June 5th, 2013Comment
This is a story about a true gentleman.
The first time I met Simon was in Burton on Trent, and to be honest I didn’t know what to make of the bespectacled jester who brightened up the pub full of beer bloggers who’d assembled for the inaugural #twissup event.
But brighten up the pub he did.
Subsequent meetings with Simon (mostly, or always, in a pub) revealed much more to me about this man and why he always had the knack of being surrounding by joviality.
A large part of my relationship with Simon could be called virtual, facilitated by Twitter. But it wasn’t virtual at all. Simon was a real character who made people cry with laughter. Opinionated, erudite and with a wit to be envious of, his network of followers is testament to his ability to engage with people and instigate discussion.
His influence and passion for beer made him an obvious castaway on our Desert Island Beers series and he arguably delivered one of the most interesting interviews we’ve conducted. He told us he nearly picked Orval five times, but still managed to justify Jaipur and Stella Artois.
Simon had a preference for giving rather than taking. In Nottingham one weekend and keen to catch Leeds United on the telly, but with my in-laws clueless as to Nottingham’s provision for football watching pubs, I reverted to twitter for advice. An hour or so later I’m in Brewdog and Simon is sat with a pint for him and one in for me. “Cheers” I say, “It’s nice to see a friendly face” I think to myself and hope that we get on well one on one. I needn’t have worried.
That afternoon I got to Simon, chat about beer, football, digital, data, the city, our backgrounds. Shared interests and unshared interests alike are discussed over Punk IPA, a local pale ale and assorted bar snacks. We ramble towards a little inner city pub that Simon remembers and pass through an arse end of Nottingham that tourists would rarely find themselves in. A real tickers bimble.
Leeds were abject that day as usual, but the day out a success and I parted thinking that I would look forward to more afternoons sampling the wares of Nottingham’s pubs with Simon. And Derby I promise. I’ll definitely come to Derby and let you show me around.
Simon was the last person to comment on what we thought might be the last post here. Typically he offered more succinct wisdom in his comment than I mustered in 300 words.
Somethings are more important than beer blogging. Like, everything else.
If you want something to write about, I’ll meet you for a pint in Nottingham.
And I promise not to wear my “We All Hate Leeds” t-shirt
I replied taking him up on that offer, agian.
Unfortunately I never will get to join Simon in Derby, or Nottingham, or get the chance to repay the favour in Leeds. Simon died two weeks ago and with him countless sharply delivered blogs and tweets of jest and pinpoint insight. We’ve lost a person who gave much more than we might have realised. His funeral is today at 12.30 and we’ll be raising a glass of something spectacular for him.
2013 has been a rollercoaster. I’ve not been writing much you may have noticed.
It all started before Christmas when the time came to start our homemade wedding invites, and the dark evenings were extended long into the night, firstly on photoshop, and then cutting, sticking, glueing and tying our handiwork.
Then came Christmas with all its trimmings and travelling, and before there’d been time to play with presents January arrived, and a daily stream of RSVPs for ticking off came through the letter box.
In February I was made redundant and for a few days the world caved in.
Immediately a big red button was pressed in my head and, soaring on adrenalin and tea, I was rushing around interviews, sign on meetings and ‘catch ups’ in a whirlwind of quickly learned answers and soul destroying niceties.
I crashed on my stag do, asleep in a Berlin ping pong bar at 11pm on the first night, uncertain if I could afford a wedding and exhausted from running on empty.
My head finally stopped spinning only two weeks after starting a new job in March. I realised how much I had loved my old job, grieved, and the year which had stalled dramatically started to rev and pull away again.
Not for long. Four days before the wedding day, I received another job offer, one that meant the days before marriage were not so much a reflective calm before the storm, but a pensive, anxious period of conjecture, most minutes spent second guessing a future of vivid pathways to self destruction.
