Friday 26 February 2010

Great Breweries and Great Beer

You may or may not be aware of the banter and information exchange that goes on on Twitter. I do think it detracts greatly from blogging, but sometimes a good subject comes up. It is in the Title above and was prompted by a comment from Mark Dredge about "great Scottish breweries" and my retort that while there are some good ones, there aren't any that are great. Barry chipped in too asking what defines a great brewery. These are great questions in a chicken and egg sort of way. "Does great beer come from great breweries?" " Can a brewery be great, yet not produce "great" beers?" " Are beers the point not breweries?" "What's the definition of great?"

I don't think I'm going to answer this completely, but there are one or two things that should be included in the definition of "great" in this context. My list isn't definitive. The beer must be very good and consistently so. There should be wide recognition of the brewery's place in brewing lore. The recognition should be across the range and whatever they brew. But it is difficult. Does Duvel become a great brewery solely because of Duvel, while the rest of the range is merely very good. Does innovation and tradition have anything to do with it? I'd argue Paulaner is a great brewery, but they don't brew a single great beer. Is Brew Dog a great brewery because of innovation? Is Marble because of a great range? You see how difficult this is?

Or is it just down to great beers? I really don't know the answer, but I'll be interested in others take on the subject.

PS: Even contenders from greatness have off nights. I wasn't at all impressed with Marble beers in the MA last night.

Irish Arithmetic

If you have been to Ireland you will know that there is a premium charged on half pints. The amount varies, but can be off puttingly high. When Eileen's dad was alive he used to forbid her buying halves on grounds of value, on the frequent family outings to their County Clare roots in Ennis. You don't see so much of it here, but I was exposed to it twice in Glasgow. In the magnificent if somewhat soulless and austere West, a pint of their house brewed beer will set you back a not unacceptable £3. A half will cost you £2. Now this is the sort of place where invariably you will want to experiment and taste a few. Is this a cynical ploy to milk such customers, or, are they selling pints at a discount? I don't know, but I don't like it either way.

On the way home, the Toby Jug opposite Central Station, was selling Kelburn beers at £2.30 a pint, but two halves were £2.70. Illogical as Mr Spock would say. Now I know all the arguments about a half pint drinker using up the resources of the pub and spending less. Frankly that is bollocks. For the beer buff ordering a few, such antics can become pricey and of course are against prevailing anti drink advice to drink less. Now I don't mind the half pint rounding going in favour of the pub provided it is kept reasonable, but these cases are not.

It is wrong and they should stop it.

Monday 22 February 2010

Go West Young Man?

I'm off to see my Mum in Scotland tomorrow and being the sort of chap I am, I thought I'd take advantage of the fact that my sister doesn't drink and on Wednesday, get her to drive us to somewhere with decent beer. No point in going to Glasgow in a car, so where else? I had a look at the 2010 GBG and on the Dumbarton side of the Clyde, apart from one pub in Milngavie (and I suspect that may just have Deuchars IPA), there isn't a single entry. What a beer desert.

Maybe we could go to West I suppose, even if it is Glasgow, but I wasn't that keen when me and my mate Jeff visited it a couple of years ago. It may have improved of course and at least it is an imposing place and we could have lunch, as well as on site brewed German style beer.

In view of the drought ahead, tomorrow though I might just pop into the Three Judges in Partick on the way to Dumbarton, as not only do they have good beer and it is an easy break of journey on the train, but a mate of mine works there, so I'll have someone to chat too.

Could be worse I suppose. But not much.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Tandleman's Week

I can't think of much to write at the moment. Normally I am stimulated by the various blogs that I read and something flies into my mind. Not so this week, though maybe that's fortuitous as my week so far has been dominated by putting together my first edition as editor of our CAMRA branch magazine. It has gone to the publisher now and hopefully when I get it back, it'll look all right.

So what else has happened? A replacement case of US beer came to me unscathed from Oregon, so that's a good news story. UPS didn't manage to lose this one. I have promised my pub mates a tasting, so that will have to be arranged. Six different bottles including an Imperial IPA. Can't be bad, but I reckon I'll try them all here first with the lovely E and maybe report back.

