Thursday 13 December 2012

The New Boys (2): Partizan Brewing

Another railway arch in Southwark, slightly south and east of Bermondsey underground, and not far from Southwark Park. No Maltby Street vibe, no sense of a thriving hub for good food and drink, no hipsters and yuppie couples with upmarket pushchairs grazing. Behind an anonymous roller shutter on a quiet access road, another of London's new breweries is preparing to launch beer to the capital's beer lovers.

Andy 'Partizan' Smith
Andy Smith will be familiar to many of London's beer lovers. For almost three years he's been working with Andy Moffat at Redemption, wowing drinkers with beers such as subtle, golden Trinity and hoppy, full-bodied Big Chief. But in the Spring of this year he decided to strike out and set up his own brewery. Along with old schoolmate, another Andy (Karran), who is still holding down a day job in the Midlands, he's taken time to find premises, design the beers and brand, untangle all of the red tape and now Partizan is finally about to launch their debut beers.

Trust me, it's brewing kit...
The 4 BBL brewkit was Evin O'Riordain's before he moved The Kernel to Dockley Street and quintupled his brewlength. Brodie's, Redemption and The Kernel have helped out with bits of equipment and advice, and now Partizan is brewing once a week, with all production going into bottles. Andy is pleasantly surprised by the quality of the local water, which comes from local aquifers. “It’s bloody hard, with very high levels of calcium, but it's also incredibly consistent which is very important considering we can't do analysis as regularly as we’d like. At least we know where we are with it.”

On my visit I was able to try Pale Ale, around 5.3%, amber, and hopped with Citra and Pacific Gem; and Stout, which Andy suspects is a little bigger than the target 7.5% (turns out it's 8.6%), but has a delicious mocha nose, some squishy red fruit notes and bitter chocolate in the mouth, and a pleasing long roasted bitter finish. Both beers need a little more time in the bottle, but showed great promise and were already quite drinkable a week ago. An IPA was being brewed last weekend, so the hope is to have three beers available around the festive season.

Exclusive! Look For The Partizan Label...
I got an exclusive sneak peek of the label artwork which I'm sharing with you, my loyal reader. Andy explains the idea behind the design “Our beers full of character so we also wanted our labels to be. I’ve been a big fan of illustrator Alec Doherty for a long time and feel really lucky to have his illustrations on our bottles. I like the way they're not always immediately obvious, they make you work a little but also make you appreciate them all the more for it, hopefully a little like our beers”. The intention is for beer to be available around London before Christmas. They also expect to be able to open the brewery for sales and tastings, so check their website for info.

There's no playing around with 'p' words like 'philosophy' and 'passion' behind Partizan, though Andy S has used the Partizan nickname through his time as both a homebrewer and at Redemption. He says, “It was originally stolen from film director Michel Gondry's YouTube account, but I have since come to enjoy its other meanings and associations, most obviously the enthusiastic and ardent support for something, obviously beer in my case”. With the sharing, collaborative scene growing up in London, I'd say Partizan are in the right place.

I'll be checking in with the New Boys as they develop their beers and find markets. Another New Boy profile soon...

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Golden Pints 2012

In the absence of 2012 Boggle Awards (haven't been to half the new London bars or checked out some of the new beer to make them meaningful), I've decided to pick out some stuff for the Golden Pints. My Year Of Beer will be up around Xmas Week...

Best UK Draught Beer Dark Star APA, Fyne Ales Rune, Camden Wheat, Marble Draft
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer Table Beer from The Kernel Brewery
Best Overseas Draught Beer Moonlight Death & Taxes, as consumed at Flavor, Santa Rosa CA, in November
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer I was given a bottle of Russian River Sanctification batch 1, which was stunning. Technically not 2012, but best I drank.
Best Overall Beer See above
Best Pumpclip or Label Revolutions' Unknown Pleasures and the white stick RRBC use for their Blind Pig IPA
Best UK Brewery In no particular order - Magic Rock, Dark Star, Fyne, The Kernel, Ilkley, Arbor all impressive this year
Best Overseas Brewery Russian River Brewing Co
Pub/Bar of the Year Toronado, San Francisco
Best Beer Blog or Website Boak & Bailey and Reluctant Scooper
In 2013 I’d most like to... keep up better with the London scene

Tuesday 4 December 2012

A Book At Beertime: Britain's Lost Breweries And Beers

(In the interests of transparency, I was contacted by the publishers of this book, Aurum, and offered a review copy, which I accepted)

Chris Arnot seems to be fond of finding lost things. He's written about lost cricket grounds and, more recently, football fields. In 'Britain's Lost Breweries And Beers', he selects 30 gone-but-not-forgotten breweries and meanders across the UK to find their remnants, both human and built, recording oral histories of their time, the impact on their communities, and the beers they brewed. What he has delivered is a potted history of the past 40 years of British brewing. A time marked by dumbed-down beer, wrong turns, greed, boardroom-level betrayal, hubris and carpet-bagging which led to the closure of iconic breweries and the loss of some classic beers.

Across the series of stories he relates, I was fascinated by the impact of things I'd only heard about. I got serious about beer around 1991, and started going to festivals a couple of years later. The 'Tour Of Destruction' was of peripheral interest, as three of my cousins had working lives at Wethereds of Marlow cut short by Whitbread's takeover, and I was a Guinness drinker when the Beer Orders came in, but the Big Six and the massive consolidation of the industry happened when I was a kid. Once I started drinking, I just knew Kennington had one of each brewery's pubs. (Aside: Arnot lived around here in the early 70's, as he relates in his chapter on Charrington. I found myself wondering whether he was drinking their cask beer at The Roebuck, now long-gone and re-badged as The Dog House.)

Beer as I was experiencing it in the 90's was politicised by the fall-out from a perceived betrayal delivered in the Beer Orders, and schadenfreude when the big national brewers were themselves devoured when they wandered onto the radar of the multinational conglomerates, so maybe after all there was some good in those Beer Orders. I'd never experienced the kind of community where the local brewery supplied all the local pubs, except in Germany, where the Waldniel-based Schloss Brauerei supplied virtually every pub and restaurant in the area - when a new bar opened selling 'foreign' beer (Bitburger) locals were dumbfounded.

However, as Arnot narrates his adventures, there's little in the way of rancor, the sound of grinding axes, or glee. There are some funny coincidences, too. I recalled Matt Wickham telling me that, during a refurbishment of the Evening Star in Brighton a couple of years back, a load of breweriana was discovered in the attic. Turns out the Star was once a Tamplin's house, and the stuff must have lain there for over 40 years. I wonder if Arnot knew about that when wrote about Tamplin's?

While this book isn't a forensic examination of the decline of the small brewer in the late 20th Century, neither does it wallow in dewy-eyed nostalgia. It does relate the human cost of brewery closures which to be fair I imagine CAMRA would have been pointing out when they were campaigning against the later loss of brewers like Vaux. He also manages to nod towards the new brewing scene, which in some cases has been a result of brewery staff dumped from their jobs starting from scratch out of a belief in local beer.

