Sunday, 31 July 2011

Empire Building for Punks

Scotland on Sunday has a good piece on you know who.  I like these two quotes:  "a style bar is where they spend £6m on the fit-out and serve the same shit as they serve next door".  And " CAMRA is staid, it's tacky, it's conservative, it's old fashioned, it would put your grandparents to sleep.  I'd gladly line up the lot of them and fire cans of Punk off their heads."

I work out from the article which isn't yet on line, their production is around 18,300 barrels a year.  The proposed new brewery will allow five times more production.

I think I must be virally infected or God forbid, I'm coming round to them.

The title above is the SoS article title should you wish to browse for it in the future.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Let's Just Have a Good Time

Last Tuesday I read a comment (by someone called String)on Mark Dredge's blog which made me a little annoyed. Well maybe not annoyed - exasperated would be a better description. This is what the commentator said with regard to the  Brew Dog and the Great British Beer Festival "issue". "I think the main issue is that the Great British BEER Festival is festival celebrating BEER. Personally I wonder whether that means that the GBBF is outgrowing CAMRA & their approach. Is it time someone else organised this countries flagship beer festival? I think so."

The comments about CAMRA and  Brew Dog were equally odd and one has to wonder why Brew Dog inspire such loyalty in some limited quarters and why their supporters use anything they can as a stick to beat CAMRA with.  Continuing with that metaphor, I reckon though that CAMRA undoubtedly made a rod for their own back in trying to accommodate Brew Dog in the way they did.  It would have been far simpler and less open to manipulation or interpretation, just to say to Brew Dog "of course we'd love you to come under the same conditions as everyone else.  Supply cask beer in 18s (as you do to the pub trade) and we'll sell it accordingly."  In my view, given Brew Dog's reputation, anything else was leaving CAMRA as a hostage to fortune. And so it came to pass, despite claim and counter claim.

Given that the Great British Beer Festival is coming up next week, let's have a look at the title.  It is short and to the point. It is well known and it describes I believe, the fact that is a festival and a big one, with beer. "Great" seems reasonably OK in that context.  What about "beer" then?  Well there will be beer - well over 1000 different ones - and while you can argue about whether the term encompasses all beer, it would still seem reasonable that as it is CAMRA's Festival, CAMRA can call it what they want and sell what they want. I am willing to bet that apart from a few geeks and disappointed brewers, nobody else gives a hoot. Everyone else will just be there enjoying themselves and will have in their hand, a beer that they are very happy with. Beer is after all of the moment.

So back to the comment above.  Firstly it may well be the leading beer festival in the country, but it isn't the country's beer festival; it is CAMRA's.  That means that CAMRA runs it as it sees fit and does what CAMRA wants to do to promote its aims.  The idea that this could be handed over to anyone else to run is ludicrous, would make a cat laugh and is just plain daft.  Any commercially run beer festival on a similar scale would likely be prohibitively expensive to attend and to buy beer.  Does anyone doubt the immense subsidy CAMRA volunteers provide by their free labour and expertise?  Not that this means it can't be improved. Each year changes are made to many things to try and make it better, but there will always be some that feel it should have this or that beer, or that some aspect could be changed for the better, but at the final reckoning, very few will leave disappointed by what is on offer to them.  There will be something for everyone.  And despite Brew Dog claiming that CAMRA festivals are  “stuffy, boring or misguided” I rather doubt that they will be missed, or that anyone there won't have just as good a time without them.

So let's look forward to next week. So many beers to try, so much good fun and good company. There will be a great atmosphere and a fine old time to be had is far more important than worrying about areas of contention that are of limited interest to the vast majority of attendees.

Let's just all go and have a good time.

And dammit I have ended up talking about you know who again. It still works for them.
Nor am I saying that a large non CAMRA run festival couldn't be organised, but don't doubt the difficulties in doing so.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Service with a Smile (2)

I mentioned here the exceptional service I had when judging pubs for the Greater Manchester Pub of the Year. Then I didn't want to mention the name of the pub, as judging was still taking place.

