Saturday, 27 March 2010
Friday, 26 March 2010
It’s Cask Ale Week next week – and Roger Protz and I will be celebrating by singing the praises of lager.
No, it’s not a premature April Fool.
I wrote in January that drinking unfiltered, unpasteurized Budvar straight from the conditioning tanks in Ceske Budejovice was one of the most amazing taste experiences of my beery life so far. It was exquisite, a completely different drink, and it underlined to everyone present that great lager is every bit as superb as great ale.
Well, next week I get to drink it again, without having to go to the Czech Republic – and you can try it too.
On Tuesday night, 30th March, The White Horse at Parson’s Green will be cracking open some of the unpasteurized, unfiltered nectar flown straight in from the brewery, and Protzy and I will be singing its praises and talking more generally about the difference – and similarity – between ale and lager.
I’ll be focusing on what I learned at the fascinating Guild of Beer Writers lager seminar at Thornbridge about 18 months ago, questioning our conventional understanding of how you define lager, discussing examples of beers on the borderline.
Then, the Protzatolah will share some of his research on the history of lager brewing, challenging conventional wisdom that lager is inherently somehow inferior in quality to ale, and showing that lager brewing actually goes back much further than most of us think.
Admission is free but places are limited, so if you’re keen, it’s best to book a place with the White Horse now.
Things kick off at 7.30ish. See you there!
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Just realised I can't bring myself to use this picture any more after today.
Sunday, 21 March 2010
Friday, 19 March 2010
Yes, it looks like cat sick dressed with red onions. It's the most revolting-looking food I've seen since the Heinz sandwich paste my dad used to give me to take to school. There is no reason whatsoever why anyone should feel moved to put this in their mouths. And yet for some reason, Germans do, and the first time I went to the Bavarian Beer House, I did too.
LIQUID IDENTITIES: COMMUNITY REPRESENTATION THROUGH BEER
by John Bidwell
First off, let us state the obvious - beer is just a beverage made of barley, hops, yeast and water.
To some it’s a thirst quencher; to others it’s a way to unwind after a long day at work. Sure, each of these uses holds a shred of importance to the individual, but why does beer matter? What has made it so ubiquitous worldwide? Why has beer become celebrated in cultures around the world? Perhaps it’s because beer acts as a window into a community. It allows a town, city, or region to tell a story about who they are in liquid form. This isn’t the case with all beers, but the most unique and imaginative beers begin to reveal their heritage after the first sip.
By the turn of the 21st century, the craft brewing scene had exploded; long gone were the days of mass commoditization and conglomeration. Craft beer was now commonplace, but in Santa Cruz, California, Alec Stefanski was doing something most uncommon. “It’s a brown ale brewed with pork!” Alec exclaimed emphatically. He is the founder of Uncommon Brewers, a new brewery that prides itself on doing things a little differently, and he had just gotten his first shipment of pork belly to brew his new bacon nut-brown ale. Santa Cruz is a city known for its independent spirit, alternative living, and its reputation as an international nexus of organic farming. Uncommon’s beers reflect Santa Cruz - they are unique, broad-minded beers flavored with an arsenal of bizarre ingredients including kaffir lime, poppies, anise, and candy cap mushrooms. The brewery is run by an offbeat staff that incorporates these ingredients into their 100% organic beers. Like so many other food and drink based businesses in Santa Cruz, Uncommon Brewers is grounded in the principles of the Slow Food movement, sourcing their ingredients from the farms in the surrounding region. To taste Uncommon is to taste the community of Santa Cruz, and if the essence of the city could be captured, it would be in one of Uncommon’s signature tall boy cans. But Santa Cruz is just one of the cities that can tell a story through its beer.
