Tuesday 29 May 2012

PR Fail

One of the subjects we discussed at fair length at the recent European Beer Bloggers Conference is the thorny one of free samples and whether bloggers should accept them. Most are happy to do so, though a few aren't. Kind of allied to that, we also discussed the influence of bloggers and whether brewers read our blogs and if so, as a result, did they do the slightest thing about what they read. The consensus, backed up by brewers big and small was that brewers were very much on the ball and scoured blogs (or paid someone to do so) for good and bad feedback.

Now I get very little by way of free beer, but I do get quite a few press releases, some of which are interesting and some of which aren't. I was looking through some that send me stuff and thought I could do with some more from some of the bigger companies. After all I do a fair bit of industry comment, am just a little interested by beer and I have had ideas or even actual content triggered by press releases, so it does work. I started with,  shall we say, a certain large brewery based in Bury St Edmunds. I dropped their PR company an email asking to be put on their press release list. This was in my own name and referred to my blog. What has happened since then? Nada. No acknowledgement and no flow of lovely info either. Another annoyance is at trade events where a brewery rep asks you to drop him/her a line. I sometimes do and that's usually the last I hear of it. It happened fairly recently with a North West Brewery. It would be embarrassing to contact them again. I don't want to be put in that position. Their loss I suppose. I even did a small piece (unpaid) for a brewery in house magazine and had huge trouble even getting a copy of the published item.

So this isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. It isn't unique to Greene King either, but you know, if I was them I'd be quite annoyed. The employ, presumably for a large wedge, a company to look after their PR and what do they do? They ignore a genuine and valid request, thus allowing what could have turned out well for their client, into something negative and giving me cause to have a pop.

That's value for money!  Not.

There's no copyright statement on the cartoon, but a shout out goes to Hugh MacLeod at www.gapingvoid.com It kinda sums it up.

Friday 25 May 2012

Endangered Species

As CAMRA celebrates Mild Month, with the aim of promoting a style of beer that was in danger of disappearing from our pubs, it is perhaps a fitting time to point out another endangered species. While few of us indeed can walk into a pub as a matter of routine and order a pint of mild, how many of us can walk into a pub and make that classic order "Pint of Bitter please"? Chances are that unless you live near a pub owned by one of the Family Brewers, you can't. Or at least since bitter is a fairly well known generic term, you can't without further discussion as to which "bitter" you want.  Now of course it may well be that you have no interest whatever in "ordinary" bitter, but I for one regard it as a classic English icon and it would be a shame to lose it as a widely understood term.There is something particularly "right" to me in ordering one, but then again, I'm a sentimental old git.

So when was the last time you walked into a pub and asked for a pint of bitter and were given a pint without further discussion as to what you actually wanted?

I do my bit to preserve it every Sunday of course. And the odd day in between. So it isn't my fault.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Reflections on EBBC12

Well, it has been, gone and the recovery period is complete - more or less. The European Beer Bloggers Conference didn't change my life, but it did give me a chance to mix with some of the leading lights of UK beer blogging, as well as some of the old lags, the up and coming and wannabees, old friends (and new) and a chance to compare and contrast.

There was a lot of beer, not all of it wonderful, but none of it bad. There was a lot of thoughtfulness and some bollocks, but above all there was a sense of solidarity and mutual support which was pleasing, though if you bring a lot of like or at least similarly minded people together, that's maybe not so surprising. There were some interesting insights about such things as free beer (most can live with that, though not all). There was reticence about "naming and shaming" when beer or pubs are bad, there was geekery and exotic beer seeking, there was hero worship and self deprecation, humour and general good naturedness and above all a sense of tolerance, respect and support, which actually was a little touching. Not much to dislike at all.

In terms of the sessions, I found the "hands on" stuff best. The tasting session on how the same beers tasted different in different glasses was hardly new to me - I'm a self confessed glass snob - but really, if that didn't convince you that scratched old half pint nonics are completely wrong for most beers, then really, you are in the wrong game. The live speed blogging, where brewers had five minutes to go round each of ten tables, pouring and describing their beer, which could then be immediately tweeted or blogged about was tremendous fun. The brewers were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and great exponents of their beers, though to my mind, where a PR company or someone from the marketing department was used, that wasn't quite as good. There really is little substitute for knowing your stuff. It was breathless, got everyone talking and afterwards a chat to the brewers was a great wind down.