Of course, British brewing will probably never again be the exclusive domain of huge, often family-operated businesses with tied estates running into hundreds of pubs. The challenges to the new brewers seem to be more about selling a massively taxed product to hard-to-access markets, and the neo-prohibitionist attack on drinking. It's hard to imagine any of the new brewers wanting to emulate a Young's, or Gales or Tetley. So this book is a useful reminder of what we lost, and maybe a caution to be careful what we wish for.

'Britain's Lost Breweries And Beers'
By Chris Arnot
Published by Aurum Press, 194pp
ISBN: 978-1-78131-002-1
RRP: £25, but Amazon (assuming you aren't boycotting them) have it for £16.99 at the moment.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

The New Boys (1): Bexar County

The conveyor belt of new brewery start-ups shows no signs of slowing. 'The New Boys' (title stolen from Private Eye) is intended to be an occasional series spotlighting new brewers I've encountered which for various reasons sound interesting. Of course, your own mileage may vary. First up, an American in somewhere beginning with 'P', but it isn't Gene Kelly...

The US Brewers' Association say there are now over 2,000 breweries operating within the 50 states. The seeds of a revolution sown when Jimmy Carter repealed the overlooked bit of Prohibition that prevented home brewing, has reaped a vibrant harvest which in its turn has cross-pollinated across brewing nations everywhere. Now, before I overextend the dodgy metaphor, the reason for this post.

Head 80 miles north of London, and you'll reach Peterborough, heartland of Oakham (will you ever finish The Mansion House, Oakham?) and now home to a new brewery. Stewarded by a former teacher from Texas. Bexar County Brewery (the 'x' is silent) is named for Steve Saldana's home county. Steve, who taught in San Antonio, is one of the new generation of homebrewers who continue to fuel the growth in US craft brewery start-ups. The difference is that he has decided to do it here.

There is a great history of beer being made in this country. There is great passion about beer here, as it should be seeing as though it is ingrained in the British culture. This is an exciting time for beer in the UK. For me, there is no better place to brew beer,” he says.

Steve homebrewed for some five years, and spent two years helping at San Antonio brewery and distillery Ranger Creek. “I was fortunate enough to get commercial experience helping out at Ranger Creek. I would consider it my internship.”. Once he decided to go commercial, Steve found premises in the Fengate area of Peterborough, and did a deal with the former Digfield Brewery for their 7 BBL plant. The brewery kit was installed and commissioned in October, and now Steve is developing recipes and brewing his first batches for release.

His philosophy is simple. “There is no box”. Straightforward and oft-heard among the new wave of craft brewers, but from an American brewing here, there's a twist. “Back in the States, the trend to brew aggressive beers is old news, while here, beer drinkers are finally learning to accept something more than “traditional” beers. I will not be looking towards style guidelines to tell me what to brew, instead I am going to brew what I feel will work. If the finished beer falls into a category, that is one thing, but I don't aim to brew any style in particular.”

Steve's first four beers make the point. 'Come and Get It' , a 7.3% Imperial Red with a strong malt backbone holding up a whack of hop bitterness; 'Texas Pecan Coffee Mild' (3.9%), a non-traditional mild with a cold-pressed coffee addition in the secondary; 'B4' (4.1%) surely an old Goon Show joke, but in this case a blond beer with a restricted hop addition. Steve has designed this as a session beer for the local clientele, and it's now on the bar at The Ostrich Inn in Peterborough. Finally, 'Lone Ryder' (5.1%), is a hoppy rye beer where the hops play second fiddle to malt and rye spiciness.

Initially all Steve's beers will be casked, but as things move along he hopes to explore bottling. London drinkers will have their first chance to sample Bexar County beer at the Pig's Ear Festival next week, where the Texas Pecan Coffee Mild will be featured.

Here's wishing Bexar County all the best.

Monday 8 October 2012

When Beer Cultures Collide...

What is Beer Culture? That gets asked a lot around the beer blogosphere. Some people assert it's part of national identity. I tend to think that, when beer drinkers in countries with a beer tradition  are consuming the same globally-available brands, framing the question in national terms is nonsense, while outdated stereotypes persist in the face of amorphous, evolving attitudes to beer. Still, Boggle doesn't waste too many brain cells on the matter. Make Boggle's head hurt. Boggle smash!

This made me grin, though. Taken this weekend at a bar somewhere north of San Francisco...

Blind Pig would be some of That Craft. Guinness wouldn't. Maybe that's where the fault line in beer culture is, nowadays. Whoever came up with this abomination deserves a swift Cockney Throat Punch. I love the 'No Crap On Tap' sticker at the bottom of the pic. Ironic, no?

Notes: pic courtesy of my local contact, Biff Boggle. I have no idea who first coined the term, cockney throat punch, but I've nicked it off an acquaintance called Daniel O'Sullivan

Friday 5 October 2012

Free Who?

There's breaking news today that the Freeminer Brewery, located at Cinderford in the Forest Of Dean, is about to change hands.

Many beer lovers around the UK beer scene will know their larger-than-life head brewer Don 'Demon Brewer' Burgess, but might have wondered where his beer was. The answer, these days, seems to be mostly in Cooperative stores, but it's less than a decade since he was winning plaudits for Trafalgar IPA and, my favourite, Deep Shaft Stout, a bottle-conditioned beer that stood several years of ageing. I left my first bottle for over 4 years, and Don had been known to stash the odd case to see what happens. I had a 10 year-old back in 2009, and it was superb.

Don Burgess - Half Man, Half Badger
Don was interviewed by Roger Protz some years back after Freeminer won the business to brew Co-op's ethical bottled beers, while a year or so back, if you'd bought a bottle of Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Ginger Beer, that tiny signature on the label was his. But of Freeminer beers, there has been little sign.

However, with new ownership, I hear that there should be a new lease of life for the brand. Deep Shaft Stout will hopefully be making a welcome comeback, and I'd be interested to see where Trafalgar sits on the spectrum of hoppy golden pale ales. I wonder if Don will update the recipe? There's also whispers of a collaboration with one of our larger brewers.

I think that's good news for Freeminer, and good news for UK brewing. I think the scene will be more lively with Burgess and Freeminer back in it with serious presence.

Saturday 29 September 2012


 So you go along the Brixton Road until you reach the market on Station Road. When I was a kid, we'd come along to the stall which bought old Marvel Comix, while another guy sold punk records. Twenty years ago, I played football at Brixton Rec. Now Brixton has Craft.

Finishing touches were being applied as I lurked outside in the pavement seating area. Station Road was buzzing even though the market was closing. I saw my neighbour and her daughter heading up to the Rec for swimming while I sipped a Dark Star Kiwi in autumn sunshine.