Garrett Marrerro was young and powerful; he was a recent college graduate making big money as an investment consultant. Like so many others, it seemed like Garrett was destined to spend his life working 9-5 for his paycheck. Unlike many others, Garrett took a bold step: he quit his job, moved to Maui, and opened a brewery. Many others have dreamed of leaving their unfulfilling jobs and moving to paradise. With sandy beaches, a tropical climate, and palm trees, Maui is, in effect, heaven on earth to the working stiff. It’s a laid back community that doesn’t take anything too seriously, and Maui Brewing Co. embodies that lifestyle and the Aloha spirit. This isn’t your typical Hawaiian beer that you drink at a ‘luau’ in line for the pineapple-glazed ham behind other tourists while a fire dancer bounces around on stage. Instead, Maui Brewing Co. produces truly local Hawaiian beer by sourcing many ingredients from the islands - CoConut Porter, anyone? Also, it is made by Hawaiians - Garrett prefers to train the local workforce as opposed to bringing in experienced mainland employees. Garrett explains: “It keeps more money on the island instead of sending ninety cents of every dollar to the mainland.” This is what Garrett refers to as ‘Brewing with Aloha’ – buying local first and supporting the community. His philosophy has led to Maui Brewing becoming the best selling locally produced beer on the islands. Garrett, like Alec and so many others, has created a product that goes beyond barley, hops, yeast, and water. He has helped mold a community identity, and has once again shown why beer matters.
Beer is a reflection of our communities; it has the capacity to convey societal values and ideas in an accessible and unpretentious manner. Think drinking a beer isn’t like tasting a community? Try one of Alec’s brews, and when you taste the organic ingredients of the Santa Cruz Valley, you’ll quickly reconsider. Open a can of Garrett’s CoCoNut Porter and try not to envision relaxing on Wailea Beach.
Beer showcases our community bonds; it promotes our societies’ collective creativity and displays our penchant for and acceptance of new ideas. The art that is created at breweries across the world is every bit as important to their communities’ identities as Mozart was to Salzburg’s or Van Gogh to Amsterdam’s. Yet the art of beer is down-to-earth and genial. A simple trip to the pub can take the consumer from the beaches of Maui to the beer halls of Munich and any number of places in between.
Beer matters because it acts as a cultural medium between communities, a common language in which to communicate the following:
‘We crafted this beer for your enjoyment, but also to let you know who we are. We crafted this beer, and it reflects the values, beliefs, and attitudes of our community. We crafted this beer from our land’s ingredients and through our people’s labor - both are contained within every bottle. We crafted this beer for you to know us, so drink up and enjoy.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
Liz is unusually quiet and reflective on the way to the airport, in that we’re almost twenty seconds into the journey before she tells the cab driver that we’ve been here because I’m writing a book about beer. She gets a lot more than she bargained for in response.
The driver turns around fully in his seat, away from the busy junction we’re rolling towards, to tell us that we are very, very welcome here. “That’s great. That’s really great. I’ve an idea for a book. Would you like to hear it?”
Of course, we nod and say we would love to.
He then spends the entire journey telling us how his sister had a relationship with a man from Eastern Europe who turned out to be a murderous thug. They went to live in Sweden, where the thug worked for a man who imported gold bullion. The thug’s job was to follow the people who bought the bullion back to their houses, kill them and take the gold back. Eventually, criminal mastermind and hired muscle had a falling out over the absurdly high bodycount their business was creating. Hired gun murdered mastermind, along with all his family, just to be on the safe side – except one son got away. This man then turned up at a wedding and massacred the hired gun and all his family, all except our cabbie’s sister, who was somehow spared. She took the hint and fled to South Africa, where she remains, too terrified to come back to Europe. But she took something valuable with her: the location of the spot where all the dodgy gold bullion had been buried, in a cemetery on the outskirts of Stockholm. She kept quiet about it for years, but when her brother, our cabbie, lost the multi-million pound fortune he had built up from property and ended up having to drive cabs, she told him the full story. He is now splitting his time between driving cabs in Dublin, and visiting Stockholm cemeteries to look for buried gold bullion and krugerrands. He has a man there doing research for him, and all our cab fares are going to pay for this man’s services. However, the trail seems to have gone suspiciously cold, so perhaps this contact is trying to claim the loot for himself. Our cabbie may have to go over to Stockholm again and, er, take care of him.
He turns around to face us again, leaning over into the back of the car, his face close to ours, while doing seventy on the motorway. “D’ye think that might make a good book now?”
I tell him that it would make a fantastic book and he must write it. I give him plenty of advice on how to get an agent and a publisher. Because the alternative is to tell him that he is mad, and I don’t want to do that, especially while he’s driving. I’d like to ask him, if he’s close to finding these missing millions, why he would want to blow it by writing the book and revealing the secret. He obviously believes his own story. The distressing thing is, it has so much detail and so many quirks of individuality I feel pretty sure there are shreds of truth in it somewhere. As I’m thinking this, he forgets about controlling the car altogether, reaches under his seat and brings out a 700-page pictorial guide to graveyards around Stockholm, starts showing us various pictures, asking us if we can read Swedish because he needs help with some of the passages.
