Tag: IPA

| Beer, IPA, Marketing

Bass Ale is back. I wish I were more delighted.

A new press release about the rejuvenation of Britain’s most famous ever beer brand causes more problems than it solves. 

Oh, you shouldn’t have! No, really. 

I don’t go out of my way to drip withering scorn on Anheuser Busch-InBev, but they always seem to be able to trigger me when they announce the launch of a new beer. A few years ago I did a conference presentation on how (and how not) to do innovation, and when I illustrated this with numerous examples of rubbish launches, it started to look like a vendetta against the world’s biggest brewery. It wasn’t meant to be. They just gave me more instances of all that was wrong with marketing hype, more consistently, than any other brewer.

And so we come to last week’s announcement that Bass Ale is returning to the UK, and a launch which is pretty much a perfect case study in corporate bullshit being sprayed over something the corporation in question neither knows nor cares about.

A bit of background: Bass found fame in the early 19th century as the quintessential IPA (when IPAs tended just to be called ‘pale ales’.) Brewed in Burton on Trent, it superseded Allsopp’s, the town’s original big hitter in India, and went on to become the first ever global beer brand. Its distinctive red triangle was famous all across the British Empire and beyond, and became the UK’s first ever registered trademark, narrowly missing out to German brand Krupp’s in being the world’s first, in any product category. Bass was so admired that less talented, less scrupulous brewers would simply copy the label and pass off their own beers as Bass, necessitating the move.

By the mid-twentieth century the allure of IPA had faded, but Bass was still one of the biggest and most famous beer brands in the UK when a period of rapid consolidation began among breweries. The second wave of this consolidation in the late 1990s saw Inbev acquire Bass – by then a massive conglomerate still based in Burton on Trent – only to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. They ended up having to sell most of Bass (the company) to what is now Molson Coors, but confusingly held on to Bass (the beer) and proceeded to largely ignore it in the UK for the next twenty years. When approached and asked if they didn’t want it, AB-InBev replied they would sell UK licensing rights (inaccurately reported as being for an outright sale of the brand) for £15 million – essentially a massive middle finger extended to anyone who thought the world’s most legendary beer deserved better than the neglect they were showing it.

So now, instead of selling or ignoring it, AB-InBev is apparently relaunching it. I should be happy about this. I don’t think I am. With reference to this article, here’s why.

1.The headline: AB-InBev announce they are ‘bringing back’ Bass ale to the UK on-trade.

No it isn’t, because Bass Ale never left the UK on-trade, despite appearances. It’s been brewed under licence by Marston’s for years. It’s simply been given no support by its owners. Where you occasionally found it, it wasn’t bad – if it had been treated right. So the headline is factually inaccurate, and merely draws attention to the fact that if it ever felt like Bass had disappeared from the UK, this was entirely AB-InBev’s fault.

2. The picture: ‘Imported Pale Ale’.

The same visual used at the top of this blog has accompanied every story about this launch in the UK drinks trade press, so it is obviously the image that was sent out by AB-InBev themselves with the release (or at least, I’m assuming it is – for some reason, they no longer send me their press releases directly. Can’t think why.) The reason they won’t sell Bass to anyone else is that even though they may not care about it in the UK, it makes a lot of money for them as an exported beer to markets such as the US and Japan. The image accompanying the story about relaunching Bass in the UK clearly shows a bottle of Bass saying that it is ‘imported’. So either:

(a) They’re planning on brewing UK Bass abroad, for some unfathomable reason, or

(b) They’re going to dishonestly sell beer brewed in Britain as a beer imported to the UK, for reasons, again, that I cannot possibly fathom, or

(c) They couldn’t even be bothered to find an image of what UK Bass will look like to accompany the announcement of its relaunch. If it’s launching in December as stated, the new label – if there is a different one – will have been signed off months ago. But they couldn’t even be arsed to find a reference to it.

