S&N and continental cock-ups

So Scottish & Newcastle falls to the Carlsberg/Heineken combo, thanks to what now turns out to be its foolish involvement in the Russian beer market, leaving not a single one of the former “Big Six” British brewers in existence, and plenty of questions to be answered – what will happen to S&N’s stake in Caledonian, for example? What about WaverleyTBS, the distribution company S&N owns that delivers many independent small brewers’ beers to British pubs?

Just as important, does Heineken have the ability and experience to make any decent sort of run in the British beer scene, now it has become UK brewing’s biggest player, covering everything from keg and cask ale through standard lager to cider? It’s a much more complicated market than any other the jolly green Dutch giant deals in (even if the head of the Heineken family does live in Britain).

Two other news items you may have missed if you don’t read the trade press suggest that big continental companies can’t hack the intricacies of the UK beer market. First, Inbev is withdrawing the strong Artois Bock after less than three years.

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Mr Golding’s descendants

From all the iterations of Fuller’s Vintage Ale produced so far, my favourite is still the 2002. The only hops used were Goldings: coincidence? I don’t think so. Actually, I’m drinking one as I write this, and it’s still marvellous, at six years old: musky, biscuity, honeyed, marmalade and toffee, perhaps the faintest lick of lavender – yum! Goldings is one of my favourite hops: I love the apricot aromas Meantime in Greenwich gets out of the variety in its bottle-conditioned IPA.

There are surprisingly few “pure” Goldings beer on the market: Shepherd Neame’s Bishop’s Finger and Hop Back’s Summer Lightning being two. But the “classic” English combination of Goldings and Fuggles hops is used in a swath of bitter ales of high repute: Brakspear’s Special, St Austell HSD, Young’s ordinary, Wadworth’s 6X, Adnam’s bitter, Brain’s SA and Marston’s Pedigree. I wouldn’t rush past any pub selling those.

One remarkable aspect of the hop Mr Golding found more than 220 years ago is the degree to which its genes have contributed to other popular varieties of hops. Even in the 19th century different types of Goldings began to be recognised. One of the most important was Bramling, an early-ripening variety (about 10 days before “main crop” Goldings) selected, according to George Clinch, writing in 1919, by a farm bailiff called Smith on a farm run by a man called Musgrave Hilton at Bramling, a hamlet in the parish of Ickham, near Canterbury.

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St Brigid and the bathwater

One of the perks of being a journalist is that you can get married in St Bride’s, the church at the foot of Fleet Street in London which continues to be the “journalists’ cathedral”, even though the hacks and blunts have all moved out of Fleet Street and their former offices are now occupied by bankers and lawyers.

St Bride, or Brigid, is, of course, an Irish saint, from Kildare, and when the lovely E and I married, she being Irish and me being a journo, there seemed no better place to have our marriage blessed than a church dedicated to journalism and named for an Irishwoman.

While I was putting together the order of service, I even found a suitably beery quote from The Life of St Brigid the Virgin, written by a Kildare monk, Cogitosus Ua hAedha, around AD650, to use as one of the readings:

On another extraordinary occasion, this venerable Brigid was asked by some lepers for beer, but had none. She noticed water that had been prepared for baths. She blessed it, in the goodness of her abiding faith, and transformed it into the best beer, which she drew copiously for the thirsty. It was indeed He Who turned water into wine in Cana of Galilee Who turned water into beer here, through this most blessed woman’s faith.

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Stout v Porter: a northern perspective

What does it tell you about the world that if you want to access the electronic archives of The Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, one of the planet’s great campaigners for raw capitalism, you can do so for free, via your local council’s website; but if you want to access the electronic archives of The Guardian, spiritual home of soggy left-wing whingers and anti-enterprise social workers, you have to pony up £7 a pop?

I was doing some research for a piece I was being paid for the other day, however, so that £7 could be claimed as “expenses”, and in the 24-hour window The Guardian allows you to rummage around in its archival drawers for the equivalent cost of three pints of ale I ran some searches on beery terms in pre-1850 editions.

