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

What's new?

What's new?
New beer and music events added for Brighton - click here to book.
The possible rebirth of the British hop industry? My latest Publican's Morning Advertiser column
The 2014 Cask Report is out now. Click here to download.
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Friday, 29 May 2009

Bank Holiday Pub Fun Part One

I'm working on a new book (my first that's not directly beer-related!) which involved me visiting several seaside resorts last bank holiday weekend.

The good bit was that I finally got to sample Pub du Vin in Brighton, which I'll review when I'm back home after the weekend cos I came away without my bleedin' notebook.  Suffice to say they have a little library that has a copy of Man Walks into a Pub in it, so I was favourably disposed.

But two days later we found ourselves in Clacton-on-Sea.  Now I want you to picture this very carefully.  Close your eyes.  Ah - you'd better open them again or you won't be able to read the rest of the post.  Imagine a Wetherspoon's pub, with its curious mix of a good range of beers that are often well-kept, but with a less-than-savoury clientele featuring a large proportion of elderly shouting Irishmen.  Now, delete the wide range of beers and replace it with just one - Ruddles County.  And imagine what a handpull looks like when it has not been pulled or handled in a very long time.  Got that?  Good.  Now, delete the mad Irishmen and  replace them with forty or so families from Essex with screaming bored children.  It's dark outside, three hours before sunset, which may have something to do with the bad weather warning that's just flashed up on the plasma screen.

Yep, this is the worst Wetherspoon's pub you have ever been in.

Not just a Wetherspoon's pub.  But the worst.  Wetherspoon's.  Ever.

And do you want to hear the most terrifying thing of all?  

It's still the best pub in Clacton-on-Sea.  By a considerable margin.

Hops and Glory: a week to go - or is it?

Very excited about the book coming out in just a week.  But I'm getting e-mails this morning from people who ordered their copies on Amazon that it's shipping already!  

Copies of the book are dropping (heavily) on to doormats as we speak.

So if you can't wait another seven days, order you copy on Amazon.co.uk now!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

An interesting thing about pub signs

Can't help being struck by the new design scheme used on Shepherd Neame pubs.  I've been roaming around Kent and Sussex quite a lot recently and they definitely make an impression.


The branding of pub chains is a thorny issue - should you make them all look like part of chain, or should you allow pubs to retain their individuality?  This scheme does both.  The red and gold makes them look premium, and the black and white pic evokes tradition.  You can tell its a Shep's pub a mile off, yet each pub still feels like its own master.


The first wag who leaves a comment along the lines of "Yes, but why would you want to drink in one of their pubs - their beers are boring" wins a prize of - well - nothing whatsoever.  The old saying "Never judge a book by its cover" doesn't stop thousands of people doing just that when faced with an overwhelming choice.  And I'll bet this signage is attracting a greater proportion of passing casual trade than the pub ever did before it was introduced.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Bless

Just popped into All Bar One in my eternal quest for wifi access as I'm working a lot on the move at the moment.

Saw they stocked Worthington White Shield and asked for one.  The barman looked surprised. "It's very rare we sell anything like that.  Have you had it before?  You know what it's like, yeah?"

He was warning me about a beer.  I wondered if he was frightened by its complexity of flavour. But no, it seemed to be the fact that it's bottle-conditioned that was troubling him.  "It's got um... in the bottle... there's..." he was struggling.

"I know - it's bottle conditioned, which means it's still fermenting and still has yeast in the bottle, so I should be careful with it."

"Yeah, that's it," he smiled, "I keep forgetting the right term... actually no.  The Duvel is similar but not quite the same.  Duvel is still conditioning in the bottle like White Shield is, but White Shield doesn't have any yeast in the bottle, it's just fermenting."

I didn't know whether to be happy or sad.  He was trying.  And he did manage to serve me the correct branded glass.  But we still have a long way to go.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Hops and Glory latest


If you haven't already seen my facebook group please check it out.

I just added some photos from the brewing of the beer and the setting off from Burton.  I'll be adding photo from the rest of the trip over the next few weeks.