3. AB-InBev is launching Bass is to ‘reinvigorate’ and ‘reignite’ the UK’s premium ale category. 

The sheer, Trumpish arrogance of it. The UK’s premium ale category is doing just fine, thanks. The astonishing growth of craft beer means that nearly one in four pints in the UK on-trade is now cask ale or craft beer in other formats. Even when you take craft out, ‘premium’ ale is doing way better than ‘standard’. BBPA data shows ‘premium ale’ is more or less steady in volume terms in the on-trade. But here comes AB-InBev to the rescue of a category they haven’t cared about since they arrived in this country. The category doesn’t need ‘reigniting’! Its already on fire. Which is of course the real reason they’re now relaunching Bass after all this time, to exploit a healthy category rather than altruistically reigniting a struggling one. 

The press release also reminds us that AB-InBev owns Stella Artois and Budweiser. Without disclosing the actual figures, the Marston’s On-Trade Beer Report shows that in the on-trade, Stella Artois is in single digit decline, Budweiser is in double-digit decline, and so is Stella 4%. Maybe ‘re-ignite’ your core brands first, eh guys?

4. ‘The beer will be made at AB-InBev’s brewery in Samlesbury, Lancashire.’ 

Because in a market where provenance, tradition and heritage are some of the key drivers, who gives toss where an iconic beer is brewed, am I right? Bass pale ale made Burton-on-Trent the most famous ale brewing town in the world. Across the planet today, pale ale brewers still ‘Burtonise’ their water to give it the unique mineral profile that made Bass so famous. Bass is being brewed right now under license in Burton, by Marston’s. But yeah, let’s relaunch this premium, iconic brand that’s indelibly associated with the world’s most beer town by making it in a factory in another county. While we’re at it, let’s make Cornish pasties in Croatia, Roquefort cheese in Slough, and vintage champagne in Barnsley. Because it doesn’t matter.

5. ‘Bass was the world’s first pale ale.’/’Bass is a pale ale pioneer’.

Oh fuck off. I’m sorry (I’m trying to rein in the bad language and anger on this blog and sounds more professional) but fuck the fuck off. Even the most cursory reading of the history of pale ale/IPA shows this simply isn’t true. Bass was not even Burton-on-Trent’s first pale ale, let alone the world’s. Readily available records of ‘pale ale’ go back at least 160 years before Bass was even founded.  Allsopp’s were sending pale ale from Burton to India for almost a decade before Bass got in on the act.  There are only two possibilities here: either AB-InBev haven’t even been bothered to read about the history of the brand they’re relaunching, or they are knowingly lying. The problem in this press release – as in any other by this company – is their clear display that all this stuff is just marketing copy to them, to be used in the moment as they see fit, whether it’s accurate or not.

6. ‘We can’t wait to reintroduce shoppers to this historic brand.’

Bear in mind that this is a story specifically about reintroducing Bass to pubs. They could have said ‘pub-goers’, ‘people’, drinkers’, even that lazy catch-all ‘consumers’ – given that beer is actually consumed – but they choose to describe punters at the bar in a pub as ‘shoppers’ instead. To my mind, this suggests that’s all AB-InBev see people as – entities that shop. All that matters is that you buy the beer and hand over your money. But even my assumption is true, it’s still a weird thing to say out loud. No one else describes pub-goers as ‘shoppers’ – it just sounds wrong. It makes it sound like you don’t understand what a pub is. A halfway competent PR might have said, “You know what? This may be typical of the eerily robotic language we use internally, but maybe we should change it to something that sounds more normal and human if we’re speaking publicly.”

They didn’t.

7. “5.1%” 

I don’t mind that Bass ale is 5.1% ABV. That sounds good, in line with what the style should be. What I do mind is that this is the only detail they see fit to mention about the beer itself. We get stuff about its illustrious history (which AB-InBev had nothing to do with.) We get stuff about its success as an export beer. But true to form for the world’s largest brewery which in fact cares nothing whatsoever about beer, there are no details at all about what ‘shoppers’ can expect if they drink Bass pale ale as opposed to just buying it. Is it brewed to a traditional Bass recipe? Given the focus is on bottles, will it be bottle-conditioned or not? What hops are in it? Will it differ at all from the existing cask version? Is it brewed with traditional British barley or has it been re-worked? FOR GOD’S SAKE WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE? These are the things that people who are truly interested in the premium ale category care about. They seem not to have occurred to the company that thinks it is going to ‘reinvigorate’ that category.