I want to scream so badly. I don’t recognise the road we’re on – I’m positive we’re not heading back to the airport the way I came in. We’re on a new motorway that’s still being built, and for the first time in my life, I visualise my own death. I know I’m going to be hacked up with a spade and buried in bin bags under a flyover.
Then we’re at the airport. We leap out and get our bags. With my mouth I beg the driver to buy the Writer’s Handbook. With my eyes, I beg him not to kill us. We sprint through passport control, only relaxing when the plane finally pulls away from the gate and he isn’t on it.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Beer Nut – I’m not necessarily calling you a miserable indie kid but I know how you feel on this particular issue. It might be best if you just look away now.
I like Guinness. Sorry, but I do.
I like it as a brand – it’s stuck to its guns with mould-breaking, innovative creative advertising for eighty years now – and I occasionally like it as a beer.
If there was a better porter or stout on the bar, of course I would choose to drink that instead.
But the point is, in 99 out of 100 pubs, there isn’t a better porter or stout on the bar. There’s no porter or stout at all. Apart from Guinness.
In fact when you think about it, the fact that Guinness – a dark, bitter stout – is as ubiquitous as it is in a world dominated by pale, tasteless imitation pilsners, it is a remarkable achievement.
You might be about to comment that Guinness has been dumbed down and isn’t a patch on what it used to be. I’m not in a position to disagree with you.
You might also be about to comment that Guinness isn’t a ‘real’ stout, that it’s way too bland or even that it actually tastes of nothing at all. There, I would have to disagree.
Guinness is a big brand, one of the few beers that can truly claim to have a global presence. And the main reason it’s not even bigger? Survey after survey shows that the vast majority of beer drinkers find it too bitter, too challenging, too full-bodied. If Guinness were to reformulate to something as robust as the craft-brewed porters we all know and love, it would kill the brand stone dead. It might not be challenging to you, but it is to 99% of drinkers who ever come across it.
And still it survives. The success of Guinness should actually give us hop that there are enough people who like challenging beer to make brewing something a bit more challenging worthwhile.
If Guinness hadn’t kept the dark flame alive when porter and stout were otherwise extinct globally, would those styles have made the triumphant comeback that’s happened over the last ten years?
And there’s one other thing. It’s St Patrick’s Day. If you really, truly believe that Guinness is shit, then go to a pub in Galway tonight and tell the people drinking there that they have crap taste in beer and don’t know anything about drinking.
Good luck with that.
I’ll be in the Auld Shillelagh in Stokie tonight, having a few pints, otherwise I’d come with you and help try to find your teeth on the floor of the pub.
Guinness probably holds the world record (ironic that!) for number of books written about a single beer brand. Today there’s a new one out - Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Year, from Octopus publishing. I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but it does have some recipes in it, and the publishers asked me if I'd put one up ande give the book a plug, so I am, because it's Paddy's day and I. Like. Guinness.
So here’s one for Iced Chocolate, Guinness and orange cake.
This sumptuous cake is perfect for a special occasion. The recipe may seem a little involved, but it’s easy to accomplish if tackled stage by stage.
Preparation time 45 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour
2 large oranges
250 g (8 oz) caster sugar
175 g (6 oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
150 g (5 oz) self-raising flour
25 g (1 oz) cocoa powder2 teaspoons baking powder
3 free-range eggs, beaten
25 g (1 oz) ground almonds
5 tablespoons draught Guinness
150 ml (¼ pint) double cream Icing
20 g (¾ oz) unsalted butter
50 g (2 oz) caster sugar
3 tablespoons draught Guinness
100 g (3½ oz) plain dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
step 1 Peel one orange. Finely grate the zest of the other orange and set aside. Using a sharp knife, pare away the pith from both oranges. Cut the oranges into 5 mm (¼ inch) slices. Put them in a small saucepan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 50 g (2 oz) of the sugar and continue to simmer until all the liquid has boiled away, watching carefully to ensure that the oranges don’t burn. Leave to cool.