London CAMRA stalwart John Cryne is also waiting for a look inside. Pints downed, Martin and Peter give the sign, and we can go in. Huge neon sign dominates the left-hand wall. The bar space is constrained by the room layout, but they've been clever. Fridges are topped with a copper counter, ten beer engines fixed to the backside. A pipeline takes the Kraft Keg up and over your head. There's 20 taps up there, your server stretching up to pour your beer.

Peter Hates Camera, Camera Loves Emma
The floors are bare boards, the tables and chairs a peculiar pick 'n' mix. A narrow staircase has loos on a half landing and if you don't wnat passers-by watching you sup downstairs, a quiet upstairs room with a retro feel, like dominos or card games should be going on. Sepia felt right when I snapped it.

If you're eating, it's pork pies and scotch eggs, but there's the revived Brixton Arcade about five minutes away, with some of the best street food in London.

Craft aren't accepting Brixton Pounds right now, but they're looking into it. That would feel right. The Crown & Anchor (sister to The Jolly Butchers) is ten minutes along Brixton Road towards The Oval. Jump on a 133, 415 or 333 bus, and 15 minutes away towards the Elephant & Castle, will be The Mansion House, Oakham's first London pub.

South London has been overlooked for good beer for too long, but now that's all changing.

Sunday 9 September 2012

The Craftening

I was supping a pint of Dark Star APA in The Harp on Chandos Place last Saturday (September 1st), when legendary landlady Binnie Walsh asked about that Craft Beer. I declared myself generally in favour, and she agreed, saying she was putting in some extra keg fonts just for craft keg. She's been researching, and yesterday Phase One saw bottles of Kernel beers taking their place in the fridges.

That sound of wailing and the gnashing of teeth you may hear emanates from some local CAMRA types who have implored Binnie not to install fonts for The New Keg. None of the nine beer engines is coming out, so I don't see what the problem is. It'll just be one more good reason to drink at The Harp. It also makes business sense at a time when pubs are still closing at a rate of a dozen a week. Good pubs don't get complacent or rest on their laurels, and with Craft Beer Co opening two more London bars and craft beer popping up at other pubs and bars around the city, it seems there's still a growing market.

Yesterday a pleasant couple from Brooklyn in New York pitched up at The Harp. The male, Bill, seemed pretty well-informed about Dark Star beers, including APA's recent bronze medal at GBBF. He ought to be, as our mutual friend is Alex Hall. This 'nexus of weirdness' stuff usually happens to me at Cask. The World Of Beer Is Smaller Than We Think.

Sunday 29 July 2012

London: World's 10th Best Beer City?

London's beer scene has had some decent coverage Stateside recently, prompted, I imagine, by all this Olympic stuff. The New York Times and Washington Post have run features by, respectively, Evan Rail and our own Will Hawkes this month which covered some of the new rising stars of UK brewing, and some of the pubs and bars selling that beer (you may need to register to see the complete articles).

One smaller feature comes courtesy of the Boston Globe, where a character called Gary Dzen writes a beer column called 99 Bottles. He picked up on a 'Top 25 Beer Cities' series by Zane Lamprey.

Zane Lamprey? Who he? Gary Dzen notes Lamprey is... of television shows "Three Sheets”, “Drinking Made Easy”, and “Have Fork, Will Travel” [and] has made a career out of traveling and drinking. So he's more than qualified to come up with a list of the world's best beer-drinking cities.
My mate who sent me Dzen's piece sent an accompanying note along the lines that he wasn't sure about London being worth a Top Ten place. I decided to dig a bit further and went to Lamprey's site, where each of his 25 selections gets a couple of paragraphs.

His Top Ten goes like this:

10. London, England
9. Boston, Mass
8. Denver, Colo.
7. San Diego, Calif.
6. Asheville, N.C.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
4. Portland, Oregon
3. Dublin, Ireland
2. Brussels, Belgium
1. Munich, Germany

Now, I'm not much for top tens or lists. They're subjective, even when they're on aggregating ratings fora like RateBeer or Beer Advocate. Still, London as a Top Ten World Beer City sounds like somebody is paying attention. Then I read Lamprey's citation. It goes like this
Having a pint in a pub is just as much a part of the English lifestyle as much as caring about the goings on of the Royal Family. The city is home to some of the oldest pubs in the world, where beer has always been present. Finding a pub in London with ale on draft is easier than finding a a red phone booth. There are dozens of breweries in London too. At the turn of the millennia, there were not as many options for local beer, but in the last decade that has changed. But it’s not all about large companies like it has been in recent years.

The craft brewing scene has gotten a nice boost from CAMRA, a growing group of revolutionaries pushing their Campaign for Real Ales (beers that have not been filtered or pasteurized), who celebrate and educate along the way. Although they appreciate their imports as well, there is a growing beer community and some sizable beer festivals which have garnered more interest in local beers. In the city where Shakespeare would once write and drink, then write about drinking, the only thing that’s changed is the quill.
I have a theory about Americans and British Beer. I think that, generally speaking, they're fascinated by our pubs and traditions, less so by our beer, and have a bit of a sanitised Disney view of our beer culture. Lamprey's piece doesn't really disabuse that. It's curious. Little kernels of understanding mixed up with some Mary Poppins nostalgia about telephone boxes, the Royal Family (bless 'em) and Shakespeare, and I imagine some CAMRA die-hards would be spluttering into their mild over his view of their role in the craft brew scene, although he's not entirely wrong. Like I said, kernels of understanding.

Now, I suppose there's an argument that London isn't even the best beer city in the England, never mind tenth on the planet. I suppose we have to bear in mind this is for US consumption, and take some of Lamprey's views with a large pinch of salt. I posted a response on Lamprey's site about London (which was taken down). In it, I clarified some of his muddled history and suggested Dublin was hugely over-rated at Number 3. The Beer Nut would be better placed to comment on his views about that city, which contained this nugget...
It is the Dubliner’s love for beer, their strong culture around beer, and the sheer number of beer drinking songs that have come out of Dublin that have pushed it towards the top of this list.
So, London as a Top Ten World Beer City, eh? Good news? Right or wrong? Whaddaya think..?

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Mansion House - Oakham Splits The Difference

Oakham finally got their licence for The Mansion House on Kennington Park Road, but they had to concede some of their original application wish list during the licensing sub-committee hearing, and there's a high level of assurance being loaded on the operator in order to assuage residents.

Local middle-class busybodies, The Kennington Association (KA), presented evidence indicating the late licence was out of step with all other local pubs and bars, and it transpired that there is no proper licence for street drinking or dining, meaning the outside dining/drinking and accompanying music has gone. Oaka didn't contest the assertion that street drinkers from Vauxhall were migrating to Kennington as a result of street clean-up work in the former neighbourhood, so stringent controls on late-night access and noise are also a part of their licence.

The biggest cause of uproar, the proposed opening hours, have been constrained to those in force the last time the pub was licensed, in 2008. So, from Sunday to Wednesday the pub will have to close at 12.30am, and they'll get an hour extra at weekends, to 1.30am.

