Category: Writing

| Mental Health, Uncategorised, Writing

A Personal Update

If you’re a fan of my writing, you may be wondering where I’ve been for most of 2023. Here’s what’s been happening and what I have planned for the future.

I wrote 12 books at this desk. Over the course of 23 years. I won’t be writing any more here.

Rooms always look so defeated when you’ve cleared them. The very act of taking stuff out spreads dirt and dust. The denuding of shelves and corners reveals a lot of dust and dirt you never knew were there, all the better to spread around. You lay down the marks of your presence, your habits, your rituals, and your leaving reveals them, shamefully.

As of now, this room belongs to someone else. This week we completed on the sale of the house we’ve lived in since 2001. I am very, very lucky that I was part of the last generation to be able to just about to afford to buy property in London without having rich parents.

Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, we were lucky again when my wife Liz was made redundant under dodgy circumstances, because the payout gave us a deposit. We were lucky yet again four years later, when the rundown, dodgy neighbourhood we could afford to buy in was named the site for the 2012 London Olympics, and received billions of pounds of investment, sending house prices soaring to a level we could never have afforded.

You don’t make much money as a writer. I had a house that is worth an awful lot of money, but apart from that, I had only debt. No savings, no investments, no pending inheritances, not even a regular income I could rely on. The Covid lockdown ruined me financially – for two years I earned less than my mortgage payments. 

We have no children to pass on our very expensive house to. So we’re cashing in – paying off the mortgage and all our debts, buying a house for less than half the price we’re selling ours for, and from now on, splitting our time between a small flat in London and a house in Norwich. 

When I tell people we’re moving to Norwich, people who haven’t been there often repeat “NORWICH? Why Norwich?” with a facial expression like this:

I am eternally grateful to Steve Coogan, and his creation, Alan Partridge, for the image they have created for Norwich and North Norfolk. Partridge, in all his ridiculous pomposity, is the kind of person you think you’re going to meet if you go there. I reckon that’s kept a couple of hundred grand off the price of the beautiful Georgian townhouse we’re buying.   

That house is twenty minutes walk from the centre of town, along (I swear on my life I didn’t know this when we first looked at the house) the NR3 Beer Mile, a stretch of eight or nine of the most delightful pubs I’ve ever seen. Beer costs 2/3 of what it does in London. The coast (all the North Norfolk coast, in different directions) is half an hour’s drive away. There are seals on the beach just now. People often ask “Why Norwich?!” That’s some reasons why. There are more. Here’s another:

This isn’t Ghent or Bruges. This is a pub 15 minutes walk from my new house. It specialises in cask ale and has 8-10 taps on at any given time, mostly from small local brewers. It has a deck that runs the length of the pub along the river.

What does this mean for my writing and your reading pleasure?

This has been the most difficult year of my life. In March my little brother died, alone, depressed and in anguish, due to illnesses related to chronic alcoholism. I didn’t want to write much about beer after that. I had to do a lot of soul searching, and a bit of therapy. I go stuck in the “anger” stage of grief for about five months, and my written output consisted mainly of me swearing at right-wing politicians on Twitter. If you wondered what was happening to me (some people did contact me, worried about my mental health) this was it. If you were offended or frustrated by anything I wrote, I apologise (unless you’re Rishi Sunak or Suella fucking Braverman.)

Anyway, I’m through that now. (You don’t get over grief; you just figure out how it live with it.) And the process of sorting out Stuart’s flat and estate gave us the impetus to move.

Now, without having to service thousands of pounds of debt every month, I have more time to write. And I can be choosier about what I do. In the New Year, I’ll be relaunching my writing career across varikous platforms.

A trade press article about trends in the fruited “cider” category which will take three days to research and pay £150? No thank you.

Reviews of afternoons spent in coastal pubs, musing life, just for the pleasure of it? Yes please. 

Norwich is famous for its excellent pubs – it used to boast one for every day of the year. And everywhere else from the North Norfolk coast to the Norfolk Broads to breweries such as the excellent Duration, Ampersand and Little Earth Project are, at most, a 45-minute drive away.

Apart from the local attractions, I have two new book ideas I’m working on, and the time to do them – after Clubland, I simply could not afford to write another book, and have had to spend most of the working time I’ve had this year on consultancy projects instead. I probably don’t have another 12 books left in me (sorry, new writing room) but I hope my best ones are still ahead of me.

I hope you’ll stick with me for the ride.

| Beer Writing, British Guild of Beer Writers, Writing

How the Guild of Beer Writers judges its annual awards

Last week, as Chair of Judges at this year’s Beer Writers’ Awards, I presented Johnny Garrett with the award for Beer Writer of the Year for 2022. There’s always discussion and speculation about these awards online, which occasionally reveals that people don’t really know how they work. So here’s a full and frank account of how the awards happen.

About the Guild and the Awards

The British Guild of Beer Writers was formed in 1988 with the following objectives:

  • To promote excellence in beer, cider, and pub communications
  • To support beer and cider communicators in their professional and skills development
  • To help educate, inform and inspire people about beer, cider, and pubs
  • The Guild is formed as a non-political body to pursue these aims

The annual awards seek to reward beer writers with both recognition and cash awards. They change continually over time to reflect developments in beer communications. The scope and number of categories is reviewed on a continual basis.

The Guild is run by a Board of Directors, elected by members every year at the AGM. Of these directors, the Chair receives a small stipend, and in addition there is a paid, part-time secretary who works two days a week. The Treasurer also receives a small stipend. Everyone else on the Board donates their time on a voluntary basis. Directors must retire after three years by rotation, and seek re-election if they wan’t to continue on the Board.

