Friday, 30 April 2010
Just a week after the Jolly Butchers reinvents itself as one of London's top five beer pubs, The Alma on Newington Green is having a bank holiday weekend real ale festival.
The Alma is a pretty pub in a great location, on the border between N1 and N16. Bobby Gillespie out of Primal Scream lives just around the corner, and he blew his entire wad of Indie Rock credibility a few years ago when he complained to the council about the noise from the pub.
It's a gastropub - one of the best in the area - really nice food, freshly prepared, nice wine list, lovely staff, great atmosphere. But up to now the beer selection has been nothing to write home about.
This weekend landlady Kirsty Valentine changes all that with a festival celebrating the extraordinary renaissance of London brewing in recent years. There's a full list of about twelve ales, all from Sambrooks, Brodie's, Twickenham and Redemption, none of which existed six years ago (Twickenham is the oldest, having opened in September 2004).
And the nice thing about the mix, given that they're drawn from four local breweries, is that there's a really interesting array of beer styles in there - a few golden ales, a few session beers, and some stronger, darker stuff.
Some of the brewers will be turning up at various points throughout the weekend, and I'm going down there tomorrow (Saturday) hopefully to meet the nice man from Tottenham's Redemption Brewery.
It's three quid a pint (10% off for CAMRA members, not that they deserve it - sorry, Tandy etc - I'm grouchy about appalling behaviour by some stereotypes who were at the National Brewery Centre launch last night) and there's a live band on Sunday. It kicks off Saturday at noon and runs until chucking out time on Bank Holiday Monday.
See you there!
Thursday, 29 April 2010
Thursday, 22 April 2010
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
- "drinking at home before a night out and drinking later into the night may be associated with higher levels of drunkenness in city centres"
- "drinkers who planned to stay out due to extended opening hours were the ones intending to drink the most"
Monday, 19 April 2010
Press releases. I get sent an increasing number of them.
Friday, 16 April 2010
And you can believe me when I say that because I've asked them in the past about discounts when I buy beer for tastings and events and they've ignored me, and yet I'm still saying how much I like them.
They asked me to feature this video on my blog. I think they asked a lot of people and they did it months ago. I'm just catching up.
So here's some beer porn. I kept waiting for a punchline or something which never arrives, but the one thing it does very well is convey the sheers epic scale of the range.
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
The most common reactions I get when people find out about my geekily keen beer passion are “How do you stay so slim?” and “What’s it like hanging around with loads of bearded old men?”
Granted, it’s unusual to find a 26 year old, female girl about town, who has drunk around 1200, and continually counting, different British beers since records began. These are only my records, of course, in four consecutive Good Beer Guides, but my obsessive carrying around of these near sacred tomes, and the subsequent broken handbag straps and scarred shoulders, will surely convince you of their trustworthiness. By the way, just in case you are a particularly curious type, this number does not include the hundreds of foreign beers I’ve supped; I have to draw the ticking and record keeping line somewhere, people.
This achievement, whilst undoubtedly nerdy for such a groovy gal, which I assure you I am in most other aspects of life, is a fact I am always quick to point out to the handful of ‘bearded old men’ who still advise me to stick to something weak or fruity. You see, these 1200 odd brews are not just evidence of a deep love of beer, but an (admittedly thus far relatively short) lifelong quest to sample and delight in our country’s beers.
Beers from both ends of the strength spectrum, beers from all corners of the nation, beers that represent a long heritage and history, beers that began as an enthusiast’s home brew, beers that use local produce, beers that help keep vital community pubs alive, beers that bring likeminded people together, beers that push boundaries with unusual and exciting ingredients, beers that simply make your day that bit better, beers that just taste darn good. Let it be known that I am willing to stand my ground to fight for these beers, even if I have to argue with an outdated girlphobe to get my hands on them. Hands which, for your information, are not so small and delicate as to require a special mini, stemmed girly glass, and while we are at it, no I wouldn’t prefer a vodka, yes I do know that there are more stouts than Guinness, and no, it really doesn’t need to be fizzy for me to enjoy it.
