Tag: Publican

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Stunning hypocrisy proves alcohol regulators simply don’t get the point.

The venue used by a government minister to launch British Tourism Week is BANNED from selling beers above 5% ABV – but faces no restrictions on the wine and spirits it can sell.

“Can I have a Worthington White Shield?”
“No! Fancy a Tequila slammer instead?”

I spotted this story yesterday in The Publican.  At first it was mildly irritating, and then, while I was being pissed off with the total and utter ineptitude of both O2 and my email so-called provider, Fasthosts, I realised I was very angry with this too.

The newly rebuilt Grand Pier at Weston-Super-Mare was used by tourism minister John Penrose, along with Weston’s local MP, to launch British Tourism Week this week.  Presumably, this location was deemed significant because it represents what’s great about British tourism and British culture.

However, the Publican learned that when the pier, previously destroyed by fire, reopened last October, police intervened in the licensing application process and demanded that the owners enforce a ban on beers over 5% so the location would not become “known as somewhere that sold strong beer”.  No such stipulation was made regarding wines and spirits.

So a quality, classic British ale like Worthington White Shield (5.6%) is banned, but shots and shooters are not.

OK, so are they doing this because they hate beer?  Of course not.  They’re doing it because Weston is home to 11% of the UK’s entire stock of drug and alcohol rehabilitation places, and piers in seedy seaside towns are classic venues for hardcore drunks to gather over a few purple tins.

But it’s yet another case of stupid action following reasonable intent.  The pier staff say it doesn’t bother them – presumably they don’t see a market for Belgian ales, American IPAs or even nice homegrown winter warmers and strong ales in the average promenader.

But what if that were to change?  Duvel, for example (8.5%), is growing by 40% year on year and appearing in fashionable bars not normally noted for beer geekery.  Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%) and Brooklyn Lager (5.2%) are similarly breaking out into mainstream pubs, bars and restaurants, but are banned from Weston pier for the foreseeable future.

This is a classic example of our obsession with ABV in beer masking the real nature of the problem.  It’s insulting to brewers and drinkers to show no distinction between them and the tramp drinking Tennent’s Super.

But worse than that, as is always the case with rulings like this, I doubt it does much to help the people it’s meant to.

The eternal frustration in the debate about alcohol is how little attention those regulating it actually pay to the data.  I’ve said many, many times that alcohol consumption, binge drinking, alcohol related disorder etc are all in long term decline.  The one anomaly is that liver-related hospital complaints are still up (or they were until last year, when that figure fell too).  What this demonstrates is that while the total population is drinking less, a particular segment is drinking to increasingly harmful levels.

So what are they drinking?  Well, beer volumes over the last twenty years have gone off a cliff.  But within that total decline in alcohol consumption, wine and spirits consumption is actually up.  Every significant drinking epidemic in history is strongly linked with a sharp rise in spirits consumption, and that’s what’s happening here – the vast majority of people who drink solely to get drunk do so on spirits.  If you don’t believe me, just ask them – I did.

And that’s the real tragedy – the recovering alcoholics of Weston-Super-Mare are still able to go on to the pier and drink as much vodka as they wish.  Meanwhile, beer is yet again made a completely unjustified scapegoat for alcohol abuse.

Ignorance.  Complete and utter ignorance.

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The strange relationship between the Local and the Regular

So it’s looking like the Publican mag is on its way out – shame, I’ve really enjoyed writing for them.

Here is the piece I’ve done recently that I’m most proud of.  They haven’t put it on the web edition so I thought I’d share it here.

