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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 beer and music matching at the wonderful Wenlock Arms next week! Click to find out more
Just added links to my stuff in All About Beer, prompted by my latest piece on Tuscan beer and food.
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Thursday, 30 July 2009

DINNER PARTY CRAZE FOR PREMIUM STRENGTH LAGER

The Daily Mash do it yet again. Thanks to David Mace for pointing this out to me. Intriguing case in point that they seem to think Tokyo is a "super strength lager"...


DINNER PARTY CRAZE FOR PREMIUM STRENGTH LAGER
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A NEW range of boutique 18% lagers are becoming the drink of choice for sophisticated urban professionals who really like a fight.

Image
It goes really well with tiramisu and bits of tooth
According to the manufacturers, Tokyo beer lends an 'authentic taste of bohemian street culture to staid social occasions'.

A spokesman said: "It means you can punch fellow guests who get on your tits, because afterwards you can just blame the drink. And chances are you won't remember doing it anyway."

Jennie Hargreaves, a public relations consultant from Hatfield, said: "I serve Tokyo at all my parties and the guests soon become too incoherent to have the same old boring conversations about school fees and the Booker Prize.

"By the time I bring out the tiramisu someone's usually got a dessert fork in their eye. That sort of thing used to really bother me, but these days I'm just too pissed to care."

Tom Logan, an architect from Finsbury Park, said: "I was at a housewarming in an executive apartment building. The Tokyo was flowing freely and this lawyer starts on about school fees.

"I'm like, 'I couldn't give a fuck about your fucking school fees, kid are all bastards anyways', and then I hit him with a chair, fell backwards through a table and soiled myself.

"Then they threw me out and I was all covered in blood and glass and I was crying a lot. But then I remembered I'd snuck a couple of bottles into my coat. I was so chuffed that I spent the rest of the evening sitting in a bus shelter, muttering to myself."

He added: "Tokyo is certainly well-crafted with an intruiging palate - but more importantly it's a fantastic ice breaker.

"If only it wasn't so moreish, I probably wouldn't be sleeping in a public toilet."

Heineken taking an interest in their ale portfolio? REALLY?

"But I didn't even know Heineken had an ale portfolio," I hear you say.

Well they do now - since they bought Scottish & Newcastle, they ultimately control John Smiths, Caledonian (Deuchars) and Newcastle Brown - still the UK's biggest selling bottled ale. And it's Broon that cropped up on my morning 'Hops and Glory' Google Alert:


The accompanying blurb reads:
Newcastle Summer Ale, the first seasonal ale from Newcastle, is available for a limited time. Summer Ale is a draught beer available in select markets until mid-September. The light-colored ale infuses Golden Promise and Optic Malts to provide a hoppier taste. It also blends Fuggles and Super Styrian Goldings Hops. For greater promotion possibilities, Newcastle Summer Ale glassware, with a wider rim and new logo celebrating “Hops and Glory,” also is available.

It's nothing to do with my book - so I don't know whether to be pleased or miffed. Hopefully it'll do something to raise awareness. No idea what it's like - should try some before judging I suppose. But it does show that they feel there's a reason to not just let their ales wither on the vine. Or should that be 'bine'?

BTW - in the theme of the week - the website I lifted this from has a link 'to find out more' about the beer. The link takes you to Heineken's 'Drink Responsibly' page, which tells you nothing about beer but tells you what to do if you have a problem with your drinking.

Oh for Fuck's Sake

Doing quite a lot of Googling at the moment gathering info for the last few beers I need to write up for a big book next year being edited by ATJ. And on many of the sites I've been consulting - sites with tasting notes for Russian Imperial Stouts, guides to breweries in Sweden, notes on the history of beer styles - the following banner ad appears with remarkable frequency.

(Edit: uh-oh - the ad changed. Um... the ad when I posted it was STOP DRINKING.)

Online ad targeting is as simple as it is clever. Define your target audience in terms of their browsing interests, and target the sites they're likely to visit. So we want to reach people who are worried about their drinking? Let's target alcohol-related websites. The thing about the twisted puritanical shits who put this stuff together is they believe there's only one kind of drinker - the kind that needs help. It's inconceivable to them that people visiting craft beer sites might actually only be drinking moderate amounts, that they may not have a problem with their drinking, that it may be part of a healthy lifestyle. They simply don't understand that there is a spectrum of drinkers, and that the people who visit websites like this are actually less likely to have a problem than people who drink large quantities of the same brew or wine every day without thinking about it. Taking in an interest in what you're drinking is a sign that it's not just about the alcohol intake. Or maybe they just don't give a damn. Either way, the result is that you can't indulge an interest in beer online now without someone hectoring you about your drinking.