The Awards and Dinner are a huge amount of work. While the Board oversees and approves any key decisions about the organisation of the Awards, such as recommended changes to categories, it has no direct involvement in the running of the Awards. This is outsourced to a paid, independent person or organisation who:

  • Finds and books the venue for the dinner
  • Recruits the judges
  • Advertises the awards and coordinates entries being received and distributed to the judges
  • Oversees the judging process

This means that the actual judging of the awards has no direct involvement from the Board (with one occasional exception – see “judges” below.) The Board, including the Chair, find out the results of the awards at the same time as everyone else in the room on the night, and have no decision making power.


The Guild looks for sponsors for the awards to (a) help pay for the dinner (the price of individual dinner tickets is kept below cost for Guild members) and (b) enable us to pay cash prizes to our winners. The Guild awards a cheque of £1000 for Gold tankard winners and £500 for silver tankard winners. This year the Guild awarded winners a prize pot totalling a record £19,500.

Anyone can sponsor award, but obviously, big brewers are more likely to be able to afford to sponsor. Some people are unhappy that large scale brewers have a presence at the awards. As stated above, the Guild is apolitical and as an organisation expresses no view on industry issues – though it works to support and amplify the right of any Guild member to make their own feelings known.

It’s perhaps understandable that people may worry about the potential for these sponsors in some way to compromise the independence of the Awards. The Guild takes steps to ensure that this cannot happen. The judging process has absolutely no input from sponsor organisations. Like the Guild Board, sponsors find out who the winners are on the night, at the same time as everyone else. Sponsors may ask to see the winning work that has been entered in their category after the event. As that work is already in the public domain, the Guild supplies it on request.

The Guild puts no pressure on any individual to not criticise a company just because they happen to be a sponsor. Often, sponsors are criticised by people entering the awards, maybe even people they are writing cheques to. Mostly, they accept this. If they don’t, they are free to withdraw their support from the awards. This has happened in the past.


Some comments that are critical of the awards talk of a clique of writers slapping each other on the back. Perhaps some of this comes from the fact that when someone wins Beer Writer of the Year, they are expected (though there’s no way of forcing anyone) to be Chair of Judges the following year. (The exception referred to above – this person may be a Board member, as I was when I won last year.I’ve won Beer Writer of the Year four times in total, so I have now chaired the judging four times.) This is actually intended to ensure that the same person can’t win year after year – you can’t win and then enter the awards the following year. There’s also an informal convention that the Chair of the Guild doesn’t enter the awards. (After winning Beer Writer of the Year in 2016, I judged the Awards in 2017 and then didn’t enter 2018-2021 as I was Chair of the Guild.)

So the Awards presentation may be given by familiar faces. But it’s a very different picture behind the scenes. The process of finding judges starts around April. Out of ten judges, very few are beer writers. Apart from the Chair, we look for a brewer who can read for technical accuracy, a journalist from outside the industry who’s lack of beer knowledge leaves them free to spot a good story, someone from the broader publishing world – a cross-section of different talents. Each year most of the judges doing this have never judged the awards before.

This year the awards were judged by me, a publican from York, a committee member of the British Institute of Innkeeping, a magazine editor, a brewer, a beer importer, two freelance journalists (an unusually high number) a book publisher, and a cheesemonger. Hardly beer writers slapping each other’s backs.

Many of these judges have never before seen the work of the communicators they are judging, and in some cases have never heard of the person submitting the work (none of us in this game is as well-known as we’d like to believe.) The judges can only make their decisions based purely on the work in front of them.

First Round Judging

We usually have 13-14 categories, and this year there were a total of 190 different entries. That’s far too much for any one judge to read, so judges are paired up and given a few categories each. These two judges read everything in the categories they are given, and from that prepare a shortlist of up to six finalists. They are also asked to give their opinion of who the winner and runner-up in that category should be. Each pair of judges selects their own shortlist and no one else’s. So no one person gets to go “This person should have five shortlist places, that person shouldn’t have any.” If you go shortlisted in four of five different categories, it means four or five different sets of judges have thought your work was good enough to go through without discussing it with each other.

Second Round Judging

The shortlists from each category are then shared with all the judges, so everyone reads each other’s once they are finalised. At the final judging meeting, each judge presents their shortlist and argues the case for their category winners. These decisions are debated, challenged and often overturned by their fellow judges. Often there’s consensus. This year many categories went to a vote, which was often very tight.

Once all the category winners are chosen, the Beer Writer of the Year is chosen from them. This is not just a process of maths – who’s won the most categories – through it often ends up going that way. But it’s never just nodded through.

An important point – once the judging is finished, then and only then are the shortlists made public. By the time the shortlist is published, the judges already know who the winners are. This means there is no space for lobbying that x or y should or shouldn’t win. By the time the shortlist is revealed, the judges know who the Beer Writer of the Year is, but no one outside the judging room (apart from the people who engrave the trophies and the AV guy who does the slides) knows who the winners are.

Bias and agenda

So to address some the criticism that is aimed at the Awards on social media after each year’s event, this exhaustive – and exhausting – process means “The Guild” has no say over who gets to win any award. It means very few people judge more than once, or in consecutive years, so there is no long-term agenda around who should or shouldn’t win. Each year has to be taken on its own merit because it’s a different set of judges and maybe even a different set of categories than the year before.

