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Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
I've been accused of attacking cask ale. Here's what I actually wrote - decide for yourselves.
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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Why it's OK to drink a lot this Christmas

Ah, Christmas: the time for peace, love, laughter, and stern bollockings about how dangerous our socialising behaviour can be.

Let’s get the essential disclaimers out of the way up front. Firstly, I am aware that some people in Britain suffer from the effects of alcohol abuse, either directly or indirectly. I know that drink problems can kill, and I make no attempt to trivialise that.

Secondly, I know that Christmas is a time when many take it too far and end up vomiting in the street, visiting A&E, or worse. I have no desire to defend these people – they spoil it for the rest of us, both when they’re screeching in pubs or fighting outside, and afterwards when the vast majority of happy, convivial drinkers are demonised for the actions of a childish minority.

My problem is that reports of truly destructive behaviour are invariably accompanied by warnings from medical experts that 25% of us are drinking to hazardous levels. What they tend to omit is that the definition of ‘hazardous’ is anyone who has drunk more than the recommended daily guideline of alcohol consumption, which equates to a pint and a half of beer for men, or one pint or one medium-sized glass of wine for women.

That’s right: the shocking truth of Binge Britain is that one in four of us drinks at least two pints of beer or one large glass of wine on at least one day in any given week.

Doesn’t quite sound so 'hazardous' when you put it that way, does it?

That’s why those seeking to persuade us to cut down on our drinking turn to ever more extreme methods to scare us (fact: most of us already are cutting down. New figures released last week show overall alcohol consumption, as well as heavy drinking, have fallen yet again). There’s a deliberate blurring of the yob who drinks a bottle of whisky and trashes the place and the couple who share a bottle of wine over dinner.

Just two weeks ago, the latest horror story was that people in their forties are the latest group that are drinking themselves to death and bankrupting society as they do so. Apparently, the shocking truth is that 20% of all alcohol-related hospital admissions are comprised of people within this age band.

When I first read this, it reminded me a bit of that spoof stat about how we're all skivers because 40% of all sick days fall on a Monday or Friday.

I honestly didn’t think the figure too high: if you have been abusing alcohol for most of your adult life, you’d expect your forties to be the age when it would start to take its toll (unless you’d rather believe the alternative shock stories about how binge drinkers in their early twenties are swamping hospitals with cases of liver failure). And while health problems increase with age, older people tend to drink less (unless you'd rather believe the alternative shock stories about how the over-65s are a ticking time bomb of alcohol-related woe.)

In any case, 20% didn’t sound particularly high. And by the time I had Googled ‘UK population split by age’ and learned that there is a population spike in this age group (14.6% of us are aged 40-49, compared with 13.6% aged 20-29, 13.1% aged 30-39, 12.2% aged 50-59 and 10.8% aged 60-69) I realised that this supposed shock was a complete non-story. It’s a shame no one in the national press undertook the same due diligence before repeating it (inevitably accompanied by images of people drinking beer, of course).

Alcohol is an addictive and potentially dangerous drug – we know that, because we are told it every day. But it also happens to be intrinsic to our civilization, a constant in our history, both sacrament and everyday treat.

Like fire, alcohol kills, maims and wrecks lives every year, and has done since the Stone Age. But also like fire, alcohol is one of our greatest ever discoveries, something it's hard to imagine living without, something that has, in general, immeasurably improved the quality of our lives.

We know that fire needs to be treated with respect and caution. We understand completely that if we control it, it’s a boon, but that if we let it get out of control, it can cause devastating damage. That’s why we keep children away from it, and why there are very clear guidelines on how to handle it.

We don’t see people calling for the abolition of fire. We rarely see people blaming fire itself when it destroys. We understand that when it kills, it was either deliberate and criminal human action, a tragic accident, or the result of negligence. We might say that such tragedies show the need for better education around fire or clearer warnings, and of course that's right. But we don’t hear anyone arguing that a house fire proves we should only be allowed to cook a meal or stay warm once or twice a week.

It's a sign of our collective sickness and anxiety that anti-alcohol rhetoric peaks at Christmas.

Christmas, like birthdays and weddings, is a time of celebration. Intoxication lowers inhibitions, creates feelings of euphoria, relaxes us and helps us interact with people. We think we, and those around us, are funnier, sexier, and more interesting than when we’re sober. And as a society, we are somehow in the process of convincing ourselves that this is a bad thing.

If alcohol were that bad for us, we probably wouldn’t be here now. Because in the past we drank a hell of a lot more alcohol than we do today.

If it were that bad for us, the other piece of booze related news last week – the latest in a long line of studies that proves yet again that moderate drinkers live longer than teetotallers as well as alcoholics – would never have appeared.

So this Christmas, don’t drink responsibly - not all the time. Christmas is a holiday from our day-to-day responsibilities, and that’s why it exists, as an essential safety valve from our lives.

Don’t drink to black out. Don’t drink till you throw up. Don’t drink to punish yourself or others. That’s the behaviour that suggests you have a problem in life that isn’t drink itself.

But do drink more than two units per day for men or 1.5 units for women. Drink until you feel like singing. Drink until you feel epic and marvellous. Drink until you feel confident and comfortable enough to ask out that person from work on a date. Drink until you feel a hangover the next day, on a day when having a hangover doesn't matter, and reflect on the yin and yang, on our ability to heighten euphoria to new levels and then take the knocks for it the next day with good grace.

Christ’s first miracle – if you believe that particular superstition – was turning water into wine at the wedding in Canaan. According to the Bible – and I think this is a fairly close translation from the original script – the saviour of mankind announced his presence on Earth by getting people shitfaced and showing them a good time.

So don’t get drunk every day over Christmas. But do get drunk at least once. And if they complain, tell our Puritan overlords that it’s what the Baby Jesus would have wanted.

Merry, merry Christmas.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Golden Pints 2013

I don't normally join in this annual beer bloggers' exercise in navel gazing because I'm too busy and I think I can do something similar but better and used to do my own round-up before they came in. But this year I'm not too busy and, more importantly, I can't think of anything better, and Zak Avery just did a really wonderful post that has urged me to try my own hand, so let's see how we get on.

Two things happened for me in 2013: one, I turned 45, moving into the 45-54 demographic. I'm middle bloody aged and that came about far too quickly. Second, I celebrated Man Walks into a Pub, my first book, being in print continuously for ten years. In 2003 I was a fresh young voice in beer writing, younger than pretty much every other writer I met. Now I'm an establishment old fart. That's how quickly it happens and it's just not fair.