But, as a fellow curly haired revolutionary said, the times they are a- changing, and it really is just a teeny handful of fuddy-duddies who persist in derogatory ‘you are a girl, you don’t know anything about beer’ comments. I now have a faithful collection of bearded (and clean shaven) pals who are interested in my beer related opinions. Young people who are equally proud of their ale geekdom, people from other beer minority drinking groups (like my pensioner friend form the Caribbean who claims we are two of a kind, fighting the corner of underrepresented ale lovers), and a London based brewer who might be producing a special for my wedding (you don’t get that from Smirnoff). But none of them look as good as me in a Dark Star Brewing Co. T-shirt. Or pint glass shaped earrings.
Beer matters. It matters to all those people. It matters to all the pub landlords in the cities and towns around the UK that my Good Beer Guide led holidays take me to. It matters to the microbrewers in manky derelict farm buildings that have left jobs in the city to pursue their passion and to help nourish ours. It matters to the retirees whose social calendar revolves around manning the beer mat flooded tombola. It now matters to the Spanish girls in their twenties that I met at a recent beer festival who asked for something like San Miguel but left drinking porter. I’m not a brewer, I’m not bearded, I’m not retired, and I am absolutely not a bloke, but, do you know what? Beer definitely matters to me.
Friday, 9 April 2010
This is an admission of being an old fart now I guess, but do you remember Play School? The highlight of every programme – before you were old enough to be sneery about who was hotter, Hamble or Jemima – was when they went through one of the windows to look at the world outside their pastel-toned Neverland. Would it be the square window? The arched window? Or the… the……. The ROUND window! That pause taught Chris Tarrant and Reality TV presenters everything they know.
Once safely through the appropriate window we always seemed to end up in a factory. After a while they all blurred into one, but they never failed to fascinate. In the 1970s Britain’s economy was still manufacturing-based, and there was something both soothing and compelling about watching unidentifiable bits of extruded plastic pass along a conveyor belt, through various stamping and shaping and colouring and bending and cutting machines, the duff ones being lifted from the belt by blank-faced yet somehow cool factory workers in white coats and hair nets, until at the end you recognised ranks of shiny, brand new dolls. Or cars. Or ready meals. Everything in creation seemed to come from a production line, and Play School visited every single one of them. The windows seemingly looked in on God’s own workshop.
I’m reminded of this every single time I visit a brewery. Because while beer writers and beer lovers may profess a passion for hops, or yearn to see ancient coppers still toiling away or breathe in the fruity aroma of rocky yeast from open square fermenters, as far as the brewers themselves are concerned there is one star attraction and one only: the bottling line.
We often talk about the uneasy and complex relationship between the brewer and his yeast in which the microscopic organism is always the ultimate boss. But the same applies to the bottling line. It’s a cruel mistress that enslaves and fascinates them. They love it and hate it. They want to smash it with hammers on the frequent occasions when something goes wrong, and to become one with the elegant dance of its shiny, sterile perfection when it works properly.
The last brewery I visited was Hall & Woodhouse, and despite the extensive tour which included watching the beer being mashed in, the bottling line wasn’t running and they couldn’t apologise profusely enough. To hear them, you’d think they’d got us all the way to Dorset under false pretences. They genuinely thought they’d let us down. This reaction is exactly the same whenever I visit a brewery where the bottling line isn’t running.
But be afraid if you visit when it is running. At the main SABMiller brewery in Milwaukee they show you a video of how beer is made, then take you on a tour of the bottling and packaging lines, and the distribution depot. They tell you all about how much beer they ‘truck and train’ across the US, and then it’s on to the tasting room. When I asked if we were going to see the actual beer being brewed on this brewery tour, I was told no, because compared to the bottling and distribution of beer, brewing itself is “pretty boring”.
Perhaps in Miller’s case that’s true. But even good breweries worship their bottling lines like Pacific Cargo Cults venerate aeroplanes.
