Thursday 26 August 2010

Bloggo Love: A Logo For The Bar Fly

Our own Rabid Bar Fly, Glyn Roberts, has been fretting about reflecting on unkind comments about his profile pic. He pondered on having some kind of logo, but revealed he couldn't draw.

Well, I can't either, but a few handy source pics off facebook and some photoshop fiddlin' about, and I hereby offer the following...

There's no need for thanks Glyn. Really...

Friday 6 August 2010

International Beer Day?

Following the giddy excitement of last month's International Brewers Day, I learn that yesterday was International Beer Day.

Any takers? Anyone? No, me neither...

Thursday 5 August 2010

GBBF: The Evolutionary Spirit*

*With apologies to legendary scouse combo, The Wild Swans

My one day out to GBBF 2010 was the Trade Day. It's changed a lot since I first went in 2000. Then, you had a lot more trade attendees - crisp and snack sellers, hospitality trade businesses - who would check in for the Tuesday afternoon to schmooze with decision-makers then disappear like Wills o'the Wisp before Joe Cask turned up. Brewers and brewery bigwigs showed their faces, bought one another a beer, maybe collected a gong off Roger Protz, and were gone.

A few years back, Trade Day changed. I think it changed as Bieres Sans Frontieres, the GBBF foreign beer bar, changed. The word was out about US craft beer, and canny drinkers and their sutlers, the RB and BA types, knew they could find beer that wasn't coming to Britain outside of the fest. Scandinavia and Japan, The Netherlands, all got in on the act, making BSF the most interesting place to drink. The upshot was that, from opening time on Day One, there were punters in.

These days, you don't see any hospitality tradespeople, and the brewers are the faces of their breweries to increasing numbers of regular drinkers. I think that's a good thing, generally. Shepherd Neame have evolved their space into a brewery 'experience' with brewers on hand to chat about using new hops. There were also plenty of London-area Sheps managers in attendance. Wells & Youngs shared the Boggle 'best tee shirt' prize for their Eagle IPA shirt, along with the striking Moor Brewing shirts. Skinners sent the Falmouth Marine Band to accompany their singers, and the irrepressible John Keeling was generous with his time and the Fullers expense account. He also launched Brewers' Reserve No. 2 and all proceeds from this week's cask sales will go to charity.

Zak Avery and Glyn Roberts have offered their own views. Glyn's is telling, to me. He notes the number of events timed to coincide with GBBF. I've commented before about the effectiveness of Cask Week, which doesn't have a focal point. I suppose if you could take GBBF on the road and give other UK cities the chance to make a week-long festival of it, then we'd be on to something.

CAMRA's GBBF organising team have tinkered with the layout of the bars, but Earls Court is a very defined and constraining space which hampers any significant layout changes. I personally found the new 'alphabetized by region' bars confusing, though I do like the theming. The big change is that BSF now has a whole bar 'island' more or less to itself (it's sharing with glasses this year). The US/RoW bar appears to be the single longest bar in the place, and this year they have 80 casks of beer and fridges full of bottles, some of which are recent arrivals to our shores.

This growth is supported by the US Brewers' Association Export Development Program under the stewardship of Bob Pease. Remarkably, the UK is currently their second biggest market after Sweden, but they are seeing room for big growth, and they are able to smooth the path for subscribing members who want to export, to take advantage of US government and logistical help. Bob says that plenty of brewers are interested, and that he is taking back requests to US brewers like Russian River. When I see what an umbrella body like the BA can deliver for their members, it does prompt a rueful smile. Interests in UK brewing are so splintered and sometimes opposed, that developing something like this seems a long way off. Having said that, a representative from UK Trade & Investment was there. Hopefully he can push at some open doors...

From Left: Doug Odell & Steve Holt; Bob Pease & Martin Hayes from Cask; Don Burgess;
Matthew Waldron, UK Trade & Investment

The CBoB announcement was a bit of an anti-climax, but there was a first gold medal for Thornbridge Jaipur in the Strong Ale category. Once again, no love for Dark Star Hophead, which has never even medalled here. I can't believe there are three better Golden Ales on the day, but it happens most years. What do I know? Castle Rock's delicious (but not as delicious as Hophead) Harvest Pale won CBoB for the second time.