And I just tidied up the labelling of my previous posts.  If you click on Hops and Glory in the label cloud, below right, you'll now get all the posts I did before, during and after the journey - kind of a sneak preview of the book!  You need to start at the bottom, obviously. Very weird looking back on it now...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Well, it sure makes a change from crap gags and jiggling boobies

Lager advertising was my route into all this.  Between the ages of 18 and 22 the ads for Carling and Heineken made me want a career in advertising, and a decade later it was working on the ads for Stella Artois (back when when both the ads and the beer were good) and Heineken that lit my beer passion.

But I've never seen a campaign like this one for VB (sorry, embedding is disabled).

It's discussed here by advertising online magazine Contagious, who show how it's being elaborated with a website where people can send their own contributions, and encourages donations to the cause (I don't want to give away the subject till you've actually watched it). The magazine also asks if the campaign is in good taste - it's bound to attract controversy.

Part of me wants to be angry that big advertisers are trivialising something huge and emotive in order to sell beer.  But my beer head tells me that's wrong - this ad is all about beer, the beer moment, what beer means and what it's for.  No other drink (apart from, possibly, whisky) could even consider pulling this off, but it doesn't feel false - it feels entirely appropriate.

And anyway, rational debate didn't actually get a look in - this is the first beer ad that's ever made me cry.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Hurrah for David Mitchell!

Fans of Peep Show or, slightly less likely, of That Mitchell & Webb Look, will be delighted to know that David Mitchell (yeah, the nerdy one) is a real ale fan, and not afraid to admit it (even though he simply calls it bitter, he goes to some lengths to distinguish it from 'creamy' bitters).

video

"Nicer than lager, more democratic than wine, and not in the least bit creamy."  You can't argue with that, really.

He talks some sense, which makes up for the fact that it's not exactly laugh-a-minute.  N0-one said he had to be funny all the time, and there's a meerkat in it if you think there absolutely must be some kind of comedy element.

I found this on i-tunes - it's an episode of David Mitchell's soap box, a regular video podcast. This is the first time I've attempted to upload some video.  

Friday, 8 May 2009

My baby is delivered

Postie just delivered the first finished copy of Hops and Glory, hot from the printers.  Boy, it's a good-looking object. Critics of my blogging style (Hi, Jeff) will be greatly amused by its 458-page girth. What can I say? It would have been more like 700 pages without the tender but firm hand of my publishers who, apart from getting my manuscript down to a sane length, have clothed it and brushed it up to make it look very fine indeed. Thanks, guys.

Four weeks today, it goes out into the world on its own.

I'm so proud!

Drinking on Jimmy's Farm


We've had quite a few conversations recently about how nice it would be if a few more celebrities threw their hats into the beer ring, so to speak, and we got a bit more championing of beer from people who people take notice of. 

So I was intrigued the other day when Mrs Brown came home from a meeting out in the sticks with three beers from Jimmy's Farm.  

Jimmy Doherty is a mate of Jamie Oliver's who rose to fame with a series in 2002 about setting up his specialist pig farm in Suffolk. The series led to an expansion of the farm and this led to a series about the perils of the expansion, which led to more attention and more expansion, and so on in a beautifully postmodern spiral of a farm-cum-media phenomenon-cum-theme park feeding itself and growing to become a big business today.

Whatever your thoughts on this as a business model, it's great that someone with this kind of profile is weighing in as a small brewer.  So what about the beers?

There are three in the range, all bottle conditioned:
  • The Same Again - a 5.2% golden ale described as a 'light refreshing hoppy brew'
  • Flying Pig - a 6% premium bitter that's 'packed with masses of cascade hops'
  • Large black pig - 6%, stout that has 'more malt than you can shake a stick at'.
The branding is excellent - it follows the design for all Jimmy's Farm produce (there's lots of it) and there's been some serious money spent here.  And it's intriguing for a range of three beers all to be above 5%.  This is a very good-looking selection of ales, and I got quite excited about tasting them.  

So imagine my disappointment when they resolutely failed to deliver. The golden ale had the fresh, springy aroma you'd expect, and was then weirdly thin in the mouth - I've had bags more flavour in a 3.8% golden ale and was mystified as to how a 5.2% beer could taste of so little. 

I've no idea where the cascade hops were in the premium bitter. That's my favourite hop, the reason for my whole IPA obsession, and it was present neither on the nose nor the palate. This was probably the best of the three but again, at 6% you were left wondering where the flavour was hiding.

