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What's new?
Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
I've been accused of attacking cask ale. Here's what I actually wrote - decide for yourselves.
News about my next books!

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Guide to Welsh Cider and Perry

Wales has got its mojo back. The last refuge of off-colour jokes about people based on their nationality or ethnicity has flourished since getting its own Regional Assembly in the late 1990s (and a healthy wodge of EU funding), transforming itself from a ravaged post-industrial slumpland into a vibrant, exciting tourist destination that has stunning scenery and great food and drink at its heart.

Take the Abergavenny Food Festival - for one weekend every September, the whole of this beautiful market town is taken over by a riot of food and drink producers chefs, writers, beer tents and the occasional random performance artist for a joyous appreciation of food and drink. It might be lazy to refer to it as 'The Glastonbury of food festivals', as some journos have, but it's not inaccurate.

Abergavenny also sits at the heart of Welsh cider country. Monmouthshire shares climate and geography with neighbouring Herefordshire - one of England's two great cider making regions. And the last fifteen years have seen an extraordinary revival of a Welsh cider making tradition that had all but disappeared by the 1970s.

In 2000, two Welsh cider makers founded the Welsh Perry and Cider Society to promote what was then an embryonic re-birth. Now, the society has over forty producer members, from people who make a few gallons in their sheds for competitions, to large brands such as Gwynt Y Ddraig, which has nationwide listings in 'Spoons among others. By the mid-noughties, Welsh ciders were winning more than their fair share of awards in national competitions, and today, from virtually nowhere, Wales is one of the most important cider making regions in the UK.

Last year the WPCS invited people to tender to write the Guide to Welsh Perry and Cider. Bill Bradshaw and I won the pitch. 

The Guide is now available. Self-published by the Society, it's not as widely available as a book via an established publisher would be, but if you are interested in cider I'd humbly suggest it's worth tracking down. 

The job of the book is to give details of everyone who makes cider commercially in Wales, as well as details of pubs that serve good cider, and festivals and events where you can try a decent range. I wanted to make this entertaining as well as informative, to capture some of the personalities and a sense of place. Bill's excellent photography more than delivers on that. Like any great cider making region, Wales has a good smattering of eccentrics and visionaries with stories to tell. Wherever cider is drunk, an element of joyful anarchy is loosed, and it doesn't hurt that you're surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. 

The book is available through Amazon here, and will be selling at events and in Welsh bookshops and tourist centres.

Talking of events, I will hopefully be doing something around the book at the Green Man Festival next month, which has a fully fledged Welsh beer and cider festival within it this year. (I'm already confirmed to do a beer and music matching event on the Literature Stage at 2pm on the Sunday). And Bill and I will be talking about the book and doing a tutored cider tasting at this year's Abergavenny Food Festival - by which time, our World's Best Cider book may also be available...

Iechydd da!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Reasons pubs are closing #453

Last week I was invited to the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group annual dinner.

It was a great event, with some wonderful beer and food matches and a bunch of awards handed out. Fergus Fitzgerald from Adnams was named Brewer of the Year - a richly deserved accolade for someone who is running a great range of traditional ales and an exciting programme of craft beer innovation side by side.

George Osborne was recognised and awarded for dropping the Beer Duty Escalator and for the first cut in beer duty since 1959. I loathe this man more than almost anyone alive, and being in the same room as him made my skin crawl. But it is right that he was applauded - he did something the industry had been asking for for years, something that benefits every pub in the country, and it's right and proper we say thank you for that before getting back to hating him for his open warfare on the poor and disadvantaged, his arrogant shattering of the social contract that exists between a government and its people.

Also honoured was Andrew Griffiths, the MP for Burton-on-Trent. His was an easier gong to cheer. He's a Conservative MP, a tireless campaigner for and genuine lover of beer, a great constituency MP, and a thoroughly decent bloke. He's the proof that you don't have to be arrogant, venal and cruel to be a Tory MP, even if many of them are. He made a long speech about the campaign against the duty escalator. He could have scored some easy party political points by pointing out it was introduced by a Labour government, but he didn't. He could have scored more points by pointing out it was a Tory government that scrapped the escalator - instead, the first thing he said was that the campaign had been a cross-party effort. A thoroughly decent man who you'd happily buy a pint for - but that would involve getting to the bar before him...

After the dinner was over, a few of us - Griffiths included - wanted to go on for another drink somewhere else. It was late, and we were in Westminster, where licensing laws are overseen by a council that hates the very existence of pubs and refuses pretty much any requests for late licenses, so it was the kind of evening where you have to make compromises. Griffiths suggested the Players Bar, a late night place in Villiers Street in Charing Cross, apparently popular with MPs and their staff.

As you'd expect, the beer selection wasn't great: A-B Inbev had inflicted their range on the bar, and draught beers consisted of Stella, Bud, Becks Vier and the loathsome Stella Artois Black. But alongside the Becks and Bud bottles in the fridge there was also Staropramen - not an immediate choice of mine, but I can drink it without complaint.

Or at least, I can when it's served in a drinkable state.

When we were served our second round, I took a sip from my beer and discovered it was warm - room temperature in a hot room.

"Excuse me, this beer is warm," I said to the barman.

"So?" He replied.

"Well, it's undrinkable."

"But you've had some out of it."

"Yes, that's how I know it's warm. I can't drink any more of it. Can I have another one?"

"I could give you a glass with some ice in it."

"No, I don't really like ice in my beer, thanks. Could you just replace it?"

He took the beer away and handed me a fresh, cold one.

"That'll be £5."

"What? You're charging me to replace a beer that wasn't fit to drink?"

"You'd drunk out of it."

At this point Andrew Griffiths, ever the gentleman, stepped in and paid for the beer.

Conflict was averted. It would have been rude to have pressed the point when Griffiths - our host - had acted so decisively to head off the argument. But it spoiled my evening. We often make the comparison between pubs and coffee shops. It's highly unlikely you'd ever be handed a stone cold cup of coffee. But if you were, it would be replaced with a hot one without question. Pubs like this - mercifully rare - seem incompetent and unfriendly by comparison. If this is where MPs come to drink, and this is the kind of service they get, no wonder so many of those who weren't at the dinner tonight don't seem that bothered about pubs disappearing.