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Drinking from the Green Cup.

When you’re knee-deep in shit and you realise you’re not actually capable of making the effort fo walking for 45 mins to catch that band you were wanting to see; when you queue 20 minutes for a cup of tea, 30 for a carboard tray of noodles and 45 for a toilet, sometimes you want to cauterize yourself from your surroundings.
Enter, Brothers Pear Cider, a Glastonbury institution since 1995. The Brothes bar is near the Jazz World stage at Glasto, and there’s a nice flat area full of flags flapping in the breeze where you can sit down and savour.
Brothers Cider is 7%, bone dry, tastes of next to nothing and yet is incredibly moreish. Pints disappear in minutes. Most drinks at Glastonbury are served in the same white paper cups from the Workers Beer Company, festooned with the logo of which ever is the official beer. Brothers Cider is the only product with its own paper cups, whic are a distinctive green.
And whenever you see a real victim at Glastonbury, the people who think it’s a good idea to strip down to their undies and mud surf; those who unzip their flies and start urinating into the slime that is the field in front of the Other Stage; those who in the middle of the afternoon can be found lying prone in the mud, face down – they always have a green cup next to them.
A couple of years ago this led us to invent a new euphemism for extreme drunkenness. Whenever you see someone so drunk they have lost control, when you look into their flat, lifeless eyes and realise that most higher order brain functions have shut down, leaving only the basic motor functions running, you can say they have been “drinking from the green cup”.
Most of the time, I value my sanity. One of my favourite phrases that I have ever coined in my writing, which I try to use as often as possible, is “surely the best nights out are the ones you can remember.” For all the drinking I did in Three Sheets, I was only ever properly pissed about three or four times. For these reasons, I’ve always given the Brothers a wide berth. But on Friday at Glastonbury 07, when we realised it was going to be yet another mud bath, having never missed a muddy Glastonbury but having missed most of the nice ones, it all became a bit too much.
We approached the Brothers bar, which had a crowd almost as deep as the crowd around the Jazz stage.
We got our pints.
And I decided to get my notebook out.
Here, unedited, is what I decided to write in it:
“What was I thinking about? I have no idea – I’ve succumbed to drinking Brothers Cider. Like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, I know what’s going to happen: I know my mind is forfeit, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
The next bit seems to have been written later, because the hand becomes much less steady. And because the content has taken an alarming turn in the direction of bollocks:
“The workings of the mind become a succession of frozen shards with no forward narrative, no way to make any sense of sequential thought. It’s a bit like being let into some kind of seceret brotherhood – feeling the base plates in my mind shift, and knowing I won’t be able to remember any of this tomorrow. Liz, after half a pint, falls asleep. Chris, after half a pint, gets up and starts dancing. I, after half a pint, start scribbling shite. One foot is squelchy; the other is perfectly dry.”

Christopher Gittner, doing the dance of the Green CupI don’t remember writing any of this. Some time later, I’ve attempted to write in hieroglyphs I can just make out:”African fellas on the jazz stage. It wouldn’t be quite the same if we went to Mali and played them On Ilkley Moor Bah’t ‘at, would it? Is it just that it’s diff? Or is it just better?”I think we know the answer to that one.The last thing I wrote that afternoon was:”Wake me up when someone gives a shit.” I guess it was only a few seconds later when this photo of me was taken:
Kids, just say no.

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It’s summer, it’s raining, it can only mean one thing…

Time for Barnsley to purge the squad of anyone who looks capable fo scoring goals.

Danny Nardiello slept and ate pies through the middle of last season but woke up towards the end just in time to score the goals that kept us up in the Championship. These excellent performances mean he cannot stay at the club, and this week he duly moved to QPR. Admittedly this time Barnsley wanted him to stay and seem very upset at his last-minute change of heart, but why can we never hold on to anyone who threatens to get a double figure goal tally?

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Mud

This is where I am till next Monday. It’s going to be a shitty Glastonbury, where only the hardiest will stay dry. They serve Woodforde’s Wherry there, grudgingly, alongside the Budweiser. I shall be drinking some.