After this week's furore about Brew Dog, I'm really starting to lose my patience about this (response from anti-alcohol lobby: "Ah, why so defensive? Maybe you DO have a problem.")

The email for the organisation doing this is support@yourbadhabits.com. Every time you see the ad, I suggest an email to them asking them to butt out.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Tokyo* Fever

RESPONSE TO BREWDOG TOKYO* STORY, by Richard Dinwoodie

How could I call myself a beer blogger if I didn't weigh in to this particular ding dong?

Ordered my stash of Tokyo* the other day and I can't wait for it to arrive. When it does, I'll be sharing one bottle with Mrs PBBB and laying most of it down for those times you have friends round and it gets late and you say, "You know what? Have a try of this and see what you think," and I'll get wine glasses and split a bottle four or six ways. In other words, I'll treat it exactly like the vintage wines and port I also have in my cellar (I don't have many vintage wines - just a few - Christ, that makes me sound like a snob, doesn't it?)

When I ordered the beer, the fact that people might be alarmed by the ABV never crossed my mind. When the storm broke I did one of those incredulous, disbelieving little laughs, then got very depressed indeed as the coverage piled up. By yesterday afternoon, I wanted to twist off my own head and urinate down my neck hole in frustration.

We all know it's utter, utter nonsense to link a beer like this with binge drinking. No point in repeating the arguments here.

But two things prey on my mind.

The first is that, though the neo-prohibitionist attack is 90% alarmist bluster, I think there's a kernel of genuine concern behind it. This is not Brew Dog's fault, but the thing is, the beer is released in 330ml bottles. The vast majority of beer drinkers take a 330ml beer bottle and swig the contents straight from the neck. They shouldn't of course, but that's the culture. So when someone sees a press shot of a 330ml bottle, they can just about be forgiven for thinking that this is how it's going to be drunk. I know that not a single person who forks out for Tokyo* would ever consider drinking it this way, but that's not the point. Beer conventions are deeply entrenched, and products like this need to challenge them.

Which brings me on to the second point. Brew Dog court controversy. It gets them masses of free PR and will ensure that this beer, like many others, sells out in mere days. They're rapidly becoming one of the most high profile brewers in the country. But this needs to be handled so carefully. Anything James and Martin say will be pored over by the press with a forensic level of analysis, and will be twisted and warped wherever possible. And having worked in marketing for longer than I care to admit, please believe me that the adage about "all publicity is good publicity" is utter tosh.

My criticism of Tokyo* is the pic above, and all pics I've seen of the beer so far. It shows more than one bottle. People buy bottles in four packs, to be consumed in quick succession. The above pic reminds people how 330ml bottles of beer are normally consumed, and subliminally suggests this might be consumed in the same way. It's easy to add the link to the ABV and create an alarmist story.

By contrast, think of Sam Adams Utopias:


I think the bottle is dreadful and tacky, and the beer is amazing. But every single publicity shot I've seen of it has a single bottle with some of the beer sitting in a brandy balloon alongside. Anyone who sees it can tell that you're not meant to drink this like a normal beer, and it makes the neo-prohibitionist case so much more difficult to establish.

It's a small thing, but pictures are powerful. If Brew Dog showed more graphically how their beers were in fact consumed responsibly, there'd be far less controversy.

Question is, is that what the guys want?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Hops and Glory on the road

Yep, we're still going, relentlessly bring the delights of IPA, canal barges and container ships to every corner of the UK.

Just added some more dates over here---------------->

This week I'm in Bristol, at the Grain Barge, where the Bristol Beer Factory hope to unveil an IPA brewed specially for the event.

Next week it's Borders up in Leeds, so hoping for a good home crowd. And the week after that, Borders Oxford. Hoping to have Worthington White Shield available at both events.

New dates being added through to October.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Beer, Politics and World Peace

Headline in today's paper:


Barack Obama steps back from race row

The story: a cop arrested a black professor and has been accused of acting in a racist manner. Obama was critical, saying the cop had "acted stupidly", and this has led to a cranking up of racial tension.  Obama, recognising that this is turning into a bigger row and that his own comments have helped inflame the situation, now wants to defuse that tension.  And how does he do that?  He invites the cop in question, and the guy he arrested, for a beer at the White House.

Not a cup of tea.  Not a coffee.  Not a glass of wine.  A BEER.

This seems kind of an obvious post for me to make, given that I've written books on the subject, but in an age where beer in headlines usually only means binge drinking, violence and alcoholism, this is a story that needs to be screamed from the rooftops till every hysteric in the media finally gets it.

Why would Obama invite both men for "a beer here in the White House" rather than simply invite them to get round a table and discuss it without stipulating what refreshments were on offer?  We all know why.  But I'll spell it out anyway.

Because beer is the most sociable drink in the world.