The stout, like the golden ale, promised something on the nose that it could not deliver in the mouth - aromas of chocolate and coffee with nothing behind them.

Maybe the packaging and ABV levels raised my expectations of Brew Dog-style flavours.  And maybe the lack of them is deliberate - the provenance and packaging of these beers makes them a perfect vehicle to attract new people to beer, and maybe the thinking is that fuller flavours would scare novices off.  

But I don't believe that's true.  Wine drinkers who don't like beer think of it as gassy lager or flat real ale.  They're put off by extreme bitterness perhaps, but every time I try a novice on an aromatic golden ale or IPA, or a rich, chocolatey stout, they love it - wine drinkers are used to more concentrated flavours after all.  And anyway, higher ABVs on the label are more likely than flavour to deter people who think beer can only be 3-4%.

The beers are of course not brewed on the farm itself, but at the Red Rat Brewery, founded in 2007 in nearby Bury St Edmunds.

Curiously, while they're for sale via the brewery's website, and in Jimmy's actual farm shop (where Mrs Brown found them) they're only for sale on Jimmy's farm website as part of a father's day gift pack that includes a book and some sausages.

What a waste of a fantastic opportunity.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Hopping into Canada (I know, that's enough 'hopping' post titles)

Seems the US is not quite dead and buried - agent says there are still avenues to try.

But in the meantime, anyone massively keen to read Hops and Glory can get it via amazon.ca.  The book is on release in Canada - and according to Amazon it's release date is set for 1st August.  It's available for pre-order, and currently on offer for an absurdly reasonable $17 Canadian.

Joseph Rowntree and the Pissed Women

News headlines today that women are drinking themselves to death - a new report from the Joseph Rowntree foundation looks at British drinking habits and draws some interesting conclusions.

Finding that made it into the press:
- the number of women drinking double the recommended daily units has grown massively in recent years

Finding that didn't make it into the press:
- the number of men doing the same, and the number of young people of both sexes, has fallen over the same period

Finding that didn't make it into the press because it didn't even get into the JRT's press release - in fact, it got buried on page 83 of the report:
- over the survey period, the way units of alcohol are measured changed, so that a glass of wine now counts as two units rather than one - meaning that someone who drinks wine (i.e. women) would see their measured unit 'consumption' double even if the amount they drink stays the same.

My favourite though is the bit in JRT's press release where there is a subtitle that reads "An increase in alcohol consumption amongst children", and the first line of the para that follows begins "Fewer children are drinking".  (The point being, to be fair, that those kids who are drinking are drinking more.  But still.)

Ah, you've got to love 'em.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Hopping into the US... or not.

Disappointing news - for me at any rate - from New York: American editors like Hops and Glory, but not enough to commission it for a US publication.

Frustrating, because I'm getting daily messages from people in the US asking me for news about a possible release over there.

If you or anyone you know has contacts with a publisher who is a little more friendly to the idea of beer books (I know there are some - the evidence is on the study shelves behind me) then please let me know.

Hop onto Facebook

I've set up a Facebook group to promote Hops and Glory.

It repeats a lot of what will be on here but there are some extra bits because the format supports it a bit easier than a blog for an increasingly techno-moron such as myself.

I'll be putting photo galleries up there and starting discussion groups that can remain a bit more current than blogs posts that slide down and off the page.  

Not really worth getting into Facebook for if you don't already do it, but if you douse it please join my group.

ta.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Here comes the summer...

... and here comes Hops and Glory, just over four weeks away.

Back from Spain feeling chilled and rather too round after lots of the sort of beer that tastes great when you're there but you wouldn't want to bring back, and too much jamon.  

I just added a list of Hops... promotional events at the top of the right hand column.  It looks a bit small at the moment and a better man than I would have waited till there were a few more on there before adding it, but I'm too excited.  Lots more are in the pipeline and will be added the second they're confirmed.  

I'm tempting fate with the Latitude one because I'm not officially on the bill (so I might miss my lifetime's ambition to get my name on a festival line-up T-shirt) but I'm first reserve for when someone drops out - and people always drop out.  If no-one has done so by the start of Feb, the line-up in the link at least gives me a list of names who might just have a little accident before the festival opens...