Category: Uncategorised

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Sir Ian Gilmore and Alcohol Concern are lying to us and damaging our understanding of alcohol related health issues

A strong headline.

If it isn’t true, I can easily be sued for libel. I’m not expecting to be served legal papers any time soon, and that’s because of two news stories published today.

The first is from the hateful, fear-mongering Daily Mail. Under the headline ‘‘Meteoric rise’ in alcohol-related deaths’, the Mail gives a summary of Sir Ian Gilmore’s speech at a conference yesterday hosted by Alcohol Concern. In this speech he cites a ‘meteoric’ rise in deaths by liver disease, and we are told that alcohol-related hospital admissions are at an all-time high. The article also mentions a 2011 study showing that 30% of boys and 25% of girls claim to have been drunk in the last thirty days.

This all seems very clear. Except it isn’t.
Also today, Public Health England announced that it will be changing the method of alcohol-related hospital statistics following acknowledgement that the figures quoted yesterday are misleading. Hospital admissions are broken down into primary and secondary causes. If you get so drunk you have alcohol poisoning, alcohol is your primary cause of admission. If you’re admitted with liver disease or high blood pressure – which could be caused partly by drinking, as well as other factors, alcohol is a secondary cause of your admission. 
Even if you don’t drink. 
It goes beyond that – I’ve written here before about how if you have an accident or injury, and you have had a drink, your admission is alcohol-related even if that drink did not – could not – have been relevant. If you’re having a glass of wine in a restaurant and the roof caves in on you, for example, your injuries are alcohol-related.
So the body that releases the statistics is recalculating them because they are misleading, splitting out primary and secondary causes more clearly. Alcohol Concern and Ian Gilmore know this, even as they continue to cite these statistics.
But today’s report reveals something even more extraordinary. Because even if you think the stats are accurate and true, as I’m sure Gilmore and Alcohol Concern do, according to the people who compile them, you cannot use them to suggest that alcohol related hospital admissions are increasing – as Gilmore and friends frequently do. Here’s what a spokesperson for Public health England has to say:
Much of this increase is believed due to improvements in diagnosis and recording… these improvements mean that while recent estimates are likely to be a better reflection of the comorbidity [secondary disorders] associated with alcohol, estimates from earlier time periods are not directly comparable as they will have underestimated the number of secondary conditions related to alcohol. [My emphasis]
So, depending on whether you are pro- or anti-drink, either: 
Gilmore and Alcohol Concern are talking bollocks because the official figures overestimate alcohol related hospital admissions
Gilmore and Alcohol Concern are talking bollocks because the official figures show an increase only because of improvements in measurement, not because of changes in behaviour.
Either way, these people know about this. They know they should not be using these figures to claim a rise in alcohol related hospital admissions. But they do it anyway, wilfully misleading the nation. 
In addition, Gilmore and Alcohol Concern repeatedly avoid the medical fact that only around 37% of liver disease is primarily caused by alcohol – it’s also caused by Hepatitis C and obesity. They never refer to Britain’s rising obesity epidemic as a possible cause of rising liver disease. It must be alcohol consumption, even though that is declining long term.
Oh, and those figures above talking about the percentage of kids drinking? What the Mail refuses to tell you is that the survey from which they were taken showed a REDUCTION in underage drinking. That’s why they don’t tell you what the figure was a few years before.
We are being lied to. Tell everyone.

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Cook like a MAN for Movember! Mo Food Fight

I was wondering, as a bearded man, what I could do for Movember. I thought I could shave my moustache off for the month, just leaving a chinstrap beard, before growing it back to normal in December. My wife vetoed this idea fairly quickly.

So I was happy when my publisher asked me to come and cook a dish to promote Cook Like A Man, a cookbook that they’ve done to raise money for Movember. I teamed up with food blogger and author Niamh Shields, aka Eat Like A Girl on social media, and we made a posh but simple brunch.

Various other Pan Macmillan authors also cooked the same recipe. If you go here, you can vote for which one you think looks the best (ours obviously). You can also win a meal at a fancy restaurant.

Voting closes tomorrow, 12th November, so please check out the mofoodfight site, buy the book, and vote to give me and Niamh the glory we so clearly deserve.

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Tackling the thorny topic of the PubCo tie: it just got personal

Yesterday beer writers en masse were accused of ignoring ‘the elephant in the room’ – the issue of the PubCo tie.

