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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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July Video Blog: Scotland!

I bloody love Scotland, me.  I lived there for five years while at university, getting a degree and booking bands in the students’ union in St Andrews, going to buy records and get drunk in Edinburgh, going to chill out in the stunning beauty of the Trossachs.

This month I got to reminisce about all this as we attempted to cover the brewing scene of an entire country in about twenty minutes.

Why?

Because this particular series of video blogs is all about cask ale, and from an admittedly low base, cask ale is growing in Scotland at about 30% year on year.  When I was at uni there were three types of beer, all from Tennent’s, all a bit tasteless and horrible, apart from the ones that tasted of burnt sugar and were horrible.  So bad was Scottish beer I switched from being a cask ale drinker to a standard lager drinker.  It took me ten years to recover.

It is very, very different now.  Brew Dog, who we don’t visit here (their Edinburgh bar is all keg, and the man who pays the vlog bills wants to focus on cask) is merely the most visible of Scottish brewers who are currently displaying extraordinary levels of invention and enthusiasm.

In the Guildford Arms in the centre of Edinburgh I find one of my old favourites.  Then we go to Caledonian, where Peter looks round one of the most stunning traditional breweries you will ever see.  Many in Scotland are unhappy about the takeover of Caledonian by Scottish & Newcastle, and more recently Heineken. Not without justification, there was a feeling that things would be bastardised and cheapened.  But I visited before Heineken took over, and now going back again, the unique coppers, the hop room full of whole leaf hops, the open fermenters, the range of beers, are all unchanged.  The only real difference is a massive commitment to health and safety, a more corporate head office presence through boards displaying targets for reducing accidents and so on.  The brewing process and the resulting beers are unchanged.

I have a chat with Steve Crawley, MD of Heineken, in which we discuss whether the brewery’s flagship, Deuchar’s IPA, really is ‘not as good as it used to be’.

And then we’re off to Bridge of Allan, just outside Stirling, where Peter gets a bit tipsy talking to a round table of four brilliant Scottish brewers about the state of brewing in the country: Fergus from Inveralmond, Douglas from Traditional Scottish Ales, Amy from Harviestoun, and Tuggy from Fyne Ales (who I’m currently trying to persuade to adopt me).  I review a Scottish Wit Bier, try to sum up the style of stout in under a minute, and by the end we’re struggling to do a decent outro.  It’s hardly surprising.

Next month – next week in fact – we are filming our final video blog of this series at GBBF.  If you’re there on trade day, come and say hello.  If there’s anyone you think we should be going to talk to, please shout!

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Do women need their own beer?

Alongside beer styles, craft beer, cask versus keg and other such burning issues, the notion of ‘beer for women’ reared its head again this week with Molson Coors’ launch of Animee, a new attempt to persuade the 79% of British women who don’t currently drink beer to start doing so.  I was at the launch on Monday night. So was Melissa Cole, who is true to form in her outspoken views on the subject here.  Sophie Atherton also weighed in on the Guardian blog here.

I agree with the gist of what both are saying, but not on every single point.  I also get a sort of itching in my brain when commenters who have not seen, smelled or tasted these products dismiss them as ‘piss’.  How do you know?  Even when I slag off something like Stella Black, I taste the damn stuff first.

I believe the launch of Animee is misguided and flawed, but there are some good points in there if you look hard enough.  I’ll sum this up in a list of positives and negatives, to make it easy.

Negative:
The whole idea of a beer for women in the first place. It’s never worked, because it’s not what’s needed.  I’m not surprised Melissa feels patronised – I’d feel the same if someone tried to flog me a ‘wine for men’. As Melissa points out, women don’t want a product that segregates them – they just want a product that doesn’t actively alienate them.  Wine, cocktails, cider and premium spirits are neither masculine nor feminine, and they all seem to be doing just fine.  The only reason beer is overtly masculine is the long heritage of macho advertising in the UK – beer is far more unisex in other countries.  In Spain, 40% of total beer volume is drunk by women, and it’s mainstream lager, same as here.  (Nice mainstream lager though, it has to be said.)

Positive:
The fact that Molson Coors are trying.  This was presented on Monday as part of a broader programme of ideas and initiatives to really promote beer across the board.  Molson Coors are a big multinational brewer who talk about beer in marketing speak (the subject of another piece). But I get the impression they do actually care about beer.  They show signs of understanding it, and respecting it.  Growing Sharps and Worthington are as much part of their plan as boosting Carling – which, by the way, also got a shout on Monday night.  A new 4.8% ‘premium’ version, Carling Chrome, is bland, pretty tasteless, but not watery and without the nasty aftertaste some of these beers have.  On the beer for women thing, they’ve spoken to tens of thousands of women and really got to the heart of what’s keeping them from beer.

