Wednesday 31 December 2008

New Year's Resolution

Relax, relax, I'm not giving up beer for the month, or anything stupid like that.

While browsing around my blog preferences and wotnot I've noticed that I can email blog entries as drafts straight into the list of posts. 

Getting in touch with my inner nerd, it dawned me I can use my Blackberry to post my spontaneous thoughts on whatever beer I'm drinking from whatever location I'm in.

So that's what I'm going to do. For the whole of 2009 (or until I'm bored or the Blackberry falls in a deep-fat fryer as a friend's did) I'm going document every beer that passes my lips.

Yes it's going to drive everyone nuts, but I don't care, my inner nerd has got the better of me and he must be satisfied.

Look out for beer number one, probably tomorrow, New Years Day.  Have a happy one.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Property Market Slump

It will be interesting to watch what effect the slump in the housing market will have on the pubs-for-sale trade.

For a decade, high property prices have had developers rubbing their hands with glee at pubs coming on the market, and this is one of the factors killing our pubs.

If the credit crunch is clipping the wings of developers, will we see fewer pubs turning into flats and houses? Let's wait and see.

Friday 26 December 2008

Remember this in twelve months

On Christmas day, as brother and I slaved over a hot stove, we held a beer aperitif tasting session. It was largely selected at random from the various beers Steve had recently picked up from Rehill's (we know it as "Refills") of Jesmond, Newcastle.

Cutting a long story short, the beer that accompanied our turkey to the dinner table was "Orkney Blast" from the Swannay Brewery of Orkney. It achieved Christmas Day pole-position entirely by accident and, bloody hell, it matched perfectly.

A 6% strong golden ale with well-balanced  honeyed sweetness and low hop bitterness backed by gentle caramel malt, it matched the traditional Christmas turkey combo rather excellently. Had I been asked to recommend a beer style for Christmas turkey matching I might have been tempted to look for a Vienna or darker Czech lager or a bock. Accidently we stumbled across a beautiful match.

Let's hope we can get some next year and that we can wean family members off their Jacob's Creek!

Tuesday 16 December 2008

PubCo Scorched-Earth Policy

We know all too well that a whole set of factors is contributing to the decline in the pub trade: smoking ban, beer duty, the tie etc.

What really deeply and profoundly angers me is pubcos (including the regional and "family" brewers )selling underperforming  pubs with covenants prohibiting their future use as pubs. It's a bully-boy spoilsport activity whereby the pubco aims to reduce future competition for its remaining pubs.

If I own a car and decide to sell it, can I insist that the new owner never drives on a motorway? If I sell a guitar can I insist the new owner never plays a minor chord? 

No I bloody well can't. Just how are pubcos allowed to get away with this hateful behaviour?

This practise is destroying buildings we know and love as pubs that may be perfectly viable in different hands.

I know they're not the only ones, but here are Enterprise with a scorched-earth policy.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Enterprise, backed into a corner, lashes out at tenants

Enterprise are continuing their "poor old us: look how badly we are treated by our nasty tenants " approach trying to distract attention from their brutal exploitation of unfair competitive advantage (the tie system).

Not falling for the sob story, "Big" Nick Bish of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers continues to give them a bashing.

Link here.

My Heart Sinks

Diageo trials draught "cocktails"

Draught alcopops for immature palates. 

Britain has a drink problem ? Look no further.

Friday 5 December 2008

Billy-No-Mates on Recycling Day.

As a Billy-no-Mates in my unglamorous hometown of Barrow-in-Furness (which is not a town festooned with good pubs and beer anyway) I'm currently deprived of quality pub time. Inevitably I find myself buying beer from Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Booths.

Before any tickers, raters or scoopers get a bit sniffy about the non-rarity of my recent beer consumption I'd just like to say - been there done that. For those of you who don't actually know me, a quick reminder – my brother and I created, owned and ran MICROBAR (terrible picture!) in London. Our beer range was pretty damn good. We scoured the whole of Europe and several places beyond for beer we thought exceptional. Several times we could boast the full range of Trappist beers, including the Westvleterens. I also worked for Utobeer for two years and was involved in the set-up of the Rake. Had Ratebeer been around in the late nineties into the naughties my latent list-making urge would have come into play. But it didn't. I do still pick up odd bottles of more exotic stuff on my travels, but I'm not as obsessed as I once was. 

Anyway... at the weekend I was tidying up and getting ready for the recycling collection when it occurred to me to photograph my recent domestic beer consumption – as you do.

Here goes (from the left, sort of):

Melbourn Brothers Apricot – I know this one doesn't meet with universal approval, but I love it. I'm told it's discontinued, and that makes me sad. I'd prefer it to be a bit less sweet, but I love the layers of flavour. Here's an extract of a review I wrote for Difford's Guides - ". numerous attractive flavours nestled snuggly side-by-side - we marvelled particularly at white chocolate, fresh apricot (naturally) and a herbal, hoppy finish."

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout – a renowned beer for grown-up palates. I though it would be robust enough to benefit from a couple of years in my little cellar. Sadly it was extremely oxidised. "OTF" as they say in the business.

Sierra Nevada Celebration – the last-but-one of a case of 12 given to me by the importer in 2006. I've always found this beer to be too bitter. I'm not averse to high bitterness per se but it always seemed a bit "shouty" in SN Celebration. After two years in storage the bitterness had muted and the overall flavour matured into something quite special. Brilliant. I've read that this is a good beer for ageing, and I can confirm it.

Brewdog Punk IPA – excellent. I think Thornbridge Jaipur may have the edge in overall enjoyability and I intend trying them side-by- side sometime soon.

Anchor Old Foghorn – my favourite barley wine. Excellent for drinking when you've got a cold, even better when you haven't. Better than SN Bigfoot, its obvious rival.

[back row]

Praga – I don't know much about this beer. It's a proper Czech lager at 89p found on the bottom shelf of supermarkets. Drinkable and infinitely superior to Stella etc, but, ultimately, nothing special.

Cotswold Lager – OK, nothing wrong with it but nothing remarkable. I like the idea of a British micro dedicating itself to lager, I wish more would branch out from the 3.5-5% ale obsession.

Urquell – legendary, but not my favourite lager by any means.

Spaten Munchener – excellent soft biscuity malt character. Another good reason to shop at Aldi.

Bernard Dark – Tesco Drinks Awards lager category winner Oct '07 - I was on the panel. 

Young's Special London Ale – Is it just me or have Youngs beer improved since the Bedford move? SLA reminds me of one of my all time faves - Anchor Liberty Ale.

Barngates Red Bull Terrier – My fave Cumbrian beer. The bottled version lacks a little of the depth  of the sublime cask version, nonetheless an excellent beer. 

Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted – I have to be in the right mood for this one. I always look out for their beers on draught.

Bakalar – Cheapo Czech lager from Morrisons. Nice malt but let down by a metallic edge.

Broughton "The Gillie" – I've thoroughly enjoyed this in the past finding it a like Orval-lite but I didn't enjoy this one. Perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind.

Sharp's Chalky's Bite – Comment here.

Wychwood Black Witch – Seemed promising but ultimately two-dimensional. Juvenile branding perhaps having a psychological effect on me.

Okocim – the lager I most enjoyed recently.

Grolsch Weizen – Although the Bavarian weiss beer style isn't a favourite I do recognise this as an absolute corker. The Germans must be furious.

Hawkshead Brodie's Prime – A truly great complex dark ale on draught, again the bottled version lacks a degree of complexity. 

Williams Brothers Midnight Sun (not pictured) – Tremendous. I've been a bit underwhelmed by Williams Bros beers in the past but this one was great. Another Tesco Drinks Awards Winner.

Thursday 4 December 2008


Ok, we have a good expression for people who don't "get" music, or just don't listen to instructions or sage advice.

I'm looking for a similar pithy expression for the sense of taste. It needs to say "this person has no appreciation of flavour and is immune to the cajoling of wiser and more experienced drinkers." 

I think it would be quite useful for drinkers of Fosters and for my mother who, at Christmas, will treat herself to a whisky-and-tonic.

Many Thanks.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Quick Questions About The Smoking Ban

I need to silence a UKIP loudmouth. Please help.

In which European countries (if any) is smoking in bars still allowed?

Am I correct in thinking the the smoking ban wasn't imposed on us by Brussels?


Tuesday 25 November 2008

A fruit-based beverage for the laydeez?

Link here and here.

It's interesting the creator declares "The way real ale is branded is an absolute turn-off for girls at the moment. Imagine any of my friends walking up to a barman and ordering a pint of "Old Ruddy Fart" yet insists on describing her beer as "real ale". Surely the neutral "beer" would have been more suitable.

It's curious that she's aiming for a type of consumer usually neglected by brewers - women - yet seeks CAMRA's questionable seal of approval by having Paula Waters, chairman of CAMRA pulling the first pint. If I was creating a beer brand for women I'd be banning the words "pint" and "ale" as, in my experience, they are a big turn-off for many women. 

Surely making a song and dance about CAMRA's seal of approval is not going to help in selling this beer to female customers as already "The way real ale is branded is an absolute turn-off for girls". Perhaps the plan is to establish the brand amongst die-hard real ale drinkers to drive volume before genuinely trying to expand in the female beer-newbies market. Whatever, it seems a confused marketing plan.

"The Female palate" - is there such a thing? I very much doubt it. A token addition of something fruity strikes me as a wee bit patronising. Then again, I'm not female, so I should shut up.

I feel a bit guilty for the negative tone of this post. I really do want more brewers attempt to win customers otherwise unentertained by beer, but I'm doubtful this is the way to do it. 

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Lovely cuddly-wuddly pubcos in whose safe hands we trust our pubs, Pt. 2

Tandleman's comment on my previous post deserves some examination.

"I like the fair pint campaign recognising as it does the need for the tie for those tied to brewers who own up to 500 pubs, (To do otherwise would mean we would lose all our Family Brewers."

The tie was originally a good thing in that it allowed brewers to develop and have an outlet for what they made. It was never designed for giant and avaricious PubCos. It is their monopoly we must challenge."

You are mostly right in what you say, but your anti CAMRA swipe is just your prejudice showing. CAMRA has campaigned against the big Pub Companies and indeed, if I remember correctly, spoke against them in the last round of government enquiries."

CAMRA, as far as I know, supports the tie in broadly the same way as the Fair Pint Campaign which you rightly praise."

The problem is unfairness. The members of the Fair Pint campaign are angry because they rightly see being tied to unnecessarily expensive sources of supply as reducing their competitiveness. The tie system is fundamentally anti-competitive and that is the crux of the argument against it.

The problem is the tie is always anti-competitive. It is irrelevent whether the pub chain owns 10, 100, 500 or 5000 pubs. And herein lies the problem for CAMRA.

CAMRA heartily dislikes the Pubcos and would like to see their wings clipped. Unfortunately, challenging them for anti-competitive practises would draw attention to the same anti-competitive advantage heartily embraced by the "Family" Brewers (many of which are rapacious PLC pubcos in their own right.)

So, CAMRA has a conundrum – it has a big stick with which it could beat Enterprise et al but that big stick would necessarily inflict collateral damage to their beloved "Family" brewers. And that would be just not on. Even discussing it would cause a mighty big stink.

Also, I believe CAMRA's taciturnity on the subject of competition is political. Although competition and choice go hand-in-hand, CAMRA demands only the latter. As I've previously described, a far-left anti-capitialist ethos pervades CAMRA and talk of competition provokes a head-in-the-sand response. The dread word "competition" can evoke raw memories of the socially brutal Thatcher years. It needn't be so.

I suspect that Tandleman reveres the "Family Brewers" more than I do. The worst of them e.g. Greene King are rapacious pubcos like Enterprise and Punch; only we're expected by CAMRA to pussy-foot around them only because they persist in brewing real-ale (dull as ditchwater though it is.) At the other end of the scale there are some rather more endearing companies. I used to be particularly irked by Youngs, on whose territory I lived for fourteen years. Firstly their own beers were extremely inconsistent. Getting a good pint was the exception, not the rule. Secondly, entering a Youngs pub entailed being deluged with promotional dreck for Stella and Guinness. To all intents and purposes some of their pubs didn't really sell their own beer; beers from the mass-producers won the Youngs seal of approval. In many of their pubs it was even impossible to buy their rather good bottles, notably Chocolate Stout, and particularly, Special London Ale. Why should they benefit from the tie system? (My opinion of Youngs has improved since the Bedford move as consistency and outright tastiness has improved considerably.)

I've had conversations on this theme rather often and inevitably someone will ask "well, Mr Opinionated , what would you do?". Here it is:

End the tie system; it's screwing the country's pubs and inhibiting the craft sector. Yes it would be a big upheaval and there is some merit in the argument that some nice cuddly, long-established traditional brewers would suffer and something should be done to protect them. I would impose two strict conditions that would allow the retention of a tied estate: a) if the company can prove it owned the pub continuously for the past 100 years it can continue to do so. b) that pub shall sell ONLY it's owners beers; not contracted, not licensed (it can be called the Sam Smiths principle.) I'd also automatically give listed status to all pubs 100 or more years old.

OK, my plan will need some fine tuning. I expect your comments will help.

