Saturday 27 November 2010

"Roses Have Thorns, And Silver Fountains Mud"

Bloke called Shakespeare wrote that. I looked it up. Apparently he's big with the GCSE English crowd. I had to look it up because I'm stupid.

I want to focus on the rose part, as that's a metaphor sometimes used to describe the radiant fragrant flowers of English Womanhood. Well, this week, I had a rare opportunity to see out last orders at a bar (my favourite London Beer Bar, as it happens), and was able to observe a few specimens in action.

Part One occurred after the bar staff had called last orders. I'd enjoyed watching them deconstruct the concept of last orders, but eventually, having debated it, one of them grasped the nettle and called it. Some pubs have a bell which will usually provoke a Pavlovian response in punters, but here, calling it seemed to work, as a couple of drinkers immediately made their way to get a final drink before the place closed. Then, five minutes after time had been called, two of our Roses made their way up. One of them was about to try and order, when the manager cut her off and told her the bar was closed. She wasn't to be put off. Fragrant, elegant and with a sense of entitlement which swept away the law, she told him that this was her favourite bar, she'd brought her friends, and it would be seen as a kindness to serve her more drinks. Declined again, she turned to her Rose mate (I say rose, on reflection, more of a chimera made with spare bits of Geri Halliwell and Patsy Kensit), loudly apologised to her and declared the bar to be "shit". However, being a fragrant English Rose, she made it sound like a compliment. Probably.

Some ten minutes later, and having observed the bar staff and I pick apart the incident, Rose number 3 made her way to the bar, all shouty and assertive, dressed in her M&S business best. A weird three-way conversation may then have ensued, as follows:
Rose 3: "We've paid for our drinks. Can I -"
Boggle (for it is he): "Your friends missed last orders.."
Rose 3: "I'm not talking to you. Am I talking to you?" (addressing the Manager) "We paid for our drinks. Is there any reason why you have to keep looking over and talking about us so we can hear?"
Boggle: "She was 5 minutes after last orders..."
Manager: "The bar is closed. You can drink up and leave"
Rose 3, addressing me again: "Are you stupid? You look stupid! I'm not talking about last orders!"
Manager: "I'm not really interested. We're closed, so you can drink up and leave"
Boggle: "I'm not stupid. Your friend thought she could get served after closing"
Rose 3: "This is her favourite bar. She brought us here specially, and you treated her very badly?"
Manager: "I've never seen her here before. She said the bar was shit when I told her she wouldn't get served"
Rose 3 (floundering): "She wouldn't say that!"
Boggle: "She did. Ask her."
Rose 3 (addressing Boggle): "But why talk about us?"
Boggle: "Why ask me? I'm stupid."
Rose stomps away. Luckily your correspondent is a man without ego. They tell me this sort of thing is common amongst a certain class of drinker at this bar. Maybe they think this is their time. Pomposity designed to intimidate their inferiors. Just remember, though, next time you see a fragrant English Rose, sometimes they're up to their knees in pigshit.

Boggle's Beers Of The Week.
Not a new feature. Just had the chance to try some very good stuff this week. First is La Trappe oak-aged Quadrupel. 10%, but you wouldn't know it. This could be a sweet, phenolic mess, but isn't, as the beer carefully walks a tightrope without falling over into dominant whisky notes. Lots of lovely condition with the aging lending some pleasing vanilla to a fine Quad. Thanks to Demon Brewer Don Burgess for the sample.

Next is Brewsters Porter. I don't know anything about these guys. A bottle was shared by Rake Manager Glyn Roberts. Fabulous nose and pleasing mouthfeel, with chocolate, red berries, and a long warming bitter finish.

Lastly, Dark Star Thornstar, the collaboration beer by Mark Tranter and Kelly Ryan. APA is my favourite Dark Star beer, and this is a Black IPA version. Same ABV (4.7%), lovely fresh hops on the nose, the chocolate malts imparting a nice balance in the mouth, and a mellow hoppy finish. The Harp has some if you haven't tried it.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

London: Never Had It So Good?