Other bloggers have described the dinners - both fantastic fun, though if pushed I'd say I enjoyed the chance to drink some 4% unfiltered Pilsner Urquell marginally better than drinking triple and quadruple beers, washed own by White Shield and I certainly left the latter a darn sight more sober than the first. And I felt better the next day, so that's what's shaded it for me, though I have to say the beers from Sharps were really rather good. (OK not the turbo yeast thingy, but otherwise.)

The more I look back on it all, the more I realise I had a great time and as always while the beer helped of course, it was people that made it what it was. So thanks to my blogging colleagues, the sponsors without whom we'd have been very thirsty indeed and to the organisers. No mean feat pulling it all togther.

Let's do it again sometime.

I was able to confirm another beery dislike to go along with rauchbier. Beer aged in whisky casks. Not for me at all.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

A Sinner Repented? Nah!

It was reported yesterday on one of the newsgroups I subscribe to the a contributor had thoroughly enjoyed a cask conditioned pint of BrewDog IPA (sic) at an unknown Wetherspoon outlet in Manchester.

Extensive enquiries dashed hopes that the upstarts of Scottish Brewing had seen the light. It was in fact not Punk IPA or indeed anything at all, from BD, but Offbeat Out of Step. So you can see how the mistake was easily made. I have no doubt that it was a genuine error, possibly out of wishful thinking - or bad eyesight. Not excess alcohol I'm sure. And in this case, I am sure, but disappointing nonetheless.

My hopes,thus cruelly raised are lowered once more. I suspect it won't be for the last time though.

The pumpclip is from 2008. Appropriate name for one of theirs, though I recall this was actually good.

Beer Wars

I was made aware on Sunday of a piece in the Newcastle based Sunday Sun which reported on a so called fracas at a meeting of CAMRA Tyneside and Northumberland Branch. It seems there was some kind of fall out over what breweries should be represented at Newcastle Beer Festival. Cue a "young" versus "old" ding dong about this, in which it is hard to discern what the truth or indeed the problem actually is, but seemingly it evolved into an argument about web sites and more. None of it, outside our beery little world,  seems that newsworthy to me, but maybe it was a quiet news day at the Sunday Sun.

 A proposal to include more breweries from the local area than the Beer Orderer intended was, it seems, democratically defeated. There was also a web site "offered" to the CAMRA Branch and turned down by them, which was a cue for a flurry of rattles to be thrown from prams.  Oddly, the branch has an official website already and even more oddly, the site offered has the same name as the official one - "Canny Bevvy". It can be found at http://www.cannybevvy.com/ and the official one can be found at http://www.cannybevvy.co.uk/. The unofficial one advocates keg beer and that CAMRA should embrace it and the official one has a note "Beware of Imitations.  That gives you a flavour of things.  Now actively supporting keg beer is all well and good if that is your point of view, but since it isn't CAMRA policy, you are on a loser there. Unless you toddle along to the National AGM and persuade it of the need to change, it isn't going to happen and local branches have no authority to vary this national policy. It is unsurprising that this idea met resistance. The web site offered seems on the face of it at least, to be no better in its design than the official one, so God knows what that is all about. Content presumably and probably nothing more than a good old fashioned power struggle.

To me looking at this from the inside as it were, I just wish that locally we had enough young members that want to be involved, coming along to meetings and making proposals, though I like to think we'd work together and find common ground.  I would also say that if push came to shove, I would fight like a demon to uphold CAMRA national policies rather than let my branch go maverick.  Democracy is important. In short there is a right way and a wrong way to achieve change. And it does take time.

Either way, I find all this a bit unseemly.  Even if there is more to it than meets the eye, surely there has to be a way for minds to meet here without falling out publicly? Beer drinking is a broad church and division is bad for all of us.

Also seems someone from the meeting grassed it all off to the Sunday Sun, so it is now public domain.  I don't think I'd have commented otherwise. Still not sure I should have.

