Monday, 22 December 2008

Thornbridge Meet the Brewer

Great news, Thornbridge is coming to town for a meet the brewer session at lovebeer@borough!

Ideal as a last minute Christmas present for your beer-loving buddies or family, or possibly as a treat for yourself to look forward to in January, tickets cost just £15 and are available from Utobeer or the Rake (both on Borough Market) or by emailing or calling 020 7378 9461.

Available to a thirsty public will be the brewery’s renowned interpretation of a classic India Pale Ale (IPA) in the form of Jaipur, the South Pacific-inspired Kipling and the beautiful Bracia, made with Italian chestnut honey – which was recently chosen for, and proved to be the star of, the British Guild of Beer Writers annual awards dinner.

Also to feature is the beer I brewed when I was up there, Seven Heron, which I tried for the first time on Friday night and was pretty pleased with, apart from the slight toffee up front which I'm not that fond of, I think it's got really refreshing pine, citrus & slightly minty flavours to it, offset by a slight bready flavour which stops it becoming too aggressive on the bitterness front.

Hope to see you there!

This post promotes a tasting at lovebeer@borough, which I am a partner in.

Friday, 19 December 2008

12 Beers of Christmas

I know it's a bit late in the day but, I figured, you could have two a day from here on in!

  1. Fuller’s Vintage Ale, 8.5%
    I’ve started buying several bottles and trying to restrain myself from drinking the last one and cellar it instead, as I am never, ever disappointed in this beer. Usually full of rich fruit cake flavours it's also been known to have marmalade, red cherry, chocolate, coffee, toffee & a slight peatiness over the years - available in Waitrose or from
  2. Bath Ales Festivity 4.8%
    A rich rum raisin nose joined on the palette by chocolate & coffee flavours but very drinkable because there are just enough hops in it to give a pleasantly dry finish.
    Available in nine-pint microcasks and 36-pint boxes from
  3. Bateman’s Rosey Nosey 4.9%
    You can’t fail to love the flashing pump clip that goes along with this festive classic – and the beer’s pretty darn good too! Full of rich red cherry and sultana flavours, backed by an undertone of good dark chocolate, it drinks well above its weight. According to the brewery it’s even used by some people to baste their turkey – well at least that would mean the world’s most boring bird will taste of something nice for a change! Also available in bottle at Utobeer on Borough Market or via
  4. Breconshire Brewery Winter Beacon 5.3%
    I can't improve on the official description, ‘as pale as the winter sun in the sky above the snow-capped Beacons, but with all the welcome warming glow of the fireside after an afternoon's walk in the hills’, it’s made with a mix of different grains that gives it a complex mix of toast, coffee, bread and a tiny touch of liquorice, available at
  5. Okell's MacLir 4.4%
    Now, you might be wondering why a filtred wheat beer is on the list, it's because I think easy drinking is underrated at this time of year at times. Because, if you're a beer fan, the winter tends to produce a yearning for big, beefy beers you sometimes can get a bit of fatigue, and I think this is a nice antidote. Light citrus & pine notes interplay with slightly richer, but faint, banana and clove flavours to produce a really refreshing beer, it's one of my favourites. Stocked by Utobeer on Borough & Beer Ritz in Leeds If you can't find this then the equally yummy Dr Okells IPA is available from Sainsbury's.
  6. Sharp's Special 5.2%
    Head brewer Stuart Howe has produced a jammy little number with hints of spiced plum and a lovely burnt toast & deep toffee flavours as well. Available at
  7. Orkney Dark Island Reserve 10%
    The first time I tried it I was blown away and I've not got bored of it yet. One to sip and savour, it goes fantastically with roast loin of venison with a bitter chocolate and redcurrant jelly sauce (a fab alternative to dull turkey BTW) because it's got a lovely sticky figgy flavour with rich vanilla & dry chocolate notes that complement red meat really well. I'm afraid I only know that it's available from Utobeer on Borough Market at this point, although Zak Avery might stock it at Beer Ritz too (update: Zak does stock it at his shop in Leeds).
  8. Thornbridge Jaipur 5.9%
    This fruity little number from those lovely lads at Thornbridge has won a lot of awards for a reason, it's luscious. Full of tropical fruits, like lychees, mango and passionfruit, it is a taste sensation all on its own. But it's also particularly fabulous with coconut-based or fruity Nepalese curries, West Indian cuisine or even overblown pavlovas - it's a classic. Available in minicask via their website.
  9. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout 11%
    There are beers in life where you just have to hold your hands up and say it's impeccably produced and a real one-off, which is this dark beauty from Goose Island all over. Rich, chocolatey with vanilla and charred oak overtones from the barrels it really does cry out to be poured into a brandy balloon and consumed in front of a roaring fire and a big, fat cigar. Incredibly hard to get hold of in the UK but I'll work on finding a supplier for you.
  10. Greene King's Crafty Old Hen 6.5%
    This is a really nice beer, although I still don't like to see good artisinal offerings in clear bottles, but I guess the hop isn't the star in this beer anyway and marketing departments have serious clout in bigger breweries, but anyway! It is a lovely beer, it's really very raisiny, with some tea-soaked prune depth to it as it's a blend of Old Spec and Old 5X - to create a very 'chewy' beer if that makes any sense as a tasting note at all! Major supermarkets.
  11. Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30-year-old 8%
    This is a big beer - based on a ramped up version of Old Engine Oil, which I already love, it's without a doubt one of the most interesting beers that's been produced in years. Coffee & liquorice dance with leather and smoke, with the merest hint of Scotch, on the tongue - it's delightful sipping liquor.
  12. BrewDog Punk IPA 6%
    This is undoubtedly one of my favourite beers, and one I think is set to establish itself in the annals of beer history as a classic. Brewed by the mad alchemists from Aberdeen this is a citrus, pine, tropical fruit with slight pine taste sensation, heavily influenced by the American approach to IPAs. It's not for wimps, but then none of the beers on this list are. Available from Utobeer, and Tesco nationwide.