Because in every single culture where beer is drunk, to invite someone to share a beer with you is not just politeness; it symbolises an offer of friendship.  It's a clear statement that when you meet, this will not be a formal negotiation or dressing down, but a more relaxed meeting of equals.  By inviting them for a beer, rather than a meeting, Obama is saying that he will not be their president when they meet - he will be one of three guys who need to clear the air.  He's acknowledging that if they accept this particular invitation, these guys will be attending in a spirit of reconciliation.  Because only the biggest dick in the world would accept a beer from someone and then behave in an antagonistic manner as they sit drinking together.

The social codes around beer are universal, and as old as civilisation itself.  They remain largely unspoken, even though they are commonly understood.  But for years we've allowed beer's unique magic to be eroded on all sides - it's been demonised by neo-prohibitionists and health freaks, commoditised by retailers and by global brewers who describe themselves 'not as brewers, but as FMCG marketing companies that just happen to sell beer'*, moronised by a small minority of boors, scorned by snobs who think you have to drink wine to be admired in shallow, materialistic, brand-obsessed society, and made impenetrable by another minority of deluded snobs who believe the best way to revive beer is to steal wine's most pretentious clothes and mannerisms.  

Now the most powerful man in the world has reminded us what it's really all about.

I hope the guys accept Obama's invitation.  I don't give a damn whether he serves them Bud Light or Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Corona or Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.  In one sentence, he's said everything I tried to say in Three Sheets to the Wind, and said it with a gazillion times more impact.

So raise a glass to Barack Obama - president, heir to Mr Miyagi, and now Global Beer Drinker of the Year 2009.

ps - Our old friends at the BBC - more enthusiastic than most about linking beer to anything negative - have managed to report the story without even mentioning Obama's offer of beer - thereby missing the entire point of his invitation.

*Here I'm paraphrasing comments made by the president of AB-Inbev UK last year - a guy I actually used to work with.  I'd been meaning to invite him out to responsibly consume some FMCG units with me in a business-to-consumer interface location till I read this.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Ooh look, I'm going to be on the telly

More4 news tonight are doing a feature on the number of pubs closing, and have asked me to contribute a broader social historical perspective.

I didn't know More4 did news but now I do, I can heartily recommend that you tune in.

Sun, Rain and Jeremy Hardy

Played my biggest gig to date on Friday - reading and talking about Hops and Glory on the literary stage at the wonderful Latitude Festival.  

After David Peace pulled out I was moved up the bill, and given a slot between comedian Jeremy Hardy and thriller writer Mark Billingham.  I was due to talk for fifteen minutes, finishing just before the Pet Shop Boys took the main stage.

But it didn't quite work out like that.  

Jeremy Hardy is a very funny comedian, a perennial favourite at festivals and on Radio 4.  The tent was packed as I stood in the wings and waited for him to finish.  And waited.  And waited.  

Ten minutes after I was due to go on, and with the compere making big eyes at him from the side of the stage, Hardy wound up - but before finishing, he invited a very cute nine year old girl on stage who promptly began to turn cartwheels around the small space.  The tent went wild.  And then, another even cuter little girl appeared with a birthday cake and presented it to him.  The whole tent sang happy birthday, and finally Hardy left the stage.  How on earth could I follow that?

As he disappeared, so did most of the audience.  The synth strains of 'Opportunity' wafted across the valley from the main stage.  "Do stay around!" pleaded the compere, "We've got lots more great comedy coming up with... Pete Brown!"  

Comedy?

Oh, this was just great.

Fortunately I do now have an 'act' where I talk about the book, and it does have a few jokes in it.  I took the stage and outside the spotlight I could see nothing.  I had no idea if anyone was left in the tent apart from BLTP and Mrs PBBB.  With images of birthday cakes and cartwheeling nine year-olds fresh in my mind, I said, "Um... I think I'm about to bring the tone down a little", and started talking about Brazilian prostitutes.

Fifteen minutes later I came off stage.  Some people clapped.  One person cheered, but it sounded like BLTP.  I'm told there were actually about 150 people in the audience, and that they laughed, but I couldn't hear them.

Oh, and the Pet Shop Boys were brilliant - even if you don't normally like that sort of thing.
The pink sheep were a great crowd.  Everyone else watched Pet Shop Boys.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Good beer ad



The Aussies seem to have the kind of fun with beer ads that we Brits used to have twenty years ago. VB have a heritage of 
making big budget commercials. I know they don't always get 
people to drink more beer, but this one has some beautifully 
observed moments in it, is full of beery irreverence and makes 
the important point that beer unites us all in an entertaining 
way.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Binge drinking horror - they're at it again

The Sun is concerned that Britain's teenagers are drinking themselves to death.  There are some disturbing statistics out there about underage drinkers, though the bit everyone seems not to be able to see is the FACT that the numbers of underage people who are drinking is FALLING. (Thanks to BLTP for pointing out the BBC's hilariously bad, unprofessional scaremongering on this dreadful news, complete with picture of youngster grimly drinking themselves to death on beer).