(BTW, I'm not "anti-CAMRA", I'm CAMRA-sceptic. I'm pro-CAMRA-actually-achieving-real-progress.)

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Lovely cuddly-wuddly pubcos in whose safe hands we trust our pubs.

News story here.

As if life isn't tough enough already for the people whose humble livelihoods are the hands-on running of pubs - Enterprise is to "get tough" on tie breakers.

"Buying out of the tie is nothing more than stealing", says Enterprise boss. If that's the case then the exorbitant prices for stock relative to the open market they charge are what - extortion, demanding money with menaces, fraud?

Remember folks, the tie system is illegal under the Treaty of Rome as anti-competitive - a clause for which Britain stupidly has an exemption.

The Fair Pint Campaign is doing stirling work opposing the biggest difficulty faced by the pub trade; but where's CAMRA when their alleged campaigning power is needed? Oh yes, I remember: they support the tie system and in doing so implicitly support the crippling dominance of Enterprise and its chums. Crackers. Bloody crackers.

Background stories:

Wednesday 12 November 2008

I feel dirty and ashamed...

... that I set foot in a Wetherspoons. I hate them. Your life is too short to spend time reading a rant about why I despise these hell-holes, so I won't do it.

It's that time of year again when Wetherspoons commission some interesting beers and like moths around flames the beer-curious flutter in.

I tried Firestone Walkers California Pale Ale (4.5%) -  fresh, (too) cold and indifferent. Somehow there seemed to be a hole in the flavour even after the beer had warmed up. The bitterness seemed not to be integrated. This is a style I have a lot of experience of: I've even judged the category at the GABF.

On the other hand:

Mikkel's Viking's Return (4.5%), a smoky, malty dark ale was a work genius. It was excellent. Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso brewed it for the festival at Jennings in Cumbria. A message to Jennings: don't let him leave with the recipe, steal it off him.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Provocative Beer Name?

I've just noticed that Firestone Walker Brewery of Paso Robles, California produces a beer called "Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout".

What would the prigs of the Portman Group think of that?

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Brewdog v. Wychwood

Tandleman's post "Brew Dog to be Top Dog by 2015" has once again got me thinking about branding in the craft beer sector.  We see from the linked article that not all is doom and gloom - "We have expanded 900% in 12 months" say BrewDog. 

Melissa Cole pre-empted my thoughts on BrewDog: "... fearlessly dragging beer into the 21st century - for creating taste and flavour profiles that provoke thought, and occasionally shock, but termpering that by brewing very drinkable and accessible beers too. And for bringing humour to brewing that doesn't involve crass humour or innuendo."

Conspicuous by its absence from BrewDog presentation is tedious boring guff like "brewed by traditional technique only on from the choicest malt and hops" and "This beer commemorates the anniversary of the 900th Anniversary of the Battle of Milton Keynes when the famous warrior dwarf Aelred the Plucky singlehandedly slayed the Stevenage Hoards".

When I see that kind of stuff I despair. It's crap. It's complacent and unimaginative - and it's endemic.

Blogger Dave of the Woolpack Inn, up the road from me in Cumbria, a relative newcomer in Blogville, writes beautifully on the difficulties facing landlords: here, for instance. For a while he had me jealous of his insight and his eloquent ability to express it. But then he dropped a clanger - "I've always liked Wychwoods advertising." 

Agh! Wychwood branding! Stop I can't take it any more - oh no, they've released the Goblins - Arrrgghhhhhh Help! Stop, stop, I'll give you the top-secret invasion plans!

Wychwood branding is in my beer Room 101. It's awful, it's embarrassing. And all that mickey-taking of lager drinkers - what the hell do they think that's going to achieve other make die-hard lager drinkers think "bugger that ale stuff"? It lets the side down.

Brewdog v. Wychwood: No contest.

p.s. yes, I know it's cider.

Friday 31 October 2008

Heck, doggone it!

We couldn't resist tasting this one - "Dog Beer" which is available from the pet stall on Barrow Market.

The ingredients did at least include barley malt extract. The others: water, beef extract, lactic acid, E270, E202, E218 and E216.

The label advises pouring half the beer before shaking the remainder to create some frothy head. Try as we might, even violent shaking couldn't produce any froth - I guess we won't be seeing Lewis Hamilton using Dog Beer for customary grand-prix ejaculatory celebrations.

The gentle aroma was something like soy sauce crossed with bovril; not unpleasant but not beery. Steve liked what he described as "Autumn toffeeness". Not unpleasant but not terribly engaging either. The colour was a definitely beery walnut-brown like a brown ale.

Unsurprisingly, the flavour was watery soy sauce and bovril with a note of toffeeness. The human members of the tasting panel felt reluctant to finish their samples - no doubt this was a psychological effect of the doggy branding.

Rita (mixed up terrier, a rescue dog, age unknown) rather liked dog beer. Only seconds after the lid was off she was sniffing attentively, obviously perceiving more to the aroma than we humans did. Our vigourous shaking of the bottle must have releases plenty of aromas - Rita became quite excited and was licking her lips. When the samples were poured she couldn't get her face in quick enough. Despite her initial enthusiasm she also declined to finish her sample. It was put in her bowl and it disappeared overnight.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Moreish Mordue

As I suspected , rumours of the demise of Mordue were unfounded. Indeed, founder Matt Fawson confirmed as much when I bumped into him at the GBBF.

A rare treat, I was delighted to find Mordue IPA on at the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday. I believe it's the best British beer to bear the designation "IPA" (no disrespect to Meantime and Brewdog whose IPAs are brilliant too). 

While we're on the subject of IPA, make sure you pre-order your copy of Pete Brown's forthcoming book about the IPA style and its history - and do look out for the walk-on role by me in Rio de Janeiro: it's my 15 minutes of fame!

Tuesday 21 October 2008

This Week I have Mainly Been Drinking... and Eating...

Timothy Taylor's Havercake Ale, bottled, 4.7% from Booths.

I've always been a bit underwhelmed by the bottled version Landlord - and this stablemate induced the same feeling. It's a perfectly acceptable pale ale, very English and quite swiggable but not very memorable.

I'm not a believer in bottled-beer-must-be-BC-to-be-any-good nor its converse non-bc-beer-is-intrinsically-inferior. However, having said that, I suspect that bottle-conditioning is what TT's beers lack.

It may be a bit lacklustre but it did partner liver/bacon/onion with mashed potato exceptionally well. I also had a Young's Special London Ale but it was too much for the food, it hogged the limelight.

I was so impressed by the L/B/O with a pale bitter I'm going to try it again with some more interesting ones. If you've any suggestions, please comment. I think I'll try a Barngates Tag Lag next.

My recipe for Liver&Bacon with Onion:

Put the partnering beer in the fridge.

