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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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What's new?
New beer and music events added for Brighton - click here to book.
The possible rebirth of the British hop industry? My latest Publican's Morning Advertiser column
The 2014 Cask Report is out now. Click here to download.
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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Me and Mr Flintoff


Can I just say, it was him, not me, who insisted on this photo being taken and then tweeted it to his half a million followers.

He describes himself as 'currently unemployed', and gave a strong impression that 'beer writer' would be a good place to go.

Freddie Flintoff: "So how do you get to be a beer writer then?"

Me: "Well I was really shit at sport..."

Thanks to Thwaites for taking me to the cricket, introducing me to Freddie, and blowing me away with an amazing range of limited edition beers that any young buck micro would be proud of.

Elbow: From "Build a Rocket Boys" to "Brew a Beer, Boys"!

I love the band, Elbow, for a great many reasons.  And even though it's the greatest cliche in popular music history, I've loved them since their early stuff.

As a wordsmith, even one of the everyday hack variety, I love Elbow for lyrics such as:

"I'm proud to be the one to hold you when the shakes begin"

"You little sod I love your eyes/be everything to me tonight"

"Grow a fucking heart, love"

"Throw these curtains wide/one day like this a year would see me right"

"We still believe in love, so fuck you"

"Dear friends/you are angels and drunks/you are Magi"

"You were freshly painted angels/walking on walls/stealing booze/and hour long, hungry kisses"

"The violins explode inside me when I meet your eyes/and I'm spinning and I'm falling like a cloud of Starlings.............darling is this love?"

I love them because of their cleverness, their instrumentation, their openness.



I love them because they are five crumpled northern blokes who look like they could be my mates.  (And I secretly love the fact that people keep telling me I look a little bit like lead singer Guy Garvey, especially around the saggy, weary eyes).

I love them because Guy Garvey genuinely seems like one of the nicest men in the world (I'd love to see him and Andy Moffat from the Redemption brewery each trying to buy the other a pint - I really wouldn't bet on who would crack first and accept the other's hospitality rather than give it).

I love them because they absolutely reek of the pub.  I know they spend their time in pubs, and their music feels like it was born in pubs, it feels like that's where it should be performed, even though it works in vast arenas and on Glastonbury's main stage.

And now I love them because they've brewed their own beer:



The beer itself is not news: it was announced a good few weeks ago now, and is just about to be launched.  It'll be officially launching at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, where I'm attempting to arrange an interview with them about the beer.

What's new is that the beer is now going to be available in bottle, so fans outside the north west can enjoy it.  And that a percentage of profits will be donated to Oxfam. Because they're really nice lads.

If I can anticipate the inevitable "Why did they choose such a dull brewer to work with?" comments - Elbow specifically selected Robinsons because they wanted to work with a brewer local to them in the north west.  And if I was to imagine what an Elbow beer is like, it's not some flashy, hop-heavy imbalanced beer: an Elbow beer is an accessible, traditional beer, one of those pints you'd have with your dad when you go back home, one of those beers that you can drink a few pints of, is balanced, fruity with a dry finish.  And that's exactly the kind of beer Elbow went for.  So long as it's done well, there's always a place for it, and Robinsons brew it perfectly well.

There will soon be a website for the beer, telling you where you can get it and stuff.

In the meantime, if you can't get the Build a Rocket Boys! beer, you can still get the Build a Rocket Boys album, and if you haven't done that yet, I suggest you do.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion


Shameless plugging: it's a good thing.  It's the first reason I started this blog, on my editor's advice.  Little did he know what he was setting in motion, but let's get back to basics with a run-through of some events I'm doing over the next few weeks.  If the idea of meeting me face to face repulses you, look away now.