Just in case I don't get time to post before the festivities begin, have a fantastic Christmas, everyone, and I hope Santa is kind.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

It'll Be All-Bite on the Night!

Sorry for the terrible headline but I'm trying very hard to keep it together right now, I've got half a kitchen, tradesmen everywhere and more dust than half the Mojave desert! New central heating system, who knew what a palaver it would be?!

Anyway, that's not the point of this post, I promised more on the BrewDog tasting events and here it is...

They were awesome!

We were virtually sold out for both sessions and the lads rocked the house with their mix of wit and beery wisdom. Lucky punters got to taste 10 beers including a couple of particularly special recipes.

The penultimate beer in the tasting was the specially name Rake Raspberry Imperial Stout created from a 10% imperial stout aged in a Smokehead whisky cask with 25kgs of fresh raspberries and the finale was Zephyr - a 13% India Pale Ale (IPA) that has been in a grain whisky cask for 18 months with 30kgs of fresh strawberries - and if you want to try them I suggest you hurry down to the Rake because they are apparently both selling like hot cakes.

For my money the Zephyr is exquisite, the interplay of strawberries and strong, almost vinous, aged beer is incredible. There's a whole host of tropical fruit, coconut and lime on the nose, which is then added to with rich, warming white port-like flavours and a slight dry finish to stop it being too sickly sweet. But I can't wait to try the raspberry stout once it's had a chance to age a bit.

What was also really cool was to compare the keg and cask Punk IPA, the brewery's best-seller. It caused a lot of debate between the 10-or-so of us that were sampling it after the official tasting; I preferred the cask for its big fruity/bitter finish and others preferred the slightly less aggressive keg product - but we all agreed that whatever form it came in, it's a darn good beer.

It was also such a pleasure to finally meet Martin, having communicated with him so much over the last six months or so, and great to have a chance to catch up with James outside the pressure cooker environment of a trade show. Thanks also to Fraser whose mad rye bread slicing skills were a godsend!

But the best part for me was the eclectic mix of people who came to the tastings; from die-hard beer fans and familiar faces, to a father & son, two women barely in their 20s to a middle-aged couple who were clearly happily overwhelmed with the veritable array of flavours on offer.

This is what meet the brewer sessions should be all about - and we've got another one coming up in January, so watch this space.

This post is a write up on a tasting at lovebeer@borough, which I am a partner in.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Beer for Punks - no, beer for everyone

BrewDog - boys you rock.

Your brews show the world what a diverse, exciting and wonderful world beer is.

Thank you, and I'm going to watch the v-blog right now.

More to follow....

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


lovebeer@borough and top Scottish beer producer BrewDog have joined forces for a day of tastings on November 29 to herald the start of BrewDog week at the Rake bar and sister market stall Utobeer.

Beers will include such incredible concoctions as Zephyr - a 13% India Pale Ale (IPA) that has been in a grain whisky cask for 18 months with 30kgs of fresh strawberries - and the specially name Rake Raspberry Imperial Stout created from a 10% imperial stout aged in a Smokehead whisky cask with 25kgs of fresh raspberries.

But, don’t be scared, we’ll only be serving them in sensible tasting measures – alongside a selection of other BrewDog beers such as the much-loved Punk IPA, Hop Rocker, The Physics and Rip Tide.

Tickets are 30 quid and available from the Rake and Utobeer on Borough Market or by emailing me

This post promotes a tasting at lovebeer@borough, which I am a partner in.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Diving Straight In

I'm coming to you live from the Thornbridge brewhouse with the breaking news that I've just made my very first beer (with a little bit of help from my friends admittedly).

The reason I'm here is that I've decided that, for the next year, I'm going to try and brew at a different brewery every month - and head brewer Stefano very bravely offered his help for my first effort.

Called Heron, it will be a 3.8%ABV pale golden ale with four different types of hops - including two I've never come across before - and I can't tell you how excited I am!

The guys had already settled on a grist mix of low colour Maris Otter & Munich malts and it was my job to choose the hops to create a sessionable ale with interesting, but very drinkable, characteristics and, my god, did I have fun doing that.

Seriously, the Thornbridge hop store is like a beer-nerd's candy shop - and they gave me the key! (Possibly a bit like giving a monkey the key to the banana plantation but, hell, I wasn't complaining).

Early in boil we added equal measures of Bodicea and Vanguard and then later on we added Susan, which has a lovely fresh apple characteristic, and a smaller amount of Glacier, which has an amazing curly leaf parsley aroma with a real minerally/minty finish - which is a pretty exciting flavour combination to play around with.

We also added a tiny amount of the bittering hops after the boil had gone off just for an added extra bit of smooth bitterness and aroma which, if the green beer is anything to go by, will make for a really smooth, refreshing bitterness that doesn't linger at the back of the throat - fingers crossed anyway!

Much to everyone's amusement, except possibly mine by the time I'd finished cleaning the copper, I insisted on doing all donkey work as well as the sexy stuff - because it's just not brewing if there's not some blood, sweat and tears involved!
All right, no blood was involved but as you can see from the above photo there was a hell of a lot sweat, some tears and have I got some bruises in funny places from climbing in and out of the mash tun and copper?!

But, bruises on my bum aside, I've had an exceptional time at Thornbridge, the hospitality I've been shown has been outstanding and the team here are, quite simply, lovely to work with and it was also a momentous day to be brewing as I was there when the deal for the new brewhouse was signed - so congratulations guys.

And finally, special thanks go to hugely entertaining Kelly & his lovely girlfriend Cat who beered and dined me on my first night at the delightful Coach & Horses pub in Dronfield.

