Sunday 11 December 2011

Take Time to Smell the Beer

I spend a lot of time during tutored tastings encouraging people to smell their beer before drinking it, in order to get the maximum enjoyment, but today I had a powerful reminder that this isn't just about immediate gratification, but could one day give you a beautiful gift in the form of a very happy memory.

Smell is the most powerful of the senses when it comes to recalling memories and I certainly experienced that this morning, when the mere act of opening a wooden box led to the unearthing of a memory that was so happy, it bought tears to my eyes and a huge smile to my lips.

It was a memory of my Granddad, Alf Cole, who was a man I loved dearly. In fact, I'd go as far to say idolised. He died when I was 12 and, to this day, I find it heartbreaking he didn't live to see me grow up; I hope he would have been proud of me but, if nothing else, he would have at least enjoyed some free beer, that's for sure!

So when this box wafted its muted sandalwood scent at me, a tidal wave of powerful memories was unleashed and I was transported back at least 30 years to a bright summer's day in the Barley Mow pub garden on Englefield Green in Surrey and my Granddad holding his pint glass to my lips for me to take an illicit sip, which I’m pretty sure is my earliest beer-related memory - but it’s also so much more than that.

With that aroma came a host of other remembered scents - over the pungent nuttiness of the beer, I could smell the smoke on his fingers, the Brylcream in his hair and, throughout, the woody note from the Old Spice shaving cream that he used, whisking it to a lather in its branded china pot with a badger hair brush.

I then remembered how I would find him in the morning, carefully shaving in a mirror in the kitchen because it had the best light, wearing just his vest and trousers, with his braces flapping around the backs of his legs; how he'd pretend I wasn't there as he carefully finished, then wiping any excess foam away before giving me a good morning kiss and making me my breakfast, which was always a bowl of cornflakes followed by blackcurrant jam on toast.

I am so pleased to have these precious memories gifted back to me for the rest of my life by the simple act of opening a wooden box that I just want to encourage you all to do something that will hopefully make you as happy one day as this did me.

Stop and take the time, when you're out enjoying yourself with friends or loved ones, to just inhale the aroma of your beer.

Just take that few seconds to commit that smell to memory and, perhaps, one day you will be drinking that same beer and you will be back transported back to that exact moment in time of joy and companionship - and I hope it brings a smile to your lips as you take a salutary sip.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Party Time!

Hey folks, as tonight is the official launch party for my book I just wanted to take this opportunity to say a big thank you for all the great feedback so far.

I've been utterly overwhelmed by the positive reaction I've had to Let Me Tell You About Beer and never, in my wildest dreams, did I think it would be so enjoyed by so many of you.

There are myriad people I couldn't have done this without - many of whom are thanked in the back of the book and many of whom I just couldn't fit in - but what always strikes me the most is how amazingly warm and friendly the brewing industry is.

I've always been given a great reception from beery people the world over, whether it's enquiring about their beers, offering feedback, writing about them or, even, going and brewing them.

And, whilst some may have recently been quoted saying the UK brewing industry isn't friendly, I would just like to state for the record that I have never, ever found that to be the case... perhaps those people should look at themselves, and their own conduct, before pointing the finger at others.

Anyway, I'll rant about that another time, because what I really wanted to use this post for was this...

To everyone, both personally and professionally, who has shown me love, respect and support over the last 13 years (since I joined the Licensee & Morning Advertiser as a cub reporter), I thank you from the bottom of my heart for enabling me to have the greatest job in the world.

Also, to all you lovely people who read my work, comment on it, show support or give me honest criticism, you are the heartbeat of what I do - if you didn't care there'd be no point.

Cheers all!

Melissa x

p.s. if you're at the launch party tonight and I have a little weepy moment, please don't take pictures, just laugh and hand me a beer, I'll get it together eventually! : )

Monday 24 October 2011

Hummust Try This!

Sorry, I just can't help myself sometimes, cheesy headlines make me happy!

Anyway, I popped a picture of this home-made hummus on Twitter last night and there was a very positive response, so I thought I'd pop it on the blog for you.

Here we go!