There are three reasons I haven’t really written about this topic very much before now:

  • I’ve been really, really busy, playing catch-up on my recent books since my laptop was nicked two years ago. 
  • The anti-PubCo campaigners can be a bit spiky. When you’ve lost your job, your life savings and often your home, in circumstances that you feel are grossly unjust, you have every right to be angry. But it can be a bit like trying to deal with a lion with a wounded paw.
  • It’s really bloody complicated. The issues very quickly gets into conversations about legal technicalities and contracts, which makes it hard to understand in the first place, and harder still to then break down into short, focused, interesting articles. 
I’ve now caught up on my work. The PubCo campaigners and I have reached a point where we can chat amicably over a beer. And they’ve patiently helped increase my understanding of the technicalities. So I’m now ready to jump in.
The impetus for doing so though, is that the whole issue just got personal. 
Sometimes, businesses fail. Sometimes, publicans aren’t cut out for the job. Sometimes, people don’t understand what they’re getting into. Being a publican is a tough job that requires a very broad set of skills, and I know that I would be a disaster if I ever attempted to run my own pub.
That’s why the boss of Enterprise Inns, recently dismissed the campaign against the current PubCo model as the work of “failed or failing publicans looking for someone to blame.” 
Taken purely literally, these words are correct. But the clear implication of phrasing it in this way is that publicans should in fact accept the blame themselves. The consistent rhetoric from the PubCos is that most tenants and lessees make a decent living, that they help those who are struggling, and that if these publicans fail? Well, it’s not our fault – they knew what they were getting into. 
I’ll be examining the ways in which this argument falls down in the face of reality a lot more closely, both here and elsewhere, over the coming weeks. And I will be asking the PubCos for their response to the points I raise. I don’t want to rant about this issue – I want to present the truth about it.
But first, I want to focus on one pub close to me whose situation doesn’t make any sense at all if Enterprise Inns is speaking the truth.
The Alma on Newington Green, North London, is by any reckoning a popular and successful pub. Well-heeled Islington residents consider it a gastropub – the food is excellent, way beyond typical pub fare, locally sourced and seasonal, the ever-changing menu determined by what’s fresh and good. The home made sausage rolls on the bar for those who don’t want a full meal are awesome. 
The beer is well-kept, and there’s a passion for cider – North London CAMRA recently named the Alma its Cider Pub of the Year, which the pub added to a list of other awards it has won. When I was in there on Tuesday night there was a choice of six draft ciders. The place was busy for a Tuesday night, but then it’s always ticking over, and it’s difficult to get a seat on the weekend.
The Alma is an old Victorian building, full of nooks and crannies, with everything from big, bright tables by the windows for spreading the papers out during Sunday lunch, to shady sofas for intimate late night chats. The decor is stylishly shabby and doesn’t try too hard.
The licensee, Kirsty Valentine, is a force of nature. She’s an instinctive publican who realises that a great pub is about creating a great atmosphere. She’s become a solid fixture in the community, and a major player in the local business association.
Newington Green is now gentrifying rapidly. This wasn’t always the case. The Alma used to be a dive, like most other pubs in the area. When I first arrived in Stoke Newington most people wouldn’t dream of drinking there – you’d get the bus down to Islington instead, where the pubs were crap chain concepts, but at least they cleaned their lines more than once a year and you didn’t run the risk of getting glassed. When Kirsty arrived, the Alma was the first pub that raised the standard. It helped turn Newington Green into a destination, starting ripples that spread. One by one, the other pubs near the Alma have been done up too. Newington Green is now a great place for a pub crawl, with the Snooty Fox, the Dissenting Academy and the Edinburgh Cellars all offering great beer and great food. This is great news for the drinker, less good for Kirsty, who now faces increased competition. Her response? Last year she organised the Newington Green ‘Aleympic’ pub crawl, which saw pubs in the area working together to create a fun activity, benefiting all the pubs that took part, making the cake bigger rather than fighting over shares of it. 
What I’m saying is, to any rational observer, the Alma looks about as different from the idea of a ‘failed or failing pub’ as you can possibly imagine.
So how could it possibly be failing? How could Kirsty be facing losing the pub – and how could there be a possibility that the pub itself might not survive?
I have copies of a pile of correspondence between Kirsty and Enterprise Inns that’s about three inches high. She’s spent most of her time over the last three or four years fighting her PubCo – which claims it only wants to help – on all fronts. 
The basic problem, as she sees it, is that the PubCo model effectively means paying rent twice – wet rent and dry rent. Dry rent is the straightforward rental she pays to the PubCo. Rents are reviewed regularly. They can go down as well as up, but if the profitability of the pub increases, the PubCo will do all they can to take most of it, essentially disincentivising the publican from improving the business the way Kirsty has. 
On top of this, she pays a ‘wet rent’ by being compelled to buy all her beer through Enterprise, or face stiff penalties for buying ‘out of tie’. This limits the range of beers available to her. But more than that, she’s paying up to double the price of a cask or keg compared to if she were able to buy it from the brewer direct. This means she has to charge higher prices for a less interesting range of beers than her competitors.

Basically then, it’s much harder for a pub to make a profit under this scheme than one that is free of tie. And if you do manage to make a profit despite this, the PubCo will try to take it from you. 