Chop equal amounts of liver and bacon into mouthful size chunks. (If, like me, you're sqeamish about chopping liver, wait till it's cooked a while in the pan.)

Thickly slice a  big onion. 

Chuck (bosh?) everything in a big wide pan with a dash each of Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco.

Put on the lid and put it on a very low heat for ages, maybe an hour. Prepare your mashed potato. 

If, after an hour, there's still obvious liquid rather than gravy remove the lid and turn up the heat until it's reduced.

Serve beer.

Serve food.

Monday 20 October 2008

Interesting Paragraphs

I have a habit of scanning the indexes of non-fiction books just in case beer gets a look-in. My obsession has produced another 'hit'. The book is "Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945" by Tony Judt, page 486 of the hardback edition.

"But in the Seventies, policies moved to the forefront. 'Single issue' parties and movements emerged, their constituencies shaped by a variable geometry of common concerns: often narrowly focused, occasionally whimsical. Britain's remarkably successful Campaign for Real Ale is a representative instance: founded in 1971 to reverse the trend to gaseous, homogenized 'lager' beer (and the similarly homogenized, 'modernized' pubs in which it was sold), this middle-class pressure group rested its case upon a neo-Marxist account of the take-over of artisanal beer manufacture by mass-producing monopolists who manipulated beer-drinkers for corporate profit - alienating consumers from their own taste buds by meretricious substitution.

In its rather effective mix of economic analysis, environmental concern, aesthetic discrimination and plain nostalgia, CAMRA foreshadowed many of the single-issue activist networks of years to come, as well as the coming fashion among well-heeled bourgeois-bohemians for the expensively 'authentic'. But its slightly archaic charm, not to mention the disproportion between the intensity of its activists' engagement and the tepid object of their passion, made this single-issue movement necessarily somewhat quaint.

But there was nothing whimsical or quaint about other single-issue political networks, most of them - like CAMRA - organized by and for the middle class. [...goes on to various Scandanavian single issue, tax-reduction protest parties.]"

Tony Judt is evidently a non-beer specialist - he would have known not to be so specific as to describe "the trend to gaseous, homogenized 'lager' beer" when in fact gaseous, homogonised ale was the main object of ire, with lager as a side-show of little, but growing, consequence. Nonetheless, this Pulitzer Prize runner-up does seem to supporting my recent theme about CAMRA's non-explicit Marxist perspective

The author's suggestion that CAMRA has been "remarkably successful" needs some attention. After all, cask ale's market share hasn't changed much in 35 years. CAMRA's frequent pre-emptive defence is to claim that cask ale would have died out (the Marxist big-business-always-swallows-small tenet) without them. This is difficult to prove or disprove, but its worth remembering the American beer market: from 10 to 1600 craft breweries since 1980, all without the benefit of a self-appointed campaigning organisation but with the benefit of not being encumbered by the tie system.

The author needs some serious educating on "the tepid object of their passion". Hmm.

[If you haven't read them already, I strongly urge you to get hold of

Thursday 9 October 2008

Why I'm Not a Member of CAMRA

As I've pointed out before, the real ale rhetoric and mythology emanating from CAMRA and its members invokes the image of the "working man" (a namby-pambyism for the "working class") in its efforts to tug at the heart-strings and gain sentimental special-case treatment.

If real ale is "traditionally the drink of the working man" then surely my hometown of Barrow-in-Furness is swimming in it. The town has been declared "the most working-class place in the UK" by the website

I hate to be the one to shatter the working man/real ale myth: I can report the most working-class town in the UK is a swamp of alcopops, smoothflow, megalager and megacider.

Casual perusal of town centre pubs (see picture) on a Friday or Saturday night reveals the "working man" drinking smoothflow, megalager, megacider and alcopops. Sometimes, on special occasions, in the same glass with a shot of Blue Bols for added luminosity under the UV.

The Duke of Edinburgh Hotel, The Cross Keys and the Ambrose deserve honourable mentions for stubbornly persisting in attempting to sell a variety of cask ales despite indifference from the population of 70,000.

The Duke of Edinburgh opened its bar in November 2006 with eight handpumped lines. Their market research had shown that Barrow had far fewer real ale outlets than would be expected in a town of its size. As outsiders, from Lancaster, their conclusion was "lots of uncatered-for demand, we'll do lots of real ale, we'll be on a winner." It was not to be. Although, after a slow start, the bar is now popular as it brings a much-needed touch of city-bar atmosphere to the town, sales of real-ale are disappointing. Sales of the house lager and bottles of Pinot Grigio drive the business. Admirably, there is a no-alcopops rule despite rampant demand.

What's going on?

It's not metaphysical. It's not beyond understanding. As a habitual chatter-with-anybody beer-loving pub-goer I've been working out who drinks what and why for twenty years.

Here's my explanation: Poor people – let’s avoid euphemisms – don't like to be choosy. In the culture of places like Barrow, being choosy is frowned upon. Being discriminating is being a snob – and being a snob is a very bad thing. To be choosy necessitates rejecting something on offer. In a culture defined by hard graft and low pay, rejecting something (particularly food, and including drinks) for the subjective reason of taste is very bad form. Children are brought up with the mealtime fillip "you make sure you finish that: your dad's been hard at work all week to pay for that.” Swirling and sniffing your beer is met with “get it down your neck, you ponce.” I know.

My late grandmother always defended her use of cheap margarine rather than butter with the stern declaration "it tastes just the same". She always bought the cheapest, instant coffee because "it all comes from the same factory anyway". Having been born the youngest of twelve in what can only be described as a slum, she devoted her life to convincing herself that expenditure for flavour was wasteful – because there are no different flavours. My mother is not quite as bad, but almost.

Although the paradox persists that tastier beer is frequently cheaper than bland beer, it is bland predictable beer that most prefer. Seeking out beer for the sole reason of flavour is wrong, even immoral.

Messages such as those about craftsmanship, food miles, sustainability, wholesomeness, tradition and locality are largely lost on this demographic. Cajoling the “working man” into a reverence for heritage and tradition is to force him to look to the past, but the past is a bleak place. The criteria for choosing beer are, as they have always been, the four Ps – peers, palatability, predictability and price.

Part of the CAMRA romanticised belief system is that in a golden age of cask ale, the “working man” was savouring his pint of cask ale and caring deeply and knowledgeably about it. In CAMRA’s Marxist perspective, this simple affordable pleasure has been rudely stolen by exploitative mega-brewer fat-cat capitalists using brainwashing by marketing and advertising to sell over-priced industrialised swill to the lumpen masses. Swashbuckling CAMRA will overthrow this mendacious ruling class and reunite the grateful working man with his real ale! The phrase “real ale revolution” isn’t used in ignorance of the political connotation of the expression.