This weekend, Ed Davies, ambitious young manager of Kilverts in Hay-on-Wye, is staging his second annual Beer and Literature Festival.  Me, Young Dredge and Adrian Tierney-Jones are the beer writers in residence.  Tomorrow night I'm doing a beer and food pairing dinner, nicking from John Keeling at Fullers the idea of pairing each course with two contrasting beers to help people explore what matches best.  It ended up being Wales vs rest of the world with each course. I'm expecting the Welsh beers will fare better than the football team (after all, you can't finish 117th if there are only handful of countries being featured). Then on Saturday I'm doing my Beer and Book Matching talk, with one or two tweaks from last time.  Orwell, Amis, Hamilton, Dickens, Burton ale, lager, porter - but who goes with what?  Adrian and Mark will be doing a second beer and food matching dinner on Saturday night, and there are all sorts of other goodies going on, with an impressive array of beers on keg and cask.

Then me and Mr Bill Bradshaw board a plane for the US - we're being looked after by the utterly fabulous North American cider community with what promises to be a thrilling and unforgettable tour of craft cider.  As a tiny thank you we offered to do our cider talk (which went down very well in Wales) at the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Festival in St Johns, Michigan on 10th and 11th September.  As you might guess, we're quite looking forward to that one.  Not sure which day we're on or what time but think the event is on course to sell out, so if you are in the unlikely position of being a reader of this blog who is based near the Great Lakes and enjoys cider, get your ticket quick!

Back in the UK, 17th-18th September it's the Abergavenny Food Festival, which is now firmly established as one of the top food festival in the country, with as many celebrity chefs and chutney stalls as you could ever need.  I'm going to be busier than ever this year, with a beer and food matching dinner on the nights of the 16th at the Bell Inn in nearby Glangrwyney, a joint event with Nick Otley on the 17th, where we'll be using Otley beers to showcase a world of beer styles, and a talk on Sunday where me, Ian Marchant and Paul Ewen discuss the enduring appeal of the British pub.  I'm excited about all these events, especially the last one - Ian wrote the excellent The Longest Crawl - a book I would have written myself if he hadn't done it first - and Paul is the one-man 'Campaign for Surreal Ale', thanks to his hilariously disturbing book of London Pub Reviews.  Three of us in a room together promises to be interesting.  I can't link to the events individually but tickets for all of them are available on the festival website.  

The following week is Social Media Week, with events happening in various cities around the world linking up in real time.  The hub of it all this year is Glasgow, and you know who's in Glasgow? WEST brewery, that's who, the finest and possibly only Germano-Scottish brewery on the planet.  On 22nd September from 6-8pm GMT I'll be joining them for a global real time tutored beer tasting, featuring beers from various participating cities including Vancouver, Chicago and Milan.  More details as we work them out.

I go straight from Glasgow down to Cockermouth, for the Taste Cumbria Food Festival.  Me and Jeff Pickthall will be doing beer and food matching masterclasses and beer trials on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th, somewhere around Cockermouth. 

The week after that, after launching the 2011-2012 Cask Report on Monday 26th September I'm off to the Great American Beer Festival. No events planned for there, but I'm open to offers!  Really looking forward to meeting North American friends and readers, many of whom I've become friends with online but have not yet met in person.

When I finally get back to London I'm running a pub quiz at the excellent Snooty Fox in Canonbury on the evening of 6th October.  The owners say one of the Pippettes works behind the bar there - it'll be the first time I have ever been start struck by a barmaid.

The next day we're down to Lewes for their Octoberfeast shindig.  The Snowdrop Inn is one of the most exquisite pubs I've ever been to, and last year they hosted me for a Hops & Glory reading that was one of the highlights of my year.  I'm doing Beer and Book Matching down there this time, on 7th October, and staying overnight so I can find out what Melissa Cole's Scotch Egg event is all about the following afternoon...

And finally (for now) I go straight from there up to the Manchester Food & Drink Festival to host another beer and food dinner on October 9th.  I shall be stalking Elbow.  

When I finish all that, I have to hibernate to write three books.  I probably shan't be surfacing till the New Year.  At which point I might have a day or two off.  Hope to see you at an event!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

First ever International Cider Festival - this weekend in Wales!


