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

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Thursday, 17 December 2009

2009: What the blazes was all THAT about? (Part One)

Yes, it's that time of year again - my personal round-up of the last twelve months. And it is personal - utterly subjective, just a bit of fun. My highs and lows will not be the same as yours, nor would I expect them to be. Part two comes tomorrow.

OVERVIEW
It's been an incredible year for me personally, and a fascinating year for beer and pubs. There's obviously been a lot to worry and moan about - pub closures, industry in-fighting, media shite etc - but looking back over the year I feel way more optimistic than I did twelve months ago.

Britain's craft beer revolution really did happen this year. Brew Dog dominated the headlines, and however much you agree or disagree with them, they're the only craft brewery my 63 year-old Mum can name (apart for Thornbridge, which she's been to, and Acorn, which is just down the road).

We also got the first Brew Dog backlash, with even some of their fiercest advocates turning against them. I think we'll see an older, wiser Brew Dog in 2010. They won't stop making waves though, and I don't think they should.

Brew Dog's achievements have perhaps overshadowed a growth in craft brewing elsewhere. Thornbridge opened a new brewery that is breathtakingly ambitious. Dark Star and Otley, both brewers of outstanding, US-influenced craft beers, are expanding, and many other brewers are too.

Brooklyn Brewery's Garret Oliver opens Thornbridge's new brewery in August.

There's more to say - but let's say it in my utterly arbitrary and totally totalitarian category awards.

(Note: As this is a review of the whole of 2009, the rules of Let's Be Nice on Pete Brown's Beer Blog Month are suspended for this post.)


BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN BEER THIS YEAR
Winner: Cask ale’s return to volume growth.

Writing The Cask Report, we never could have hoped that this difficult year would be the one where cask ale returned to growth - but ahead of expectations, it did. I’m predicting – once SIBA brewers’ volume has been factored back into BBPA figures – that cask will show 2-3% volume growth to the end of 2009.

This remarkable in the current climate, a total turnaround in a mere three or four years. And if you’re not a big cask fan, take heart – it’s irrefutable evidence of the wider growth of interest in flavourful beers, and this can only improve as we come out of recession.


BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN BEER THIS YEAR

Runner-up: The online beer community comes of age.

I don’t want this to sound self-serving and insular, so apologies, but this will prove very beneficial for beer in the long run.

Blogging has become a true medium in its own right, and with the addition of Twitter, online and social media have created a spontaneous beery community that swaps ideas, views – even physical beers.

I know some people have been blogging about beer for years, but this is the first time I started to perceive a real community with legs in the outside world. There was a palpable sense of excitement at the Great British Beer Festival this year when many online friends met up – or twet up? – for the first time.

The industry is now looking online for its ideas – and when brewers and other organisations ask my advice, I tell them that’s the best thing they can do. Brew Dog had already built their brand through this medium before most of us old timers had really woken up to what was going on. They’re going to have some stiff competition in this regard next year.

(Come back tomorrow for my blogger of the year).


BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN BEER THIS YEAR

Honourable mentions:

I'd hoped to include cask ale week here – I can’t, because it wasn’t quite good enough. But it was the first one and it will be happening again, and will hopefully get even better – from what I’ve seen so far it definitely will.

The Great British Beer Festival was the best I’ve been to, but the usual wranglings around cask ale festivals and lager, filtered and pasteurised craft beers etc show the need for a different kind of beer festival to run alongside CAMRA-organised events. Beer Exposed promised to be that in 2008, but the organizers decided not to do a second year. That’s a crying shame.


WORST THING THAT HAPPENED IN BEER THIS YEAR

Winner: The beer and pub industry’s increasingly childish infighting

The British beer and pub industry, 2009 - aka the People's Popular Front of Judea Suicide Squad.

It almost made me want to give all this up. Yes, everyone has different agendas, yes sometimes the aims of different groups conflict. But the broader issues facing the industry will cause for more damage to beer and pubs if we don’t put less significant quarrels to one side and take them on.

Just a couple of weeks ago, CAMRA declined to support the BBPA’s manifesto for the survival of the pub, promising to bring out their own instead. AAAARGGHHH!!!!!!! What is the POINT of that? Why duplicate valuable time and resources? Why DELIBERATELY create the impression of a fragmented, bickering industry among the people you’re trying to win over to your point of view? I’m not singling CAMRA out – they’re merely the latest in a long line of breweries and industry bodies indulging in cretinous behaviour that does a disservice to their members.

I get so passionate about this issue because history tells us this is what screws people over: whether it’s the American drinks industry in the run-up to Prohibition, communists and anarchists in the face of fascism in the Spanish Civil War, or left wing parties generally and the Life of Brian sketch that satirized them, precedent proves that when you can win a struggle, internal bickering snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

The childish behaviour has to stop.


WORST THING THAT HAPPENED IN BEER THIS YEAR

Runner-up: Tax, Tax, Tax. Again.


The Axe The Beer Tax campaign just might have worked.

