Tag: TV

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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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Beer and women – and me – on the telly

Filmed this the day after Stoke Newington Literary Festival, back in June (which is why there are huge bags under my eyes).  It went out on BBC Midlands last night.

Marverine Cole, who produced the segment, has since gone on to become a fully fledged beer evangelist, better known as the Beer Beauty.

Great job Marverine!

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Quizmaster Pete on the telly

Well, despite the fact that I look like shit, and despite expectations of the old joke about the camera adding five pounds (“so how many cameras did you have on you then?”), with half a bottle of cough mixture down me I managed to get through my TV appearance on Market Kitchen without coughing phlegm onto the other guests.  And despite several people beforehand telling me Rodney Marsh was a bit of a git, I found him perfectly charming, great fun to spend an afternoon with.  Brilliant to hear his stories about George Best, and he didn’t even burst out laughing when I told him I was a Barnsley fan.

The programme is on UKTV Food tonight at 7pm and again (cos I’m so good) at 10pm, Sky channel 249, Virgin 260.

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Sod’s Law and that G-word again

Got me best clothes on today because I’ve been invited to film an episode of Market Kitchen on UKTV.

They’re having a week of ‘save the gastropub’ programmes.  I have no idea why they had to single out gastropubs to be saved – whether they think they are more under threat than ordinary pubs, whether they think they are more worthy of saving, or whether it was just that they felt they had to say gastropubs in order to be allowed to do the feature.  I’ll try to find out.
Anyway, I’ve been asked to compere a pub quiz, with the contestants being the regular presenters and today’s special guest, Rodney Marsh.  It’s the first time I’ve been on the show for over a year so I was keen to do it.  It could be brilliant, it could be disastrous.
The way the day is going, I’m guessing the latter.  I’ve been wearing my hair long for about 18 months now.  Every single day for at least the last three months, when I’ve dried it it’s just fallen quite naturally into a shaggy, wavy style that I’ve never been totally convinced by but which people insist looks nice and suits me.  Today I did exactly the same things I do every morning and ended up with a hairstyle I’ve never seen before that makes me look like a paedophile.
Added to that, I’ve developed a stinking cold as the morning has worn on.   I can’t stop sneezing and every time I try to speak I have a coughing fit.
This is going to be comedy gold, for all the wrong reasons…

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Oh dear – Oz and James just went rather smelly

I know not everyone likes the second TV series to hit our screens in 12 months, but I found that on balance it was quite entertaining.  Two episodes ago, when the wheels fell off their caravan, their larks were very funny.

Tonight, I’m afraid the wheels fell off the whole series.
They went to Burton on Trent.  I was always going to find this one hardest to watch because this is the one the producers were considering having me on, and I’ve had my head stuck in Burton’s story pretty constantly for the last two years.  I’m so relieved I wasn’t involved now. They talked to Steve Wellington, head brewer at the wonderful White Shield Brewery.  As it was a special occasion, Steve took them down into the old beer cellars and at James May’s request, opened one of the 40 remaining bottles of Ratcliff Ale, the oldest surviving drinkable beer in the world, brewed in 1869. I’ve been lucky enough to share a bottle of this, the story if which makes it into the new book, and it was one of the greatest taste experiences of my life.  
James May thought it was shit.  Not only did he think it was shit, he made it very clear how shit he thought it was, saying it made him want to throw up.  You can’t expect everyone to like it, but to have shown some graciousness or at least an understanding of how privileged he was to taste it might have been nice.  His attitude was simply insulting – there’s blokeish unpretentiousness, and there’s being fucking rude to someone you’ve just met who’s given you something extremely valuable for free.
Apparently they spent five days in Burton.  But on the show, after insulting Steve… they left Burton on Trent!  Nothing on White Shield itself, nothing on Burton’s history apart from a brief bit of Oz’s inane ramblings which are now so self-caricatured in search of laughs that they just fade him out.  Nothing on IPA.  Nothing on the Burton Unions at Marston’s, which are, at least, telegenic I would have thought, and curious enough to engage non-beerophiles while techy enough to delight geeks.  
If this was a programme in search of the best wines in France, it would be like going to Bordeaux, opening a bottle of vintage Margaux, telling the chateau owner it tasted like gnats piss, then sodding off back to Calais without exploring anything else in this, the most famous wine-growing region in the world.  Not just insulting to the makers, but doing no service whatsoever to the viewers.
After this they tasted Samuel Adams Utopias.  Oz Clarke, supposed beer expert, had never heard of it before, let alone tasted it.  This time they both said it was shit, undrinkable, ridiculed its ABV, and called it a joke, novelty beer.  I once had a bottle of it here with friends.  I thought it was fantastic, but then I’m a beer snob.  Two of my friends had never liked beer before, and they found it so amazing they booked their next holiday to Belgium in a camper van so they could explore and stock up on interesting, flavourful ales.  America’s top sommeliers have judged this beer blind against wine, brandy and sherry and found it superior.  But Oz knows better than anyone – he must do, he’s on the telly.
This was clearly the ‘extreme beers’ programme, because next we had a PR exercise where they tasted the most expensive beer in the world – the new one from Carlsberg, even admitting it had nothing to do with ‘British beer’.
Then they went to a pub and got pissed – it looked like it was fun for them.  But have you ever been in the situation where you’ve had to listen to a drunken conversation while sober?  Yawn…
Every beer ‘fact’ on this episode was incomplete or just plain wrong.
And flame me for this if my bitterness is getting too tiresome, but the beery bit that made the most sense – James’ precis of Oz’s (inaccurate) ramblings about how lager came to Britain -sounded an awful lot like he was reading it from Man Walks into a Pub.
I stand by my positive judgement of the early programmes in the series, but this one was just risible.