It seems odd writing about drink the day after the city I live in descended into anarchy.  But having just got back in after going to help clean up the streets of Hackney a mile down the road, I found a crowd of 500 people had had the same idea, and all of us had been beaten to it by the awesome council street cleaners.  We passed burned out cars being taken away, shops with the shutters down unable to clean up until the police had checked the scene, but the streets were clean and showing next to no evidence of rioting.

In other words: extraordinary times.  But life goes on, and should go on as normal.

Walking home I felt conflicting emotions: overwhelming pride at being part of a community which is starting to fight back agains thuggery, coupled with an overwhelming desire to get out of town and go to a festival or something.

And then I remembered I'm doing exactly that.

This weekend is the first International Craft Cider Festival, and it's happening in Caerphilly, South Wales, from 12th to 14th August.

I'm particularly intrigued by it because it's a real festival - it's over a weekend, there are various venues, bands playing, and we'll be camping.  It looks like it's going to be amazing.

And the other part of it is that it truly is an international festival.  I'm currently working on a book about cider with ace photographer Bill Bradshaw, and we're discovering small cider making communities all around the world who are only just starting to realise they're not alone.  This is one of the first events in the world that will offer some kind of international perspective, from the Apfelwein culture around Frankfurt to the flamboyant sidra performance pouring of Asturias in northern Spain.

There will be tasting masterclasses on tasting and cooking with cider, three cider bars - England, Wales and International, food and that, and a bustling marketplace.

Oh, and Bill and I will be giving an illustrated talk: 'The Secret Stories of Cider: A journey around the world's most misunderstood drink'.  It's going to be an update of where we've got to, the adventures we've had so far.  As such, it's an absolutely exclusive opportunity to hear extracts form one of my next books months, if not a year or more, before publication - I've never done this before.  But better than that, it'll be illustrated by Bill's wonderful photography, which I'm really not doing justice to here:




There are day and weekend tickets available - day tickets only £10 a day, weekend tix £25.  You pay for talks and tastings on top of that, but our talk is a mere £2.50.

Hope to see you there.  Looking forward to - well, maybe normality might not turn out to be the right word, but life-affirming, optimistic and joyous - I think they're good words, and we could all do with a bit of them just now.

Friday, 5 August 2011

FINAL Video Blog - It's August. It's GBBF!

I would say it's been a long twelve months but it only seems like last week that our motley crew assembled in Nottingham for the first time, to talk to last year's Champion Beer of Britain one month on from GBBF 2010.

That's when we began our series of 12 monthly video blogs over the course of the year, financed solely by Peter Amor of Wye Valley Brewery, who wanted to put something back into an industry he felt he'd done rather well out of.

Peter's brief was strictly to champion British real ale, and to address the lack of pride and attention we have for it.  Regular readers will know I'm becoming increasingly frustrated by partisanship and the creation of false enemies within the beer world, no matter what side it's on.  Single-minded real ale advocates have long been the worst for this, but craft beer snobs are making efforts to catch them up.

But wherever your own beliefs lie, no one can argue that British real ale, while not entirely unique, is one of the most special, individual, eccentric, flavoursome, well crafted beers in the world.  It is the only style of beer that can pack in a flavour explosion at 3.8% (excepting beers that are so hop-imbalanced they're undrinkable - and I say that as a hophead).  Belgian and American beers are just as wonderful on their day - but they only seem to start being so at around 5% ABV.

If real ale were French, it would no doubt be iron-clad in appellation controlees and EU Protected Designations of Origin. It would be as famous globally - and as celebrated in its homeland - as Bordeaux wine, French cheeses and foie gras.  It is a peculiarly English trait to be indifferent or even negative about things we're good at.  I've never met a single non-real ale drinker who nevertheless sees our brewing prowess as something to be proud of, and I've met many real ale drinkers who believe it is not.