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Media hubris – holding the tiger by the tail

So The Culture Show dropped the feature on pubs that I spent half a day filming with them, after coming home a day early from holiday to do it. Shit like this happens, and I’m getting used to it – it just makes you feel a bit daft after telling everyone it’s going to be on, having the top bods at the British Beer and Pub Association set their DVDs, and then… nothing.

They could have let me know, that’s all. But then, the people I’d been working with on the piece had spent a week travelling around the country, working until 3am some mornings then getting up and starting again early the next day. Maybe they were too pissed off and personally affronted at the feature being dropped to even think of letting me know.

I’ve got an ego – anyone prepared to see a book through to completion does it because they’re either egotistical, or a genius who will go mad if they don’t get it out of their heads, and I’m pretty certain I’m not in the latter camp. And anyone who stands up in front of people to read their stuff, or go on TV or radio to talk about it, or have a grinning picture taken for a newspaper, genius or not, has to have a pretty strong ego. Guilty as charged, and it hurts the ego when you get dropped from a show because they’ve got a big interview with someone like, say, Lou Reed. I mean, who? What has he contributed to popular culture over the last 40-odd years?

But the desire to see myself on screen is not just an ego thing and something for my mum to talk about, it’s also driven by the desire to see beer and pubs get a better deal in our national media. So while there’s a temptation to throw my toys out of the pram and wail that it’s not fair, you have to take it on the chin and get back in there.

Beer is the UK’s most popular drink – more than soft drinks, more than wine. And yet there is no single UK magazine or newspaper that features regular coverage of beer (they nearly all have weekly wine columns). And even people who don’t like beer would readily admit that the pub is a pretty major part of our cultural DNA. The last TV series about beer was Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter – which was made in 1991 and hasn’t been repeated since it first aired. There are people now approaching legal drinking age who were not born the last time there was a TV series on air about our national drink.

So what can we do? We keep trying. (And that’s not the royal we – this situation is something many of my fellow beer writers are wearily familiar with). Doors are starting to open, media people are becoming more receptive to the idea of giving beer some airtime, they’re starting to initiate contact with beer people themselves, without us constantly selling the idea to them.

My BBC Radio Wales interview lasted half an hour, and apart from the rather worrying fact that the host felt the need to insert a “now remember, we’re not advocating heavy drinking, there are real dirnking problems and you should always remember to drink responsibly” disclaimer every time I spoke about actually drinking the stuff (I hope this is not the start of yet another paternalistic trend) it went really well, and it was obviously of interest.

And I recorded an episode of UKTV Food’s Market Kitchen this week, and Tana Ramsay, Gordon’s wife, even seemed to quite like a couple of the Golden ales we were tasting. Barring Lou Reed showing up to cook a mean Eggs Benedict (it somehow seems like Lou’s signature dish – I don’t know why) that episode will be airing on June 28th.

If you want to see more stuff about beer on your TV or in your newspaper, write in and tell them. It’s going to happen eventually. But it would be nice if things sped up a bit.

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GO AND SEE THIS FILM

It’s probably a very bad idea to introduce politics to this blog, but I don’t think this is really about party politics (I’m sure the story would have been similar if we’d been under the Tories for the last ten years). And anyway it’s too important.

Taking Liberties is a documentary that details in a painstaking, alarming and yet often very funny fashion how our basic civil rights have been wiped out by government legislation over the last decade.

Did you know you could be arrested for wearing a T-shirt reading “Bollocks to Blair”? That you are not allowed to stage any kind of protest or demonstration whatsoever within a one kilometre radius of Parliament without prior written permission from the police? That you have no right to trial by jury? That you can be extradited to the US, just because they want you, with no evidence against you and no charges brought against you, and that this is the only extradition agreement of this kind in the world? That the UK, with one per cent of the world’s population and 0.05 per cent of the earth’s surface, has twenty per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras? That, with the introduction of ASBOs, we are no longer equal in the eyes of the law? That the ID cards that WILL be brought in will do nothing to deter terrorism, but will increase fraud and identity theft, and that the details on there – including everything about you, including your DNA – will be sold on to private companies?

