Wednesday 30 June 2010

World Cup 2010: The Curse Of Nike Strikes Again

As in previous tournaments, The Curse Of Nike has once more had its way with global football superstars. If you saw their expensive "Nike: The Future" ad leading up to this tournament, you'd have spotted Wayne Rooney, Franck Ribery, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The buck-toothed Brazilian wasn't even selected for Brazil's squad, Ribery fell out with Nicolas Anelka and sulked on the left-wing for the ill-starred France squad who jetted home early in cattle-class following their Bolshevist rising, while erstwhile Manchester United colleagues Rooney and Ronaldo had their World Cup misery mercifully ended in the Round of 16. Indeed, Rooney could be said to have not been there in the first place.

I heard that David Blaine is upset that his record of 42 days of doing nothing in the box has been eclipsed by the enigmatic Scouser, who clearly has his mind occupied with something other than the round ball game. Perhaps it's the court case his former agents won against him and his WAG bride, which may see him landed with a seven-figure bill for compo. Perhaps there's something else gnawing away at him, hovering over him like a Sword Of Damocles. I'm sure the world will be told once he "writes" a book about his "World Cup Hell". Or not.

Now we're at the quarter-final stage, Boggle's tips for the last four are Spain and Argentina and, from the top half of the draw, upsets with Nederland and Ghana progressing. I'll be digging out my vintage Nederland tee shirt. Or, since it's made by Nike, maybe I'll just forget it. I wouldn't want to schpill my pint.

Monday 28 June 2010

Hard (K)not(t) To Like These...

See what I did there?

So, as I write, The Rake in Borough Market is hosting an evening of beers brewed by David Bailey, lately a publican and award-winning blogger but now turning his hand to larger-scale brewing as Hardknott Brewing. Glyn Roberts at The Rake had approached David with an offer to feature his beers and lo, it came to pass...

I popped along at kick-off to sample the precious pong and hopefully say 'hullo' to Mrs & Mrs Hardknott. As I arrived, Glyn had arrayed the beers across his three beer engines, with cellar runs available for the fourth. Dave and Ann had supplied Continuum, Cool Fusion, Dark Energy and Infra Red in cask, while Aether Blaec and Granite were available in bottles.

I quickly ran through the cask offerings in half-pints to see what I liked. The sensation of the early evening is Cool Fusion, a 4.4% golden ale with ginger and chili. The ticker contingent had settled on this and were enthusing about it with the rest of the gathering. Ginger ales might be the hipster sup du jour, but this isn't your Crabbies. This is subtle, a spicy nose and vibrant refreshing mouthfeel, the ginger not overpowering, and a long finish when the chili announces itself. Some resiny notes in there as well.

The Dark Energy Stout is 4.9%, a concoction from the mad scientist's lab, with a complex grain bill and generous hopping. I'm a fan of Storm King stout from Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA, and a mention of astringency in dark beers had Dave musing on earlier versions of Dark Energy where this characteristic was more noticeable. He wasn't sure if it was a good thing, but I say go for it! A big earthy nose with a suggestion of red fruit (raspberries, I thought), the hops dancing all over the palate and a long roasty finish with hints of dark chocolate. A complex and very drinkable stout.

The Infra Red IPA at 6.2% was ruby, bright and inviting. Cascade on the nose, a warming viscous mouthfeel and the Centennial hops arrive late to provide a slow and lazy mouthful. An insidious IPA, this one. No hop beast getting in your face, more tapping you on the shoulder asking if you'd mind kindly stepping outside for a little chat.

Dave brought along a couple of them Northern sparklers, so we were treated to some experimentation with the Cool Fusion and Dark Energy. I've never had an opinion of beers dispensed through a sparkler, though as a Southerner there's been a natural suspicion that the beer will come out as flat as a pancake with a 3-inch head. However, a trip to Yorkshire last year immediately disabused me of those prejudices. 23 pubs in eight towns in two and a half days will clarify your thinking about some things.

