Tag: Beer

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Elk in the Woods in the passage

London was positively Dickensian yesterday. The Beer Widow and I a couple of friends spent the afternoon in the Elk in the Woods, a Swedish restaurant in Camden Passage, Islington. We were sitting near the window by the Christmas tree watching the snow come down and it was just perfect.

Lunch itself was very fine. Just one problem though – the menu at Elk lists wines, cocktails, soft and hot drinks, but there’s no mention at all of beer. When you ask, they’ll admit to stocking Kronenbourg, a Swedish lager whose name I didn’t catch, and a perfectly serviceable keg Theakstons Old Peculier, plus a range of bottles that don’t exactly push the frontiers of beer appreciation but do create a more interesting range of drinks than you’d find in an average boozer.
It always irks me when cafes and bars don’t put beer on the menu – they’re saying it’s “just beer” – not even worth listing, less interesting than whether they stock Coke or Pepsi. Usually in places like this when you do ask you’re given a choice of Bud, Becks or Stella. But still, why? And why stock some more interesting beers and then not tell your customers about them?
Anyone know?

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Beer Tickers – A Loquacious Film Review

As a writer, there are many other writers I admire and appreciate.

Sometimes I just enjoy them, other times I’m deeply envious of them. I can savour the wonderful lyricism of, say, Arundhati Roy without even thinking about my writing because it’s so different from anything I would ever do. But one writer I wish I could simply be is George Orwell. I will never, in all my days, be one hundredth of the writer he was, but he shared many of my ideas and beliefs about the world at large and about how to write in particular.I quote him several times in Man Walks into a Pub because it’s a book I wish he had written before me. But then, he didn’t need to – being Orwell, he said everything worth saying about the pub in a short essay, The Moon Under Water. (Arguably the only truly unforgivable thing Wetherspoons have ever done is appropriate that name.) As a piece of writing it is simple perfection. If I’m feeling sentimental and it’s one of those evenings where I’ve made the fatal transition from beer to whisky, I can literally read it and weep.But I’m wandering off the point – something Orwell would never do. And going on too much. Ditto.The reason I brought up Orwell was that he also once wrote:We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres around things which even when they are communal are not official – the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the “nice cup of tea”… It is the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above.But one hobbyist Orwell never had the dubious pleasure of encountering was the beer ticker.Hobbyists today are nerdy, and the only areas it’s socially acceptable for blokes to be nerdy about are cars and football. If you can name every player in England’s unsuccessful 1970 World Cup side, or talk knowledgably about the engineering perfection of a Maserati, you’ll get admiring nods from other blokes, and even women will roll their eyes with an affectionate “ah, you guys” shrug.But thanks to the hoary CAMRA socks-and-sandals stereotype, claim an interest in beer and blokes and women alike will start to edge away and make excuses.It’s fascinating how contextual this stereotype is. For about two years now I’ve worn a beard and long hair. If I’m working in an ad agency, people think this makes me look cool – they simply assume I’m one of the creatives.But in the beer world, the exact same look is increasingly uncool – people tell me I’m “starting to look like a CAMRA member”. With CAMRA’s membership having doubled in the last ten years, the average CAMRA member increasingly looks no different from anyone else. But they don’t mean that. They mean I look like the stereotypical CAMRA member.The beer ticker. And whatever your views on that, it’s not meant as a compliment.Within the beer world, tickers are the people even the saddest geeks can look down on. Adult life is merely the school playground writ large, and tickers are the snivelling, emphysemic, half-blind larvae that the most bullied kids in the school – the fat kids and the ones with sellotaped national health glasses and Oxfam clothes – turn on with joy when they realise there is in fact someone one rung below them. We all recognize that part of our interest in beer is driven by a nerdish tendency, and that’s not something we like in ourselves. And when we find that someone is inarguably more nerdish than we, they become an outlet for all the pisstaking and antipathy we’ve ever received. It was the tickers those people were suspicious of, or bored of, or regarded with pity and condescension – not us. We merely channel their disdain to its rightful target.Except now someone has gone and made a film about them.Surely that’s just not fair. It should be a film about the