Sunday 29 May 2011

Chief Kevin Monsters Bloggerati

Language is funny.

The current chair of the Campaign For Real Kevins decided to use his platform at the recent Kevin AGM to label beer bloggers a 'threat', as if by our sometimes inane scribblings, we might create a favourable climate for the Rise Of Keg and undo 40 years of Kevin activism.

Previously, Roger Protz, a senior Kevin who has a wider reputation in the world of beer thanks to his books and other writings, had declared himself dumbfounded by being asked about the Kevins' position on the new wave of keg beers being brewed in the UK. He called writers and bloggers 'noisome'. All good stuff, ladling on the pejoratives to marginalise those of us with an interest in beer strong enough to want to write about it.

The whole thing has developed a life of its own. Some bloggers are understandably upset about the comments from the platform of the Head Kevin, seemingly offered to his beardy, sandal-wearing activist base to give them an Aunt Sally to shy at should the matter come before them in the future. Some defend the Kevin position - if you aren't a Kevin, put up or shut up. If you are, have your say.

Here's the thing to me, though. The Kevin's don't own beer. I don't know if the Top Man said what he did to galvanise his people, kill any sniff of future debate or make bloggers the Aunt Sally. The Kevins are a Broad Church, insiders will say, there's room for all sorts of opinions. Well, so is the bloggerati - from properly published authors and writers to the enthusiastic amateur who writes a blog to work out their beery thing. And bloggers don't own beer either. We're all beer enthusiasts comfortable with different outlooks and beer experiences to drive our enthusiasm.

Cask beer isn't going anywhere, and that's fine by me. Like Martyn Cornell, some of my best beery moments have been around a pint of British cask. But I'm open-minded enough to want to explore other beer cultures and countries, to be interested in what our new wave of brewers are up to. It isn't some butterfly instinct that attracts me to new and shiny things. It's the reality that we're living in a New World of beer, some of it hundreds or thousands of miles away, some of it on the doorstep. Why would I restrict myself to a single form of dispense? It would be like poking an eye out.

The homogenised beer culture is dead and buried, its ashes scattered all over the Interwebs. Brewers talk, brewers travel and collaborate. The scene is exciting and dynamic, isn't it understandable that members of an organisation like The Kevins would want to see that recognised? Even Roger Protz has displayed a less strident view of global beer and brewing when there's been a pound note in it, as you will note from his 1994 tome 'The Ultimate Encyclopaedia Of Beer'. He positively gushes about Stella Artois, for instance.

Anyway, they won't do it. They've drawn a line in the sand and touched up the bullseye on their 'enemies'. My membership card will be in the post to S'Norbanzzzzz on Tuesday and they can refund the balance of my subscription. I assume freebie tickets to GBBF for bloggers will be out of the question this year, as well...

Boggle Goes West: Santa Rosa

After watching Man City win the FA Cup, and full of coffee jitters and beans on toast, Rap and I head out for a visit to Santa Rosa, home to my favourite US brewer, Russian River. There's a hint of rain as we head over the Richmond Bridge into Marin County. We aren't going the direct route up Highway 101, instead we've got a couple of stops to make, which is a good job given the condition of my bladder.

First stop is the spa resort town of Calistoga. Sitting at the top of the Napa Valley, this place is famous for its hot springs and mud baths, though it also has a history as a mining town. It has a long main street and walkable downtown, and we're heading into it for a pint at the Calistoga Inn, a hotel and restaurant with a brewery. I have their English Porter, a pleasant interpretation of a classic London porter with some liquorice detectable. Rap is on the seasonal Oatmeal Stout. There are some early diners and a few other people at the bar, but it feels nicely chilled out, and its a good way to start the trip.

Our next call is at Ridge Winery. I don't do wine. Culturally, socio-economically, I don't understand it. Coming from a country whose wine tradition was, until recently, Concorde 'British' wine (read all about it here), and whose earliest wine experiences were drinking something called EEC 'tafelwein', I've never felt it was 'my' drink. But, Rap is an oenophile, he knows these Sonoma County producers and can converse knowledgeably on all aspects of wine production, terroir, vintage development and all that.