In keeping with this development, I'm becoming curmudgeonly and going retro. This year the headlong rush of craft beer in London started to get a little wearing.

No you're not, you're a hipster chancer who needs to learn how to brew a balanced beer. Remember how Picasso had to learn how to paint properly before he could do all those seemingly random paint splashes and make them work? You need to know how to brew boring brown ale well before you're qualified to mess around with more diverse stuff. And cloudy, yeasty, alcoholic grapefruit juice became the new boring blond beer in 2013.

No. You really haven't. Go away, drink a Saison Dupont and think about what you just said.

Well what the fuck do you think you're doing charging people four or five quid for it?

There were brilliant new craft beers this year of course. But for me 2013 was the year I remembered about Belgian Trappist ales, perfectly balanced, crystal clear best bitters, the original American IPAs, and stopped worrying about whether or not I was keeping up to speed with the latest new opening.

Best UK Cask Beer
How should I know? If I drank all 4000 of them I'd be dead. Because of what I said above, the beer that had the biggest impact on me was Truman's Runner. It took me back to simpler times when I first got into beer, and anyone who dismisses this style as 'boring brown beer' needs to figure out whether they actually understand flavour.

Best UK Keg Beer
Camden Hells. The best lager in the world. I was there when it was judged to be so and rarely have I seen an international group of brewers unite around something so completely.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Thornbridge Chiron. The once unimpeachable Jaipur has become a little patchy of late. Chiron simply rules - a slam dunk that pulls me up short whenever I've tasted it.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
A popular choice in the GPs, Lagunitas IPA. I was delighted to see it appear in craft beer pubs this year. One of the first US IPAs I ever tasted back in '04, despite the marketing moving on and becoming bolder and more diverse around it, it still kicks ass.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Rochefort 10. Always.

Best Beer For quiet contemplation
Worthington White Shield still nails it for sitting there and being mindful, always revealing more, always developing.

Best Beer for gabbling with mates and seizing the day
The beer that has evaporated from the glass, pint after pint, while we make plans and put the world to rights, is probably Howling Hops Pale Ale number 2.

Beer I haven't drunk enough of in 2013
Magic Rock.

Welcome surprise beer style that crept up on us and is likely to be huge next year 
Rye/RyePA/Red ales

Best beer for crying into
The new Fuller's Imperial Stout. A case of this arrived at my door about ten minutes before the vet who came to put Captain the Celebrity Beer Dog to sleep after ten brilliant years with us. Two bottles of this 10.7% ABV magnificent bruiser gave him his wake.

Best Branding, pump clip or Label
Box Steam's Brewery's lovely Evening Star is the only beer I've impulsively tweeted a picture of like a giddy fanboy.

Best UK Brewery
Sharps. No really. I'll never knowingly drink another pint of Doom Bar, but the Connoisseur's Choice range has been consistently excellent and thought-provoking without being weird for the sake of it. Although I still haven't yet tried the beer brewed with woodlice. Not weird for the the sake of it at all. 

Adnams were a very close second, making any debates about a supposed distinction between craft brewers and real ale brewers irrelevant.

Best Overseas Brewery
I haven't visited any overseas breweries this year so on the basis that nothing has come across my radar to change the view I've held for years, it's Brooklyn Brewery.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013
I dunno. I'm going with Wild Beer Co. Yes I know they opened in 2012, but I didn't do the Golden Pints last year so I can include them this year if I want to.

Pub/Bar of the Year
One's local is a strange thing. There are lots of pubs we go into regularly, but few to which we give that special distinction. It's a relationship we change less frequently than marriages or bank accounts, but I changed mine this year. My new local, 25 minutes walk from my house, is the Cock Tavern in Hackney.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
Like what I said about Wild Beer Co, the Hops and Glory opened in late 2012, but still feels new and exciting to me. 

Beer Festival of the Year
The only one of the new wave of craft beer festivals I managed to get to this year was IndyManBeerCon. I'm glad I made it - craft beer growing up, showing its longevity as well as its imagination and creativity.

Supermarket of the Year

Independent Retailer of the Year
Geerts Drankenhandel in Oostakker on the outskirts of Ghent is the best beer retailer I've ever visited. €1 for Saison Dupont? €10 for Deus 750ml? €1.25 for Rochefort 10? I should coco. €318 euros later the car boot was so full the axle was groaning.

Online Retailer of the Year
Haven't really used any but there are some interesting new ones coming up - Eebria is very new but looks like it could become really interesting - love their approach.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
Pocket Beer Book by Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb. Because together they're two of only maybe four or five writers on the planet who could honourably take up the reins that Michael Jackson left. And because it's the book that told me about Geerts Drankenhandel.

Best Beer Blog or Website
Zak Avery chose Adrian Tierney Jones' blog for its "non-linear relationship with narrative." I'll echo that, with Zak as runner-up for that observation alone.

Best Beer App
Craft Beer London is the only one that seems worth using at the moment.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
Simon Bloody Johnson of course! He'd already done enough before his cruelly premature passing in May to walk this one.

Best Brewery Website/Social media
I wish I could say Let There Be Beer, but the execution got off to the worst start imaginable. The intent is sincere, but the execution was botched. They are trying to remedy this now and not giving up, and I've been chipping in a bit of advice. Hopefully there'll be a turnaround next year. But given how rubbish it was in 2013, I think the winner this year goes instead to Brew Dog. I don't always agree with the beers they brew or the things they say, and inevitably they're not as fresh as they were with so many people inspired by them now setting up in competition, but James Watt and Co still know how to use social media better than anyone. 

Music and Beer Pairing of the Year
Jimi Hendrix's take on All Along the Watchtower paired with Chimay Blue. 

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Dinner cooked by Tim Anderson at Dukes Brew & Que back in May. Not all of it successful but all of it audacious and interesting. Gave me the most epic food hangover I've had this year, and my best celeb namedrop story ever.

Now - time to try that woodlouse beer...

Monday, 2 December 2013

Pubs do not "further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community" - says who?

It's bad form to post two blogs in the same day, especially if they're about the same topic, especially if you normally struggle to blog once a week, like I do. But a tidbit has just fallen into my lap that I can't wait to share.

One of the practices for which PubCos are taking a significant amount of stick for is selling pubs off to become shops or flats. Fair enough - perhaps - if the pub has failed and closed and there's no real call for it any more. But when the people running the pub really want to stay there and continue running it as a pub, and when there is a dedicated bunch of regulars happily spending money there, turfing them out against their will looks a bit mean, to say the least.

