Not another year in review

HISTORICAL BEERS: It’s New Year’s Eve and there is a barrage of ‘year in review’ posts flying around. I toyed with the idea of looking back over the year on the blog or pointing you towards the articles I’ve had published this year. But you are all perfectly capable of looking through the archives or checking out my portfolio. Today I wanted to write something novel, try to end the year with a bit of original thinking perhaps.

As I type, Bam Bam is asleep in her pushchair. She exhausted herself on a particularly fraught visit to the local shopping mall to pick up a few groceries. This has given me an unexpected hour to work on my current piece for Pellicle Magazine. It is a feature on Manchester’s wonderful Beer Nouveau. It’s proving tricky to write. I am trying to cram an amazing range of historical brewing recreations, side hustles and general beery banter into 1500 words. That’s what has encouraged me to take a break and get something bashed out onto the blog before the clock strikes midnight.

Historical Beers

Talking to people like Steve Dunkley at Beer Nouveau in 2021 has been incredibly inspiring for me. I have fallen down innumerable rabbit holes of potential research directions. My love of beer history increases day by day because so many brewers around the world take such fascinating cues from the work of their forebears and produce really novel, exciting beer as a consequence. I know that this means I’m not in the cool clique when it comes to beer writing. But it has given me the opportunity to signpost you to some great, niche beers. I may not be on-trend, but my drinking is definitely interesting!

Who am I kidding “may” not be on-trend? Laughing face. See, even my emojis are bad.

With that in mind, let me point you in the direction of this recent Gastro Obscura piece, in case you missed it, featuring Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch. Brilliant stuff – I hope to procure a bottle when I am able.

Doomed Brewing

Doomed Beers

With that in mind, let me also encourage you to check out the Doomed Brewing Project. Wonderful, interesting, unique beers. Not necessarily historical beers as such, but certainly informed by traditional practices. They are doomed because they are not commercially viable. These beers are one-off, not to be repeated and certainly never to be made on a commercial scale. Essentially they are made to lose money. Brewed on a 25l kit, they are rare and amazing things. I have had the pleasure of trying Forage, a gruit made with bog myrtle foraged on the Isle of Mull. And you don’t get to say that every day.

It is another find I have made under the arches at 75 North Western Street in Manchester. I will not be able to devote sufficient space to them in the article I am currently writing. But I hope to place a pitch about Doomed elsewhere in the future.

Historical Breweries

I am distracted by brewers taking lost knowledge or experimental approaches to beer. And I also find myself drawn to the historical breweries themselves. We took Bam Bam to Burton for the first time yesterday. Her first trip on a train, and another excuse for me to want to delve deep into the archives at the National Brewery Centre. Writing 50 Years of CAMRA got me fascinated with the cult of draught Bass and the history of British breweries. I am determined to find a way of spending more time amongst the archives to see what nuggets of the past I can find to help inform our beer future.

I really like being in Burton. I love being surrounded by the breweries – even the multinational giants. Wandering around too, you see the ghosts of pubs, long since converted into flats. It’s a strange little place, but full of character. Visiting the market town has got me wondering about those huge brewing concerns if I’m honest. You don’t really see an in-depth feature on Molson-Coors in your standard beer publication. Perhaps they are just too big and too industrialised these days to make it practical or interesting to write about them.

Do you want to know more?

But I will continue to ruminate on it and see where I get to. In particular, I wonder how far the veracity of their environmental credentials are being tested. How far they are being held to account for their use of precious resources like water? But I also want to be less aggressive and cynical. (Right, that doesn’t sound like me at all, does it?) I wonder what the personal stories are waiting to be uncovered in those huge buildings. There is little I love more than talking to the old boys in Burton pubs about their days working in the Marston’s yard as a lad. I suspect there are still interesting tales to be told, and listened to, even in the biggest brewing companies.

And so, somehow, without having a plan at all, I have managed to do a post that doesn’t review the year, but still looks back to try and discover how our past is informing our future. Typical. That’s what happens when you write a stream of consciousness post without really planning anything. Ah well. Let’s raise a glass to historical beers past and present.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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