That's all over my head, but I can see how much easier wine is to come to when you're surrounded by it. It's as if the wine culture which has grown in these valleys is absorbed by osmosis. Or maybe wine isn't seen as shorthand for some kind of lifestyle choice. Maybe these people don't drink wine to make a statement. Whatever.

Ridge Winery are having their Spring Release Celebration at their Lytton Springs Estate. There are half a dozen reds being tasted including their exclusive Monte Bello. As Monty Python once noted, "this is not a wine for drinking. This is a wine for laying down and avoiding." Or something like that. The 2007 will set you back $145. I'm into some Syrah, which is warming, a little spicy and full of plums.

Looking at rows of vines stretching out along the undulating landscape, a scene repeated all over Sonoma County as you drive about, sipping wine, is all too mellow. It's beautiful country, all right. And this a county full of producers - food, wine, beer - and they all talk and share. More on that later...

We make our way over to Bear Republic in Healdsburg, where I become Code Name: O'Boggle. I'm sipping the house pilsner while sitting next to a couple from Chicago on their 20th anniversary surprise trip and we get talking, like you do. As usual, I get the accent thing. The guy can't work it out so I tell him I'm Irish. He's delighted, as his background is also Irish. They're going to a big Irish pub in Santa Rosa, maybe we'll see them later...

We head over that way ourselves, and our first stop in a pub called the Toad In The Hole. Very US interpretation of English, very quirky. It's a quick pint and then on to Flavor.

The weather has turned and it's now raining, but the place is packed with family groups and people out for a good Saturday night. Flavor is a bistro whose proposition is local provenance. It's also where you can get half a dozen Moonlight beers on tap, so we settle in at the bar for a pint. Later, we come back to eat. I take on a pizza and lose. Half of it winds up being my breakfast on Sunday, thanks to a microwave oven in the hotel room.

In between Flavor, we hit Russian River. It's packed. A popular band is playing, it's been the Boonville Festival weekend. We find a space at the end of the bar and sup a couple of Eruditions. This is a saison fermented with a yeast strain from Thiriez in France. There's no herbiage added as an adjunct and the result is a clean-drinking golden ale. We put a couple of those away before heading back to Flavor for some dinner. On the morrow, we are to meet with Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo...

Thursday 26 May 2011

Boggle Goes West: Oakland & The East Bay 2

As you'll have read earlier, Oakland has some very nice places to drink. This post deals with some other fine bars elsewhere in the East Bay, but first, I need to discuss food.

I'm no gourmand, much less a gourmet. I do like good food, and these days I'm usually much more aware of things like provenance and production, but my tastes are pretty basic. When I'm travelling, a decent breakfast and access to fresh fruit and milk, usually keeps me going. If I need to top up, the local pub grub or street food will do the trick.

Quite a lot of the street food in California is Hispanic. For some years, I've been interested in the idea of this, but trying to explain the UK experience to a local causes loud guffaws. We have to start somewhere with any new cuisine (anybody else remember Birds Eye frozen pizza in the 70's?), but try and describe an Old El Paso taco kit to somebody who has access to a dozen decent Mexican eateries 10 minutes from home and watch the disbelief give way to hysteria.

Last trip out, I'd shout excitedly as we passed a Taco Bell, until everybody was fed up. So, this trip was the one where I'd move on from the concept of the Taco and actually eat that mofo. First night in, Rap and I head up to Rockridge (cue Hedley Lamarr impressions off Blazing Saddles). Beer later, first we're going into the Cactus Taqueria. I had a couple of soft tacos carnitas (pork) with some mango juice to wash them down. These are a bit of challenge for somebody who grew up thinking a taco shell is basically a giant dorito. The food is simple but nourishing and, concept realised, it was time for a beer.