When I visited Asahi in Tokyo we had to watch the bottling line for half an hour. We were given every single specification. They told us that the man who invented Kaiten sushi – the conveyor belt with dishes that come around to your seat – was inspired by watching this very bottling line. He probably dreamt it up in desperation, a ruse to get out of there. “Yes, it’s lovely, really it is, but I’ve got to dash – I need to, um, that’s it! I need to invent a completely new model for how restaurants work! It’s been lovely though, Bye!”
For the rest of us, paying homage to the bottling line is a sort of penitence, a sacrament that must be performed before we can proceed to the heaven of the sample room. So you stand in a strip-lit metal cavern, mute as the shrill chink of glass deafens you, and watch reverentially for about five minutes, pondering. Wow, think about how much beer that is. If you drank two or three bottles every day, how long would it take you to get through that lot? Gosh, they’re a much bigger brewer than you think. And then when you run out of such reflections you turn and indicate that you’re ready to move on, and the brewer looks at you, first hurt, like you’ve said you can’t tell what his five year old son’s drawing is supposed to be of, and then angry, and he grabs you by the hair and slams you against the safety railings and twists your heads to face the conveyor, and growls, “Look at it. I SAID LOOK AT IT. WHAT? YOU’VE ALREADY LOOKED AT IT? WELL LOOK AT IT SOME MORE! AND KEEP LOOKING AT IT UNTIL I TELL YOU THAT YOU’VE LOOKED AT IT ENOUGH!”
Two hours later, hungry and scared, you see him finally turn without a word and leave through a door you’d forgotten existed, into a world you never thought you’d see again. And then you’re in the sample room tasting beers and he’s back to his old self, and everyone pretends nothing happened, and you have a great time.
And if I’m ever invited to a brewery again after writing this post, I will insist that the entire thing is a joke and in no way reflects my truly feelings, my enduring love and fascination for these wonderful, beguiling pieces of machinery.
Tuesday, 6 April 2010
Irresponsible creatures from the world of faerie including pixies, elves and sprites will be barred from pubs under tough new powers introduced from today, announced Home Office Minister Alan Campbell.
It is estimated that magical creatures cost the UK taxpayer between £8 and £13 billion a year. The mandatory code introduces five conditions for all alcohol retailers which will ensure consistent good practice and crack down on problem premises where irresponsible drinking by mythical creatures could put individuals at risk and lead to crime and antisocial behaviour.
(We said ‘could’, because of course there’s no evidence that it actually does.)
The conditions coming into force today are:
- banning irresponsible creatures such as pixies, elves, sprites, boggarts, kobolds, goblins, orcs and level six halfling thieves
- banning "dentist’s chairs" where drink is poured directly into the mouths of customers making it impossible for them to control the amount they are drinking – or at least, that’s would would happen if there were any pubs that actually ran them
Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said:"Like the dentists’ chair promotion, creatures from the world of faerie may not actually exist outside the feverish imaginations of Daily Mail readers and one tacky bar in Newcastle, but just think what it would be like if they did. A minority of them would continue to take part in irresponsible activities which fuel the excessive drinking that leads to alcohol-related crime and disorder. I mean, centaurs may not really exist, but you can bet that if they did they’d be right bastards, necking blue WKDs for all they’re worth and shitting all over the floor of their local ‘Spoons. So it’s best that we just take the precaution and ban them. Even though they don’t exist. I mean, it’s easier to find a photo of an elf than it is a dentist’s chair promotion, so if we’re banning the dentist’s chair, it’s better to be safe than sorry and go the whole hog, banning everything else that doesn't actually exist.
"The code will see an end to these entirely fictitious creatures and drinks promotions, ensure premises check the ID of those who appear to be underage or have suspiciously pointy ears, helping to make our government look tough by pandering to a neoprohibitionist that inhabits a strange fantasy world with ever fewer links to reality."
Bilbo Baggins was unavailable for comment.