To Matt (pictured below right trying the hopped wort of our beer) - thanks for putting up with me getting over-enthusiastic with the shovel and throwing hot malt in your face and then adding insult to injury by spraying you with very hot water! But most of all thanks for sharing my novice's enthusiasm for the whole process and for looking after me all day.

And to Stefano - thanks for putting up with multiple date changes, allowing me to invade your brewery and for stopping the car to show me the herons on the lake, thus providing the inspiration for the beer's name.

I'm quite serious when I say it's been a remarkably fulfilling, and incredibly educational, experience, I can't wait for the next stop on my brewery tour - and if you get a chance to try the beer please do let me know what you think.

The gang's all here: Kelly, Dave, Matt, Stefano & me (just in case all the long hair fooled you!).

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Pleasant Surprises

Well, it's been a year of pleasant surprises from the beer world so far, and I'm aware I haven't blogged about all of them, so I thought I'd create a whole entry from little mini ones!

  1. Brewer's Reserve - Finally, after 507 days, Fuller's whisky-aged beer has been launched; lovely soft vanilla & spirit nose and then fabulous sticky fruit flavours (quince jelly & orange marmalade for my money) in the mouth, with a spicy bitter finish that reminds me of Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate. Be warned, there are going to be different wood ages every year so make sure you lay your hands on some of the first one quickly!
  2. Zywiec - the lager's very quaffable but the porter (pretty much only available at Utobeer on Borough Market as far as I'm aware) is absolutely awesome; at 9.5%ABV it's rich, dark, coffee & liquorice-dry and delightful.
  3. Moravka & Cotswold lagers - both very, very nice and very, very drinkable; more pubs should be stocking these products, if you live in the vicinity of either brewery start pressuring your local licensees now!
  4. Morrisey Fox Blonde Ale - went to the launch of this; Neil Morrisey is a very nice bloke (already knew Richard Fox was a sound chap) who is genuinely, almost intensely, passionate about his ale and the cask beer was jolly drinkable indeed - in fact I was pleasantly surprised that it was as bitter as it is, was expected a much more dumbed down product, good work lads.
  5. Harviestoun Ola Dubh - get a bottle of this ramped up version of Old Engine Oil that's been aged in 30-year-old Highland Park casks, pour it into a brandy balloon, sit in front of an open fire if possible and... relax!
  6. The launch of the Sainsbury's & Asda Beer Competitions - the winners of the Sainsbury's beer competition are two big favourites of mine; Dr Okell's IPA & Bath Ales Barnstormer, good work the rest of the judges for a good shortlist and the beer-buying public who had the final say. Asda's got big shoes to fill here and I shall report back in November on what went on at the judging.
  7. Young's new bottle conditioned beers - back to Wandsworth standards, if not (dare I say it) better in my eyes. The Bitter in particular is extremely drinkable, haven't had the chance to try the cask recently but would be interested to hear what you guys think.

That's all for now folks! More to follow soon.

Thursday, 2 October 2008


I'm hugely amused by this sign, sent to me by the lovely Glenn Payne.

I can't figure out whether it's trying to challenge perceptions over women and beer or whether it should be said in the voice of a startled major-general-type figure spluttering the phrase out!
Women & Beer? Whatever next?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Go Green

Had Duvel Green for the first time last night, whilst my team of fellow hacks were wooping the arse of the 'beer expert' panel - ha ha ha!

It was held at the All Bar One on New Oxford Street, which is somewhere that doesn't normally register on my radar, but the range of beers is excellent and their dedication to glorious glassware is admirable.

Anyway, back to the Duvel Green, it's a 6.8%ABV beer which has a bag-load of flavours similar but not as complex the original. It still packs a punch though, as my head will attest to this morning!

Friday, 19 September 2008

Clarification on Portman Group Nonsense

For those of you who have read the below post about the Portman Group's nonsense shennanigans over Brew Dog and are getting a bit confused (as was I) over the Orkney Skull Splitter issue here's some clarification.

The Portman Group, clearly having more funding than sense, hired a management consultancy to 'carry out an independent audit to measure compliance of drinks packaging with the Code'.

Okay, before I go on to explain how Orkney got dragged into this, I first have to say WHAT?!

The drinks industry watchdog has to hire someone else to 'watch' drinks labelling to see if it complies with its own Code that it (the Portman Group) is mandated to uphold - does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

Anyway, apparently Orkney was one of the sample drinks that were looked at and it was deemed 'potentially' in breach of Code rule 3.2b for the following reason:

"The name 'Skull Splitter' implies both violence and also the impact that the strength may have on the drinker. Additionally there is a picture which could be seen to reinforce the aggressive theme."

But, and here's the thing, the Portman Group itself recently upheld a complaint against a pre-mixed vodka drink because it wasn't clear that it contained alcohol!

I'm pretty sure you can see where I'm going with this point but I'm going to make it anyway, so how does this sit with the assertion that Skull Splitter advertises 'the impact the alcohol strength will have on the drinker' - surely that's a good thing?

But, all the other issues aside, my major issue with this 'independent audit' is that it has been undertaken in a codified vacuum, without reference to reality.

The isolated way in which the sample drinks names have been assessed completely fails to take them in any form of context, which means the whole report is effectively null and void as an analytical tool.

I will give the Portman Group the benefit of the doubt that they undertook this report as a genuine attempt to assess whether or not they were proving effective in their role as labelling watchdog, but I really wish they'd admit that the whole thing is fundamentally flawed and abandon this scaremongering approach amongst producers who are already under enormous amounts of financial pressure as it is.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Goose Me!

I will add much, much more to this post shortly but if you can get your hands on some Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, do yourself a very, very big favour - buy everything you can see!

