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What's new?

What's new?
Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
I've been accused of attacking cask ale. Here's what I actually wrote - decide for yourselves.
News about my next books!

Friday, 13 February 2009

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.

Beer and food again

I mentioned recently that I'd been doing a lot of journalism, and quite a bit on beer and food. Just discovered that a recent piece I did the The Publican magazine is available online here if you're interested.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

How much do you want your pub to stay open?

Good news from the BBPA: more than a hundred MPs have signed an early day motion supporting the 'axe the beer tax - save the pub' campaign, launched by CAMRA and the BBPA last year and covered by me quite vociferously at the time.

This signals a growing widespread view that the plan to continue to tax the living daylights out of beer at a time when pretty much every other sector of the economy is receiving financial aid is simply not acceptable.

A press release from the BBPA yesterday also states proudly that 10,000 people have written to their MP about the issue, and 20,000 have signed the online petition and joined the Facebook group.

This pretty lady has shown her support.  Why haven't you?
Nuts and Zoo fixture Jennifer Ellison at the campaign launch

Well great.

To put that 20,000 into context, the Top Gear Appreciation Group has 238,907 members.  The group 'If 500,000 join this group I will change my middle name to Facebook' has 172,371 members.

If 100 out of 646 MPs have expressed support, that means 15% of all MPs have done something. If every single person who signed up so far was a member of CAMRA (they're not) then that would still mean that only 20% of CAMRA members have signed up.  Fifteen million people go to the pub at least once a week.  That means 0.13% of pub goers have signed up.

I'm pleased the campaign has made a dent on public consciousness, but really this isn't good enough.  A quick google search reveals that coverage of the campaign consists almost entirely of blogs and trade press sites, with the occasional hit from the Wigan Weekly Post or Huddersfield Examiner.  As far as I can see the only national paper to have ever mentioned it is the Daily Star, and in that piece Jen's breasts (above) loomed more largely than anything else.

Do we want to save our pubs or not?  The fact that one in six MPs have signed the early day motion shows the will is there to get something done.  The fact that probably a significantly smaller proportion of CAMRA members have signalled their support is deeply disturbing.  

I'm not picking on CAMRA (again) - it's just that of all the people who claim to care about the preservation of their local, this group is supposedly the epicentre.  And CAMRA co-organised the campaign.  Every member gets regular updates from the organisation - there's no excuse for them not to know about it.  

CAMRA itself represents only a minority of cask ale lovers - an estimated 7 million regular cask ale drinkers versus CAMRA's membership of 97,000.  You can only get cask ale in pubs. Do 6.98 million cask ale drinkers - 99.7% of them - not give a shit that their pubs might close, thereby denying them the chance to drink cask ale?

Beer sales are at their lowest for seven years.  They fell by 10% in the last quarter of last year alone.  And beer drinkers - beer fans, beer aficionados - seemingly couldn't give a fuck. 

If you know someone who likes going to the pub and enjoys drinking beer, get them to sign up. Let's see if we can get more people motivated to try to save the pub with no more than a simple mouse click than there are members of 'If it's not from Yorkshire it's shite' (76,922 members). On the other hand, that is a group I need to join.  But then, that's so easy to do.

Monday, 9 February 2009

OK so drinking beer might make you feel horny - but packaging it?

Last week a customer at Asda found a little more than they bargained for when they bought a four-pack of Cobra Zero beer from Asda in Shoeburyness, Essex.

Inside the cardboard outer packaging there was a thoughtful free gift - a condom.  A used condom.  

An Asda spokeswoman said, "We are at a loss to understand how it got there," while Adrian McKeon, chief executive of Cobra beer, apologised and stressed the company;s strict quality control procedures.

Good job it didn't actually get into one of the cans - there are already enough people of the view that lager tastes like piss without introducing other bodily fluids...

Pub Fact - or Fiction? The first in an occasional series

Thought it might be a nice idea to share a query with you I had from a Canadian reader.

Voytek writes:

"My wife thinks that it used to be customary for some pubs to play "God save the queen" at closing time, sort of a tradition for the last call. Have you heard anything about it? Is it still practiced or maybe we're talking about something from the past?" 

Have to say I've never heard of it, and thinking about how recently recorded music has become a feature of pubs, I can't see it being a tradition unless it was the landlord singing or someone playing it on the piano.  Can anyone prove me wrong?

That got me thinking - anyone know any other quirky old pub rituals, last orders and time-calling eccentricities?  The pub is losing a little of its individuality thanks to transitory bar staff who see it as just a job and often seem to expect you to know when last orders and time is called by nothing other than telepathy.  It would be great to capture a few stories...

Friday, 6 February 2009

Buy the Big Issue!

No, I haven't fallen on hard times.

This week's edition, the one with this cover:

has a piece by me on 'the death of the pub', and what's really happening, and why The Pub will never die as a concept.

Oh, and it helps the homeless as well - the only people (apart from skint pensioners) to have a decent excuse for not liking the snow.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Drink beer and carry on

I'm not above using my status as Britain's Second Best Beer BloggerTM in the cause of commerce, so long as it's for something I like.

The guys who make these T-shirts contacted me and asked me what I thought, and I think they're rather fine - a message that both supports the beer and pub industry and gives sensible advice to everyone else who thinks the sky's falling in.

If you like them too, go here and buy one.  

Top Ten Beer Blogs

I was just asked by to give a list of  my top ten favourite beer blogs.  The results are here.

It was hard because I don't spend a lot of time going through all the beer blogs I can find, and when I do many are quite similar.  Given that the site is primarily American and read internationally I realised my list was becoming quite parochially British, so I had to miss off some very good blogs by friends of mine in order to give it a more balanced and international feel.  So it's not really my ten favourite beer blogs, more an overview of what the world of blogging has to offer.

I hope it drives traffic to the guys I featured (if you haven't linked to this blog yet, would you?) And apologies to all the bloggers I trade comments with on here who weren't featured.  Please don't hold it against me!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

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.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Hurrah for the snow!

We never get snow in London.  Waking up today was like Christmas morning only better. Everyone I've spoken to or e-mailed today has been deliriously happy.

So, pop quiz:

What's the perfect beer for sitting by a roaring log fire with your boots drying and the dog snuffling, and watching through the window as children play in streets deserted of cars and rushing people, building snowmen?

As today is the end of detox and also the day I finally finish the edit of Hops & Glory, I'll endeavour to try as many of your suggestions s I can a bit later on.