step 2 Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar for the cake in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then beat into the butter mixture alternately with the eggs. Add the ground almonds, reserved grated orange zest and Guinness and beat for 3–4 minutes until you have a soft dropping consistency.
step 3 Grease and line the base and sides of 2 x 20 cm (8 inch) round cake tins, then divide the cake mixture equally between the tins, smoothing the surface. Bake the cakes in a preheated oven, 190°C (375°F), Gas Mark 5, for 25 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tins for 5 minutes before carefully turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
step 4 Whip the cream in a bowl until soft peaks form, then spread over one of the cakes. Arrange the cooled orange pieces over the cream and carefully place the other cake on top.
step 5 To make the icing, put the butter, sugar and Guinness in a small saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Leave to soften, then beat gently with a wooden spoon. Leave to cool and thicken. While still warm but not too runny, pour the icing over the cake and use the back of a spoon or a palette knife to spread it evenly.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Marston’s are today announcing the launch of a new initiative called Fast Cask, which the brewer believes will revolutionise the availability and quality of cask ale.
Without going into too much technical detail, Fast Cask is still cask ale because it has live yeast working in the barrel, conditioning the beer. But that yeast has been put through an innovative process that makes it form beads which do not dissolve into the beer. These beads act like sponges, drawing beer through them to create the secondary fermentation.
What this means is that Fast Cask ale casks can stand a lot rougher treatment than a standard ale cask. They don’t need time to settle, which means they can be delivered to festivals and events that don’t normally have cellaring facilities. If a tapped cask is knocked, moved or even upended, the beer inside will still be clear. When not in use, a cask can be stored on its end, making it much more practical in small, cramped cellars.
The process means the beer no longer requires finings, so cask ale becomes acceptable to vegans.
Casks must still be tapped and vented to allow them to breathe.
Doubtless some ale aficionados will reject this as somehow being not ‘real’ ale because it’s not ‘traditional’.
The conversation I had with Marston’s was about taking a longer term historical view of the development of real ale. People who say traditional cask conditioned real ale as we know it today is ‘beer as it’s always been brewed’ are wrong. Traditional ‘running ales’ have only been around since the late nineteenth century, and were themselves one result of the scientific analysis of the behaviour and properties of yeast – an analysis which was decried by many at the time because it wasn’t ‘traditional’. If that process bore fruit a hundred years ago, it’s difficult to argue why we somehow should stop researching yeast now.
If people would simply rather have traditional cask ale that’s fine – Marston’s have no plans to phase it out, and will be offering Fast Cask alongside traditional cask.
We often talk about how cask ale is a living, breathing thing. Well living, breathing things evolve and grow and develop. Fast Cask is simply the next stage in cask ale’s evolution.
Hopefully it will be accepted as such rather than decried in a rerun of the whole cask breathers debate. Because like cask breathers, it makes no difference whatsoever to the quality or character of the beer. It’s still living, breathing real ale.
And it’s a move that helps spread the appreciation of that ale to people and places it can’t currently reach. Anyone who thinks that’s a bad thing really needs to have a word with themselves.
If you want to try it out, look out for Pedigree and Hobgoblin during Cask Ale Week (29th March to 5th April).
So what do you think? Is this good? Bad? Significant or not? Do you want to taste the beer first and then decide, or have you already made up your mind?
I’m not going to describe brewing as the new rock and roll because that would be unforgivable, but the excitement of discovering a new beer, the sense of an underground, an alternative to the mainstream, the hype and buzz that occasionally surround an ‘important’ new release… they’re very similar. If you took away the music analogy and my other favourite – seeing the brewing industry in terms of Monty Python films – I’d struggle to describe how I feel about beer and brewing.
With that in mind, I was struck recently by the strongest parallel to date. And it’s this: Thornbridge and Brew Dog are the Beatles and the Stones.
In the early sixties, the Beatles and the Stones tore up the blueprint of popular music and redefined it forever. They took established forms – rock and roll, rhythm and blues – and while they showed immense respect for these traditions, they twisted them into brand new shapes.The influence of both is inarguable and still felt today.
But the two bands were quite different in the way they came across, and people talked about which they preferred.
You could obviously appreciate both, but you probably had a definite preference for one over the other.