More to follow shortly and sorry for lack of posts (if anyone cares!) I've been happily busy recently.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Help Stop Over the Top Portman Group

Mr Protz has hit the nail on the head with his recent, and excellently crafted, tirade against the utterly humourless Portman Group and it's prompted me to start this petition, please sign up to it.

I'm seeing an escalation of the Portman Group's weird attitude to beer names, I've been horrified with the Portman Group's recent attack on Brew Dog and its stance on Orkney's Skullsplitter (named after an Earl of Orkney) just seems to be a continuation of this.

In my opinion names like Skullsplitter and Liquor Mortis should be actively bloody encouraged!


Because they tell me straight up front that they are strong.

These kind of names say, quite clearly, mess with me at your peril - if you want to wake up feeling like a Norse invader has cleaved your head in two then go ahead big boy! Try drinking four pints!

Interestingly, and not so long ago, a very senior figure in the spirits industry suggested to me that the Portman Group's days were numbered because, in his opinion, they'd basically stamped out all the ridiculous products - clearly aimed at a very young market - coming from his sector.

It would appear, however, that the Portman Group recognised this too and are now busy justifying their existence by attacking the brewing industry.

If we don't all make a stand now, this could get very, very ugly.

NEW ADDITION: In the spirit of accurate journalism, I really should have checked out whether or not the Portman Group was planning action against Orkney, instead I listened to the grapevine, they aren't apparently but my points about Brew Dog and the concerns I have over Portman's new stance stand - but fair is fair!

March On

This Saturday I'm honoured to be supporting the Help for Heroes march from Portsmouth to the Tower of London by providing beers for the guys & gals of the army at the end!

Whatever you may feel about the political rights or wrongs of our actions in Iraq or Afghanistan, you have to admire and support the men & women of the Forces who are fighting out there, and it's even more important to support them if they return injured.
Help for Heroes raises funds for Headley Court Military Hospital, which is specialised in the treatment of orthopaedic and sports injuries, spinal injuries, neurological rehabilitation and rheumatic disease. The rehabilitation staff of around 200 include specialist medical officers, nurses, remedial instructors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, a cognitive therapist, social workers, engineers, and administration support staff.

As you can imagine, this requires quite a lot of support and H4H is instrumental in the hospital's funding and has already raised £8m to make the lives of those injured as whole as possible again - as you can see from the picture.
And, it's also worth bearing in mind, that the developments and breakthroughs in all of the above medical disciplines are then used in the wider medical community and could therefore one day benefit you or a loved one.

My small display of support wouldn't have been possible without the kindness of many different breweries - Shepherd Neame gets a big thanks for its support by sending nearly 500 bottles of beer, also thanks to all those brewers who agreed that any left over beer from our pre-GBBF bash could go to this worthy cause, thanks also to Moorhouse's, Coors, R&R, Stiegel, Purity and a gang of Welsh brewers who are also sending some stuff through, I'll name-check you when I know what's coming in guys!

Also, last but not least, thanks to my boys at Utobeer who are warehousing and delivering all the beer for me - lads, couldn't do it without you - kisses!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

GBBF is No Good for Feet

Well, the tours seem to be going well, I've met a lot of lovely people and managed to enthuse (I think) even the most hardened beer rejector who came along.

My feet are killing me and I'm absolutely shattered but it's been great fun. It's been an unfeasibly busy time with the media as well as the beer, and there's been some great coverage/article opportunities - not least being one of the four most read articles on the Times Online yesterday! I'm a bit chuffed with that!

Find of the festival that I would really like to see more widely available is Caledonian's Deuchars XPA - it's like the IPA on steroids!

With more floral and tropical fruit aromas on the nose, and ever so slightly more creamy in the mouth it's an absolute stunner!

Other beers that I've loved have been Cribyn from Breconshire Brewery (not to mention the Ysbrid y Draig in Bowmore casks that Buster kept back for me, I love that man!), Otley's OG which won a gold medal in the strong category and Whitstable's Raspberry Wheat, which is even nicer in cask than bottle.

Other highlights have been Bateman's Salem Porter, which is in awesome nick, Moorhouse's Premier and Cairngorn Trade Winds.

Still not sure what I think of the new Canterbury Jack from Shepherd Neame, it's coming off a bit bland at the moment BUT when you're at something like the GBBF it's very easy to dismiss lower gravity beers that aren't trying to shout at you, but whisper gentle drinkability.

I'll revisit when my tastebuds haven't been partying for three days straight!

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Free GBBF Guided Walks for Women

There are still places left on my guided tours around the Great British Beer Festival in the evenings next week - visit here to sign up!

Monday, 28 July 2008

There's Always One

Well done Luminar Leisure; you've just opened the door for the pub & nightclub trade to be fully regulated by the Government - bravo!

Offering drinks for 80p each is not only the height of irresponsibility it is just the most short-sighted, idiotic move I've seen since Gerald Ratner's statement about his products being 'crap'.

I can only imagine the chimps tea party masquerading as a meeting that managed to come up with this strategy; it's beyond ridiculous and I can't see how it stacks up financially.

I presume the staff are going to be extremely careful to not serve anyone who's inebriated? Because I estimate that you can't realistically drink any more than five drinks of an evening without becoming drunk so, if the entry fee is also 80p, £4.80 is what they SHOULD be earning off each person.

If you work this back it means that they have to, if you take off the VAT, buy in each unit at about 68p - and whilst I can see that happening with some very low-quality spirits I can't see it working with every product and just not by enough to make it in the least bit profitable.

And whilst I understand that bodies in clubs is what it takes; as Steve Thomas from Luminar points out: "No one likes an empty nightclub"; but perhaps it would be better to question why your club is half-empty than entice people in with ridiculously cheap offers.

Because all this boils down to is that Luminar, and any of you out there running pubs & clubs and think discounting is the way forward, are not thinking about the long-term future of the whole sector.