I hope the relaunched Bass ale is a phenomenal beer. I truly do. I’ve probably written more about this brand than any other beer. In the history of food and drink, it is comparable to champagne or cognac in its significance. If it tastes great, I will buy it (can’t imagine there’ll be samples in the post) and I will publicly say that it tastes great. But when the most interesting thing they can say in the press release is that a beer with the same name (I doubt it’s actually the same beer) went down with the Titanic, I only get a sinking feeling.

*Update, 19th November*

I asked AB-InBev on Twitter about the ‘imported’ claim in point 2, above, and they had the courtesy to reply.

It turns out that the bottle featured here is the right bottle, and that AB-InBev do in fact plan on selling Bass dishonestly in the UK as an ‘imported beer’. Their exact response was ‘The name is a nod to its international popularity and to differentiate it from other Bass ales in the UK.’

As I pointed out in response, it’s great that they want to talk to British drinkers about the success of a British-brewed beer overseas. But the correct word to use here would be ‘exported’ – the precise opposite of the word they intend to use on the bottle. The fact that they are also selling the beer in the US-format 355ml bottle instead of the standard UK measures of 330ml or 500ml also leads me to conclude that this is a deliberate and knowing attempt to mislead British drinkers into thinking Bass Ale is an imported beer. That’s why I have now reported this to the Trading Standards Authority.

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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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Come to dinner with India Pale Ale – 3rd December, Meantime Old Brewery

Barry the Barrel of IPA on his way to India. Or so he thinks.

IPA may be the most beloved beer style of craft brewers.  It may be the beer style that has driven the craft beer revolution around the world.  But it is also the most mythologised, debated, controversial and misunderstood beer style in the world.

Some people become incensed, possessed by violent rage, at what they perceive as falsehoods or inaccuracies in IPA’s history.

Others scream about commercial brands using ‘IPA’ in their name when they are not ‘proper’ IPAs.

When I discovered various new facets of the history of IPA while researching my book Hops and Glory, some people simply dismissed my claims out of hand if they didn’t fit with their own story, ignoring facts I had discovered from primary research among original nineteenth century documents.

IPA is a cipher for all the various points of view and debates within brewing and beer fandom.

But it’s also a spectacular beer style that has at some point inspired pretty much everyone who loves craft beer today.

So when Meantime Brewing asked me to host a beer and food matching dinner as part of a regular series they hold at The Old Brewery in Greenwich, and asked if I would perhaps like to do this with an IPA theme, I leapt at the chance.

IPA has been around for well over 200 years.  Over that time, it has evolved, as tastes and brewing techniques have evolved.  We can’t say exactly what old IPAs taste like but we can infer things from various surviving recipes, contemporary accounts and recreations.  What we may not consider to be a ‘proper’ IPA today may have been universally understood to be the only valid interpretation of IPA sixty or a hundred yeas ago.

English troops enjoying Bass IPA, Bengal, 19th century

So what we’ve attempted to do is compile a list of beers for a tasting and then dinner which reflect how the style has evolved over the years, decades and centuries, and how it has reached a point in the last decade or so where it has developed into an extraordinarily broad range of different tastes and versions. I’ll be talking about each beer and more generally about how the style has evolved.

It’s not meant to be a point scoring exercise or a workshop in coming up with the definitive truth about IPA.  It’s meant to be a thoughtful look at arguably the greatest beer style, and an awesome evening of beer and food flavours.  Here’s the menu:

The evening starts at 6.30pm on Monday 3rd December, at the Old Brewery in Greenwich.  Tickets are £50 per person which includes all beers.  As of now it’s about 75% sold out but you can buy tickets by phoning 0203 327 1280 or by going to the Old Brewery website here.

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Greene King and Bombardier to go head to head on the telly

Real ale is about to burst onto our screens in a big way.

