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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

What's new?

What's new?
We've just launched the first ever Beer Marketing Awards - click here for more details!
I'm doing a Masterclass in beer writing with the Guardian in February. Click to find our more.
My latest Publican's Morning Advertiser piece - some pub etiquette tips for Christmas visitors.
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Saturday, 28 June 2008

American Beers at the White Horse

Looks like I picked the wrong weekend to visit my folks back in Yorkshire...

From Friday 4th (US Independence Day) to Sunday 6th, the celebrated White Horse in Parson's Green is hosting its first American Beer Festival. We don't get enough American micros in the UK and this is a great opportunity to try old favourites, some of the growing number of British beers inspired by the American way with the hop, and a few beers that haven't left the US before now, including a few in cask.

I'm celebrating my 40th birthday there the following Saturday, so if there are any REALLY nice beers, if you could only have one of them and not tell anyone else about them, so there's plenty left, it would be really appreciated.

They've got American bands on and even line dancig at some point, but don;t let that put you off. The full range of beers is as follows:

*Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA (in cask and keg)
*Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale (in cask)
Sierra Nevada Porter (in cask)
Sierra Nevada IPA (in cask)
*Sierra Nevada ESP (in cask)
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Brown Ale
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
Sierra Nevada Blonde
Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager
Flying Dog Gonzo
Flying Dog Doggie Pale Ale
Flying Dog Old Scratch
Anchor Liberty
Anchor Steam

Crouch Vale Amarillo
Durham White Amarillo
Saltaire Cascade Pale Ale
Roosters Yankee
Roosters Outlaw Amarillo
Roosters Cream
Roosters Special
Acorn Sunstorm
Acorn Cascade IPA
Oakleaf Whole Hearted
Archers IPA
Bowman Quiver
Dark Star American Pale Ale
Ascot Posh Pooch
Ascot Alligator Ale
Ascot Wheatsheaf
Thornbridge Jaywick
Thornbridge Jaipur
Thornbridge Ashford
Abbeydale Brimstone
Kelham island Pale Rider
Goose Eye Chinook
Oakham JHB

* Denotes beers that are leaving the US for the first time

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Official: pubs are better than Ant and Dec

It's true. Pubs are nearly as good as the Queen. But not as good as fish and chips. But then... what about fish and chips IN A PUB? Being eaten BY the Queen? How good would THAT be?

What am I talking about?

A Cornish Pasty, yesterday. Better than real ale. Not as good as pubs.


A new survey of 7,000 people conducted by Holiday Inn asked people in the UK what they loved most about Britain. And despite relentless bad publicity, misinformation, the smoking ban, soaring beer duty and cheaper-than-water beer in supermarkets, "old-fashioned British pubs" came in at NUMBER THREE, behind Her Maj in second place, and fish and chips in pole position. This means that the great British pub is officially cooler than:
  • The Beatles
  • Manchester United (yeah, I know - we hardly needed telling that)
  • James Bond
  • Steven Fry
  • Er... the NHS

So why is the pub struggling so much? Well, there's a clue in the way this story was reported in The Express, which refers to the pub as a "nostalgic symbol of a bygone Britain". Pubs are fine when seen in the same light as red telephone boxes and cream teas, it's just the modern pub we don't like.

Except we do.

Fashions in the on-trade are cyclical, and the very best pubs today are redicovering the joys of the traditional English pub - its decor, its menu, its range of cask ales - and presenting them in a way that's appealing and contemporary rather than retro. This survey is proof that people respond to that.

Incidentally, real ale made the list at number 40. Not as cool as Routemaster buses, Glastonbury or Cornish pasties. But way more loved than Pimms, David Bowie, the E-type Jag, Prince Harry, and - oh, sweet joy - the bride of Satan herself, Margaret Thatcher.

Erm, Morris Dancers just sneak in at number 50.

I promise this is the last post banging on about binge drinking hysteria for a while - but it's a good one

A new pressure group has appeared which, finally, is seeking to establish an opposing voice in what has until now been a largely one-sided debate over the moral panic around binge drinking.

The Responsible Drinkers Alliance (RDA) - has been estabished to represent the 'moderate drinker' and combat the way in which 'concern over the minority who misuse alcohol often results in limiting the freedoms of the majority.' It aims to give 'responsible consumers' a say in tackling alcohol-related harm.

Fantastic news - one very tiny grumble.

The campaign's main backer is the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). So where the hell is beer's voice in this? Is the beer industry so punch-drunk it can simply no longer defend itself? We've got the BBPA, and they do issue moans of protest every time beer and pubs get kicked in the balls, but they seem to spend more time talking the industry into decline than doing something constructive like this.

We all need to get behind a scheme like this and make sure beer is there on the front line.

24 hour drinking: the truth

Who's calling me a twat?
To Camden last night, to see My Bloody Valentine.

"Hey Pete, was it a good gig?"

PARDON?

"I said was it a good gig?"