Harissa-Spiked Hummus
Equipment needed:
Small frying pan
Pestle & mortar
Food processor
Flexible spatula
Measuring spoons
Micro whisk/fork
Serving bowl
Large plate

One can of chickpeas
Good, grassy olive oil
Tahini (sesame paste)
2 tbsp Cider vinegar (or you could use pomegranate molasses and dispense with sugar/nectar below)
2tbsp cumin seeds, freshly toasted & ground
Juice of a lime
Garlic (preferably roasted but not necessary)
1tsp Sugar/agave nectar
Salt & & freshly-ground pepper

For topping:
A few reserved chickpeas
Harissa paste let down with some olive oil
Toasted sesame seeds
Bit of green herb or some micro herbs or something pretty!

To serve:
A large, thin flatbread


  1. Drain and rinse your chickpeas
  2. Pop in food processor with the garlic clove and a splash of water
  3. Start blitzing for 30 seconds or so
  4. Then add cumin, lime juice, sugar/nectar and tahini - blitz a bit more
  5. Start adding olive oil very slowly so it emulsifies & becomes smooth
  6. Taste for seasoning & acidity, add vinegar and salt as needed, it generally takes quite a bit of salt
  7. Once you've blitzed in your balancing flavours, use your flexible spatula to scrape hummus out into serving bowl and smooth the top
  8. Using your chopstick, drag a quite deep swirl pattern in the top of the the hummus
  9. Whisk together your harissa with a splash of olive oil and carefully pour into the swirl pattern
  10. Place chickpeas on top, garnish with whatever you're using and then sprinkle from a height with the sesame seeds
  11. Crumple your flat bread and place on a plate then pop hummus in the middle of it and serve crudités on the side or sprinkled on the bread
Suggested beer match:

I actually was drinking a lovely NZ Villa Maria Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010 to toast the Kiwi team's world cup win. With its huge gooseberry and elderflower notes it really reminded me of Oakham Citra, so that's my recommendation! Cheers and enjoy.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Something a Bit Silly!

I don't care if this is true or not, it's an entertaining thought! 
If you had purchased £1,000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago, you would have £49.00 today. 

If you had purchased £1,000 of shares in AIG one year ago, you would have £33.00 today.

If you had purchased £1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, you would have £0.00 today.

But, if you had purchased £1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the aluminium cans for recycling refund, you would have received a £214.00.

Based on the above, the best current investment plan is to drink heavily & recycle.

A recent study found that the average Briton walks about 900 miles a year.
Another study found that Britons drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year. That means that, on average, Britons get about 41 miles to the gallon!

Makes you proud to be British, doesn't it?

(thanks to Howard Winn for emailing this to me)

Friday 14 October 2011

Battle of the Sexes - Bring It On!

The lovely John Keeling
Tonight I am facing off against John Keeling, head brewer at Fuller's in a battle of the sexes - not really it's just going to be me and John picking beers for a menu set by the lovely Angus, licensee of the Red Lion.

I'll also have just 10 of my books, which I managed to beg, borrow and steal from the publishers to be signed, I did my first signing at Ilkley Literary Festival last week but I haven't had a chance to blog about that yet, it's all coming along with news from across the pond at GABF as well.

Anyway, here is what I'm putting up against the might of the narky Manc! I really hope given the breadth of choice I had available to me that I do justice to Angus's lovely food.

Amuse Bouche
Live oyster, steeped in Cantillon lambic & raspberry puree 
Matched with Aspall's Cyder (I'm cheating straight away!)

To Start
Charcuterie board
“Pickled” smoked duck breast in Kriek w/ cherry compote 
Matched with Anchor Liberty

Oxsprings English Air Dried Ham & fresh fig 
Matched with Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted

Brandade of Salt Cod, on rye 
Matched with St Austell Clouded Yellow

Devils on Horseback (pancetta/mango chutney /English mustard) 
Matched with Chimay Blue

Main Courses
Sweet potato & Yam Fatt Putt w/ Chinese slow roast Belly Pork in Plum Sauce w/ Asian Slaw (mouli/carrot/spring onion/mint/toasted sesame & lime dressing) 
Matched with Thornbridge Kipling

Lahmacun (greek lamb pizza-type thing) Pickled cucumber salad & Greek Yoghurt 
Matched with Williams Bros Grozet

Pear Tart Tatin w/ Fuller’s Double Stout Devon Ice Cream 
Matched with Dark Star Espresso Stout

Chilli Salted Caramel tartlet 
Matched with O'Hanlon's Brewer's Reserve

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Home Sweet Home!

Finally! My blog has been dequarantined by Google, thank god, and I've got a lot to catch up on, not least my adventures in the US at the ever-awesome GABF, on which I'll be doing a separate post in the next few days.