The Sir John Barleycorn is thought to be the oldest pub in Hitchin, having served the community for about 150 years. It's the perfect model of a community boozer, with darts on Monday, a pub quiz on Tuesday, and crib or dominoes on Thursday. It hosts various local sports teams and a steady diet of live bands from the area. It's currently owned by Punch Taverns.

Following the closure and conversion of other nearby pubs, a group of concerned regulars got together this autumn and applied to have the pub listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). This makes it much harder to change the use of the premises, helping preserve it as a pub for a five year period. ACV status was introduced by the 2011 Localism Act, and was brought into effect on 21st September 2012. Since then, around twenty pubs have successfully achieved ACV status.

When the Sir John Barleycorn applied for ACV status, there was an objection. This objection claimed that there was no need for the pub to be protected because there were plenty of other pubs nearby. And anyway, many of the valuable community activities listed in the application - the bands, quizzes and sports teams and so on - didn't necessarily have to happen in a pub - they could happen in other community venues, such as, er... well, anyway, they didn't need to happen in pubs. Even though that's where they normally do.

But out of three objections, point two was perhaps the most vociferous:

"2. The various activities mentioned by the nominee in the application are ancillary to the use of the premises as a public house. They do not therefore comply with the purposes set out in Section 88 (1) of the Localism Act 2011. With regard to Section 88 (2), the current use of the premises as a public house i.e. a place where alcohol is consumed and sold, does not itself further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and therefore is not land of community value." 
[my emphasis]

It's sad but not entirely surprising to see such an objection. We do after all live in an age of neo-prohibitionism, where various groups are only too happy to see the decline of the pub, and where alternative means of buying alcohol for home consumption are proliferating.

So who was it who objected to the attempt to preserve a fine old pub in its traditional use? Who believes so strongly that pubs do not further the social wellbeing or social interests of the community? Alcohol Concern? A local church group or nearby school? A big supermarket chain?


These are the words of Punch Taverns, the owners of the Sir John Barleycorn. A company that owns over 4,300 pubs believes those pubs are not good for local communities.

On its website, Punch Taverns says:

"At its core the Community Pub should always provide a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for customers living in the neighbourhood. To excel, Community Pubs need to be at the hub of their neighbourhood, a focal point for locals. Supporting the many and varied interest groups of the community; darts, pool, fund raising, local schools, business networking, whatever they may be, is key."

And yet here they are, vociferously protesting against one of their own pubs which is doing exactly that, actively opposing attempts to keep one of their oldest pubs trading as a pub.

Happily, the local council disagreed with the UK's second-largest pub landlord, and decided that pubs such as the Sir John Barleycorn do in fact perform an important social function in the community. They awarded the pub its community asset status.

Enterprise Inns: empowering publicans with cutting edge market information

A brief footnote to the sad story of one of my favourite locals, the Alma on Newington Green.

The Alma is now being offered up as a new tenancy, with applications closing this week. I was impressed by the level of detail on the website for prospective tenants - every aspect a curious publican might want to know about is covered. There's even a guide to local competition - clearly a key factor in how the business might perform. So it's great to see the website giving a run-down on what else is in the area so interested parties can accurately assess the opportunity:

Screen grab from Enterprise's website about the Alma tenancy

There's just one problem with this. No, actually, there are quite a few:

  • In 2011, the Nobody Inn was renamed the Clarendon. In 2012 it has a massive refit, substantially changing its offering, and was renamed the Dissenting Academy.
  • Bastille Brasserie closed down at least three years ago and is being converted to flats.
  • There's no such pub as the Crafty Fox in the area. They might mean the Snooty Fox. But you can't be too hard on them for getting the name of the pub wrong; it's not as if they own it or anything. Oh, hang on - yes they do.
  • There's no mention of the Hops & Glory (formerly the George Orwell) or the Leconfield (formerly the Oak Bar) - two craft beer pubs that offer significant competition to the Alma, each less than five minutes walk away. But you can't be too hard on them for not knowing these pubs exist; it's not as if they own them or anything. Oh, hang on - yes they do own the Leconfield. 
It's great to see Enterprise's local area manager having such a great grasp on the area he is paid to look after.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Another long post about craft beer.


I did a pub industry conference the other week where I asserted that 2013 will be remembered as the year craft beer went mainstream.

I based this on everything from stats (37% of adults are aware of craft beer; 40% of pubs would like to stock a craft beer, the word 'craft', when applied to beer, stands for quality, flavour, and a beer that's worth paying more for) to personal experience (every major global brewer, or one of their agencies, has approached me to have a chat about craft beer and whether they should be doing something about it) to anecdotal (more of my non-beer friends know their hops and ask to be guided to some interesting craft beers).

Most entertainingly, Hollywood has made a craft beer RomCom, out in the UK any day now, which from the trailer doesn't look entirely shit, and seems to capture an appropriately indie aesthetic for craft beer.

In my speech I used the analogy - as I always do - of music. This particularly instance was inspired by a conversation I had with Richard King, author of the definitive history of indie music, in which he told me that you could look at blogs discussing the definition and direction of craft beer, substitute the phrase 'craft beer' for 'indie music', and ten years ago EXACTLY THE SAME blogs were being written, the same arguments, the same factions. 

Of course since then indie music has all but died. The process that began with Oasis breaking through, becoming chart-toppers, tabloid front page regulars, and playing to a third of a million people at Knebworth, ended with the majors cashing in, and indie becoming a debased, meaningless term, divorced from its roots, and applied to any band that had a noticeable amount of hops - sorry, guitars - in it. 

So will the same thing inevitably happen to craft beer? Well, some people think so. I personally think it's not about the size of the brewery, or its ownership, but the intent of the people who will inevitably jump the bandwagon. Do they want to help craft beer grow while retaining its integrity, to provide a business that has long term profitability and sustainability? Or do they want to cash in and make a quick buck from this trend while keeping an eye out for the next one that will come after it? 

A clear example of the latter is there for anyone travelling through Paddington or Waterloo stations. 

Last year, The Beer House launched in both locations, and there are surely more to follow. The Beer House is owned by SSP, the same company that owns all the other retail franchises on UK train station platforms. If you have ever visited an Upper Crust or a Pumpkin, I'm guessing that sentence has caused chilled dread to start creeping down your spine.

The launch press release says, "This brand was developed to capitalise on the growing trend in the market of consumers looking for something interesting and different as the craft beer movement continues to gain momentum."

You can just feel the passion for beer bursting from the page can't you?