This is the double bind of the PubCo tie that many licensees are complaining about. Enterprise’s defence is twofold: firstly, they will offer help to anyone who is struggling. And second, the publican knew what they were getting into when they signed the deal, and Enterprise can’t be held to account if new publicans had unrealistic ideas. I’m sure that in some cases this is true. But the number of cases where ‘failed and failing licensees’ tell how they have been misled, lied to and ripped off by their PubCos means that if they are not being honest, there are an awful lot of them coming up with remarkably consistent and detailed lies. 
Kirsty’s battle with Enterprise is happening on so many fronts, it’s impossible to go into detail here and still expect you to read to the end. But in summary, the result of her fight is that Enterprise now want her out of the business she has built up, and will shortly be taking legal action in an attempt to make that happen.
Should Enterprise be victorious, apart from a brilliant publican facing financial ruin and losing her home, there are two possible consequences: one is that Enterprise stick in another tenant. The other is that they close the pub down, and sell it for redevelopment, with a change of use stipulation – a fairly common practice. It takes all of ten minutes to walk to the nearest Sainsburys from Newington Green. I’m sure Sainsburys or Tesco would love to turn this beautiful old boozer into yet another supermarket. 
The next battle Kirsty wants to fight is to ensure that, whatever happens to her personally, the Alma remains a pub – given that it’s popular and the local community like it that way. To this end, yesterday she launched the ‘Battle for the Alma’ campaign. She is applying to Islington Council to have the pub declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) under the recent Localism Act. This would prevent Enterprise from initiating a change of use from the property being a pub. This was the first step in a campaign that ultimately saved the Ivy House pub in South London from being redeveloped into flats when the local community were perfectly happy with it as a local pub – which is now doing great business.
If you know the Alma, if you have ever been there and enjoyed it and wish to see it saved, visit the Battle for the Alma website and sign the petition, giving Islington Council the stories and reasons why the Alma deserves to be saved (beyond the simple common sense reason that it is a thriving, successful, popular pub that by any sane reckoning should not even be under threat.) It will make a real difference.
I’ll be writing about the lies, bullying and neglect Kirsty has suffered in due course – and asking Enterprise to respond. But this first step is important and urgent – we have until next week. If you know and love the place, please give this campaign your support.

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Getting paid.

This is off-topic for beer, cider etc but I thought it went here rather than on my seldom used other blog – it really goes out to other bloggers and people who enjoy writing about beer – and people who are interested in doing business with them/us.

Discussions on writers getting paid for their work seem to be coming to a head in the media at the moment. A couple of weeks ago Philip Hensher raised the subject when he was branded ‘ungracious’ for daring to ask for payment for something he was asked to write. A couple of days later, I was shocked to read about a science writer being called a whore when she politely declined to write a piece for free. (Which raises another subject – I doubt the same language would have been used if she were a man.)

Last night on Twitter, Boak & Bailey and Zak Avery were discussing an email that has done the rounds that essentially asks bloggers to give consultancy services for free for a big beer brand – so we’re not even talking the old language of ‘exposure’ here, they simply want to gather expert opinion without paying for it.

I have an alarm that goes off about this kind of stuff now. It starts clanging when people ask if they can ‘pick my brains’ about something. If I’m lucky, they offer to buy me a pint in return for information which, if I’m any good, could eventually lead to a major profit opportunity for the company asking.

It’s not a cut and dried issue. We live in an age where content is increasingly expected for free, where a generation simply doesn’t see why they should pay musicians or filmmakers for their work. Our society increasingly assumes that economic value is the only form of value worth talking about, yet paradoxically, creators of cultural or artistic value are expected to go, “No, you’re fine, I do it for the love, I don’t care about money, that’s for squares, man.”

Writing is now my full-time profession. I worked two jobs for years to build up my skill and reputation to a point where I can just about scrape a living from writing. It’s a much less lucrative job than the last one, but I love what I do, and that makes me very lucky, I know.

But I still have to make a living. Some weeks I’m ferociously busy, travelling around the country, doing events, writing stuff, and I get to the end of the week and realise I’ve done nothing for which I can raise an invoice. The bills and mortgage still need to be paid, and I am currently the main breadwinner in our household. I know some professional writers who can make as little as £200 a month, some months. During such dry patches, you’d be better off on the dole.

What we do must have some worth, some value, otherwise people wouldn’t ask us to do stuff for them.

Of course, bloggers write for free every time they blog, and this somehow creates the expectation that we’ll do the same for someone else’s website or publication or brand. We’ll do it for love, or for that seductive but non-nutritious drug, ‘exposure’. This expectation that we’ll write for you for free because we’ll write for ourselves for free has unsavoury parallels with those seedy blokes who see a girl ‘put out’ for one of their friends and therefore think that she’s ‘easy’ and will oblige them in the same way. Maybe the girl was into your friend and she’s not into you. And anyway, at all times, it’s her decision.

Different bloggers have different motivations. For professional journalists (no superiority implied there, I just mean people who make their living from writing) a blog can be a shop window that gets you more paid work, a place to put ideas that don’t fit anywhere else or that publications won’t buy, or a place to try out different stuff stylistically, to be more personal, more experimental. Citizen bloggers with other jobs who do this for a hobby have their own reasons. But just because any of us write for free sometimes, that shouldn’t come with an expectation that we’ll be happy to do it any time for anyone.

