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.