The week before last, two of the UK’s biggest ale brands launched their new advertising campaigns to beer writers and trade journalists.  I was invited to one launch but, for some reason, not the other one the day after – even though seemingly everyone else who was at the first one was.  Please believe me that this in no way colours what I’m about to say about these two campaigns.  I’m bigger than that.  No, really, I am, honest.  But I tell you this so you can filter the following for any perceived prejudice.

Anyway, I used to work in advertising so this, for me, is in part going back to the day job.

The second event – the one I wasn’t invited to – was launching the next wave in the new campaign for Well’s Bombardier.  Now, I get the feeling that I’m going to come across as disliking this development a lot more than I actually do, so let me say some positive things about it first, and hopefully this will prevent a hit squad being despatched from Bedford – home of William Charles Bedford, ‘your dashing hero on the battlefield, with a caddish twinkle in his eye,’ according to the press release (I am at least still on their email distribution list – at least until they read this.)

Basically, what they’re doing is extending the campaign they launched last year, with Rik Mayall playing the Bombardier, drinking the beer and extolling its virtues with what Well’s & Youngs clearly hope will become a pub catchphrase: ‘Bang on!’  They’re going for a heavyweight promotion on Dave, the channel for blokes who like repeats of the programme Stewart Lee refers to as ‘Mock the Weak’.  Ten and fifteen second idents will frame peak time programmes.  I haven’t seen the idents because like I said, I wasn’t invited to the launch, and didn’t get to meet Rik Mayall, but the press release says ‘viewers can expect to see the Bombardier’s take on the English sense of humour, values, our love of pubs and our social habits.’

They’re spending £5m on this, which is great news for Bombardier and great news for ale too.  It’s the highest ever spend they’ve put behind the brand (but not the highest ever spend in the ale category, as the press release falsely claims).  Whatever your views on the beer and the campaign, this is brilliant because it helps propel ale into the mainstream, makes it more visible and more contemporary.  When I do focus groups, many people assume that if a brand is on telly it must be good, must be doing something right, and this leads to greater social currency.  So here Bombardier are helping ale look more modern (with some caveats, below).  It’s also a great sign of confidence – they wouldn’t spend this money if they didn’t think cask ale was in good shape and people were ready to consider it.

Secondly, they’ve got with the programme and done a Facebook page and taken the Bombardier on to Twitter, extending a true brand property and providing content which people can interact with.  That’s a good thing as far as marketing, brand building, and the saliency of real ale is concerned.


For me, this entire campaign feels like it’s aping lager ads of the seventies and eighties, and even lagers don’t behave like that any more.  Rik Mayall is reprising a character he played in Blackadder thirty years ago, in a slightly less funny way than it was then.  Is this really the way to make ale feel fresh, contemporary and appealing to new generations of drinkers?

To make my own mind up, I followed the link to the youtube channel at the bottom of the press release I was sent.  And I got this:

Woof woof! Bang Off, chaps!

The ads launch 16th April and run from 9pm to midnight weekdays for twelve months.

The other campaign is from Bombardier’s rival, Greene King.  Disliked by many readers of this blog and diehard ale drinkers in general, scorned for bland beers and nicknamed ‘Greed King’ for their sometimes voracious business practices, booed when they were runner-up Champion Beer of Britain a few years ago, they can sometimes come across as difficult to love, and have clearly been doing a bit of soul searching.

I think the results are a pleasant surprise.

Greene King IPA is the UK’s biggest cask ale brand.  It still only has a 7% market share – the diversity and fragmentation of the ale market is (most of the time) one of its main strengths. But GK IPA is, for better or worse, still the biggest brand.  I don’t tend to drink it myself, but clearly lots of people like it.  And like Magner’s does with cider, if it attracts people to real ale for the first time who then start to look around and trade up, that’s no bad thing.

In marketing theory, one classic strategy for the brand leader is to do a job that grows the whole market rather than trying to steal share form your competitors.  The theory is that if you’re already the biggest, advertising what’s good about the whole market means you benefit everyone else, but if the market grows proportionately then you’ll gain more in volume terms than everyone else does.  Most new entrants to any market tend to go for the biggest brands, so you’ll probably grow disproportionately, benefiting everyone but, most of all, yourself.