It’s one of the most complex and enduring relationships in modern life.
Statistics recently showed that we’re more likely to get divorced and remarried than change your bank.  Well, if that’s the scale of comparison, we’re probably more likely to change our bank and love the new one so much that we divorce our partners and marry our bank managers than we are to voluntarily change our choice of local pub.
The ‘Local’ and the ‘Regular’ – each a British icon on their own right – together tell you approximately 84.3 per cent of everything you need to know about the rituals, rigmarole and rhythms of the Great British Pub. 
“The usual, John?”
“Jeff been in yet?”
 “You can’t sit there, mate.  That’s Bill’s chair.”
I remember the important rite of passage to maturity of becoming a regular in my first local, as clear as if it were yesterday.  I’d been at St.Andrews University for about six weeks.  My new mates favoured one particular pub, the Niblick, because that’s where the second years said they went, and we wanted to fit in and appear urbane.  It was run by Tony, a man as physically tiny as his presence was huge, one of those special bar managers who imprints his authority on a pub with effortless ease. A man whose approval you craved and anger you feared, whether you were an eighteen year-old student or a windcreased, hard-as-nails Old Course caddy.  This one November night, I walked through the door and looked towards the bar’s golden glow.  It was busy, one or two deep, with two people serving.  One of them was Tony.  He peered over the punters’ heads (not easy if you’re five foot three, but that’s what I mean – once behind that bar, he could do anything), nodded and smiled at me, “Alright Pete!” and had my beautiful pint of Tennent’s Lager – yeah, alright, Tennent’s Lager, I was eighteen – waiting for me on the bar by the time I made it through the crowd.
Tony knew my name!
We were spoilt for choice for pubs in St Andrews.  But nine in every ten pints I drank during my university career from that day on were sunk in the Niblick.
The Regular is the person who has his own tankard on a hook behind the bar, and woe betide the newbie who serves him a beer in a different glass.  He’s the guy who sends a postcard to the pub on the rare occasions he goes somewhere else on holiday.  Who takes quiet pride when a photo of him from New Years Eve gets blu-tacked up beside the optics.  The guy who a Leicester Local has to keep an Everard’s Beacon pump on the bar for, because even though he and his mate (they’ve never been to each other’s houses – only the pub) are the only punters who drink it, it’s the only beer they will drink, and they get through a nine between them every week.
This is a relationship with as much loyalty, love, bickering and fractious argument, frustration and fatalism as any great marriage.  Each needs the other to survive. 
All of which brings me to my shameful confession: I’m currently a bigamist.
When I first moved to Stoke Newington, my closest pub, the White Hart, spoke to me in a way no other pub had since the Niblick all those years ago.  I could tell you about the food, the beer garden, the Sunday afternoon footie… It was all of that and none of that.  It just felt like my local.
And then, last year, the Jolly Butchers opened just up the road.  Eight handpulls standing proud along the centre of the bar.  Staff keen to hear from me what beers they should be getting in.  Cracking food, a beer and cheese pairing menu I helped put together. 
Now, every time I’m in one, I miss the other.  And the smiles of the respective guvnors are growing brittle.  Whenever I walk in either, it’s “Oh, we haven’t seen you for a while.  Been there, with them I suppose, have you?”  Recently I’ve been so busy with work I’ve hardly been in either, and now each thinks I’ve abandoned them for the other.
Guys, if you’re reading this, I love you both, very much indeed.  It’s just… complicated. 

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Stirring things up in the Publican

I’ve had a busy month in The Publican, the pub trade mag for which I write features and a monthly column.  If you don’t run a pub you might not see it, so I occasionally provide links here in case anyone is interested in the topics.

Firstly, I wrote a piece about how pubs are the best places to watch the world cup – often better than being at the game itself (especially in the face of relentless vuvuzelas) – and there’s even academic research to back this up.  Research that states the bleeding obvious mind, but solid academic research nonetheless.

Then I got angry about people who pretend that pubs aren’t pubs.  It’s been a few months now since the new chairman of Pub Company Mitchells & Butler insisted a city analyst referred to the company’s pubs not as pubs but as ‘licensed catering outlets’, but he’s not the only culprit, and this is a viewpoint I’ve been mulling over for a while.

Finally, I totally lost my rag over the news – sorry, very strong rumours – that A-B Inbev is about to sell Bass.  I love that they’re getting rid of it – or rather, I did until I discovered the breathtakingly cynical terms of the deal.  A-B Inbev have still refrained from commenting on the story, but sources inside the company say the deal is ‘common knowledge’.  I’ve never been angrier about anything in the beer industry.  I’ve taken the piss out of them before, but this move is beyond piss-taking: if and when it is confirmed, report back here for the official start of my ‘Boycott A-B Inbev’ campaign.