No one can guarantee that there definitely isn’t be someone on the judging committee who has either a grudge against or a bias towards any given entrant – there’s no extreme vetting process for judges before they are invited. But if such a situation did exist, that person would (a) Only be able to influence first round voting in two or three categories, and would (b) need to convince nine or ten other people in the room for second round judging to vote with their prejudice rather than with the other judges’ views on the work before them. It’s statistically possible that there might be more than one person in the room with the same grudge. But a majority? Year after year? The odds would have to be astronomical.

“The same old faces”

In 2021, we gave a total of 29 tankards or highly commended mentions. Eleven of these – more than a third – were to people who had never won a Guild award before. Best Newcomer and Best Citizen actually have it written into their descriptions that these awards cannot be for the same old faces. And of that sounds like some kind of patronising consolation – in 2015 the winner of the Best Newcomer Award (then called Best Young Beer Writer) swept several categories and won Beer Writer of the Year.

Seven awards last year were given to women: maybe that’s not enough, but it’s seven more than there were ten or fifteen years ago. In 2014, our Beer Writers of the Year were a male-female couple. In 2018, the Beer Writer of the Year was a woman in her own right for the first time. Two years later, the award was again won by a woman – who was only in her mid-twenties at the time.

This year, a further nine people were recognised in these awards for the first time.

No one can deny that there are cliques in the beer scene. But the Guild has worked extremely hard to ensure that doesn’t transfer to the judging of the Awards.

If you’re reading this and thinking “Hang on, that bit sounds like it might be open to abuse” or “That doesn’t seem fair,” please let me know and I’ll pass it on to next year’s judging team as part of my feedback from this year. Otherwise, I hope this reassures anyone reading that the awards judging process is fair and unbiased.

| Books, Clubland, Writing

Announcing my next book project: “Clubland”

Sixteen years ago I developed an idea for a social history of the Working Men’s Club movement. Last year, a publisher finally bought it. Here’s why I have an eternal fascination with an overlooked aspect of British social history.

The Mildmay Club, Newington Green, getting ready for Liz’s significant birthday.

One of my earliest memories is of being held in someone’s arms in a space that glowed.

I know the memory is genuine because it’s disjointed; a sequence of random impressions that only make sense in retrospect, now I understand things I didn’t at the time.

It was Christmas, and in a community like Barnsley, you don’t do Christmas by halves. Every wall, every inch of ceiling, was covered by hanging decorations made from shining metallic paper. Tinsel adorned every corner and ledge. And behind it, the brass bar tops and beer fonts gleamed a fiery, welcoming glow. Perhaps it was fairy lights, possibly candles, but everywhere there was light, and the surfaces in the pub caught this light, refracted and amplified it, until it seemed that the very air shone. I had no understanding of alcohol, no concept of why we were here, but it was a magical place.

And this wonderland transformed the people within it. Faces that were normally grey and drawn were now shiny and red, adding to the colour. They looked each other in the eye as they laughed. They were ostentatious in their generosity. The women were gorgeous, all long frocks, dangly earrings and blue eye shadow, and the men were open and expansive, generous and warm, somehow thawed out in the midst of the winter chill. 

For a long time, I used to associate this memory with the pub. But my parents hardly ever went to the pub. My dad, when he drank at all, was a club man. 

Pub versus Club

I first became interested in the story of working men’s clubs when I was researching Man Walks into a Pub in the early noughties. These establishments were first created for rather than by working men, essentially to keep them out of pubs and “improve” them in the eyes of well-meaning and progressive, but ultimately naive, clergymen and noblemen.

But clubs didn’t really take off until upper class people realised working men needed to determine their own destiny. A separate club licence had been introduced, which meant that politicians could introduce licensing laws forcing pubs to close, but still go to their gentlemen’s clubs and carry on drinking afterwards. Working men proved they had been underestimated when the realised they could get club licenses of their own, defying the hypocrisy of their supposed betters.

Working men’s clubs, when run by working men, were a form of emancipation. A man could work in a factory or mill during the week, and then go and be on a committee at his club, responsible for a turnover that rivalled the company he worked for. Many committee members went on to be mayors or even MPs. Or he might go onstage and be a comedian, a ventriloquist or singer. Clubs provided libraries, financial support, clothing banks and washing or showering facilities decades before the welfare state began helping people who didn’t have enough.

In terms of entertainment, as variety theatres disappeared, clubs became the launchpad for what TV execs would later call ‘light entertainment’. Everyone from Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey to comedians like Les Dawson, Little & Large and Cannon & Ball got their first breaks on the club circuit. Talents as diverse as Paul Weller, Noddy Holder and Steve Davis all played in working men’s clubs before they played anywhere else – Davis getting his first break in a very different sense than the others.

There is of course the issue of women, especially given the name of these organisations. Some clubs were more progressive than others, and the story of how women gain equal rights in clubs is both shocking (it didn’t happen until 2007) and inspiring, beginning with a woman being banned from playing snooker and going on to form a campaign called “A woman’s right to cues”, and essentially breaking new ground for female representation in sports more widely. It’s one of the best stories in the book. Many clubs have dropped the “working men’s” bit from their names, and women now play a key role at every level of club organisation.

A long and winding road… to the north

I started discussing an idea that captured this remarkable, hidden story with editors around 2005. I pitched the idea seriously in 2012 and again in 2016. It got nowhere. People in London publishing houses would see it as no more than a nostalgia fest for people who went to clubs in the 1970s, or would get that it was more than that, buut say, “Well I’d read it avidly, but I don’t think enough other people would.”

Then, in July 2020, I got an e-mail from an editor at Harper North, a new, Manchester-based subsidiary of Harper Collins. Did I have a book idea that would suit a list that had a northern tilt to it?