But, before that, I just wanted to share something I made for dinner this evening that was not only healthy but like a hug in a bowl.

You see I really needed something comforting and cuddly, I've had jetlag like hell today but after a week and a bit of serious overindulgence, I needed something that would nurture my body a bit as well as lift my spirits and soothe my travel-weary soul - which this most certainly did.

The beer match I would suggest for the below would be something like a Vienna-style lager or even a crystal wheat or Belgian-style but nothing too dark and heavy or, conversely, very bitter as there is some very subtle and pretty spice notes in the dish that I feel would be overwhelmed

So, here goes my Oxymoronic One Pot Wonder (or slightly bastardised tagine recipe if you like!)

Serves 4 (with quite a good bit of bulgur wheat and veg left over for salads)

Sorry picture isn't great, I was hungry!
Toasted spice mix:
Half a cinnamon stick
3 tbsp Ras-el-Hanout (Moroccan spice mix)
2tbsp cumin seeds
1tbsp coriander seeds
1/2tsp chilli flakes

Dressing & Sprinkly Bits!
Finely chopped mint leaves
Two garlic cloves
Lime - juice & rind (juice of two if it's not very juicy)
Half an inch ginger very finely grated
Small pot of natural yoghurt
Pomegranate seeds
Pomegranate molasses
Toasted sesame seeds & chopped pistachios

Main ingredients:
8 x chicken thighs
1 x medium butternut squash chopped into inch cubes
1 x large aubergine chopped into inch cubes
4 x large garlic cloves smashed
1 x onion finely chopped
1tsp harissa
600gms bulgur wheat
Ready-to-eat prunes & dried apricots
Chai tea bags (optional to replace with a spiced Winter Ale, porter or mild)
1 x tin of chickpeas
1tbsp Harissa (or a slightly smokey not super-hot chilli paste)
1x bottle spicy ginger beer (I used Wychwood Ginger Beard, see brief review at end)
Small splash of groundnut oil

  1. Soak your dried fruit *childish snigger* in the chai tea or one of the mentioned beers
  2. Pop a dry pan on the hob to heat up
  3. Whilst it's doing that, pop salt & garlic in a pestle & mortar and pulp
  4. Add lime rind & juice + mint leaves & ginger - leave to macerate
  5. By now pan should be nice and hot, add spices from spice mix list, turn heat down and toast spices carefully, don't burn and then set aside
  6. Heat a large pot or hob-friendly tagine (I can't recommend Emile Henry highly enough)
  7. Add oil and quickly brown chicken thighs, add half the toasted spices, then add onions and cook until they go translucent then add aubergines & butternut squash for four or five minutes, then the chickpeas and then add garlic, some seasoning & harissa, then add rest of spices
  8. A minute after the garlic is added deglaze with a bit of water before adding any beer you're using
  9. Add the bulgur wheat and stir everything together carefully, keep an eye on the liquid levels every five minutes, it's not an exact science
  10. Whilst it's cooking add your mushed garlic, mint, lime etc. into your natural yoghurt
  11. Then just give your spice pan a wipe & toast the sesame seeds & pistachios in that
  12. To serve: test for seasoning then pile into bowls, drizzle over yoghurt and a bit of pomegranate molasses and sprinkle with some more chopped mint, sesame seeds, pistachios and pomegranate seeds - serve!
  13. Drink beer with it! 
Wychwood Ginger Beard
A name I've seen before in a Firkin pub but a very different beer Ginger Beard is initially a little sweet but ends off with a decent fiery Ginger Kick. Personally, I find this kind of ginger beer a little one-dimensional but that's probably because I came to ginger as a flavour a little later in life, the OH who loves Old Jamaica in the summer declared it would be 'really nice ice cold in summer as a thirst quencher' - so what do I know?! : )

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Not Beer and Certainly Not Fear

Via @rickontour on twitpic
This is a quick post that's not about beer, although I am having one as I'm writing this, it's about saying no to fear.

The streets of London, and other areas of the country, have seen the most appalling violence, thuggery and downright criminality in a way that I have never experienced in my lifetime.

Most heartbreaking was the footage of the scum who robbed an injured young man, after pretending to take care of him, I have never witnessed such a sickening display and if I had my way they wouldn't be left to breed, but that's why I'm not a police officer.

However, you lot all know about the horrors, so I'm not going to bang on about it.

First off, I want to thank our emergency services and for all the citizens who protected their own territories - you have all done amazing work in the face of tremendous adversity.