So even though I get frustrated with Old CAMRA diehards and am personally at least as likely to enjoy an American craft beer or German lager as I am a pint of best bitter, I was proud to be asked to co-present these blogs.  We've toured the country, seeing a year of beer first hand, trying many excellent ales and meeting people from brewers large and small who love their craft.  Every pub we've drunk in has been of outstanding quality.  We've hopefully shown that Britain really should be proud of its beer and its pubs.

This final blog is from GBBF 2011 - edited and finished in time for you to watch it and then go along and try both the beers and the atmosphere.  We both use the occasion to make some points we've come to feel strongly about on the journey.  And I get to taste some beers that we missed along the way, several of them among my all-time favourite real ales.  We didn't get chance to get everywhere in the country, and I'll always regret missing out Yorkshire and, to a slightly lesser extent, Kent and Sussex.  But maybe there will be chance of another series.

Anyway - hope you enjoy the blog:




Thanks to Eggy, Kaz and Dave, to Ian for channeling an exasperated primary school teacher as he tried to direct and produce us, and especially to Mr Amor for the funding, the cantankerousness, and most of all the hats and bow ties.

IPA Day: the morning after the night that didn't happen for me

Oh balls.  Was not feeling great yesterday, and by 4pm I really wasn't feeling very well at all.  This was no hangover - hangovers get better as the day goes on, not worse.  A combination of too much beer, not enough sleep and far too much work combined with some very dodgy chicken wings from GBBF to lay me low. You know when you put something in your mouth and your whole body goes "hang on, this isn't right"?  If you're going to GBBF, please avoid the hot wings stall.  I spent most of IPA Day in my bathroom, and drank nothing stronger than water.  

So I missed the Dean Swift dinner, which I'm very upset about.  Here's the menu - read it, and you'll see why I was particularly unhappy not to be there:

Toulouse sausage Scotch egg
with
Keg Kernel Black IPA and Brew Dog AB:06

Calamari with sweet chilli mango sauce and timbale of avocado and crayfish
with
Brew Dog Punk IPA and Maui Big Swell

Goats cheese stuffed peppers 
with
Kernel Centennial 100 and Kernel Centennial 2010

Tandoori chicken with a cauliflower veloute
with 
Stone Ruination IPA

Lamb Mechoui
with
SWB Kahuna, Magic Rock Cannonball, Stone IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, all on draught

Raspberry and Limoncello Jelly Tartlet
with
Mikkeller Sorachi Ace

I've never seen a beer style put through its paces like that, never seen such an ambitious beer and food matching menu.  It would have been amazing.  But this week, it would have killed me.  I still feel dreadful this morning.  Can't imagine how I'd feel if I'd attempted that.

But it does confirm the Dean Swift as one of London's most exciting beer pubs.  I hope to eat there as soon as possible.  And I hope they'll let me host a beer and food matching event with similar ambition in the near future.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cheers to International IPA Day



What a great opportunity to take stock.  What a smart use of social media.

Two tweeters decided it might be a nice idea to get the online beer community to have a global celebration of the craft beer world's favourite beer style, and the day was set for today, 4th August.

As far as I can tell there is no central organisational structure, no big budget or organisation, and yet it's an idea that has caught the imaginations of beer lovers and gone global.

So what are we supposed to do?  What actually happens?  That's up to you.  It's up to breweries, pubs and drinkers to organise tastings, drinking, events, whatever really.  A quick google search shows that many people across the planet have taken up the challenge.

Why IPA?  It's a perfect meme for every aspect of beer appreciation.  It's a definable style - even though that definition mutates continually over time.  It has a long, deeply chronicled history - and that history has given birth to more myths, mythbusting, speculation, misinterpretation and debate than anything else in beer.  It's a perfect showcase for hops - the facet of beer that craft drinkers get most excited about.  And it's the style that caught the imagination of the US craft beer movement, that symbolises it.  It's the constant across the many styles craft brewers brew, a shop window for their craft.  The union of a traditional old-style IPA recipe and the tropical orchard of flavours and aromas bestowed by New World hops lit a fire in craft brewing that's now burning world over.