Yes I did.

“Clubland” will be published by Harper North in June 2022, to coincide with the 160th anniversary of the Club and Institute Union (CIU). It probably won’t be called “Clubland” by then. It will be my twelfth full-length published book and I am enjoying researching it enormously.

Tell me your story

Some of the stories in this book have already exceeded my wildest hopes when I began researching it. The many different ways in which clubs have influenced people, communities and society as a whole are mind-boggling, sometimes very moving, often utterly hilarious.

In early July I’m going to be visiting clubs around the country and talking to people who run them and use them. If you think there’s a club that has particular historical or contemporary interest, one that has a remarkable story to tell, please let me know. And if you have your own stories that deserve to be told, tell me now!

(For information: I’ve already had at least three people tell me the tale of Shirley Bassey and the backstage sink and claim it was them.)

Have you checked out my Patreon? Among other benefits, all Patrons at £3 or above receive 25% off any tickets I sell via Eventbrite. Subscription starts from just £1. Sign up here.

| Books, Writing

If you do want to write that book, there’s never been a better time.

My latest project is a book written in lockdown about writing books in lockdown, written specifically to help anyone deciding – or trying to pluck up the courage – to take the plunge and start their own.

We all have our lockdown routines, the bits that are functional and the bits that are dysfunctional. A key part of mine – and I’m not sure which category this falls into – is to get my doomscrolling done early. As soon as I wake up, I scan the headlines first, then check in on Twitter and Facebook, and read until the despair hits some kind of internal alarm that kicks me out. Then, I get on with my day.

While I was doing this on Monday this week, a tweet on my timeline caught my eye. It said something along the lines of “Yay. The start of another week of my life on hold.”

This made me incredibly sad on behalf of the person who had written it. Of course I get it: the sacrifices we are having to make are not easy for any of us. But I found the idea of not being able to go anywhere, not to see people and hug them, not to go to the pub or a party or go browsing in shops, adding up to not having any life at all, to be unbearably sad.

If you’re lucky, lockdown offers opportunities as well as limitations. I can’t speak for key workers who still have to risk everything by going to work, or parents who are now having to home-school their kids for at least five hours a day while trying to hold down jobs and run a household. They all have my sympathy and admiration. But what they are experiencing is anything but life on hold. If you’re not in these groups, or even if you are and you’ve managed to work out a system that gives you free time, then there can be more to lockdown than working your way through box sets.

Maybe it’s time to start writing that book that you keep thinking about.

During the first lockdown, there was plenty of middle-class frottage about how to use this time to learn a language, start your sourdough culture, read Ulysses, or make an Airfix diorama of the D-Day landings (OK, that last one may have come from a drunken Zoom call rather than the pages of the Guardian.)

I’m not talking about these things, these “self-improvement” initiatives that you feel like you should do. Back when I was in therapy, Andy banned me from using the word “should”. To paraphrase Yoda (which Andy didn’t – he was a serious therapist) “Want to. Or want not to. There is no should.”

I think there are probably very few people who feel they “should” write a book, in the way we might feel like we should get healthier, or we should declutter the wardrobes or the book shelves, or we should learn to speak better Spanish before we go on holiday again. But I meet (or at least used to meet) a lot of people who want to to write a book. I used to get asked how to do it at every live event I ever did. Even people who haven’t got to the stage of wanting to write a book will often tell me they could write a book, that they have an idea for one kicking around in their heads and demanding their attention.

I made the transition from wanting to write a book to having written a book by taking annual leave from work and, instead of going on holiday, locking myself away somewhere quiet with no distractions and staring my desire to write in the face. Now, we’re all in a similar situation. If you really do want to write a book, there have never been better circumstances to start – and hopefully, all other things considered, there never will be again.

There are many excuses for not writing the book you want to write. Not having the time is one of them. You can always make time if you’re serious about doing it, and now, time is one thing many of us have in greater abundance than we have had for a very long time.

Another cloud of excuses surround the idea of not knowing how to do it – how to start out or plan it or see it through. Will it be good enough? Does it make sense?

The flippant answer to these questions and fears is simple: just sit down and write. Any problems with a piece of writing can be sorted once it’s down on the page far more effectively than they can while it’s still in your head. The act of writing clears up a lot of them in the process, as well as giving you the confidence to challenge those that remain.

I’ve provided a somewhat longer, more detailed answer to all these questions and more in my latest lockdown project. When I wrote Craft: An Argument last year, I did a series of blog posts about the process and the experience of writing a book in lockdown in 13 weeks. I decided to gather these blog posts together, tidy them up a bit, and turn them into a little book. The collected blog posts came to about 11,000 words. The “little book” is now 43,000 words. I’m nearing completion of the second draft, which will probably top at at 45,000.

This in itself is an illustration of the point the book is making – that writing can be a joy, a distraction, a catharsis. Everything I’ve learned from writing eleven books and having them published, plus all the other attempts at books that never did get published, poured out of me and found its way into this manuscript. Back in late November, when I started it once Beer by Design had been published, I couldn’t stop the words coming out of me.

I’m mostly resisting the temptation to read and incorporate other people’s advice on the subject, to make it as comprehensive a guide to writing non-fiction as I possibly can. It’s based entirely on my personal experience, with a little help from one or two writers much more famous than me. But as I’ve had books published by big publishers, smaller publishers, crowdfunded publishers and self-publishing, with an agent and without, successes and failures, I figured I could cover the subject pretty comprehensively.