Did I mention I was going to Chicago? Probably not, but I have now booked my flight to meet up with my Yankee beer mates, who are flying in from all points of the US. We've been there before on our meet ups, but there seems to be an even better beer scene now and it will be good to mix with Americans who know their beer, have been involved in it at many levels for years and aren't remotely obsessed with strength and rarity. In fact I think some have been banned from popular American based beer sites for talking sense. We'll just seek out good beer and enjoy it and I'm looking forward to a return to Goose Island at Clybourn and a couple of new brewpubs. I don't anticipate any problems with my fried eggs!

It looks like the latter part of April will be busy, as in addition to Chicago (and badly timed as the week before), I'm also going to the Isle of Man*, a favourite place of mine, to the CAMRA AGM. Should be fun. I've put a couple of motions forward which I think might meet with blogger's approval, but I'll wait to see if they appear on the order paper before sharing. Oh and we are off to Frankfurt* in June with our local CAMRA chums on a cider hunt, though I think there might be beer involved.

And tonight I'm off to Robinson's Brewery in Stockport to present them with an award from the Winter Ales Festival for Ginger Tom, so hopefully there will be some available later. I like beers with a bit o' ginger.

So that's it. I'm uninspired, but at least have stuff to look forward to and which should provide some material for blogging. It isn't all bad.

*If anyone tells you Flybe are cheap, they are severely mistaken!

Monday 15 February 2010

End of an Era

It was a surprising and eventful day at the pub yesterday. The landlady has handed in her notice. She has been struggling and the terrible winter weather has caused a lot of customers to stay at home, the lane has been the worst anyone can remember and while heating bills soared and other costs rose, the pub has not traded well enough. Her part time job has gone to service her rent and the dray money to the brewery. The pub has always been marginal in terms of making a living out of it, given its isolated location. and now the landlady has had a better offer elsewhere from another family brewer, in a pub with more potential, so with heavy heart she is leaving. She loves the place to bits, but she has to eat.

We are all a bit shocked, but this is the way of things in so many pubs. I'm sure the landladywill do well elsewhere, but it leaves all us regulars indulging in selfish speculation about what will happen next. You see in a pub like this there is a delicate balance between the tenant and the customers and the wrong appointment by the brewery can bugger things up. There is speculation one of the locals may bid for it, but we just don't know. I think we'd all prefer someone who knows the place, limitations and all, rather than see someone come in with high hopes and see them dashed, wrecking the place in the process. As I said, its our pub too and our motivation is admitted self interest. We'll likely outlast any tenant, as most regulars in a pub do.

So, unless things change, it will be change, not for changes sake, but for the harsh economic reality of the pub times we live in. I'll keep you informed of developments.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Black Tragic

My quiz league travels take me occasionally to places where there is no cask beer. Usually when that happens I'll adapt by drinking smooth mild as I find that, if not exactly enjoyable, reasonably tolerable. Last night, though there was nitro mild, I noted while waiting to be served, that it didn't have the usual Guinness like appearance, so suspecting (maybe wrongly) a gas problem, I opted for Hydes Bitter. Now you can't really accuse Hydes of making extreme beer. Their range is firmly in the middle of the road and has what brewers would call "balance", though with a much bigger nod to malt than hops. Still, it was the best thing on offer, so we all ordered it and despite all our team being cask men, we swept bravely on to victory, while sipping our tasteless fluids.

Going back to the bar at half time, I spotted bottled Guinness on sale. Not the old half pint ones, but the supermarket Guinness Original in 500ml bottles. Now I haven't had bottled Guinness Original for years, so I ordered one. It looked the part, though noticeably more brown than black. It smelled stale, but this bottle wasn't even near its best by date. The nose was caramel and cardboard. It tasted bloody awful. Instead of robust roasted barley there was an unmistakeable gravy browning taste, almost overshadowed by incessant cardboard and huge carbonation. Maybe it was a bad bottle, but somehow I doubt it. More like a cheapened recipe and heavy pasteurisation. It bore no resemblance whatever to the complex beer I remembered. Where was the roast barley? Where were the hops? Nowhere, that's where.

Possibly a clue is to be found on the back label. It mentions the classic taste and a "hint of roast barley". A hint? It used to be its signature. While the demeaned taste of Draught Guinness is hidden by nitrogenation, this beer, with only a heavy jolt of CO2 to lift it zombie like from its grave, was exposed as a poor shadow of its former self.