Friday 11 May 2012

It Was ****** Brewery

Boak and Bailey were considering the issue of "naming and shaming" the other day - firstly on their blog following some duff bottles of Norfolk beer and yesterday (I think) on twitter on the same subject. I sometimes do and sometimes don't, but was surprised yesterday to find myself in the same dilemma.

In the Marble Arch, swooping down some very drinkable "Craft", I decided I'd blog today about two 5% guest beers from different breweries. I thought they'd make a nice subject and contrast. So for my last drink, two halves were ordered, with very different results. First up was one of the whizz kids of British Brewing, Summer Wine Brewery with Rouge Hop Ale, which was a quite lovely beer.  Bursting with condition, full bodied and a very resinous hop presence throughout made for a beer I wished I'd had a pint of.  The other beer was billed as an IPA and was from a very respected Northern brewer. But all was not well. The beer was sharp, sour and undrinkable.  We were chatting to James Campbell, the Marble brewer at the time and I passed the beer to him for an opinion. He agreed, had a quiet word with the manager and the beer was taken off.  I had another half of the marvellous Rouge Red.  Then another. It was that good.

Now it wasn't the end of the cask, just beer that wasn't right.  I won't name the beer this time, as everyone can make a mistake, though where and when can't be readily determined in this case. In any event,  I know the brewer and his beers of old.  He knows what he is doing, so unless this happens more times to me, it wouldn't be right.

Pity about this example though.

Saltaire Blond in the Angel was also drinking well yesterday.

Thursday 10 May 2012

A Mild in May

I met up with my Deputy Chairman last night for a quick talk about the future of our CAMRA publication "More Beer" which I edit. Like all publications it needs a review now and then to keep it fresh. You can have a look at it in our website here if you are so inclined.

The venue was the Baum, our 2012 Pub of the Year, quiet on a Tuesday and with mostly stronger beers on. We chose the mild, on sale (and brewed) to support CAMRA's Mild in May month. This offering, Green Mill's Cat's Whiskers, was a little stronger than usual (these days) at 4% and was jet black with a tight creamy head. It was full flavoured, with a touch of roast, luscious dark malts, a hint of chocolate and just the merest smidgen of hopping to hold it together. In perfect cask condition, it was good. Very good. We had a second, so much did we enjoy it and texted the brewer to tell him. He texted back, pleased.

Credit where credit is due and all that and credit too for CAMRA for campaigning for this neglected beer style.

Green Mill Brewery is one of eleven breweries in my CAMRA branch are and is brewing some good stuff currently.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Smooth Operator

Didn't I read somewhere recently that smooth beer is getting some kind of makeover? Was it the relaunching of that foul rubbish Caffreys? I think it was. I dislike smooth bitters, as their blandness seems somehow emphasised and not in a good way, by nitogen.  But you know what? I do sort of like - or rather, can just about live with - some smooth beer.

This is brought home to me on quiz nights, as in our leagues, there is a fair sprinkling of both Sam Smith's pubs and some working men's clubs. As a result, they serve smooth beer. I usually have to drive too, so my drink of choice is often smooth mild. Exotic delights such as Chestnut Mild, Sam's Dark Mild, Whitbread Mild, Bass Dark Mild , Hydes and Lees Dark Smooth for example weigh in at around 2.8% - 3.5%, with a lot of them nearer 3%, thus an ideal one for the driver. A couple of pints can be sipped safely over a couple of hours. The beer can often be way too cold, but as I can't have much anyway, I can allow it to warm up a bit, so it ekes it out further.

Not that I wouldn't prefer a cask conditioned version of the same beer presented in top nick, but when you are stuck, it isn't so bad, even as a distress purchase.  Dark milds and stouts somehow tend not to suffer so much from nitrogen dispense and when in London and in Porterhouse Brewing, I am happy to drink my usual nitrogenated Wrassler's XXXX* stout without feeling that it would be better on cask, though obviously I'd love to try it in that form.

Not in London of course. Stout, like mild, without a tight creamy head just isn't the same and they just aren't savvy about that there.