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You wait eighteen years for a TV series on beer and then two come along at once

I posted recently about the Neil Morrissey/Richard Fox series on Channel 4, with a mixture of criticism, praise and barefaced envy.  Now it’s Oz Clarke and James May’s turn.  Oz and James aren’t brewing their own beer, but are travelling Britain in search of the ‘drink that best speaks for the country’.  Which is beer of course, but they need to keep the concept broad enough to include whisky, cider and the occasional vineyard.
So putting even greater jealousy over this one to one side (because I was talking to someone about doing something very similar the day before it was announced this series was being made) what’s the series like? 
As with Morrissey Fox, I’ve spoken to many in the brewing industry who see it as childish, laddish, flippant, and not that educational about beer.  After the first episode this was the camp I was in.  It’s on the BBC, so instead of Morrissey/Fox’s fucking cunts we have lots of flipping fatheads instead.  When they visited Thornbridge, they used more footage of the boys pretending to get lost on the estate and having to turn the caravan around than they did from the seven hours they spent filming with the brewers, talking about hops and sampling their amazing beers.  The bit where they got pissed on a succession of Yorkshire train stations served no televisual purpose whatsoever.  And after the 100th time, Oz’s shit pretend Yorkshire accent really started to shred my nerves.
I watched the second and third programmes because I felt I had to.  And as the series settled in, I found myself utterly disarmed.  This is the third series on drink the pair have done together, so they must be doing something right.  And the thing is… their on-screen chemistry really works.  It’s very, very funny.  James May is obviously a far more intelligent and thoughtful man than the persona he portrays onscreen, and his comic timing is brilliant.  I hope for his friends and family’s sake that Oz on-screen is also an exaggeration of Oz in person, but put the two together and they play off each other wonderfully.  
So far, it’s true, I’ve learned absolutely nothing I didn’t already know about beer.  I didn’t expect to.  You come away with a vague knowledge of brewing ingredients and processes, and that’s it.  This is disappointing to those already knowledgeable, because they believe that people just need to be educated about beer and then they’ll love it.  This series is an opportunity to do so, but it’s taken a very lackadaisical approach to the task, preferring instead to focus on laddish larks around breweries and in a caravan.  I’ve even picked up several errors and inaccuracies in the brief descriptions of beer styles and processes.
But I have enough failed and rejected TV pitches under my belt to know that the days of informative lectures on screen are dead.  First and foremost TV has to be entertaining, because if it’s not people will switch over.  As I’ve often said on here, you might not like it, but that’s how it is.  And Oz and James Drink to Britain is very entertaining.  And more than that, it’s entertaining in a beery way.  You come away really fancying a pint.  
I’ve always argued that beer’s cultural role is far more interesting to the average punter than its taste profile, especially if you’re in a situation where you’re talking about beer rather than drinking it.  In today’s neo-puritanical age, here are two blokes making a series about how much fun it is to drink during the daytime.  They get to a stage where they’re clearly feeling the effects, but not behaving like twats.  They may not tell you much about how to seriously taste beer, but the entire series is suffused with the warm glow, the buzz, the feeling of what it’s like to have had a few pints and be content that, in your little corner of it at least, everything is right with the world.  In that sense, it’s the best publicity for beer I can possibly imagine.    
I went along to the launch of the tie-in book this morning down at the Market Porter in Borough Market.  The place was rammed and it was difficult to get near the two stars.  When I did, they answered my questions about beer in a very flip and entertaining manner, clearly more interested in taking the piss out of each other than talking about which amazing micros stood out in their minds months after filming has finished.  When I first started writing about beer, this is how I said we should be selling it to those who are not currently convinced.  I’m grateful to them for reminding me of the true value of beer.