Suggested evidence for this alleged golden era is that the older working class generation often tells us – “we were choosy about our beer, we went to the pubs where it was good, and we were always on the lookout for a bad pint”. A presumption is made that seeking out a good pint demonstrates connoisseurship: it doesn’t. When more consistent keg beer arrived it lifted the burden of an irksome chore. Members of my extended family are still baffled by my preference for “poncey” cask ale while supping their vapid Boddingtons and Tetleys Smooth.

I bought my first pint at the age of fourteen in the Peacock Inn, Cavendish Street, Barrow-in-Furness. It was a Saturday lunchtime and the morning overtime shift workers from the shipyard filled the pub. I just asked for “a pint of bitter”; I think it was Tetley’s; I was just emulating my dad while trying not to be noticed. “I tried selling cask ale but gave up a year ago. The lads round here didn’t like the taste. They just stick with Carling and John Smiths,” the landlord told me recently. Nearby, the Blue Lamp, a Thwaites pub, sells no cask ale. It tried. It gave up.

I went to my first CAMRA beer festival when I was nineteen-year-old shipyard apprentice. I enjoyed some of the beer but I wasn’t inspired to join the organisation. I didn’t give it much thought at the time. But CAMRA hasn’t gone away and twenty-two years later I’ve finally worked out the big reason (there are others) why I haven’t felt motivated to join despite being a keen cask ale drinker:

CAMRA patronises the working class by implying they can’t make an informed decision.

I know that many CAMRA members will vocally proclaim their working-classness as if that counters my argument and demonstrates the working classness of cask ale but it must be remembered they are a small minority. If all CAMRA members accounted for all real ale consumed, they would be getting through 19.5 pints each, every day (figures from The Intelligent Choice: The Definitive guide to the Cask Ale Market 2008-9 and CAMRA’s current membership of 94,585). If anything, CAMRA's Marxist rhetoric has only proved useful as recruitment tool for the organisation. I don't believe it has been remotely useful in boosting the interests of craft brewers at the expense of macro-brewers. All it does is fuel the dedication of the most vocal and active of CAMRA's membership.

I look forward to your comments (but I’m ducking for cover.)

Wednesday 8 October 2008

This Week I have Mainly Been Drinking...

Blonde Ale by Morrisey Fox, bottled, from Tesco.

....oops sorry, I nodded off thinking about it.

If you're the kind of person who has the full set of Men Behaving Badly DVDs (in order) on your shelf you'll like it. Some nice melon-like sweeteness but otherwise not worth wasting liver cells on.

Monday 6 October 2008

Not Proper Beer?

Don't misunderstand this post. Please be reassured that I am not a "prison's just a holiday camp" Daily Mail reader, although where I live I'm surrounded by them.

I spotted this story while googling the influence of wahabist values in the UK (I should get a life, I know).

"Devout Muslim sues Tesco for making him carry alcohol"

For me, as a beer-snob, this paragraph stood out:

"The tribunal was told Mr Ahmed also gave out 'mixed messages', at one stage suggesting he was allowed to handle Budweiser beer."

I can only conclude that, as it's not proper beer, devout Muslims maybe allowed to handle Budweiser. Maybe not.

Weird world.

Friday 3 October 2008

Punch Taverns Hilarity

Have a look at Punch's attempt to get you to fork out for a tenancy.

"Pull yourself one of the best business opportunities you may ever see."


"Do you have capital to invest?"

I think it also says "Are you a fool easily parted from your money? Click here," but I might have imagined that.

Thursday 2 October 2008

The Customer is Always Wrong - Even When He is Right

Duke of York, Clerkenwell, EC1

I stopped off at the Duke of York in Clerkenwell (around the corner from beer blogger Stonch's pub, the Gunmakers.) I was with two other committee members of the British Guild of Beer Writers. I mention this to suggest "we know what we're effing talking about." Allegedly.

I ordered three pints of Brakspear Bitter. The beer was distinctly warm (about 17C by my estimate) and noticably sour (I like gueuze/lambic but there's a time and a place.) I returned to the bar and made a polite and factual complaint. Body language told me I was probably talking to the boss. The same body language issued the message "I'll bite your arm off." Her response was the classic "it's room temperature: it's supposed to be like that."

Resisting the temptation to do a "I'll have you know..." act I maintained eye contact and restated my complaint. A long pause ensued and a sneering "I suppose you want something else" followed.

So the pub trade is in suffering? Well, in therapy-speak "change comes from within" – this would be a good place to start.

B.T.W thanks for the pic to Ewan-M on Flickr

Sunday 28 September 2008

Key words for positive knee-jerk purchasing decisions for the middle classes

The Sunday Times to day gave a little review to a new beer:

"Stinger Organic Ale. £1.89-£1.99, 500ml. Developed with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and brewed with organic nettles. Fresh, soft, delicious (selected Budgens, Threshers,"

Bloody Nora! Organic nettles! For Christ's sake you dopes, they grow in hedges, they're weeds, they're always going to be organic. And they're free! (OK, I know it should probably be "organic beer with nettles")

A conversation overheard at Borough Market yesterday:

"Ooh, look Cressida, a new stall - 'Lenny's Hand-Caught, Free-To-Roam, Locally-Sourced Rodents'. The new-season Sewer Rats are in stock ... so much more, you know ... ambrosial ... than the river rats we had round at Yolande and Giles's last week. Mmm, and only £267 per kg. They'll be wonderful after the biodynamic Kobe cockroach muse bouches."

"Oh yes Sebastian; and that foraged spatchcock badger she picked up outside the village was rather, erm ... proletarian ... don't you think? Let's not forget the Organic Nettle Beer. One wouldn't want to buy intensively-reared, factory-farmed, battery, chemically-sprayed, air-freighted, genetically-modified nettle beer, would one, even if it is Fair TradeMind you, Giles will never tell the difference."

"Oh, don't be too beastly about Giles, darling, he's having such a demanding time shafting those gauche banks that ordinary people put their piffling money in."

"Mmm, I never really understood why they bother with mortgages; don't they realise it's much cheaper to simply buy a house?"

etc. ad nauseum.

[b.t.w. the final line about mortgages is was genuinely and sincerely uttered by a real person, the rest is made up]

CAMRA's War on ... whatever.

Have a look here at Class War's list of links.

"We do not necessarily endorse all of the content on the sites below, but generally speaking they are all in some way related to our worldview."

Any beery organisation there you recognise?

Friday 26 September 2008

This week I have been mainly drinking...

Eiken Artois.

Well, not exactly "mainly drinking": I picked up a heavily discounted three quarters of a four-pack from paupers' corner in Tesco.