Thornbridge and Brew Dog are symbiotically linked in my mind because when I first met Thornbridge, Martin Dickie was joint brewer there with Stefano Cossi. Since they went their separate ways they’ve remained on good terms (when I brewed at Thornbridge, the screensaver on the brewery laptop was a big photo of Martin). They’ve developed very similar beers – Martin first explored the wood aging that would lead him to Paradox and beyond with Thornbridge’s wonderful St Petersburg. And Jaipur and Punk IPA are clearly related.
A couple of weeks ago, each brewery sent me some beer to try. Brew Dog sent a bottle of Sink the Bismarck! And Thornbridge delivered a few bottles of Jaipur that’s been centrifuged rather than pasteurized and/or cold filtered. This weekend, I tried them both.
Both IPAs, both from new wave rock and roll brewers. Jaipur the latest Beatles remix, Sink! the challenging new release from Their Satantic Majesties.
I’m actually going to have to discuss the beers in a separate blog post now because there is so much to say about Sink! in particular, so I’ll let this observation – originally intended as an intro to a blog about beer tastings – stand on its own.
Please let’s not get into which one of the Bakewell lot is Ringo, and whether James Watt is more Mick Jagger or Andrew Loog Oldham – I don’t want to get down to the personal level (though I’ll give you Martin Dickie as Keith Richards – there’s even a passing physical resemblance to the young Keef).
But if the analogy is true, can we extend it? Who is the brewing world’s Simply Red, its Joy Division or Black Lace?
Saturday, 13 March 2010
It's like shooting fish in a barrel these days I know, but after being alerted to this by a fellow blogger, I couldn't let it pass without comment.
- Wetherspoons will NOT be serving alcohol when they open at 7am - they won't be serving alcohol till 9am - meaning the headline is factually inaccurate:
- Wetherspoons ALREADY serve alcohol from 9am - so this is not news - in terms of pursuing its anti-drink agenda, there is actually no story here. Wetherspoons is NOT extending the hours during which it serves alcohol, even though the story is desperately trying to make you think they are.
What's that you say? Under-age drinking is rising? Oh hang on, no, that's not what you said is it? Because under age drinking is not rising, and you know it's not rising. In fact every single survey conducted since the new licensing laws were introduced, such as those surveys discussed here and here, shows that underage drinking is FALLING.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
A question that looms in responses across strands and across audiences is whether the regulation
of the on-trade needs as much tightening as the Consultation Document suggests. It is stressed
that most premises are not hubs of crime and disorder. Where problems may arise, many feel that
the enforcement of existing legislation as well as voluntary local partnerships can go a long way in
addressing them. Many measures are already considered good practice and it is questioned
whether further legislation is therefore needed.
Sunday, 7 March 2010
Writing this on my way home from the SIBA annual conference, on a cold, draughty train with no tables, no refreshment trolley, no power sockets. Wedged sideways on a hard, narrow seat, developing pins and needles in my left leg which is curled up to provide a surface for the laptop, the cold grey light, bare branches and churned, muddy fields gliding past the window, everything conspiring to accentuate what was a surprisingly mild hangover, draw out the nuances of it, develop the waves of pain and nausea like a symphony orchestra playing variations on a theme, and turn it into something that forces me to seriously contemplate tearing my eyeballs from their sockets.
But it was worth every groan, whimper and noxious whiff.
I first went to SIBA two years ago, to present a summary of the first Cask Report. They treated me well, looked after me, and I said yes like a shot when they asked me back to present on the second cask report a year later. But three years running felt like overkill, so this year I wasn’t invited to speak. It got to Monday and I thought, sod it, there’s no actual reason for me to go this year, but it’s such a good crack I’ll go anyway. Not for the speeches and presentations – even though some of them were quite good, they weren’t really aimed at me – but for the chance to be in a room full of brewers sharing their beers.
Every year a local MP or mayor will open the conference and inevitably talk about how real ale is not a binge drink, and everyone will nod furiously, and throughout the day the theme will be referred back to in presentation after presentation – real ale drinkers are moderate drinkers, responsible drinkers, you can’t really binge drink real ale, and we all nod every time it comes up, and then at 5pm the speeches finish and we charge the bar and get riotously, deliciously hoonered on real ale. SIBA conference drinking is drinking with gusto, with relish. It’s hearty drinking, lustful for life drinking, and more importantly, it’s only £1.50 a pint.