When we called at the pub there was around eight beers on the bar.  The barmaid (who turned out to be the landlady), immediately offered to talk me through the beers, made me feel very welcome and recommended what beers I might like on the basis of asking me what I was after.  She watched over the entire proceedings in the pub and was clearly, but subtly running the show.  A smile here, a chat there and all the time, ensuring service was quick, efficient and that glasses were cleared. It was effortless, non corporate and genuine, but so impressive (and rare) to see.  She even introduced herself by name.  Brilliant stuff.

The Bank Top Brewery Tap is well worth a visit.  A good range of rarely seen Bank Top beers, as well as the more usual Flat Cap.  All I tried were pretty decent.

And no, I have no idea how it has gone on in the Pub of the Year competition.

Normally I'd have put a Bank Top photo of some sort on, but the web site is one of these shitty "flash" built ones. Ah well. You can't have everything.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Amy Winehouse and Me

You don't hear me mention music much. I ain't really a musical kind of guy. My music is mostly confined to the radio, or what I hear in passing, but really, these days, that's as far as it goes. When I was younger things were different, but even today, like most people, some music reminds me of particular occasions, or times in my life, but most of that would be best left for another time. Except this, as there is a beer connection. And it is topical.

When we returned from our trip to West Lancs, (see Tyson's blog for details), we heard of Amy Winehouse's untimely death. An accident waiting to happen perhaps, but it caused us, independently to think back to a sunny November day in New York a few years ago. Having wandered round Little Italy and surrounding areas, a beer was required. We came across a little corner street bar, which at around 4pm, was pretty empty. We sat at the bar and ordered whatever IPA was on the go. As we sat and chatted about our day, we became aware of what was playing in the background. We stopped talking and listened. We both said "Bloody Hell that's good" - or words to that effect. E asked the barmaid who the singer was and was told "Amy Winehouse". Neither of us had heard of her. Our bad. Next day a visit to the Virgin Megastore in Times Square was arranged and the CD "Back to Black" purchased.

The tragedy of drink and drugs in her case is well documented, but when I think of Amy Whitehouse, I am taken back to a happy hour in a New York dive bar where the background intruded, for once in a good way. It's probably not a bad way to remember her.

I think the CD must be in London. Can't find it here!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Brewers Bollocked in War of the Roses

You may have read about a dispute between Cropton Brewery of Yorkshire and the much bigger Sam Smith, the oddball idiosyncratic Tadcaster mob. The dispute was over the use, on a Cropton bottled beer, of a white rose, which the more educated among you may just recognise as the symbol of Yorkshire. So think about that one. Yorkshire brewer uses Yorkshire rose shock horror. Sam's however claim the rose as their trade mark. The nub of the argument runs thus: Cropton claims the rose is the symbol of Yorkshire and there is no reason why it should not use it, but Samuel Smith’s claims it is an infringement of its trademark and confusingly similar to its rose which it has used since the 1960s.

Now the even more anal among you may know that said oddballs, sorry, idiosyncratic brewery, has, for the last umpteen years, been stripping from almost everything, including its pubs and drays (though not its bottled beers admittedly) said cherished trade mark, (the Yorkshire rose.) You may also think that this is one where surely they could have got together and solved this little difference of opinion.  So did the judge, though he did rule in favour of Sam Smith's in the aspect of the disputed beer, though not in the case of another beer, brewed for Marks and Spencer by Cropton.

Mr Justice Arnold said it should have been settled "a long time ago", without the enormous cost of a High Court hearing. He said: "The dispute is one which ought to have been capable of settlement out of court a long time ago. Instead it has grown into a case which is out of all proportion to what is at stake in commercial terms." I can't imagine though, that particular aspect will bother Humphrey Smith who has deep pockets, but it will surely be a needless cost to Cropton.

Yorkshire pride and stubbornness is well reputed. Here it is illustrated. Fun though to the outsider.

I am grateful to the Yorkshire Press who seem to be the only ones arsed to report on this titanic struggle.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

New Blogger?

In Sheffield last week we were on our way to the Wellington for a beer or three and happened on a pub that looked bright and attractive. I can't recall its name, but there was a decent enough selection, though the Greene King ownership was clear. Nonetheless we stopped for one, which became two.