I leave you with this. A snap of the coming wave in British brewing. In shot you have two CBoB gold-medal winning brewers in Mark Tranter from Dark Star and Kelly Ryan of Thornbridge, while standing to my right was Evin O'Riordain of SIBA-winning Kernel Brewing in London. Justin Hawke of Moor Brewing won silver in the Bitter category for Revival, David Bailey of Hardknott (site under construction) and Dominic Driscoll from Marble Brewing are brewing interesting and desirable beers while Phil Lowry attracted my attention here with his efforts at Brew Wharf. These brewers are seeing increased demand, two of them have seen their breweries triple in size, and they are innovating and doing all the things that UK brewers aren't supposed to be capable of. Seek out their beers!

David Bailey (Hardknott), Dominic Driscoll (Marble), Mark Tranter (Dark Star), Kelly Ryan (Thornbridge), Phil Lowry (brewing at Brew Wharf), Justin Hawke (Moor Brewing)
Edit: Thanks to Kelly Ryan for putting names to faces!

Monday 2 August 2010

Celebrity Milk "Illegally Sold" To Non-Celebs

There is consternation amongst Britain's A-List today, as The New York Times reveals milk from cloned cows may have illegally found its way into the milk supply intended for 'ordinary people'.

In the strange parallel universe populated by our beloved 21st Century Royalty, it has long been the case that unusual and special foodstuffs have been available in order to help them maintain longevity and creativity. Such 'superfoods' as Goji Berries, Weasel Shit and Princess Diana's Tears have all previously been reserved for our beloved entertainers and others deemed to be 'celebrities'.

Cloned milk, originally invented by US corporation Halliburton for former US Vice-President Dick Cheney (alleged to be a replicant like in that film Blade Runner, and keeping him going long past a 4-year lifespan), has been credited with giving Madonna the body of a 40-year old man, and countering the effects of silicon on Jordan. It was, however, utterly ineffectual in boosting the performance of England's footballers during this year's World Cup.

It is thought that some of the ambrosia found its way into the mainstream food supply when backstage staff at Simon Cowell's X-Factor auditions mischievously added it to cups of tea for starstruck hopefuls, giving them strange unearthly abilities, prompting Cowell to exclaim, "Britain Has Too MUCH Talent!"

The high-waisted pop Svengali has arranged for huge tanker planes to urgently fly to the US to replenish the UK's supply of cloned milk before the public are able to see the effects of withdrawal. Newspaper editors are expected to embargo all celeb-related stories until supplies are restored.

Sunday 1 August 2010

The Cult Of Beer

I was reading an interesting article this week. I offer some extracts here...
"At this point I discovered that... has fans, in the same way that pop stars have fans: diligent and thankless defenders of the faith who have no truck with naysayers or unbelievers"
These fans display
"...a patronising superiority [that] certainly speaks of a passion that might be lauded were it not so blind."
They are loyal and prepared to defend the work they admire, so that a new release meant
"...a force field was created [and] dissent was quickly and violently repelled."
This included monstering critics, by
"...making full use of... internet forums to anonymously smear... professional reputations."
Other critics observed that to criticise is to "park oneself beneath the cyber gunge tank".

The author was Andrew Collins in the Radio Times, who was talking about fans of film-maker Christopher Nolan, but I was struck by how this description could be applied to some brewers. Most notably in this country, a certain punk collective in Aberdeenshire, whose 'fans' sycophantically laud every marketing stunt and new release, and will attack dissent and criticism.

Collins notes that "the internet makes it easier for communities to grow up around individuals". In the US craft brewing scene, it's clear that some brewers have been so successful at this, that they are synonymous with the beers they brew in the eyes of fans and drinkers. This extends to the fan communities that drink beers and congregate online.

Is a Cult Of Personality a Good Thing for craft beer? Are figureheads and 'celebrities', lightning rods to attract new drinkers? Or should the beers speak for themselves?