I'm not one of these real ale drinkers (I don't even use the expression "real ale" if I can possibly avoid it) who bangs on about "the war against lager". I love lager!

I should clarify, I can't stand the dismal stuff like Fosters and its mass-market rivals that clog our pubs. I like the fancy proper imported stuff that hides modestly on the lower supermarket shelves. The stuff I get to drink on too-infrequent trips across the channel.

Here's the Eiken Artois blurb – "Named from the Flemish word for Oak, Eiken Artois is a deliciously refreshing yet full flavoured oak aged lager brewed in Belgium to 4.6% ABV. Brewed with carefully selected aroma hops, this unique beer is then oak aged to create a fruity, hoppy lager with subtle floral notes and hints of vanilla."

That sounds quite interesting. It seems InBev wants to capture a bit of the kudos the craft sector gets for flavour enhancing techniques. But hang on, Artois is firmly mass-market, and mass-market means bland. 

The mouthfeel was thin and good-but-remote aroma (like looking the wrong way through binoculars), coupled with the merest hint of oxidisation, my first-impressions weren't good. Not horrible enough to make me put it down though.

Further lingering sips revealed some interesting mid-palate flavours: caramel, vanilla, and the flavour of the inside of Crunchie Bars that I can't remember the name of. These flavours I often find particularly in reputable Czech lagers (Gambrinus springs to mind) so that 's a very good sign.

Unfortunately it suffered badly from the binoculars-backwards effect. I can imagine good brewers thinking "finally, we can do something tasty" but their bosses countering "don't you dare doing something too tasty, we don't want to alienate core brand-loyal customers."

The launch of this Artois sub-brand is a classic example of parent-brand-on-the-decline-syndrome. Stella Artois (the Manchester United of beer) sales are past their peak (good!) and InBev are desperately trying to retain customers, in this instance the ones who may be ditching Stella in favour of tastier craft beers.

So, does Eiken Artois offer anything for the connoisseur? Well, put it this way: if your non-beer-savvy mate gets some in for the footy, don't write it off, it's not unlpeasant.

Thursday 25 September 2008


Sometimes it alarms how something totally unrelated can get my mind drifting back to beer. So it was yesterday when this story was in the news. It was a slow news day so theatrical talking heads were lined up to fill slots on broadcast news across the networks.

What have well-spoken middle-class spongers scrounging money off the government (i.e. the tax payer) got to do with beer?

Use of the language of the evangelist. 

Repeatedly the theatricals droned on about "getting more people interested in theatre". Noticably, none of them ventured to explain what the intrinsic worth of this exercise is. Declaring the truth that "it has the dual benefit of flattering our egos and subsidising our hobbies" would destroy the venture. But I digress.

This "we need to get more people into" rhetoric is what interests me. It's all over the place.

All over the country new students will be assailed by people experiencing this urge. Freshers' Fairs exist only for people to indulge this impulse: not the freshers themselves but society members evangelising for Dungeon&Dragons, Bridge, Cave-Diving, hockey, parachuting, tiddly-winks and so on. Religions, of course, have the evangelising urge explicitly built into their belief systems.

The recent Olympics was a festival of sports talking-heads banging on about "getting more people involved in [insert name of obscure sport]."

CAMRA is a big source of the rhetoric associated with this urge. Think about it – how many times have you heard words about "getting more people interested in real ale"? Often it is manifested as "we've got persuade more people to join CAMRA" (to which the subtext is "CAMRA is an intrinsically good thing")

Here's an example from a CAMRA press release: "CAMRA’s new Cyclops leaflet, and more breweries supporting the scheme, will help to increase the consumer awareness of this initiative and lead to more people understanding and drinking real ale.”

I do it myself. I will bend anyone's ear on the things that  give me pleasure – good beer, Miles Davis's electric period '68-'75, exposing of the vacuity of religion, Brazilian music, proper peanuts in their shells, vinyl records, Macintosh computers ... and many more. In 2000 I put my money where my mouth was (and still is) by opening a specialist beer bar.

This urge to evangelise about what gives us pleasure seems universal. We've all got it. But what could it be? Human behavioural instinct is defined by evolution. This urge to promote what gives us pleasure, I believe, is exactly the same as the urge the caveman has to share the location of the bison herd or the bush bearing berries. The same urge the bee has to get back to the hive and waggle its bum. At its core is the urge to survive – to feed yourself and those who share some of your genes. In a tribal society everyone is likely to share your genes, your chance of survival and the "life" of your genes is enhanced. In our modern society we aren't necessarily genetically related to those around us, and food is no longer a rarity that needs to be grabbed at every opportunity. Our genes don't know that: they're still telling us "shout from the roof-top about what satisfies you, share it with your tribe".

Remember that. You'll be spotting "we've got to get more people involved" rhetoric all over the place from now on. Welcome to my world!

[p.s. Apologies to creationists .... Oh No! what am I saying? What I meant was: Get your hands off our schools and stay out of the White House you bunch of medievalist  nutjobs.]

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Pickled Bloody Partridge

My heart sinks a little further every time a brewer gives a beer a painfully twee and parochial name – especially an alliterative one.

I really don't care if it's "a traditional farmer's wife's recipe for partridge braised in ale".

Thank you, Hall & Woodhouse, you've really made my day with that name. That'll really get the kids talking.

Pickled bloody Partridge ... I ask you.

Sunday 14 September 2008

This week I have mainly been drinking...

... Harviestoun Belgian White at the Black Dog Inn at Dalton-in-Furness, my favourite pub in my South Cumbria homelands.

Belgian white (wheat) beers tend to be flavoured with orange zest and coriander seed. In HBW there was the merest hint of orangeyness, and quite noticeable (to me anyway; those whose ears I bent about it were nonplussed) corianderness hanging on a backbone of wheaty English bitterness.

Genuine Belgies may have not recognised the beer as an attempted recreation of their own style but that would be missing the point. The point is to extend the ambit of typical cask conditioned ale flavours in a very British-pub context. That it achieved with aplomb.

This weekend the pub has had a special fish and seafood menu and I pointed out to boss James that he'd chosen to stock a great beer to go with the special menu. He responded with a baffled "ugh?". The Black Dog does tremendous food and beer but poncey metropolitan notions of sniffing, swirling and matching beer and food are, as yet, alien. Indeed engaging in such endeavours would have much of the clientele questioning one's manliness and qualifications for drinking beer in the first place.

Unfortunately I hadn't booked to dine and had to make do with tantalising sights and smells. Fortunately I had the beer.

(B.t.w. I've invented a name for a shade of paint – "Langoustine Serendipity". Do you think Dulux will buy it off me?)

Thursday 11 September 2008

They've got my blood boiling again!