broader appreciation of beer. It should be a film about how great beer is and why more people should take an interest in it. Surely if you focus on the tickers no one will go and see it? And those who do will simply have their prejudices about beer nerds reinforced?The thing is, if you’re a filmmaker who’s keen to shine a light on little-known, entertaining and intriguing corners of the British psyche, tickers are – say it – pretty interesting.Phil Parkin is an independent filmmaker who lives in Sheffield. One day he was drinking in the wonderful Hillsborough Hotel. There’s a brewery in the cellar, where the phenomenally talented and hugely underrated brewer Stuart Ross pretty much does as he pleases and makes it up as he goes along, continually creating new beers. And every week, the tickers descend. Sheffield competes with Derby for the title of ticker centre of the universe – some of the biggest names in ticking are regulars at the Hillsborough and the nearby Fat Cat and Kelham Island Tavern. As soon as Phil had asked what they were doing and had it explained to him, he had his next project.Phil’s method of filmmaking is what social anthropologists call ‘participant observation’. He lived among them, like that woman out of Gorillas in the Mist, becoming accepted by the tribe.What emerges is a warm, funny, and amazingly non-judgmental portrait of a hobby Orwell would have been quite proud of – perhaps even indulged in. The principles are explained with disarming simplicity ‘you find a beer, you drink it, you tick it’. What could be easier?And rather than coming across as unbearable nerds, the characters do make fascinating viewing. Mick the Tick – the man who allegedly invented the hobby and gave it its name thanks to its easy alliteration – is a deeply likeable character, like a cuddly, benign bear. The Beer Widow has a special designation for people she has fallen in love with and wants to protect from the world and care for. She talks about keeping them in a special luxurious room in the cellar wrapped in cotton wool and feeding them biscuits and soup. So far we’ve got Bill Bailey, the band Lamb, and psychologist and thinker Eckhart Tolle down there. Mick the Tick is the latest recruit.Dave Unpronouncable is deeply fascinating – a natural in front of the camera, articulate, intelligent and surprisingly normal looking – at least for the first half of the film – but there are clearly kinks and complications to his character.There’s a story going on with him through the making of the film that we never quite get to the bottom of.Brian the Champ – the king of the tickers – is probably the closest to what we would imagine a ticker to be, but he has a wife who indulges him and a pleasant suburban house, and you share his excitement as he sets off for the Great British Beer Festival to mark a momentous tick in his book.I have to declare an interest in that I met Phil several times while the film was being made, and he’s become a mate. I provided him with a lot of the historical context, and pop up in the film showing him round the Museum in Burton.One time we met in the Rake, and he seemed to be taking a long time sending a text message. I became suspicious.“You’re ticking aren’t you? You’ve gone native. You’ve become one of them.” This was ticking 2.0, ticking invisibly, with minimal risk of losing your social status.This brings me to my only criticism of the film – the definition of its narrative. Phil spends as much time in front of the camera as behind it, and very charming he is too. The film is his personal journey into the world of ticking (which I was fortunate to witness). That’s a great construct, but the arc of Phil’s journey doesn’t quite make it on film. It’s as if he can’t really decide whether this is a story about him or about the tickers he meets. There’s no real exploration of his motivation for doing it, or what he was trying to discover or prove, other than that it’s a great topic to make a film about.But as I said to Phil after watching an early cut – it made me thirsty, and it made me want to spend more time in Sheffield, and it made me proud of my involvement in the beer world. And it made me think differently about tickers. I won’t be starting any time soon – despite the fact that, apparently, I’m starting to look like one – but the tickers featured in this film at least are not the Aspergers stereotypes other beer enthusiasts enjoy looking down on.You can find out more about the film and watch a trailer here. I’m not sure whether or not it will recruit more people to the cause of great beer, and some will see it as a missed opportunity for that. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about beer – not really – it’s about people. And in that respect, it is a very successful film indeed. And anyway – it’s got a bright, young, ambitious filmmaker all passionate about the beer world. Who knows what he’ll do next?There’s a public screening of the film at the Showroom in Sheffield at 8pm on 15th December. Tickets are available through the Showroom box office.