Up the block is Barclays Pub & Restaurant. This place is packed with Giants fans watching a game on TV. On the right of the bar, there's a dartboard and some kind of match on. The bar has a decent sized beer garden through which you walk to go in. We get seats at the bar and aim for Blind Pig. They serve beer in UK 20oz pints, and there's enough for one pint before the keg kicks. I sip it and start to zone out a bit as the day catches up with me so it's just the one pint and back home to bed. ZZZzzzzzzzzzz...

On Friday we're all meeting up - Rap, Mr & Mrs Snake, Tef and I - and aiming to hit a few places around Berkeley and Rockridge. Berkeley was a hotbed of student activism at the height of domestic opposition to the Vietnam War in the 60s but the campus these days is much more moderate. You know you're in a university town, though. We're heading to Triple Rock Brewing, a brewpub which has been operating since 1985. We plot up on the roof terrace and munch on some appetizers washed down by some house brew. They have a seasonal programme and support local homebrewers, and also host a cask fest. Mr Snake helped out at this year's, and told me that many US brewers don't 'get' cask. Overly yeasty or under-conditioned casks were not uncommon.

We have to meet Tef, so head back over to Rockridge. We end up getting there on the same BART train, so all head towards Barclays to drink some Blind Pig. Rockridge, though part of Oakland, has a pleasing township vibe, and tonight it's some kind of open house musical thing, so bars, cafes and restaurants all have some kind of live music on offer, and whole families are out dining and enjoying the early summer atmos. Most of the musicians are playing jazz, including a quartet of spotty high-school kids. Tragic really, to be playing this self-indulgent rubbish so young, I find myself hoping they grow out of it soon - maybe get some piercings and body art, raid their parents' record collections and find some Dead Kennedys or similar. Anyway, I try and tune the laid-back choons out.

Barclays are even busier tonight, so we hide by the dartboard. Worse, they still don't have any Pig, though there are two fresh kegs tantalisingly close to us. We hang about drinking draught Negro Modelo, the dark stablemate to Corona, but it's all a bit unsatisfying. Unable to get a table (Waitress: "table for 5, party name of Jackson?" Tef (for it is he): "Yes, we're the Jackson 5..."), we head off to a restaurant called Hudson's.

This place looks very swanky inside, and again, we can't get a table. There's seating outside though, so hardy souls that we are, we block the pavement as the air cools. They have local beers on, so I'm into Linden Street Burning Oak black lager. We spend an hour or so shooting the shit, eating and taking the piss out of the impending End Of The World (Harold Camping is based in Oakland, and his 'church' paid for huge electronic billboards with countdown timers on around the Bay Area). An excellent evening.

On Sunday, after Rap and I get back from Sonoma and a trip to Russian River, we meet with Mr & Mrs Snake and head off for more authentic Mexican food, at El Huarache Azteca in Fruitvale. The neighbourhood has a 'barrio' feel I've encountered in places like Echo Park in Los Angeles, and this restaurant has a good reputation. A huge mural covers all the internal walls, some locals are in watching the Mexican Primera Division, while one corner is given over to what looks like a small sweetshop.

We're drinking Negro Modelo out of the bottle, and it's a different beer to the one we had on Friday, lots more chocolate and roastiness. It's still served with a slice of lime in the neck, though. I get behind a huge plate of Alambres, three types of meat with peppers and onions, melted cheese on a bed of tortilla. Meat frenzy and it's excellent.

Heading back to Rap's, we drive by Lake Merritt, a huge man-made body of water which looks beautiful at night. Lake Chalet, a sister restaurant to the Beach Chalet on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, is all lit up, sitting right on the water. They don't brew here, so I didn't bother to check it out.

That's all from the East Bay. Coming up, the trip to Sonoma and Russian River...

Monday 23 May 2011

Boggle Goes West: San Francisco

I love this city. Really, I do. It was the first place I headed when I started to visit the US. I loved the compactness, I loved the Bay, the green spaces and the buzz around the place. Heading to a bank one morning, I stood at an intersection as a tanned Californian couple passed me in a convertible and waved to me. Waved. Nobody waves at you while driving in London unless you're being pulled over for eating a kit-kat at traffic lights.