There are some other snippets of info about the new place. This made me grin...
Off sales of alcohol were being sought in order that sealed 3-4 pint jugs of real ales could be sold to members of Camra
So, if there's any street drinking problems around Kennington Park Road, it'll be down to Kevin. At least, according to the KA. I wonder if buyers will have to produce their membership card to get a jug?

Sadly, the pub will be family-friendly, so I expect there'll be occasions when the place is filled with the grizzling of brats off the leash. I remember The Florence hosting a yummy mummies' coffee morning during one visit. Strollers and buggies in a pub is just wrong.

Apparently the refurb is almost complete, though you'd never know it from the outside, so at last, a decent destination pub in Kennington.

The full minutes of the meeting are here.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Drops Of Beer

Some recent beer experiences.

PLIP! Sainsbury's at Nine Elms. At the checkout. I'm wearing a Moonlight Brewing 'Death & Taxes' tee shirt. The old(ish) dear on the checkout notices the shirt and asks what it means. It's an American brewery, I inform her. "American? Have you had that Goose Green beer?" Would that be Goose Island, I venture. Her face lights up. "That's it! I don't usually like beer, but I like the flavour of that one!"

See? Craft beer isn't just for da kidz. And I bet my checkout operator didn't have to spend £13 for it. I don't know where the lady got hers - I haven't seen it in Sainsbury's, though Tesco's lists it, along with the other 2 members of the US Craft Trinity of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brooklyn Lager (I'm overlooking Blue Moon on purpose, before you comment). I wonder how long it will be before interesting UK beers in bottles start showing up in supermarkets, and yes, I'm also overlooking BrewDog. But they have the right idea, seems to me.

PLOP! Smart Phones. A lot of people have 'em. Not me - I'm habitually 3 or 4 generations behind the current technology. I'm That Bloke who bought a netbook. Anyway, Smart Phones are the thing. And the 'apps' that stamp your personality on them.

At The Harp at the weekend, somebody shows me a beer app. It's called YourRound, and it's a database that allows the drinker to search beers, pubs and even festivals. Say your favourite beer is Dark Star APA. You can search your locale to see who is selling it. Or you can check in at your local to see what they have. The app relies on brewers and pubs to sign up and keep the database current, but Binnie's son Alan was enthusiastic about it being quick and simple for staff to change the listing at the pub when they change a barrel, and if a fast-turnover pub like The Harp can do it...

You also get tasting notes and info on the brewery. I believe other apps are available that do similar things, and it seemed a clever way to simplify finding the beer you want. And it would save the pub or bar having to take to social media every time they change their beers. I think the YourRound app is free to download at the moment.

PLAP! I'm not sure if anybody else picked up on this in the Independent in mid-June. Beer is on the verge of a breakthrough in India, with a tiny but fast-growing brewpub niche. Another sign of the global reach of craft beer? How long before they have tickers and spoogebeerians? Hopefully they're a long way from that.

PLOOP! The Mansion House licence application is up before the Lambeth Licensing Sub-Committee on 17th July. The application doesn't appear to have been modified, so they still seem to be asking for that 24/7 4am closing.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Can't Pay Won't Pay?

Boak and Bailey have poked me with a stick. In a friendly way. So I'm going to get something off my chest.

It's actually something I saw them comment on, maybe on twitter, about being priced out of craft beer. I never saw the context for the convo, but I'd been out for a few beers one Thursday afternoon and ended up (like I do) at Cask, and their comment resonated.

I know quite a lot of the interesting craft beer imports are coming in 'grey' e.g. via Scandinavia, and I assume these beers are picking up on-costs as they find their way from brewer to point of sale. But I'm wondering if the beers that are coming in are all at the ticker end of the scale, and attracting a Spooge Premium as a result.

The beer that's made me think this is from a small brewery in New England called Alchemist. They were a brewpub before Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont and left Alchemist with a brewery and no bar. However, they brew a huge IPA called Heady Topper, and this survived the storm.

Two weeks ago I was in the Jugged Hare, the Fullers pub on Vauxhall Bridge Road, trying some of their Wild River American hopped pale ale. The staff were a bit perplexed. What was this beer with the disconcerting aroma and bitterness they couldn't pin down? I just sipped happily.

All Rivered out for now, I popped over to Cask. The legendary fridges have been re-tooled with some rare bottles, including Drie Fonteinen's Armand De Belder's rare limited bottled series of lambics (at £55 a pop), and some lovely Alesmith bombers (if you haven't tried Speedway Stout, you've got a gap in your dark beer experience).

But these beers weren't what got me thinking. Like a lot of US brewers, Alchemist have been canning their beers. 16oz of IPA deliciousness. Canning technology today is challenging the Kevin sterotype in the same way as the New Keg, unfiltered and unpasteurised, is changing the idea of 'chemical fizz' and 'zombeer'. In the UK you'll find cans from Brooklyn, Maui and, soon I hear, Sixpoint from New York.

The staff at Cask told me they had some cases of Heady Topper. A beer my associates Stateside have tried and like. A chance to sample a beer I wouldn't expect to see in the UK.

But. Gawd help me, but I can't justify spending £13 for 16oz of beer. I can't. I've had my moments with beer, and even though as a carer I live on a fixed income nowadays, I can usually find beer tokens for the odd half of imported keg once or twice a month. But £13 for a tin of beer? No matter how I try to justify it, that £13 sits right between my eyes. I could forego three pints of UK cask beer and buy one. But it just seems... wrong. I'm not sure I'm priced out of craft beer - not with so many lovely UK beers doing the rounds in our better bars and pubs. But I don't think I could live with myself if I laid out £13 for a single tin of beer, no matter how good.

I did a bit of digging. That £13 can of beer can be got from the brewery for $3.75 (about £2.50) for a single can or $12 (under £8) for a 4-pack. The Dive Bar in Manhattan sells it for $9 (£5.80) a can. I know there'll be shipping and Gideon wants his share of the tax generated by an 8% beer. But I can't help thinking that the beer is here because Beer Advocate and HateBeer members rate it very highly, and the Scandinavian market has got it and are selling some on to the UK to defray costs. In a way, are UK drinkers being asked to pay that Spooge Premium on this type of beer? Or, like cutting edge consumer goods, does somebody have to pay the big bucks until the rest of the market catches up and the price drops? Will we see more mass market beers from the US and elsewhere, or are importers looking for the tickerific stuff which RB and BA like? I know Russian River are on some importers' radars, for instance. Today, at Craft, an empty Pliny The Elder bottle on top of a fridge elicited two punter requests for some.

I dunno. But I know I can wait until a trip back to NY to try Heady Topper. Unless I see you at Cask, and it's your round...

Friday 29 June 2012

Boggle Sips The Kool-Aid...

I'd been meaning to get along and have a beer at Brewdog Camden so, on a sultry afternoon, I made my way over to boho Camden Town to check it out.

The place was deliciously air-conditioned as I walked in, with a few small groups of lunchtime hipsters dotted about, and a customer at the bar chatting to the barmaid. The place is branded top to bottom, and a small TV plays video of the zany BD antics on a loop on a fridge behind the bar. Not unlike one of Orwell's telescreens. Some beer books are dotted about for the customers to peruse, and there are board games.