Quite simply if you don't stop this kind of discounting then you are going to cause the on trade to become so legislatively evolved that knuckle-dragger mentalities like this will be left far behind.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Surprise Capitulation by A-B

Well, well, well. Who would have thought after all the legal posturing over the last couple of weeks that Anheuser-Busch would accept InBev's bid?

It did seem that A-B was adopting the classic 'attack is the best form of defence' strategy when they filed the famous 'liar, liar pants on fire' law suit in Missouri.

Basically, last week (amongst other allegations) A-B said InBev had hatched an 'illegal plan and scheme' to 'acquire control of Anheuser-Busch at a bargain price' - something all big American companies would always think twice about of course!

And also that the Belgian company had 'launched a campaign of acquisition rumors' - which I, for one, don't believe ever happens during take-overs at all! And insider trading is just a conspiracy theory too!!!

Anyway, the most interesting thing that they claimed was that InBev's financing was, shall we say, a little bit on the shaky side - which begs the question of how it was dodgy last week and now suddenly all fine this week?

Regardless of all the above my major fear, which has just been realised, is that there is going to be a big beer behemoth owning a very large percentage of the American beer market and - even more terrifyingly - big corporate brewers will own 80% of the beer volume.

This will undoubtedly not only have an enormous impact on the US market but is guaranteed to have an impact on our shores soon too.

I do hope that the Parliamentary PubCo inquiry takes a long-term view on this as a potential future issue for tied pubs.

Why? Well, if any of the big companies decide to get into bed with Anheuser-Busch InBev then choice will be so drastically reduced for so many licensees - not to mention consumers - that it could set back the progress of local, regional and speciality beers in a big (and in some cases possibly fatal) way.

Worrying, it really is...

p.s. I really hope they didn't pay a flashy branding company to come up with that name, which is inevitably going to be shortened to ABIB - best joke around that wins a prize! Don't know what yet but it will inevitably involve beer!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

InBev Bids for A-B

There's a bit of me that says the InBev plan to take over Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch is a bit like when a wasp lands on a nettle - someone's going to get stung and you don't really mind who!

However, joking aside, since I first heard this rumour six weeks ago it has raised some serious concerns for me about the global domination of the beer market by one company.

Although I have a lot of respect for InBev UK's, often successful, attempts to galvanise the speciality market - despite having the increasingly heavy weight of Stella around their neck - there have been some poor decisions at an international level which, in my mind, raise questions about InBev's genuine commitment to quality over quantity.

The attempts to close the Hoegaarden brewery last year and the brand cuts in its speciality brand portfolio in the UK - not to mention brewing whatever it is they think is Bass - are bad enough but just as A-B is really starting to take its more craft brew brands seriously (I am informed by sources Stateside) it would be a real shame if they were to be swallowed by a company which doesn't seem to get ale.

Anyway, off the heavy stuff for two reasons, firstly I'm not sure InBev will pull it off and secondly because I could go on forever about this sort of takeover, but - just in case InBev manages it - I'd like to hear suggestions on what the new name could be (keep it relatively clean please!). BudBev, InBud, A-Bev?

What's your suggestion?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Hero to Zero

Previously I've praised the Portman Group for having a sensible attitude about spurious complaints, like those made against Dorothy Goodbody's - but they have completely lost the plot over their criticism of Brew Dog's labelling.

Apparently - according to the same organisation that doesn't have enough teeth to stop the massive discounting of commodity beers in supermarkets - this fantastically funny and witty bunch of independent brewers are in breach of various areas of the code with various beer descriptors.

I'm not saying that brewers should be free to make claims that a person drinking their beer will become Superman, Don Juan and Stephen Hawking - from one sip - but using the phrase 'twisted, merciless stout' should surely be allowable?!

Frankly, if you are so stupid that you think the phrases ‘nourishing foodstuff’ and ‘magic is still there to be extracted from this drink’ implies that 'it could enhance mental or physical capabilities' you damn well deserve to have your life terminated by jumping off some very high scaffolding with your pants over your trousers, screaming 'I Believe I Can Fly' - because at least it would take you out of the gene pool or, if the injuries weren't fatal, it should at least stop you even paddling in the shallow end!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Beer Geek's Breakfast

Well, this beer geek's breakfast was judging the Sainsbury's Beer Competition yesterday and the final 15 were a jolly impressive round-up of good to great beers - full list below.

My personal favourite of the bunch was Holden's Golden Glow - do you know why? Because it is a just a really good, easy drinking, well balanced beer - and you just don't get enough of those these days.

It is a British ale, just 4.4%, and it's made with Maris Otter and Fuggles - and all those simple things somehow combined to make beery nectar of the highest order.

What really struck me about this beer was it did everything just right - the mouthfeel was silky without being sickly, the biscuit of the malt wasn't too sweet and the hops were just bitter enough to make me want to take another sip, and another, and another!

So well done Holden's - for me you were head and shoulders above everyone else in the craft of balanced brewing.

I also had a good chat with the beer buyer - and Sainsbury's seems pretty committed to stocking good beer and supporting the brewers who make it, which is nice to see.

I'm not advocating abandoning local beer purveyors if you use them, but if you are going to shop in a supermarket for your beer then choose one that gives brewers a fair deal.

Anyway, on to the reason for the title of this post. Having finished in Holborn I had to head to Borough to do some work on my new joint venture and I got caught, as so often happens, having a couple in the Rake.

Whereupon I met Phil Lowry from Cave Direct , who may need to redeem himself after saying something along the lines of 'you look nothing like your facebook picture' and then following it up later with the comment 'it's a sexy picture'!!!! My fragile ego has naturally been shattered by these comments...

Anyway, he's currently still, just about, making the Christmas card list because he introduced me to the Beer Geek's Breakfast, a coffee stout from Mikkeller.

