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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?
New events added including Stoke Newington Literary Festival
I had a big piece in the Guardian this week about why publicans are unhappy
Click here to hear me talking about craft beer on this week's radio 4 Food Programme!
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Friday, 7 December 2012

Beer Awards

I hate the Beer Writer of the Year awards.

It should be a special occasion where you just socialise with all your mates in the industry.  Instead, if you've entered your work, you sit there with a snake writhing in your guts, desperately anxious that your work be recognised, and when somebody else wins you have to be happy for them and try to hide the self-doubt and jealousy that try to consume you.

The year I won Beer Writer of the Year for Hops & Glory was actually the worst, because I was so anxious about winning.  I felt I'd given the awards my best shot, and if I didn't win that year I would never win. So I could hardly eat anything, and when I was announced as the winner I'd managed to get myself into such a state that my only emotional response was relief.

What an idiotic way to live.

But I don't think I'm the only person trying to make a living from writing who is an idiot, emotionally.

Last night was this year's Guild of Beer Writers dinner and Beer Writer of the Year awards.  And for the first time I managed to work out a more grown up approach to it.  I didn't have a book out (Shakey's Local would fall into next year's awards) and I've only ever won a category with a book before. There was a record number of entries.  While I thought I'd written some good stuff, I was aware that there has been so much beer writing and communication this year that I was able to go to the dinner for the first time with no hopes, expectations or anxieties about winning, and just enjoy the night.

When I got runner-up in online communication for this blog, I was happy but knew that was it - the rules are you can only win one category,  and only category winners go through for the final award.

So I was happily texting my wife when my name was read out as winner of the Trade Communications category for my column in the Publican's Morning Advertiser, and I was genuinely shocked when chairman of judges Ben McFarland started reading out one of my blog entries in the run-up to his announcement of Beer Writer of the Year 2012.

I'm very happy and proud to win this award for my journalism, because somehow it feels easier with a book - it creates a bigger splash.

And I'm gobsmacked given what else was in contention this year.

I hadn't realised Tim Webb and Steve Beaumont's World Atlas to Beer was being entered this time - I thought it would be next year.  When it was announced as winner of the Travel Category, I texted the wife to say it was obvious now that it would win overall.  I've been meaning to review it for ages.  Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer set the bar for beer writing.  It takes balls to try to measure up to that book.  And at the same time, anyone trying to do so needs to make a case for why they should even bother trying.  Do we really need another beer coffee table book, especially when the information at its core is precisely the kind of stuff that now fills beer blogs and websites?  This book answers the call brilliantly.  There's easily enough knowledge and authority between the two writers to make it worthwhile.  This sings through in the text, which acknowledges the changes that have happened since Michael was writing, updating this style of book for the twenty first century and the state of craft brewing today.  It even acknowledges mainstream beer, with the brilliant term 'convenience beers'.  And it looks great.  You should obviously have my new book on your Christmas list, but if you can stretch to two, you need this one as well.

Tim Hampson does a great deal of work behind the scenes as Chairman of the Guild of Beer Writers and rarely gets any credit publicly.  His book on beery days out was runner up to Tim and Steve, and would have stormed the category any other year.

What a year for beer books though. On top of these two there was Roger Protz's History of Burton which scooped Gold in the award for national writing (Roger was also runner up in trade for his PMA column) and Melissa Cole's book Let Me Tell You About Beer - a book aimed at the beery novice rather than the geek - which would also have been a worthy winner.

Dan Saladino's Food Programme is evidence that beer is being taken seriously on a wider scale and finally making inroads into mainstream media consciousness.  And Will Hawkes' Craft Beer London app, which deservedly beat this blog to the online/social media top prize, demonstrates the new possibilities open to beer writing.

Martyn Cornell showed he can write about matching beer with food as well as he can its history, and Alastair Gilmour, who has won the top gong about a zillion times for his regional journalism, won that award again for his own magazine about beer and pubs in the north east, which should make any other region jealous that it doesn't have something similar.  And props to Simon Jenkins for being runner up in that category, proving his triumph a couple of years ago was no one-off.

