. Hmm… somewhat distantly relatedly, I remember first seeing this phenomenon in a New York beer store years ago when there were cans of Heady Topper or some other supposed special beers that wasn’t supposed to be sold outside of Vermont. They sat on the counter by the cash register for ten bucks a pop. I thought “what idiot pays ten bucks for one can of beer” but now it appears that sort of idiot might be the backbone of UK small craft beer retailer strategies:
Some buyers are driven to underhand measures to secure hyped beers for their shops. “I know there’s a lot of jiggery-pokery that goes on,” says Sandy. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the craft beer scene.” Stories of retailers buying beers from other shops to resell in their own establishments are common. This can even stray across borders. “I’ve certainly heard of bottle shops ordering from European websites,” says Ferguson. “I know someone up the road was doing grey market beer imports. Obviously HMRC wouldn’t take a kind view of that.”
[Note: I only take journalists seriously when they choose to use the word “jiggery-pokery” if and only if “dog-eat-dog” also is used.]
As another example of writing worth your time, Matt Curtis has led the announcement of his new project Pellicle, a digital magazine with a scope broader than the normal and seemingly failing format of the beer mag, with an article on Irish oysters… and beer:
Inside, we arrive at a table laid out with freshly cut wedges of lemon and lime, along with a few bottles of Tabasco. The gathered crowd marvelled at the effortlessness with which Hunter shucks an oyster. Taking it in one hand—that hand encrusted with salt and dirt, evident that he had been hard at work pulling in nets that day—he inserts a short blade into the shell. Finding exactly the right spot in less than a second, he pops the shell in two with a single motion. Careful not to touch the salty fruit within with his fingers, he then uses the blade to clean the shell of any grit or rough edges, before ensuring the oyster is no longer attached to its shell, and serving.
Having lived in an oyster area or two in eastern Canada, my only concern is Matt failed to find a place for my favorite oyster word – spat. That’s what we of the western Atlantic call a first year seed oyster. Never mind. What I like is how the article is unburdened by any of the wowsy, life changing experience claims much beer writing for money is larded with. Which means it’s an example of just better writing. And a nice clear subject matter travel funding statement, too. Nice. Still, slathering an oyster with Tabasco is an utter waste. But, well… never mind.
Next, Robin wrote an interesting post under the title “Tampopo, Ramen, Beer, & the Amateur” which I immediately was taken by given her assertion of the priority – nay, the primacy of the amateur:
With the word amateur celebrated instead of filled with negative stigma (the latter, I feel, unfairly gets more focus), suddenly all the events people go to, the sense of wonder and excitement I feel when I go to a bar I’ve never been to before, when I don’t recognize a THING on the beer menu, and that wild, devil-may-care attitude when I order something to just try it…all of that suddenly made more sense to me. There was no single word that could accurately define it. “Passionate” felt too one-sided. “Curious” didn’t quite cover the drive. And a label of “connoisseur” or even “expert” seemed to remove a lot of the assumption that there is always more to learn and discover about beer.
Excellent. The only folk who could fine a negative in amateur is the phony pro, the self-labeled expert. Ay mo. A mass. Am ant. It’s all about love, baby.
The opposite of which, I suppose, is the grasping crowdfunder. Give me the amateur over that every time. Boo, grasping crowdfunders!!
Martyn wrote a wonderful fact packed tweet that I need to share in full:
In England in 1831 there were 5,419 common breweries, 23,582 full-licence pubs that brewed their own beer and 11,432 beer shops that brewed their own beer, over 40,000 breweries in all. The country’s population was 12,011,830. That would require over 187,000 breweries today.
I think of facts like that when I read folk think there were something like 150 or 275 breweries in the US prior to 1800. Makes no sense. Ah, but for a record to bring us back to reality we wallow in the shallows of easily available evidence.
Speaking of summer, tra-la and all that, we often hear a lot about the quality of beer at baseball games. Suckers who like the Toronto Blue Jays are particular complainers. Me, if I am honest and count my ticket stubs, I am more of a minor league guy. So I’m delighted to read that my nearby Syracuse Mets have upped their triple-A game beerwise:
It’s seems to be going about as well as the ballclub hoped. Even on a day when lots of beer was available for a buck, a steady stream of customers popped in for a full-price IPA, Imperial Stout, Saison or other style made by a noted local or national craft brewer. “We’re getting a whole new demographic of people coming to the games — the craft beer enthusiasts,” said Clint “Tonka” Cure, the Mets’ assistant general manager. “And then we’re also getting the craft curious — the people who aren’t sure they’re going to like it but think this is a good time and place to give it a shot.”
That picture way up at the top is from my July 5, 2016 visit to the ball park at Syracuse. I love Syracuse. We haven’t been south for a couple of seasons since the Canadian dollar tanked but maybe I’ll get my butt back down there this year for a few games. I can take my Mr Mets book to get signed.