The young - well mid twenties - that's young to me - barmaid offered us tasters and to talk us through the beers. Excellent. She chatted amiably to us old guys and then said. "Do any of you know anything about blogging? I'm thinking of starting my own beer blog." I asked her why and she said she had been inspired to do so by a beer tasting by the Beer Beauty that she had attended. So well done her.

I did mention one or two things about the blogging world, but hopefully in a positive way.  I do hope she does take it up. She has a degree in English too and in writing, though what sort, I can't remember, so she might well be good.  Whatever. We need more female bloggers. Preferably opinionated ones. I believe blogs should be personal and opinionated.  That's just a personal opinion though!

 OK - I did mention my blog and showed it to her on my smartphone. Wouldn't you have?

And she was a nice lass and works in a pub, has a great attitude to beer and service, so that's good too. We were all impressed.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Been Here Before?

Two old stories, made new again, are jumping around the web. The first is our old friends Brew Dog are on the earhole again. Having found only £750,000 out of a hoped for £2.3 million in its first go at Equity for Punks, they have whipped up £500,000 in two days in a new scheme. As the last lot was achieved over 5 months, I can only conclude that either the new offer is much better than the last one, or there are a lot of people out there that are prepared to take a punt for a discount on beer and other incentives. Not that I think this kind of fund raising is necessarily a bad thing. I know of one pub company that wanted to borrow a large sum from the bank to refurbish a new acquisition. The bank either hummed and hawed too much, or refused - I can't remember which - and the PubCo went straight to various associates and friends and raised the dosh overnight. Alternative means of raising money aren't new and aren't bad. The respective arguments for and against in the case of Brew Dog are put by Dave Bailey here and Allgates Brewery here. I must say that Allgates make the more persuasive arguments to my mind, but you must make your own up.

The other old story - I say old, because this kind of thing has been tried before I think - is that Carlsberg and Molson Coors are both releasing beers aimed at women. This has set off the old arguments about whether this is patronising or not and whether most women are perfectly happy to like beer or not on their own terms. As a fanatical believer in equality, I tend to believe women are quite capable of making their own minds up and women who don't drink beer are just people who don't drink beer and therefore a blank canvas in terms of what they might or might not like, but either way, there is certainly an untapped market and we should be attracting more women to try different beers. Makes the pub a nicer place for a start.  So, in short, I empathise with the aim, but it just seems to me that this is unlikely to be the best way to achieve the outcome.  The industry would be far better starting with environment, cleanliness and glassware, than inventing "special" beers for women I'd venture.

So what of the beers? I don't know what they taste like, but there does seem a little stereotyping going on here. That's hard to avoid when you do this kind of thing frankly. Carlsberg say "Many young people aren’t keen on the bitter aftertaste of beer. Here our surveys show that with Copenhagen we have created a highly drinkable beer with a balanced taste — a real alternative to white wine and champagne."  Hmm. Forget the champers, get the Carlsberg out. I don't think so.  I'm guessing too that it will be bland.  Molson Coors has gone for a mixed approach, but seems only marginally less patronising. Animee, from the French word for motivated, is billed as “bloat-resistant” - less gassy and lighter tasting than most beers. It will be available in 275ml bottles in three varieties; standard, rose and citrus.

Whether patronising, or well meaning, will these initiatives fail? In Molson Coors case, despite good intentions, if the internet reaction is anything to go by, likely I fear .  As for Carlsberg? Probably!

"The number of UK women drinking beer in the UK is almost the lowest in the world - we won't change that by just doing what we've always done" Kristy McCready - Molson Coors."   I have a lot of sympathy with this statement.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


I've been away for a few days beer hunting in Yorkshire. More of that later. When I was away I received an email from my boss at the BSF (Foreign Beer) part of the Great British Beer Festival. It tells me that there are 540 beers this year, although a few of these will be duplicated between bottle and draught. Five hundred and forty!!

Belive me there are some absolute crackers there and so many rarities that I expect there will be a such sea of bloggers, geeks, tickers et al, that we'll need to have resuscitation equipment close at hand to cope with the excitement. This is a seriously good beer list and is a festival in its own right.

Details are here. See you there.

