Friday, 4 December 2009

Beerticker: Beyond The Ale - A Film...


Pete Brown previewed this on his blog last weekend, and, intrigued, I purchased the DVD.

I have to admit to a conflict over beer ticking. For a couple of years, I was a member of the US-based website BeerAdvocate, whose most active members, while racking up huge beer review numbers and earning 'beer karma' for their efforts, routinely met up and had social events where they'd share beers and chat. Of course, some of the online chat was unbelievably inane. I lost count of the number of posts asking what was in members' fridges. Some US-based BA members tended to look down on their apparently less socially-adequate fellow beer-lovers over on website RateBeer, a site I never joined but which seemed to be focused heavily on ticking rather than appreciation. However, these places seemed to be the virtual pubs where discourse over the merits of beer might be had, and indeed, today I count many of these fellow-travellers in beer as good friends.

I made a half-hearted attempt to review the new US beers I was eagerly trying on my travels, as well as the UK beers I routinely supped, but after a while I realised that I was developing an unhealthy obsession with chasing beers which had, somehow, become must-have. To me, I was being drawn over to the dark side of my love of beer.

Since those days, I've had some antipathy towards the tickers. I've been known to agree, with malice aforethought, with the opinion that RateBeer really ought to be called HateBeer, since pursuit of rare beer seems to matter more than appreciation, and that rating points are everything. At the same time, I've spent some time with the small posse of London tickers who regularly travel a circuit including the Market Porter and The Rake at Borough Market and The Wenlock Arms. Tony Marten (pictured here on Glyn Roberts' Rabid About Beer blog), TiaMariaJim and Einstein are sociable and engaging drinking companions, if sometimes a little eccentric.

So, I was keen to view Phil Parkin's documentary. He was able to hook up with four of the best-known tickers in Britain and, to give his film a narrative thread, decided that he would take up the hobby and aim to tick 500 different cask ales by the end of the film. His journey steeps him in British beer and pub culture and tradition, and takes him around much of a now-familiar landscape. He brews a modified version of Jaipur at Thornbridge, gets a lesson in brewing history at Burton, investigates whether his hobby is in the sights of the health lobby, and muses over the large number of pub closures, even as sales of traditional cask ales show encouraging signs of growth. He finds himself agonising over the fine line between beer appreciation and simple ticking, he pops up on ale trails and pub crawls, on cellar runs at local festivals and at GBBF, and on his quest to tick those 500 ales, he seems to undergo a Damascene epiphany and find a desire to support British ale and pub traditions. The film closes with him meeting friends at the Steel City Beer Fest, implying an aim to spread the word about good beer.

Conclusions? A must-see for anybody who is interested in British pubs, beer and brewing. The narrative allows the film to inform the viewer on the state of our Beer Nation while affectionately providing an insight into an eccentric pastime. It even made me like Gazza Prescott.

While I still think that some aspects of ticking are bad for beer, I think I'm coming around to the view that these individuals are a barometer, a welcome reminder that the state of craft brewing in the UK is in pretty good shape, and that the scene would be the poorer if, instead of 500-plus brewers producing the new ales they relentlessly pursue, we had a handful of multinationals offering us the same factory-produced beer.

You can get more info, find out about a public screening in Sheffield and buy the DVD in time for Xmas, here...

3 comments:

Rabidbarfly said...

Well said, Ratebeer is becoming Hatebeer if not it's middle-eastern alter-ego MustHaveBeer. Tickers do collect beers but a lot of them are trying them because this is something they love doing, to simply give a beer marks is not loving beer(take note Ratebeerians and Beer Advocates), it is simply critisising beer, something that has it's place but not on this sort of scale, there is just no need for this sort of beer snobbery, it's ONLY beer!

surfadelic23 said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this... I like the analogy of the ticker as a kind of canary in the coalmine for the health of the brewing industry!
I get a kick out of tickers for the most part...

Gazza Prescott said...

I live to be liked.