Decision made; now it was time to head to Nottingham to be wed, and amidst a year of much grey hair growing was the best day of my life. Followed by a honeymoon of exploring Icelandic landscape and cuisine with my new wife, and trekking through the commuters and skyscrapers of New York hand in hand in the first sunshine for months.
Which brings me to today. Four weeks after arriving in Reykjavik, I’m sat on the first day of my second week of my third job of the year.
I don’t know whether the renaissance of this blog will last beyond this post. These few words could be an acorn, they could mark the end of the line. Only the rollercoaster knows, and this year I’ve learnt to just jump aboard and worry about the bends later.Tags: berlin, Iceland, new york, wedding
October 25th, 2012Comment
She’s a bitch, she’s a lover, she’s a child, she’s a mother, she’s a sinner she’s a saint she’s completely different after two pints…
Funny how a few drinks and a good pub can change your perception of someone.
Our training at work touches on our personality differences under good times and bad times. A calm supporting person might be controlling under stress; a flexible conserver might be supportive but reactive when times are hardest.
The Fat Controller might be Fireman Sam after a few pints.
But seemingly the person you least expect it from can be the most profound voice at the pub afterwards.
Was it the drink or the situation?
Who knows, neither can be all bad, eh?Tags: drinking
September 28th, 2012Comment
I pick up the i most days from the corner shop. Sometimes I treat myself to a cold can of Orangina (rock and roll I know).
The corner shop survives on booze and fags primarily: the cheapskates like me who nip in to use Collect+ and grab a tin of beans would barely keep the shop standing without the queue for wine, spirits and Super Kings.
Yesterday’s i – picked up alongside Space Raiders and fizzy pop for a lazy evening on the sofa – caught my attention with a story entitled “Ipswich launches push to ban super-strength booze”.
“Off licence owners in Ipswich are being asked to remove strong beers and ciders from their shelves in an effort to tackle alcohol abuse”.
Ok, so high strength booze linked to abuse of alcohol. Discuss. 1) Cause and effect – did the high strength booze cause the abuse or did the abuse lead to a desire for a high strength fix? That aside, if we assume high strength booze sold cheaply is a contributing factor, why are beer and cider the victims?
Alcohol can play a catalyst role in crime but what of pocket sized bottles of whisky and hip flask style bottles of vodka available behind the Tesco or McColl’s counter alongside cancer sticks and lethal doses of paracetamol. In the queue at my corner shop some cans of Kestrel sit in the fridge, but for the price of 3 or 4 tinnies you can grab a reasonable sized bottle of unknown vodka and a penknife to carry in your pocket.
The article continues:
“The town has seen four street drinkers murdered in the last three years and police say the scheme could not only help those who depend on alcohol but also the wider community and those tasked with clean-up operations.~”
So, hang on. Are you saying that cans of beer murdered four people in three years?
Before we condemn the campaign – in fact it may have merit and may work – we can’t help but feeling it’s a case of making a song and dance about an easy target, social green washing to appease local fury. Will banning high strength beer and cider save society? No. Will it help maybe? Will it kerb the demand for booze? Will people simply find an alternative?
What puzzles us is why Ipswich has picked on beer and cider as the root cause of murder and violence. Whilst I’m not likely to kick up much fuss about White Ace or Frosty Jack’s disappearing from the shelves of Suffolk supermarkets, we’re scratching our heads over the somewhat simplistic solution to problems arising from much more complex social issues. As per usual, the headlines simply shout “Beer is bad”.
The Guardian adds a greater back story to the campaign, explaining in more detail that the emphasis is on the ban forming part of an initiative to make the streets safer and reduce the number of deaths associated with people living and drinking heavily on the streets. Unfortunately beer and cider are still the bad guys, despite many of the interviewees naming stag dos, unemployment and homelessness as contributing factors that create the market for cheap booze.
Andrew Mason of Ipswich police says “This campaign aims to take the problem away at the source.” Despite its well intentioned efforts, that’s exactly what the campaign fails to do.Tags: binge, binge drinking, ipswich, police, suffolk
“It’s like something you’d see at a beer festival” Simon Cowell exclaims having watched Ashley Elliot perform in a Britain’s Got Talent semi-final.
