Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lost Breweries: J is for Jarrow

One of the biggest changes to the beer industry in recent years - and it's probably part perception, part reality and part aggressive promotion forcing reality into perception - is the defining nature of the new breweries that are springing up.

Think for a moment about what it means to set up a brand new brewery these days. What do you imagine that means? In meeting-speak, what would a new brewery about to launch in early 2020 'look like'?

Would it be run by self-confident young hipsters? Based under a railway arch or on an industrial estate? Maybe crowd-funded to some extent? Bold marketing campaigns with some edgy but slick artwork that their mate did? American IPAs and plenty of pale hoppy beers? High strength experimental dessert Stouts? Lots of beer going into keg and can? Tap room open on Saturday lunchtimes? A relationship with CAMRA that's love-hate at best?

Sounds about par for the course, yes? That's certainly how I see it. And, yeah, I know that not all new brewery start-ups are exactly like this, and those that are probably achieve more prominence than those that aren't, due to that whole 'forcing reality into perception' thing I mentioned, but, overall, this is how it feels to me.

And it represents a marked shift from the 90s and 00s when new microbreweries typically took a somewhat different form. E.g.

Often run by older chaps (and it was almost always chaps) who had already enjoyed a lengthy career and perhaps taken a redundancy or early retirement; Sometimes spin-off projects from long-serving pub landlords or former brewery workers; Focused mainly or entirely on producing cask beers, usually ordinary strength, not particularly hoppy bitter; Beer names invoking historical curios, bad puns, railways or, in the worst cases, crassly sexist jokes; Inconsistent pumpclip design featuring poor typography and rubbish illustrations? Firmly in bed with the local CAMRA branch (and not above designing a 'hilarious' pumpclip playing on that phrase)...

Sound familiar, if slightly nostalgic?

It's not just because they happen to begin with 'J'

I know, I'm stereotyping here. There are still new brewing ventures that meet these dubious criteria, and there were some in the 1990s that didn't, but the shift has been notable and very real. Things have changed big time.

(And, yes, I deliberately made the comparison between the two without using a certain c-word, proving that it is in fact possible to do so!)

Anyway, Jarrow. A brewery based in, well, Jarrow (actually South Shields) that lasted from 2002 to 2015. And a brewery that perhaps typifies that pre-Craft (Ha, I finally said it!!!) era of British microbrewing that we have now largely left behind.

Where my indifference affair with Jarrow began!
The brewery started life at the Robin Hood Inn and moved to dedicated premises around 2008. While they never became a household name nationally, they had at least a few fingers in the pies of distribution. For a while.

They first came on my radar about ten years ago when I ordered a pint of Jarrow Caulker as my intended final drink at the Chappel Beer Festival, only for the cask to be fobbing so dangerously that they couldn't get an even vaguely sane pint out of it that night - meaning I had to spend a couple of years trying to track the beer down elsewhere, which I eventually did at the Castle in Holborn.

Was it worth it? In all honesty I can't recall much to write home about with this particular beer. It was their 4.2% golden ale, much like many others out there. Pleasant-ish but bland in all likelihood.

Rivet Catcher (4%) was their standard Best, and probably the most widely available beer in the range. Again, a fairly ordinary bitter that didn't stand out in any way. Do you see a theme emerging?

Scumball's Old Blundering Omnibus

Their portfolio of beer names sounds somewhat dated now: Venerable Bede, Willy Wouldhave, Jobling's Swinging Gibbet. You can't really imagine a brewery starting out today going with names like these. (Or maybe you can? I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to fully inhabit the present, to be honest!)

As I ticker I took some issue with their tendency to release the same beer under multiple names. And, the thing is, any brewery that spends more time coming up with 'quirky' names than distinctive, tasty recipes should possibly reexamine their priorities.

Jarrow beers weren't terrible, but there was nothing to particularly recommend them either, in a massively overcrowded marketplace.

The last one of theirs I had was Red Ellen in 2015, shortly before they closed. A ruby variant of the uneventful same. Named after an early radical Labour politician involved in the Jarrow marches, it perhaps gives some clue to the politics of the brewer - they also brewed a beer called 'Maggie's End' apparently.

Perhaps Jarrow's End would've been more apt? I'd love to be able to list the things I miss about the brewery, but I'd be drawing a pretty big blank.

Jarrow 2002-2015

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