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Is it alright to like Morrissey Fox?

Saviours of the ale industry?  Or a pair of twats?  As they say on reality TV, YOU decide...

One of the most controversial beer stories this year is the entry of man behaving badly Neil Morrissey into the brewing industry, with his mate Richard Fox.  They took over a pub, Ye Olde Punch Bowl at Marton cum Grafton in Yorkshire, built a microbrewery in the back garden, started turning out a golden ale that was very quickly listed nationwide in Tesco, and got the whole thing made into a TV show, Neil Morrissey’s Risky Business, which ran for three weeks on Channel 4.   
The whole saga sent the beer world into a bit of a tizz, and we can summarise the debate as follows.  On the one hand, the brewing industry is gasping for breath and celebrity involvement is the oxygen of our times.  It can only be a good thing.  They’re brewing real ale rather than lager – nothing wrong with lager of course, but ale needs publicity to help challenge outdated perceptions of it.  And in the TV series, they managed to get beer on the telly for the first time since Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter, seventeen years ago.
So what’s the problem?  Well, they’re interlopers.  They swan in from nowhere, with no brewing background, and suddenly it’s their beer in Tesco and them on the telly.  That’s just not fair.  Brewers are jealous of the success of the beer, and people like me are jealous because it should be us on the telly because we’ve been trying for years and we’ve all put so much more work in.  They’re famous, we’re jealous and bitter.  
And the telly programme itself – was it a good advertisement for beer?  Reviews were mixed, and many industry grumblers felt it was too laddish.  Too much swearing.  As we know, in some corners of the industry these are terrible crimes.
I must confess I’m ambivalent myself.  I’ve known Richard Fox for a few years and he’s a really nice bloke.  He’s a great ambassador for beer, particularly at live events where he evangelises beer and food matching.  But I’ve had about five or six serious attempts at getting my books turned into TV series and never succeeded.  They have a book tie-in which has an endorsement on the front from Richard Hammond – why can’t I have a quote from Richard Hammond?  And the book shamelessly and without credit rips off an idea from Man Walks into a Pub.  
So I’m a bit resentful and jealous, at the same time as feeling sneery and critical of people in the brewing industry who feel the same way.  To resolve my feelings one way or the other, I went along a few weeks ago to the official trade launch of Morrissey Fox, with the intention of letting the beer itself do the talking.
My quest for objectivity ran into trouble straight away, because the two stars were pouring the beer themselves, working the bar like pros.  Richard greeted me warmly and immediately introduced me TV’s Neil Morrissey.  I was a big fan of Men Behaving Badly in its day, but I wasn’t star-struck because Neil is a genuinely warm and nice bloke who genuinely makes you feel like a mate.  He may have been laying it on a bit thick when he said he was star-struck at meeting me!  Turns out he’s a big fan of Man Walks into a Pub, having read it when Hugo Speer out of The Full Monty gave him a copy and said he had to read it.
Having seen The Full Monty I can, unfortunately, only ever picture Hugo Speer in a red leather thong.  I imagined him wearing this, all oiled-up, while handing over a fake-tan-stained copy of my first book to the man who does the voice of Bob the Builder.  It was a moment I could never have imagined at the start of my writing career.
Anyway, I tried my best to put this out of my head, and moved on to the beers. 
The blonde ale is a blonde ale.  I like blonde ales a lot and I like the way they bring people into the ale category for the first time.  Morrissey Fox blonde ale was not at all bad and it was not the best I’ve tasted.  There’s not much more I can say about it, but that shouldn’t be seen as a criticism.
The best bitter was a different story.  This was a very fine beer indeed: chocolatey brown with a nice tight head, it was nutty and toffeeish and caramelly and very, very smooth, complex but insanely drinkable.  I loved it.
Finally there was a Christmas ale, full of spicy and fruity flavours.  It felt a bit obvious – too much of a collection of elements rather than a blended whole.  But not unpleasant.  
So they may be spawny gets who have more attention than they deserve.  Or they may be very talented brewers who simply have more drive and nous than other brewers and beery media wannabes.  Whatever, they are really, really nice blokes who genuinely love beer, and they’ve made two not-bad beers and one fantastic beer.  If you just take that last sentence and forget the controversy and jealousy over the media circus, that’s good enough for me.