Ah, but if you’ve noting to be guilty about, you’ve nothing to fear; the only people this applies to are people who are a bit dodgy, you might be thinking. Left wing agitators and anarchists, chavs and smelly crusties, and people who look a bit like they might be terrorists.
Well, try telling that to the man who keeps getting arrested for standing outside Downing Street dressed as Charlie Chaplin and holding a BLANK placard, or the two retired headmistresses who had their names and addresses taken by the police for LOOKING at an American air base in Yorkshire from about a mile away, or the 82 year-old, life-long labour supporter and survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who was manhandled out of his seat and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for daring to shout “rubbish” at Jack Straw, or the nice middle class people who got arrested in Trafalgar Square for having a picnic with little cakes that had the word ‘freedom’ written on them in icing, or the city banker who is currently in prison in Texas despite committing no crime on American soil, or the Tourette’s sufferer with an ASBO that means he can be arrested for swearing, whereas you, without your ASBO, can say what you like.
Not all the above examples are in the film – some are in this book, which is nothing to do with the film but details the same subject.
The reaction of most people is the same. You start off thinking, ‘this is a joke’, then you think ‘well, just because technically they have these powers doesn’t mean it would actually happen’, then you go, ‘oh shit’.
It’s time to get angry about this before it’s too late – we’re a lot closer than you think to even a blog post like this being deemed illegal.
Go see the film. Get angry. Then go here:
Pete Brown’s Blog would like to apologise for the lack of gags or beer in this post.

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This is a beer blog. Shall we talk about some beers?

I got a phone call a few weeks ago. “Hi Pete. We’re having a beer and food matching dinner, five courses with a different speciality beer matched with each. We’d like to invite you along to sit on one of the tables and just talk about beer to the guests.” How much better does it get than that? Oh hang on, what was that? “We’ll pay you for your trouble.”

And so last Monday night, deeply in love with life and wondering how, increasingly, I seem to be one of the most fortunate people in the world (to be honest, it is about time) I earned money by going to a free, beautiful dinner, and talking about beer, and drinking free beer.

But that’s not the only reason I was pleased the event was happening – the dinner was being organised by multinational brewing giant and brewer of Carling – Coors UK.

I did a bit of work with Coors about five years ago, and while we had some great conversations about beer, they guys from Coors eventually had to say, “Look, Pete, it’s great you feel so passionately about interesting beer, but the future is could lager and that’s what we’re brewing and that’s all we’re interesting in brewing.”

Since then ‘speciality beer’ (a sometimes frustrating term, because it suggests anything that’s not mainstream lager must necessarily be a bit – you know – “special”, but let’s go with it for now) has seen strong growth, admittedly from a tiny base. This has mainly been driven by Coors, with Hoegaarden and Leffe. They’re fine beers, but they could do with healthy competition from someone with similar distribution clout in the UK.

So Coors have assembled a very interesting line-up to enter the fray:

Kasteel Cru

Brewed in Alsace with champagne yeast instead of beer yeast, a light beer with a fruity character, like a sweeter lager. It has definite hints of gooseberries and lemon zest, and finishes with that biscuity champagne bite. Drink from a champagne flute, and coo at the lovely champagne style bubbles. Goes very well with seafood and classy hotel bars.


Zatec

Rolf Munding is a serial entrepreneur who has done a lot of work in the Czech Republic. Over the last fifteen years he felt the quality of Czech pilsners – the real best lagers in the world – was declining. Whether or not this was due to dumbing down after being bought up by big brewing multinationals is something I can’t comment on, but which Rolf does – often, and forcefully. So he went looking for a Czech brewery of his own and found it in the town of Zatec. Zatec’s German name is Saaz, and if that rings a bell it’s because the hops grown around Saaz make it a beery Bordeaux – these are simply the finest lager hops in the world. So with a brewery in the middle of the best hops, Rolf hired one of the best Czech brewers, and they created Zatec. Now, Budweiser Budvar is rightly recognised as a superlative beer, one I and countless other have praised to the skies. It has a long heritage and global reputation. Zatec is at least as good.