And to the people behind @riotcleanup I say bravo, you are true heroes and have engendered some of the most remarkable scenes of human strength, fortitude and beauty I've ever witnessed too - the brooms being held aloft around Clapham as hundreds took the streets to clean up the mess the thugs had left is still bringing tears to my eyes.

If these mindless thugs take to the streets again tonight and continue to trash our fair city, I'll be out there tomorrow with you because we need to show that they are a disgraceful minority, we will not tolerate it and FEAR WILL NOT WIN!

Be safe fellow Londoners - Drink Beer & Carry On x

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Mild Makes Its Mark Again at GBBF

I have nothing to declare but my genius
Mild has taken the crown again at Champion Beer of Britain, which is nice and will hopefully see more pubs stocking this refreshing, generally low-ABV, tasty style.

In light of the constant screeching from the neo-prohibitionists, this kind of low-alcohol beer is unlikely to get as many headlines but you never know, someone might screw their head on straight and laud it like they should!

Anyway, here's the list of winners, well done to Mighty Oak for its win and well done everyone else too.

Overall winners 
Champion Beer of Britain - Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde (3.7% ABV, Maldon, Essex) 
Second - Marble, Chocolate (5.5% ABV, Manchester, Gtr Manchester) 
Third - Salopian, Shropshire Gold (3.8%ABV, Shrewsbury, Shropshire) 

Mild category 
Gold- Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde (3.7% ABV, Maldon, Essex) 
Silver- Rudgate, Ruby Mild (4.4% ABV, York, North Yorkshire) 
Bronze- Coastal, Merry Maidens (4% ABV, Redruth, Cornwall) 

Bitter category 
Gold- Salopian, Shropshire Gold (3.8%ABV, Shrewsbury, Shropshire) 
Silver- Teignworthy, Reel Ale (4% ABV, Newton Abbot, Devon) 
Joint Bronze- Triple fff, Alton's Pride (3.8% ABV, Alton, Hampshire) 
Joint Bronze- Potton, Shannon IPA (3.6% ABV, Potton, Bedfordshire) 

Best Bitter category 
Gold- Houston, Peter's Well (4.2% ABV, Houston, Renfrewshire) 
Silver- Country Life, Golden Pig (4.7% ABV, Bideford, Devon) 
Joint Bronze- Castle Rock, Preservation (4.4% ABV, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire) 
Joint Bronze- Bollington, Best Bitter (4.2% ABV, Bollington, Cheshire) 
Joint Bronze- Blythe, Staffie (4.4% ABV, Rugeley, Staffordshire) 

Golden Ale category 
Gold- Cumbrian Legendary Ales, Loweswater Gold (4.3% ABV, Hawkshead, Cumbria) 
Silver- Salamander, Golden Salamander (4.5% ABV, Bradford, West Yorkshire) 
Bronze- Holden's, Golden Glow (4.4% ABV, Dudley, West Midlands) 

Strong Bitter category 
Gold- Moles, Mole Catcher (5% ABV, Melksham, Wiltshire) 
Silver- Kinver, Half Centurion (5% ABV, Kinver, Staffordshire) 
Bronze- Adnams Broadside (4.7% ABV, Southwold, Suffolk) 

Speciality Beer category 
Gold- Oakleaf, I Can't Believe It's Not Bitter (4.9% ABV, Gosport, Hampshire) 
Silver- Amber, Chocolate Orange Stout (4% ABV, Ripley, Derbyshire) 
Bronze- Orkney, Atlas Wayfarer (4.4% ABV, Stromness, Orkney) 

Winter Beer of Britain winner (announced in January 2011) 
Dow Bridge, Praetorian Porter (5% ABV, Catthorpe, Leicestershire) 
Holden's, Old Ale (7.2% ABV, Dudley, West Midlands) 
Hop Back, Entire Stout (4.5% ABV, Downton, Wiltshire) 
Marble, Chocolate (5.5% ABV, Manchester, Gtr Manchester) 

Bottled Beer of Britain winners (sponsored by Hotel du Vin) 
Gold- St Austell, Proper Job (5.5% ABV, St Austell, Cornwall) 
Joint Silver- Molson Coors, Worthington White Shield (5.6% ABV, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire) 
Joint Silver- Brown Cow, Captain Oates Dark Oat Mild (4.5% ABV, Selby, North Yorkshire) 

Monday 1 August 2011

Anti-Alcohol Lobby Is Taking Their Ball In

What Don Shenker thinks inside
our heads looks like
Thanks to Jay Brooks for finding this
The Anti-Alcohol Lobby is one of the most infuriating, self-righteous, hypocritical and, frankly, downright untruthful bunch of blinkered blitherers (outside of religious fundamentalism) one could ever have the misfortune to meet.

