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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

What's new?

What's new?
Next beer book - now called 'Miracle Brew' - is finished! You can still subscribe to it here.
You can still listen to The Apple Orchard on BBC iPlayer radio
I'm taking the pub on tour - four dates between now and Christmas.
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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The best thing I have ever read about alcohol - and possibly anything else

I hate the patronising language of social media clickbait because it debases what were once perfectly good terms and insults the intelligence of its audience. But just for once, I wish I was writing for one of those wanky clickbait sites because my headline could only be 'This fruit fly drank some booze. You will not BELIEVE what happened next!'

I seem to be writing three new books simultaneously. I'll explain how, why and what in a later post. But two of these books - one of them being What Are You Drinking, my new crowdfunded book with ace publishers Unbound - are taking me onto a bit of nature writing. It's quite the thing right now, just like travel writing was around the time I did Three Sheets to the Wind. That's the thing about beer - write about it, and you can turn it into writing about whatever you want. You can be a comedian or a stocktaker, a philosopher or a troll.

Leavening a bit of nature writing into my work feels like a nice thing to do at this point. I was never big on science at school. I feel like a deeper analysis of the way things like yeast and malting work is the next step in my own personal education about beer. And if I can write about it in a non-nerdy, not-too-technical way, it might also appeal to a broader, mainstream, curious beer audience.

On top of that, there's also the personal journey that accompanies and dictates any book. Right now, as I spend most of my waking hours looking at screens, I find myself increasingly drawn to the natural world as some kind of counter-balancing weight to keep my sanity level. I just spent the whole weekend gardening and baking bread, and slept better, and felt happier, than I have in months working at the screen.

Both the personal and professional have led me to this book, by my new favourite author:




I seriously believe this may be one of the most important food and drink books of the last fifty years. Its treasures are too many for me to go into here. I'm boring everyone I speak to about how it has changed my life - or at least, endorsed and spurred on many of the changes I was already trying to make to my life. You like beer, right? And proper barbecue? And sourdough bread? And good cheese? Of course you do. And it's like he looked into your mind and conceived this book to appeal to you, and only you - and, of course, everyone else like you.

But anyway, never mind the life-changing lessons, the astonishing insights and inspiration. What I want to write about here is a footnote on page 374 that took me ten minutes to find when I went back to check it. That's how good this book is: the most astonishing fact it contains can be thrown away in a hidden footnote.

It's in a section where Pollan is writing in praise of alcohol and its effects. He does so in a calm and rational, yet warm and engaging manner, and succeeds in making it seem obvious that alcohol is - on balance - an overwhelming boon to society in a way I wish I could but can't stay calm enough to do.

He talks about the many species of animal that actively seek out alcohol and enjoy the benefits of intoxication. The footnote concerns Drosophila Melanogasta, otherwise known as the common fruit fly, or vinegar fly.

I've been reading more about it, and the male Drosphila Melanogasta has an endearing (to an extent) quirk. When it reaches maturity, it tries to mate with anything it can. It tries to court other completely incompatible species of insect, other males of its own species, even, rather dodgily, sexually immature female fruit flies. It reminds me of a hapless insect Sid the Sexist from Viz magazine, with absolutely no idea of how to pull.

But as it gets rebuffed, it seemingly learns. Progressively, it figures out what is and is not compatible, and spends less and less time on lost causes, smartening up its act, until it finally succeeds with an appropriate partner. Scientists studying fruit flies are very excited by what seems like evidence of learning and modifying behaviour in this tiny animal rather than simple blind instinct.

But that's not the brilliant bit that Michael Pollan wrote about.

Again, like Sid the Sexist, fruit flies also love alcohol. as you will appreciate if you've ever had a glass of beer outdoors. Do they think it helps their pulling technique? Scientists have yet to determine that.

But it does help keep them alive.

Drosophila Melanogasta suffers from having a tiny parasitic wasp that lives in its stomach. Yes, you read that correctly. I know a fruit fly is tiny. But it has an even tinier wasp that can get into its stomach.

If it stays there, the wasp will kill the fruit fly. So the fruit fly drinks alcohol, which it enjoys, and finds non-fatal. But it's a different story for the tiny parasitic wasp. It can't cope with its drink at all. When the fruit fly drinks, the booze kills the tiny wasp in its gut... by making it violently shit out its insides through its arse.

This incredible discovery - which surely ranks alongside the discovery of penicillin or the the atom - was made by Neil F Milan et al, and written up in a paper called "Alcohol Consumption as Self-Medication against Blood-Borne Parasites in the Fruit Fly," published in a journal called Current Biology, vol 22 no.6, published in 2012.

Congratulations sir. The drinking world salutes you. And bravo, Drosophila Melanogasta. I will never swat you away from my pint again.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Beer Marketing Awards pit micros, regional and global brewers against each other

I helped organise the inaugural Beer Marketing Awards. The awards event is on 14th April, and the shortlist tells us a great deal about where the beer industry is today.



When I was approached to be a partner in the first ever Beer Marketing Awards, the thing that sold it to me was that there were categories that appeal to brewers of any size. 

There's a misconception in some quarters of the beer world that marketing is by definition a bad thing, which is a bit like saying breathing is evil because some people say mean things when they do. 

Marketing is essential for any brewery, of any size. And what's exciting just now is that just as beer itself has been revolutionised, so has the way in which it engages people and builds relationships with them. 

