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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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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Oh dear - Oz and James just went rather smelly

I know not everyone likes the second TV series to hit our screens in 12 months, but I found that on balance it was quite entertaining.  Two episodes ago, when the wheels fell off their caravan, their larks were very funny.

Tonight, I'm afraid the wheels fell off the whole series.

They went to Burton on Trent.  I was always going to find this one hardest to watch because this is the one the producers were considering having me on, and I've had my head stuck in Burton's story pretty constantly for the last two years.  I'm so relieved I wasn't involved now. They talked to Steve Wellington, head brewer at the wonderful White Shield Brewery.  As it was a special occasion, Steve took them down into the old beer cellars and at James May's request, opened one of the 40 remaining bottles of Ratcliff Ale, the oldest surviving drinkable beer in the world, brewed in 1869. I've been lucky enough to share a bottle of this, the story if which makes it into the new book, and it was one of the greatest taste experiences of my life.  

James May thought it was shit.  Not only did he think it was shit, he made it very clear how shit he thought it was, saying it made him want to throw up.  You can't expect everyone to like it, but to have shown some graciousness or at least an understanding of how privileged he was to taste it might have been nice.  His attitude was simply insulting - there's blokeish unpretentiousness, and there's being fucking rude to someone you've just met who's given you something extremely valuable for free.

Apparently they spent five days in Burton.  But on the show, after insulting Steve... they left Burton on Trent!  Nothing on White Shield itself, nothing on Burton's history apart from a brief bit of Oz's inane ramblings which are now so self-caricatured in search of laughs that they just fade him out.  Nothing on IPA.  Nothing on the Burton Unions at Marston's, which are, at least, telegenic I would have thought, and curious enough to engage non-beerophiles while techy enough to delight geeks.  

If this was a programme in search of the best wines in France, it would be like going to Bordeaux, opening a bottle of vintage Margaux, telling the chateau owner it tasted like gnats piss, then sodding off back to Calais without exploring anything else in this, the most famous wine-growing region in the world.  Not just insulting to the makers, but doing no service whatsoever to the viewers.

After this they tasted Samuel Adams Utopias.  Oz Clarke, supposed beer expert, had never heard of it before, let alone tasted it.  This time they both said it was shit, undrinkable, ridiculed its ABV, and called it a joke, novelty beer.  I once had a bottle of it here with friends.  I thought it was fantastic, but then I'm a beer snob.  Two of my friends had never liked beer before, and they found it so amazing they booked their next holiday to Belgium in a camper van so they could explore and stock up on interesting, flavourful ales.  America's top sommeliers have judged this beer blind against wine, brandy and sherry and found it superior.  But Oz knows better than anyone - he must do, he's on the telly.

This was clearly the 'extreme beers' programme, because next we had a PR exercise where they tasted the most expensive beer in the world - the new one from Carlsberg, even admitting it had nothing to do with 'British beer'.

Then they went to a pub and got pissed - it looked like it was fun for them.  But have you ever been in the situation where you've had to listen to a drunken conversation while sober?  Yawn...

Every beer 'fact' on this episode was incomplete or just plain wrong.

And flame me for this if my bitterness is getting too tiresome, but the beery bit that made the most sense - James' precis of Oz's (inaccurate) ramblings about how lager came to Britain -sounded an awful lot like he was reading it from Man Walks into a Pub.

I stand by my positive judgement of the early programmes in the series, but this one was just risible.

15 comments:

BLTP said...

PB: i thought much the same, this episodes just looked knocked off, having tasted the 2 of the beers mentioned in yor piece I too was puzzled by their reactions. Argubly 2 of the beers shoudln't have been in the show, I didn't notice any chianti being drunk on their french wine show so why an american beer. I was surprised by their reactions as the Utopia isn't a standard beer taste but it is was delicious and moreish closer to sherry flavours than normal beers. The 1860's IPA I tasted was also not an everyday drink but was interesting and distictive. I suspect you might not want to neck it straight down it's for sipping and stasting really. You missed their half arsed discussion of lagers: it goes well with curry who new (but which one they never said). So very poor indeed they seen to have spent a long time making an indifferent programme (the reverse of the usual excuse for bad tv).

Velky Al said...

I have only read other people's comments on the show, but so far I have read nothing to convince me that not having a TV isn't a great idea.

Marc Stroobandt, Master Beer Sommelier said...

Fully agree and don't think I have to labour the point again besides stressing that Oz has lost all credibility and respect for the beer and non-beer drinking public, while James is a right xxxx. Together they have done an enormous damage for beer appreciation. My question is how do they and the BBC get away with this disgracful display? And isn't it time we cart off Oz to a rehab centre so he can talk coherent again, maybe about things he does know a thing about?

Jeff Pickthall said...