We’ll be self-publishing this through our own Storm Lantern imprint in early February, and it should be up for pre-order by the middle of next week. Towards the end of February I’ll be running a training course for members of the British Guild of Beer Writers based on the first half of the book, which covers developing ideas and voice, getting into a routine, and not giving up. This too will be officially announced towards the end of next week. I’m planning further online courses which I’ll be running independently – more details to follow.

You can of course write your book without any more help from me or anyone else. And even if you are thinking of buying my book and/or attending a course, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you already have an idea of what you want to write, and you’ve spent a bit of time developing that idea.

So I urge you – for your own sake and no one else’s – if you kinda want to write but have been putting it off, start today. I promise you, as I finish my third book since March last year, that losing yourself in writing is about as good a way of surviving lockdown as you’ll find.

Enjoyed reading this? Then please have a look at my Patreon and consider subscribing, from as little as £1 a month. It features exclusive and preview content and many other benefits such as free books, depending on your subscription level.

| Art of Beer, Beer Books, Beer By Design, Books, CAMRA, Marketing, Writing

Beer By Design: My new book out now

With around 2500 breweries in the UK, many of whom sell core ranges, seasonals, limited editions and collabs, it’s never been harder to stand out from the pack. That’s why the look of beer has become the most creative and diverse of any packaged product. And that’s why my wife and I did a book about it while (white) shielding.

Before I was a writer, I worked in advertising – and enjoyed it for a time. I was fascinated by the idea of brands: originally a simple mark of ownership, they evolved into carriers of additional meaning. At first, they were symbols of trust, of consistency and quality. Every tin you buy with a Heinz logo on it, every Cadbury’s chocolate bar, is going to taste the same as the last one. If we like that taste, we remain loyal to most things that carry that logo. Then, brands took on a more abstract sense. If lots of people who are like you all think that a certain brand is cool, then by extension, in their eyes, you’re cool if you wear it. Over the last thirty years we’ve all learned to use this abstract quality of brands, whether we do so consciously or not. We use brands and logos to build an idea of ourselves that we want to project to the world.

After Bass became the UK’s first registered trade mark, beer brands developed certain stylistic conventions that remained fundamentally unchanged for over a century. The oval, or “racetrack” shape, use of a simple symbol, various cues of quality. It all started to look a bit… samey.

In the 21st century, craft beer tore up the rulebook of how successful beer branding was supposedly done. It set itself directly in opposition to conventional design to prove that it wasn’t part of the mainstream.

This led to an extraordinary explosion of creativity. Among people who insisted they were influenced by the beer and not the marketing, like mainstream drinkers were, some enormously powerful brands were built.

Not all of it works as successful commercial branding, but most of it is gorgeous to look at, and some of it works as art in its own right.

And this branding revolution has affected the whole beer market, inspiring even established mainstream brands to rediscover the craft and art of design. This was pretty welcome for some older cask ale brands that had previously started to look dated and out of touch, and could now look contemporary in ways they never would have dared before craft moved the goal posts.

Sometimes, creative use of type, combining heritage typefaces with a few modern tricks, can make a brand look cool while still remaining true to its roots: a hard thing to pull off when it’s much easier to look like you’re desperately dad-dancing in a market you no longer understand.

Alternatively, a distinctive style of illustration can establish a common look across a wide range of beers at the same time as marking them out as different from everyone else.

Even the biggest brands realised there was more to the broader idea of craft than being small and independent, and rediscovered an idea of craft in their design that was firmly based in their heritage and longevity.

My wife Liz, who spent years working in the design industry, worked as picture researcher on this book. She had countless conversations with designers, artists and people working for breweries, and eventually gathered artwork from over 220 different breweries. When it came to making a book that looked as beautiful as a tome on design should, we didn’t have room for all of it. (We feature about 145 breweries in the book in total.) That’s why Liz will be launching a new blog – -tomorrow, and has also set up @BeerByDesignUK on Twitter and Instagram. This book is only the start of a conversation about design in which we aim to show some work in more depth, give behind the scenes peeks at how things develop, and interview designers and brewers about their work.

There’s still a lot of shit design out there, and there are conversations to be had about what should or shouldn’t go on a beer label, how it’s regulated, and whether or not it works. But for now, we’re keeping Beer By Design to the good stuff, things we like to look at, and things we believe help sell beer. If there is a job to do on the poor stuff, then maybe by showing the good stuff, we can inspire others to raise their game.

So please, if you’re a brewer, artist or designer who thinks your work should be featured, or if you’re a big fan of someone you believe should be here, go to and let us know!

You can of course buy the book from Amazon, but I’d prefer if you bought it from the CAMRA bookshop, for two reasons. Firstly, I think it’s great that CAMRA were prepared to publish a book like this. It’s a real sign that the organisation is taking a more modern, inclusive approach to beer than it has in the past, so it would be nice to show them how right they were to do it. And secondly, I get a significantly higher royalty on copies sold through CAMRA than through anywhere else.

Finally, we’re holding the official launch party via Zoom tomorrow night, Thursday 26th, at 7pm, and you’re invited. If you’d like to see me and some of the featured brands and designers talking about the book, and have a chat, sign up here. It will almost certainly end with one of these.

Beer By Design: it’s the saviour of your Christmas shopping list.

There’s a longer, more in-depth preview of the book over on my Patreon. You can sign up from just £1 a month. But sign up at the £25 level, and you’ll get a free, signed copy of the book as a thank you. same goes for any future book I publish while you’re still signed up at that level.

| Beer, Craft - An Argument, Patreon, Pubs, Uncategorised

Craft Beer after Covid: Glass half-empty, glass half-full

Last month I set up a Patreon in the hope that a modest regular income would allow me to spend time researching key stories in much greater depth than I normally can unless I’m being paid a consultancy fee. In the first of these deep dives, I’ve looked at the future of craft beer post-lockdown – from the perspective of being fresh from “Craft: An Argument” – and tried to draw some conclusions. This is a summary of that work, with a fuller report with stats and detail available to Patrons.