The conference (or just ‘conference’ without the definite article according to the people running the thing – it makes it sound more important) also sees the announcement of the winners of the SIBA National Brewing Competition, which is becoming a serious contender to CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain.
The overall winner was Triple Chocoholic from the Saltaire Brewery in Bradford, also winner of the speciality beer category. Brewed with chocolate malt, actual chocolate and chocolate syrup towards the end, it’s a very easy beer to write tasting notes for; a very difficult beer to write good tasting notes for. It’s very, very chocolatey and very, very gorgeous. Sorry, that’s the best I can do.
Saltaire also won their category for their Cascade Pale Ale. People have been murmuring about Saltaire for a while now, they’ve won a bagful of awards already, but this felt like a coming out party for them. Definitely a brewery to watch, and after chatting to the brewer after dinner I’m looking forward to arranging a visit as soon as I can.
Thornbridge Lord Marples, Bank Top’s Dark Mild, Salopian Darwin’s Origin, Green Mill Big Chief Bitter, Dorothy Goodbody’s Country Ale, Blue Monkey Guerilla and St Austell Proper Job were the other category winners.
And Christ, I’ve laughed a lot in the last two days. Sometimes I laughed at someone’s expense (I’m sorry, but even if the bloke selling stillaging units has never seen Swiss Toni on The Fast Show, he still can’t be forgiven for that haircut, moustache and grey suit combination) but mostly I laughed because the people I was in conversation with were extremely funny.
The theme of the conference was people – working with people, valuing people you work with, getting the best out of them. It brought home just what a people business the beer business is. That’s a rubbish thing to say, because every single business on the planet is a people business, but what we mean is that it’s a sociable business.
Someone on my table at dinner last night told a story about when he was at another conference in a hotel, and in the bar afterwards he was sitting enjoying a few beers with some of the other delegates. There was another conference in the same hotel – packaging or IT systems or insurance or something – and the guy in charge of that conference decided to – ahem – ‘work the room’. He came over to our brewer’s table and said, “Hi, what do you guys do?”
“We’re brewers,” replied the brewer.
“Right! Cool. Which brewery?”
“Well… we all work for different breweries.”
The guy was incredulous. “I’d get fired if I did something like that! There’s no way we could simply sit round a table having a laugh with our competitors. It just wouldn’t happen.”
This is one of the things I love most about beer. You doubtless have a pile of stories yourself that illustrate the same point. And it’s why I get so bleeding angry when the infighting starts. We’re better than that. We have something no one else has.
SIBA has its critics, as do small brewers generally (I was in a room recently where one big brewer turned a small brewer he’d only just met and said “You lot are all parasites.”) And SIBA itself has its own share of infighting and politicking. There are always issues and genuine areas of disagreement, competing priorities and conflicts. And I’m lucky that I can stay half in, half out of such conflicts, not being a brewer or pub owner myself. But the sociability and the common cause are much greater, much more important.
Which is why I’ll be at ‘conference’ again this time next year.
Thursday, 4 March 2010
Ranking by Wikio
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
In 2008 Carlsberg UK announced that the brewery in Leeds would be closing. Today they've announced that from 2011, Marstons will brew Tetley's Cask in Wolverhampton, while Smoothflow will be brewed by Molson Coors in Tadcaster. Carlsberg say they are delighted that most of the volume brewed will be remaing in Yorkshire, and that with cask, they looked into every option for keeping it in Yorkshire but this proved not to be possible.
I've just had a chat with Darran Britton, Carlsberg UK's marketing director, and got a bit more background. I'll scribble down what he said first, and reserve some personal reflections till the end of this post.
The most contentious part of the whole deal is the move of cask out of Yorkshire. Was there really 'no other option?'
"It may not be as fashionable as it once was, but Tetley's is a still a very sizeable cask ale," replied Britton, "it needed somewhere with enough excess capacity. But it also needed someone who is experienced in brewing other people's beers, someone who is technically excellent."
Lots of names have been speculated - Black Sheep, Timothy Taylor's, Heineken (as in John Smith's in Tadcaster) but if you agree with those criteria - and it's hard not to - then it's difficult to disagree with the conclusion, however unpalatable it may be.
So why Marston's?