No, Mr Cowell wasn’t watching ale guzzling slippers perform magic tricks or gravity defying beard-offs, but a seventeen year old teenager from Enniskillen who plays the xylophone.
To have young Ashley perform at a festival of any sort would be a treat (perhaps no headliner, but damn good at an impromptu jamming session with a harmonicist and a yukele player). His handiwork is fast and furious and, whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, David Walliams thought it was “pure joy”.
We tried Doncaster Beer Festival for a stag do a few weeks ago, and it was a success – they had an endless supply of comedy hats to choose from for the stag and plentiful supplies of beer. But a crazy xylophone player? Hell yeah, that would have added to the experience!
Cowell’s attitude perhaps shines a light on the perception of beer festivals. I doubt he’s a beer man let alone a cask ale drinker, but surely he’d be impressed with the folk bands at Norwich Town Hall, or the train shed at Haworth & Worth Valley, or the scale of Earls Court, or the uniforms at Brussels in September?
I guess there’s no pleasing some people…
Tags: beer festival, britains got talent, simon cowell
We can understand why some beer festivals give off a bad impression, some are lots of fun, some are really not. What makes a good beer festival? Nothing but racks of cask ale and tasting notes or full on entertainment, food and activities? Good beer, good people? Let us know!
So the pint is done with we’re told!
Well what would they say in Prague, where refreshing pilsners stand proud in tall half litre glasses, quenching thirsts almost with their looks and frothy gusto alone.
Tell the football fans sinking a pint of bitter before the well trodden march to the ground that their beer will be served in flutes or tulips or whisky tumblers. “Like hell” they cry!
The ugliness of a nonik pint glass aside (does anyone use one at home?), the pint, and the pint glass, is an important measure of beer and heritage that should not be done away with.
The two third measure – and add to that beers of 2-3% ABV which are seeing a resurgence – will fill an important piece of the drinking puzzle in the UK, where a half never suffices and a pint can be crammed too easily into too short a space.
And we should firmly encourage the open embrace these opportunities extend to us, just as we should openly embrace a more diverse and appropriate appreciation of glassware. Any trip to Belgium will reveal the theatre and enjoyment of a beer drawn in it’s own peculiar glass served with the aplomb of an expensive long cocktail.
But beer isn’t wine or whisky or a white russian.
Beer is unique in its ubiquity and its diversity. And its price range too. There’s a beer for every occasion – refreshment, celebration, reverence, gastronomy, solace and lubrication.
A Belgian triple is undeniably better in a angular chalice with a volcanic head lifted by the incessant bubbles of strategically placed nicks in the glass. An aromatic IPA, strong and robust, requires a voluptuous curve to protect the aroma and limit the portion. Cherry beer fizzing and frothing in a flute would lose all it’s charm and pizazz transferred to a conical pint glass.
But none of these requirements demand the extinction of the great pint, all five hundred and sixty eight millilitres of it. It would be like recalculating the marathon, famously stuck at twenty six miles three hundred and eight five yards since the British tweaked and tangled with the route in the lead up to the 1908 Olympics in London.
Not all things are worth saving in the name of habit or nostalgia, but neither should we do away with something so useful and iconic when the pint is such a well worn part of our daily drinking.Tags: drinking, football, glassware, pint, pub
January 26th, 2012Comment
60% of questions on University Challenge are unanswerable to me. Another 30% are there for the taking – Copernicus, Darwin, Tchaikovsky, Keats, all familiar names worth an educated guess. I’m being ambitious if I was so bold to say I actually know the answer to 10% of questions. So imagine my delight when the answer to a starter question was ‘beer’.
The fact it didn’t occur to me that the art of brewing might be the answer only spurned me on to achieve a full house of correct bonus answers (identifying brewing kit no less!). And then, this week, beer pops up again.