But The Sun wants to stop this... um... declining problem, before it's too late.  And what do they illustrate this story with?  Go on, guess.  Yep, a pint of real ale being handed over at that well-known underage drinkers' hangout, the Great British Beer Festival...

Thursday, 2 July 2009

H&G Update

The initial launch may have settled down but I'm continuing to flog my new book up and down the country.

If you're going to the White Horse American Beer Festival, I'm there tomorrow all afternoon, signing books and chatting from around 5pm.

The following day I'm back in Burton-on-Trent, signing in Waterstone's in town from noon for about two hours.

Then, next week I'm at the Derby Beer Festival opening reception on Wednesday 8th, and am giving a reading the following day at Sheffield's fantastic Devonshire Cat pub.

reviews are now also starting to trickle in slowly, and people seem to like it!  The Times calls it "big beery fun", and the London Review of Books claims it's "as enlightening as it is entertaining."  Both reviews are short and sweet - for a bit more depth, check out ATJ, Semi-Dweller, and an epic four-parter from Alan McCleod!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Where not to go in Corfe Castle

I dunno... should the profusion of chalk boards have given it away?

I don't do that many pub reviews on this blog, but whenever I'm either amazed or appalled by a pub experience, I feel a duty to share it.

Sadly, the appalling experiences seem to be winning at the moment, though I do have an amazing one I'm way overdue writing up.

Was on the Isle of Purbeck around Swanage at the weekend for a friend's 40th.  We visited Corfe Castle, actually an idyllic National Trust tourist trap village sitting in the shadow of said ruined castle. A brilliant model village was terrorised by Captain.  It was a model of the village we were in, and sure enough, on the model we could find our location and there was a tiny model village, and inside that, at the same spot, was a microscopic model village, and that made me wonder whether we were in fact inside a giant model village ourselves, with someone looking down on us...

So anyway, metaphysically confused, we skipped the (fantastic looking) cream tea and went straight to the pub for lunch.

Now, you're going to get all wise on me and ask me what I expected, going to an old stone-built pub in the middle of a touristy village owned by the National Trust.  Well, I was expecting something roughly equivalent to what you get in, say, a Nicholson's pub in the West End of London - indifferent, little atmosphere, nothing very inspiring, mildly overpriced, but perfectly OK quality and not that much you could actually complain about, and every now and again you get one that for some reason is actually quite brilliant.

The Bankes Arms Hotel, on the other hand, cynically takes the piss, knowing that only tourists drink there, so it doesn't matter if you leave feeling angry, ripped off, and probably still hungry.

The beer was fine actually - a couple of brews from local brewery Ringwood, which were perfectly well-kept.  But alarm bells should have rung when the only wine available was in little 175ml bottles - one red, one white, one rose.  Mrs PBBB had the rose.  It tasted of petrol.  

Undaunted, we ordered food. 
 
You may think it's impressive that three different meals could be served just five minutes after ordering, on a busy Sunday lunch time.  I don't - you can't cook three meals in five minutes.

BLTP's crab sandwich cost £8.  The bread was stale.

Mrs PBBB had a Sunday roast for £9 which was quite clearly a packet/boil in the bag affair.  This meat had not been cooked or carved on the premises - and maybe not even that year - and the vegetables were a mushy mess.

But I made the biggest screw-up: as we were on the coast I went for one of the seafood specials.  The scallops were utterly tasteless and served up in so much butter I felt sick after eating.  The chips they came with were dry, hollow, oven chips.  And the salad was drenched in so much cheap, sweet, bottled French Dressing it was utterly inedible.  And what did I pay for this?  £17.  Seventeen.  Fucking.  Pounds.  That's more expensive than half of the main courses at J Sheekey's, one of the most famous fish restaurants in the world, in Covent Garden.

One of the most grimly satisfying aspects of being in the privileged position where people actually read this blog is having the chance to name and shame those who are an insult to the pub industry.  Do go to Corfe Castle, it's lovely.  But don't go to the Bankes Arms Hotel.  And do feel free to point to this blog as the reason why.

Oh yes, the other place to avoid - the Ginger Pop shop is an Enid Blyton themed shop that sounds just about perfect.  I desperately wanted to go in, until BLTP showed me the photos he'd taken of the window display... featuring golliwogs.  Even the Blyton estate have removed golliwogs from her books, recognising that they belonged to an earlier, less enlightened age.  The only other people I know still selling golliwogs are the racist BNP.  Go figure.