In 2008, I left regretting my all too brief time in the city. That year, we headed up to Sonoma County and I didn't have the days left to reacquaint myself with the place. This time, I promised myself, I'd do better...

Off the plane and out of the airport in record time, within an hour I'm meeting Mr & Mrs Snake at Rosamunde's in the Mission. If you've been to Toronado, chances are you've eaten sausage from the shop next door. That's the original shop. This place wasn't here last time I visited, but it's a fusion of both things, beer and sausage, and I wanted to see it.

It's a few steps from the 24th St & Mission BART station, opposite a taqueria called Chavo's (tee hee). My first beer on this trip is RRBC Blind Pig, washing down some lovely Nurnburger wurst. I meant to get back here for a proper exploration later in the trip. I didn't make it.

Next day, I was checking out Marin Brewing. The Giants were at home and the ballpark was emptying by the time I got back to the Ferry Building. I made my way to Toronado up on Haight St (& Fillmore), but so had a horde of fans, so I stopped in for a couple of beers (both Moonlight, one Death & Taxes, the other Twist Of Fate), but the crowd was being swelled by the after-work drinkers, so I made my way back towards Market St.

I was intending to visit 21st Amendment, a brewpub in SoMA not far from the ballpark. Local intelligence had warned me away, a new brewer of 6 months seemingly not having got to grips with the house beers so that it was a bit of a crapshoot drinking them. Instead, I headed for the Thirsty Bear on Howard St (between 2nd & 3rd) near SF MOMA.

Before I knew about good beer bars on my early trips to the US, I usually headed for brewpubs, and I spent quite a bit of time here in 2003. Back then, I quite enjoyed their ESB and Kozlov Stout, though the beers tended to be poured extremely cold. One of us has changed a lot in the intervening years - the beers were a bit underwhelming and the place was heaving with conventioneers from the Moscone Center across the street. I like the space a lot, that hadn't changed, but I guess I've moved on from brewpub house beers.

On Friday, a tweet informed me that Magnolia on Haight and Masonic was 'launching' Hanssens unblended lambic at 1pm. I like this place a lot, so thought I'd pop along, have some lunch and see how the launch went. Before that, I went to the Cartoon Art Museum on Mission between 2nd & 3rd. They had a Berkeley Breathed restrospective AND a behind-the-scenes look at Warner Bros' Looney Tunes, so I spent a happy hour wandering around chuckling at Bloom County and Outland, and laughing like a drain at the Daffy Duck cartoons on a loop.

So, lunch. The beers at Magnolia show a strong British influence, and there's usually a selection of cask-conditioned versions available. A beer called Landlady had been recommended, an interpretation of Timothy Taylors' Landlord. Sadly, the cask version only managed to remind me of how bad Landlord can be without proper care. This was loaded with diacetyl. I struggled manfully through 3/4 of my pint before admitting defeat. The house kolsch was just what I needed after that (pic, that's the buttery Landlady in the background). The food here is usually very good, and the bacon & eggs were spectacular. Belly pork slices on a bed of scrambled eggs, all set on top of an English muffin, in maple syrup.

Before I ate, the lambic was 'launched'. No fanfare, somebody poured a few tasters for the staff, pronounced it OK, and that was it. I wondered if the place would be besieged by local Hatebeerians or BAs, but there was no discernible geek presence (unless you count me). I had it in my mind that Hanssens were a lambic blender, not a brewer, but I could be wrong. This stuff was young, completely still, a deep amber and hazy, and very tart. A bloke next to me at the bar was curious, so I gave him a sip. He nodded and didn't pull a face, but steered clear of ordering one for himself. For me it had that same effect all lambics have on me, which is to mellow into the beer so it feels like time has stopped. I leaned back in my seat and savoured every drop. Even Lovibonds Sour Grapes can transport me. Lovely.