The barmaid broke off from her chat to introduce me to the Brewdog Experience, which goes along the lines of, have you been here before, have you had Brewdog beers, etc. I hadn't and I had, so we got on with getting a pint. She was knowledgeable about the state of play with the beers, and open about who was brewing what these days - I opted for some Meantime-brewed Zeitgeist, a which seems to have given Meantime some problems. This pint was pretty good, maybe a bit hoppier than I remember.

I took my beer and plopped down on a stool facing the telescreen. The bloke from the bar sat down a few stools away and got a conversation started. He's about my age, but decided fairly recently that he liked beer, and was just getting his feet wet around the London scene. He was toting a copy of 'Man Walks Into A Pub' and had picked up this week's freebie Shortlist magazine, containing an article by Peter Brown (?) on the rise of craft beer. His particular interest seemed to be in the broadening of the gastro offering in 'craft beer bars' to include proper gelato, so he'd been going around to try and generate discussions with small pubcos and bar operators. Despite his years (a few above the age range Emma Cole at Craft Brighton identifies in the Shortlist piece, thank you very much), he was enthusiastic as a kid about what he was discovering.

He departed and I had another beer, this time a black IPA called Libertine. Single-hopped with Simcoe, it showed off the hop nicely, but the beer lacked a bit of complexity. I'd have liked that hop in an IPA. Sums up Brewdog's beers to me, they just stop short of being very good. The bar, though, was a pleasant place to chill out with a couple of their beers. Staff friendly and helpful, and they know their stuff, and the food got the thumbs-up for value and quality from my erstwhile drinking companion.

I suppose the thing is, with the pleasing expansion of 'craft beer bars' around London, the Brewdog brand is the USP here. I imagine I could have gone to the Crown & Anchor in Brixton Road, or Craft in Clerkenwell, and encountered similarly knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, but there's no doubting Brewdog's cult-like appeal to a section of beer drinkers. I'd be happy enough to shut out the irritating cacophony that occasionally issues forth from Fraserburgh and come back here to drink more of their beer.

It's also handily-placed for the so-called 214 Bus Crawl, a route which will take you from the Bull at Highgate, to the Southampton Arms, past Camden Brewing in Prince Of Wales Road, and by this place on its way to Liverpool Street.

I walked out of the place and back into the stultifying heat.

They tell me the second London bar will be in Shoreditch.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Oakham In Kennington? Not Just Yet...

London Borough of Lambeth has published the minutes of the most recent licensing sub-committee meeting. Therein we find
This application was deferred to a future meeting at the request of the applicant’s representative.
They don't say why, but I can imagine somebody at Oaka got jittery, considering the depth of opposition to their proposed opening hours.

In the meantime, the pub remains a building site. I'll keep an eye on future meetings for updates.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Oakham In Kennington: Licence Application Decision This Week

In the last gripping instalment, Lambeth Council had put the Mansion House licence application out for consultation, with the local scuttlebutt revealing public nuisance concerns which could delay opening.

The licensing sub-committee will be considering the application from OAKA on Wednesday of this coming week, with 27 representations dealing with public nuisance to consider, including one with 12 signatories from the Guinness Trust estate across Kennington Park Road. The local Police Licensing Team have also made representation on similar grounds.

I had a chat with John, who manages the Antic-operated Old Red Lion next door, and he appeared unfazed by the likely craft beer competition. His licence is 9 to 12 but weeknight closing is 11pm, and he thought OAKA might get a 1am finish at weekends, which he said would suit him as he would be able to close on time.

In the meantime, the Mansion House is still a building site, so if they are refused a licence this time around, I don't suppose there'll be a problem with loss of trade.

I'll update this post after Wednesday's meeting, once decision is made public.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Oakham In Kennington: More News...

It's been a couple of months since I wrote anything - life intrudes. The last thing I blogged about is the next, and it concerns the new Oakham pub in Kennington.

I contacted Oakham, who told me that their pubs are actually operated by a sister business, the Oaka Group. Oaka never got back to me with any info about opening etc. I wasn't asking for anything confidential - after all, there's a ten foot banner on the hoarding outside the building site that will eventually reveal, chrysalis-like, their pub. However, I did uncover a weird quirk which suggests that Oakham won't directly supply their pub. Instead, the lovely beer will come via Borough market's Utobeer.

Then I saw that their licence application to Lambeth Council had gone in. It appears as if the pub name will remain as The Mansion House, and that they are asking for a late licence to 4am. The offer will be real ale with pan-Asian cuisine and a range of entertainment, including dancing, film shows, live and piped music. They intend to have pavement seating as well.

My council insider said that some misgivings had already been expressed over the late licence, which could delay the application. This bit of Kennington has the tube station, but you need to walk 10 minutes towards the river to get to what would be the town centre, so it's possible the council would consider a 4am licence in a mostly residential part of the neighbourhood to be too much. I don't know what time Antic's Old Red Lion are licenced until, but their latest closing time is midnight. I'll keep my ear to the ground.

In the meantime, there's no sign of work being completed, so the May opening doesn't look likely right now.

Update: Neighbourhood blogger Lurking About SE11 has also picked up on the story. He notes a previous attempt to get late opening in a pub on Kennington Cross fell to opposition from locals. Lurking's call to action might be a bit too late (deadline for representations closed yesterday), but this one may run a while.

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Oakaly Doakaly!

Back in 2010, when I was wandering around my home patch of Kennington in South London investigating the beer, I noted the old Mansion House pub on Kennington Park Road. Talk was Oakham had taken it and it was to be named OAKA.

Well, almost two years on, and the first Oakham pub in London is imminent. The old pub has been taken back to facade so flats can be built over the bar, and last week a banner appeared on the hoarding...

Oakham's website doesn't seem to have been updated for a while, so there's no info on there. I don't know exactly when 'soon' is, or whether the pub will still be called OAKA. I do know that a pub like this is great news for Kennington. It'll bring new business into the area - the pub itself is right on top of Kennington tube and on several bus routes - and hopefully encourage some of the lazy pubs on Kennington Cross to up their game. I'll be interested to see how it affects the Antic pub next door. The Old Red Lion appears to have upped their game in terms of beer - I saw Dark Star stuff being delivered there a month or so back.

I've asked Oakham for more info, which I'll share on here.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

A Book At Beertime: 'Brewed Awakening'

Do you really want to know what craft beer is all about?

At a time when the British Beer Blogosphere is engaged in sporadic but intense efforts to decode that seemingly innocuous description, here's a new book that promises to take us 'Behind The Beers And Brewers Leading The World's Craft Brewing Revolution'. Being it's an American book, and seeing how we seem to have imported the term from there, along with some of their fine beer, perhaps the key lies within.