My brother has just brought my attention to this piece in the Publican - "CAMRA calls for minimum pricing"

OK,  we've established that cheap mass-produced beer in the supermarkets is playing a role in  deterring people from going to the pub. So far, so good.

To get people back in the pubs how about getting the government to create minimum prices for supermarket beer? Hmm.

Isn't that a bit bloody rich coming from a self-proclaimed "consumer organisation" which encourages people to join with rabble-rousing rhetoric like "join us if you're concerned about the ever-rising price of beer"? (I haven't got a specific example to hand a.t.m but we've all seen it).

Now let me think about it for a nano-second ... ah, now I see: CAMRA wants prices increases for the beer it doesn't like (consumed by the majority); It wants lower prices for the beer it likes (a minority interest).

A consumer organisation my arse! A self-interest group looking for special case treatment by pretending to have everyone's best interest at heart. 

Sheer bloody hypocracy. 

Excuse me while I wipe up the beer I've just spluttered on my keyboard.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Supermarket Prices

In a daze, traipsing round Tesco I was thinking about supermarkets' role in Britain's drunken hooliganity. I couldn't crack that problem and my thoughts moved onto the brands "craft" versus "mass" in the supermarkets.

Certainly, it's alarming that price competition has led mass-produced booze to be sold cheaper than water and had the knock-on effect of persuading people to drink anywhere but the controlled environment of the pub, and the pub trade is suffering as a consequence. But there may be another more positive effect.

The beers most affected by this rampant price cutting are the mass-produced ones – the common enemy of craft brewers. Look further in the supermarkets and you find rows of craft beers (remember, I choose not to use the term "real ale"), their prices unaffected by mass-market price competition. Ask around and you hear from SIBA, CAMRA and the brewers themselves that bottle sales are on the up – despite being the expensive option.

Here we have a dichotomy: 

In the off-trade craft beers are priced higher than mass-produced beers.

In the on-trade craft beers are priced lower than mass-produced beers.

It might be a febrile fantasy, but I believe the price-crash of mass produced beers could be a blessing in disguise for craft brewers. "How?" I hear you asking, "isn't it just going to encourage people away from craft beer on to cheap stuff?"

No. As I've already mentioned, bottled craft beers are performing well despite being the pricey beer option.

I believe the phenomenon is this – on the whole, people sensibly understand "poor quality things tend to be cheap – good quality things tend to be expensive". For many years people have taken on face value clever advertising such as "Stella Artois: reassuringly expensive", thinking "it's pricier, obviously it's very good, and I like to consume good things, that's what I'll buy". (I don't mean to single out Stella; I'm just using "Stella" as short-hand for mass-produced-not-very-interesting-beer.)

Now though, things have changed. Everyone uses supermarkets and sees the price of Stella considerably lower than the craft beers. What's the message? – "Stella is inferior to the bottles in the obscure aisle at the back of the supermarket" and a bit of "Stella is the beer favoured by price-conscious al-fresco drinkers".

OK, every single beer drinker isn't going to ditch their fave big brand because it's gone cheap, plenty will clap their hands in glee at the rock-bottom prices. Some won't. Some will be thinking "I like good stuff, and a higher price is a signifier of quality, I'll have to investigate the intruiging bottled stuff I usually ignore while the wife's looking at wine". How many is anyone's guess. I reckon enough people will ditch "mass" and move to "craft" for the sector to experience a good long-term boost. This maybe is what is already happening. This could be a bigger effect than thirty-something years of "campaigning" by you-know-who.

In the pub trade business is very tight with closures rampant. That straightforward message is evident from, for instance, the British Beer and Pub Association, a body which wishes the world to think is the ONLY voice of brewers and pub owners. In fact, if you check its membership list, it largely represents the big players – and in doing so seeks to downplay the efforts of small independents. Travel around the highroads and by-roads of the country and what do you see? - "Pub Lease For Sale" signs. It's the big dull McDonaldsised chains who are in most obvious decline and what do they sell most of? - McDonaldsised mass-produced beer. Freehouses aren't finding current economics such a bed of roses at the moment but they do seem, out of all pubs, the ones most capable of weathering the storm. What do most of them sell most of? - Craft beer.

Innovation at Beer Festival!

Here you see last week's Ulverston Beer Festival with its featured entertainment "Live Spreadsheet Updating".

Yes folks, Microsoft Excel made a guest appearance at a humble Beer Festival!

Beautifully British amateur inventiveness at its best. 

"The venue's got a big screen and a video projector – click! – I know; if I spend the festival sitting upstairs in the techie room away from the action I can plug in my laptop and display a constantly updated list of available beers! And as a bonus people may admire my Excel technique (including formulas)!"

Peculiarly, punters seemed to be ignoring the ever-updating spreadsheet and using the old-fashioned luddite techniques of looking in the programme, and looking and asking at the bar.

B.T.W. Ulverston Brewer's new beer "Flying Elephants", a 3.8% pale hoppy thirst-quencher, was rather good and could well be the beer that puts them on a wider map. 

Friday 22 August 2008

Grass-roots CAMRA views on

I urge you to browse and participate in

This Usenet newsgroup has been around since 1997 and I first stumbled across it soon after. Originally I thought "great, like-minded people having a well-informed on-going discussion on my favourite subject". I was wrong.

My early posts were usually straightforward exchanges of information such as responses to question like "can anyone recommend a good pub in central London?"

Time passed and I kept noticing things I found unsettling. Here are some examples: "the war against lager"; "conspiracy against real-ale"; and all sorts of ill-informed rants about "rip-offs", "greedy pubcos"; drinkers of mass-produced beers as "victims of advertising" or "shallow" and "easily led"; state subsidies and support for the nationalisation of breweries; disparaging comments about craft brewing in other countries (particularly the US) because it's not "Real-ale". I could go on.

Inevitably, as someone not shy of having strong opinions, I became embroiled in umpteen arguments. I realised that is a valuable resource charting the views of CAMRA grass-roots members.

I got tired of posting a couple of years ago but I still browse the newsgroup to check on what the latest "thinking" is in the world of grass-roots CAMRA membership.

Last week for instance I spotted this – "It's very sad. There seem to be people who rejoice in the fact that beer is becoming an up-market, high priced, trendy drink rather than
the working man's thirst quencher it used to be."

This is a very confused view. There are several points jostling for space here:

1. Use of the romantic image of "the working man" as Trojan Horse for a desire for cheap beer. This is a minefield the unwary have stumbled through many times on UKFDRA. A common trajectory for the debate is "real-ale is cheaper than Stella etc. because it isn't a rip-off". My view is that RA should bloody well be more expensive than Carling etc simply because it's a craft product with higher associated costs than the mass-market. Rolls-Royces cost more than Vauxhalls for that same reason. The only rip-off is the slim margins for their beers that RA brewers have to accept - an unfortunate position perpetuated by many in CAMRA. And, I ask you, just who is drinking all the Carling and Stella if it isn't the "working man"?

