Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Scoopers!

I have been promising to write about this mysterious breed of beer drinker for some time, so here goes. In simple terms as I understand it, the name is given to those that write down and keep a permanent record of the beers they have drunk. The name ticker is also used and does not appear to have any actual difference in meaning to scooper, though there may be a slight tendency for the term ticker to be used more in the North. Less well used but widely understood is "scratcher". The benign theory about scoopers is that they are harmless oddballs with an excessive compulsive disorder, though Gazza Prescott, a leading scooper (and he should know) thinks it is more akin to Aspergers Syndrome. That may be so and would explain a lot, but in most cases, it is just a bunch of harmless social misfits getting their rocks off their way.

"So", you ask, "how do I recognise these geezers should I be glancing round the pub?" Well if you want the stereotype (and who doesn't,) you could look for a dishevelled, anorak wearing type, with bad teeth, unkempt hair - or what there is pulled back in one of these daft ponytails. He will often be alone, a social misfit, usually sporting a shoulder borne bag of some sort in which he keeps the tools of his trade. Another sure fire tip is that he will eagerly rush to the bar to check the pumpclips or blackboard and will usually order halves. His tools may vary from a Good Beer Guide - though this is laughed at by most - they have their own sources of good pubs and beer- various updates from his pals at Scoopergen and Scoopgen and a copy of the Imbiber (or whatever it is called now). There may also be a set of railway timetables (to plan the next "move"), a thick, well thumbed notebook (replaced in some cases by an electronic device) and maybe if the gadgie is a "bottler", a funnel and a set of Panda Cola bottles. Among the more disgusting things these guys do is swapping "winners" with each other by pouring "required" scoops into bottles for later consumption, thus increasing the scooping tally. And this is the point. These guys by and large are not interested in quality, but in numerical quantity, though of course there are some who are interested in both.

Right that's the stereotype. What's the reality? Well pretty much as above really. Of course like all groups there is vast variances from the more extreme examples above, to some very respectable, funny, chatty and erudite types, though you are far more likely to encounter the former than the latter. My old CAMRA Chairman Tony Molyneux for example, a renowned scooper, was a wonderful, hail fellow well met type who was a pleasure to be with. Unfortunately he is dead and I am not sure if there are many more like him. Most are rather introverted, taciturn individuals who you can spot a mile off (often on the bus or train while heading to the pub). They aren't usually interested in talking to you, though most are absolutely harmless. I think my fellow blogger Tyson describes them as "a benign nuisance". Not a bad description. These guys even have their own language. That is where "required", "bottler" and other terms come from. Scoopers call those that don't scoop "normals" probably without thinking through what this implies about them.


So is there a balancing side to these aberrants? Well yes. Scoopers have to some extent stimulated the market for cask beer by encouraging brewers to vary their range more often and to produce more "one off" beers. The down side of this is blending and rebadging, just so the tickers can tick one more off, though the scoopers are good at outing such practices. They also provide much needed information for those of us who just want a few pints of decent beer and with the advent of foreign scooping, a beacon for us to follow in some otherwise dark cities. That is a service I think we should thank them for wholeheartedly. I find Scoopergen an absolute treasure for my foreign travels, so thanks for that Gazza.

Like a lot of beer curious people, I have practised a form of scooping myself (though not a qualifying one because I didn't write it all down) in that 20 years ago I'd try as many different beers as possible in the hope of finding that Holy Grail, the perfect beer. I must have wasted thousands of pounds in doing so, by continually changing from a beer I was thoroughly enjoying, to one I subsequently found was shite. I haven't done that for years. Liver cells are far to precious to waste on such flippancy. Now I find a beer I like and tend to stick to it. Life's too short and cash too precious to chuck it away on bad beer, but tell THAT to a ticker.

Well there you have it. This note just scratches the surface of a vast and interesting sub culture. For those who wish to know more about this obscure sect of drinkers cum obsessives, I can recommend the site run by Gazza Prescott, Scoopergen, which is permanently linked left on this site. It tells it from the horses mouth and while it may have you shaking your head in bewilderment, it certainly is interesting and well written. There is also another scoopers site here which gives some of the scooping "rules". Good "gen" too about British pubs.

Scoopergen even has a handy picture gallery so you can spot all the scoopers when you go to a free house - their normal locus. Why not print a set off and make a game of it? See how many you can tick off. Scooping scoopers? It could catch on!

23 comments:

Andy Holmes said...

I met some at the Ely beer festival, two of then were consulting folders and comparing totals for the previous year, the totals were within about 5 of each other at about 1700 or so. In one year? That's serious, and yes they were bottling.

I like the idea of scooping Scoopers.

Did you read Gazza's comments about, and I forget the full details, scoopers who scoop everything possible in life not just beers?

Tandleman said...

Andy

I did read it. I have been a fan of Gazza's site long before I started this blog.

Tyson said...

Yes, Scoopers should be given recognition for all the gen they provide. Their OCD does come in useful. However, and your mate Gazza is guilty of this, they tend to be blinded by the light of new breweries. Long standing breweries are rubbished for producing decent, tried and tested, beers whilst micros are hailed as innovators. The problem is many micros produce average, if not downright shite, beer.

Tandleman said...

Well T, Gazza isn't my mate. I just find his site entertaining and useful. I also agree with some of the things he says and not with others.

I think a scooper's view of a new brewery is "more scoops".

Stonch said...

I like the idea of scooping Scoopers.

Brilliant.

You can probably imagine my view of scoopers, but then I'm a harsh intolerant bastard and a born-again aesthete.

Gazza's writing I find both informative and witty. Self awareness in spades, and if people have that they are usually good value.

maeib said...

I resemble those remarks! I used to be a fully fledged scooper in that I drank any different beer I could get my hands on, and write them down without analysis.