Ben McFarland says the final choice of Beer Writer of the Year was an incredibly difficult decision.  From that line up, I'm not surprised.

So yeah, I'm well chuffed.

In explaining the decision, Ben mentioned my obituary to Dave Wickett and then, to the consternation of some in the room cos it's weird), read out an extract from my review of the Guinness film on the excellent Roll Out the Barrel DVD.

I'm delighted that both these pieces gained recognition.  I know I can sometimes be overbearing, facetious, irritating or just plain wrong. I know not everyone likes my style or the way I approach beer. But thanks for reading my stuff.

Check out the links to the rest of the work mentioned above too.  I don't think there's ever been so much good stuff being written about beer by so many different people.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Bondi Beer

For the first time in the history of this humble blog - OK, this blog - I've had to take down a post after having been threatened with legal action.

Ross Bennie is a real person, and he's not at all happy with what I wrote about his beer.

There was one big factual inaccuracy in my post about Bondi Beer which I am more than happy to correct: Bondi Beer, which is now being launched in the UK and other markets, has absolutely nothing to do with Bondi Blonde, the now-defunct Australian beer that Paris Hilton and a gaggle of bikini-clad lovelies were associated with.  Completely different beer, completely different business.

Ross agrees that the advertorial on which my piece was based was awful.  He claims it was savagely edited, a process that cut out a lot of the information I thought should have been in there.

He also claims that the advertorial ran with a full page ad opposite, which would have given me the information I needed.  As you can see here, this is not true. Maybe it ran with an ad in other editions of The Grocer, but not the one I saw:


Ross also says that when I claimed the URL for Capricorn Brands (www.capricornbrands.com) wasn't even registered, I'd made a basic schoolboy typing error and that www.capricorn-brands.com - with a hyphen - was indeed the fully functional website for his company.  It turns out that this is true, and that the website contains some useful information about the beer.  I would be extremely annoyed with myself if I'd made such a basic error.  However, in the advertorial:


There's no hyphen.  It's not my error.  The advertorial is carrying an incorrect URL for Capricorn Brands.

This really is one of the worst advertorials in the history of advertorials.

But Ross was most unhappy with the hyperbole I used at the beginning and end of my post.  I went over the top - intentionally so - for comic effect. Ross, whose livelihood depends on this beer, is not laughing.

I still believe there was nothing libellous about this, and that it was no worse than stuff you might read in columns by critics like Jay Rayner or Charlie Brooker.  Ross believes it was defamatory.  I believe it was harsh, but not libellous.

This is not what persuaded me to take the blog down.  If I were being threatened by, say, AB-Inbev in this way, I would happily invite them to bring it on.  But they don't do that kind of thing, secure in the knowledge that a little blog like this can have no effect whatsoever on their business.

Bondi is different.  It's a start up, and is fully independent.  Ross owns the brand and employs fifteen people.  It's a small operation, and Ross clearly believes in his product.  If it is a good product, then my blog was unfair.  This is just a beer blog, for your entertainment, and I have no desire to put people's jobs at risk.

I've agreed to meet Ross Bennie, hear about the beer, and taste it.  (It's stocked by the Porterhouse in Covent Garden, and Peter who runs that place doesn't stock shit beer).

If after doing this I still stand by my original blog post, I'm going to put it back up.  If the beer tastes great I will say it tastes great.  And if there are good plans in place for its launch I will share these with you.

I suspect what I'll be reporting back is that I did a disservice to the beer itself, which does sound like it's pretty good, but that I still won't be happy with language such as 'craft-styled' in its promotion.  And that while this opens up Bondi to some justified criticism (someone surely must have signed off on that advertorial?) the net result will be that my original blog was unduly harsh.  And if that is the case, I will apologise.

We'll see.

Given the sensitive nature of this issue, for the first time ever I won't be opening this post to comments.