The Beer House does not have a website.  There's a Twitter account that posts scheduled broadcasts of the kind of 'Hey, what's everyone doing for the weekend?' type tweets you get from big corporates and rarely, if ever, talks about beer. It doesn't do tap takeovers or meet the brewer events. It boasts of 'over fifty' craft beers, and then releases a publicity shot with two of the world's biggest mainstream lager brands in the foreground:

Anyone can ask James Clay to supply them a bunch of interesting beers and stick the word 'craft' everywhere on chalk boards. And someone just did. 

Hopefully such places will die out when it becomes apparent to them that they cannot attract people who actually care about beer, or flavour, or integrity, and they realise they're selling more Heineken than anything else, and they close or rebrand. Hopefully.

So should the major labels of brewing be allowed anywhere near craft beer at all? Are they destined to be rubbish, by definition, if they do? 

I've been hugely impressed over the last year or two with craft beer offerings from brewers such as Thwaites and Brain's. Many of their beers are as good as any from a typical micro - in some cases better, as these are breweries with technical expertise, laboratory facilities and so on. They may not push the boundaries as much as a Brew Dog or a Wild Beer Co, but craft beer doesn't always have to push the boundaries. (Indie label Creation Records may have broken new ground with the likes of the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, but their biggest ever band simply copied the Beatles, and were no less exciting for that - at least at first.)

If a large UK regional brewery is making good, interesting, flavourful beer, then any debate as to whether it is 'craft' or not is political rather than being about the beer itself. So what are we to make of Greene King's foray into craft?

Last week I went to the opening of the brand-new £750,000 St Edmunds Brewery. "Greene King’s long tradition of crafting quality ales enters an exciting new phase as the company throws the doors open on its new innovation brewhouse," says the press release. They are careful not to call themselves a craft brewer, but have unashamedly launched a new range of what they call craft beers.

From an objective point of view, there was good and bad on display. But it definitely felt as though the intent was genuine. 

Among the bad is Noble Craft Lager. While it is brewed with Tettnang hops (a lager hop) and lager malt, it is fermented with Greene King's usual ale yeast and is not lagered (stored for maturation) for any significant period, so according to either of the two separate but often interrelated definitions of lager, it's not a lager at all, but a pale ale that's a bit sweetish for my palate. I'm sure that sweetness (and the masquerade as a lager) will mean it does very well. But it's cheeky to call it a lager - and taking the piss to call it a craft lager. 

I'm also a bit dubious about repackaging established Greene King beers as part of this new craft range. Strong Suffolk Ale is one of my favourite Greene King beers, and if it were a new brew I wouldn't have thought it unusual that it's here. St Edmunds Golden Ale, launched a few years ago, belongs in the mainstream GK range by any defintion. Simply rebadging these sends out the wrong message, making the whole thing feel a bit too marketing-led (and one of the defining characteristics of craft beer is that it is led by brewers, not marketers, even though the latter have an important role to play).

On positive side, it was a joy to be introduced to beers such as the new Suffolk Porter, Twisted Thistle IPA and St Edmunds Anniversary Ale. Yardbird is a solid pale ale in the style of Camden or Meantime Pale. And while I wasn't quite convinced by the new Hop Monster IPA - yes, people, Greene King now makes a 'proper' IPA! - many of my press colleagues really enjoyed it. I'd be perfectly happy to drink any of these beers, and to refer to them as craft beers while doing so.

After the tasting, we did get the obligatory marketing spiel - "The Greene King of the last few years is going to look very different in the future" - and surprisingly, for me this was just about the most valuable part of the day. Because I think Greene King are helping us get to a place where craft beer UK can mature properly.

I love microbrewers because they act on instinct and intuition. I like larger regional brewers because they can afford to do market research, and when it's done well, and reveals new insights that can be shared, it's incredibly valuable.

When Greene King went out to talk to craft beer drinkers they found two groups: a more mainstream group of 'beer explorers', who have their favourite beers but like to try new ones, and a generally younger, more specialist group who buy into the core craft aesthetic. As the number of craft brewers grows, and the number of craft beer bars grows, the number of people who drink craft beer is growing. That's why nearly half of all pub landlords want to stock at least one craft beer. And as it grows, what the broad market thinks of as 'craft' is taking a new shape:

This chart (presented, refreshingly, without PowerPoint) is hugely important, as I think it unlocks the headache many British craft beer enthusiasts have been suffering from.

What confuses us about craft beer in the UK is familiarity.

We take our lead on craft beer from America, believing that US craft beer styles, and the flavours they represent, are the ones that matter. We frame any attempt to define craft beer in relation to the American definition. But we, and the Germans and Belgians, have something the American craft movement doesn't - an unbroken history of interesting, flavourful, small-scale brewing. You could argue - because it's true - that we have always had craft brewing, long before the Americans coined the phrase in its current context.

There was no discernible craft beer in America before the current microbrewery boom began. Craft in America reacted against the total lack of interesting beer. Every craft brewer in America is a relatively recent arrival. So if we take our cues from America, craft beer is all about novelty. But this is circumstantial rather than intrinsic - the word 'novelty' does not appear in the US definition of craft beer.

But the word 'traditional' does.

We have craft brewers that are hundreds of years old. There is no novelty there, and if we think novelty is important, then these brewers don't feel to us like craft brewers. What GK's market research shows (and I have seen other pieces of research that arrive at exactly the same point, albeit with slightly different labelling) is that the broader mass of people now getting into craft believe there are two types of craft beer - traditional, which includes pretty much any real ale, and speciality - which could be Belgian speciality, German wheat beer, America IPA or the next thing Evin O' Riordain dreams up.

And that broad mass of people is right. If a brewer in Portland, Oregon were to set up shop tomorrow brewing exactly the same beers Greene King have been brewing for years, and grew to be exactly the same size as Greene King is now, no one would have any hesitation in calling them a craft brewer. You might think some of those beers are bland, but I've tasted bland from young micros too. Worse, I've tasted beers that are challenging for the sake of being challenging, and beers that exhibit a lack of brewing skill, but apparently these are still craft beers.

You might think Greene King are too big to be a craft brewer. Sure, the facsimile in Portland, Oregon would be a tiny drop in the US market, but you know what? GK's share of the UK market too, big as they might seem close up, is relatively tiny. If you're trying to be objective about craft beer, as opposed to trying to find a definition that includes the beers you like and excludes the beers you don't, then Greene King - and Marston's, and Fuller's, and Wells and Youngs - are craft brewers. But they are traditional (or familiar) craft rather than speciality (or novel, or experimental) craft. And that might be a helpful distinction to make.