This is the strategy GK has chosen, and I think it’ll paid off.

They’ve created an ad that quite simply celebrates the joys of good cask beer in a good pub – not the joys of hops and malt and yeast, but the moment that beer – and only beer – can create.

This has always been what’s excited me most as a writer, and it’s lovely to see a brand that has wonga to spend and an ad agency with creative skill taking this aspect of beer and celebrating it.  It’s an ad for the pub as much as it is an advert for beer or Greene King IPA specifically, and I think it’s rather fucking wonderful:

I particularly like the opening, in the cellar – just enough beer craft for the mainstream viewer without getting too technical or boring.  Even if you don’t understand what you’re seeing, you get the impression of craft and care, the sense that this is something a bit more special than what you can buy in the supermarket.

The ad was shot in the Hornsey Tavern, north London, and the music is by a precocious eighteen year-old called Jake Bugg, who is to my ears like Ed Sheeran, only good.  The gaffer is an actor, but many of the people are real punters, sharing real beer moments.  The finished ad has been culled from about five hours of footage, the film crew just passing through the pub as people relaxed and shared a good time having a beer.  It’s the kind of positive image of beer and pubs the whole industry sorely needs more of.

GK is spending £4m behind this, and it’s breaking on 14th and 15th April, during the FA Cup semi-finals on ITV and ESPN.  It’s also going to be on Sky and Dave.

Coinciding with this, they also launched two new beers under the Greene King IPA brand: IPA Gold, a 4.1% golden ale, and IPA reserve, a 5.6% rich, mellow, fruity ale.  For anyone who drinks or works in a Greene King pub, these beers are welcome additions.  The golden ale is a golden ale, no better or worse than many in the market just now, while the reserve is in Fullers ESB territory, and dangerously drinkable.  They won’t set RateBeer alight, but they’re not meant to – that’s not what they’re for.  But they are quite drinkable beers that bring Greene King’s portfolio a bit closer to what drinkers want.

My only, obvious, quarrel is that, already under fire for calling a 3.6% session beer IPA, they’ve now brought out two new beers that are very different from the original, obviously not India Pale Ales in any shape or form, and called them India Pale Ales.  This reveals that as far as Greene King is concerned, IPA is a brand name and not a beer style.  I could just about defend the mainstream GK IPA because while it’s not a traditional IPA, IPA is an evolving style and in the mid-twentieth century this is what it was to most brewers and drinkers in the UK.  But by calling these new beers IPA rather than just ‘Greene King Blonde’ or ‘Greene King Reserve’, GK have created a needless rod for beer enthusiasts to beat them with – a silly own goal at a time when they’re doing some big things right.

GK has also launched an attractive Facebook page to support the campaign.

One tip to both brands: Facebook is an interactive medium.  If people ask you if it’s possible to buy Bombardier in North America or who did the music on the IPA ad, it’s good manners and good business sense to reply.  Don’t fall into the trap of bigger brands who pretend to be there on Facebook but don’t actually read or respond to comments, thereby actively alienating some of your biggest fans.  oh hang on – EDIT – GK actually did respond.

I’m anticipating many tiresome comments about how both these beers are shit, boring and bland, made by big corporations, and that it’s a bad thing they’re on TV.  My answer to that would be that these beers, and these ads, are not aimed at people who write beer blogs and drink in craft beer bars.   We’re fine – we don’t need to be told that real ale is a decent drink or that pubs are nice places to be.  No one who is already drinking great craft beer is going to suddenly start switching to Bombardier or Greene King IPA as a result of these ads.  The useful job that big brands can do is bring more novices into ale for the first time – and remind people how great pubs are.  With nearly £10m being spent advertising real ale over the next few months, this is fantastic news for beer as a whole – whatever you choose to drink yourself.

Cheers to both of them.  Especially the second one.