"They have a great reputation for their ales, and they're an experienced contract brewer. In Wolverhampton they have traditional square fermenters, which Tetley's has always been brewed in. We'll work with them to keep the same recipe, the same ingredients, and we'll continue using Tetley's unique two-strain yeast."
And what about Leeds? What are the plans for the brewery site?
"Production in Leeds will end mid-2011. We'll be transferring the brewing earlier in the year. We're in talks with Leeds council about their plans for the city, but there are no plans for the site yet."
Tetley's - like its counterparts Worthington's, John Smiths and Boddington's - has been in a phase of managed decline for several years now, ceding the cask ale market to regionals and local brewers. Now that cask ale is back in growth - tiny, tiny growth, but growth nonetheless - will this move coincide with renewed support behind the brand? To be clear, Carlsberg is retaining ownership of Tetley's for the foreseeable future, with Molson Coors and Marston's brewing on a contract basis. Despite this, I'm reminded of when Courage brands moved from S&N, who clearly didn't want them, to Well's & Young's, who did. In that case there was a change of ownership, but it saw the beers being revitalised to a dramatic extent. As I said, this move for Tetley's is different, but after reports of new investment and the return of the huntsman to the brand's identity, I wondered if this was a cue for somer kind of relaunch.
Britton refused to be drawn, saying more that this was "business as usual". Rather than there being any renewed energy behind the brand, he insisted that there wouldn't be any less support behind it, that investment will continue, and that there'll be a new sampling campaign later this year.
So there we go.
In my job, I get to see both sides of stories like this. Sometimes I'm with the marketers when difficult decisions have to be made, when the harsh realities of modern business and the demands of shareholders make unpalatable choices inevitable. Other times I get to be a beer fan, and to be able to say "Fuck the shareholders, this is beer we're talking about! A short term view not only betrays the core drinkers of the brand, it actually doesn't make sound business sense in the long view."
In this case, I'm torn. I am grief-stricken at what has happened to Tetley's, appalled that the link between the brand and the city of Leeds will be broken. ("Tetley's will always have a relationship with Leeds", insists Britton, but that relationship will only exist in an abstract, emotional sense). I'm frustrated that for one of the biggest beer brands in the country, Carlsberg seems unable to make the huge power of provenance and place of origin make commercial sense for them. Lots of people will say that Tetley's can never taste the same if it's brewed in Wolverhampton but I'm not one of them - it'll taste exactly the same. But it's not about that - it's about the story, the soul of the beer.
On the other hand, I feel we have to accept the commercial reality that it no longer makes business sense for big breweries to sit on lots of expensive land in city centres. We don't have to like it. We can rage against it. But that doesn't stop it from being true. It's difficult enough to make money in brewing.
I think that to fairly criticise Carlsberg for what they've announced today, you have to be able to suggest something they could have done instead.
Keeping the Leeds brewery open was not an option. Moving cask to another brewery in Yorkshire was - if we take Britton at his word - not an option.
The one thing I think may have been an option, and which I'm disappointed by, is not keeping a small part of the space in Leeds and continuing to brew cask there. Most of the land is a massive distribution centre, which would be way better somewhere else. It doesn't make much difference at all where Smoothflow is brewed and I'm not sure any0ne cares. But if you sold off all that lot, and kept hold of the old brewery bit or redeveloped a new purpose-built cask ale brewery for a few million quid, this could only have enhanced whatever plans Leeds will eventually have for the space (I'm guessing "luxury apartments" with the odd Starbucks and panini shop.) It would add heritage, character and romance, something uniquely Leeds, to what is sure to be a development that will look identical to any city in the UK. This would have sent the right signals to the ale community, given the city a stake, mollified hardcore Tetley's fans. Maybe they looked at this option and found reasons why it wasn't viable. Maybe not. But the fact that it is not happening is a crying shame.
I have no problem whatsoever with Marston's - they certainly know how to brew beer.
I think Britton is right - it will be business as usual. Nothing will change in the beer itself. And it has always been a decent cask pint, brewed with love and care, no matter what anyone thinks.
But I had hoped that this would be more than business as usual. It's emotional and sentimental because that's what beer is, but when Tetley's cask is no longer brewed in Leeds, I for one will have one less reason to drink the beer. I'd rather been hoping for new reasons to drink it instead. Sadly, I've heard nothing to suggest that there will be.