(Sorry. Hehe)

A regular reader (who isn't a Frank Sidebottom fan) might recall me getting all giddy with excitement over the prospects for London beer and brewing following the London Brewers' Showcase in September of this year. And so it comes to pass, with a couple of new venues establishing themselves, and a madeover pub taking the bull by the horns and offering its own London Beer Week. The latter is The Jolly Butchers, while your correspondent has recently acquainted himself with the latest of the Draft Houses, (the one on Tower Bridge Road) and the Euston Tap. A lovely light space with accommodation apparently appropriated from a schools cince lab and a couple of caffs, some rock memorabilia to wallow in on the walls, and some interesting (if pricey) beers on offer. A great place to stop into after a visit to Kernel Brewing on a Saturday for some beer and stuff.

I'm not the only one getting all excited, either. If Stoke Newington were in a proper part of London - i.e. South (I have that instinctive wariness all South Londoners have for any part of the Other Side that's so far from the river), and the Jolly Butchers opened during the day, I'd have been at the fest, but I hear it was very successful. 4-12 opening, though? I know it sends a message to those who are feckless, workshy and would rather spend all day in the pub, but come on, lads!

The recent story for me (if it is a story) concerns The Euston Tap. I've never been to the Sheffield Tap, but they've thoughtfully brought the concept to me. I'm grateful. It's quirky with some great beers and nice people. However, I noticed a little comment tucked away on BeerAdvocate's UK forum thread about the place, in which a "London brewing insider" noted that some of our local brewers were boycotting the Tap over the omission of locally-brewed beers from the range on offer.

I haven't been able to verify this anywhere - but after all, the place has only been open a fortnight; it does pour a splash of cold water on the general mood of the London beer scene, though. I do know that Yan was ordering some local beers from Camden Town for the place, and that he did get to The Jolly Butchers. I wonder what he thought of it..?

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Politics And Beer, Never A Good Mix

Tickerific Tampa, FL brewer Cigar City Brewing (CCB) will be at New York's excellent Blind Tiger Ale House this evening, premiering over 20 kegs of their beers for the first time. Top man Joey Redner has decided to travel up and meet the punters, and while he's there I imagine he might have an interesting chat with the BT folks about how to deal with hostile local politicians.

It seems that a routine application to convert their temporary "wet-zone" permit which allows operation of a tap room at their brewery, was refused when CCB failed to secure a majority vote in support from Tampa City Council. They have two more chances, or will be compelled to close the tap room, which their website claims will lead to job losses at a small business which has seen a tenfold increase in staffing since they commenced operations.

CCB cites "...politics, a willful lack of understanding and... a downright embracing of unfair practices", and according to whispers I heard, it does appear that CCB may be in the local council's crosshairs due to family connections. Redner's father (also Joe) has his own Wiki page identifying him as the father of the nude lapdance, and his operation of a well-known strip club, and the conflicts that has caused with City Fathers, plus his desire to participate in the local political scene, has set teeth on edge for some years. CCB's tasting room may now be a victim of this, if the scuttlebutt is true.

The Blind Tiger knows about overcoming local political opposition. When they moved to their present Bleecker St location in 2006, they were faced with withdrawal of their alcohol licence, with local residential opposition cited for the action despite the bar being on one of the busiest tourist thoroughfares below midtown Manhattan. A vigorous petition and write-in campaign finally moved the local State Liquor Authority, and the bar was permitted to open with initial restrictions.

Borrowing this tactic, there's an online petition aimed at moving Tampa City Council, and CCB are urging supporters to write to their local councilperson in a bid to get their four votes. I don't hold any brief for CCB - I've tried some of their bottled beer (the Marshall Zhukov RIS was very good) - but I don't like seeing beer bars and breweries bullied or played as pawns by local politicians. Hopefully CCB gets the right result. One word of advice though, lads - notoriety is probably not a helpful word to use when describing your business...