(That last sentence may be a joke.  But I’m not entirely sure.)

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Why Beer Matters – The Results!

21 people competed for the trip to Budvar I won in December and offered up here in January.

I’m sorry it took so long to pick a winner!
It was interesting to read the variety of entries – a privilege to get an insight into what beer means to different people around the world.
Many entries talked about beer’s role through history in keeping us alive, and almost everyone touched at least in part on beer’s role today as the most sociable of drinks, its uniquely slow, stately progression of inebriation and the way we can bond over it. Many said we could do that bonding anyway, but the beer sure as hell helps. Some tried the angle that the beer itself is not what matters, but the friendships and times it helps catalyse, while others said beer may not matter to you, or to the guy down the street, but it matters to me because I drink it, or I brew it, or make my living out of it, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
So in terms of themes it was all quite familiar stuff – I’ve made all those points in my books and on this blog many times before.
But what made reading these entries special was the way these arguments were illustrated. We might all think similar things about beer, but our own individual stories that back up these beliefs are quite different, and make for a wonderful collection of reading. Your first beer, your coming of age with beer, the moment you decided you wanted to brew, the places you’ve travelled in the name of beer… reading these entries one after the other was to be pulled around the world from one cool bar to another, back and forth across the last three or four decades, fantastic beer at the centre of a kaleidoscope of life experiences.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘sod the platitude and purple prose Pete, who won?’
OK, so we had three entries that really stood out for the pack.
In third place, is John Bidwell from Denver, Colorado, with his essay: ‘Liquid identities: Community Representation through Beer.’ He focuses on how two brewers in two different parts of the world pack their beers with a real sense of place and provenance, and transport you to those places when you drink them.
In second place is Shea Luke, with a spirited romp through her life as a young, female real ale enthusiast and ticker. Shea blogs here and will be on my blogroll from now on. She has a distinctive, fresh voice and a lovely turn of phrase, and I hope we hear a lot more from her in future.
And the winner… let’s hope all these prizes don’t start going to his head, but first place goes to Mark Dredge. He’s so industrious, so omnipresent, that it’s easy to forget that Mark has been writing about beer for less than two years. He’s on a very steep upward trajectory and this entry is proof of that. It traces all the themes outlined above, but frames them in a neat narrative arc and addresses them with passion, energy and clarity. A clear voice and an increasing confidence in his writing mean Mark will be going to Ceske Budejovice and seeing his piece in The Publican very soon.
Thank you so much to everyone who entered. It really was a pleasure to judge – I don’t think there was a single entry that was not enjoyable in some way. I’m hoping to post the top three entries on here over the next week or two, so stay tuned for some fresh takes on the beverage we all feel matters so much.

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I love Ceske Budejovice, in southern Bohemia.

The main reason I love it is because it’s where Budvar is brewed.I first visited on 2003, when I was starting Three Sheets to the Wind. In fact, if I’m honest, and stripping away the white lies around order and timing you have to weave in order to create a coherent narrative, it’s the trip that inspired Three Sheets – my first foreign beer trip. We had such a rollicking time on that trip I simply wrote down what happened, submitted it to my editor and he bought the book on the spot, saying, “If it’s all as funny as that, we’ve got a winner”.
It wasn’t all as funny as that. The trip remains a highlight of my beery career.
Three Sheets nevertheless won the Guild of Beer Writers Budweiser Budvar Travel Bursary in 2006. The prize? Another trip to the brewery in Ceske Budejovice, which I duly took in 2008.
Once again, it was amazing. Drinking unpasteurised, unfiltered Budvar from the tanks in the cellar remains a standout beer drinking moment in my life. When it was time to move on I almost had to be dragged from that cellar, wedging my arms in the doorway, clinging to the door jamb with my fingernails until they broke. If you think you don’t like lager, you only have to taste this nectar to become aware of your folly.
If you’ve read Hops & Glory, you’ll know that winning the Bursary led directly to me writing that book. And last month, once again, it won the newly renamed Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary at the Guild awards. Prize? Another trip to the brewery.
This is all a long-winded prelude to saying that, while I love this place dearly, and while I certainly intend to drink the unpasteurised Budvar in the cellar again sometime soon, I feel that to go on a third press trip in seven years would not give me as much value as it could give someone else. It’s amazing, it really is, but I’ve done it – twice.
So I’ve decided to give the trip away.
Working in conjunction with Budvar UK and The Publican, we’re launching a mini-competition to encourage new beer writing talent.
This is open to anyone who is passionate about beer, wants to write about it, but has not yet had anything published in print media. We can’t and don’t want to exclude bloggers because most people who are keen to write about beer have started doing so electronically, but we want to offer someone the chance to break into being published offline for the first time.