I stopped this in 2000, and threw away my notebooks (blame it on a bizarre stage I was going through)

Then in 2004 I started again, but with analysis, scoring/rating each beer. Many people blame scooping on the collecting gene, and that's spot on. 98% of sccopers are male, who by nature are collectors of whatever they fancy.

It's a very sociable way of life really in that scoopers meet up with each other in pursuit of their hobby.

Gazza's website is an excellent resource, and he's a great bloke with forthright views, and a whole lot of love and knowledge for beer. I daresay if he finds this piece he'll comment! I met Molly a couple of times last century and agree what a nice man he was

Anyway, people shouldn't take offence at anyone's comments on a blog, so I hope this doesn't degenerate into something sinister.

In my early blogging days I wrote this piece.

A slight differing of opinions!

maeib said...

And by the way, that Natasha's website is seriously weird.

Tandleman said...

I don't see why it would morph into something sinister. My piece is written from the outside looking in. It'll look different the other way round.

Bailey said...

I love the paragraph about why people would spend so much time trying every beer they can get their hands on -- to find the Holy Grail. That rings very true to me. All the note taking is a bit mysterious, though, unless they're planning to write something based on it later. Do they look back at their notes later and reminisce fondly...?

paul said...

Scoopers.Tickers. They are all weird and give real ale drinkers a bad name. Wankers the lot of them.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

NZ was recently visited by one of the top five (or something) ratebeerers. He would select every beer in the bar he had never had before, drink 50mls of each and discard the rest. I have been described as a ticker before but compared to that I'm definitely a normal.

Anonymous said...

I have some of those tendencies myself, though the way I see it it is all for love of good beer. I even went through a several-year phase of writing down notes and keeping data, but that was years ago and now I can't be bothered.

One difference between here in the US and in any region or country that has a much more established brewing history is that for the vast majority of us we don't have a local brewery or beer to settle down with, so the appearance of new beers in town is a big thing.

Jole

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young camra collectiv said...

I really don't know where I fit in to all this. I actively seek out pubs which sell microbrewery stock and am always drawn to an ale I have never tried before. Variety is the spice of life and all that. That said, I know what I like and would always go for a rarely-spotted personal favourite over a complete unknown entity. I would never sit in a pub making notes and positively heave at the prospect of taking small bottled samples away for later analysis.

For me, beer festivals serve another purpose. Surely the point here is to try new stuff, not stick with a safe bet? Admittedly I make brief notes and rate beers whilst at a beer fest. This serves solely to help to remember the good ones for future reference or come up with a personal 'beer of the festival' and I NEVER return to or look over my notes once the festival has finished.

Overall, I don't like the idea of going for the safe bet (Adnams Bitter, Harveys etc.) in fear of something new offending my palate. Does that make me a geek, risk-taker or social misfit?

Stonch said...

Sometimes I don't even drink beer at all in the pub...what does that say about me?

Stonch said...

By the way, Tandleman, I am baffled and offended by your reference to "cum obsessives" in the penultimate paragraph. Filthy stuff, not suitable for this site.

Tandleman said...

Ah but I am educated, so for your benefit:

cum \KUM; KUHM\, preposition:
With; along with; combined with; -- often used in combination.

So don't cum it with me!

Gazza Prescott said...

Oh don't, you'll make me blush... but thanks to everyone for the strangely generous praise!

I'd never be able to explain why I'm a scooper or why I feel it necessary to travel on wild goose chases all over the place to try beers I've never heard of and will probably never see again in the vain hope that I'll like them... it's just in my "genes" I suppose!

If there's one thing that I'd like to say about my hobby (and it's a hobby, although it does border on obsession with some scoopers admittedly) is that we're not all social inadequates who know nothing about beer - some of us know a lot and some of us like to share the knowledge although I'd be the first to admit we can be a pretty cliquey bunch so speaking to some of us can be hard work.

I've given a lot to scooping over the years (my site takes hours every week...!) but it's worth it when I hear comments that it's been useful or entertaining - those are the reasons it exists, and if I'd found a site vaguely like it in 2003 it would have saved me a lot of time and effort as I'd not have bothered to do my own! But, it's there to share my gen and stupid opinions with the world.

So, don't just dismiss scoopers as wierdos with bad social skills - yes, there are some with those characteristics just as there are some who are extremely erudite and learned (and Molly, a good friend of mine, was just one of those - RIP). We're a mixed bunch whose only crime is to love beer so much we make it our obsession; please treat us kindly!!!

Gazza Prescott said...

... and scooping scoopers has already been done, sorry. Neil Clarke, ex-landlord of the Cask & Cutler in Sheffield, used to tick off the scoopers who came in on pages printed out from my site... honestly, he did. I saw his excitement when a "new face" came in and, after leafing frantically through page after page, he ticked him off... the satisfaction and pleasure this gave him was palpable.

Tandleman said...

Gazza

I hope I did treat you all kindly, or at least, not too badly. I'm still claiming the "scoop a scooper" game though!

Tandleman said...

YCC - I do try new beers but usually ask for taters first. That is an innovation I thoroughly approve of, though a small taste can be very misleading.

Ron Pattinson said...

Scooping scoopers - what a brilliant concept.

I'm obsessive enough myself to empathise with other compulsives and be reluctant to start throwing around scorn. I've seen the looks I get when I start taking notes and photographing everything in sight.

Beer blogging itself is a sign of an interest taking to potentially unhealthy extremes. Are any of us really that different from scoopers?

Tandleman said...

I wouldn't say I threw scorn about. I tried to be even handed. I agree that blogging is a similar thing in terms of obsession though obviously different in manifestation.

Maybe a scooper could do a critique of bloggers?