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IPA Day: the morning after the night that didn’t happen for me

Oh balls.  Was not feeling great yesterday, and by 4pm I really wasn’t feeling very well at all.  This was no hangover – hangovers get better as the day goes on, not worse.  A combination of too much beer, not enough sleep and far too much work combined with some very dodgy chicken wings from GBBF to lay me low. You know when you put something in your mouth and your whole body goes “hang on, this isn’t right”?  If you’re going to GBBF, please avoid the hot wings stall.  I spent most of IPA Day in my bathroom, and drank nothing stronger than water.  
So I missed the Dean Swift dinner, which I’m very upset about.  Here’s the menu – read it, and you’ll see why I was particularly unhappy not to be there:
Toulouse sausage Scotch egg
Keg Kernel Black IPA and Brew Dog AB:06
Calamari with sweet chilli mango sauce and timbale of avocado and crayfish
Brew Dog Punk IPA and Maui Big Swell
Goats cheese stuffed peppers 
Kernel Centennial 100 and Kernel Centennial 2010
Tandoori chicken with a cauliflower veloute
Stone Ruination IPA
Lamb Mechoui
SWB Kahuna, Magic Rock Cannonball, Stone IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, all on draught
Raspberry and Limoncello Jelly Tartlet
Mikkeller Sorachi Ace
I’ve never seen a beer style put through its paces like that, never seen such an ambitious beer and food matching menu.  It would have been amazing.  But this week, it would have killed me.  I still feel dreadful this morning.  Can’t imagine how I’d feel if I’d attempted that.
But it does confirm the Dean Swift as one of London’s most exciting beer pubs.  I hope to eat there as soon as possible.  And I hope they’ll let me host a beer and food matching event with similar ambition in the near future.

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Cheers to International IPA Day

What a great opportunity to take stock.  What a smart use of social media.

Two tweeters decided it might be a nice idea to get the online beer community to have a global celebration of the craft beer world’s favourite beer style, and the day was set for today, 4th August.

As far as I can tell there is no central organisational structure, no big budget or organisation, and yet it’s an idea that has caught the imaginations of beer lovers and gone global.

So what are we supposed to do?  What actually happens?  That’s up to you.  It’s up to breweries, pubs and drinkers to organise tastings, drinking, events, whatever really.  A quick google search shows that many people across the planet have taken up the challenge.

Why IPA?  It’s a perfect meme for every aspect of beer appreciation.  It’s a definable style – even though that definition mutates continually over time.  It has a long, deeply chronicled history – and that history has given birth to more myths, mythbusting, speculation, misinterpretation and debate than anything else in beer.  It’s a perfect showcase for hops – the facet of beer that craft drinkers get most excited about.  And it’s the style that caught the imagination of the US craft beer movement, that symbolises it.  It’s the constant across the many styles craft brewers brew, a shop window for their craft.  The union of a traditional old-style IPA recipe and the tropical orchard of flavours and aromas bestowed by New World hops lit a fire in craft brewing that’s now burning world over.

For me, my first taste of an American IPA was the equivalent of my first taste of a real curry: it was like tasting in colour for the first time, as if everything I’d tasted before was black and white.  From there it became an obsession that would profoundly change my life.  In 2007 I embarked on a mission to recreate IPA’s historic voyage from Burton to India around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time since 1869.  My attempt to recreate the effects of the journey was partially successful, as was my attempt to write the most thorough, detailed history of IPA to date.  Neither of these partial successes has stopped the arguments, the mythbuilding and busting, the speculation, and that’s entirely how it should be.

The resulting book, Hops & Glory, moved me up a big notch in my career, earned me the Beer Writer of the Year gong, and to date represents the best writing I can do.  I can never look at IPA the same way again.

Tonight, my contribution to the celebrations is that I’ll be tweeting from a 6-course IPA day feast at the Dean Swift, London SE1.  It’s a lovely little pub run by passionate, knowledgable people, and they’ve pulled together what looks to be an amazing menu, which I’m not allowed to share.  If you want to know how that goes, follow @PeteBrownBeer on Twitter from 7pm UK time.

And raise a glass to the world’s most talked about beer style, and the people who have harnessed the power of social media to celebrate it in such a great way.

I promise I will go back ranting and/or trying to be funny after this post.

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June Video Blog: Celebrating the Great British Summer in Cornwall!

So last month we were sitting in Norfolk, in the sun, worrying about how the lack of rain was affecting the local barley crop.