Grolsch Weizen

Hmm… a wheat beer to cash in on the trend begun by Hoegaarden, brewed under the auspices of a leading UK lager brand? Haven’t we been here before with Kronenbourg Blanc? Well, no, because while I’ve got a lot of time for Kronenbourg if you find yourself drinking in a place with a limited beer selection, Kronenbourg Blanc is virtually undrinkable. I was expecting something similar from Grolsch but, oh my, was I ever wrong. Half way between a spicy, lemony Belgian wheat beer and the heady banoffee character of a German Weissbeer, Grolsch Weizen knocks spots off the competition (if we define the competition as being wheat beers that are readily available right now in the UK). A perfect summer freshener on its own, like drinking a beer sorbet, and with food it’s like Daley Thomson (when he was winning decathlons, not now). The classic beer and seafood match, with the lemony creaminess of the beer complementing the food… check. The tricky match with hot, spicy food, assertive enough not to be swamped by your favourite curry and yet clean and refreshing enough to break down the heat… check. We haven’t found a dish yet that this beer doesn’t add something to.

Palm

An old, often overlooked classic from the Belgian ale stable. Antwerp’s de Koninck is better known by British beer buffs as a classic session ale, around 5%, to be drunk cool from a chalice glass on a hot day, brown and malty and slightly chewy but clean and refreshing too. Palm is very much the same. It went wonderfully with rich red meat. It’s a difficult one – I don’t have as much to say about it, but that shouldn’t make you think it’s not as good as the others – there’s just less of a story about it. But it is interesting about what happens when you put ale in a bottle and call it Belgian – people who would never drink a pint of real ale love Palm when they try it, which to me says they would also love real ale if they would give it a chance. Which brings us to…

Worthington White Shield

Not so much a speciality beer as a beer legend, WWS is now being promoted as part of the Coors speciality range. This is an extraordinary, complex, multi-faceted beer. There’s all sorts going on in there: bags of fruit, loads of spices, a hint of freshly baked bread, some treacle, caramel and toffee, all suspended in a fine balance, with no one flavour overpowering the other. We had this with a mature, assertive cheddar and people at our table who were not really beer fans were almost swooning with pleasure.

So if you see any of these beers, check them out. You won’t be disappointed. And bearing in mind that these beers are marketed in the UK by the same folk who bring us Reef and Carling, please remember you need to reward the things they’re doing well if you want them to shift attention from the things they’re doing that are – shall we say – not making such a vital contribution to the cornucopia of flavour and character available in our pubs.

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Hello Wales!

The face of Welsh beer drinking – if you type ‘Welsh Beer’ into Google picture search, that is.

Tonight (8th June) at about 8.15pm, I’m being interviewed by BBC Radio Wales to promote the new edition of Three Sheets and talk about pubs in general. That’s nice, isn’t it?

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I hope you won’t think of me as a vulgar, shameless self-publicist but LOOK AT THIS!!!!

Have you ever seen a better Father’s Day present IN YOUR LIFE?!

The mass-market paperback edition of Three Sheets is in shops now, with a much more direct, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin cover.

Encouragingly, it’s on promotion in Borders and Books Etc. People sometimes ask if being involved in Three for the price of two or Buy one get one half price deals is a good thing or not. It is. I get the same pittance as my share whatever price the book sells at, and the fact that they’re putting it out on tables and promoting it means they are putting marketing support behind it, not ignoring it. They can pick and choose what books they feature, so it’s a real result to get that kind of visibility in-store.

And there are some great quotes on the back cover:

“Carlsberg don’t publish books. But if they did, they would probably come up with Three Sheets to the Wind.” – Metro

“The story of the armless drinker in Galway is worth the price of the book alone.” – Express

“A well-intentioned, good-humoured, flush-faced kind of book, which grabs you firmly by the coat lapels and will not let you go until they’ve regaled you with one more hilarious story” – Guardian

“The strength of Brown’s breezy, informed book is showing how beer reflects national culture rather than defines it” – Financial Times

You know you want it…

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Cider – the end of the moment

They say that we leave the world as we entered it – bald, incontinent, wrinkled and without much of a clue as to what’s going on (OK, I might have taken liberties with the elaboration of that piece of wisdom, but the sentiment is as it was meant).

