Sunday, 6 November 2011

An Englishman In New York

Last month when Mark Beerbirrabier was in New York City, he remarked on the availability of cask-dispensed beers in many of the bars he visited. I told him that the single person responsible for this was Alex Hall, ex-pat once-cellarman and now catalyst for getting good brewers to cask their beer, and good bars to sell it. I first introduced him in this blog last year, when I popped along to his annual Glastonwick beer and music fest in Sussex.

Well, it appears the BBC have noticed as well, so as part of their Up All Night programme on Radio 5 Live, presenter Dotun Adebayo had Alex on his show last night for an hour as part of a weekly segment from NYC. Alex talked about how he came to be in New York in the first place, his views on beer, on getting cask beer into the better bars in the city, and the festivals he runs to promote it.

I remember my first trip there, going into Mugs Ale House in Brooklyn, and talking to a regular who told me about a cask beer fest going on that weekend. This was Cask-Head 2, one of Alex's earliest fests hosted by the Brazen Head bar. I never met Alex that weekend, despite spending all of Sunday afternoon and evening sampling the American take on cask, but his fingerprints were all over the better bars around the Five Boroughs, in the form of his 'Gotham Imbiber' beer magazine, and the presence of beer engines in most of the bars I visited. I finally met him at Glastonwick some seven months later.

Alex Hall, not imbibing. Buy this man a pint.
Atilla The Stockbroker is wearing the black shirt and goofy grin.

I've wondered whether the timing was just right for somebody like Alex, a beer devotee with a strong dislike of the corporate and industrial mass market brewers, to pop up in a city getting caught up in the throes of the craft food and drink explosion. The US craft brewery sector had undergone a big shakeout in the mid-90s, but things were on the up in the bigger markets, and younger consumers were drawn to the proposition offered by local produce, artisanally-produced, including beer in casks. Alex pulled a lot of strands together - buying and importing beer engines, speaking to brewers, persuading bar owners to buy and install those beer engines, tapping into that new market to build awareness, helping out with cellarmanship and storage problems - to get cask accepted, and I'm delighted that he's had some recognition, even if it was at 1:30 in the morning. They say Up All Night gets a million listeners, so good publicity for beer if that's the case.

Bringing it all up to date, I think there's a strange symmetry in the growth of cask beer in New York, while London and elsewhere in the UK is seeing our young brewers experimenting with kegging. Alex is back in the UK later this month, I hear, and I wonder if he'll be tempted to sample some of those new kegged beers. If you bump into him, buy him a pint. I think he's earned it.

You can listen to the show (Alex is on from around 35 minutes onwards) here.

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