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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Thursday, 18 December 2008

Is it alright to like Morrissey Fox?

Saviours of the ale industry?  Or a pair of twats?  As they say on reality TV, YOU decide...

One of the most controversial beer stories this year is the entry of man behaving badly Neil Morrissey into the brewing industry, with his mate Richard Fox.  They took over a pub, Ye Olde Punch Bowl at Marton cum Grafton in Yorkshire, built a microbrewery in the back garden, started turning out a golden ale that was very quickly listed nationwide in Tesco, and got the whole thing made into a TV show, Neil Morrissey's Risky Business, which ran for three weeks on Channel 4.   

The whole saga sent the beer world into a bit of a tizz, and we can summarise the debate as follows.  On the one hand, the brewing industry is gasping for breath and celebrity involvement is the oxygen of our times.  It can only be a good thing.  They're brewing real ale rather than lager - nothing wrong with lager of course, but ale needs publicity to help challenge outdated perceptions of it.  And in the TV series, they managed to get beer on the telly for the first time since Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter, seventeen years ago.

So what's the problem?  Well, they're interlopers.  They swan in from nowhere, with no brewing background, and suddenly it's their beer in Tesco and them on the telly.  That's just not fair.  Brewers are jealous of the success of the beer, and people like me are jealous because it should be us on the telly because we've been trying for years and we've all put so much more work in.  They're famous, we're jealous and bitter.  

And the telly programme itself - was it a good advertisement for beer?  Reviews were mixed, and many industry grumblers felt it was too laddish.  Too much swearing.  As we know, in some corners of the industry these are terrible crimes.

I must confess I'm ambivalent myself.  I've known Richard Fox for a few years and he's a really nice bloke.  He's a great ambassador for beer, particularly at live events where he evangelises beer and food matching.  But I've had about five or six serious attempts at getting my books turned into TV series and never succeeded.  They have a book tie-in which has an endorsement on the front from Richard Hammond - why can't I have a quote from Richard Hammond?  And the book shamelessly and without credit rips off an idea from Man Walks into a Pub.  

So I'm a bit resentful and jealous, at the same time as feeling sneery and critical of people in the brewing industry who feel the same way.  To resolve my feelings one way or the other, I went along a few weeks ago to the official trade launch of Morrissey Fox, with the intention of letting the beer itself do the talking.

My quest for objectivity ran into trouble straight away, because the two stars were pouring the beer themselves, working the bar like pros.  Richard greeted me warmly and immediately introduced me TV's Neil Morrissey.  I was a big fan of Men Behaving Badly in its day, but I wasn't star-struck because Neil is a genuinely warm and nice bloke who genuinely makes you feel like a mate.  He may have been laying it on a bit thick when he said he was star-struck at meeting me!  Turns out he's a big fan of Man Walks into a Pub, having read it when Hugo Speer out of The Full Monty gave him a copy and said he had to read it.

Having seen The Full Monty I can, unfortunately, only ever picture Hugo Speer in a red leather thong.  I imagined him wearing this, all oiled-up, while handing over a fake-tan-stained copy of my first book to the man who does the voice of Bob the Builder.  It was a moment I could never have imagined at the start of my writing career.

Anyway, I tried my best to put this out of my head, and moved on to the beers. 

The blonde ale is a blonde ale.  I like blonde ales a lot and I like the way they bring people into the ale category for the first time.  Morrissey Fox blonde ale was not at all bad and it was not the best I've tasted.  There's not much more I can say about it, but that shouldn't be seen as a criticism.

The best bitter was a different story.  This was a very fine beer indeed: chocolatey brown with a nice tight head, it was nutty and toffeeish and caramelly and very, very smooth, complex but insanely drinkable.  I loved it.

Finally there was a Christmas ale, full of spicy and fruity flavours.  It felt a bit obvious - too much of a collection of elements rather than a blended whole.  But not unpleasant.  

So they may be spawny gets who have more attention than they deserve.  Or they may be very talented brewers who simply have more drive and nous than other brewers and beery media wannabes.  Whatever, they are really, really nice blokes who genuinely love beer, and they've made two not-bad beers and one fantastic beer.  If you just take that last sentence and forget the controversy and jealousy over the media circus, that's good enough for me.

15 comments:

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

I'm sure they're lovely chaps - but in the program they came over as boorish and arrogant. It was enough to put me off visiting their pub the next time I'm up that way.

Darren said...

We had a cask of the blonde in my local and not only did it fail to set the world alight, it also - crime of crimes - was underfilled. Landlord's not keen to have any more. Actually, he didn't say it as politely as that!

Velky Al said...

God, this smacks of all those Pearl Jam fans slagging Nirvana because they "sold out". Perhaps what this has done is to de-mystify brewing to a certain extent, and if ever there was an image that needed shedding it is the tweedy jacket, cloth cap, beardy gut bucket drinking real ale. So what if they boorish and arrogant, are they passionate about their beer? Are they making good beer?

The thing that bothers me is how many people will be ultra critical of the beer because of the people behind it? With jealousy overcome judging?

Pete said...

Sort of my point Velky Al - I tried to judge it on the beer alone, because this industry is a bit funny in exactly the way you describe. The Dusanj brothers who took over Cains were met with a similar reaction - refused membership of the Independent family Brewers of Britain because they're not a family - no, they're not brewers - no, they're, um... Asian?

Let the beer speak for itself. Personally I don't rate Cains beer very highly but I applaud them for what they've done for both Liverpool and the brewing industry. As for Morrissey Fox... as I say, the beer's good and they're nice guys. 'Nuff said.

Eddie said...