Pics from Rick Lyke and

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Greene King Still Apparently Embarrassed About Beer

Here's the third* of Greene King's newspaper ads promoting their pubs. As I mentioned here, they have built the campaign around responses to a survey...

"But Sidney," you may reason, "everybody knows pubs sell beer. This is a chance for GK to attract new trade by offering an experience that isn't beer-centric." You might have a point. Personally, I think they have a subconscious fear that punters will pop in for a warm by the fire and a beverage, and accidentally order GK IPA and swear off pubs forever.

No 'proper pub' should ever sell Greene King IPA.

* Disclaimer: there might have been more than three of these ads by now, but for some reason GK aren't buying space in The Sun. I found this one in the new Independent 20p comic/digest, 'i'...

Thursday 11 November 2010

CAMRA's Enemy Within?

The ripples from Pete Brown's recent reflections on draught beer dispense have widened and observers such as Rabid Barfly, Zythophile and Barm have entered the debate.

Zythophile contextualises the CAMRA viewpoint, and to me that's quite important, since CAMRA has defined the debate for many years with a general tendency to define cask beer both by what it is, and by what it's not, which was explicit in their raison d'etre as a campaigning body.

But times change, and so do markets and technology, and memberships. Over time CAMRA seems to have made itself a hostage to fortune over their strict definition of what keg beer is - see the opening paragraph here. And today many of the new wave of brewers who produce excellent and award-winning cask beer are also displaying an encouraging open-mindedness about kegging some of their beer using new technologies. Attendees at The Rake's recent South-West Beer Fest would have noted how much good beer was available on keg, some from brewers who retain a commitment to casking their beer. How does CAMRA's orthodoxy adapt to deal with this?

Then we have the huge but largely passive group of new members signed up over the past few years. The numbers give CAMRA significant clout, but the membership seem largely distanced from the politics and agenda-setting. And now the organisation is proposing to centralise control of subscriptions in order to manage funds for campaigning. Campaigning for or against what? Full pints? Pub closures? Like some other bloggers, I'd like to see some work on promoting good cellarmanship, not just printing an advertorial of the latest Cask Marque joiners and leavers. Judging from my recent local experience, in some areas you need to buy your pint from a tied house to ensure it's in good form. Or perhaps CAMRA see that as SIBA's job? Or do they already do it via GBG updates? I dunno.

Keg beer won't go away. CAMRA itself hasn't been averse to selling it at GBBF. And encouragement and availability of foreign beers at official fests could be said to have fanned the flames that has created the market that UK-based keg brewers are keen to take a share of. There's also been much said about CAMRA's ageing activist base. How and whether those people can be replaced will be something the organisation will have to address in the near future, or face gaps in its coverage. But another threat to their effectiveness or relevance is clinging to 70's attitudes in the 21st Century. It will be interesting to see how 'fit for purpose' they think they are when it comes to picking apart the bones of their current review.

Monday 8 November 2010

The Great Dominions Call To Their Own

One of the effects of having been a colonial power are the ties that remain in place after the trappings of Empire have been cut away. These ties take many forms, and inform our history, society, economy and culture more than we know.

Take New Zealand. We are taught that Britain conquered Everest. One of our finest post-War achievements, but the first man up, Sir Edmund Hillary, was a Kiwi. When we come down to breakfast in the morning chances are that 'Britain's Favourite Butter' on our breakfast table 'Has The Anchor Sign'. The list goes on: John Walker, Jonah Lomu freight-training Tony Underwood, Goodbye Pork Pie, the Haka, the Lord Of The Rings films that meant people didn't have to watch the Ralph Bakshi version. Shine a light on a corner of our own econo-socio-cultural experience, and there's a bit of Kiwi there, too.

And there's a Kiwi who has made a big splash in UK brewing. Kelly Ryan at Thornbridge has been in the vanguard of the New Brewing in the UK, setting an example with his peers and colleagues at a handful of young breweries, which is changing the craft beer landscape.