When the Publican's Morning Advertiser tweeted the story about me saying craft has gone mainstream, two responses on Twitter struck me. One said that because the likes of Brooklyn Lager and Goose Island IPA were now relatively easy to find in pubs belonging to the big PubCos, they could no longer possibly be considered craft. The other effectively said that craft couldn't be considered mainstream because the big PubCos don't allow their licensees to sell craft beer brands. At least one of these statements has to be wrong.

There's still confusion and disagreement about what is and isn't craft, and there always will be. There will always be good and bad craft beer made by microbrewers, and increasingly there will be good and bland craft beer made by regional brewers. But I don't think the regionals are going to destroy craft beer by their intervention. They will help it grow and mature, which it needs to do, otherwise it will become a fad and recede.

Rooney Anand is not Simon Cowell. Importantly, unlike crafty brands such as Shocktop in the US, Greene King, Brain's and Thwaite's make no secret that they are the bigger, more familiar brands behind these new craft ranges. If you want to keep it real and avoid beer from any brewer over a certain size, that's your call, and the brewer makes it easy for you to do so. But occasionally, you'll be missing something special.

So long as bigger brewers remember that craft is about brewing before marketing, about flavour before packaging, about integrity and honesty before segmentation and exploitation, there is no reason I can see why they can't make 'craft' beer. In and of itself, this does not represent a dilution of the meaning of the term. They may occasionally need to be reminded of the this (as I have done here in the case of Noble Pale Ale) but on balance I believe the entry of brewers like Greene King to the craft sphere is a good thing.

I hope I'm not proved wrong.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Sir Ian Gilmore and Alcohol Concern are lying to us and damaging our understanding of alcohol related health issues

A strong headline.

If it isn't true, I can easily be sued for libel. I'm not expecting to be served legal papers any time soon, and that's because of two news stories published today.

The first is from the hateful, fear-mongering Daily Mail. Under the headline '‘Meteoric rise’ in alcohol-related deaths', the Mail gives a summary of Sir Ian Gilmore's speech at a conference yesterday hosted by Alcohol Concern. In this speech he cites a 'meteoric' rise in deaths by liver disease, and we are told that alcohol-related hospital admissions are at an all-time high. The article also mentions a 2011 study showing that 30% of boys and 25% of girls claim to have been drunk in the last thirty days.

This all seems very clear. Except it isn't.

Also today, Public Health England announced that it will be changing the method of alcohol-related hospital statistics following acknowledgement that the figures quoted yesterday are misleading. Hospital admissions are broken down into primary and secondary causes. If you get so drunk you have alcohol poisoning, alcohol is your primary cause of admission. If you're admitted with liver disease or high blood pressure - which could be caused partly by drinking, as well as other factors, alcohol is a secondary cause of your admission. 

Even if you don't drink. 

It goes beyond that - I've written here before about how if you have an accident or injury, and you have had a drink, your admission is alcohol-related even if that drink did not - could not - have been relevant. If you're having a glass of wine in a restaurant and the roof caves in on you, for example, your injuries are alcohol-related.

So the body that releases the statistics is recalculating them because they are misleading, splitting out primary and secondary causes more clearly. Alcohol Concern and Ian Gilmore know this, even as they continue to cite these statistics.

But today's report reveals something even more extraordinary. Because even if you think the stats are accurate and true, as I'm sure Gilmore and Alcohol Concern do, according to the people who compile them, you cannot use them to suggest that alcohol related hospital admissions are increasing - as Gilmore and friends frequently do. Here's what a spokesperson for Public health England has to say:

Much of this increase is believed due to improvements in diagnosis and recording... these improvements mean that while recent estimates are likely to be a better reflection of the comorbidity [secondary disorders] associated with alcohol, estimates from earlier time periods are not directly comparable as they will have underestimated the number of secondary conditions related to alcohol. [My emphasis]

So, depending on whether you are pro- or anti-drink, either: 

Gilmore and Alcohol Concern are talking bollocks because the official figures overestimate alcohol related hospital admissions


Gilmore and Alcohol Concern are talking bollocks because the official figures show an increase only because of improvements in measurement, not because of changes in behaviour.

Either way, these people know about this. They know they should not be using these figures to claim a rise in alcohol related hospital admissions. But they do it anyway, wilfully misleading the nation. 

In addition, Gilmore and Alcohol Concern repeatedly avoid the medical fact that only around 37% of liver disease is primarily caused by alcohol - it's also caused by Hepatitis C and obesity. They never refer to Britain's rising obesity epidemic as a possible cause of rising liver disease. It must be alcohol consumption, even though that is declining long term.

Oh, and those figures above talking about the percentage of kids drinking? What the Mail refuses to tell you is that the survey from which they were taken showed a REDUCTION in underage drinking. That's why they don't tell you what the figure was a few years before.

We are being lied to. Tell everyone.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Cook like a MAN for Movember! Mo Food Fight

I was wondering, as a bearded man, what I could do for Movember. I thought I could shave my moustache off for the month, just leaving a chinstrap beard, before growing it back to normal in December. My wife vetoed this idea fairly quickly.

So I was happy when my publisher asked me to come and cook a dish to promote Cook Like A Man, a cookbook that they've done to raise money for Movember. I teamed up with food blogger and author Niamh Shields, aka Eat Like A Girl on social media, and we made a posh but simple brunch.

Various other Pan Macmillan authors also cooked the same recipe. If you go here, you can vote for which one you think looks the best (ours obviously). You can also win a meal at a fancy restaurant.

Voting closes tomorrow, 12th November, so please check out the mofoodfight site, buy the book, and vote to give me and Niamh the glory we so clearly deserve.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Tackling the thorny topic of the PubCo tie: it just got personal

Yesterday beer writers en masse were accused of ignoring 'the elephant in the room' - the issue of the PubCo tie.

There are three reasons I haven't really written about this topic very much before now:
  • I've been really, really busy, playing catch-up on my recent books since my laptop was nicked two years ago. 
  • The anti-PubCo campaigners can be a bit spiky. When you've lost your job, your life savings and often your home, in circumstances that you feel are grossly unjust, you have every right to be angry. But it can be a bit like trying to deal with a lion with a wounded paw.
  • It's really bloody complicated. The issues very quickly gets into conversations about legal technicalities and contracts, which makes it hard to understand in the first place, and harder still to then break down into short, focused, interesting articles. 
I've now caught up on my work. The PubCo campaigners and I have reached a point where we can chat amicably over a beer. And they've patiently helped increase my understanding of the technicalities. So I'm now ready to jump in.