So, that was SF for me this trip. Despite best intentions and a quick visit back on my last day to buy souvenirs down on Pier 39, I'd managed just the best part of a day and a half in the city. Impressions? Market St between Powell and Civic Center looked much more rundown that I remembered, with lots of empty stores and a lot more street people around. Travelling around on public transport recently got joined up with the introduction of the Clipper Card, which can be used on all the MUNI services, BART, Golden Gate Transportation and in the East Bay. Tourists can use the cards if they buy them as 'cash', and you can get them and top them up at Walgreens or at stations.

Places I missed this time? For the benefit of Max at Pub Diaries:
Alembic along Haight St near the Panhandle between Cole & Shrader is a place you can go to admire mixology in action and also sip good beer;
Monk's Kettle (on 16th St in the Mission District) has a bit of a hipster vibe but they have a good selection of local beers;
City Beer (Folsom between 7th & 8th) for your retail needs and to kick back with something interesting;
Rogue Bar (on Union near Washington Sq) is a place I've never been. I crossed it off the list as the local talk was that beer condition is frequently poor;
Public House at AT&T Park (the ballpark) on Willie Mays Plaza. I had to choose between the East Bay and here on Friday evening, and wanted to check out more places in Berkeley and Rockridge. This place comes highly recommended, however.

I hope I don't have to wait another two and a half years before my next visit...

Sunday 22 May 2011

Boggle Goes West: Oakland & The East Bay 1

(So, a trip Stateside, my first in almost two years. I am making my first visit to the West Coast since the infamous November of 2008, when temperatures in California hit 90 degrees, causing forest fires and sunstroke in a de-hatted Matt Wickham from the Evening Star. I am staying with my friend Rap who lives over the bay from San Francisco in Oakland. This post is about my beery experiences there...)

Oaktown. San Francisco's obnoxious little sibling. Id to SF's ego. Oakland - where the dirt says hot and the label says not. A whole city with a chip on its shoulder. I've never seen so much spitting in the street. By adults. The home of the Raider Nation, channeling arseyness through its once-overachieving sports teams. Oaksterdam. Where going out for a smoke means something different, and can empty a bar...

Enuff. Enuff of this. Cross the seismically-unstable Bay Bridge from SF (they're having to build a new one), past the port and towards the slowly-gentrifying Downtown around Jack London Square and you're in Alameda County and the City of Oakland. This place is off the Bay Area tourist trail, but has become attractive to workers from over the Bay thanks to lower rents and good transport links. Slowly, neighbourhoods are becoming more socially mixed and new businesses are opening. And there's good beer and some interesting places to drink it.

Beer contacts have given me a rundown of good places to go for beer in Oakland, and further afield in the East Bay. Mr & Mrs Snake, friends who meet me at Rosamunde's in the Mission District in SF, pad out the list with some helpful insights, so I'm ready to head out.

My first afternoon in downtown Oakland, I take a wrong turn and end up at Pacific Coast Brewing Co. Mr Snake has warned me this place only brews beer from extract. I'm looking for Trappist, which, it turns out, is just along the block, but I want a pint, and they have guests. The place is busy, I assume from its proximity to the Oakland Convention Center. I get a seat at the bar, and look over the beer menu. You can almost chart the beginning of the second wave of craft brewing in the US by looking at the awards some of the beers have won at GABF. These dry up in the mid-90s, about the time when the industry shook out a lot of the over-optimistic or poor quality brewing businesses. They've been going for over 20 years here, ploughing their own furrow. The menu is your generic brewpub range with something called 'Cask'. Bizarrely, they seem to offer this as a style. I grin - I won't be drinking it, but I'd love to see the face of one of the Kevin's on perusing the bill of fare.

I have an RRBC Pliny The Elder and a slightly off-form Bear Republic Racer 5. The hairy kid behind the bar is puzzled by my overlooking the house beers, but it turns out he knows the people at Commonwealth Cafe & Public House, where I am to watch the Cup Final, so he's cool. I've been in town less than two hours and get the first guess at my accent, as a conventioneer having his dinner takes a stab at either Irish or Scots. Git aht ovvit!