*Of course that is a particularly good beer and not pasteurised, which certainly helps.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Forgotten Blog Posts

The subject of unpublished blog posts came up the other day, so I thought I'd have a look at mine.  There are quite a few - 52 in fact  - some of which I don't even remember. Some are half finished, some just a few words or a title and one or two nearly complete.  Some of course were reworked, renamed and published, but a lot just didn't make the cut.  Some of the titles are interesting - to me as much as anyone else - as I can't think what they were going to be about.  Two - maybe three - are not too bad and after a little tweaking, I'll likely publish them.

Of others I don't remember, one is titled "Fleece".  What was I going to say about that for goodness sake? Another, intriguingly is called "Talking Shite" and yet another "What's Normal Then?"  Both these sound promising, but are a complete mystery to me. Of the two mentioned above, one is nearly ready to publish and was written on 18th August 2011. It is called "Those Were the Beers of My Life."  It occurs to me that it would have been a valid entry in Pete Brown's recently hosted The Session - Beer Moments, but too late.

Watch out for it soon.

A Public Convenience?

Who hasn't slipped into a pub for a quick pee and then slipped out again without buying anything? I certainly have and have no compunction in doing so. I have spent countless thousands of pounds in pubs and feel it is a kind of right on that basis, though I only do it when I am caught severely short.

On Sunday as we all sat at our table binge drinking Lees Bitter, a couple of young girls came in. I say young, but I don't mean of illegal drinking age. After a little confusion which saw them being diverted from the Gents, they nipped into the Ladies, did whatever was needed and then came out and had a quick confab. It was clearly along the lines of "Should we buy a drink?" There was obviously no consensus reached (or maybe it was a compromise) as they approached the bar and bought one soft drink, which was quickly consumed. Now our pub is in the middle of nowhere and is quite relaxed about walkers coming in purely to use the facilities without being encumbered by any embarrassment about peeing and pissing off, but I wonder where that line should be drawn.

We have all seen signs saying "Toilets for Customer Use Only".   I kind of agree with that in principle, but see above.

What do others do and in what circumstances?

Monday 7 May 2012

How Much Is It Then (2)

My recent post here about beer prices elicited 56 responses. In the way of blog comments, these did not always include anything about the questions asked, but more about what the contributor wanted to say as an aside. But that's an aside. Most kept to the point.

Inevitably London prices were more expensive than those in the North, though in most cases the eye watering prices are in places places like Cask or Meantime and the like, while those in "ordinary" London pubs were around the £3.60 mark - or perhaps a little more or less here or there. This varied, too, with cask being pretty affordable, even  in these places. UK produced craft keg was always more expensive and of course imported pints are too. London to my mind didn't come across that badly given the high rents and overheads, though again to my mind the quality of what's offered can let it down all too often.

There are some surprises like Marble beers being cheaper in the free trade than in the Marble Arch - well maybe that's not a surprise to me - but I am sure it will be to some. Pints in a Sam Smith's pub in the North can be as little as £1.80 and though Joey Holt's is no longer sold at bargain basement prices, it can still be had in some places for £2.19. Huddersfield is known to be a fantastic place to drink, but what is surprising perhaps is the really keen prices. Maybe it's the competition of just good old Yorkshire canniness. Stockport offered a real bargain with Dark Star Six Hop Ale (6.5%) at £2.60. Availability of price lists varied greatly, which is slightly annoying to the budget concious, though I suppose the old adage of "if there isn't a price list, you probably can't afford it" might be a useful standby to keep in mind.

So no real shocks. Craft keg costs more than cask for the same beer, but why be surprised? Someone has to pay for these throw-away keykegs and it is of course the drinker. London was reasonable given the circumstances, fancy beer bars charge more (Euston Tap an honourable cask exception), the North is much cheaper, tied houses from Family Brewers arguably offer dearer pints than they ought to - Sam's excepted - and that is perhaps a surprise. Huddersfield and Sheffield show that competition, particularly proximate competition, keeps prices keen.  Wetherspoon's are cheaper than most, but prices, particularly in London, are creeping upwards. The £3 JDW cask pint is already there.

This was an interesting little exercise, which above all, to my mind at least, provided me with little I didn't know or couldn't guess already.  However, with a little common sense, a beer in a pub remains (even if it is just an occasional treat and you pick your pub and beer wisely) a relatively affordable pleasure.  In most cases, you can do better than that and have two or three pints without bankrupting yourself.