2. "beer is becoming an up-market, high priced, trendy drink" - Obviously the poster regards trendiness as an intrinsically bad thing. But is beer becoming a "trendy drink"? I don't know where to start on this complicated subject. The UK market is changing. Particularly in our city centres we see imported craft beers being consumed in "bars" rather than pubs, predominantly by more affluent twenty and thirty-somethings. They could be drinking our domestic craft beer "real-ale" but it doesn't have a huge appeal for them. Real-ale is still predominantly an interest of men over forty. Could it be that the poster falls in the latter category and feels little empathy with the members of the former? As for "up-market, high priced", isn't this a rather crude way of expressing what most RA brewers would like to see?

Tuesday 29 July 2008

SIBA Journal Issue 70 Summer 2008

SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers is getting its knickers in a twist on the question of its members "do you think there should be a limit to the size of brewery that can join SIBA?"

This needs a little explanation. The question is really "should the regional 'family' brewers be allowed to join SIBA?"

SIBA was created in 1980 by brewers too small to join the Brewers' Society. Years have passed and SIBA's membership is now in the hundreds and the organisation has the ear of the media and the government (probably more so than the IFBB.)

The "Family Brewers" are now knocking on the door of SIBA and SIBA can't make up its mind if it should let them in. This is a bit rich of the Family Brewers considering the contempt they had for SIBA in its early days.

The YES faction (yes to the capacity limit, that is) is put by Dave Maggs of West Berkshire Brewery:

"Their [the regional/family brewers] agenda is totally different to that of the small independents. Most have tied estates, which they naturally want to protect, whereas we are constantly looking for access to market. Some are PLCs and as such are a contradiction to a Society of Independent Brewers. A PLC by nature cannot be independent and will be driven by the demands if its shareholders, who are not all committed to our cause [of locally-produced craft beer]. PLCs will buy up pubs – tied or free – thus reducing our market options. I have certainly lost a great deal of outlets to my nearest PLC brewer. It's not that I hold a grudge, I just don't see how we can be in the same organisation."

Mr Maggs has hit the nail on the head – the family/regionals are owners of tied estates largely impenetrable to the products of independent local brewers. That the family/regionals also brew cask ales is an irrelevence. Many also brew foul mass-market licensed or contracted beers: coupled with their tied estates I believe they are part of the problem faced by small independent breweries. Welcoming them into SIBA would introduce internal conflicts like introducing lions to the society of gazelles.

The NO faction is represented by Carola Brown of Ballards, long-standing SIBA activist (and a founder member if I recall corrrectly):

"Our major competitors in the distant days of the 'Red Barrel' real ale desert were the regional brewers. But they were also the only brewers who kept real ale alive at all when the nationals didn't want to. Now they have abandoned the 'them and us' mentality, and recognise that SIBA is the industry organisation that has taken up the quality beer torch and not only kept the flame alive, but made it burn more and more brightly! I have my doubts about admitting to our ranks brewers brewers who keep their estates closed to guest beers, whilst selling into what remains of the free trade; but will excluding them change that situation?"

This strikes me as sentimentality-driven hogwash – "But they were also the only brewers who kept real ale alive at all when the nationals didn't want to." So what? It's 2008 now, not 1975 (also something CAMRA would do well to note.)

FWIW, as far as I can see access to market is the biggest single issue facing small brewers, beyond red-tape and all other issues. They have craft beer in common with the family/regionals but are inhibited by the existence of tied estates, brewing and-nonbrewing. 

My instinct would be to tell the family brewers to sod off. My more considered response would be a change to SIBA's constitution to say all pubs or estates owned by SIBA members should be commercially fully open (not just DDS) to all fellow members, including the family/regionals This would curb the unfair advantage of owning estates and encourage the growth of small brewers – that's the point of SIBA isn't it?

Would they still want to join? I doubt it.

Monday 30 June 2008

Interesting Concept

Here's an interesting concept for a pub – the en-suite water-feature beer garden.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Sublime beer and food matching moment

Bearing in that beer and food matching is quite the thing these days my tastebuds are always alert to combinations that have the 2+2=5 effect: the whole taste experience is greater than the sum of the parts.

I'd met a couple of friends at the Harp (by Charing Cross Police station just along from the Chandos).

For the past 2 or 3 years this has been my favourite West End pub - the theme is "proper pub" and a high turnover of cask ale guarantees a decent pint.

The bar offered Harvey's Bitter, a Mordue (can't remember which), TT's Landlord and another that escapes me completely.

We ordered our beers and some nibbles. 

Where most salty snacks dutifully do their job of satisfying humankind's universal base craving for salt, fat and carbohydrate, Smith's Scampi Fries possess gustatory qualities above the norm.

In an impromptu tasting session our panel of three instantly recognised that Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter and Smith's Scampi Fries are made for each other. 

Put that in your books Oliver/Beckett/Novak et al!

(The Mordue was excellent but the Landord was past its best b.t.w.)

HOT NEWS:  In my "research" for this entry I've discovered that arch-rival Golden Wonder Scampi and Lemon Nik Naks are back on the market.  Let the good times roll!

Monday 9 June 2008

Image Problem

Real ale has an image problem.

A mantra of CAMRA is "we want real ale to appeal more to young people and women", or words to that effect.

Ask younger people and women their perceptions of real ale and what do we hear?

"It's for old men"
"It's warm and heavy"
"It's flat"
"It's got bits in"
"it's very strong"
"It's old-fashioned"

We could go on.

None of these perceptions is terribly accurate. These comments represent the popular image of real ale. (B.T.W. Contrary to another view common among camra types, non-real ale drinkers are aware of the existence of real ale)

When the subject of image comes up in the presence of camra sheep there is generally a loud chorus of "IT'S WHAT'S IN THE GLASS THAT MATTERS".

At this point camra sheep will bleat about people who are more concerned with image then they as being "shallow", "easily led" and "victims of advertising".

This is a head-in-the-sand attitude and does no favours whatsoever to the real ale cause. The immutable truth is that image is of huge importance.

Quit the patronising and ask yourself how you can contribute to improving the image (i.e. marketability) of real ale!

[CAMRA research published 2002:

* Over one fifth (22%) of women don't drink real cask ale because it isn't promoted to them
* 17% of women think it is "old fashioned"
* 29% don't try it because their friends don't drink it
* 17% think it will make them fat!
* Only 23% of women have tried real ale in a pub
* 19% of women would try real cask ale if it were served in more stylish and fashionable glasses]