Brewers perspective: they'd do well to avoid calling themselves brewers for a year or two - it's a very complex profession and takes much learning. (The first, second and third lessons usually being 'pride come before a fall'). Those that have earned the right to call themselves 'brewer', and believe me it takes more than a few batches of beer to attain that right, are justifiably sneering of others who adopt the title as some kind of fashion item. So do the boys the favour and call them businessmen, or brewery owners, or whatever.

That apart, fair play to them. On your recommendation I think I'll try their beer.

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

The personality of a brewer is usually irrelevant to me - I love Sam Smith's Old Brewery Bitter, and by some accounts the chairman Humphrey Smith is allegedly a fairly vile individual - it's the beer that counts. But something about these two really annoys me. I've yet to try the beer - maybe I'll fall in love with them when I do.

Velky Al said...

it is in tesco you say? hmm, think I will have to find a Tesco when I am in the UK next week and give it a bash.

Anonymous said...

Encouraging publicity for traditional ales in a culture of immaturity, narrow attention spans and pernicious advertising risks someone going about it in a way you don't like. Mixed feelings are natural in any event.

My position is different. I've no literary talent or celebrity connections. I like beer. I like proper beer especially. I'm wary of this whole 'real ale' thing though. I always have been. It doesn't help when I read about 'outdated perceptions' either.

People who sign themselves 'Anytown, UK' on website forums talk like that. They trumpet what is aged and venerable yet will not write the name of the country in which the tradition grew old and was venerated. Ask them and they are 'Bristish', yet are obsequiously careful not to refer to Scots or Welsh in the same way, though technically-speaking they could and should.

And they are so busy, always busy, these would-be culture warriors, mainly because they don't actually like what they say they like. Bowdlerized tradition is what they want. Tradition wedded to fashion. Change is never organic. It is forced, imposed, its purpose being to help them feel better about themselves.

The effect is to rend and twist and mangle what is timeless and natural until it is beyond recognizing as any of these things, at the passing of which threshold it is deemed acceptable to middle-class cultural magpies like Roger Pratz (sic), who tell you they are preserving a culture, not destroying one, and who of course are in a real sense perfectly correct.

Where would we be today without CAMRA? CAMRA inspired many to try their hand at brewing. Most failed, commercially anyway, yet their shoes were quickly filled by others, as failures continue to be. Today, or so I am given to understand, what is small-scale and local (with apologies to the League of Gentlemen) has a better chance of success than ever - even in the current unforgiving climate.

By the early seventies beer was suddenly the preserve of socialist culture warriors, besandled Polytechnic lecturers and assorted environmentalists. Bereft culturally, left to ponder the raging self-hatred that gulls so many into taking the Marxist shilling, these were people desperate for something to talk about beyond the Labour Theory of Value.

Beer sells all over the British Isles but was and is more associated with the English than anyone. It was by definition a working class thing too. Collectivist yearnings could yet be satisfied, at least in part, therefore, by the mere device of filtering the social instinct through an ideological prism of saving an endangered and important aspect of working class social culture.

Hell, we all need to belong. Of course there would have to be changes. What about grafting wine conventions onto something so utterly 'other' as beer? Darling how wonderful! And so it is that we are no longer allowed to go for a pint. Instead we have this rhapsodizing, Frenchified shit about '....a light-bodied but explosive texture with complex floral and citrus notes and perhaps just a hint of red berries.' Fuck OFF! Wankers.

CAMRA, incidentally, organizes a Great Welsh Beer Festival. It organizes a Great Scottish Beer Festival. And that's it. Welsh are Welsh, Scots are Scots and the English are, er, 'British'. There is no 'Great English Beer Festival' nor anything like. For me that says it all about the self-hating bastards who run CAMRA. The damned thing started here and we don't even get a mention.

It may be just beer, you see, but politics aplenty lurk beneath the surface. Nothing is value-free. Saving traditional beer culture? Bollocks. Saving whose culture for whom and to what purpose? Their deaths should not be quick.

And a Merry Christmas to all.

Anonymous said...

snore! Snore!

David

Anonymous said...

The beer is insipid. Of the tv prog I can only say that Morrissey came across as a bit of a nob in real life too.

As regards to this new audience, I'm not sure it exists. Those that like him are would be lads, into rugby who would probably be partial to a pint of ale anyway. No problem in itself but hardly a new audience.

Fatman said...

Anon 19:14.

I'm guessing you think beer is just beer, right?

You can't tell the difference, one from another?

You don't care?

You're just toooo wrapped up in your own political bollocks?

Beer is just beer but if you drink it with an open mind you'll find it really is suffused with a myriad of colours, aromas, flavours and textures. And some people find this more interesting than whatever your point was.

al_uk said...

Anonymous bloggers who fill their paragraphs with bad language!!! Grow up. Either put your name to it or keep your opinions to yourselves.

Jonathan said...

I thought the beer was OK, but no great shakes. As for the programme, well, I felt it just reinforced the popular idea of beer drinkers as boorish idiots, particularly Morrissey, who came across has horrendously immature. I am sure there is a fair amount of putting across a laddish persona that may not reflect his true personality, but it wasn't good to watch.

It was also irritating to see what looked like a characterful pub turned into a flat-pack gastro, modernist nightmare, and I say that as someone who happily freqents many gastropubs in SE London.

surfadelic23 said...

Hell, I think we could do with MORE laddish behavior. Maybe it will put the final nail in the coffin of this metrosexual, candyass, hair stylist instead of barber trend that seems to have grabbed hold of whatever they're calling generation x,y,z these days.

dean said...

the beer is great and there really easy going guys when you meet them its a shame about the rejects that live in the village that DO NOT SUPPORT them on there epic adventure but at least i support them keep it up lads! dean,from grafton.