There were also snifters of the bottled beers: Aether Blaec, the 8% stout aged in whisky casks, and Granite, the 10.4% barley wine. Ann pronounced herself a fan of the latter, and I would concur. Dave brewed it by boiling for 24 hours to reduce the wort, then dry-hopped during maturation. I don't think he meant it, but this beer is suggestive of some of the better American seasonal barleywines: not boozy, some balancing bitterness from the hops but reminiscent of a port wine. Try and get hold of a SPH Old Herb, or an Anchor Old Foghorn and see for yourself.

The Aether is an obvious cousin of the Dark Energy, but there's vanilla on the nose and it's warming and not overly phenolic or boozy as some barrel-aged beers can be.

My time tonight was short but sweet. Dave is an enthusiastic and curious brewer, and he admits he's still learning. His beer names are playful and give away his love of the sciences, and his branding is distinctive and modern. He has plans for some of his beers, and I saw he and Burnley Dave from the Wenlock Arms deep in conversation before I left.

Look these beers out, and enjoy...

Sunday 27 June 2010

England: It's The Players, Stupid!

Some of the weekend sports pages were busy touching up the bullseye on Fabio Capello's back, in case England didn't surge to victory today. Andy Dunn in today's News Of The World opined that we needed an English coach next time, as the qualities England showed in their thrashing of football world power Slovenia were not gained through coaching, but instead came from their lion hearts, their pride, their English spirit.

What Dunn and his ilk overlook is that we've had coaches English and foreign, and none of them can get these prima donnas to perform in an England shirt. I can't wait to see how this latest gutless effort is explained away. And when they've done that, perhaps the sports writers will publish an apology to former manager Steve McLaren, who apparently failed abjectly with our "Golden Generation", but seems to be doing well with professional footballers in Europe.

In the meantime, here's a tip for the FA, our esteemed football writers and other media who can't keep a sense of proportion when it comes to the national side. Next time you need a team pic, just use this image:

Monday 21 June 2010

Bard Of Timperley, R.I.P.

Dreadful news reaches me that Frank Sidebottom, "pop star, musician and author, and all-rounder on TV", passed away in the early hours of this morning, after collapsing at home.

Frank (in real life, alter ego Chris Sievey) had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had had operations to remove a tumour and insert a breathing tube. He'd said he intended to continue working, but his agent is quoted on the BBC News website as saying he may have been more ill than he let on, wanting to spare his loved ones additional worry.

He was a true genius. As well as his musical career, Chris was a gifted artist and animator, working on Pingu and developing his own "Frank's World" animated series. Truly an all-rounder. If you grew up with kids' telly in the late 80's you'd have seen him on ITV's "No. 73", he worked with Tony Wilson, recorded an epic series of EPs and covered the country performing shows and lectures.

As recently as 2007, an exhibition at Chelsea Art Space on London's Millbank entitled "Chelsea Space Is Ace" was acclaimed by Art Forum magazine as the third best exhibit globally that year.

His loss is a tragedy, and I'll miss him.

"pop star, musician and author, and all-rounder on TV" is a line from his classic "Love Poem For Kylie"

Saturday 19 June 2010

England: Smoke & Mirrors

The word came down from New York. An SMS simply read "England suck donkey balls". And it was true. A man who knows nothing about football was taunting me after England's "Golden Generation" continued to flatter to deceive. A motley crew of millionaire superstars who, it seems, no man can mould into a team. A team of supposed world-class professional footballers who seem to be tactically inflexible. They want to play their way, or they'll take their ball home. Naaaah.

So what's wrong with English football? For a start, we don't have a philosophy. The Dutch do. England has a 'product', The Premier League. It turned the players into celebrities and enriched them beyond their wildest dreams, and is trying to turn the supporter into a passive, uncritical consumer. Buy Sky Sports, this year's shirt, drink the beer, shop at the supermarket the players endorse. And you're part of the game. The players are insulated, indulged, feted and pampered. Told time and again by fawning sports writers that they were world-beaters, that this time they would heal the nation in their Grail Quest.