“What consumer organisation was formed in 1971 after four friends holidayed to Ireland?”
Four decades after the birth of CAMRA and the resurgence of real ale is not continuing but proliferating. Beer festivals suffer queues these days. Pubs might still be closing, but the good ones are thriving, adapting. Independent beer bars are expanding their portfolio, not reining it in. New breweries are popping up in cities where the art seemed dead. Real ale is helping. But brewers and drinkers are the driving force, and they are drinking great beer, not all of which meets CAMRA’s criteria for championing.
Beer is a product that’s developed over many centuries, from the inns of the early highways to the beer houses of the smog covered cities. It’s evolved from the syrup of malted barley, perfumed with hops, heather and hedgerow, and seen itself become darker, lighter, more hopped, less hopped, lagered, smoked, filtered and decocted.
Back in the early seventies craft beer was unheard of and kegged lager dominated an ailing pub landscape. That was before those unwitting friends came up with their famous idea to protect the cask beer they valued, a product threatened by the brewing conglomerates of the 1970s.
The 2010′s sit against a very different backdrop to the 1970′s that nurtured CAMRA: since then it’s become the UK’s largest single issue consumer group.
And there lies a potential issue with CAMRA’s issue. Central to the doctrine is just a single issue: real ale.
It’s an admirable issue indeed, alongside the other pillars of CAMRA: community pubs and consumer rights.
Is something missing though? Despite the fiscal fortunes of our over-loaned economies, beer might just be booming. 40 years on, does a single focus on real ale blinker beers most influential voice?
Many pubs and breweries sell excellent beers with excellent food and not all conform to CAMRA’s philosophy. Should those pubs be excluded from the Good Beer Guide? Should amazing tasting kegged pilsner from Ipswich – a million miles from the smoothflows or wannabe continental lagers of 40 years ago - be excluded from beer festivals or articles in BEER magazine? Should the talent of these brewers never feature in What’s Brewing?
Now hold on, but CAMRA does allow these things. Yes, is it not sometimes with reticence that CAMRA embrace things that don’t conform to the real ale requirements? The world beer bars at The Great British Beer Festival are eclectic to say the least, and encouraged not hampered by CAMRA. Yet still obsolete debates continue over keg vs. cask, bottled conditioned beer and the taxonomy of what beer can be defined by which specific term.
Ultimately CAMRA is based on a few founding principles: good beer, good pubs and ensuring that the craft of brewing doesn’t end up being a footnote in our history. Galvanised by its successes and its membership, CAMRA has the power to lobby for beer drinkers, pub goers and all the people who work in the related trades, regardless of their favourite beer style.
Is now the right time for CAMRA to revisit the original motivations behind their campaign? On the cusp of another recession, should CAMRA revisit its core pillars and extend its welcome to the diversity of brewing in the 21st century?
Or should they stand firm and say, ‘We are for real ale!”
Tags: campaign for real ale, CAMRA
We’ve little doubt that CAMRA is a good thing, but it would perhaps be a shame if the Campaign For The Revitalisation of Ale (as they were first known) missed the opportunity to preserve its real ale mandate whilst improving its overall purpose by becoming the chief campaigner for good beer, good pubs and the highest of standards throughout. Agree?
Home at 11.30 on a school night, sniffing my coat. It’s been a good few months since I last let a cigarette pass my lips.
Tonight’s a school night, a strange night to jump off the nicotine wagon, but conversation was deep and my companion had Marlborough Reds.
There’s nothing beneficial about smoking, not one bit. Perhaps a temporary relief of stress, or a short-term substitute for another vice, but ultimately each cigarette is a minor health hazard.
Booze is different, especially beer.
Tonight both feel good, regardless of the facts. Each over-zealous drag is a rebellion against the toils of everyday, against the norm and all its nagging restrictions. Each gulp is two fingers to the meetings in the diary and the moaners moaning about their moronic new year resolutions.