It’s simple. You need to write a thousand-word piece on the subject of ‘Why Beer Matters’, interpreted in whatever way you see fit. You need to send this to me at petebrown@stormlantern.co.uk by 29th January, remembering to include your real name, postal address and contact telephone number.
Judges will include me, and Publican editor Caroline Nodder. The winning entry will be published in The Publican, and the successful writer will be invited on a press trip to Ceske Budejovice, which also takes in a day trip to the stunning medieval town of Ceske Krumlov (below) some time in early spring.
Get writing. And good luck!
This is open to any writer, anywhere (though you’d have to get yourself to either London or Prague under your own steam if you live outside the UK.)
This is my idea, and sets no precedent in terms of what happens to future winners of the Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary. And it’s only the trip – you can’t have the cheque that constitutes the other part of the prize, or the traditional Budvar tankard. I need those. And if you submit an entry, and we then discover you’ve been previously published in a book or magazine, you’ll not only be disqualified; we’ll also send the boys round.

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Festivals and that

My latest pieces in the Publican:

I’ve been inspired by all the different kinds of festivals I’ve been privileged to appear at this summer, and it made me think about how pubs might benefit from the psychology they create. I wrote about it here.
If you read this blog much you’ll have read about the Cask Report already. But if you’d like to read me writing about the same points using slightly different words, you can do so here, and see a nice chart I’m quite proud of.

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Scenes from the back of the hall

Will blog in detail a bit later about my events this weekend at the Abergavenny Food Festival – the two best tasting events I’ve ever done. But in the meantime, here’s what happened to Mrs PBBB while I was talking to a sold out hall about the virtues of Welsh microbrewers.

Mrs PBBB was sitting at the back, after having helped get everyone in and get the beers on the tables. About ten minutes into my talk, a man in his late fifties or early sixties, with grey hair and beetroot face, stumbled into the hall waving a £10 note and trying to buy a pint of Otley’s Columb-O, one of the beers I was tasting. Mrs PBBB spotted him, waved him over to her table and gave him a beer.
“Ah, you seem friendly. I’m going to sit with you!” he boomed, and at this point Mrs PBBB realised he’d come quite a way since his first beer of the day.
According to Mrs PBBB, every time I used words like ‘modern’ or ‘new’, or phrases like ‘revolution in British brewing’, he winced, tutted and shook his head.
Eventually she said, “Would you mind keeping it down a bit? That’s my husband talking.”
“Pete Brown is he?” bellowed the man.
“Yes,” replied Mrs PBBB. “Shhh.” She added.
“Yes, I read him in the Publican every month! Writes for the Publican doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he does.”
“Yes. I was reading him last month. Writing about the Meantime Brewery.”
“That’s right.”
The man sat silently for a few seconds then, thinking. And then he suddenly announced, “Yes, I read him all the time. I think he’s RUBBISH!”
He grinned at Mrs PBBB, then said, “I think I’ll leave now before I’m thrown out! Goodbye!” And off he went, clutching his Columb-O.

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Cask ale pricing is stupid: discuss

My latest monthly column for the Publican magazine is here.

There’s going to be a lot of chat about cask ale round here in the next month! New Cask Report coming out on October 5th. If I can finish writing it in time…

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Beer and food again and again

And here’s me and fellow beer scribe Adrian Tierney-Jones at a very memorable beer and food matching event at the legendary Rick Stein’s seafood school in Padstow, Cornwall, courtesy of Cornish Brewer Sharp’s.

It was an awesome occasion.  The Publican write-up is here.