But it's all smoke & mirrors, and always will be. England does have 'superstars'. The media makes those. Endless back-channel access via agents and their 'people' gets them favourable coverage. But none of the players is really, truly world-class at what they do. The Germans don't have any world-class players either, but they have a philosophy that seems to always make them greater than the sum of their parts. With England, the parts don't fit together properly.

And if this really is our "Golden Generation", then let history record they let themselves, the fans and their nation down, especially that potato-headed muppet Rooney. They'll come home from this competition maybe next week, maybe after hanging on for a game or two more, but it won't hurt the players. They can come home and count their 7-figure pay packets for consolation. And their agents will soon be selling 'exclusive' stories of their World Cup hell to the papers. Nothing succeeds like failure, especially if you play for England.

And lets look at what the Premier League has bequeathed us after they're gone. Nuffink. Where are the next generation of top England players going to come from? Our top clubs fish in the all the leagues of the world looking for cheap talent. The original idea of a structure that would support development of a strong and enduring national side has long been sacrificed to the chase for club glory with the tacit endorsement from the protectors of the national game.

In two World Cups' time, when England might be hosting the thing, we could be in Scotland's position, with Baddiel & Skinner covering Del Amitri's 1998 plaint to the their team, "Don't Come Home Too Soon". Still, the Premier League will go from strength to strength, leaving a trail of broken clubs and scattered dreams, and a national team wondering if it will ever end "XXX years of hurt".

I've stopped caring.

Lags Eleven was in Scorcher Comic. Published by IPC. I nicked the pic from lovely Brit comix resource, If you're wondering why I used that image, do some googling about the current England team.

Friday 18 June 2010

News From Spoogeland

If you aren't a regular reader, then this counts as Cliffs Notes: There are tickers, as celebrated in Phil Parkins' film, and whom I enjoy a lot. Then there are Spoogebeerians. These are the fanboys of the beer-ticking world, the uber-tickers. They outgrew comix and now they're going after beer. They want more than a tick, they want the brewer too. They'll go to extraordinary lengths to obtain rare beer ('Spooge') and have created the hothoused eBay secondary market for such beers. They can usually be found in their online hives at BeerAdvocate or You can find a UK hive dedicated to BrewDog at their website blog.

ITEM! Tasting beer without drinking it? Are you serious? Seems a member at ratebeer was, forcing admins to lock down a thread after things got heated. It's bad enough that you can 'rate' a beer off a 1oz. sample, and I'm on the record with my opposition to reducing beer to a set of numbers, but to suggest you can fully experience beer by sipping, swilling and spitting out is just wrong. String this guy up by his tongue until he's sorry!

ITEM! Speaking of the Land Of The Locked-Down Thread (AKA BeerAdvocate), word reaches me that two members have developed the beer trading equivalent of the Duckworth-Lewis method to rank beers offered for trade. Seems some people are less than happy that they are getting less than they offered. so as a public service a matrix (uh oh!) has been created that will calculate the relative merits of beers for trade.

I can remember when these sites were communities of discussion and debate, about sharing a love of beer, about meeting new people and sharing opinions and info about favourite beer. Now they're marketplaces where the dickwavers come to offer their muled Kate The Greats or Dark Lords, while the level of discourse rarely moves above "what's in your fridge?" Sad.

ITEM! If you bought a BrewDog equityforpunks share (see previous posts) then you will be an interest holder in fabled Anchor Brewing in San Francisco! Keith Greggor, CEO of Griffin Group, who recently bought out Fritz Maytag, took time out from the busy handover programme to confirm the relationships between the LLCs means EFP investors will have a tiny part of the new Anchor Brewing & Distilling operation. It will be for BrewDog UK to decide what happens with dividends, and if I remember rightly, no dividend can be paid on an EFP share before 2012 at the earliest, but watch for more info. BrewDog should also let you know about tax liabilities.