Brewed Awakening is written by Joshua Bernstein, a resident of Brooklyn, NY. This, his first book, is The Ultimate Beer Geek's Journal. Bernstein eschews a chronological narrative in favour of a non-linear exploration of themes and trends around craft beer and brewing in the US today, gathering perspective and insight from the stories of brewers, bar owners and other industry figures representing every facet of the current US brewing scene. What you get is a series of fascinating conversations about beer and brewing which don't draw any conclusions. After all, the story of American Craft Beer is still being written. I could see some of these conversations being carried on elsewhere, over a pint or online.

If you aren't acquainted with the US scene, don't worry. Familiar names and themes pop up all over the book. Commentator Lew Bryson takes up the cudgels on behalf of session-strength beers, our own Englishman In New York Alex Hall educates and opines on cask ale, Ron Pattinson considers revival of styles, even Hardknott Dave gets a name-check, as Brewers' Union Local 180 owner Ted Sobel relates his first experience of David's “warm, flavourful bitters” during a trip to the UK. (Tee hee). Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo discusses sour beers, Mitch Steele from Stone relates his first experience of Black IPA in the section on hops.

Bernstein covers developments such as concepts of terroir and perceived snobbery in producing 'Estate' beers; the development of organic and gluten-free beer; the nanobrewing phenomenon; the limited-release hoo-hah thing (he's a fan, I still think it's bad for beer)... The breadth of the subject matter is as vast as the country itself, but you never feel overwhelmed. It's an easy story to engage with. Some of it is creepy, though. Remember this? Bernstein knows who made that film, and speaks to him and other fans of beer ageing, and includes information on building your own beer mausoleum. Everybody has a stash, I expect (including me) but this seems a new form of 'extreme'. “Dr.” Bill Sysak from Stone is pictured looking as if he's washing down a liver with fava beans. Throughout the book, Bernstein's themes and trends are illustrated with suggestions of beer to try from across the US and, sometimes, elsewhere.

The cover blurb claims for an international outlook are a little spurious. Of course, you could argue that most of the beer and brewers leading this revolution are in the US, so for international perspective Bernstein appears to have identified brewers outside the US who export to there, and who display a clear American influence in their beers and ethos. Luke Nicholas of Epic in New Zealand, Kjetil Jikiun of Nøgne Ø (pictured in the back room at Mug's Ale House in Brooklyn, I think), gypsy brewer Mikkel Borg Bergsø, Mexico's Cucapa and the Dieu Du Ciel team in Montreal all get profiled, while batting for Beautiful British Brewing we get, once again, Brewdog.

Typically, the reader learns “most British breweries make boring, thoughtless, insipid and lacklustre beer blablabla raising the bar of beer produced in the UK yadda yadda drinkers not accept what multinationals or lazy brewers term beer gabble gabble zzzzz”. I know Brewdog have an American business to grow, but do they have to do down every other UK brewer in the process? It's more than boring now, it's just bollocks. Still, mustn't get sidetracked...

The book has some memorable soundbites from various interviewees and the author. Here are a few of my favourites...

In America, you still sell beer through T&A” Mike Cadoux, Peak Organic Brewing (on the challenges facing brewers of organic beer)

Craft beer enhances our time together; session beer extends it. Who doesn't want to extend the good times?” Chris Lohring, Notch Brewing (on session-strength beer)

For many serious beer quaffers, can is a four-letter word.” the author (on canning beer)

We're willing to take a knock on the pretentious scale so we can get people to start thinking about beer as an agricultural product again.” Bill Manley, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co (on the idea of terroir in beer and criticism of SN's 'Estate' beers)

Cask's most tireless cheerleader...” the author (describing Alex Hall)

They ask, 'Do you have this? Do you have that?' They just run down a list of what we make. They seem to know nothing about beer. They just want to buy it, so they can sell it on eBay and make $150.” Ben Weiss, The Bruery (on filthy traders and hoarders)

So, a journey in the company of a Beer Geek. I'm never sure if I'm a geek or not. Maybe that's another heated debate to be had. It does seem to me that the Beer Geek vibrates at a different frequency to me, but maybe I'm just a little out of tune right now. Perhaps this book is the start of a trend in beer writing. Maybe we'll see more geeks decoding their changing beer culture. Consider how much the UK scene is changing. Who writes that book*?

Brewed Awakening is a handy size with a nice embossed front cover and a dust jacket that folds out to reveal a beer map on the flip side. The layout, designed to resemble a diary with faux inserts, pics and doodles, is easy to navigate.

Finally, and gratifyingly perhaps, a definition of craft appears to be as elusive in the US as it is here. So the quest must goes on. But in the meantime, if you're interested in the US beer scene, this is well worth picking up. And I'd love to see a similar tome updating today's UK scene. Dredgie? You there?

*Not Roger Protz

'Brewed Awakening: Behind The Beers And Brewers Leading The World's Craft Beer Revolution'

By Joshua M Bernstein

Published by Sterling Epicure

ISBN 9781402778643, RRP £16.99

Available from

(thanks to The GMC Group for the review copy)

Saturday 4 February 2012

'He's Having A Go At The Flowers Now!'

He is Eric Appleby, chairman of 'leading national charity' Alcohol Concern. Not content with trying to force their neo-pro fundamentalism down the throats of the retail sector, they've now teamed up with something called BreathScan to take on the FTSE 250. A press release issued on Thursday sets forth, thus...
Alcohol Concern calls for specific inclusion of alcohol policy in the Corporate Governance Code. Partnership with BreathScan announced to tackle workplace drinking culture and improve employee wellbeing and productivity.
They continue:
Under the Corporate Governance Code, listed companies must provide a framework for risk to be assessed and managed and ensure the necessary human resources are in place to meet business objectives and obligations to shareholders. Alcohol Concern argues that an effective alcohol policy is a material component of business strategy and that, as employees are a key business asset, Boards should have a formal responsibility to address financial losses incurred through their reduced performance caused by alcohol. By failing to do this, and in many cases to even recognise the impact of alcohol misuse, Boards are neither complying with the spirit or the letter of the Code.
How do they know all this? Here's the research methodology used by BreathScan:
BreathScan looked at published materials such as annual reports and websites for each company, as well as contacting their HR departments to ask whether they had an alcohol policy. Out of the 250 companies, six actually stated that they have no plans to implement such a policy in the future and another two said they would only do so if forced by law to do so.
Impressive, eh? Read some websites, make a few calls. Frowning in print, Eric Appleby commented:
Companies simply have to address attitudes to alcohol and drinking behaviours - it is costing the economy billions every year. The evidence is that Boards are not taking the issue seriously and that’s why we are calling on the Government to include alcohol policy as a specific requirement under the Corporate Governance Code...
(my bold emphasis there)
Except, this probably isn't the issue this lot are making it out to be. You will have noted that BreathScan don't appear to have asked companies about their performance management and disciplinary processes, which is where I'd expect any issues related to staff misuse of alcohol to be resolved. Well, Eric might opine, we're aiming to tackle the workplace drinking culture. It needs to be addressed proactively. Fine. Where's the evidence for that, then? Eric trots out some 2004 Government estimates on the costs to the economy of alcohol-related loss of productivity and absenteeism. But there's nothing in there that indicates a particular problem in listed companies.

