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!