So here’s what I reckon: collectively we need to alter the establishing perception that it’s OK to expect a writer/blogger to do something for free. It’s OK to ask. But in most cases, I’d like to think that writers and bloggers will politely decline. And that this demurral will be accepted with good grace. This needs to become – or remain – the accepted norm.

Occasionally there might be a cause or an opportunity where after giving it some thought the writer might say, ‘You know what? I’m really interested by this. I’ll happily do it for free because it’s something I believe in/am excited about/might allow me to get to meet Vanessa Feltz/Eamonn Holmes.’ (I did a bit of telly once where I got to be interviewed by Peter Purves! Dreams can come true in the strangest ways.)

But if, as in the examples quoted at the top of this piece, you are offended by a polite refusal (and our end of the deal should be that refusals are always polite) then screw you. Especially if you are asking in a role for which you are being paid handsomely yourself.

If a publication/organisation is asking a writer/blogger to do something from which they expect to make a profit, the writer/blogger deserves a cut. I can’t believe that even needs saying.

As bloggers, we give content away to our readers. That is a choice we make. It is not the same as giving content away free to brand owners/brewers, agencies, beer judging competitions, and other publications or websites. Especially if they are going to profit from it. The expectation that we will do so has to stop.

For more on this issue, you could do a lot worse than read this manifesto by Barney Hoskyns, and this piece in the New York Times (thanks to James Grinter for the link.)

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Brewer from Huddersfield brings California to rainy London: Magic Rock at Draft House Sunday Sessions

Back in the olden days, all the way back in 2009, I did a review of the year in which I gave my personal ‘Brewer of the Year’ award to Fullers’ John Keeling, and the runner-up to Stuart Ross, then working in a three-barrel plant in the cellar of Sheffield’s Hillsborough Hotel. “Stuart just brews what he feels like brewing, constantly experimenting,” I wrote, “I don’t think he knows how good a brewer he is.”
I think he does know how good he is now. But he’s still brewing the beers he wants to drink.
In 2011, Richard Burhouse, who ran an internet beer mail order company called MyBreweryTap, whisked Stuart away from Hillsborough and enabled him to design and build the brewery his talent deserved. In May of that year, Magic Rock opened for business.
The Magic Rock iconography. Stuart once dressed as the bearded lady on the left. It made me want to put bleach in my eyes.
Both men shared a passion for American West Coast pale ales and IPAs. They branded these beers in cool, quirky, circus-based iconography and gave them names like High Wire and Cannonball. They chimed with the taste of the emerging craft beer scene, and as Stuart points out, benefited hugely from

Brew Dog’s decision to cease production of cask beer. Within months, Magic Rock had a national profile and has been struggling to keep up with demand ever since.