It was a useful illustration of what can happen when the industry stops fighting and works together. It led to one of the most widely supported Early Day Motions in Parliamentary history, saw the brewing industry attempt to use social media for the first time, and helped highlight the issue of pub closures to a general public that may support the media’s anti-binge drink line, but soon becomes sympathetic when they realise they might lose their beloved local.

But the campaign did not receive widespread support among the industry it sought to save. That, and the fact that Alastair Darling is a complete fucking wanker, a Thunderbird puppet lookalike and I’m not just talking about the stupid fucking eyebrows but also the fact that he walks like he’s on fucking strings and talks like someone fucked and bombed on Quaaludes, the fact that he’s so fucking shit at his job he’s actually manage to reduce the government’s revenue from beer by putting up tax, when his only stated aim was to increase revenue, and yet he still thinks putting tax up yet more will somehow have the desired effect – I mean, this man is educationally subnormal – all this meant that tax on beer went up again in the budget.

It'll go up again when VAT goes back up in January and he leaves in place 2008's nasty, pernicious additional tax rise which was purely to ensure that beer and pubs were the only sectors of the economy not to benefit from a VAT reduction. This clueless gimp is going to throw more people out of work, decrease government beer tax revenue still further, and close even more pubs when he puts up beer tax above inflation yet again in the 2010 budget.


MY PERSONAL BEERY HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR

Winner: Well, it’s got to be winning Beer Writer of the Year.

No need to go on about it much more than I already have. To many, beer writing is a hobby – which is not meant as disrespect or trivialization. But to me it is now how I pay my bills, having all but given up my former day job as a freelance ad man in 2009. If I’m going to make a living from it, this is going to help no end.


MY PERSONAL BEERY HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR

Runner-up: The launch of Hops & Glory

…and particularly the ensuing tour.

A bookshop in Steyning, Sussex. They knew I was coming.

Rather than being another exercise in self-congratulation it turned into a rather wonderful summer of going to places I’ve never been before and meeting new people. While pushing my book about India, I fell in love with Britain all over again. And yes, there were lots of new beers to try.

MY PERSONAL BEERY LOW POINT OF THE YEAR

Winner: My ever-increasing beer belly.

Yeah, I know beer isn't fattening. But anything with calories is fattening when you consume enough of it, and I've put on another stone this year. The one and only downside of my increasing profile is that I get a lot more beer given to me, and a lot more invites to events, tastings, judging sessions etc. Each and every one of these is wonderful in its own right, but the sheer volume of them means it’s now a simple choice between my health and accepting every kind invite when it comes. It’s a high quality problem I guess! But seriously. I need to fit back into my clothes and give my liver a rest.


MY PERSONAL BEERY LOW POINT OF THE YEAR

Runner-up: The Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards

This is going to sound like sour grapes and there’s no way around that, but it’s a reminder that despite beer’s increasing profile and the vibrancy of the blogging world, there’s still a lot of work to do.

The prestigious Andre Simon awards give out an annual gong for best drinks book. With its strong sales, good critical reaction and success at the Beer Writers Guild Awards, I thought Hops and Glory stood a good chance. Then, I saw the criteria the judges were specifically looking for this year: new primary research, educational value, writing that was engaging and interesting, and a book that looked great, and I thought they’d basically described Hops and Glory. I submitted it.

It didn’t even make the shortlist. Every single book on the shortlist is a book about wine. In 31 years a wine book has won this award 24 times. A beer book has won once.

I didn’t expect to win, but I did hope to make the shortlist. It’s the swings and roundabouts of awards I guess, but when the awards website uses the words ‘drinks books’ and ‘wine books’ interchangeably, I can't help thinking that the broader perception of beer’s inferiority to wine might still have something to do with it.


Don't miss Part Two tomorrow - with my nods for Brewer of the Year, Beer of the Year, Beer Blogger of the Year, and the dreaded (but quite predictable) Slop Bucket of the Year! And if I have time, some predictions for 2010.

4 comments:

Alan said...

Great post and very reasonable observations. On the liver, take your milk thistle and a bit of raw honey daily. I am also too heavy through the bad combination of good craft beer and a set of jobs that places my arse in a chair too much. I am not one for too much natural / organic pill poppery but these work. As well as whallops of salmon oil.

[/medical advice]

Sid Boggle said...

Beer is life. Wine is lifestyle.

Beer is inspiration. Wine is aspiration.

Beer is honest. Wine is for pseuds.

A miserable short-cut to a dream that was redundant when Thatcher was selling middle-class to the working poor. Rugby former hard-man Brian Moore writes a wine-ponce column for the upmarket News Of The World, and they have a book column for tomes without lots of pictures. Sign here and step onto the escalator to a new life. Leave the beer to the sink estates, problem kids and lopsided media reporting.

Keep flying 'em, Pete.

Barm said...

Get a bike. I have that to thank for once again fitting into trousers from five years ago.

Ed said...

To be fair to the Spanish republicans I don't think they had much chance whatever they did.