These former home-brew enthusiasts were voted fifth best Danish brewer in 2006 and on the strength of this beer I can see why.

Although I will honestly say it's a little sweet for my taste, coffee lovers will adore it - it's made with a pretty complex mix of malts, hops, molasses and coffee - pale, oat, smoked, caramunich, brown, pale chocolate and chocolate, roasted barley, flaked oats, Palisade, Centennial and Cascade.

And I love their unashamed assertion that you should actually drink this to start the day: "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, many say, and if you are a beer geek there is no better way to start the day than with a powerful, complex morning stout. The unique mix of oats and coffee gives this beer large body and power, while the coffee, at the same time, creates a nice balance."

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Sainsbury's Beer Competition Winners
Williams Bros Brewing Co Good Times
Holden's Brewery Ltd Golden Glow
Hampshire Brewery Pendragon
Highgate Brewery Ltd Highgate Old Ale
St Peter's Brewery St Peter's Amarillo Ale
Sharps Brewery Honey Spice Wheat Beer
Okell & Son Ltd Dr Okells IPA
Copper Dragon Scotts 1816
Frederic Robinson Ltd Ginger Tom
Redrat Craft Brewery Crazy Dog Stout
Bath Ales Barnstormer
Ridgeway Brewing Beer of the Gods
Greene King Greene King Sun Dance
Arundel Brewery Prizefighter
Williams Bros Brewing Co Harvest Son
Cairngorm Brewery Company Trade Winds

Friday, 4 April 2008

I'm Now a Hairy Biker 'Chick'

It's a rare thing that I meet people so totally genuine and lovely that they get an honourable mention on the blog but Dave Myers and Si King, also known as the Hairy Bikers, you've utterly stolen my heart!

I met the lads when I was filming a slot for Market Kitchen about Belgian beers and, due to the nature of TV things, I spent a lot of time hanging about waiting to appear but Si & Dave (along with Matt Tebbutt, Tom Parker-Bowles, Patrick Gwynn Jones and the whole of the crew) made time simply fly by.

The Bikers' bonhomie, passion for food and incredible love for Belgian beer permeated the whole studio and made the whole experience an absolute hoot.

For those of you who haven't experienced these guys' unique brand of food programming you've missed a real treat but can make up for it by catching them on UKTV Food (Sky channel 259) with a repeat of their tour of India from Monday April 14.

And I can honestly say to those of you who have seen and loved them, I promise you, what you see is most definitely what you get - isn't that fantastic?

This post promotes a television appearance I made.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Camino Out and Play

Well done to the lovely Richard Bigg and his team at Camino on winning Best Bar in the Observer Food Monthly Awards.

The venue, just a stone's throw from King's Cross and St Pancras, is simply one of my favourite places in the capital, I just wish it was a bit closer to where I live!

With beer served in frozen glasses for that fabulous 'oh my god I'm on holiday' vibe, this tapas bar and Spanish restaurant with its separate entrances, which does nothing to undermine the vibe, awesome graffitti and great service is simply divine.

And they don't just have a boring bog-standard blonde Cerveza list, they actually bother with tasting notes and exciting brews - see below for their offerings and may I suggest you book now because the minute the rest of the world discovers this relaxed food and drink wonderland it's going to be busy!

Cruzcampo (de barril) 5.0% Bright golden pilsner style. Crisp, clean + refreshing premium lager from Seville £2.00 (1/2 pint frozen mug) / £3.45 (pint) / £6.90 (2 pint jug)

Alhambra Premium 4.6% 330ml Rounded, smooth, easy & well balanced lager from Granada £2.90

Estrella Damm 4.6% 330ml The smell is of faint grain with a touch of smoked veggies and some husk £3.20

Ambar 1900 'La Zaragozana' 4.8% 330ml Pale ale from Aragón. Characterful + creamy, gutsy with good body £3.20

Amber Negra 4.8% 330ml Soft, smooth and malty stout from Aragon £3.20

Monday, 25 February 2008

Up-Skirt Quangos

Now there's a headline I thought I'd never write, but then who would have thought a Government-funded agency would waste taxpayers' money staring up the skirt of a bottle label?


A representative of Alcohol Concern the – and I use the term loosely – think-tank on alcohol strategy, decided an efficient use of its time would be to complain about the picture of a buxom wench on Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout claiming it was sexually suggestive and clearly commando - which I honestly can't see, even when it's been suggested to me.

But what I can see is the future, if this over-zealous Puritanical attitude is representative of government-funded agencies, and this future is one where we'll see the banning of:

  1. Betty Boop
  2. Jessica Rabbit
  3. The Beryl Cook ladies
  4. And the Fat Slags from Viz are dead-cert for the chop

Thank God the Portman Group, the UK’s drinks watchdog, has got some sort of perspective on reality and knocked back the complaint stating that the branding was merely ‘saucy’ and the claim that the woman in the picture wasn’t wearing any undergarments was a case of ‘the complainant’s imagination getting the better of them’.

But, it seems sense prevails more here than in the US where, for example, Rose de Gambrinus from Cantillon caused a bit of a stir in Maine because, shock horror, it has a rather pretty watercolour of a nude woman sitting on what looks like one of those naughty Greek god’s lap; and another state, Ohio I believe, has banned representations of Belgium’s famous statue the Manneken Pis from beer bottles too - because, and get this, it doesn't allow children to be represented on bottles of alcohol - I feel it necessary at this juncture to point out that the damn statue is over 400 years old!

And then there’s the French offering of la Biere sans Cullottes, which has a picture of a rather strapping lady with torn top and a bare breast (the result of being in a bloody great scrap by the look of it) rallying the troops for another charge in the name of la Révolution, which got censored in parts of the States too.