We don’t let fiscal concerns or our Tuesday morning alarms constrain our smoking or our week night drinking. We have plenty to discuss: from the finer arts of Thierry Henry’s cool finishing to the inner torments of cyclical depression. We touch on the genetic susceptibility to alcohol abuse as I bring back alcohol heavy American IPAs from the bar.
Putting the world to rights demands concentration, at least two cigarettes (or was it three?), a robust beer and somewhere warm to sit.
And then, just as we get onto the interesting stuff (who was fit from school, or uni or long forgotten workplaces) the science hits me. The protracted but relaxing inhale becomes a forceful, lingering exhale as my mind beats the spell. Each puff turns from a moments escapism to a contrived act of fakery. “Don’t let a gasp of that cancer smoke remain in your mouth” my mind tells me.
“Fuck off brain” says the drink in me; says the petulant child wanting to stay up past his bedtime on a Monday, wishing he could afford to miss the last train.
Luckily beer is synced with the angels, and with a dry glass and just over ten minutes spare, reason wins over. Soles of boot hits stone floor (thump, twist!) and another nicotine grave stains the floor of the heated beer garden.
Now where’s that train ticket?Tags: drinking, smoking
October 19th, 2011Comment
This month the government has quietly stepped up its attack on binge drinking, by increasing tax on beers such as Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Fullers Vintage and Belgian classic Duvel.
For years these beers have been the staple of Britain’s drinking woes, associated with football hooliganism, anti-social behaviour, reckless vandalism and drunken brawls in market towns across the land. In northern England such beers are being blamed for virtually all teenage pregnancies and at least 99.7% of Saturday night street vomiting.
The above of course is not true, even if you add to the list Tenants Super and Carlsberg Special Brew. But, in a bizarre and cruel twist of legislation, beers over 7.5% are being singled out for a significant increase in tax duty under the banner of improving our fine nation and reducing the drink related burden on society.
The high strength beer duty amendment is detailed here and here – in practice it will probably mean a rise in price of anywhere between 10p and 75p per bottle of higher strength beer – roughly a 5%-10% increase in price per bottle.
It’s a nonsensical argument – these beers account for 0.5% of UK alcohol sales and include the most expensive beers available to buy. The majority of these beers are not consumed for binge drinking despite the reputation of some of the canned beers that fall within this category. As a headline though, HSBD is an easy sell to Daily Mail readers whose ignorance (in the dictionary sense of the word) of artisan beers means that on paper the change in law seems like a no-brainer.
The government of course know this, and they know that premium drinkers will pay premium prices. They also know that they can get away with singling out beer for their fight on booze. After all how would the audience of Saturday Kitchen feel if all wine over 7.5% suddenly received a hike in price due to tax? How would Mr J Sainsbury, Mr WM Morrison et al feel?
Beer in the UK is experiencing a renaissance. So, in times when we desperately need to stimulate the economy, why add measures that thwart innovation in a growing industry?
On balance UK brewers are benefitting from three measures that will help trade: small brewer’s relief, the launch of the 2/3 measure and the reduction in duty on beers under 2.8%, which we entirely commend (even though we currently only know of five beers that will benefit, made by Harvey’s, Greene King and JW Lees).
Yes we think the government should encourage small measures (how else to enjoy a strong beer?!). And yes we believe there is not only a market but a need for less strong beers (despite obesity levels we are an increasingly health obsessed society, and whilst most brewers will agree that brewing a tasty beer under 3.4% is not easy, it’s a market to untap).
Taxing strong beers is taxing the endeavour of brewers. It is taxing the concept of slow food, and more than that, it’s fundamentally not tackling the issues it’s purported to be addressing.
Does anyone remember those three words ‘Education, education, education.’
They may have been uttered by a different party to those in blu-tacked power, but when it comes to booze, there are no three words better placed to resolve our countries struggle with the binge.