And where's the evidence that alcohol is a significant risk? Of course, Eric and his fellow travellers would say that, wouldn't they. The bloke from BreathScan seems to suggest it's dragging down UK PLC. Silly me, I thought it was an out-of-control financial system. Maybe all those bankers were pissed?

BreathScan makes those breath-testing scanners. I imagine they'd love to have a new market open up with lots of wealthy companies introducing mandatory testing of employees, all providing a breath sample whenever required to do so by their employer. Of course, some businesses need to have monitoring of staff. Transport for London does it, process-intensive industries do it. The military does it. But this looks like some kind of 'thin-end' exercise to encourage companies to start dictating what their staff can and can't do when they're off the clock. And of course, the workplace awareness courses and technology would be supplied by Alcohol Concern and their police-state partners.

The Government are supposed to cutting red-tape, so hopefully this idea will be strangled at birth. You fear though, that with the current 'policy-lite' approach of the coalition, that it's the sort of nonsense that could wind up being champoined by some bright-eyed MP with their eyes on progress up the greasy pole...

Friday 3 February 2012

Growlers: The Session No. 60 - Rappy Beeryhood

This is my first go at The Session. When the subject was announced, I posted on Stan Hieronymous' blog that I thought the subject was a bit too US-centric. However, being an occasionally contrary sort, I have had some dealings with them so thought I'd break my Session cherry.

That pic below first appeared on here in February 2010, the last year Russian River Brewing Co. made the contents available for sale in growlers. A friend was heading to London for a trip, and thoughtfully brought the beer here for us to suck up. At the brewpub the beer sold out in a day, after hordes mobbed the place, with queues the length of 4th St in Santa Rosa.

The beer was Pliny The Younger, and 2010 was the last year is was available to take away from the pub. The vile secondary market in this beer (and others) prompted RRBC to make the beer brewery-only, which didn't stop some idiots from trying to smuggle it out to sell on eBay.

The pic was taken at Victoria Station, on the balcony outside the Wetherspoons above the station concourse. We drank it at The Rake in London, friends sharing a great beer, which is the way it should be.

I wonder what happened to the growler?

(I've only ever bought growlers myself one time, at Bierkraft in NYC, in 2006. I think that was the first time I bought a Captain Lawrence beer. This post is sub-titled Rappy Beeryhood in honour of the friend who got us the Pliny the Younger)

Thursday 2 February 2012

Beery Rappinghood

Boggle finally got to the pub today. After almost a fortnight when caring commitments buggered up my afternoon off (thank gawd for Brodie's and Kernel bottles last weekend), it was off to Cask and The Rake for some beery goodness.

The freezing, sunny London winter days we get always cheer me up. Makes the trip to the pub feel like I'm earning my pint. Travelling on a bus that never got out of second gear between Pimlico and the Elephant & Castle took the shine off a bit. I've never been on a bus where the driver insisted on giving way to every single bus within 300 yards of his back bumper. Still, Boris Johnson has torn the guts out of South London public transport as mayor, so I should count myself lucky we've got buses at all.

Sorry - interlude over. Where am I? Yes, Cask, where they have a few beers from Revolutions Brewing of W Yorkshire. I've seen their pumpclips there before, but never been in when the beer's on, so it was time to wallow in some vinyl nostalgia and see if their stuff is any good.

First up was 'Unknown Pleasures', one of their special series. Leigh Goodstuff (I think) posted the pumpclip on his blog a while back, prompting Zak Avery to comment it was the best he'd seen. The beer was pretty good too, a single-hopped (Glacier) 4.5% IPA I could have stayed on for a couple of hours. The newest special, 'Milk And Alcohol' (thank you Dr Feelgood), a milk stout, was also on and didn't touch the sides. I like the branding and the beers were very drinkable. Peter at Cask says the brewer is a nurse by day. It made me ponder on this whole beer and brewing description roundabout some of us are on. Boak & Bailey decided earlier today that maybe dance makes a suitable shorthand, but maybe music will do it. These beers did.

While I was at Cask, notices advertising a 'bin ends' sale of bottled beers were going up. They've apparently got loads of new stuff, so need to make space in those big fridges. I picked up a couple of Smuttynose Robust Porters and a Duck-Rabbit Porter for under a tenner, which is almost 50% off. They've got some bombers (650ml) from Pretty Things, Rogue and Stillwater (including Stateside Saison and Jack D'Or) for between £5 and £10, you can get Mikeller Single Hop bottles for £3 per, and there are beers from Hopping Frog, Hitachino, Nogne (not the Horizon beers) and Dark Horse, all at around 50% off. Pop in to stock up.

At The Rake the beer engines were featuring stuff from By The Horns, a newish brewery from Merton. They premiered their first couple of gyles at October's second London Brewers Showcase, occupying The Table Of Destiny. This is the first table on the left as you go into the big function hall upstairs at Brew Wharf. in 2010, Camden were there with a couple of kegs, a cask and one of Paul Daniels' second-hand black tablecloths. This time Camden had a big fuck-off backdrop and a huge bar with loads of beer and their celebrity posse serving.

So, this time it was By The Horns on that table. It would be fair to say that they probably didn't do themselves any favours in terms beers to make you sit up and take notice in October, but they've had some time to develop some new recipes and work on their branding. The Rake had Lambeth Walk Dark Porter and Bobby On The Wheat. My camera phone is crap, so I've included a pic of the beer I didn't try, but you get the idea about their schtick. Chalk-effect sub-Banksy artwork (the Porter has a Pearly King) and London-themed beer names. I'd be happy to try a few more given a bit more time and maybe at the next LBS they'll have the big glittery bar.

One more thing. Anybody else been impressed with Arbor Ales' single-hopped beers? Their recent Bullion and the 500-Minute IPA (wtf?) were lovely, and they're doing a Meet The Brewer at Cask this coming Monday. I can't go, but you should if you aren't already busy.

Boggle out.

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Who Killed Bambi?

At 1910 hours on 30 January, in his response to Melissa Cole's criticism of his views on the unfriendly British brewing scene as published in the beer book authored by Matt Allyn and Greg (Stone CEO) Koch, James Watt from Brewdog followed up some initial comments and an exchange with Kristy McCready of Molson Coors and Sharps head brewer Stuart Howe, thus:
I would rather quit beer than work for an evil multinational, faceless, generic corporation pedalling insipid liquid cardboard like MC.

Good luck with that. However, you should realise, that by working for them, you have zero craft beer credibility whatsoever. That must suck. I would almost be sorry for you if you were not so mean about BrewDog. Jealous? probably.

Still I guess for some people being paid well and comfortable beats putting absolutely everything on the line for something they believe in.