The impetus for doing so though, is that the whole issue just got personal. 

Sometimes, businesses fail. Sometimes, publicans aren't cut out for the job. Sometimes, people don't understand what they're getting into. Being a publican is a tough job that requires a very broad set of skills, and I know that I would be a disaster if I ever attempted to run my own pub.

That's why the boss of Enterprise Inns, recently dismissed the campaign against the current PubCo model as the work of "failed or failing publicans looking for someone to blame." 

Taken purely literally, these words are correct. But the clear implication of phrasing it in this way is that publicans should in fact accept the blame themselves. The consistent rhetoric from the PubCos is that most tenants and lessees make a decent living, that they help those who are struggling, and that if these publicans fail? Well, it's not our fault - they knew what they were getting into. 

I'll be examining the ways in which this argument falls down in the face of reality a lot more closely, both here and elsewhere, over the coming weeks. And I will be asking the PubCos for their response to the points I raise. I don't want to rant about this issue - I want to present the truth about it.

But first, I want to focus on one pub close to me whose situation doesn't make any sense at all if Enterprise Inns is speaking the truth.

The Alma on Newington Green, North London, is by any reckoning a popular and successful pub. Well-heeled Islington residents consider it a gastropub - the food is excellent, way beyond typical pub fare, locally sourced and seasonal, the ever-changing menu determined by what's fresh and good. The home made sausage rolls on the bar for those who don't want a full meal are awesome. 

The beer is well-kept, and there's a passion for cider - North London CAMRA recently named the Alma its Cider Pub of the Year, which the pub added to a list of other awards it has won. When I was in there on Tuesday night there was a choice of six draft ciders. The place was busy for a Tuesday night, but then it's always ticking over, and it's difficult to get a seat on the weekend.

The Alma is an old Victorian building, full of nooks and crannies, with everything from big, bright tables by the windows for spreading the papers out during Sunday lunch, to shady sofas for intimate late night chats. The decor is stylishly shabby and doesn't try too hard.

The licensee, Kirsty Valentine, is a force of nature. She's an instinctive publican who realises that a great pub is about creating a great atmosphere. She's become a solid fixture in the community, and a major player in the local business association.

Newington Green is now gentrifying rapidly. This wasn't always the case. The Alma used to be a dive, like most other pubs in the area. When I first arrived in Stoke Newington most people wouldn't dream of drinking there - you'd get the bus down to Islington instead, where the pubs were crap chain concepts, but at least they cleaned their lines more than once a year and you didn't run the risk of getting glassed. When Kirsty arrived, the Alma was the first pub that raised the standard. It helped turn Newington Green into a destination, starting ripples that spread. One by one, the other pubs near the Alma have been done up too. Newington Green is now a great place for a pub crawl, with the Snooty Fox, the Dissenting Academy and the Edinburgh Cellars all offering great beer and great food. This is great news for the drinker, less good for Kirsty, who now faces increased competition. Her response? Last year she organised the Newington Green 'Aleympic' pub crawl, which saw pubs in the area working together to create a fun activity, benefiting all the pubs that took part, making the cake bigger rather than fighting over shares of it. 

What I'm saying is, to any rational observer, the Alma looks about as different from the idea of a 'failed or failing pub' as you can possibly imagine.

So how could it possibly be failing? How could Kirsty be facing losing the pub - and how could there be a possibility that the pub itself might not survive?

I have copies of a pile of correspondence between Kirsty and Enterprise Inns that's about three inches high. She's spent most of her time over the last three or four years fighting her PubCo - which claims it only wants to help - on all fronts. 

The basic problem, as she sees it, is that the PubCo model effectively means paying rent twice - wet rent and dry rent. Dry rent is the straightforward rental she pays to the PubCo. Rents are reviewed regularly. They can go down as well as up, but if the profitability of the pub increases, the PubCo will do all they can to take most of it, essentially disincentivising the publican from improving the business the way Kirsty has. 

On top of this, she pays a 'wet rent' by being compelled to buy all her beer through Enterprise, or face stiff penalties for buying 'out of tie'. This limits the range of beers available to her. But more than that, she's paying up to double the price of a cask or keg compared to if she were able to buy it from the brewer direct. This means she has to charge higher prices for a less interesting range of beers than her competitors.

Basically then, it's much harder for a pub to make a profit under this scheme than one that is free of tie. And if you do manage to make a profit despite this, the PubCo will try to take it from you. 

This is the double bind of the PubCo tie that many licensees are complaining about. Enterprise's defence is twofold: firstly, they will offer help to anyone who is struggling. And second, the publican knew what they were getting into when they signed the deal, and Enterprise can't be held to account if new publicans had unrealistic ideas. I'm sure that in some cases this is true. But the number of cases where 'failed and failing licensees' tell how they have been misled, lied to and ripped off by their PubCos means that if they are not being honest, there are an awful lot of them coming up with remarkably consistent and detailed lies. 

Kirsty's battle with Enterprise is happening on so many fronts, it's impossible to go into detail here and still expect you to read to the end. But in summary, the result of her fight is that Enterprise now want her out of the business she has built up, and will shortly be taking legal action in an attempt to make that happen.

Should Enterprise be victorious, apart from a brilliant publican facing financial ruin and losing her home, there are two possible consequences: one is that Enterprise stick in another tenant. The other is that they close the pub down, and sell it for redevelopment, with a change of use stipulation - a fairly common practice. It takes all of ten minutes to walk to the nearest Sainsburys from Newington Green. I'm sure Sainsburys or Tesco would love to turn this beautiful old boozer into yet another supermarket. 

The next battle Kirsty wants to fight is to ensure that, whatever happens to her personally, the Alma remains a pub - given that it's popular and the local community like it that way. To this end, yesterday she launched the 'Battle for the Alma' campaign. She is applying to Islington Council to have the pub declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) under the recent Localism Act. This would prevent Enterprise from initiating a change of use from the property being a pub. This was the first step in a campaign that ultimately saved the Ivy House pub in South London from being redeveloped into flats when the local community were perfectly happy with it as a local pub - which is now doing great business.

If you know the Alma, if you have ever been there and enjoyed it and wish to see it saved, visit the Battle for the Alma website and sign the petition, giving Islington Council the stories and reasons why the Alma deserves to be saved (beyond the simple common sense reason that it is a thriving, successful, popular pub that by any sane reckoning should not even be under threat.) It will make a real difference.