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New Beer Club

Just received an introductory box of beer from myBrewerytap.com, a new mail order beer club. (Disclosure: they sent me the box for free in return for me writing about them).

The idea is that you get 13 bottles of beer each quarter – not enough to keep you going, I know, but the first box certainly provides an interesting addition to the cellar. It’s a really thoughtful selection of beers and the ones I’ve had so far – Burton Bridge’s Burton Porter and Eccleshall Brewery’s apallingly-named ‘Top Totty’ (Please, guys. Stop it. Now.) were really great beers.
I may be wrong – I may just have been lucky – but I suspect that there’s some quality control happening on beers that are included. There are ones I recognise from Meantime and Breconshire, but most of them are form micros around the country I haven’t come across before.
And you get free glasses and bottle openers and stuff too, and some notes about each beer.
Well worth checking out.

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Me and microbrews on the telly

Was asked by More 4 News yesterday to appear on the news in a positive story about beer!

The new Good Beer Guide, published yesterday, reveals that 71 new Microbreweries opened in the last year. In the midst of both the shitstorm being faced by the beer and pub industry, and the usual negative coverage of beer by the media, it’s great news, even better that we got our two minutes worth on the telly.

Thanks to BLTP for working out how to bung it up on YouTube.

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Britain’s Best Beer: All is Revealed

Me, my worthy adversary Sabine von Reth, and presenter Matt Tebbutt

Thanks for the record number of comments when I asked you about the best British beer. Consensus is somewhere around Landlord, White Shield and London Pride, which I find hard to argue with.

But now I can reveal what it’s all about.
Market Kitchen, the food magazine programme on UKTV Food, is running a Beer World Cup to find out which country makes the best beer in the world – and has the best beer culture. Each week two countries face off in rounds then go through to semis in October, then the final. It’s all just a bit of fun of course.
I was honoured to be asked to represent the UK in the first game in the first round, and I drew Germany. We filmed it yesterday evening.
Now this was a tough gig. I was expecting Germany to bring a very good lager along – and I was right. And the thing is, the decision is made by a studio audience vote on a combined blind tasting of the beer with a heated studio debate. The audience is not sophisticated in its beer appreciation – it’s an audience of people who go along to the filming of a daytime cookery programme. Lots of men who drink lager, and lots of women who think they don’t like beer. A really good German lager – to this audience – would surely be more acceptable than a complex, intriguing, flavourful ale. I had to think clever on this one.
So thanks for all the suggestions, but thanks to Mike from Utobeer for the inspired tactical suggestion of Schiehallion – a British lager, cask conditioned, that last year won ‘best pilsner’ at the World Beer Awards. Not the beer that represents everything great about British brewing, but a beer that shows what Britain can do, a British take on a European style.
So how did we get on? Was this particular meeting a return to the glory of 1966 or a rerun of the agonising defeat on penalties in 1990? You’ll have to wait till 24th September and tune in to UKTV to find out…

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The best of British beer

Can I have your thoughts?
For reasons I’ll be able to reveal in a week or so, I need to choose one beer (bottled) to act as an ambassador for all that is great about the British brewing.
If we’re honest, that’s an impossible task, but nevertheless I need to do it – and make my decision in the next 24 hours. There’s so much diversity, so much quality. There are enduring classics, and exciting new tyros on the scene. But which one, above all others, symbolises why British beer is the best in the world? (This is not the place to argue whether or not British beer is the best on the world – for the purposes of this thing we have to assume that it is – for reasons I’ll explain later).
I already have a couple of ideas of my own, so I’m not just being lazy, but thought it would make an interesting debate!