Having known Stuart for so long, I was very proud of him when he turned up for the first of a new series of meet the brewer events at The Draft House in Charlotte Street, in central London, dubbed Sunday Sessions.  
Any resemblance between the characters above and the monumentally hungover guests in the room is purely coincidental. 
‘NoHo’, as I have never called it, is quiet on a Sunday and the pub is usually shut. This meant the whole intimate space could be given over to a ticketed event, with just the occasional speculative punter having to be apologetically shown the door. Max Chater, whose Russell Kane-style quiff has previously brought joy to customers of Brew Dog and the excellent Dean Swift, wanted a relaxed, easy Sunday afternoon feel, and a food matching element to the tasting of the beers. This gave him an excuse to show off various culinary tricks such as truffles with ‘bacon dust’ and hot wings that made the Beer Widow weep and choke quite dramatically – much to everyone’s amusement.
Perhaps the late morning fry-up beforehand had not been a good idea.
The first beer, Circus of Sour (3.5% ABV) was a sour Berlinerweisse, “a very simple style of beer that can be very difficult to make”. The sourness comes from natural lactobacillus on the wheat malt. Normally in brewing this could be killed by the boil, but here the wort is steeped in the kettle for 24 hours to allow it to get to work and sour the malt. You then get a sour beer without using a wild yeast. The resulting beer is thin in a good way, tart and cleansing, vaguely reminiscent of freshly made lemonade. 
The food match didn’t really work for me – the Lancashire Poacher was a beautiful cheese, creamy and nutty, but instead of the beer cutting through the cheese as it should in theory, my palate instead felt like it had been hooked up between two horses trying to gallop in opposite directions.
Clown Juice (7% ABV) is a hoppy Belgian style wheat. Before you know this, the combination of citrus hops and big banana notes from the yeast fool you into thinking you’re tasting some kind of tropical fruit infusion. It was paired with sausage and sauerkraut which squared off against each other, the beer bringing them together much more cohesively – a great pairing. 
High Wire (5.5% ABV) is a ‘San Diego-style’ pale ale according to Stuart. He got to go to San Diego a year ago and tour some of the breweries that inspired him. He was encouraged by how close his beers were to what he tasted over there. 
He says that while Magic Rock still packages most of its beer in cask, beers like this work much better on keg. “There’s a peak to it that only lasts about a day on cask,” he says, “after that, as soon as there’s oxygen in the cask, the hop character starts to decay.”
The wings come out with this one, the heat steadily growing until your palate is aflame. The beer is a cooling balm, and when the fire is out, the hops just sing.  
You can tell he’s a craft brewer. That beard is where he carries his hops.
Cannonball (7.4% ABV) is Stuart’s favourite beer. Very dry, very hoppy, it’s West Coast through and through. Matched with a gently spicy chorizo, the piney, resin hops wrap up each mouthful very nicely, like a present.
Rapture (4.6% ABV) is an amber ale, a style I’d love to see a lot more of. Hops, much as we love them, tend to shine best not when they are the one and only dimension to a beer, but when they have something to work off and spar with. Stuart is feeling the effects by this point. “Er… Red beer. Lots of hops. That’s about it,” he says by way of introduction, before diving for one of Max’s curry-scented Scotch eggs.
The slow pace suits the afternoon perfectly. It seems everyone in the pub has a stinking hangover. By the time the High Wire came out, the pain had receded to be replaced with the ‘Hey, we can DO this!” euphoria that the hair of the dog brings. But the energy is short-lived, and we’re pining for duvets by the time Dark Arts (6% ABV) comes out. 
This muscular stout was aged in a Bruichladdich barrel that had already had a beer aged in it. Perhaps because of where the barrel had been, after a few months the beer started to develop a sour character that shouldn’t have been there. If it’s going to go sour, it should be the right kind of sour, thought Stuart, and he added raspberries and a lambic starter to create a geueze stout. There’s vibrant, fizzy fruit that almost hides the coffee and dark chocolate until the end. The truffles, one with the special ‘bacon dust’, vanish too quickly for any serious thoughts about how good the match is, which is probably all that needs to be said anyway.
Fridges positioned where you can see their contents. Who knew?

There’s a lot to love about Draft House, which somehow makes the craft beer scene feel welcoming to a broader audience. And one thing I love the most is their enthusiasm for third-of-a-pint glasses. The glassware is elegant, stemmed and branded, and feels like a great way to sample these beers. Over four hours, we’ve drunk a total of two pints. It feels like more.

The Sunday Sessions will take place on the last Sunday of every month. The next one, at the end of November, is with Logan Plant from Beavertown. Tickets are £20 a pop and well worth it for a lazy Sunday afternoon that taxes your tastebuds and, occasionally, your brain, and could only be improved by the option of being tucked in for a little nap half way through.

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My new website:

After months of talking about it, I’ve finally had my blog revamped as more of a full website with more permanent content.

I’ve always struggled with trying to put stuff on here and not being able to, and setting it up like this means I can take self-promotion stuff out of the main blog feed and put it somewhere else, and make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for.

I’ve also registered the domain, which is easier to remember and redirects to this site.

So there are some new tabs along the top – here’s a brief guide to what’s behind them.

  • What’s new? Keep an eye on the black newsstrip feed, where I’ll talk about new blog posts, events, newly posted articles elsewhere etc.
  • Home – the main blog page. Hello.
  • About Pete – a brief bio, longer description and hi-res press shot – I get asked for these a lot! Now they’re here.
  • Events – I do loads of readings and corporate events. I’m going to keep an ongoing list of events I’ve been booked for, complete with details of tickets etc. There is also some information here about the variety of events I do, from straightforward book readings to experimental beer and music evenings to full dinners, and how to book me for an event.
  • Books – a summary page for all the books I’ve written, in order of publication. Click on each title and you’ll go to a page on that specific book, with more blurb and a bit of background, and some reviews with links to any I’ve managed to find in full online. In time, most of these pages will also have a photo gallery relating to the book.
  • Other writing – the main reason I don’t blog as often as I used to is that I have two or three press deadlines a week. I thought it might be nice to collect links to these so that if I haven’t posted for a while and you are for some reason desperate to see what I’ve been thinking about, you can read more of my stuff here. I’ve only put a fraction of it on here so far but will eventually build it to be comprehensive.
  • Consultancy – very few people can make a living just from writing these days. I do consultancy for drinks manufacturers and their agencies (which I keep entirely separate from my writing) and here’s a bit of a sell page on what you can hire me for
  • Links – I’ve gone for a cleaner design overall. Soon I’ll put a blog roll back up here as well as links to other useful resources.
  • Contact – there’s a form here that sends messages to my personal email.
Sorry to blog about my own blog, but this helps me get my career on a more professional footing, and hopefully helps you find what you want.
The next step of course, now I’m not working on a book for the first time in three years, is to start posting some more interesting content on the blog itself, now I don’t have to clutter it up with posts about events etc. I’ve got so much to write about – some stories going back over a year – so will try to post more often from now on.