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The ‘Death’ of the pub – a global news story

After seemingly trying to destroy the pub for the last few years, the media seem to be having a change of heart, with a flurry of articles mourning the death of the British pub over the last week or two, and even a programme on the subject on the BBC last Friday.

And it’s attracted attention from overseas too: last week in the space of two days I gave a lengthy interview to a Dutch broadsheet newspaper on the subject, and a TV interview to the same country’s equivalent of Newsnight.  Thankfully they went easier on me than Paxman would have.
Knowing a bit of Dutch might help you follow the narrative, but most of the interviews here are in English.  You need to fast forward through the programme to 10 minutes 30 secs.

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Media hubris – holding the tiger by the tail

So The Culture Show dropped the feature on pubs that I spent half a day filming with them, after coming home a day early from holiday to do it. Shit like this happens, and I’m getting used to it – it just makes you feel a bit daft after telling everyone it’s going to be on, having the top bods at the British Beer and Pub Association set their DVDs, and then… nothing.

They could have let me know, that’s all. But then, the people I’d been working with on the piece had spent a week travelling around the country, working until 3am some mornings then getting up and starting again early the next day. Maybe they were too pissed off and personally affronted at the feature being dropped to even think of letting me know.

I’ve got an ego – anyone prepared to see a book through to completion does it because they’re either egotistical, or a genius who will go mad if they don’t get it out of their heads, and I’m pretty certain I’m not in the latter camp. And anyone who stands up in front of people to read their stuff, or go on TV or radio to talk about it, or have a grinning picture taken for a newspaper, genius or not, has to have a pretty strong ego. Guilty as charged, and it hurts the ego when you get dropped from a show because they’ve got a big interview with someone like, say, Lou Reed. I mean, who? What has he contributed to popular culture over the last 40-odd years?

But the desire to see myself on screen is not just an ego thing and something for my mum to talk about, it’s also driven by the desire to see beer and pubs get a better deal in our national media. So while there’s a temptation to throw my toys out of the pram and wail that it’s not fair, you have to take it on the chin and get back in there.

Beer is the UK’s most popular drink – more than soft drinks, more than wine. And yet there is no single UK magazine or newspaper that features regular coverage of beer (they nearly all have weekly wine columns). And even people who don’t like beer would readily admit that the pub is a pretty major part of our cultural DNA. The last TV series about beer was Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter – which was made in 1991 and hasn’t been repeated since it first aired. There are people now approaching legal drinking age who were not born the last time there was a TV series on air about our national drink.

So what can we do? We keep trying. (And that’s not the royal we – this situation is something many of my fellow beer writers are wearily familiar with). Doors are starting to open, media people are becoming more receptive to the idea of giving beer some airtime, they’re starting to initiate contact with beer people themselves, without us constantly selling the idea to them.

My BBC Radio Wales interview lasted half an hour, and apart from the rather worrying fact that the host felt the need to insert a “now remember, we’re not advocating heavy drinking, there are real dirnking problems and you should always remember to drink responsibly” disclaimer every time I spoke about actually drinking the stuff (I hope this is not the start of yet another paternalistic trend) it went really well, and it was obviously of interest.

And I recorded an episode of UKTV Food’s Market Kitchen this week, and Tana Ramsay, Gordon’s wife, even seemed to quite like a couple of the Golden ales we were tasting. Barring Lou Reed showing up to cook a mean Eggs Benedict (it somehow seems like Lou’s signature dish – I don’t know why) that episode will be airing on June 28th.

If you want to see more stuff about beer on your TV or in your newspaper, write in and tell them. It’s going to happen eventually. But it would be nice if things sped up a bit.