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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 events added including Stoke Newington Literary Festival
I had a big piece in the Guardian this week about why publicans are unhappy
Click here to hear me talking about craft beer on this week's radio 4 Food Programme!
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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Beer is not as fattening as you think - and that's official


No, the number of calories in a pint has not somehow miraculously fallen, or found to be overstated.  But new research carried out by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has found that a significant majority of people in Britain believe there are more calories in beer than there really are.

When asked, 60 per cent of men overestimated the calories in a pint, and a whopping 74% of women did the same.

The fact that three out of four women believe beer is more calorific than it really is is surely a significant factor in the very low proportion of women who drink beer, and one that is easily remedied - hey, brewers, you could simply do an information campaign informing people of the truth rather than spending million on a patronising clear 'beer' in a bottle with pretty flowers on.

Revealing details of the research, the BBPA included some handy stats which you may want to share with weight-conscious friends down the pub:
  • A half pint (284ml) of 2.8% ABV bitter is 80 calories
  • A half pint (284ml) of 4% ABV lager is 96 calories
  • A 175ml glass of 12.5% red wine is 119 calories
  • A 175ml glass of 12.5% white wine is 131 calories
Yes, a pint is more than a glass of wine.  But at 220 calories for a pint of premium cask ale, that's really not too many (and the point is, it still remains much lower than most people think).  I once did WeightWatchers, and a pint of ale has the same points value as a naked baked potato with no filling, no butter, nothing.

I'm not sure there are many people who would describe a baked potato as fattening.  So why do people who drink beer get fat (because yes, some of them - me as a case in point - do)? Well, you wouldn't have a nice dinner and then go out afterwards and eat five or six baked potatoes, would you? 

It's all about moderation - the beer itself is not fattening, but eat or drink too much of anything and over time it will start to show.

And of course, the industry sanctioned lined - which also happens to be true - is that a bag of crisps almost doubles the calorific value of a round, while a packet of peanuts contains twice as many calories as a pint of beer.

On another note, you might have spotted the comparison above with a 2.8% pint of beer.  That's because the research (carried out by ComRes with a sample of over 2000 adults nationwide) also asked people if they would consider drinking a 2.8% beer as a refresher on a hot day.  This follows the new tax break that came in last year for beers of 2.8% or below as an effort to get people to moderate their alcohol consumption.   (Something we could all have welcomed if it wasn't being paid for by a tax hike on beers of over 7%, which hammers the craft beer industry and displays a total lack of understanding of the beer market).

A lot of drinkers - myself included - are sceptical about whether a beer can deliver flavour at 2.8%, and wonder why the limit wasn't set at 3.4% - not a huge difference in alcohol, but a massive one in terms of what a brewer can do.  (Trinity from Redemption Brewery at 3% ABV is a beer that some people drink because it's low ABV, but most drink in spite of its ABV - it's simply a wonderful beer; forget the alcohol.)  But the research shows that about a third of people - more women than men - are happy to give 2.8% a go.

That figure would surely have been higher if the limit had been a little more realistic, but that's what we're stuck with and many brewers are now rising to the challenge of making beer at 2.8% that's still worth drinking.  I'll be doing a blind tasting of a wide range of low ABV beers very soon, damning the bad and praising any we find that are worth a go.  I know craft beer is playing in high ABVs just now, but when you drink as much beer as I do, it's very nice indeed to have a low strength alternative.

And if it's lower in calories too, well, that does us no harm at all.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Guinness for You - A Warning From History

We're in a hip East End Record Shop - a fitting venue for the headfuck that is about to follow.


It's the launch of this excellent Double DVD from the BFI:


This is a collection old promotional films for pubs made between the 1940s and 1980s, and I'll be writing more about the amazing collection of moving, educational and sometimes hilariously bad films in the Publican's Morning Advertiser soon.  (There was a good if over-pessimistic review in the Guardian this week.)