Gone are the days when an ad by Heineken or Carling in the middle of Coronation Street would be seen by every drinker who wasn't already in the pub. TV ads aren't as good as they were because regulations have been tightened and marketers are more cautious. Some individuals in the craft beer movement have more followers on Twitter than the world's biggest beer brands. The rules of design have been broken. And while budget will always separate big from small, you can get noticed without spending anything at all if your idea is good enough. But does telly still have a role to play? Can sponsorship be something useful rather than simply being an irritant? Of course. 

Across all marketing disciplines, there' a lot of crap, but the good stuff shines out from it. By celebrating the good, we hopefully encourage more people to do better marketing. So I couldn't wait to see what our shortlist would look like. And here it is:

Best Branding or Design (Sponsored by Co.Bir) 
  • Beavertown 
  • BrewDog 
  • Daniel Thwaites Brewery for Crafty Dan 

Best Use of Competitions (Sponsored by PUB16) 

  • Thornbridge and Waitrose, with BrewUK  - 'Homebrew Challenge’ 

Best Use of Merchandise (Sponsored by Vektor) 

  • Ales by Mail - ‘Beer Advent Calendar’ 
  • Duvel Moortgat, Vedett Extra Blond - ‘Vedett Extra’ 

Best Use of Sponsorship (Sponsored by Dark Star) 
  • Budweiser - 'FA Cup Open Trials' 
  • Carling - ‘World Cup ITV Coverage’ 
  • Estrella Damm - ‘Gastronomy Congress’ 

Best Public Relations Campaign
  • Britain’s Beer Alliance - ‘There’s a Beer For That’ 
  • Greene King Old Speckled Hen - 'Old Speckled Christmas' 
  • Marston’s Pedigree - ‘Making Local PR Count’ 

Best Stunt or Event (Sponsored by Charles Wells) 
  • Greene King - ‘Charity Ball’ 
  • Sol - ‘Sol Street Food’ 
  • Wychwood Hobgoblin - 'Hobgoblin Roadshow' 


Best Business-to-Business Campaign (Sponsored by Ella Communications) 
  • Butcombe Bottle Ales - ‘Premium Bottled Ale Report’ 
  • Carlsberg - ‘Crafted’ 
  • Heineken - 'Our Shout' 

Best use of Social Media (Sponsored by Poppleston Allen) 
  • BeerBods - ‘#BeerBods’ 
  • Brew Dog - '#MashTag' 
  • Estrella - ‘#EstrellaLife’ 
  • Trooper by Robinsons and Maiden Brews - ‘Trooper Tracker’ 

Best Print Advertising Campaign (Sponsored by Britain’s Beer Alliance) 
  • Belhaven Best - ‘To a Pint’ 
  • Fuller's London Pride - 'Made of London' 
  • Old Speckled Hen- ‘Seek Out Something Different’ 

Best Broadcast Advertising Campaign (Sponsored by Craft Beer Co.) 
  • Britain’s Beer Alliance - ‘There’s A Beer For That’ 
  • Old Speckled Hen - ‘Seek Out Something Different’ 
  • Shepherd Neame Spitfire - 'Bottle of Britain' 

Best Integrated Campaign (Sponsored by the BII) 

  • Britain’s Beer Alliance - ‘There’s A Beer For That’ 
  • Marston's Pedigree - ‘Live a Life of Pedigree’ 
  • Purity Brewing - ‘Cycling’

We'll also be giving out an award for 'Outstanding Individual Contribution' (sponsored by Charles Faram) and an overall Grand Prix, chosen from the category winners and sponsored by Boutique Beers by Matthew Clark, our event partner and title sponsor. 

It's probably no surprise that the regional brewers dominate many categories, as they have decent budgets but not enough to just blanket everywhere. We're very happy some global brewers have joined in as in marketing they set the pace, and spend most of the money in the category. We didn't get as many entries from smaller brewers as we'd perhaps hoped - this may have something to do with the entry fee, which we couldn't avoid having in our start-up year but may be up for review in future.

When I look at 'Best Integrated Campaign' and see a pan-industry initiative funded by big global brewers, a campaign from one of Britain's largest cask ale brands and another from a small but rapidly growing craft brewer; or 'Best Social Media' being fought out between a regional, a world beer owned by one of the big global brewers, a campaign by a craft beer brand built through social media and a club set up by a craft beer fan, I know we succeeded in what we set out to achieve in these awards. Any brewer of any size can do good - or bad - marketing.

The awards evening is at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, East London, on Tuesday 14th April. Tickets are available here. We're keeping formalities to a minimum, with not a black tie to be seen, a short awards presentation, a few street food carts, some great beers on tap and a DJ till midnight. Just as the awards seek to celebrate all beer, so the event itself will allow the whole industry to get together to enjoy a drink and a chat.

If you're a journalist who wants to cover the event, please contact me to talk about press tickets. If you're a finalist who hasn't yet booked, you get one place free or a discounted table rate.

It's been a long old awards season this year - which you have to expect if you organise a brand new awards scheme from scratch I suppose. I'm looking forward to this event so much (though I've got an awful lot of work to do writing my awards presentation speech). Afterwards, I'm going to surprise everyone by actually writing about beer, pubs and cider on this blog 

But if this focus on the way beer is sold persuades just one brewer to put as much thought into how their beer is presented as to how it tastes, if it stops one company from doing crude, lazy, sexist or embarrassing marketing and encourages them to do something more thoughtful instead, it will all have been worthwhile.