I hate to see a great beer ruined like this. Shame on them.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Confused Carling Quits Old Firm

One of my vestiges of Scottishness is that I buy Scotland on Sunday, the Sunday paper of the Scotsman Group every week. I usually get round to reading it sometime towards the end of the week, but had read it yesterday, apart from sport and business. I read them this morning over a pot of tea. The business section was headlined by the news that Molson Coors is ending its £2.2 million a year, seven year sponsorship of Rangers and Celtic. Paul Miller, director of sales for Molson Coors Scotland, said Scottish legislation was "difficult to understand" and interpret.

It seems this relates mostly to promotion and sales of the ubiquitous lager, predominantly in the off trade, but in pubs as well, as Scottish Government legislation disallows promotions that encourage increased drinking. Bit of a bummer that for the promotions team, I'll bet. A perplexed Miller said "that the group struggled with the impact of promotion of alcohol in "on trade" pubs. If a promotion offers someone a free pint of beer, is that encouraging someone to consume more than they would otherwise consume? I guess the answer would be yes. But curiously, to the letter of the legislation, it doesn't. That is the difficulty, to understand what can and can't be done. The important thing for us is we don't contravene the spirit of the legislation."

Well Mr Miller, I'm no lawyer but I'd have thought the important thing is not to break the actual law. The law's spirit is quite a different matter, but nonetheless, it's a point that does have some resonance. When CAMRA offered its 50p off a pint Wetherspoon's vouchers to members, initially they were not valid in Scotland until advice was sought, so it isn't straightforward. Of course you could just be a cynic and reckon that after seven years, Coors had got all it could out of the deal and has decided that blaming the law is a little easier than to say that we've had enough and that no-one much in Scotland drinks Carling anyway. (Tennents has 55% of the on trade and over 60% of the off). I can't find figures for Carling.

Mr Miller also took the opportunity to confirm that Molson Coors supports minimum pricing, following some inaccurate press reports that they did not. A spokesman for the Scottish Government said its policies on minimum pricing and the promotion of alcohol were "not mutually exclusive" and its legislation was "not anti-alcohol". So there you have it.

Oh and guess who is sponsoring the Old Firm now? You are way ahead of me aren't you? It's Tennents Lager of course. Tennent's Irish owner C&C said it was confident its approach to sponsorship was in line with government objectives. So there.

My thanks to SoS for this interesting piece. Click the title to go to their report.

Monday 8 February 2010

Illogical CAMRA Says City Analyst

Both The Morning Advertiser and The Publican publish a view from Douglas Jack of Numis (no, I don't know who they are either), who alleges that removing the tie would reduce pub product range, investment, support and supply, driving up prices as a result. He goes on to give a few reasons for this by saying that CAMRA’s claim that the beer tie had inflated price to the consumer by 50p a pint was “fictitious”. He said that the average beer price across Punch and Enterprise pubs at 30 September was £2.62 a pint — 3% above the average of £2.54 a pint. The average free trade price was £2.56. He reckon's that Punch and Enterprise’s average beer price is also below the average in the tenanted sector of £2.73 “reflecting higher purchasing power that is passed on to tenants through investment and support”.

Now I'm always a little suspicious of figures trotted out these days, but I'm sure it will come as somewhat of a shock to most Enterprise and Punch tenants to know they are benefiting in such a way. Maybe Enterprise and Punch do stay competitive on price, but as we've read before, it seems to be at the expense of their licensees who work hugely long hours for little reward. Rather than the commonly held view that the lion's share of the money taken by a pub going to the PubCo, it seems according to Jack that everything in the garden is rosy. He also ignores that whatever changes the PubCos have made have been forced on them by public scrutiny, not by their own heartfelt conversion to the shining path.

I 'm getting to the stage where I no longer know what to believe, but I'll leave you with this thought. I am (reliably) told that The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) sell their beers to Enterprise for £55 a nine. They sell them to their tenants for £90 a pop. God knows what discounts they screw out of the bigger brewers. Of course you could choose to believe that the benefit of this "higher purchasing power" goes to "investment and support" as Mr Jack seemingly does, or you could take the view that it services the huge debt created by a dodgy business model. Wonder which it is?

CAMRA may well get it wrong, but City analysts don't always get it right either.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Danish Beers

We had quite a few at NWAF and I picked three at random to enhance my (almost) non existent home drinking experience.

Here they are and don't they look interesting? If anyone knows anything about these, do let me know. I'll let you know how I get on with them, probably sometime in the next few years.

OK - I will try and make it sooner, but my track record isn't good.