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World’s Best Cider is out now and all over the place!

My new book, World’s Best Cider (co-authored with Bill Bradshaw) is out in the UK this week. The North American edition was published on October 1st).

Ever since I became known as a beer writer, people have asked me about cider. They seem to assume I’ll be just as knowledgeable about it as I am about beer. Why? “Well obviously, because you’re a beer writer.”

My mantra throughout the writing of this book was that cider is ‘The world’s most misunderstood drink’. This is just one example – people assuming that because you know something about a drink that is made by malting barley, mixing it with hot water, boiling the resulting wort and adding hops and then yeast for a drink that combines bitterness and sweetness, you’ll also be perfectly au fait with a drink that is made by the careful selection and blending of different kinds of apples (or pears), mashing up the fruit, squeezing out the juice and allowing a months-long fermentation (usually with either wild yeast or champagne yeast) to create drink characterised by a balance of sweetness, acidity and tannin.

Many who don’t drink cider believe it offers a simple choice between sweet, fizzy commercial stuff containing as little as 35% apple juice, and hardcore ‘scrumpy’ that can be awesome but can just as easily be cheesy or vinegary or smell like a farmyard. Cider campaigners tell them that this is ‘the good stuff,’ and they think ‘Really? In that case, I’ll pass.’

Go to the US, and most people think that cider is fresh, unpasteurised, non-alcoholic apple juice.

Poverty Lane Orchards, New Hampshire.

Go to Frankfurt and talk to the apfelwein community, and they will refuse to believe you that Britain makes and drinks fifty per cent of the world’s total cider volume.

Go to Quebec, and you’re likely to find a cider maker who treats his product like fine wine, and has no idea that most of the world’s cider volume is sold fizzy and long, with an an alcohol content more in line with beer.

I didn’t know any of this when photographer Bill Bradshaw e-mailed me out of the blue in 2010. He’d read Three Sheets to the Wind on holiday and decided that we had to work together. He suggested we do a road trip across Belgium, drinking beer and recording our progress. Maybe we’ll still do that someday. But when I found out that Bill was fanatical about cider (as well as being a former beer brewer) I suggested he teach me about cider instead.

Lovely section headers…

As we delved into the subject, pitching early ideas at publishers, we realised something extraordinary. Michael Jackson wrote the first World Guide to Beer in 1977. He introduced Belgian beer to the world. He set out a classification of global beer styles. He inspired the beginning of the American craft beer revolution. Since he wrote that book, countless others have followed, evolving into a fixed format that breezes through the history of beer, talks about how beer is made, then travels around the world’s most notable brewing regions comparing styles and traditions. As book has followed book, this format has evolved into a catalogue of beers, comprising hundreds of bottle shots and tasting notes. Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the first World Guide to Beer 35 years later is the almost complete absence of bottle shots. From a time less plagued by attention deficit disorder, the book is a collection of longer essays about countries and beer styles, written with quiet authority. Examples and tasting notes crop up in these essays, but the beers are never presented in an identity parade.

Hugh Johnson had done the first World Atlas of Wine six years earlier. Since then we now have similar books on cocktails, rim, whisky, coffee, tea – you name it. But not a single example of the same approach to cider.

Why not?

I think it comes back again to being misunderstood. Very few cider lovers realise that there is any cider tradition in the world other than their own. Here in the UK we believe cider is a quintessentially British drink, and most existing cider books I’ve found focus on Britain exclusively. But the sidra-loving Asturians in northern Spain think they own cider, as do the artisanal producers of Normandy, many of whom only make cider as a step along the way to creating Calvados, the most treasured produce of the orchard.

Canadian ice cider. Your new favourite drink.

The cream of the producers from these regions, plus others from Canada, Germany, Austria, the US, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Norway and Japan, have only really started sharing and meeting with each other in the last five years or so. It’s rare (but not impossible) to find a collection of great ciders from around the world in any shop, pub, restaurant or bar on the planet. (We did find one. It’s in the book.)

El Gaitero in Spain proves you can do both big and good.

So the format of World’s Best Cider will be familiar to pretty much anyone who’s ever bought a book about beer or wine. But the content won’t. As Bill and I discovered on our travels, almost everything you thought you know about cider is, if not wrong, then certainly incomplete. We soon realised we only knew a fraction of what was going on, and went on a very steep learning curve. We met three, maybe four people in the world who had a good grasp of the whole global picture. It’s thrilling to be part of broadening that appreciation.

Because this book is the first of its kind, I took some inspiration from the original World Guide to Beer, and there are more essays and longer articles than readers of this style of book may be used to. We both wanted to explore the culture and tradition of cider a well as the taste and style, and profile some of the characters who create it. This comes at a cost: this is not the Good Cider Guide. It doesn’t aim to give you every cider worth drinking so tickers can work their way though it. We give tasting notes for about 250 ciders. Some people tell us they never realised there even were 250 ciders in existence, but we’ve only scratched the surface here. Ben McFarland’s World’s Best Beers – the sister title to this book, from the same publisher – features 1000 beers.