The whole episode left a nasty taste in my mouth.

I particularly disliked the "lager is crap" rhetoric. The lager they chose to sample with their curry (yawn) was indeed crap but to extrapolate and disdain all lager was shoddy and lazy.

Fatman said...

Maybe we're taking geeky beer too seriously for the general public? And maybe Oz & James are taking the piss accordingly? I think they'd find the phrase 'Master Beer Sommelier' hilarious even it weren't self referential.

We fall over ourselves to impress each other with our knowledge and then find no-one else understands us - doh!

Pete - I think this is a concept you understand more than most, as shown in 'Man Walks...

BLTP said...

No Fatman I think we are judging the series by the standards set by their previous series on wine were a lot more geeky wine twaddle was rolled out un-challeneged. I'm sure no one wants hushed reverential programmes about beer but this was just a missed opportunity to make interesting funny tv for a mass audience.
It's strange because James May's programmes about technology strike the right note between nerdy enthusiasm and mass appeal.

Pete said...

Fatman, until last night I was 100% with you. I think it's a balance, and you definitely don't want to take beer too seriously and get too geeky about it for the main reason that it puts off novices/waverers. Up until now I've thought the series had just enough in it to make the average viewer mildly curious about beer, but not put off by the geekiness. I think last night only served to reinforce the sceptic's view that beer can only ever be real ale drunk in pints, and if you don't like the idea of that, then beer has nothing for you. It's meant to be a programme that champions beer. Last night's was a demolition job on anything that's not a pint of real ale, and sadly for most of the population that amounts to exactly the same thing as a demolition job on beer.

Mark said...

I'm still wondering how and where a bottle of Sam Adams' Utopia fits into a programme about british drink. Likewise the Carlsberg beer.

They got to drink beer which most people will never get to try yet they treated them so poorly, while not even mentioning White Shield IPA when at the brewery - a real piece of british beer history.

And I really don't get Oz's disgusting burp-back way of drinking. Who wants to watch a grown man tasting his burps on TV?!

Jeffrey said...

I haven't watched a single episode, but then those kinds of programmes - and lets face it, the "touring Britain, discovering X" thing is now a genre in its own right - rarely appeal to me.

Fatman said...

BLTP, Pete,

OK, fair points. I just downloaded the program and will watch it later. It does sounds bad.

The point remains, however, that we don't want to leave anyone behind here and 'Master Beer Sommeliers' maybe ought to think about that - England is not ready...

Sid Boggle said...

Is Malcolm Gluck a script consultant on this episode? ;-)

Fatman said...

I just watched it - Pete, I understand why you are pissed off - yes, the history of lager was lifted from your book. (But your book was very good and I have often semi-quoted from it. Not on TV, obviously. And I try and credit you whenever anyone is still listening to me...)

Apart from that it was no better or worse than any of the others was it?

Tom Fryer said...

Glad you posted this, Pete - I couldn't agree more. I watched it and felt myself getting steadily more infuriated. The chance to try the Ratcliff Ale was a privilege utterly wasted on them - I felt really sorry for Steve Wellington, who was left speechless. And I couldn't believe Oz didn't find anything positive, or even interesting, to say about Utopias. OK, it's not to everyone's taste, but someone with Oz's wine knowledge ought at least to pick up the parallels with sherry. To me it looked like he'd decided to slag it off before he even tried it. The predictable lager and curry interlude didn't impress me much either.

Having said all that, I'm going to carry on watching the series, but with somewhat lower levels of optimism.

Boak said...

Totally agree. After the first episode, I was of the opinion that, while the laddish banter did nothing for me, it was still quite an amusing and interesting look at beer, and could raise interest.

After last week's Guinness love in I lost patience, and I felt pretty embarrassed watching Tuesday's. If you are one of the lucky individuals who gets to try an ancient, historic beer, then at least say WHY it's shit.

As you say, a lost opportunity.

Chela said...

Imagine how can I feel watching this serie....After living in the UK for several years I'm trying at the same time to introduce people my country-Spain, to -at least for me, the wonderful culture of Brittish beer.

These episodes At the beggining represented a loosely approach to beer, with teh commented mistakes and inaccuracies but with a touch of humour.Episode after episode they have become in a kind of burlesque of beer. In my opinion the wine snobbery of Mr Clarke-We may not be french but our wine crafship is old and well known in the worldm, I mean, we have "some" wine culture- doesn't allow him to understand beer as it is, and in a sense he and his rude companion, look down the beer culture.

ReWatching the wine episodes in France and USA( funnily not a word on Spanish, Portuguese or Italian Wines)and comparing them with the ones on Brit Drinking Culture back up my idea on how snob and pretentious( though trying to be the opposite) this programme is

Haya Salud