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