I'll be writing about the lies, bullying and neglect Kirsty has suffered in due course - and asking Enterprise to respond. But this first step is important and urgent - we have until next week. If you know and love the place, please give this campaign your support.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Getting paid.

This is off-topic for beer, cider etc but I thought it went here rather than on my seldom used other blog - it really goes out to other bloggers and people who enjoy writing about beer - and people who are interested in doing business with them/us.

Discussions on writers getting paid for their work seem to be coming to a head in the media at the moment. A couple of weeks ago Philip Hensher raised the subject when he was branded 'ungracious' for daring to ask for payment for something he was asked to write. A couple of days later, I was shocked to read about a science writer being called a whore when she politely declined to write a piece for free. (Which raises another subject - I doubt the same language would have been used if she were a man.)

Last night on Twitter, Boak & Bailey and Zak Avery were discussing an email that has done the rounds that essentially asks bloggers to give consultancy services for free for a big beer brand - so we're not even talking the old language of 'exposure' here, they simply want to gather expert opinion without paying for it.

I have an alarm that goes off about this kind of stuff now. It starts clanging when people ask if they can 'pick my brains' about something. If I'm lucky, they offer to buy me a pint in return for information which, if I'm any good, could eventually lead to a major profit opportunity for the company asking.

It's not a cut and dried issue. We live in an age where content is increasingly expected for free, where a generation simply doesn't see why they should pay musicians or filmmakers for their work. Our society increasingly assumes that economic value is the only form of value worth talking about, yet paradoxically, creators of cultural or artistic value are expected to go, "No, you're fine, I do it for the love, I don't care about money, that's for squares, man."

Monday, 28 October 2013

Brewer from Huddersfield brings California to rainy London: Magic Rock at Draft House Sunday Sessions

Back in the olden days, all the way back in 2009, I did a review of the year in which I gave my personal 'Brewer of the Year' award to Fullers' John Keeling, and the runner-up to Stuart Ross, then working in a three-barrel plant in the cellar of Sheffield's Hillsborough Hotel. "Stuart just brews what he feels like brewing, constantly experimenting," I wrote, "I don’t think he knows how good a brewer he is."

I think he does know how good he is now. But he's still brewing the beers he wants to drink.

In 2011, Richard Burhouse, who ran an internet beer mail order company called MyBreweryTap, whisked Stuart away from Hillsborough and enabled him to design and build the brewery his talent deserved. In May of that year, Magic Rock opened for business.

The Magic Rock iconography. Stuart once dressed as the bearded lady on the left. It made me want to put bleach in my eyes.

Both men shared a passion for American West Coast pale ales and IPAs. They branded these beers in cool, quirky, circus-based iconography and gave them names like High Wire and Cannonball. They chimed with the taste of the emerging craft beer scene, and as Stuart points out, benefited hugely from

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

My new website:

After months of talking about it, I've finally had my blog revamped as more of a full website with more permanent content.

I've always struggled with trying to put stuff on here and not being able to, and setting it up like this means I can take self-promotion stuff out of the main blog feed and put it somewhere else, and make it easier for people to find what they're looking for.

I've also registered the domain, which is easier to remember and redirects to this site.

So there are some new tabs along the top - here's a brief guide to what's behind them.

  • What's new? Keep an eye on the black newsstrip feed, where I'll talk about new blog posts, events, newly posted articles elsewhere etc.
  • Home - the main blog page. Hello.
  • About Pete - a brief bio, longer description and hi-res press shot - I get asked for these a lot! Now they're here.
  • Events - I do loads of readings and corporate events. I'm going to keep an ongoing list of events I've been booked for, complete with details of tickets etc. There is also some information here about the variety of events I do, from straightforward book readings to experimental beer and music evenings to full dinners, and how to book me for an event.
  • Books - a summary page for all the books I've written, in order of publication. Click on each title and you'll go to a page on that specific book, with more blurb and a bit of background, and some reviews with links to any I've managed to find in full online. In time, most of these pages will also have a photo gallery relating to the book.
  • Other writing - the main reason I don't blog as often as I used to is that I have two or three press deadlines a week. I thought it might be nice to collect links to these so that if I haven't posted for a while and you are for some reason desperate to see what I've been thinking about, you can read more of my stuff here. I've only put a fraction of it on here so far but will eventually build it to be comprehensive.
  • Consultancy - very few people can make a living just from writing these days. I do consultancy for drinks manufacturers and their agencies (which I keep entirely separate from my writing) and here's a bit of a sell page on what you can hire me for
  • Links - I've gone for a cleaner design overall. Soon I'll put a blog roll back up here as well as links to other useful resources.
  • Contact - there's a form here that sends messages to my personal email.
Sorry to blog about my own blog, but this helps me get my career on a more professional footing, and hopefully helps you find what you want.

The next step of course, now I'm not working on a book for the first time in three years, is to start posting some more interesting content on the blog itself, now I don't have to clutter it up with posts about events etc. I've got so much to write about - some stories going back over a year - so will try to post more often from now on.

Friday, 18 October 2013

World's Best Cider is out now and all over the place!

My new book, World's Best Cider (co-authored with Bill Bradshaw) is out in the UK this week. The North American edition was published on October 1st).

Ever since I became known as a beer writer, people have asked me about cider. They seem to assume I'll be just as knowledgeable about it as I am about beer. Why? "Well obviously, because you're a beer writer."

My mantra throughout the writing of this book was that cider is 'The world's most misunderstood drink'. This is just one example - people assuming that because you know something about a drink that is made by malting barley, mixing it with hot water, boiling the resulting wort and adding hops and then yeast for a drink that combines bitterness and sweetness, you'll also be perfectly au fait with a drink that is made by the careful selection and blending of different kinds of apples (or pears), mashing up the fruit, squeezing out the juice and allowing a months-long fermentation (usually with either wild yeast or champagne yeast) to create drink characterised by a balance of sweetness, acidity and tannin.

Many who don't drink cider believe it offers a simple choice between sweet, fizzy commercial stuff containing as little as 35% apple juice, and hardcore 'scrumpy' that can be awesome but can just as easily be cheesy or vinegary or smell like a farmyard. Cider campaigners tell them that this is 'the good stuff,' and they think 'Really? In that case, I'll pass.'

Go to the US, and most people think that cider is fresh, unpasteurised, non-alcoholic apple juice.

Poverty Lane Orchards, New Hampshire.

Go to Frankfurt and talk to the apfelwein community, and they will refuse to believe you that Britain makes and drinks fifty per cent of the world's total cider volume.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Cider: Always drink responsibly. Unless you're from the 1970s.