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Beer, Politics and World Peace

Headline in today’s paper:

The story: a cop arrested a black professor and has been accused of acting in a racist manner. Obama was critical, saying the cop had “acted stupidly”, and this has led to a cranking up of racial tension.  Obama, recognising that this is turning into a bigger row and that his own comments have helped inflame the situation, now wants to defuse that tension.  And how does he do that?  He invites the cop in question, and the guy he arrested, for a beer at the White House.
Not a cup of tea.  Not a coffee.  Not a glass of wine.  A BEER.
This seems kind of an obvious post for me to make, given that I’ve written books on the subject, but in an age where beer in headlines usually only means binge drinking, violence and alcoholism, this is a story that needs to be screamed from the rooftops till every hysteric in the media finally gets it.
Why would Obama invite both men for “a beer here in the White House” rather than simply invite them to get round a table and discuss it without stipulating what refreshments were on offer?  We all know why.  But I’ll spell it out anyway.
Because beer is the most sociable drink in the world.
Because in every single culture where beer is drunk, to invite someone to share a beer with you is not just politeness; it symbolises an offer of friendship.  It’s a clear statement that when you meet, this will not be a formal negotiation or dressing down, but a more relaxed meeting of equals.  By inviting them for a beer, rather than a meeting, Obama is saying that he will not be their president when they meet – he will be one of three guys who need to clear the air.  He’s acknowledging that if they accept this particular invitation, these guys will be attending in a spirit of reconciliation.  Because only the biggest dick in the world would accept a beer from someone and then behave in an antagonistic manner as they sit drinking together.
The social codes around beer are universal, and as old as civilisation itself.  They remain largely unspoken, even though they are commonly understood.  But for years we’ve allowed beer’s unique magic to be eroded on all sides – it’s been demonised by neo-prohibitionists and health freaks, commoditised by retailers and by global brewers who describe themselves ‘not as brewers, but as FMCG marketing companies that just happen to sell beer’*, moronised by a small minority of boors, scorned by snobs who think you have to drink wine to be admired in shallow, materialistic, brand-obsessed society, and made impenetrable by another minority of deluded snobs who believe the best way to revive beer is to steal wine’s most pretentious clothes and mannerisms.
Now the most powerful man in the world has reminded us what it’s really all about.
I hope the guys accept Obama’s invitation.  I don’t give a damn whether he serves them Bud Light or Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Corona or Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout.  In one sentence, he’s said everything I tried to say in Three Sheets to the Wind, and said it with a gazillion times more impact.
So raise a glass to Barack Obama – president, heir to Mr Miyagi, and now Global Beer Drinker of the Year 2009.
ps – Our old friends at the BBC – more enthusiastic than most about linking beer to anything negative – have managed to report the story without even mentioning Obama’s offer of beer – thereby missing the entire point of his invitation.
*Here I’m paraphrasing comments made by the president of AB-Inbev UK last year – a guy I actually used to work with.  I’d been meaning to invite him out to responsibly consume some FMCG units with me in a business-to-consumer interface location till I read this.

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Good beer ad

The Aussies seem to have the kind of fun with beer ads that we Brits used to have twenty years ago. VB have a heritage of 
making big budget commercials. I know they don’t always get 
people to drink more beer, but this one has some beautifully 
observed moments in it, is full of beery irreverence and makes 
the important point that beer unites us all in an entertaining 

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Hurrah for David Mitchell!

Fans of Peep Show or, slightly less likely, of That Mitchell & Webb Look, will be delighted to know that David Mitchell (yeah, the nerdy one) is a real ale fan, and not afraid to admit it (even though he simply calls it bitter, he goes to some lengths to distinguish it from ‘creamy’ bitters).

“Nicer than lager, more democratic than wine, and not in the least bit creamy.”  You can’t argue with that, really.
He talks some sense, which makes up for the fact that it’s not exactly laugh-a-minute.  N0-one said he had to be funny all the time, and there’s a meerkat in it if you think there absolutely must be some kind of comedy element.
I found this on i-tunes – it’s an episode of David Mitchell’s soap box, a regular video podcast. This is the first time I’ve attempted to upload some video.