Having got my bearings, I wander over to Trappist. I had a brief chat with Phil Lowry about Oakland before the trip. "Why go there?" he challenged, and in a way he has a point. I probably won't get anything here I couldn't get in London. That isn't why I'm going here, though. This is one of two tickerific venues in Oakland, a destination pub which appears able to lure punters across the Bay. Curiosity demands a visit...

I go in by the back bar room, a large, cool room with a Yooropean vibe. Plenty of affluent-looking people are sitting around sipping their imported Belgians and I notice there's also stuff from other scenes, including Mikeller. I'm drinking Moonlight Reality Czech, a local 4.8% pilsner. Brewer Brian Hunt was at The Rake a year or two back, and his beers are well-brewed, full of flavor and, unusually for a US brewer, hovering either side of 5%. Rap arrives and we head around to the narrow front bar. Much more of a city beer bar feel, and it doesn't get the sun. A very nice place, though.

From left: sign in Trappist back bar; back bar room; Peter Reid is world-famous?; door sign at Beer Revolution; Oakland Youth show out at Beer Revolution; Rap and Mr & Mrs Snake on roof terrace at Triple Rock Brewing

Next day, after a huge round trip taking in Marin Brewing and SF, I head for Beer Revolution, the other tickerific bar, with almost 50 taps of nano and craft deliciousness. There's a real hipster feel to the neighbourhood, but thankfully none of the ennui or snotty attitude you get in Williamsburg in NYC. Unbelievably, I am 'carded' as I go in.
Biker Door Dude: Can I see some ID?
Boggle: You're putting me on! I'm 50 next birthday.
BDD: I need to see some ID...
SB: I'm not carrying my passport. Can't you see my hair is grey?
(Dude peers at my shaven pate)
BDD: I can't tell, it's too short.
SB: I can show you my chest hair if you like... (make to lift tee shirt)
BDD (grinning): no, no! You can go in.
Later, I realise they card everybody if they don't know them. I get talking to some guys who used to have a band together. Circumstances mean they can have a reunion, so they're meeting for beers before heading off for a late-night jam session. In a way, it reminds me of Creme Brulee off the League of Gentlemen - the bass player is a pro, but wants to do something with his old band. Inside the bar it's crowded, but the bartenders are very efficient and friendly despite all the piercings and tattoos on display. A few friends had warned me there's a "we're not worthy" beer elitism vibe here, but I didn't pick it up. The clientele might put one in mind of the cantina scene in Star Wars, but they're out for a good beer, and this place sells it, from what I tried. Cool logo, too.

Luka's is a Jekyll-&-Hyde sort of place not far from where I'm staying. On Friday I'm heading back to get changed and get ready for a night out, and I badly need a restroom. Off the 19th St BART, and I get as far as Luka's before I crack. A large two roomed bar on a corner, the main area has loads of table seating through a long room, and a decent-size bar which is already pretty busy with late lunch diners and early drinkers. I get a seat and order a Racer 5. It's in top form here. The staff are friendly and it feels chilled, but later at night, this turns into a bit of a nightclub, with music and dancing in the back. They tell me if you fancy a beer at two in the morning, you can pop over here.

I sorted my trip out without thinking about the FA Cup Final. Being a Man City fan, usually it wouldn't matter, but this year we're at Wembley,so I need to find somewhere to watch it. The recommendation is Commonwealth Cafe & Pub, in a neighbourhood known locally as 'Pill Hill'. I'd checked before the trip and got back a vague confirmation, but luckily a regular is also a Blue, and he gets the owner, Roscoe, to open up. I'm there at ten to seven on Saturday morning, slightly suffering after a night out followed by an entire bottle of Captain Lawrence Nor'Easter winter warmer. Arrggh.