Which brings me to the subject of where’s the line? Well it’s a tough one and whilst I don’t find many beer bottle labels or pump clips offensive some people might - personally, I’m significantly more worried about the music videos I see on MTV these days!

But, I have to admit, that a very small minority of clips and labels are offensive, most of these are also just puerile, so I don’t buy those beers – I don’t care if they are the dog’s dangly bits I won’t spend my money on them.

But that's my decision - I don't need a quango squandering my taxes to direct me on this...

N.B. I did try to speak with Alcohol Concern on two occasions, but was unable to elicit a comment from this organisation.

Networking Opportunities

Morning all, just a quick one to say there are two new beery social networking sites.

First is Democracy's Drink and the second is the Aleumenati - interesting move forward from the blog culture to facebook-esque networking sites.

Looking forward to see how these develop and may even set up one for a new business I'll be announcing later this week... watch this space!

Thursday, 31 January 2008

A Little Less Conversation a Little More Action

I'm delighted to have so many new comments on the blog and, at the risk of blowing my new-found popularity (which is still bemusing me, I've never had so much feedback on one article!), I've been thinking about how to further explain why it's pointless 'marketing' beer at women when education is the way forward.

What prompted this train of thought is that I was talking to a mate the other day - in the run-up to Valentine's Day - and he was asking me for help buying his Mrs some underwear.

Now, after I'd cleared up that he wasn't expecting me to model it or such like, I started giving him some advice and I suddenly realised what was perfectly normal to me was in fact double Dutch and daunting to another section of society - because of a total lack of education!

I'm not saying he was thick- quite the contrary, actually, he's annoyingly intelligent - but when has anyone sat the average bloke down and said: "Look, this is what 38 means and this is what C means - but I'm only that size in these brands and in those brands I take a size bigger/smaller or I hate this type/colour/make - oh and don't forget the matching pants!"

Correct me if I'm straying into presumptuous territory here but I don't think it happens very often or my mates wouldn't be ringing me and John Lewis and Selfridges wouldn't have been running underwear masterclasses for fellas at Christmas!

Honest to god, I've seen the question 'what cup and back size is she sir?' bring blokes out in a cold sweat and who can blame them?

And it's the same terrified expression that I've come across when women are similarly panicked by the question 'do you want a beer or an ale?' because no one has ever told them that the damn things were different.

I imagine the thought process goes something like this:
Internal voice:"Isn't beer ale? Or is ale beer or... oh bugger it"
Externally: "I'll have a glass of wine please."

Back to the lingerie section and, if the shop assistant is feeling particularly sadistic, they could start saying: "Is sir looking for a balconette, or is madam a full cup kind of girl? And would you like matching briefs, bikinis-style briefs, g-string, shorts or French knickers to match?"

Which is kind of the underwear equivalent of saying: "What beer would you like? A hoppy beer - like a classic bitter or would you like something with more zing like an IPA? Or do you want a malty one? Porter, mild, ESB?"

It all comes down to the flow of information and, frankly, that's where the beer market as a whole and the cask market in general get let down.

On either subject the issue of support has a tendency to be key - so let's demand a little bit more of it!

BTW if any blokes reading this need advice, please don't message me - follow this link!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Bang the Drum

This follows on from the previous thread - I got some feedback from an article that I wrote for CAMRA's What's Brewing? and editor Tom Stainer has kindly agreed that I can reproduce it here - please let me know what you think.

YOU may have heard about the launch of Harry’s Beer – designed by, and for, women. On the surface this femALE, as it has been dubbed, has been set up with all the right intentions and a real possibility of making a mark.

The brainchild of 19-yearold Shrewsbury entrepreneur Harriet Easton, pictured right, in partnership with local brewery Hanby Ales, it is designed to be a drink that not only appeals to women, in taste and appearance, but in the way it’s marketed too.

Very laudable and, regardless of anything that follows, well done Hanby for taking on the challenge and I have a lot of respect for the boldness of Harriet in taking on a market that is, often rightly, perceived as one of the last bastions of sexist and offensive marketing.

Take a minute to see what we’ve got to be proud of!

Foster’s for example. During a 30-second or so ad we can be treated to a bloke hiding his beer under a tall woman’s sizeable “rack” to keep it cool, or hiding behind an overweight matron to shade his precious pint – it’s pathetic.

Or perhaps we could go back in time a bit – anyone remember the supposedly female-friendly Holsten Fusion? Mixed with this pilsner of dubious merits were apple, citrus or blackcurrant flavours – perhaps Al Murray was inspired by this when he coined the phrase “fruit-based drink for the lady”?

For me, this captures perfectly the kind of outmoded thinking still held by many beer marketeers – it was just as disgusting as it sounds by the way.

But how do you challenge this type of lazy and flawed marketing? This brings us full circle to Harry’s Beer.

The story of how this beer was created continues with female focus groups and taste tests to discover what flavours women wanted and citrus was a real winner. At this point I’m excited.

The focus groups have identified that they like those brews made with Maris Otter and Cascade and decided they can be greatly enhanced with essence of sweet oranges – okay, I’m not a fan of fruit beers but if this has a touch of zestiness, I can see myself lapping it up during the summer months!

Then, inevitably, the story starts to unravel.

Now, before I make my case for why the marketing of this product has failed me as a female and a beer drinker, I’d like those of you who haven’t had the dubious pleasure of meeting me to understand something. I am not a raging feminist, and I haven’t come across higher levels of sexist behaviour in the brewing industry than I have in the wider world.

So what has really pissed me off about this whole thing is that in the promotional blurb they’ve actually fallen into the traditional “macho” marketing trap by feeling they have to describe Harriet as “strikingly attractive”.

Now, before you think I’m bitter because she’s younger and prettier than me, what’s really ticked me off is that the story of this product started so well, only to be undermined by feeling they have to state this beer hasn’t been created by some comfortable shoe-wearing old battle axe, but an attractive young woman – why?