Seeing both sides of an argument is different from sitting on the fence. 

There’s no point trying to play down the huge negative impact of Coronavirus and the lockdown it necessitated. The hospitality sector has been hit worse than most, and within that, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest the craft sector, consisting mainly of small, independent businesses, will end up faring worse than the mainstream:

  • – Small pubs and micropubs will find it more difficult to reopen than larger chains.
  • – While some small, independent brewers have done well with online sales and (free) local delivery, overall small brewers suffered an 80% drop in volume during lockdown and 65% had to close.
  • – The lack of sufficient notice that 4th July would definitely be the reopening date did not give small brewers enough time to prepare.
  • – With lower capacity, pubs are likely to reduce the number of lines on the bar – in fact they’d be wise to.
  • – Big brewers are giving huge support to pubs, including thousands of pints of free beer. Helpful to pubs, yes, but likely to pressure small brewers off the bar even further.

There will be a colossal short-term impact. Businesses are going bust and people are losing their jobs. They’ll continue to do so.

But that’s only half the story. 

While I wrote “Craft” during lockdown, I deliberately avoided speculating on what lockdown might mean for the craft beer movement, because that would have dated it quickly. In the book, I look beyond the issues of ownership and independence that have come to dominate the debate over what is and isn’t ‘craft’. 

The recent boom in craft – in beer and beyond – is a reaction to a mix of factors including the 2008 global financial crash, the spread of superfast, handheld mobile computing and communications, open plan office culture, the growing degree to which algorithms dictate our decisions and behaviours, the arrival of Artificial Intelligence, and the ongoing creep of corporate dominance and homogenisation in all aspects of our lives.

These factors combine to create two separate but related themes that drive craft. One, the personal need to do more with our hands than tap or swipe; to engage with the world around us in a more meaningful, physical way, and two, the desire to escape the corporate rat race, to live better, to be better, to be more fulfilled. 

If we can’t do these things personally, we console ourselves with actively choosing products from people whom we believe have done it on our behalf, and live vicariously through them. 

There have been many changes in lockdown, and we see some of them as positive. Almost all the positive ones feed directly into this narrative around the broader idea of craft. If, before lockdown, we wanted to reject a bland, boring mainstream, to slow down, to experience life more vividly and personally, to support local businesses, to be kinder and more compassionate, to reject the open-plan, “computer says no” office environment, lockdown has not only heightened those desires – it’s shown that it is possible for all of us to act on at least some of them.

Those craft brewers that survive the short-term hit will face an environment that, while remaining subdued, will be far more in tune with the principles that motivate the brewers, retailers and drinkers of craft beer than it was pre-Covid. At the moment, it seems that the underlying motivations and themes that make craft beer so appealing to an ever-increasing number of people are being strengthened by people’s experiences. For all its negative effects, for all the death and hurt the virus has caused and for all the economic hardship to come, lockdown was time-out, a chance to reflect. 

Stripped of the daily commute, the constant travel, the endless crowds, the noise and spectacle with which we usually fill our lives, we’ve had the chance to discover – or re-discover – what really matters to us. We’ve realised that, while this state of affairs is far from ideal, there are some good bits. 

Craft brewers – rightly or wrongly – are generally perceived as, among other things,  smaller and more independently-minded, more progressive in their attitudes, kinder, friendlier and more collaborative than their corporate, industrialised rivals, more face-to-face in their communications, more physically engaged with both the nature of their work and the communities they exist within and do business with. All of this has become more appealing as a result of lockdown. 

The future – eventually – will be bright. 

The full report is available on Patreon to anyone who signs on at the £3 tier or above. (While it’s a regular monthly subscription, you’re perfectly free to sign just for a month and then cancel.)

Craft: An Argument is available here on Kindle and here as a print-on-demand version. The audiobook will be ready as soon as the drilling stops outside my house.

| Beer, Beer Books, Beer Writing, Craft - An Argument

The future of “craft beer” depends upon us changing the arguments around it.

My new book, Craft: An Argument is published today. Written and self-published in the last thirteen weeks, it’s an argument at least ten years in the making.

Does anyone still care about the meaning of the term “craft beer”?

I’m afraid I do – passionately.

Debates – sometimes furious arguments – have been going on for at least fifteen years now. I often hear craft beer dismissed as a “meaningless marketing term”, both by people who think it’s been co-opted by big brewers, and by people who think it never meant anything in the first place, on the grounds that it lacks a tight, technical definition.

Attempts by industry bodies to create such a definition have been fighting an orderly retreat since 2005: they began as multi-faceted lists of all the attributes many of us visualise when we think of craft beer. Thanks to both the growth and diversification of craft brewers and the attempts by Big Beer to co-opt craft, from an industry point of view, the only meaningful aspect of “craft beer” is that it is produced by an independent brewery. Brewer’s Associations around the world are steadily rebranding as associations of independent brewers, and seem to be quietly retiring the word “craft” from use, just as they did “microbrewery” a decade ago.