But now Kelly has decided it's time to return to New Zealand. In a few short weeks, he'll clean out the mash tun for the last time, put the cat out and lock the doors. He'll be missed but with the World Of Beer shrinking rapidly, we expect to sample the fruits of his labours in his homeland.

Good luck, Kelly and don't forget to leave the recipe book behind...

Friday 5 November 2010

Number 1? I'd Like To Thank...

Erin Thompson. Who she? She's the Head of Window Display & Merchandising at Selfridges, and it's her 2010 Christmas windows in Oxford Street and their misappropriation of Frank Sidebottom's image, that provoked the shitstorm which led to this blog receiving as much traffic in one weekend than its had since I started it. The story helped to compel an apology and "donation" to Chris Sievey's estate. For being part of that, I'll probably die happy.

Thanks also for the good wishes. I didn't set out with an agenda beyond occasionally poking the odd part of the beer-loving community with a stick, so what happened this month has never been part of my thinking about where the blog could go. December will likely see normal service resumed with Pete Brown or Mark Dredge at the top. Now that Cookie has abandoned Zak Avery to join "Team Boggle", that's a given. He's a Jonah. Given I don't tweet (and Twitter was the engine for what happened at the weekend), I imagine I'm destined to be the Bolton Wanderers of the beer blogosphere - fighting relegation successfully each season, with the odd foray into nosebleed territory and a place in Europe. Good enough.

I noticed that Wikio has started to publish rankings for the US beer bloggers, which has prompted the same type of navel-gazing we have here. Stan Hieronymous noted the current rankings here, with a nod to our own listings. US beer writer Andy Crouch (with whom I'm slightly acquainted) posted some thoughts on beer blogging on his website, He has some interesting views. Then there's Ron Pattinson's post on why he does it.

I suppose there's something to what Andy is saying. I don't generally agree about the state of 'amateur' blogging but admit I'm not well-acquainted with the US blogging scene. If it's anything like BeerAdvocate or HateBeer fora, it'll be mind-numbing fare such as 'what's in your fridge?' If professional beer writers want to blog, they step into that pool knowing what it's like. Hopefully though, the best writing is aspirational. I feel that's the case over here. Some of the debate about leveraging blogs into PR vehicles has been had in the UK, led by Melissa Cole. I can say I've never been offered anything, and don't expect that to change. Cookie has that market pretty well stitched up, I feel. As for motive? Meh. It's the interwebs.

Still, the rankings got a kick up the backside for a month with Rabid Barfly making a prodigious leap, and the other big mover being the Adnams blog. Now to find another Frank story...

Monday 1 November 2010

Selfridges Are Bobbins: A Social Networking Adventure

As I reported on Saturday, the swell of disquiet over Selfridges' apparently unauthorised use of Chris Sievey's Frank Sidebottom likeness built into a perfect storm that breached the media dam by Monday morning.

The story has all the right ingredients: a big company riding roughshod over the little man; an online community of offended and willing fans ready to mobilise; a celebrity (Jon Ronson was on the phone to Selfridges to complain); a viral transmission of the story via Twitter and other networks - the lot. This blog alone had over 5,000 hits in just over 36 hours as my previous post was shared across the interwebs.

In turn, larger websites like picked up the vibe, and their feed found its way out. Local news sites started to get interested and finally, the BBC picked it up, interviewing the principals on the Sidey side for both local radio and their regional TV news programme. In the meantime, the store's Wikimedia page had the story added and the Independent's online edition was swamped with comments.

While the webz were humming, Chris' partner Gemma Woods had been contacted by Selfridges' Head of Window Display and Merchandising chaperoned by a representative from Messrs Sue, Grabbit & Runne, and a day of talks appears to have concluded with the store offering a sincere apology, a promise to credit Chris on the windows and in-store, and an offer of a £10,000 donation to his estate in lieu of use of the images. That sounds like Fairness For Frank, and a job well done for his family, friends and fans. And to think that a story that only came to light on Thursday when Selfridges launched their Xmas 2010 window could be turned around in a long weekend is a testament to the positive power of social networks.