Tags: beer duty, beer tax, strong beer
- By us, on binge drinking and elections
- The Independent, on canned super lagers in 1993
- BBC Inside Out on high strength lagers (before they employed web designers it would seem) http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/content/articles/2008/05/01/london_superstrength_alcohol_s13_w10_feature.shtml
- On Kestrel Super, and again
- Opinions on HSBD – Zak Avery, James Clay, SW Brewery, The Indy, Moor Beer, Gadds, Broadford Brewer, Magic Rock, PDNC, Ghost Drinker
- On the under 2.8% tax (and some crucial caveats) – Hardknott Dave, Big Hospitality
- On supermarket beer prices http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2011/10/super-tax.html,
And beer prices or tax duties come from our secondary research:
- Kestrel price http://www.britishcornershop.co.uk/product.asp?id=6331
- Dark Star price http://www.beerritz.co.uk/buy/orkney-dark-island-reserve-2010-release_690.htm
- Beer duty in £s: various above plus comments of http://www.pencilandspoon.com/2011/09/new-duty-rates-on-beer-and-new-glass.html and http://thebeerboy.blogspot.com/2011/10/higher-strength-beer-duty-my-view.html
And for some high strength beer reviews during October, see our friends at http://thebeercast.com/2011/10/big-beer-month.html
Living in Morley, West Yorkshire (a lovely place I should add) I’m unfortunate enough to be reminded every so often that we don’t live in quite the unprejudiced utopia that some might suggest we do. Every few months a small personally addressed envelope from the BNP lands on the doorstop, just in case I’d forgotten that when it comes to election time, there’s always a risk in my area that someone with bigoted beliefs might just become my local representative at a council or even constituency level.
To drill the point home, this week David Baddiel was launched a video to counter anti-Semitism in football in the hope of eradicating the term ‘Yid’ from the dialect of football fans. Unbelievably, there are still football fans who think nothing of making gas chamber noises when Spurs fans travel away from home.
Things always come in 3s of course, as I heard the news today that a Sam Smith’s pub in London has been accused of homophobia, via the ejection of a same sex male couple who had been kissing in the John Snow in Soho.
It’s unclear exactly what happened – the story from the couple involved is sketchily reported at best, whilst comments online suggest the gay community differ over who’s to blame.
It seems that the couple in question were confronted by a punter who didn’t like them kissing, and later on a mystery man and woman – one claiming to be landlord the other a plain clothed police officer – physically removed the couple from the pub for a goodnight peck, which apparently classifies as ‘obscene behaviour’.
The fact that it’s a Sam Smith’s pub at the centre of the controversy only adds to the surreal nature of the story. A company revered in the capital for cheap drinks whilst invoking severely mixed reaction on their home turf, and run by the bizarre empire of Humphrey Smith, who seems to have a penchant for owning car parks and pissing people off.
Perhaps all will be revealed next Thursday when 150 protestors descend on the John Snow for a ‘kiss-in’. I just hope the protesters are sure they know the real story – the event was arranged via social networks barely 24 hours after the accusations emerged, which begs the question is this just another social media mob jumping on an easy bandwagon?
The biggest shame to emerge from the whole debacle is that most of the debates I’ve read online seem to hinge on whether or not the venue was straight or gay, with some gay commentators criticising the couple for not choosing a more appropriate bar, and others crying out for zero tolerance on homophobia.
This seems madness to me: sexuality should be of no relevance regardless of the ‘orientation’ of the venue.
The sad fact of the matter is that in my experience, a natural segregation dominates the UK and in watering holes it’s perhaps as divided as anywhere else. In many cases the segregation is as organic and innocent as the segregation of social groups is; in others it’s artificially created; but thankfully in few it’s actually a deliberate strategy of separation based on fear or worse.
There’s no doubt many exceptions to this and many examples of quite opposite trends, but part of me wonders is it not a shame that us human beings don’t mix a bit more freely. After all, is the pub not arguably the perfect place to do so?
Shouldn’t we all just be able to get along and enjoy our beer together?