For me, my first taste of an American IPA was the equivalent of my first taste of a real curry: it was like tasting in colour for the first time, as if everything I'd tasted before was black and white.  From there it became an obsession that would profoundly change my life.  In 2007 I embarked on a mission to recreate IPA's historic voyage from Burton to India around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time since 1869.  My attempt to recreate the effects of the journey was partially successful, as was my attempt to write the most thorough, detailed history of IPA to date.  Neither of these partial successes has stopped the arguments, the mythbuilding and busting, the speculation, and that's entirely how it should be.

The resulting book, Hops & Glory, moved me up a big notch in my career, earned me the Beer Writer of the Year gong, and to date represents the best writing I can do.  I can never look at IPA the same way again.

Tonight, my contribution to the celebrations is that I'll be tweeting from a 6-course IPA day feast at the Dean Swift, London SE1.  It's a lovely little pub run by passionate, knowledgable people, and they've pulled together what looks to be an amazing menu, which I'm not allowed to share.  If you want to know how that goes, follow @PeteBrownBeer on Twitter from 7pm UK time.

And raise a glass to the world's most talked about beer style, and the people who have harnessed the power of social media to celebrate it in such a great way.




I promise I will go back ranting and/or trying to be funny after this post.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Perfect Pub Service - how to charm and delight your customers in one easy move

While in Edinburgh last month filming the latest video blog, I made time to visit the newly opened Brew Dog Bar in the city.  We didn't feature it in the Vlog because it doesn't serve any cask beer, and that particular Vlog is about cask beer.  But as we were filming on my bleedin' birthday, once we'd finished I hooked up with my old mates Allan and McAlastair and we hit the town.

We ended up here:

I don't think it's ever this quiet

after 11pm, on a Tuesday night, and the place was buzzing, mainly with young, studenty people who seemed more passionate and knowledgable about beer than you might expect.

Brew Dog make headlines, and increasingly piss people off (or simply bore them) the way some people pick their nose.  They just can't help it.  Like Aesop's scorpion who stung the frog carrying it across the river, it's in their nature.  And perhaps the greatest shame about this is that it hides some of the true facts of their operation behind a screen of punk attitude.  Because much of what they do is really very good indeed.

The service in Brew Dog Edinburgh was incredible.  In parts, it was the best service I've ever seen in a pub or bar.

The main element of this is that if anyone looked hesitant or unsure, or simply paused a beat too long at the bar, the member of staff serving them would pour a small taster into a shot glass and offer it to them.  They might ask what kind of beer people like, or they might say, "This is my favourite beer, it's amazing, you've got to try it." Then another member of staff would say, "No, try this one, this is my favourite beer ever and they say they're not going to brew it again. I'm trying to make it sell really quickly so they realise they have to."

The bar was covered in sample glasses.  As soon as one person swept them up, they'd start dropping on the bar again as the relentless tide of tasters kept coming. And the money flowed over the bar in the opposite direction.

We've currently putting together the fifth Cask Report.  This year, we'll be recommending large programmes of samples and pro-active offering of tasters as the main strategy to overcome various barriers to drinking cask ale.  The thing is, we've recommended it every year, and it hasn't happened yet, even though every time we do research asking people why they don't drink real ale, they tell us this would make them drink more.  I've mentioned it before on here too.  I don't understand why more pubs don't do it more often.

Now here's a bar that does it in spades, does it brilliantly - and is rammed every night of the week with people paying premium prices for interesting beers.

Brew Dog Edinburgh's bar staff are young, hip and good-looking - as you'd expect from a company so concerned about its image.  I was quite worried they were going to be a bit too cool for school - not the case. They also happen to be friendly, enthusiastic, and visibly knowledgeable and passionate about beer.

Forget the CAMRA spats, the Portman groups spats, the SIBA spats, the stupidly strong beers and the roadkill.  Brew Dog should be getting headlines as a case study in how to hire, train and motivate brilliant bar staff, brilliant ambassadors for beer.