CAN'T HEAR WHAT YOU'RE SAYING! IT WAS A REALLY GOOD GIG BUT THE TWENTY MINUTE FULL-ON DRONE IN THE FINALE, YOU MADE ME REALISE, WAS SO FULL-ON CONFRONTATIONALLY LOUD IT MADE MY TROUSERS SHAKE, I FEARED A NOSEBLEED, PEOPLE WERE RUNNING FOR THE EXIT HOLDING THEIR EARS, AND THE WHOLE THING HAS LEFT ME A BIT MUTTON!
(If you're feeling like you want to challenge your perceptions of reality, turn the sound on your computer up to FULL and imagine this lasting twenty minutes. This one is not as well shot, but gives a better sense of the PANIC and RAPTURE evoked by the full piece).

Anyway, with our ears ringing, Chris and I, via sign language, decided to go for a swift pint. It was 11.05pm in Camden, one of the most happening, cool parts of Swinging London - sorry, that should have read Swinging London - a city that prides itself on giving New York a run for its money as a fun-filled carnival that never sleeps.

The first six pubs we passed were closed.

Obviously, no restaurants were open. It was a Tuesday night for God's sake! People have to WORK tomorrow! Were we MAD?

Eventually we came to Camden Lock, and The Ice Wharf, a Lloyd's No.1 (Posh Wetherspoons) pub. Stencilled on every window (there are a lot of windows) were the words OPEN TILL MIDNIGHT. Hey, we thought, we're in luck.

On the door of an almost empty pub on a Tuesday night were two black-clad bouncers. They stopped us as we tried to go in.

"Sorry, you're too late," I lipread one of them saying.

"You're open till midnight," I replied.

"No we're not."

"Yes, you are, it says on all the windows, very clearly, open till midnight."

"Yes, but only for people who are already in here."

"It doesn't say that, it says open till midnight."

"Well, it's very late now."

It was 11.18pm.

"I know what time it is. We want one pint and then we want to go home."

"Well, you won't have enough time to finish your drinks."

"Yes we will! Forty minutes for one pint is plenty of time!"

We were sober and reasonable. he really didn;t want to let us in, but eventually he relented. If I wasn't cool enough to get into a Wetherspoons pub then things were clearly looking grim. But I soon realised it was the bouncers, rather than us, who were the fucking twats of the piece.

We got our tasty pints of ale and sat down. At a table near us were four studenty looking lads. OK, they were sharing a big pitcher of WKD, but that's a crime against taste, not a crime against humanity, and anyway, the pub had just served it to them. One lad went to the toilet, and while he was away his mate slid down along the banquette seat they were occupying, till he was half-sitting, half lying back. He wasn't collapsed. His eyes were open. He was carrying on a quiet, lucid conversation with his friends. His feet were not on the seat.

When his friend came back, the recumbent lad sat upright again to allow him to sit down. But the bouncer wasn't far behind. As Toilet Boy sat down, the bouncer told them both to leave. Toilet Boy had "spent too long" in the toilet, and his mate had "been lying down". Against the fact that the lads were not slurring, swearing, or behaving anti-socially in any way whatsoever, these crimes apparently constituted behaviour not befitting a Wetherspoon's pub. The boys were indignant, but not violent, threatening or abusive. They protested, and asked to see the manager. Eventually a boy of about fifteen appeared and claimed that he was the manager. When the lads put their case to him, he refused to listen. His words were "I'm in charge on that side of the bar, he [the bouncer] is on charge on this side. It's nothing to do with me."

Thinsg were clearly about to get nasty, and we moved to the other side of the large, empty, quiet pub, and took a seat next to a young couple. As soon as the bouncer and his mate had finished ejecting the four lads, he came over and threatened the man in the couple with eviction unless he removed his baseball cap. Maybe there's a rule about headgear in Wetherspoons pubs - is it so we can all be surveilled properly as we drink? - but to anyone with even half a brain, this bloke sitting with his girlfriend was about as threatening as Kayo Odejayi in front of goal.

I posted on here recently about how you had to give JD Wetherspoon their due. For all their faults, they really do care about cask ale. But here were Wetherspoons bouncers going out of their way to create an atmosphere of tension and incipient violence, spoiling the night of every single person in the pub, not just those they roamed around picking on. And here was a bar manager in charge of a large Wetherspoons pub saying he had no responsibility whatsoever for the well-being or satisfaction of his customers, admitting that this bouncer, who was clearly out of control, was a law unto himself.

If anyone from Wetherspoons reads this blog - sort yourselves out. Get a sense of perspective. Employ people who are going to stop fights rather than start them, and bar managers with a sense of responsibility to their paying customers. Even better - in situations when bouncers are obviously not necessary, don't have them at all. The boredom turn these small-minded, vicious pricks into the very aggressors they're supposed to be keeping out.

If anyone else is near a Wetherspoons and fancies one quiet, late night drink - I urge you to find somewhere else instead.

We did eventually get another pint at a pub down the road. They allowed us in and served us without comment. They allowed us to drink in the beer garden till 12.30 . When the beer garden closed, they asked us politely to move inside, where we could carry on drinking if we wished. But like most people, we checked the time, and left quietly. There were no bouncers, and there was no anger, aggression, or trouble.

Go figure.


Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The anti-drink consipracy, Part xxviii

An illuminating piece in the current edition of Private Eye regarding the binge drinking epidemic:

"A vow to curb teenage drinkers was esposed as a sham yesterday with figures showing kids go unpunished," declared the Mirror last Saturday. "In the past three years, only 34 children have been prosecuted for buying booze. And just seven landlords got the top £1,000 fine for selling booze to underage drinkers".

Curiously, the paper overlooked another glaring exanple of the law going easy on an adult who supplied booze to children. Just one day previously, a 29-year-old journalist from the South West News Service agency had accepted a caution from Avon and Somerset Police for giving cider and alcopops to a group of 16-year-olds in Bristol, so they could pose for a series of photographs intended to illustrate an article on under-age drinking for... The Mirror!

Tha hapless hack told the youngsters they were welcome to keep the booze when the shoot was finished - and several went on to be involved later that night in what police describe as "a serious disorder incident" which resulted in a teenager being left in a coma for several weeks.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched one of those 'Binge Britain' programmes, where the presence of the camera crew distorts usual behaviour. My favourite clip is the one with a bunch of girls walking down the street, chatting and laughing, until they see the camera and run towards it pulling up their tops to show their tits. This clip was used on all the trailers for the programme to show how bad things were. No-one seems to have watched the clip carefully enough to realise that if the camera hadn't been there, they wouldn't have done it...

Idiot savant make comment on 10 month old blog post

A new anonymous comment turned up this morning on the bottom of this post about my IPA trip, first posted in August 2007.

I can't work out whether its entirely random, abusive, a piss-take from a pomposity-pricking blogger, or a cry from the heart that contains a kernel of truth which all of us in the beer blogging community should take on board.

See what you think.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Do YOU know Bodie's local?

I had an intriguing request a couple of weeks ago from a lady in need. Jan Holloway is reseraching an exhaustive book on the classic seventies TV series The Professionals, which among other things includes pretty much every location used in the filming of the series. There's one location that she can't trace, however- a north London pub.

We all know pubs have been refurbished many times over the years, but this one has a central bar and - something that may still be there - a distinctive wooden frieze (below). It's in a N or NW postcode.


I know this is like looking for a needle in a haystack - it may not even be a pub any more - but Ms Holloway is in Coventry, and she's disabled, so she can't do the research herself. The book is almost ready to go to print and this is the last, niggling bit she can't find. Any ideas at all, please post below!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Monster Mash



So Inbev have made their bid to buy Anheuser-Busch - $46.3 billion.

Boy, is this one difficult.

If you'd asked my view on this five years ago I would be whooping for joy. Back then, Inbev was still a big old brute, but it styled itself as 'the world's local brewer' and was the best of a bad bunch among the multinational brewing corporations. With its Belgian heritage and its acquisition of Bass, it did at least offer an alternative to characterless lagers. Most beer bloggers may turn their noses up at Leffe and Hoegaarden, but that's because you know the delights of Westmalle, Orval, maybe even Westverleteren. If the only choice was between the Inbev brands and Bud, you'd hand the Belgians your money every time.

That was then. Since Interbrew's merger with AmBev, the South Americans have taken the reins. Their number one global priority is Brahma, resplendent and sun-struck in its curvy, clear glass bottle. Bass - once the greatest beer the world has ever seen - is being subjected to a slow, wretched, undignified demise. When I worked with Interbrew they may have been a big corporation, but there were people who worked there because they were passionate about beer - even if that passion was frustrated. These guys have now been moved on, replaced by career marketers who believe beer can be sold by the same formulae and tick boxes as any other grocery brand. If they win in their bid for A-B, they will become even bigger, even more faceless and passionless, even less interested in beer itself.

So does that mean you say, as Roger Protz did recently, "Better the devil you know?" Hands off A-B?

I'm sorry, but no. Never. My last book, Three Sheets to the Wind, had to be read very carefully by libel lawyers before publication because of what I said about A-B in there, so I must choose my words carefully. The main reason I love the beer world is that beer attracts top people. It is the most sociable drink in the world and people who tend to spend most of their time around beer are decent, straightforward, unpretentious and above all, kind. Not A-B. In my humble opinion, based on having read detailed histories of the Busch family, they don't just see other brewers as competitors - they seem to actively resent anyone else who has the audacity to brew beer, and desire to see them crushed. Most people know about their legal vendetta against Budvar - from whom they stole the Budweiser name. They also went to court to have Belgium's wondeful Bush beer change its name to Scaldis, just because Bush sounded a bit like Busch. The brewer that churns out 93 million barrels of lager a year said that Dubuisson - who brew 21,000 barrels a year of a golden ale that weighs in at 12% ABV - was a threat to their business. You may well think "What mean-spirited bastards". I couldn't possibly comment. I've also heard unsubstantiated anecdotal stories of extraordinarily aggressive sale tactics, bordering on threatening. These activities go against everything that beer is about.

I know that business is business. I know that both Inbev and A-B are facing stagnating markets, with commodifying brands. I know it's a good strategic fit because Inbev is weak in North America and China, where A-B is strong. There are plenty of arguments why this is a good move from Inbev's point of view, and the markets are responding favourably.

But if there's any argument as to how the drinker benefits from this is in any way, I've yet to hear it.