Some of the 250 ciders in the book.

This means that if you’re a cider fan there’s a possibility your favourite cider may not be here. If you make good craft cider and your brand doesn’t feature, this is not a slight. When you break it down, there’s very little space of each individual country. The ciders here are just a cross-section and are not meant to be the last word.

Worth going to Japan for…

The book also covers pairing cider with food, and cooking with cider, as well as a section on the apple itself – a wonderful story in its own right. And we’ve attempted an initial cider style guide, going from light commercial cider and farmhouse scrumpy though apple wine style ciders to perry, Calvados and pommeau. (If you’ve never hard of pommeau, as I hadn’t three years ago, that’s worth reading about on its own).

No jokes about pork in cider…

We’re doing a whole bunch of events to support the book – tomorrow I’m meeting London Glider Cider at Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market for a reading and tasting at 1pm. My blog is finally in the middle of a long-overdue revamp, and in the next few days there will be a new, separate events page which will be updated regularly with more tastings and talks.

Most exciting of all – for me at any rate – I’ve made a programme for BBC Radio 4 about cider as the world’s most misunderstood drink, and the new wave of cider production and enthusiasm that’s spreading around the world. It is broadcast at 12.30pm on Sunday 20th, and will be available on iPlayer for a while afterwards.

Cider is a very different drink from beer, closer in many ways to wine, but not too close. Deceptively simple and straightforward on the commercial side, it opens up to reveal a world of craft cider that is both more straightforward than craft beer (our definition if craft cider is basically cider made with a hundred per cent apple juice, or near to it) but goes in all sorts of different directions (dry hopped cider, anyone?)

I am, inevitably, being drawn into conversations about which is best – cider or beer – and whether this new push into the cider world means I’m abandoning beer.

But why settle for one awesome craft drink when you can have two?

Whatever makes you thirsty.

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Cider: Always drink responsibly. Unless you’re from the 1970s.

It’s Cider O’ Clock here on Pete Brown’s Blog for the next week or so. World’s Best Cider is now on sale, and launches officially next week, which is nice, because it’s also the week of various Apple Day celebrations.
I’ll be writing quite a bit about the book, about the themes within it and some of the fantastic people we met while researching it, over the next week or two. But to kick things off, I wanted to share with you some images of real cider ads that ran in the 1970s and can still be seen in the Bulmer’s Museum in Hereford. It’s a great place. If you think Bulmer’s have only ever done bland, tasteless commercial crap, you need to go and have your perceptions changed. Once, they made the best cider in the world, by any reasonable standards, and the evidence of this is still there.
By the time the images below were being developed, they were making bland, commercial crap. But without this crap, we would never have got these ads. It’s a price worth paying. It’s ads like these that made Woodpecker such a success for Bulmer’s in the 1970s and 1980s, and they remain an inspiration – a lodestone – for alcohol advertisers in the new millennium.
Today, the British advertising Code of Practice states:

“Marketing communications must neither link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success nor imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness… [and] must not imply that drinking alcohol is a key component of the success of a personal relationship or social event.”
Happily then, this ad targets bar staff and simply urges them to draw pints of Woodpecker from the font, ready for thirsty customers with nothing but refreshment on their minds. 

Beer still struggles to shed a macho, boorish image after decades of advertising that many women have found alienating, or even offensive. This has led to a situation where only 15% of beer volume in the UK is drunk by women, compared to 40% in Spain.

Meanwhile, one of the main reasons for cider’s success is that it is acceptable to both men and women. It’s managed to avoid the sexist tropes and stereotypes that beer relied on for so long, and cider vlume is split much more evenly between men and women.
This ad, for example, simply asks us to imagine ourselves as winged creatures, as embodiments of Woodpecker’s brand values – colourful, interesting and free, chirpy and beloved, and to share our drinks in a responsible fashion with our fellow ‘birds’.

The rules on alcohol advertising in the UK are some of the strictest in the world. The introduction to the regulatory code states that “marketing communications for alcoholic drinks should not… imply, condone or encourage immoderate, irresponsible or anti-social drinking. The spirit as well as the letter of the rules applies.”
Mindful of this, our final ad depicts an abstract representation of two Woodpecker consumers sitting in a relaxed fashion, enjoying a responsible drink away from their natural habitat. Their informal poses indicate ease and comfort in each other’s company and their environment. The line simply reminds us that our usual routine and habitat – our ‘tree’ if you will – can feel restrictive, and every now and then it’s nice to go somewhere else and do something different. The very use of the word ‘some’, when it could have said ‘lots of’ or even ‘all’, reminds us that fact that consuming alcohol should be only an occasional occurrence.  
If only more of today’s alcohol advertisers followed the Code of Practice so closely, perhaps we’d have less of the Daily Mail/health lobby hysteria around alcohol that we have to endure today.