Click on image for a bigger view

Thursday 4 February 2010

Glasses, Glassings and Doubtful Statistics

The Design Council has announced that is has developed two new prototype beer glasses to combat the problem of glasses being used as weapons in pubs and clubs. Basically the technology in one case offers a resin layer in the glass that will prevent glasses from sharding when broken, while the other is layered like a car windscreen, making it hard to smash and less dangerous than the current type of beer glass. They won't look or feel different, so well and good.

Along with this though there are some statistics which made me gasp with surprise. It seems that there are 87,000 glassings a year. Not innocent injuries caused by contact with a broken glass, say in picking one up that you've knocked over, but actual violence using a beer glass. What? That is an average of 238 a day. Now I don't know about you, but I find that hard to believe. I have been going in pubs for well over thirty years and been in some bloody rough ones, but thankfully I have never seen any glass related violence ever. I don't doubt for a second that it happens - and when it does it tends to be front page news - but 238 a day? Really? Does anyone else find that an unbelievable figure?

This is compounded (according to Alan Johnson the Home Secretary - pictured) by an alleged cost to the NHS of 2.7 billion pounds. What? That would suggest that each incident costs the NHS £31,000. Really? Can this possibly be true?

Anything that makes glasses safer without resorting to plastic is fine with me, but do we really need simple measures that sort out a minority problem to be accompanied by such obvious distortion and hyperbole? Pete Brown has already shown that government use of its own statistics is, shall we say, selective, but now it seems the government is heading towards Goebbels motto of "the bigger the lie, the more the people will believe it."

And that just won't do.

Photos of the new glasses will be available later today.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

German Beer Sales Hit 20 Year Low

It isn't just us that's got it bad. German beer consumption has continued its steady decline, dropping to just under 100 million hectolitres in 2009 (61 million UK barrels) in 2009.

Peter Hahn, from the German Brewers Federation, said "We hope this year that the weather is good, Germany does well at the World Cup and that plenty of people go to the pub or beer garden to watch the matches with a beer". The federation blamed the desperate economic situation in Germany last year for the decline. Germany, Europe's top economy, suffered a five percent contraction in 2009, the worst slump since World War II. A longer-term trend towards less manual work and more office-based employment had also reduced Germans' after-hours thirst, the federation said.

If that wasn't bad enough, there has been a sharp rise in alcohol related youth violence over the last decade, a new study released on Monday showed. Increases of up to 17% have been reported. The southern state of Bavaria had the highest increase, with the percentage of alcohol-related violence jumping by 17.4 percent from 2000 to 2008. Meanwhile the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Brandenburg and Lower Saxony reported increases of between four and 12.4 percent.

One of the nation’s top criminologists, Christian Pfeiffer, said that Germany has a “massive alcohol problem among young people that has trended upwards” compared to other nations.Pfeiffer encouraged a blanket alcohol ban for young people under the age of 18, which he said would help reduce violence. Current German law allows children to begin buying beer and wine at age 16.

This was all reported in the Local, an English language on line newspaper. At least the local illustrated the youth violence article with a supermarket shelf full of wine, not beer, so that's something.

Monday 1 February 2010

What Goes Round Comes Round

I read with a wry irony and a feeling of distinct scorn, that Carlsberg has decided that the Tetley Huntsman, relegated to a very minor role in its advertising, is being recalled as a centrepiece of a new advertising campaign for Tetley Bitter. “The Huntsman is at the very heart of what Tetley’s cask ale is all about,” said director of brands at Carlsberg UK Paul Davies. “The Huntsman signifies quality and heritage. In many ways he never went away – but he is now back: front and centre again where he belongs.

Well I beg to differ. The Huntsman did go away. Of course he did, he was relegated to a minor blurry image at the bottom of the new pump clip. But he's back now so that's all right. Or is it? Maybe these twerps at Carlsberg would have been better off leaving things alone and allowing the Joshua Tetley heritage to shine on without their "help". If they had done so, they might just be looking at a success story.

Now I drank a lot of this beer in my early days in England and have very fond memories of it. This just doesn't feel right. Call me cynical, but it seems to me this is just a sop to try and hide the fact that the main bit of heritage associated with the brand is being done away with. I mean of course the brewery at Hunslet Rd, Leeds, founded in 1822, where the beer was first brewed and which the dastardly Danes will close next year.

Oh and another point, it was always Tetley Bitter, not Tetley's!