The paper then, of course, was the Manchester Guardian, and its advertisements reflected its Manchester base and the demands and availabilities of the Manchester market. Burton ale, for example, which could be shipped from Staffordshire to Lancashire by canal from 1771, is advertised from the beginning: in June 1821, just a month after the newspaper was founded, Nightingale and Worthy were advertising on the front page “excellent SCOTCH and BURTON ALES, in bottles and small casks, for families”.

This is, incidentally, the year before the Burton brewers had their Russian market taken away from them by the introduction of prohibitively high import duties. The move by the Russians prompted the Burtonites to turn to the Indian market instead, by imitating the pale ale then being successfully exported to the East by Hodgson’s brewery in Bow, Middlesex; it also forced them to pay more attention to the home market,

According to J Stevenson Bushnan, writing in Burton and its Bitter Beer, published in 1853, the collapse of the Russian market led Samuel Allsopp in March 1822 to advertise the beer he could no longer sell to the Baltic in a circular delivered around the UK, and “the effect of this circular was the introduction of Burton Ale to the London and English market … immediately after the issue of this circular ‘Burton Ale houses’ sprang up.”

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On being a blockhead

In April 1776 James Boswell noted the “strange opinion” of Samuel Johnson that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

As a professional writer, I stand alongside Johnson on this one. Being paid to put words in a readable order beats not being paid to do the same thing. Yet, as Boswell commented immediately after recording Johnson’s words: “Numerous instances to refute this will occur to all who are versed in the history of literature.”

In the age of blogging (and what a great blogger Boswell would have made) more writing is being done for no money than ever. Since this is my 50th blog entry, which represents (at the going rate per word for commissioned articles on most UK magazines) more than £10,000-worth of writing I have given away for nothing in just six months, it seems a suitable time to ask: am I a Johnsonian blockhead for being a blog-head?

Boswell recorded Johnson’s “blockhead” remark after the Doctor had told him that he would not be writing up a proposed trip to Italy because, although he would like to do so, no one would pay him for it The reason why I blog is because on this site I write about those things that interest me, but that no one will pay me to write about.

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Legal smoking and drinking

What flavour did the first porters have? Empyreumatic, I reckon – a word you can easily work out the meaning of yourself (that “pyre” in the middle is the clue), which basically translates as “the taste or smell of something burnt”.

Henry Stopes, author of Malt and Malting, published in 1885, uses it in his description of the making of “brown, blown, snap or porter malt”, talking about how the porter malthouses of Bishop’s Stortford, on the Hertfordshire-Essex border, and elsewhere burnt faggots of beech-wood or oak under the wet malt to dry it, going slowly at first until almost all the moisture has been driven from the malt, then building up the fire so that the sudden violent heat makes the malt grains pop, growing 25 per cent in volume, and

the nature of the fuel employed communicates, very agreeably, the empyreumatic properties that distinguish this class of malt.”

In other words, it tasted burnt and, probably, smoky as well from the initial drying over wood at a lower heat.

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Will the real Mr Golding please step forward

Considering what a huge impact he had on the taste of British beer, astonishingly little is known about the man who gave his name to the Goldings hop.

About all we do have comes from a book published in 1798 with the marvellously long title of The Rural Economy of the Southern Counties: Comprizing Kent, Surrey, Sussex, The Isle of White, the Chalk Hills of Wiltshire, Hampshire etc, and including the Culture and Management of Hops in the Districts of Maidstone, Canterbury and Farnham, written by William Marshall, which says (on p183), talking about hop varieties in the District of Maidstone:

In West Kent there are several varieties in cultivation. The ‘Canterbury’ is the favorite sort and is the most cultivated: it is a ‘white bine’ hop, of the middle size. The ‘Golding’ has, of late years, been in high repute. It is a sub-variety, I understand, of the Canterbury; which was raised by a man still living (1790) Mr Golding, of the Malling quarter of the district; who observing, in his grounds, a hill of extraordinary quality and productiveness, marked it, propagated it, and furnished his neighbours with cuttings, from its produce.”

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