There are four people in the bar plus Ross Adair, the transplanted Glaswegian who co-owns the place. He's brewing up coffee and there's iced water. I'm grateful there's no early beer, but I'm soon dealing with caffeine jitters and sweaty palms as City conspire to frustrate their fans by making the game closer than it need have been. There are seven taplines and a couple of fridges full of mostly Scottish beers - Belhaven, Harviestoun, some BrewDog - but also Harvey's Elizabethan, Thornbridge Jaipur...

He's got keg Fuller's London Pride on, which a scouse expat called Tim decides to drink when the bar 'opens' at 10am. He knows good beer - indeed, in one of those small world moments, he once walked into the Evening Star in Brighton off the plane, to be confronted with Racer 5 on draught and bottles of Speakeasy Prohibition. As he relates his story ("the barman was just heading out here to stay with a mate in Oakland!") we tell him that Matt Wickham (for it is he) is a mutual friend, while that Speakeasy beer he drank would have been made by Mr Snake. The world of beer is smaller than we think. But we coat him off for drinking that Pride. The hairy kid from Pacific Coast wanders in 20 minutes from the end. He doesn't remember me.

I came back here for a spot of lunch before I flew home. The menu is based on UK cafe favourites, but with a twist. Excellent toasties, an interesting take on shepherds pie, and you can wash it down with some interesting local beers.

I asked Ross about getting BrewDog. He said his supply had been interrupted while they changed US distributors, so he wasn't sure if there was any supply problem generally. He had Hardcore at around $10 a bottle and Paradox at $15. He said the lower ABV's usually sold OK. He also said James Watt owes him a reply to an email, so if you're reading, James...

So, that was my Oakland experience. It's off the tourist trail, but that was fine by me.

Coming up: SF & Marin Brewing; The Rest of the East Bay; and Sonoma & Napa.

Friday 20 May 2011

Take The Money And Run

I have to confess I never bother with the ads in either 'What's Brewing' and 'BEER", CAMRA's newspaper and periodical for members, respectively.

However, with all the heat over Roger Protz's April op-ed about keg, and the feedback in the current WB letters page being broadly supportive of the man they apparently call 'The Colonel', and then Tim Webb and Tandleman doing the head-to-head on whether CAMRA should support all craft beer on page 55 of BEER, I allowed myself a snigger at the ad on page 32 of the latter organ.

Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat's UK ad people have taken a full page to plug their Vedett lager to CAMRA members. I assume the Men In Red Braces managing the account see the membership as a perfect captive audience for their Imported Premium Lager. Indeed, I believe many CAMRA members are fond of Duvel and the Moortgat tradition. However, the more dogmatic of them (the "Kevin's") will probably be going up the wall and across the ceiling over an invitation to drink Vedett on draught.

I seem to recall complaints in issues of WB past, over the type of advertising CAMRA accepts (such important matters as implicitly condoning short measures seem to crop up regularly), but I suppose a fee is a fee, even if the product is that yucky "chemical fizz". I bet next month's letters page in WB will be interesting, though...

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Boggle Bugs Out

I'm off for a holiday. Beer will be involved. Watch for further bulletins as events warrant.

That is all.

Image nicked off the Buddha's Drive-In blog. They nicked it off R Crumb...

Friday 6 May 2011

Feel Sorry For A-B..?

Jay Brooks, blogging on the US West Coast, picked up on a recent survey which seemed to indicate that Budweiser was America's Favorite Beer. US drinkers, the survey concluded, preferred domestically-brewed beer, and Bud came top of that list. Jay rightly raises an eyebrow at the sample size and the way questions were asked of respondents. But the story got a fair bit of play in the US.

However, it seems not all is rosy in the (Busch) Garden. The Wall Street Journal carried a story titled 'Bitter Brew' the day before the survey was released, reporting on the cultural hurdles which still appear to exist two years into the merger of A-B and InBev. While the North American zone of the globally-tentacled entity known as A-B InBev NV is contributing almost half of the profits, this seems to be at the cost of jobs, investment and employee morale, with the annual 'employee engagement' survey indicating a sizable minority of US staff unhappy with the new management culture imposed by InBev.