ITEM! In local news, you might remember the acclaimed Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico were having problems with hopeless rating site Beer In The Evening (or BITE). I hear there was an amusing postscript to the story. When Cask tried to join the site and paid their membership fee, meaning to use this route to get to the bottom of their supposed misdeeds, after a day or so they were contacted and informed their money was being refunded, that they not welcome, and that any further attempts to inquire would result in legal action. Cask then apparently offered to buy the BITE site.

These ratings sites are pathetic. They provide a forum for dimwits who think they are Egon Ronay who can hurt legitimate businesses with their narrow opinions and petty vendettas. And, lest it need repeating, my favourite pub ain't your favourite pub. We all like different things. Bear that in mind if you have to refer to one of these sites, and remember also that BITE only cares about hits. They're owned by a company that operates dating sites, so they know (and care) bugger-all about pubs.

Sunday 6 June 2010

And Then There Was... Glastonwick!

Yes, Glastonwick. Not the "rite-of-passage" fest in Wiltshire, but an annual beer, music, poetry and more beer festival held in Adur. This year was the 15th to be held.

I started attending in 2004, when the festival was hosted at Shoreham Airport, separated from international airspace by a three feet high fence. Since 2007, the event has been hosted at Church Farm, hard by the settlement of Coombe, a working farm with a converted barn and space for camping, and the festival continues to grow and thrive.

Punk-era legend Attila The Stockbroker takes care of the entertainment, putting together an eclectic mix of performers who play over the three days, while real-ale legend Alex Hall sorts out the beer. This year would be my first trip down since the first year at Church Farm, and I was looking forward to a cracking list of new beer, including a 4.6% California Common (i.e. steam beer) style beer from Knops Beer Company, and beers from Liverpool One, Art Brew, Raw (where Alex had their Gyle 1, 2 AND 3 beers on) and of course, a delicious selection of ales from event supporter Dark Star.

On Saturday, I walked in at lunchtime to the angry folk stylings of Steve Gribbin, followed by a band of apparent 15-year-olds called Gecko. A couple of their songs reminded me a little of Orange Juice and (worryingly) Del Amitri, which I'm prepared to allow as contemporaries of the "Postcard Sound" bands. They mixed up some reggae and made a generally pleasing racket.

Highlight was Michael Horovitz, one of Britain's original beat poets, who, I think it's fair to say, captivated his audience, including your writer. Coming, as I do, from the N Molesworth School of appreciation, which is that poetry is gurly and uterly wet, and owning but two tomes of verse (one of which is Spike Milligan's 101 Best & Only Limericks), I wasn't ready for a performance in voices, but that's what he did, and it was quite brilliant, and now I own another volume of prose.
Michael Horovitz

My visit is all too short, so at 4:30 it's time to head back to the train. The organisers take care of almost everything, so there's a vintage bus to take us from the farm to Shoreham station, only I leave with Matt Wickham of The Evening Star and we stop off for a quick pint and chat about ESP and remote viewing at Dark Star's Shoreham establishment, The Duke Of Wellington.

A lovely festival. The music and performance is thoughtful and provocative, the stillages a showcase for the creativity and skill of British craft brewers.

Alex Hall draws a bead on the bass player of punk band Eastfield
"it's gonna be a turkey shoot..."

Since it's a beer festival, and since Cooking Lager was looking for stereotypes to tick for his own attendance at a fest this weekend, I offer this:

Note the tankard AND a drinking horn slung expertly across the back. I watched him order a pint poured into the plastic pint container (remember, a working farm, so no glass), which he then poured into his tankard, and THEN into the horn. Beat that, Cookie.

One more thing: Alex Hall, real-ale legend? Then why haven't you heard of him? Well, if you've been to New York in the past decade and had a pint on cask in one of their better bars, chances are you'd have Alex to thank for that. He's influenced bar owners to offer it, and persuaded brewers to brew it. He runs cask fests and produces publications promoting good beer. He's had warning letters from AmBev asking him not to insult Stella Artois. Better beer publications are noticing the cask scene in New York, and credit goes to Alex for nurturing it. That's legendary to me.