Negative:
Given all that research, I just don’t understand Animee as a response to it.  The main barriers are all about image – not the product.  So why launch a different product?  I find the beers that convert women who ‘don’t like’ beer tend to be very strongly flavoured – American IPAs or Imperial porters and stouts – because these women are currently drinking wine that has comparable characteristics.  I don’t see the need to launch a product that doesn’t actually look or taste like beer at all, and don’t understand how a product that doesn’t look or taste like beer, that has different language around it from beer (‘clear filtered’, ‘lemon’ and ‘rose’ anyone?) is going to attract women to drinking beer more generally.  It’s actually only beer because Molson Coors say it is – it’s not going to change anyone’s attitude to what ‘beer’ is or can be.  Any women who drink this will do so despite it being called beer.

Positive:
It might not be beer, but actually I thought the product wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t remotely like beer, but I did enjoy it, especially the clear filtered one.  Light and refreshing, it would be a pleasant summer drink, an alternative to mainstream cider.  I also think the packaging, if you look at it for what it is, manages to be unisex and quite stylish, a few beers cues here and there, not too girly.  I know, I know, it’s in clear glass.  That is a marketing decision because – and I say this as someone who has done countless focus groups over the last 15 years – every single drinker who is not knowledgable enough about beer to know about light strike says they overwhelmingly prefer clear glass.  It just looks better, and for many drinkers, beer is about style over substance.  Of course I don’t agree with that or like it, but it’s true.

So overall, I suspect Animee will go the same way as all other attempts to market a beer specifically for women.  But I hope Molson Coors don’t give up.  I hope they will try some different strategies.  And I hope other big brewers will follow their example.  I also hope they will read the comments from the many women responding to Melissa’s and Sophie’s pieces saying there are beers for women, in the shape of cask ale.  And I also hope they will look very closely at this:

Project Venus is a collaboration between female brewers. On 28th July, Kathy Britton, of Oldershaw Brewery, Sara Barton of Brewster’s, Michelle Kelsall from Offbeat Brewery, Sophie de Ronde from Brentwood Brewing Company and Sue Hayward from The Waen Brewery will gather at Oldershaw’s to brew their second cask ale. The whole thing will be filmed by Marverine Cole, AKA Beer Beauty.

Of course Project Venus is tiny compared to Animee.  But I’d be fascinated to see a side-by-side tasting of the two, and see which women prefer.

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China, crap ads, good pubs and Depeche Mode – my recent trade press rants

I’m very chuffed to have secured two regular trade press columns this year: a fortnightly one in the newly merged Publican’s Morning Advertiser, now the only magazine for the UK pub trade, and a monthly one for www.Just-Drinks.com , the website for the global drinks industry.

Both these columns appear online and each time they do, I put a link to them on Twitter.  But not everyone reads Twitter, so here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been writing about recently, which you can read if you like.  They’re quite industry focused, but then, you might be too.  You don’t have to read them if you’re not.  You don’t have to read them at all.

[Update: It seems Just Drinks might require a subscription to read.  PMA definitely doesn’t].

I kicked off in Just Drinks by talking about what’s gone wrong with beer advertising, and why brewers want to make bogus claims for their products.

Next month, I wrote about the beer scene in China, and how Western brewers need to be careful setting up shop there.

After that, prompted by a Carlsberg relaunch, I wrote about why beer is different from other products if you’re trying to build global brands.

And last month, I railed against the dodgy practice by some brewers (well, one in particular) whereby if you’re an employee of the company, drinking someone else’s beer – even if you’re off the clock and on your own time – can be “a career-ending move”.

My latest rant – familiar to any long-term readers of this blog – will be about the factual fallacies of the neo-prohibitionists, and how the drinks industry is failing to combat them.  It should be up any day now.

Over at the PMA, concerns are a bit more UK-focused, and there’s room to occasionally be a touch more irreverent.  Not all my columns are available online but they’ve started putting them up over the last couple of months.  In the first one that’s up there, written just before the first UK beer bloggers conference, I tried to explain to the British pub industry why they need social media.

Following that, I wrote about the basic quality of pubs, and what hardcore beer drinkers really mean when they describe a pub as ‘the kind of place you could bring the wife’.

Next, I had a go at PubCo M&B for their ludicrous decision to boot out the tenants of the wildly successful Engineer in Primrose Hill, and also used it to say something about the way many of us approach issues in beer and pubs.

And then, I wrote a piece I really hope no one takes seriously – you never know – about the glory that is Tallinn’s Depeche Mode bar.

Finally, the PMA also asked me to compile my 50 favourite UK beers – that was the brief, so I was unable to include foreign beers.  I attempted to go as wide as possible, and include selections that would upset – sorry, delight – as many people as possible.

Hope there’s something you enjoy. If there’s anything, global or local, you think I should be covering in these columns, please drop me a line.