On launch night, Robin Turner, author of this excellent book and the DVD sleeve notes, tells us we're about to get 'a ghostly view of what pubs used to be like', does a reading, and then shows us a heartwarming film of pub life in 1945 that was made for troops fighting abroad, to show them what they were fighting for.  It brings a tear to the eye.  Luckily the lights are down.

After a short break for another beer (Sambrooks is sponsoring the event) one of the chaps from the Pub History Society introduces the next film.  It's a short, experimental piece made in the early seventies for Guinness, basically looking at the production process, the care and attention that goes into a glass of Guinness, and was designed to be shown in cinemas.  Guinness has an unrivalled pedigree of TV advertising over the decades, but this is another story - the film is fifteen minutes long.  I'm suddenly very interested, never having come across it on any historical showreels in my time in advertising.  The Pub History Man keeps repeating the word 'experimental'.  


"If any of you have tabs of acid, now is the time to take them," he suggests.


There's no need.


The next fifteen minutes shows what happens if you take the typical 'making of beer' film that every brewery has as part of its brewery tour, and you process it through a 1960s lysergic filter then broadcast it on Mars.  It's a film about how a beer is made, but it's more interested in colour, shape and texture than narrative. Guinness has never made - and never will make - anything as bold, daring, experimental and pure batshit crazy as this short film ever again.  And on balance, we should be thankful for that.


Bottles resemble aliens, the production line a spaceship.  The popping of a cork is like watching Martians fucking.  The printing of labels resembles insects eating.  The manufacture of bottle tops a plague of crickets having an orgy.  


Shit, we haven't even got to the beer itself yet.


The bottling line is an Orwellian stew of rutting dead objects, filing to their doom as Arthur Guinness gazes on.


And then we're onto barley growing, and it's growing in a scary way, nature transmuted into a sinister force.  Your instincts tell you that you must never go near that awful field.  A combine harvester appears and turns the field into a concentration camp, a charnel house, the grassy final solution.  


There's brief respite when we get to the hop farms, where the jagged electronic soundtrack is replaced by a wonderful, soaring cor anglais over peaceful images of hop bines and oast houses.  But hang on, what's happening?  Now the hop bines are dancing like tripping triffids, and the cor anglais mutates into squawking, mewling modern jazz.


Water is something creepy and dangerous. Barley malt is a plague of locusts, the malting process the work of these countless billions of insects.  


Sparging offers us another brief interlude of beautiful visual poetry, but the results of the mash are landscapes devastated by nuclear war. As we prepare for the addition of the hops the music creates rising tension and fear, and then the boil is accompanied by a noise so terrifying this DVD should not have a PG certificate.

I can't even bear to describe the timelapse imagery of yeast fermenting inside padlocked storage vats.  Let's just say I won't be able to sleep for about a week.

These scenes are intercut with a glass of Guinness being poured, the familiar anticipation as the drink makes its way to you.  Each time we cut to the glass we get monks chanting like they do on the Omen films just before someone gets cut in half or skewered by a spike.  By the time you see a human hand raising the glass, you want to cry "Nooooooooo! Don't drink that, it'll turn you into Swamp Thing!"

We never see the drinker.  But the film ends with multiple sighs of enjoyment that are cut artificially short - proof that this has actually happened.

Shaken, I turn to the sleeve notes.  The film was written and directed by Eric Marquis and the music was by 'experimental British composer' Tristram Cary, who also did music for Dr Who and for Hammer Horror films.  This makes a lot of sense.

Cary is no longer with us, but Marquis is, and fair play to the BFI, they not only track him down but publish the full details of their exchange with him.  He begins by saying he has 'little memory of it', and describes it as 'twenty minutes or so of clever-dicky images'.

The BFI then sends Marquis a copy of the film to refresh his memory, and he replies, "My first reaction has been reinforced (and multiplied). If you do not wish this disc returned I will cheerfully burn it and wish that all other copies extant could also be destroyed!  I can only say that I am deeply ashamed of having had anything to do with the making of it.  And you can quote me if you like."

What better endorsement could there be?

Hats off to the BFI for pulling this collection together. Buy it now. Just make sure there's no one of a nervous disposition in the room when this particular film comes on.