On the keykeg thing a good pointer from Dave Unpronounceable; "In the case of Jaipur you pay the same for a 30l keg as a 41l (i.e. 9 gal) cask, thus to recover the cost the pub has 3/4 as much beer for the same cost so charges 4/3 as much per pint."

The photo above was taken by me in April 2009.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Local Appeal

The Oldham Beer Festival was a success. We effectively sold out, so though I won't bore you with the details, a big thanks to all that attended. The standard CAMRA three pints a head formula seemed to apply, so for those that didn't know how these things are worked out, you know now.

One observation. This year, with one long bar divided by the stairs to the stage, we split it between local beers and those from further afield. In our case local means twenty miles from the CAMRA Branch centre. No. Not my house, but still enough to give us quite a large number of beers to go at. This proved very successful (though some disagreed) with beers from local breweries standing up well to those such as Dark Star, Purple Moose, Red Willow, Stringers et al from further away. The first beer to sell out was Tandle Hill from my home town's Wilson Potter Brewery. Beers from other local breweries such as Green Mill, Greenfield, Lees and others sold very well and very quickly too.

It seems to me, people are very keen on local beers;  if the quality is right, they sell. Publicans, please note that provided you can buy them directly, they are often much cheaper too, despite discounting from bigger outfits and they do make a point of difference.

Buy (at least some beers) locally - make money - keep it in the community? Why not?  Seems potentially at least, a winning formula.

And no, the name Tandle Hill had nothing to do with me.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Weird Beard

Once in a while, just to show I haven't lost my beer exploring mojo, I find a new brewery and tip off all you lot out there about them. I like to think I can spot a winner and have tipped Mallinsons, Hawkshead, Ilkley and Buxton in the past. Not a bad record there I'd suggest. That and frequent mentions and praise of some of the great breweries in the North that you rarely see down South, such as Phoenix, Ossett, Pictish and others gives me that warm feeling of sharing, or reaching out Or whatever....

This time though it is an up and coming London Brewery, Weird Beard, and still, while expansion to commercial brewing is some three or four months away, a home brewing operation, so beers are given away, not sold. A couple of Sundays ago, they held a "Meet the Brewer" session at the Rake and offered up three trial beers for tasting. All were excellent and all pretty different to each other.  A single hop Pale Ale of 5.6%,  a Saison and a strong Cascadian IPA.  Quite an impressive and diverse  line up I think you'll agree.  First up was the citric, tangerine tinged Single Hop Series No9 - Junga.  Junga is a derivative of  Northern Brewer and Marynka and comes from Poland.  This was a classy beer, clean and properly bittered, with tangerine notes throughout.  Sunshine Saison was spicy, strong at 6.4% and had a flowery and citrus touch. Sorachi Ace and Pacific Gem added an unusual and pleasant finish.  Last of all, Fade to Black again showcased Sorachi Ace and you know what? It pulled it off. This would be a great beer to finish a session off with, or to sip contemplatively before bed.  I liked all the beers and was impressed by their cleanness - regular readers know I like beers to be clean tasting - and their overall quality.

I had a chat with the brewer (Gregg Irwin) who is indeed a weirdy beardy as you'd expect, but a nice chap for all that. The beers are currently brewed in the brewer's home, but premises have been obtained near the Grand Union Canal in Hanwell, so yes, it is yet another London Brewery.  Gregg tells me they will eventually cask, keg and bottle and will share the brewery with another brewer doing a completely different set of beer styles (think continental) to defray costs. Gregg reckons commercial brewing is 3-4 months off at present.

This to me looks like one of the most promising of the new London set ups, which are, to be frank, a mixed bag.  The brewer knows what he is doing, he is tapping into a niche, his imagery is great and above all the beers will appeal to a certain geeky audience though I am sure there will be wider appeal too. This has all the the hallmarks of success and I confidently predict a bright future.

A big claim I know, but this could well be the Magic Rock of the South. Remember. You read it here first.

I did take a couple of photos, but to see the labels in all their glory, look at their blog website here.  And no - I didn't get any more beer than anyone else and Gregg didn't pay me.