This year all the BSF Bars are separate, which will make it easier for the customers, but more difficult for the staff.  Especially for tastings.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Bottling It

As I don't drink much bottled beer, I don't come across this situation very often, but it seems that bottled versions of draught beers are often sold stronger, sometimes significantly so. You will notice here that I say sold "stronger" as, inevitably, the beer will be brewed to a higher strength, then "liquored down" for the draught version. Watered down that is. Now I know of course that there are various reasons for this differentiation in strength, from both a practical and a marketing point of view, but it seems to me when a draught version is, say, 3.9% and the bottled version is around 4.8%, leaving the method of dispense aside, that you will have an entirely different drinking experience. In fact you may almost have entirely different drink.

Now it may be of course, even though they have the same name, that the bottled beer drinker knows this and in fact regards the drinks as entirely different. Or acceptable variations on a theme perhaps? Nor do I know whether drinkers of such bottles resort to the bottled version of the draught beer usually, or just sometimes, when they buy such things; or indeed, whether the brand loyalty of a cask beer drinker extends in any way to the equivalent bottle, though I'm sure marketing geeks would say they do. The world of the standard bottled beer is somewhat shrouded in mystery to me.  For all I know, bottled beer drinkers simply don't know or care about this aspect at all.

If I were Mudgie, who is interested in this kind of thing, I'd set up a poll, but I can't be bothered. Instead I'll just await comments.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


For years now we have sold Tegernsee Spezial at the Great British Beer Festival.   As a consequence, each time I go to southern Germany, I promise myself I'll go there, to the source, to see the place for myself; each time, I overlook it and don't, but this year I did. Train from Munich to Tegernsee, five of us on a Bayern Ticket and I was sorted. Set in gorgeous countryside, Tegernsee is a large lake, 2,500 ft above sea level and about 12 miles from the Austrian border. It is more than a bit nice and it has a rather good brewery when you get fed up of all that lakey gorgeousness.

The brewery and beer hall are pretty damn big.  One thing the Germans don't do by halves is beer and beery things. (Well they do do half litres, but you get my point I'm sure).  The Tegernsee Brewery's record of beers sold in one day is 3600 litres.  They won't run out of beer either. They keep 14,000 litres chilled and ready to go. As I said, they take their beer very seriously there.  

We normally sell Spezial at the GBBF, but I started, as we all did, on the Helles. Clean, herbal and very drinkable. But that wasn't my mission. No Sir.  Spezial was required and procured. It was indeed special, with a more full bodied and bitter taste and dangerously drinkable despite being 5.6%. It made the rain, which temporarily marred a lovely day, all the more bearable, particularly as we were under cover. Well most of us were. I seem to recall Tyson got a bit wet. Collateral damage if you like.

It wasn't exactly a sentimental journey, but it was along those lines. Go there if in the area. It is very highly recommended.

Being an hour outside Munich, the beer was around a euro cheaper too.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Service with a Smile

On Saturday, witnessed by my good lady, so it must be true, I had some of the best service I've ever had in a pub. And that it was done so effortlessly and naturally, made it so much the better. It wasn't corporate, forced, or scripted. Just properly done.

Where is this gem? Well I can't tell you yet, as I encountered it when I was judging pubs for the Greater Manchester Pub of the Year and I don't want to prejudice anything. The closing date for judging and scoring is up soon, so I'll tell you then.

I'm still pretty chuffed about it, which shows how bloody rare it is.

Friday, 1 July 2011

I Echo What Tyson Says

After a hectic day which included a visit to a far off world to judge a pub in the Greater Manchester Pub of the Year competition, I thought I'd come home a write up a few lines on our own Pub of the Year, the Hare and Hounds at Holcombe Brook near Bury, well Ramsbottom, which is near Bury. But I find that newshound and beerhound Tyson has beaten me to it, so I'll have to think of something else. Tyson had complained to me earlier last night about me stealing his thunder when we went to the American Beer Festival preview at the Port St Beer House, so I suppose that's all fair enough.

The pub is the current runner up as Publican Cask Ale Pub of the Year to none other than the Sheffield Tap (so it must be good - right?) and previously has won the award outright.  I can only echo as Tyson recommends, that you should indeed visit the Hare and Hounds for top quality cask beer.

None of that flabby, over vented, warm stuff is offered and the beer is all around £2.60 a pint.

Beer of the night was Oakham Inferno. It didn't last long.