And the national press's insistence that it will pander to them without thought or balance is equally disturbing and unprofessional. 

Having been quite pleased with the Guardian's piece on health & alcohol not actually using a glass of beer for a change* I've now been utterly enraged by a piece in today's paper because it leaves several mahoosive issues surrounding balance, let's see if you can spot them?

"The drinks industry has secured heavy representation on a key government advisory working group on alcohol, putting it in a strong position to influence the coalition's forthcoming alcohol strategy.
Minutes of the Government and Partners Alcohol Working Group, which meets bi-monthly and is chaired by the Home Office director of drugs and alcohol, show that drinks industry membership has massively increased during the last year.
"Under the Labour government, there were a couple of industry representatives, but the coalition has swelled their numbers to the point where they make up almost half the membership of the committee, excluding the civil servants who represent government departments, such as health and the Treasury. Minutes of meetings before and after the election were obtained by the BBC's Panorama programme, which on Monday night will show the damage excessive drinking is wreaking on young people and asks why the government has not acted to raise alcohol prices.

"When the committee met in March 2009 – then called the Alcohol Strategy Delivery Group – eight of the members were non-civil servants and two of them were from the drinks industry – one from Bacardi and the other from retailers Morrisons. Five others came from a health background and the sixth represented local government.
"But the membership changed under the coalition government. In December 2010, there were 10 members from the drinks industry and seven others. In March this year, there were 10 members from the drinks industry, eight of whom were present, and six others – three of whom were in the room."

Did you see it? No? Yes? Well in case you didn't, it was the bit that says of the original committee: "eight of the members were non-civil servants and two were from the drinks industry."

Hmmm, anyone care to speculate on who those 'eight non-civil servants' might have been? My money is on anti-alcohol or 'concern' groups, but the piece doesn't address it, so we don't know (am ringing to find out later today, so will report back).

Also, is it just me that can't make the maths work in this piece either? First off they say that the drinks industry now makes up nearly half of the committee's membership, excluding civil servants, and then they say that they outnumber everyone else by three members - and it's not surprising that their presence looks a lot stronger when most of the 'other side' can't be arsed to turn up!

And it seriously infuriates me that the idea of balance, in making alcohol policy decisions, has so truly appalled the Grand High Poobah of neo-prohibitionists Don Shenker - chief executive of Alcohol Concern.

He is of the opinion that the ability to shape and define alcohol strategy lies firmly with him and his cronies, as evinced by his comment: "This government needs to decide if it wishes to truly get to grips with the significant levels of alcohol harms in the UK, or stick with the status quo of allowing the drinks industry to call the shots. It can't have it both ways." 

Are you kidding me? Let's get this straight, you don't want to engage with the drinks industry unless you outnumber them 8:2? Yet you will continue to disseminate and champion completely skewed and totally unethical policy formed from erroneous information?** 

Here are my top three favourites:

  • In 1987 the Government released daily guideline figures on drinking; it has since been admitted by one of the members of the Royal College of Physicians' original working party, figures were "plucked out of the air" in the absence of any clear evidence about how much alcohol constitutes a risk to health
  • The Government and EU have both been using research from a body called the Institute of Alcohol Studies as the basis for their alcohol policy, this is solely funded by THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT and has also been found by the Charities Commission to not fulfil the criteria to be a charity, despite saying so publicly
  • In April the ONS released statistics, based on flawed methodology, saying that women consuming excessive alcohol was on the rise, which isn't true, and several newspapers reported, several organisations shouted it and no- one retracted it once the ONS said, in very small letters: Oops we got that wrong, it's not actually, sorry!
So, I've decided that I'm going to come out with a couple of my own!
  • Since the Drink Aware Trust was formed there has been a drop in drinking levels in the UK
I can't actually prove that, but there is a faint correlation, so it must be true! Now, what else have I got? Oooh, here's a good one!

  • Drinking cask ale makes you 87.5% less inclined to have a punch-up; because in my experience in the last eight years of going to the Great British Beer Festival I've only ever seen one fight

But that's how the neo-pros work, not me, so I'm just using these random observations to make a point - because it appears to be how you get government to form policy. Hmm, maybe I should jack this in and become a lobbyist?