Surely only the most sadly misogynistic old git would jump to this conclusion and that by pointing out that she’s a good-looking lass is merely pandering to the macho marketing mindset that this most pro-female of beer brands is supposed to be the antithesis of?

And I don’t agree that the cask market is inherently sexist, I think women just haven’t had enough exposure to beer because often, the last time they tried it years ago, it was poorly kept and warm – less common now.

And as for the assertion in the press release that many over-the-bar offerings are “high chemical” I can only say this is, at best, naïve and only further helps perpetuate a myth that is damaging to the brewing industry and would urge a retraction.

On a more aesthetic note why is she holding a handled jug in the picture? I can’t think of anything less appealing to a female drinker who isn’t trying to out-lad the lads! Surely we’re done with that fad now?

Not a lot of people, let alone women, want to be seen holding a jug. In fact one of the biggest complaints I get from women is that the glassware is just so ugly. I must point out that the beer will have “curvaceous” branded glasses – with a daisy on them. I’m sorry, but I’m not a buyer of this either because I can’t see a lot of blokes drinking from a pretty flowery glass and why should they be excluded?

Just as women shouldn’t be kept from enjoying beer by ridiculous social mores, why should men be told, albeit subliminally by the chintzy nature of the receptacle, they can’t drink this product either?

Being as bad as the “macho marketers” doesn’t make women, any better!

But, returning to the million dollar question, how do you challenge this male dominated image of beer through marketing? My answer is you don’t.

My assertion is that cask and real ale products need to be smarter than the average beer by giving all members of society, female or male, the knowledge and confidence to try a range of amazing brews; at the risk of sounding like New Labour in the Nineties it’s about education, education, education!

I believe journalists, campaigners, beer lovers and brewers should be allowing all ages and walks of life the opportunity to try top-quality beer. Where I think Harry’s Beer did get it right is its creators encouraged trials among its target market and that is a lesson the market as a whole, should take to heart.

There should be more sampling at food shows and consumer events, brewers should do more staff training with their customers and pubs should demand third of a pint glasses from their suppliers and sell these legal measures of real ales – it’s seen great success at the Great British Beer Festival after all.

We should also not be shooting ourselves in the foot by running campaigns like the, in my opinion, ill-thought-out Ninkasi (used by CAMRA in 2002 to launch the GBBF).

And, finally, if you must create a product like Harry’s Beer to bang the pro-female drum please, for the sake of women beer drinkers everywhere, don’t change to a beat that’s in tune with the current macho-marketing mindset halfway through.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Blimey - people DO read my articles!

It can sometimes be a bit of a wilderness being a writer - you very rarely get to engage on a one-to-one basis with your readers and it's normally only when they are angry with you for some reason.

Often it is over a perceived slight, whether real or (as is more normally the case) imaginary, tiny inaccuray or, very rarely, over a bloody great big howler you would like to commit to the voids of space.

But, every so often, you write an opinion piece that gets a response and so far - and I'm guaranteed to be dooming myself to an absolute shit storm tomorrow - it's been good.

You see I wrote a piece for What's Brewing? about a new femALE (geddit?!) which has been widely touted as the best thing since Lycra for the fairer sex.

You may, or may not depending on how well you know me, be surprised to hear that whilst I don't have a problem with this per se I do have a problem with the way it has been marketed the major reasons being:
  • If you want to criticise the real ale market for pandering to men don't describe your figurehead female as young and attractive half-way through your press release
  • Don't put daisies on the glass - that makes you no better than these alleged misogynistic marketeers, there's not a lot of blokes who will drink from a glass with flowers on it - in fact who drinks Flower's these days at all?!
  • And finally, don't tell me that a daisy offsets the fact that you've created a handled jug - it's not feminine, I don't want to drink from it because I'm not trying to prove something, are we not over ladette syndrome yet?

I will be asking editor Tom Stainer if I can reproduce the article on my blog at a later date, however, gist of it is that marketing beer to women is about NOT marketing beer to women.

Yeah, I know, very contradictory and there's probably blokes out there saying 'bloody typical woman' - but my point is this: why are we trying to market beer at women when we could be promoting grass-roots in pub and in-supermarket beer education at the whole damn population for a fraction of the cost that a patronising ad campaign can be put together for?!

Sod the advertising, sod the magic bullet, and certainly sod someone putting daisies on my glass - particularly when you've put a bloody great ugly handle on the damn thing - bring on education, interest, confidence to order a beer in a strange pub and know not only that I'll like it but to send it back if I don't because it's not right!

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing they say - which is why I'm just smart enough to know that I want to be more educated about beer, and so do a lot of other members of both sexes.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Beers on Wheels

All right, it won't help if you drink too much and can't be arsed to move - but there's just something about this that smacks of genius to me!

Friday, 4 January 2008

Light Harvest

Seeing as it's the time of year when when we are all making ridiculous promises and thinking about diets I thought I'd try the bottle of Harvest Ale the boys at Badger kindly sent me.

For those who don't know of this ale yet it recently won a Tesco Drinks Award in the lo/no alcohol category (one category I always beg organisers not to put me in for judging!) and I'm jolly impressed - I can only presume it totally blew the competition away!

At just 2.5%ABV it's well-hopped and I love the no-nonsense approach they have deeming it the perfect lunchtime pint.

There is an initial slightly sulphorous note to it but that quickly disappates into a lovely refreshing hoppy and slightly fruity finish and is so light on the stomach that it would go well with even the heaviest of winter dishes but I can see it really coming into its own in summer with a zesty lemon chicken salad or seafood straight from the barbie.

All in all if you a looking for something at the opposite end of the scale to a lot of the extreme or strong beers that seem to be invading from overseas (not that I have much objection to that) then I really would recommend it.