Ah well, we thought, at least if it’s like this, we’ll have a great time in Cornwall next month – sun, sea, sand, seafood and a nice golden ale on the beach.

I didn’t realise we were planning on doing this the same weekend as Glastonbury and Wimbledon.

It was freezing cold, rainy, windy and unpleasant.  Of course it was. I returned from the Baltic the day before, and there was no difference.

Never mind.  We got to have a look around St Austell brewery.  I’ve been a huge fan of Tribute ever since I went to Portland, Oregon in 2004, and learned that brewer Roger Ryman was in a sort of cultural exchange with the brewer at Portland’s Bridgeport brewery.  Roger was teaching the Yanks about cask ale, and they were showing him the secrets of American hops.  Many readers probably don’t think of St Austell Tribute as a particularly hoppy beer, but ten years ago there were few beers like it in the UK.  It accounts for 75% of the brewery’s output, and has become a nationally recognised brand.

If you like Tribute, you’ll love Proper Job, a beer that truly cuts the mustard as a ‘proper’ IPA.  In this moth’s style guide, we take a 60 second look at probably the most argued over beer style the world has ever seen.

Then we’re off down to Falmouth, in search of all that sun and seafood.  We settle instead for a few beers in the Front, recently named Pub of the Year by Kernow CAMRA.  It should be obvious why form the video, in which we try beers from Skinners, Chough and Tintagel breweries.

Next month we finally make it to Edinburgh, where we’ll be looking at the Caledonian Brewery and seeing why Scotland is the fastest growing cask ale region in the UK.

And after that, our final Vlog will be from the trade day of GBBF.  If you’re going, bring along your ‘Hello Mum’ signs.  And whether you’re going or not, if you think there’s any particular aspect of British cask ale we should be looking at there, let me know.

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Hair of the Dog

Good afternoon, and we’re blogging LIVE from the White Horse in Parson’s Green, where a momentous event is taking place.
Last month, I helped brew a beer up at Kelham Island in Sheffield. It’s a 6% IPA that had a final sparge of hops at the end of the brew. As is always the case, there was the difficult question of what to name the beer. This was resolved when Crown Brewer Stu’s wife, Cat – who works at Kelham Island – contacted the beer widow and suggested the beer be named after out dog, Captain.
And so, a beer was born:

In the photo on the pump clip, the little fella is lying on our rug chewing away at a dried bull’s penis. he loves a bit of dried bull’s penis, does Captain. But he does look like he’s smoking a cigar – entirely befitting of the successful dog about town with a beer named after him.
So, today Captain IPA went on the bar at the White Horse, and Captain wanted to come down and check it out. Here is is on the bar, next to his beer:

He’s not that interested in trying the beer, which is a shame – that hop sparge hasn’t necessarily given it a stronger hop flavour, but it’s given it a much more rounded hop flavour – the usual citrus and resin is fleshed out with a much sweeter, fuller hop character that blends perfectly into the malt. It’s a winner!
Captain has also been sighted at this weekend’s Kelham Island Beer Festival and at various pubs around the country, including some Wetherspoons. There are two nines of it down here at the White Horse – not sure how much of it we’ll get through this afternoon but please do try and check it out! It’ll make Captain’s afternoon.

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I love the smell of hot Sarsons at lunchtime.

The best advert in the world, ever. I’m serious.