Anyway, I'm wandering off point here.

In no sane democracy should one standpoint hold the entire ground on a decision-making, and policy-forming, committee, but this seems to be what Don Shenker is saying should be so. Sorry Don, but democracy just doesn't work like that! 

Do you hear other areas of Government, like the Department of Health and its various lobbying grouper fish, saying: "We need to lower obesity in the UK, but we won't talk to any of the major fast-food chains, they will bamboozle us with fatty acids and sweet liquids!"

No, you hear them saying: "We need to engage with this industry to ensure that the minority that abuses their products have more safeguards put in place to protect them from themselves."

And here's the nub of it all, people like Don look at all of us who drink and see a 'problem', which he and his cult of neo-prohibinists believe can only be solved by treating us all like three-year-old children or dirty tramps with a can of Special Brew.

Sorry Don, I'm neither, and just because you know don't have the whole of government's ear to ensure they treat me like one of these, doesn't mean you should crying like a little girl about it.

And nor should the Guardian or any other area of the press be taking your complaints at face value either.

We, the demos, deserve better than that.

*sadly it was later pointed out to me on twitter that it was women and health, so of course they were drinking wine! Silly me...
**For an in-depth look at the total bollocks that's been coming out from the anti-alcohol lobby over recent years see Pete Brown's tireless work to look at reams of numbers and uncover the truth.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Just When You Think It Can't Get Any Worse...

This is Chick Beer.

No, this is not a joke.

I repeat, this is not a joke.

And apart from a couple of comments, I am going to let this chirp for itself. To understand what I'm talking about you need to visit the website in all its glory.

'Hi, my name is Shazz. Let me tell you the cool story of how Chick Beer happened.' - Shazz? I nearly spat my tea all over the screen...

The bottle is designed to reflect the beautiful shape of a woman in a little black dress - Really? what an oddly angular woman 'Shazz' must be.

The six-pack looks like you are carrying your beer in a hip stylish, purse - A cardboard handbag? Hmm, it's that hobo chic I've been missing all my life!

p.s. this has been launched in the States, not over here - yet!!

Friday 22 July 2011

Back to the Snug Age

Here's the pre-edit version of the article that I wrote for Guardian Comment is Free in case you need a little 'light & fruity' reading for the weekend - I'm off on holidays, so please play nicely in my absence!

This week was the official launch of Animée , a range of three ‘beers’ specifically designed for women, and beer writer Melissa Cole isn’t impressed at all – but why?

Did you know in the 1930s a Mass Observation survey found women in the north-west town of Bolton weren’t allowed to order at the bar of a pub? I think I saw a step back to that by the brewing industry the other evening when Molson Coors announced the launch of Animée .

Now, maybe I’m not very good at being told what to do, but the idea of a beer specifically designed for women really winds me up.

But why you may ask? Well, quite simply, what the big breweries need to be doing is asking themselves why more women don’t drink the beers they are already selling – and the answer to that is because they have busily been disenfranchising women from the beer market for the last 40 years and now seem are trying to entice them to return with tempting trinkets and shiny things.

It’s kind of the business equivalent of someone breaking up with you horribly at school, only to beg you to come back in your mid-30s! It’s both disturbing and ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m keenly aware of the challenges that face the brewing market right now, with big brands in decline and less people going to pubs, but is a range of prettily packaged, flavoured drinks for the ‘ladeez’ the silver bullet to all the industry’s woes? No, it simply isn’t.

Several pieces of research - ironically including one done by the Molson Coors ‘girly arm’ BitterSweet Partnership – clearly show the major barriers to women drinking beer are myriad; mostly it’s based around a lack of education, too much gassy rubbish and ugly glassware.

But, top of the list, is that they find the inherent sexism in beer advertising and marketing the most off-putting. There’s little that says ‘it’s not pink and fruity enough’.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When Professor Fons Trompenaar, one Europe’s leading market research gurus, investigated this issue last year, he found it was the divide the brewers themselves have created between the sexes that has put women off beer.

What the female market most wants is to be more informed through unisex marketing and education – not adverts about groups of lads who can’t get into a cosmic nightclub or who shelter their pints in the shade of some Sheila’s giant rack.

But why are the big brewers running so scared? Mostly it’s because where they are seeing a decline, small breweries - which are putting an emphasis on provenance, strong tasting notes and exciting natural flavours - are seeing a sharp growth curve.

