Discovering Beer in the Land of Whisky

Tag Archives: vinyl records

I’ve been meaning to replace the elastic band (aka drive belt) on my old Systemdek turntable for probably the last 15 years. It has always worked fine at 33 (and a third) rpm, but resolutely refuses to stay in place at 45. Consequently, my collection of old vinyl singles has lain unloved in dusty boxes through at least four house moves. It took just thirty seconds and ten quid on Amazon to double my RPM options. Then, one thing led to another and I quickly accrued cleaning fluid and cloth, a supply of record sleeves and a spindle adapter for records with big holes in the middle. An indulgent evening was later spent re-discovering, cleaning and gyrating to my seven-inch wonders of the world. Alone.


This brings me to the Spitalfields Independent Label Market. Spitalfields, as you may know, is a market in the City of London, so named because there was once a hospital in the fields there. In addition to all the normal retail attractions, about 80 independent labels were presenting their wares this particular Saturday. As if that wasn’t reason enough for me to pop along, there were also to be twenty or so London craft breweries tirelessly refreshing the punters. Nirvana.


With my deck’s newfound 45-rpm capabilities, I determined to find myself a single (record) to take home. I cruised my way through the labels’ stalls, stalking their progeny and loitering with salacious intent. Like an eagle I circled my prey before swooping down to pounce upon it – a fine looking picture disc of Ice Cream by the New Young Pony Club. I wanted the record, but I’d also chosen this morsel so that I could have a chat with lead singer Tahita who was wo-manning their pitch. I chatted shyly, accepted her offer to sign the record and wondered why the bloke next to her signed it too. (Turned out he was the guitarist – oops.)


My joy at buying vinyl, meeting Tahita and necking a beer was strangely tempered by sad feelings of there being an awfully good party, but not being invited. To be at this party you had be a brewer, in London, with a brewery and a market stall. I wasn’t. I carried my record and my feelings home with me to enjoy a night of pizza, vinyl and wine. I know not of a finer tonic combo. For good measure I inhaled the wisdom of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata.


Monday was the day by which the losers in the race for the Southwark railway arch were due to be informed of their sad fate. I imagined that the winner was by now measuring up ‘my’ space for his brewery. I took a long run along the canal and through the park – a perfect way to sort out the muddle of thoughts in my head. Should I forget brewing? Could I tutor maths? Perhaps working in the zoo would be fun? (I was running past London Zoo at the time.) I didn’t have an answer – I needed a sign.


I returned from my run and checked my emails while I warmed down. There were two from Network Rail. One strangely contained only an attachment I had seen before. The other I assumed to be the ‘Dear John’ letter. Well, I had to admire their efficiency, if not their taste in tenants. I prepared myself for their gentle words of rebuttal, but I wasn’t being dumped; I was being proposed to. The arch was mine! This precipitated a vacuum of numbness, a second reading, a brief doubt that maybe I’d bid too much and then: not elation, not fear, just relief that my path was chosen, the first step had been taken and I now had a real chance of presenting my own brewery stand at Spitalfields 2014!


So, after three or four months of planning and learning, I had finally reached the starting line. I strode a little taller into the LBA meeting the next evening, looking around imperiously at some new faces to let them know that I was virtually a veteran of these gatherings. We met at the Stag Mortlake brewery, once used by Watney’s in a different century, but now the home of AB InBev’s Budweiser factory. I use the word ‘factory’ because that’s how it felt due to its scale, lack of personality and hi-tech processing. All of that technical genius wasted on producing 1.000 bottles of Bud every minute.


I must say though that I loved the visit. The bottling plant is a blur of Bud, the tanks are super-ginormous and the process is minutely controlled to make sure that very little colour or flavour remains in the beer. As well as barley, they also add maize and rice. Wood chips (pre-treated of course) are introduced later, not to add flavour, but to help remove some. Then finally the bottled beer is heated to 62 degrees so that pasteurisation can occur. It’s beer Jim, but not as we know it.


This mad week continued with a visit to the opera (Satyagraha) and then the much-awaited British Guild of Beer Writers’ annual awards dinner. It was the first outing for my Simon Carter petrol-blue suit and a rare appearance for my Ask the Missus black winkle pickers. I needn’t have bothered though, as the paparazzi obviously had better things to do that evening. It was just like being at a corporate dinner again, except: I’d paid for it, half the blokes weren’t wearing a tie, you had to beg if you wanted anything other than beer and the host was quite entertaining. We were seated so close to the doors that any remaining crumbs of hope for an award were swiftly swept into oblivion. The winners hailed mostly from within the inner circle of scribes, whereas I had yet to dent the outermost edges of this subset of the literary circus.


Let’s return to Orbit. To make a splash in beer-world you need (consistently) great beers and brand. I decided to tackle the latter at an early stage, as naked bottles don’t sell beer. I lovingly wrote my brand identity brief explaining the philosophy of the products, the target market and the association with vinyl records. The first designer loved the brief but hated the brewery name – Orbit. This sent me into a froth of beery, vinyl nomenclature, yielding such morsels as: Jukebox Brewery, Vintage Brewing and Bootleg Brewery.  The next designer took the opposite view and considered Orbit to be a fine name indeed. He got the job.


Your festive season homework, dear reader, is as follows: if Orbit Brewing were to have a tagline/strapline/slogan, what would it be? Orbit chewing gum has “Just Brushed Clean Feeling” and the recently formed Orbit Brewing Co. in San Diego has “Reach for Orbit”. I’m sure we can do better (some inspiration below).


Merry Christmas to all and here’s to an amazing 2014 when we will indeed be Going Into Orbit! As Bowie so eloquently put it: “Commencing countdown, engines on…”



Can you name the brands behind these slogans?

  • Reassuringly expensive
  • …is good for you
  • …refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach
  • Australians wouldn’t give a ____ for anything else
  • Probably the best beer in the world
  • Give him a right good ________ tonight
  • Good, better, ________
  • …puts out the fire
  • He who thinks Australian, drinks Australian
  • The Other Side of Dark
  • The Genuine Article
  • Turn it loose
  • I am Canadian
  • Would you say no to another?
  • You never forget your first girl

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Louise McAtee Higgins

Featuring artworks by Louise Higgins


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