The story has provoked a flurry of comments from apparently disgruntled current and former staff, who seem to generally concede the old business was flabby and needed to streamline, but feel that the new people are riding roughshod over them in the rush to slash and burn costs. Among stories from the brewery floor, a claim that yeast is cropped and re-used up to 15 times, and reductions in engineering support and quality control. Management staff conversing in Portuguese, failures in key IT systems... Management has allegedly imposed a Stalinist regime in an effort to get engagement numbers up by linking bonuses to satisfaction. For their part, InBev haven't offered any response or commented on the story, beyond a bland statement attributed to top man Luiz Edmond.

A-B is usually the default bogeyman for all that is wrong with global brewing, so you would be forgiven for experiencing some schadenfreude at their discomfort as they come to terms with a new regime. For British beer lovers, it has echoes of the eventual fate of the super-regional brewers here who were gobbled up by nationals, and who themselves were then devoured by the global players. But I'm remembering a conversation I had with a young woman from St Louis at New York's Brazen Head Ale House some years back, when she defended A-B as a good employer who looked after their people. Whether you think A-B deserves what it gets, it does appear that some loyal, dedicated and long-serving employees are paying the price for this merger with their jobs, while large numbers of those that remain are plumbing the depths of despair.

I wonder how many of those survey respondents would still pick Bud if they knew their 'favourite beer' was being made to a new bottom line imposed by foreign overseers?

Monday 2 May 2011

Boggle Goes East Again: No Bunnies Were Harmed...

To The King William IV for a day of Brodies beers at their Bunny Basher festival.

I've been late to the party when it comes to Brodies. I met Lizzie and her mum at London Brewers Showcase last autumn, and had made a note to get along there as soon as I could. No opportunity presented itself until I was invited to go along and help brew one of the festival beers, Noisome Cru.

I didn't get a chance to experience the pub on that visit, so was looking forward to putting that right and getting to know some of their beers. In tow are my friends Emma & Steve and Valerie & George from New York.

Val & George only got in the previous evening and were bushwacked into a welcome party. George, on his first trip to London, pulls a face as he recounts his experience drinking Spitfire. He fears that all the things he's heard about our beer might be true. His fears are allayed within a few moments of getting to the bar, when he's confronted with selections including Pina Colada Porter, Triple, Summer Berry Beer and a dozen others. For somebody used to seeing a dozen different good beers on, this is more like it.

We settle in for a nice afternoon while I scope out the pub a bit. Beer tickers and geeks are rubbing shoulders with local Gooners as Arsenal play Man Utd at lunchtime, the big screen at the front of the pub seemingly causing no distraction as the tickers update their notes. Likewise, though the footy fans are obvious at the bar for keeping the keg font busy, they don't seem to mind the growing crowd of out-of-towners jostling for bar space as they work through the beers. Familiar faces swing by, introductions are effected, groups form around the pub. There's a hog roasting in the garden, I watch fascinated as some of the entrails roll about inside the carcass as it rotates, yet never falling out onto the coals.

Each trip back the bar sees another new beer on. The excellent Superior London Porter is there, as is a Ruby Porter and the terrifying 22% Elizabethan. I didn't know they'd brewed this monster. TBATB (That Bloke At The Bar) had a very wicked smile on as he told each new customer closest to him about it. I didn't try it. Wussed out. This time. But I mean to head back soon. This is a lovely pub. Spacious, lovely garden area, good food and great beers.

The Noisome Cru? Very drinkable, even at almost 9%. Lovely long and spicy finish a pleasing contrast to the bitter hoppy start. It could do with perhaps a bit of ageing, but it will be in bottles, and Brodies' success rate with the bottles I've tried has been 100% to date, so I'm looking forward to sampling a bottle or two a few months or more down the road.

My friends walked by me as I watched the last few minutes of the Man City vs West Ham game. I watched them head happily along Leyton High Road towards Stratford. They enjoyed their visit and their beer, and today they've woken up to news that has a special resonance to them, so I think they'll be heading to a pub somewhere to hoist a pint. And it'll be a good pub with good beer.