We now have more breweries in this country than at any other time since WWII and, over the past few years, the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) has reported a 7.7% growth for its members, a stark contrast to the 30% decline in beer sales over the last 30 years, which can nearly all be attributed to the big brands.

And, in case you think I’m picking on Molson Coors, which I genuinely feel is a business trying its hardest albeit in an epically misguided fashion, Carlsberg also entered the battlefield last year in an even more shameful way with Eve, the ‘shh, it’s not beer really ladies, it’s a malt-based beverage’.

I will give Molson Coors its due, it is trying to change that curve with what, at rough cut stage, looks like it might be a decent stab at some good unisex marketing - and I've yet to find anyone who doesn't find the Jean Claude van Damm Coors Light adverts truly entertaining.

However, I also don't believe that everyone can be bought by advertising (and am not so stupid as to think it doesn't matter either!) but I am on record saying I wasn’t going to fully comment on these products until I’d actually tried them and so, to the meat of the matter, what does the Animée  range of drinks taste like?

Well, despite having some pretty pictures of hops on the bottle, if anyone can identify anything even approaching a normal beer flavour in any of these drinks I’ll eat my hat! The standard ‘clear beer’ may have a passing resemblance to shandy, but the lemon is simply undrinkable, closely resembling a locket, and as for the rosé version... well, if you want to hark back to your childhood days when your mum used to buy those cheap ice lollies from the ambient shelf to stop you whining about not being bought sweets - then you'll recognise the taste... because pretty in pink it ain’t. 

And if the comments I received on Twitter when I simply posted a picture of the new products saying ‘Thoughts?’ I’m not alone in my overwhelming despair at these products either.

The reactions from both men and women ranged from @GuideDogSaint saying ‘way beyond contempt’ to @annie_dunn ‘that’s not beer’ and I don’t think I should print what @shoozographer said…

So, I’ll be interested in what you all think, but before I go I’ll leave you with this thought from Molson Coors marketing director Chris McDonough: “It’s important when launching a female beer not to be too patronising.”

Oh… the irony.

Monday 18 July 2011

In the Interests of a Fair Press...

Okay people, I've banged on before about journalistic ethics, so it's only right and proper that I give all products a fair crack of the whip.

So, I'm going to join Molson Coors for dinner this evening to hear all about the launch of these 'female-friendly' beers.

I shall report back later!

p.s. Well I hope so, I'm still feeling rotten from having a cold this weekend, it's decided it's going to be an achy one!

Friday 15 July 2011

Got Great Taste, Well Then, Try These!

I was lucky enough recently to be asked to judge at the Great Taste Awards, run by the Guild of Fine Food, a body I genuinely admire for their warm & welcoming family nature, passion for all things tasty and for being one of the most powerful movements championing great produce and products, not only to the industry but giving consumers a clearly defined marker that they can trust in the one, two and three star system.

Not only that but, most pleasingly, the quality of the bottled beers was genuinely the best I've ever judged in any competition - full stop. This is not to denigrate any other bottled beer competition, I am only speaking as I find - and I, and the other judges, were extremely impressed with the quality of the brews.

It was a blind tasting with only two beer writers on both panels, paired with three or four others who have, what can only be described as, excellent palates. There was some healthy debate about some of the beers, downright disagreement about others and a chorus of approval for many.

However, and sorry to put a bit of dampener on this great beery moment, if I had to say one thing though, it's that a lot of the brewery's descriptions seriously let them down. I swear to god, some of the entry forms had 'bottled beer' or simply 'beer' on them!! Really chaps, if I was writing a report card it would say 'must do better' in big red letters!

But, that's a minor blip on an otherwise super result for British brewing.

So, without further ado, drum roll please for the winners!