So I’m Beer Writer of the Year, and now Christmas is out of the way this has started to bring in a few invites that I wasn’t getting this time last year. Yesterday saw me joining the nice chaps from Marston’s at the 22nd Annual Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Competition, described by the man who introduced proceedings – with a straight face – as the “Oscars of the frying industry” (fellow beer scribe Nigel Huddlestone was also there). This was a particularly special year for the awards, because 2010 is the 150th birthday of fish and chips, with the general consensus being that the first chippie opened in 1860. As IPA – in its Burtonised incarnation – is almost 190 years old, Old Empire was the official beer of the event. I love fish and chips. The aroma of malt vinegar evaporating off chips is second only to the bouquet of hoppy IPA in terms of olfactory delight. My dad actually used to own a chip shop, and while my mum worked in it, we never actually ran it – dad just rented it out to Greasy Graham, a massive Barry Sheen fan who had posters of motorbikes around the chippie, always seemed to wrap my chips in page three of The Sun, and made the best proper fishcakes (two slabs of potato sandwiching fish off-cuts, battered and deep-fried) in the entire world. In all these respects, he had a profound influence on an 8-year-old future beer writer. Apart from the stuff about bikes. Fish and chips have a dirty, decadent, delicious shiny-fingered guilt that rivals any junk food you can think of. And yet – it says here – as a meal it contains less salt, a third less calories and over 40 per cent less fat than other takeaways. Truly, this is the food of the gods. So it was a profound honour to be at the Frying Oscars, even if it spelled disaster for the January detox – or so I thought. I missed the champagne reception, where beer-battered goujons of fish and prawns were matched with Old Empire, and discussions were had about future plans to explore the merits of different types of beer batter and different matches of IPA with battered fish. I didn’t mean to, but by doing so I kind of missed the bit that made it relevant to this blog. But I thought you’d like to hear about the rest anyway. Into lunch then, and first, a profound shock. What kind of meal do you think they would serve at the Annual Fish and Chip Awards, in the year of the fish and chip shop’s 150th anniversary? Go on, have a guess. Yes, that’s right: scallops wrapped in pancetta, followed by pan-fried cod fillet with a red pesto sauce, served on a bed of asparagus with some potatoes and carrots. It was like going to a beer festival and being told they only served wine. Christ, this was actually detox-friendly! Shaken, confused, traumatised, I sat down to hear what everyone had to say. The main sponsor of the awards was Seafish – “the authority on seafood”. Their chairman Charles Howeson welcomed us all and told us that despite the recession chippies were having a good year. He clearly had a chip on his shoulder about the health lobby (God, I’m so sorry about that one) but assured us that in 2009 sales of fish and chips were up 15%. He then handed over to celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, who told us that the English had nicked fish and chips from Italy, before going on to gently insult most of the regional awards winners and pull funny faces behind the backs of the sponsor’s representatives who presented the awards. My attention began to wander and I scrutinized the programme. I was disappointed to see that in 22 years, only once has the Fish and Chip Shop of the Year been awarded to an establishment with a crap pun in the name: ‘Our Plaice’ in West Hagley, West Midlands in 2004, and it’s not even that good. No ‘In Cod we Trust’. No ‘A Fish called Rhondda’. No ‘A Salt and Battered’. If these kinds of plaices – sorry, places – don’t make good enough fish and chips, it’s high time there was a new category that’s just about the best name. Further on in the programme, I was less enchanted by some of the sponsors, and their descriptions of what they do. Blakemans describes itself as ‘The Supreme Sausage’, and goes on to claim it is “one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of sausage and meat products.” Not “sausages and meat”. But “sausage and meat products.” Amazing how one word can change the appetite appeal so much. Duncrue Food Processors – strapline, “Irish beef dripping” – is a company that makes – you guessed it – beef dripping from ‘caul, kidney and body fat from E.C. and Department of Agriculture approved plants’, and according to their website they recently invested in a deodourising plant. There are some things about fish and chips we just don’t need to know I guess, but it’s fascinating to get a brief, deeper glimpse into any industry you don’t normally have that much to do with. There were 10,000 entries for the ‘Favourite Frier’ category (Sponsored by Sun Talk, the online Currant Bun radio station) and a hundred of Britain’s 10,500 chippies were shortlisted for the overall prize of Britain’s best fish and chip shop 2009. The eventual winner was The Atlantic Fast Food chippy in Coatbridge, Glasgow, which had entered for the first time. Congratulations to them. It’s nice to see that everyone else takes what they do as seriously as we beer writers, and it was pleasantly strange to be able to sit through an awards ceremony with a complete absence of anxiety, jealousy and self-doubt. I’m sure that by the time December 2010 is approaching, I’ll be willing to trade my place as Chairman of the Beer Writing Awards this year for a chance to be one of the people who helps get that shortlist of 100 chippies down to one.