So “craft beer” is in all kinds of problems. If we say craft = independent, like the US Brewers Association currently does, then Yuengling Light – a cheap, adjunct-filled mass-market lager made by a massive corporation – is officially a craft beer. Meanwhile, Goose Island Bourbon County Barrel-aged stout – regarded by many as the best barrel-aged stout in the world – is not a craft beer, on the grounds that Goose Island is now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. In this warped reality, it’s hardly surprising if people think “craft beer” has lost its usefulness.

The thing is, millions of people around the world are really into something they call “craft beer”. To many of them – particularly the early adopters and the people who are really engaged whit the industry, independent ownership is a really important part of what they’re buying into. But to people who are already happy drinking beer owned by large corporations, and just getting into craft, telling them they “should” be drinking independent beer is a bigger task.

So this book is an attempt to separate craft beer from independence, and express its meaning in a way that works for any beer or brewery.

I argue that small, independent breweries not only need protection from rapacious Big Beer for their own sake, but also because they give the whole beer market the energy and dynamism that keep it healthy.

But that’s no longer quite the same thing as craft, because big breweries and craft breweries change as they affect one another. So to find a new understanding of and relevance for the idea of craft beer, I’ve looked at the much older idea of craft as it applies beyond beer.

Firstly, there’s this nonsensical idea, which many craft beer fans are reluctant to acknowledge, that craft beer has to be from a newish brewer rather an a traditional, long-established firm, and that it has to come with cool, funky packaging and design. There is no other area of craft where these factors are even considered. But every time someone argues that traditional British cask ale, which is produced in small batches by a master craftsperson, marketed locally, using established techniques and ingredients to create a product that is more flavourful and complex than mainstream beer, is not a craft beer, they expose the fact that for them, craft is more about image than the beer itself.

Looking closer at the broader idea of craft puts real ale at the heart of craft beer. And maybe that’s why these are the beers that directly inspired the US craft beer movement the first place.

In addition, I found that independence and ownership are never mentioned in discussions of “craft” outside beer. Craftspeople always had wealthy patrons, sponsors or customers. What really matters is that craftspeople have some independence of action – that they are in charge of how they work, and can feel some degree of ownership over the tools they use, and a say in how the work turns out. It is far, far more likely that this will happen in a small, independent organisation than a large corporation, but not exclusively so.

Another important point to note is that we assume crafted products will be higher quality than mainstream, mass-manufactured products, and that the person making them will have a higher than average degree of skill. We expect this in craft beer and take it for granted. But it is absolutely not guaranteed. Craftspeople in other areas serve long apprenticeships before they can adopt that title. While there are apprenticeships and qualifications in craft brewing, no one is under any obligation to take them before buying a brew kit and calling themselves a craft brewer. Problems of quality and consistency in craft brewing are a threat to its integrity.

Finally, craft is as much an emotional idea as it is a practical one. It’s a rejection of the values of a mainstream that enforces homogeneity and conformity. When you can buy a cheap, perfectly made thing of reliable quality, even if it’s a bit dull – be that an IKEA chair, a Big Mac or a can of Budweiser – you’re making a statement by spending more money on a crafted alternative. You’re buying into a set of ethics and values as well as buying a thing.

Again, it’s far more likely that small, independent brewers will embody all of these aspects, but it’s not guaranteed that a big brewer never will or a small craft brewer always will. So there’s a crucial difference between small and independent, and craft.

This doesn’t get us to a tight, measurable definition of a craft beer or a craft brewer. But tight, measurable definitions go against what craft is all about. Craft is the embodiment of innate knowledge and skill, to the extent that many people who possess this skill cannot begin to put it into words. Craft beer is a concept that is full of meaning, far richer than any attempt to pin it down to a tight definition has ever captured. The lack of such a definition doesn’t really diminish that meaning. For craft beer to survive and flourish, we need to hold any brewery to account on the skills and behaviours that truly make it craft – or not. Because this is what any craft beer drinker – be they a passionate flag-bearer for independence or a mainstream drinker looking for a change from Bud – is expecting when they buy the product.

Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential,is available now in e-book format on nearly all major platforms around the world.(Links in this post are to but the book is also available on your local Amazon site, Kobo, Nook, and Google Play. It will be on Apple iBooks as soon as we figure out their Kafkaesque bugginess.) The book will also be available in a print-on-demand version by the end of the week, and an audiobook as soon as the incessant fucking drilling outside our house allows us to finish recording it.

Advance Reviews of Craft: An Argument

“One of the leading beer thinkers of our time, Pete delivers up well crafted, important insights into the nature of modern brewing. A must-read for brewers wanting to find their sense of place amongst the shifting sands of marketing, business, consumers and trends.”
Matt Kirkegaard, Brews News

“In 2009’s Hops and Glory, Pete Brown took a cask to India in order to reveal the true nature of India pale ale. In 2020’s Craft: An Argument, he does the metaphorical equivalent to arrive at the meaning of ‘craft’ as it pertains to beer. While the journey is certainly shorter, it is no less rigorous, compelling, or splendidly entertaining.”
Stephen Beaumont, co-author, The World Atlas of Beer

“Exciting and exuberant, this is a fascinating and fantastically articulate argument and polemic that heads straight to the heart of craft beer, written by a master craftsman at the height of his literary powers.”
Adrian Tierney-Jones, 1001 Beers: You Must Try Before You Die

| Beer Books, Beer Writing, Craft - An Argument

Lockdown Book Project Week 10: The book’s written – but still so much to do

I’m writing and self-publishing a book in 13 weeks and sharing the experience for anyone doing or thinking of doing the same. This week: on the mad dash between manuscript and publication.

‘Authentic Artisanal Beer’ – craft beer buzzword bingo in this free-to-use stock photo from

Days till publication: 21

I now know my book almost by heart.

