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.