3 star     Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose
3 star     Harviestoun Schiehallion
3 star     Otley O Garden
3 star     Thornbridge Jaipur IPA
3 star     Thornbridge Bracia
3 star     Orkney Dark Island Reserve
3 star     Dartmoor Legend Beer
2 star     Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
2 star     Harviestoun Old Engine Oil
2 star     Harviestoun Old Dubh 16
2 star     Monty's Sunshine
2 star     Otley 06 Porter
2 star     Otley 08
2 star     Thornbridge Kipling
2 star     Orkney Dark Island
2 star     Black Sheep Ale
2 star     Dartmoor IPA
2 star     Hobsons Old Henry 5.2% ABV
1 star     Chiltern Brewery Three Hundreds Old Ale
1 star     Chiltern Brewery Lord-Lieutenants Porter
1 star     Chiltern Bodgers Barley Wine
1 star     Bristol Hefe
1 star     Southville Hop
1 star     Otley Colombo
1 star     Thornbridge Wild Swan
1 star     Wold Top Bitter
1 star     Wold Gold
1 star     Laverstoke Park Organic Lager
1 star     Black Sheep Riggwelter
1 star     Dartmoor Jail Ale
1 star     Hobsons Town Crier 4.5% ABV
1 star     Whitewater Clotworthy Dobbin 5.0%
1 star     Cairngorm Black Gold
1 star     Cairngorm Wildcat

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Hello Again!

If you like these then you can buy them here
I just wanted the picture!
Well, I managed to survive another collaboration beer tour and it seems your thirst for interesting beer hasn't abated.

And talking of interesting beer... I tried the St Austell Trelawney the other evening and it's a very suppable brew. It's interesting to see that in the craft beer world still making a very drinkable, low ABV beer, still has it's place.

Light citrus notes and a spritzy body make this a real BBQ winner, in fact this leads me on to what I reckon is a great way to cook chicken on the BBQ, I did it last night (not on BBQ sadly, just under grill, fifth floor flat and all that!!) and it was jolly yummy indeed!

Firstly, spatchcocking the chicken (a phrase that, I'll admit, always elicits a childish snigger from me). If you've never done this before then trust me, it really is insanely easy. I'll be honest, I've known the technique for about a decade but never done it, more fool me!

If you want a really easy 'how to' video, then this is the one to watch

So, here we go, this will serve four greedy people and six not so greedy people!

Stove-top-proof tagine or other large cooking vessel with lid
Large cooks tongs
Skewers soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (use these to spatchcock bird)
Hot grill/BBQ
Baking tray
Small-medium saucepan

Ingredients for chicken
Groundnut or rapeseed oil
2.4kg chicken (free range) - spatchcock and remove wing-tips (freeze off-cuts to make stock later)
1/2 litre chicken stock
1 bottle of barley wine/old ale, not too bitter, suggest UK one like Golden Pride/Old Tom etc.
8tbsp pomegranate molasses
4tbsp harissa (I like Belazu rose harissa)
1tbsp Ras-el-Hanout or Sumac
1 cinnamon stick broken up
4 crushed cardamom pods
Thumb-sized piece of ginger
Bulb of garlic chopped in half horizontally
Whole large green chill, with a small slit made in it

Additional Ingredients for Sauce/finishing:
2tbsp pomegranate molasses
1tbsp agave nectar
1 lime (zest finely grated off and flesh reserved)
Handful of mint/coriander/parsley


  1. Heat pan/tagine
  2. Make deep slashes in flesh of chicken, season liberally
  3. Add some oil to pan, and put bird breast-side down in pan to brown
  4. Meanwhile, mix together the wet ingredients and chop, crush, slit etc. dry ingredients, keep separate
  5. When wet ingredients are mixed and dry prepped, the bird should be browned
  6. Turn bird over, and add dry ingredients to pan to fry for about 30 secs then add wet ingredients
  7. Cover bird and turn down to a medium simmer for about 40 minutes
  8. After 30 minutes, pre-heat grill to maximum and pre-heat baking tray
  9. After 40 minutes, check the bird is done (meat thermometer favoured method but checking for any blood in crease of thigh also good)
  10. Take out of pan and place on baking tray, put under grill (or you can do this stage on the BBQ)
  11. Sieve remaining cooking liquid into a pan, mushing the garlic and ginger with a fork, and reduce until consistency of runny honey
  12. Once it's browned, take out from under grill, turn off grill, place bird at bottom of oven on tray to rest (if on BBQ, clear an area free of coals as your 'cool' area and put chicken there to rest)
  13. Test your sauce for the balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter - add a little of the pomegranate molasses for sour, some agave for sweet, some lime peel for bitter and some salt where needed - keep warm
  14. Carve the chicken and then, whilst it's still on the chopping board, pour over some of the sauce
  15. Then, add more sauce as serving - this goes really well with a simple bulgur wheat-based tabbouleh or, if you're like me, I prefer something with a bit more snap like cucumber, radish, spring onion and uncooked sugar snap peas
  16. Put rest of sauce in a jug, arrange chicken on a big plate, put salad in a big bowl, put on table, dig in!