A week after finishing it, I went over it and did a detailed edit before giving it to Liz for its ‘proper’ edit. The book is in three parts. She loved part two, hated part one, and was confused by part three. Luckily, part two is by far the longest part.

So I rewrote part one and gave it back to her. Since then I’ve read through and re-edited the book twice more. It’s now just starting to show the kind of polished sheen it needs before it’s good enough to publish.

It’s at a stage where I now feel happy sending it out to a few primary readers to get their thoughts. While I await their response, there’s time to briefly forget about the text itself and start focusing on all the other aspects of self-publishing – much of which is new to me.

Firstly, there are the practical aspects of routes to market. We now have the book listed as an e-book on all amazon territories, and I can see that people are pre-ordering it. Liz is spending most of her time trying to work out how to sort print-on-demand copies, which looks easy but turns out to be needlessly labyrinthine. Next week, we record the audiobook, and then we can work out how to get that listed too.

But it’s also time to crank up pre-release marketing. Liz used to write press releases for a living, so she’s doing one as I speak, and I’m pulling together a list of places for it to go out to. We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s definitely a book more for those close to the brewing industry and craft beer movement than it is for a more general leadership. That may be niche, but in global terms it’s a pretty big niche, so we’re trying to make sure we cover all key territories.

All of this is a steep learning curve, but it’s also a springboard for creative thinking. While I was writing the book, Liz was researching Patreon, the platform that allows creatives in any discipline to charge a subscription to access their work. I launched mine yesterday.

Patreon will go on to become a workflow and revenue stream in its own right, but it inspired me to come up with what I hope will turn out to be some successful promotional ideas. I created a pledge tier at £10 which gets people a copy of the book, and also their name in the back. At the £6 tier, I’m distributing a sample chapter in advance so people can get a sneak preview and give their feedback. I’m also trying to work out details of an online launch party, where Patrons get advance notice to sign up.

This is all changing the way I approach work and, if successful, is a model I’ll build on after lockdown ends.

If you’re doing a similar project, do remember to spend as much time as you can on marketing and trying to build a buzz. It takes repetition will probably push you out of your comfort zone in terms of how you feel about promoting yourself, but it’s what any business and any publisher would do. Or any good one, at least.

My new book Craft – An Argument: Why The Term ‘Craft Beer’ is Completely Undefinable, Hopelessly Misunderstood and Absolutely Essential, will be published in e-book, audiobook and print-on-demand formats globally on 25th June. The ebook is available for pre-order now. (Links in this post are to but the book is also available on your local Amazon site.)

| Beer Writing, Patreon, Writing

More new writing from me for the price of a pint: Why I’m launching a Patreon

Become a Patron!

When I started writing about beer, I never thought I would make a lot of money from it, and it certainly hasn’t let me down on that score… 

Giving up a lucrative career in advertising was one of the best decisions I made, and I’m delighted that my work writing and commenting on the beer scene has – allegedly – helped influence the industry and broadly supported brewers, pubs and people who drink beer. 

However, did you know:

  • – The National Union of Journalists recommends remuneration of 25p per word for articles. It’s rare as a freelancer to be paid this much, especially in trade press titles. 18-22p a word is more common, with most columns typically paying between £150 and £180 a time.
  • – The standard remuneration for authors of books is 8-10% of net receipts to the publisher. If a book is heavily discounted, that means an author can make as little as a few pence per copy sold. The average income of an author in the UK is just £12,500 – around half the overall UK average income and well below the minimum wage – and it’s falling.
  • – As people increasingly expect “content” for free, we have to create free content to maintain our standing and profile. Between blog posts, podcasts, social media commentary, industry events, running magazines such as Original Gravity and Full Juice, and launching schemes such as the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards, I spend 40-50% of my time creating content and events for which I receive no payment at all.   

I’m no different from my colleagues who do similar jobs to me, in that we do it because we’re passionate about it, and because money is not the most important thing in life. 

Inspired by fellow beer communicators such as Boak & Bailey, Lily Waite and Pellicle magazine, I realised that even a modest monthly income allows me a greater degree of financial stability and the ability to spend more time creating exclusive content focusing on issues that you might find interesting, as well as writing blog posts that are free to access, which I currently cannot justify doing. 

I will still be posting free content on this blog – in fact if anything, I’ll probably be able to post more often. But when I’m doing a long, in-depth analysis piece, I’ll post a short summary here with a link to longer read available on the Patreon.

I’ve been blogging since 2006. In that time, I have never accepted advertising or sponsorship on my blog. In the age of the “influencer”, where people are paid vast sums of money to pretend to like products they’ve been sent for free, I intend to remain an independent voice. No one likes everything I say. But whether it makes you angry, confused or happy, I aim to guarantee that what you are getting is my own, personal point of view. 

Putting together my Patreon launch – at a time when we are experiencing lockdown – has provided an explosion of creative inspiration. I’ve been thinking about new ideas such as podcasts, webinars, events in the real and virtual world, and “deep dive” explorations of important subjects and topics that can’t be covered in a short press article, but don’t quite justify a full-length book. If Patreon works, all this will be cropping up here sooner or later.  

At my top subscription level, I’ll also be offering advice and content specifically for professionals in the business of making and selling beer and cider, drawing on my 30 years marketing experience, 20 of those as a close observer of the drinks and hospitality industries.

During this launch period, there are also special offers relating to my new book, Craft: An Argument, which is published on 25th June.

So follow the link below. Take a look around. Make yourself feel at home. And imagine you’re buying me a pint. 

Become a Patron!