Oh and Mr Howe, as for the fact that we don't make great beer, how many World Beer Cup Gold Medals do you have? We have 2. Are you on the ratebeer top 100 list? Thought not. And we also don't work for Satan.
"Craft beer credibility"? Eh? What's that? James appears to know, and so presumably there's a list somewhere at Brewdog. If you want to know if you're credible, write to James, c/o 'Craft Beer', 15 Credibility Street.

Or maybe you shouldn't ask him. As sometimes happens, you turn over a few rocks, and things look different. Like the fact that under their old distribution deal in the US, their beers were distributed around New York by the same distributor as Budweiser's. Not the one brewed by cool and plucky Czechs, the other one. The evil, multinational, faceless, generic corporate one. These days Brewdog in the US is handled by Anchor Brewers & Distillers, but for all I know, they're still using AB-I's distributors. How many 'credibility points' would that cost them? If Molson Coors is Satan, what is AB-I? Come to that, what about the Big Four supermarkets? Are they on the credibility radar?

I know this whole idea of what 'craft beer' is bamboozles and annoys beer lovers as parts of the blogosphere struggle with trying to define it. But really, 'credibility'? We might as well just call it all beer and find something else shiny to look at. It really does smack of a bunch of indie kids comparing bands. Does being recognised by the ticker fanboys of Ratebeer and Beer Advocate mean anything? Maybe James can foresee the day when the fanboys turn on Brewdog and accuse them of selling out by becoming too big and popular. Somehow right now, they're pulling off a clever sleight-of-hand by making themselves seem like the small guy being picked on. Or maybe there's something to the idea that they're not all so cool and confident as they make out. I dunno. But in the future I might think twice about using craft beer as a term if there's some kind of unsavoury point-scoring baggage sitting behind it.

Monday 30 January 2012

British Brewers, Then And Now. A New Worldview?

I was going to post the following to gauge readers' views on how things have changed, but then I saw Melissa Cole's latest blog, where comments from Brewdog in the recent book by Stone's Greg Koch and Matt Allyn have provoked a gush of steam from her fragrant ears and some pointed comments from elsewhere in the industry.

This is from the scrapbook, a letter to the Ed published in What's Brewing February 2005...
You'll see it's from Peter Haydon of Meantime Brewing, then a newish brewer making beer for Sainsbury's and annoying some UK pundits with their reluctance to sell beer to domestic drinkers in favour of exporting to a more open-minded market. Sound like anybody we all know?

I wished I'd kept the original letter and the editors' comments (from Ted Bruning?) which provoked Peter's response. At a time when the new young brewers were start-ups or just starting to gain reputations outside of their local markets, when there wasn't a large blogosphere, and craft brewers didn't exist in the UK (they were all 'microbreweries'), he foresees the importance of the US beer scene and makes some pointed observations about the UK scene.

Things have changed a great deal in the seven years since his missive was published. I remember thinking at the time, supping regularly on a beer like Dark Star Hophead, that evolution was inevitable, as brewers were exposed to influences outside of the UK. Safeway was about to cease UK trading, but they'd already put a wide range of US beers in front of their customers, thanks to visionary beer buyer Glenn Payne. Beer lovers were gathering online in multinational communities and becoming aware of the scenes growing up outside the UK.

And so it seems to have come to pass. You could argue that beer going global is enabling beer lovers to drink well locally. Would London's scene be so exciting without foreign beer and brewing? In an online world, it's a benign virus infecting and mutating beer cultures everywhere. Even German brewing is feeling the impact. Schneider have kicked on from their early collaborations with Brooklyn and boutique brewpubs like Braustelle in Koln are mixing tradition with experimentation.

Why this chimes with Melissa's post relates to Peter's comments in the final paragraph. He bemoans the British brewing industry as "complacent, insular, staid and introspective", perhaps not a million miles from the complaints of James Watt in that Stone book. Perhaps that was the case in 2005, but is it true now? Are those family brewers and established regionals still wary of talking to their peers? Is it just the new younger breed who take a lead from the American experience? Have things really changed so much in the period since Peter's letter, or was his view wrong?

Incidentally, when I read those comments at Melissa's, I initially thought they were made by Stone top man Greg Koch. Following his Wetherspoon adventure in 2007, I remember him noting that UK brewers seemed 'aggressively disinterested' in the US scene. Wonder which brewers he was referring to...

Friday 27 January 2012

Bullshit Detector Set To Maximum

Recently, our elected great and good organised a little beer tasting, supported by the BBPA. Tyson already referred to it in his post here, and like a lot of bloggers, I got a press release about it.

Tyson's post is titled 'How Low Can You Go'. Judging by the views of one of the brewers invited to participate, low calumny in the form of a bit of wool-pulling over eyes was going on. The press release lauded the high turnout of our representatives - well, it's free beer after all. We are informed that
The beers on show in Parliament demonstrated the speedy commitment of brewers large and small in taking up the Government’s challenge to offer customers lower alcohol alternatives to what is anyway a low alcohol drink.
Robert Humphreys, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, had this to say:

"Members from all parties were amazed and greatly impressed by the variety of styles and characters of the nineteen beers on show. The response of UK brewers large and small to the tough challenge of brewing exciting and saleable beers at this strength hugely impressed our members and demonstrates what a small change in the taxation regime can achieve"

That bold is my emphasis. The Pub Curmudgeon has speculated that, given an inch, then the likelihood is that it will be tough to stop the neo-prohibitionists and their fellow travellers from attempting to take a mile.

Andy Tighe from BBPA, didn't appear to be drawn on the issue of taxation, but the press release noted that "with considerable retail interest in this burgeoning but nascent sector, the BBPA is looking to do more to highlight this growing category of beers in the coming months."

All very jolly. But at least one brewer with a beer on the list decided not to participate in the event, stating that they

...dropped out over the super tax on strong craft beers. They were using the event to make it look like brewers supported them. I don't.

With the Irish looking to develop a cross-border initiative for minimum pricing of alcohol (the Department of Health notes alcohol is Ulster's "favourite drug" according to the 'facts' on the BBC website), and Parliament yet again dragging its feet over reining in the unfair business practices of the pubcos (report back from Independent Commission in the autumn, equals what? Another 600 pubs lost?), how long before the health argument is used to tighten the squeeze on stronger beers.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Bass Beer: Staid, Traditional, Boring..?

I've been having a clear-out. No missus. Not what you're thinking. Cheek.

Piles of clipped and torn articles, ads, items which caught my eye some years back, and which I finally forced myself to deal with. So I've been reviewing, second-guessing myself about why I kept stuff in the first place, and scanning items which still have an interest. Some of it is beery-related, so may well appear here.

First thing is Bass-related. Our Bloggers In The South-West, Boak & Bailey, report here on finding a pint of Bass in decent condition, but I'm not in that market.

Below is an ad for bottled Bass Ale in the US. I believe it's from the early Noughties...

A different take on 'traditional', I guess. If B&B are right, a good job it wasn't for cask Bass, or the boots might have been a tastier alternative...