In the same way, many a pisshead starts his drinking career as he ends it – supping extra-strong cider from a big plastic bottle, that he’s got someone else to buy him, because he can’t get served in pubs.

When I was a teenager cider was what you got the older boys to buy you from the off-licence. As soon as you could get served in pubs you left it behind, a symbol of your virginal, young-shaving years, and switched to adult drinks such as, er, lager and lime, or if you grew up in the south of England, “lager top”. In the marketing end of the beer business we use many a hideous phrase to navigate the world of pubs, and a universal one is the “bar call” – it’s a shout, and you’re saying something about yourself when you’re calling for a particular drink. “Call” for a “lager top”, and the message you’re sending about yourself is “I’m desperate to prove my mature masculinity, but I can’t let go of my mother’s apron strings. I want to drink beer in front of my “mates”, otherwise they’ll question my sexuality, but it tastes horrid, so I’d like some lemonade in mine”. But I digress.

If you’re about 27 or under and you grew up in the UK, you didn’t follow the path I outlined above – the drink you got someone else to buy you from the supermarket wasn’t cider; it was Hooch, or Bacardi Breezer, or Two Dogs, or WKD, or Smirnoff Ice. Even sweeter – even more like the drinks you had as a child. And then you could circumvent beer altogether and go straight on to hard spirits. This is why the UK currently has a drink problem – but that’s another story.

What’s important here is that cider wasn’t naff in the mid-90s to mid-00s – it was beyond naff, it was totally invisible. So now, as the alcopop generation matures, it doesn’t have the negative baggage my generation did – cider is a clean slate.

So I loved it when Magner’s came in and introduced the pint bottle with a pint glass full of ice. It was immediately attractive to beer drinkers, especially those who had grown up with the cinema chain/McDonald’s buckets of iced Coca Cola. Ritual is vital in drinking, and here was one that didn’t necessarily need a branded glass to make it work – just a pint glass. All the other brands who’d been languishing in the moribund English cider market for years immediately copied Magner’s in an attempt to negate its advantage. And a general growth of interest in cider lead to a ‘halo effect’ – craft-brewed ciders, such as the wonderful New Forest Cider, suddenly started to get noticed too. Even if you’re a lifelong drinker of quality ciders who hates the taste of Magner’s, you have to admit that this is a good thing for anyone who likes cider. Except, no, hang on, some elements within the Campaign for Real Ale condemned it, unable to compromise for one moment and accept that even if they didn’t like Magner’s, the brand was drawing more people to “real”cider than if it hadn’t been there. But then, those people have no concept of what the twenty-first century is.
But again, I digress. Love it or loathe it, Magner’s has been the mid-noughties success story in the drinks business.
But it’s going to peak before September 07, and enter a decline as steep as its rise.
Why?
It’s all about the ice. Magner’s relies on bar staff chucking in an awful lot of ice with every bottle they sell. The ice is why people buy it – you can’t put ice in beer, that would be horrid – but you can in cider. Get everyone in the bar drinking Magner’s instead of lager, and suddenly your ice requirement increases a hundredfold. And you may well have cocktails, G&Ts etc. that need ice and have a far higher margin, so you hold some ice back for them. Either way, sooner or later someone orders a Magner’s and they don’t get that pint glass full of ice. And then they start wondering why they’re paying a premium, not to mention why it doesn’t taste as nice. Their pint doesn’t look like it does on the adverts. They feel cheated.
The higher the demand, the more likely this point will be reached – and demand will be huge this summer.
I’ve already seen it happen, and in decent pubs too – the kind of pub that always makes sure to serve you the right beer in the right branded glass. Two guys in the only vaguely middle-class pub in Portland (my writing haunt last week) picked up a chess set from the bar, ordered their pints of Magner’s, had them served with no ice… and switched to Guinness for the rest of the evening, before their ciders were even finished.
Pubs can’t produce enough ice to keep pace with the demand for Magner’s. It’s a victim of its success. This is the year the bubble bursts.