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Beer festivals and festival beer: how Carslberg is missing a trick with its music sponsorship

You can have anything you want. So long as you want Tuborg.

When I’m not propping up the bar in a good pub, I like nothing better than jumping up and down and shouting at men with guitars.

I’ve been doing a great deal of the latter this summer at music festivals. The first time I went to Glastonbury in 1987 most people hadn’t heard of it, and for those who had, to suggest going was about the same as suggesting you quit your job, start freebasing crack and buy a mangy dog on a piece of string.

In 1987, the only mention of Glastonbury in the national media was the number of arrests (it was never pointed out that this number was always far lower than in any town of a population size equivalent to the festival over the weekend). Now it gets wall-to-wall coverage, and tickets are impossible to come by. And so we’ve seen a huge proliferation of festivals, with several happening every weekend from June to September. When we look at declining beer sales figures every summer, it’s a shame these events aren’t monitored. The picture might look a little different if we could take into account a hundred thousand people drinking steadily for three days each weekend.

Festivals are now big business, and big brands are all over them. And this led to two very different beer experiences at the festivals I attended this summer.

The Latitude Festival is held just outside Southwold in Suffolk. Recently it was taken over by Festival Republic, who also run Reading, Glastonbury and various other festivals. The organisation has signed a deal with Carlsberg to supply Tuborg lager and Somersby cider to all these festivals. At Latitude, at the ten or so bars around the festival site, Tuborg was the only lager on offer, Somersby the only cider. Hobgoblin was on sale too – for some reason. Whether Carlsberg thought this was a better bet than their own Tetley’s beer, or festival republic signed a separate ale deal with Marston’s, I’m not sure.

I have nothing against Carlsberg really, even if I don’t drink much of it myself.  Tuborg is no better or worse than its mainstream competitors. Personally I don’t like Somersby, but other people do. And while I like the odd pint of Hobgoblin, it’s far too dark and heavy for a sunny festival weekend. After all, it’s achieved huge success by positioning itself as a beer for late Autumn. With these beers as the only choices on offer, anywhere, for four days, I ended up simply not drinking very much beer.

The Green Man Festival in South Wales is very different. It’s still independent. This year there was a real ale tent stocking 99 different Welsh ciders and cask ales. At the other beer tents on the festival site,
the selection was different from the Festival Republic formula, but just as narrow. 
And here we saw a fascinating experiment emerge. 
The queue in the real ale tent was never less than six deep, from midday to midnight. Men and women from eighteen to sixty stood around discussing the list, asking each other for tips. It took at least twenty minutes to get served. The ciders and perrys started running out on the Thursday night, before the festival had even begun properly. By Saturday everything had gone, and they were sending vans around Wales to grab whatever beer and cider they could to fill the empty stillages. 
By contrast, you could walk up to any other bar on site and get served straight away by bored staff, grateful for something to do. Ironically, after championing cask ale for a living and writing so much about interesting beer, I spent a lot of Green Man drinking their generic lager because I didn’t have time to queue for the good stuff between bands.
I’ve been in meetings where brand sponsorship of events is worked out. According to its website, Carlsberg likes to think that “the Tuborg brand is building a youthful, fun image through sponsorship of music and live festivals.” I’m sure the idea is that people will try Tuborg or Somersby at festivals, having no choice to drink anything else, and then grow to like it and order it next time they see it, because they now associate it with good times. 
But I fear it doesn’t work like that. People go to festivals (of any kind) because they want to see and try something different from the norm – whether that be bands, comedians, writers, food or drink. It’s one of the biggest examples of consumers seeking ever-greater variety in all walks of life. To go to a festival and be confronted with a range of drinks that any pub in the country would consider too narrow is anathema to the whole experience, and leaves a lingering bad aftertaste.

Of course as a beer purist it would be easy to say Carlsberg shouldn’t sponsor festivals, festivals shouldn’t be corporate, and everyone should celebrate small and independent. But the real world doesn’t work like that. Green Man retains an overall better atmosphere than any other festival I know because of its independence, but the price of that independence is that there’s no budget to book decent headliners – at least, there wasn’t this year. Thanks in part to Carlsberg’s dosh, I got to see Kraftwerk at Latitude. 
So the bog brands aren’t going to go away. I just wish they’d be a bit cleverer and show more of an understanding of what festival-goers want. Like any other multinational brewer, Carlsberg has a wide range of brands in their portfolio and is always looking at new product development. They have the Jacobsen and Semper Ardens beers, dark lagers and Belgian beers and stouts and wheat beers from around the world. Why not use festivals as a testing ground instead? With this captive audience, why not try new brews under the Tetley’s brand, or see how Carlsberg and Tuborg perform side by side, or see if there’s a UK market for their eastern European bocks or amber lagers?

I’m sure sales figures from the summer’s festivals were great. But as the glorious, independent experiment at Green Man proved, I’m positive they could have been even better.