It's Cider O' Clock here on Pete Brown's Blog for the next week or so. World's Best Cider is now on sale, and launches officially next week, which is nice, because it's also the week of various Apple Day celebrations.

I'll be writing quite a bit about the book, about the themes within it and some of the fantastic people we met while researching it, over the next week or two. But to kick things off, I wanted to share with you some images of real cider ads that ran in the 1970s and can still be seen in the Bulmer's Museum in Hereford. It's a great place. If you think Bulmer's have only ever done bland, tasteless commercial crap, you need to go and have your perceptions changed. Once, they made the best cider in the world, by any reasonable standards, and the evidence of this is still there.

By the time the images below were being developed, they were making bland, commercial crap. But without this crap, we would never have got these ads. It's a price worth paying. It's ads like these that made Woodpecker such a success for Bulmer's in the 1970s and 1980s, and they remain an inspiration - a lodestone - for alcohol advertisers in the new millennium.

Today, the British advertising Code of Practice states:

“Marketing communications must neither link alcohol with seduction, sexual activity or sexual success nor imply that alcohol can enhance attractiveness… [and] must not imply that drinking alcohol is a key component of the success of a personal relationship or social event."

Happily then, this ad targets bar staff and simply urges them to draw pints of Woodpecker from the font, ready for thirsty customers with nothing but refreshment on their minds. 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Beer festivals and festival beer: how Carslberg is missing a trick with its music sponsorship

You can have anything you want. So long as you want Tuborg.

When I'm not propping up the bar in a good pub, I like nothing better than jumping up and down and shouting at men with guitars.

I've been doing a great deal of the latter this summer at music festivals. The first time I went to Glastonbury in 1987 most people hadn't heard of it, and for those who had, to suggest going was about the same as suggesting you quit your job, start freebasing crack and buy a mangy dog on a piece of string.

In 1987, the only mention of Glastonbury in the national media was the number of arrests (it was never pointed out that this number was always far lower than in any town of a population size equivalent to the festival over the weekend). Now it gets wall-to-wall coverage, and tickets are impossible to come by. And so we've seen a huge proliferation of festivals, with several happening every weekend from June to September. When we look at declining beer sales figures every summer, it's a shame these events aren't monitored. The picture might look a little different if we could take into account a hundred thousand people drinking steadily for three days each weekend.

Festivals are now big business, and big brands are all over them. And this led to two very different beer experiences at the festivals I attended this summer.

The Latitude Festival is held just outside Southwold in Suffolk. Recently it was taken over by Festival Republic, who also run Reading, Glastonbury and various other festivals. The organisation has signed a deal with Carlsberg to supply Tuborg lager and Somersby cider to all these festivals. At Latitude, at the ten or so bars around the festival site, Tuborg was the only lager on offer, Somersby the only cider. Hobgoblin was on sale too - for some reason. Whether Carlsberg thought this was a better bet than their own Tetley's beer, or festival republic signed a separate ale deal with Marston's, I'm not sure.

I have nothing against Carlsberg really, even if I don't drink much of it myself.  Tuborg is no better or worse than its mainstream competitors. Personally I don't like Somersby, but other people do. And while I like the odd pint of Hobgoblin, it's far too dark and heavy for a sunny festival weekend. After all, it's achieved huge success by positioning itself as a beer for late Autumn. With these beers as the only choices on offer, anywhere, for four days, I ended up simply not drinking very much beer.

The Green Man Festival in South Wales is very different. It's still independent. This year there was a real ale tent stocking 99 different Welsh ciders and cask ales. At the other beer tents on the festival site,

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Cask Report shows how cask ale helps keep good pubs open

Today sees the launch of the Cask Report, the annual state of the beery nation I write on behalf of a loose consortium of brewers and beer industry bodies.

Every year I think 'how can we do another one without just getting repetitious?' and every year we somehow get enough insight and data to give us more understanding of why cask ale is increasing in popularity and why this is good news for publicans (the main target audience for the report). Everything can be downloaded from the Cask Report website, if not now then by the end of the day, but here are the main summary highlights...  

Cask ale is outperforming  the total beer market by 6.8%

Cask declined marginally by 1.1% in 2012, versus a total beer market decline of 7.9%, and the long-term trend remains one of steady improvement. Cask grew in value by 3% (thanks to increasing prices). Cask’s ale’s share of total draught ale has increased to 55%. Cask continues to grow its share of all beer with a 16% share of all on-trade beer. Although cask ale's performance is flat, that's much better than the general decline in beer.

Cask ale continues to grow in awareness and interest 

More pubs are stocking more cask ales on the bar. 57% of pubs now stock cask - up from 53% in 2009 - stocking an average 3.8 different brands. 

The growth in range is helped by the 184 new breweries that have opened in the last year

That's three new breweries a week. We now have 1147 breweries in the UK, the vast majority of which brew cask ale.

Cask ale plays a major part in keeping pubs open 

Cask ale pubs see better results across the whole beer range, and cask drinkers are far more likely to visit the pub, far less likely to say they are doing so less often. Many people say they are going to the

Thursday, 22 August 2013

"Events, dear boy, events!" (As Harold Macmillan probably didn't say)

Early autumn is busy at the best of times and I have a book coming out in October. Here's what's keeping me on the road and off the streets for the next couple months.

This one goes out to all the ad industry planners doing the job I used to do. I'm leading a meander of planners around Southwark tomorrow lunchtime, discussing Shakespeare's Local and ending up in The George. Contact Sarah Newman at the APG to book a place if you're interested.

I feel a bit bad that a pub named after George Orwell - one of the greatest ever English writers - was changed to the name of one of my books. But not too bad. The Hops & Glory is an excellent pub at the top of Essex Road in Islington. This Bank Holiday Weekend it's having an IPA festival, and they invited me down to do a talk on the history of possible the greatest ever beer style. I'll be talking, reading from Hops & Glory, signing books and tasting beers.

(After my talk, I'll be checking out two other excellent Bank Holiday events in pubs that are walking distance from the Hops & Glory, purely as punter: a weekend-long cider festival at The Alma on Newington Green, and a celebration of East London Breweries at the Duke of Wellington on Balls Pond Road.)

Meantime's Old Brewery hosts a monthly beer dinner where you get to taste a stunning array of beers bound together by a loose theme. I was delighted to be asked back to do a new one after a successful IPA dinner at the end of last year. The theme for this one is the role of beer throughout British history, and a look at the different forces that have shaped the development of beer, and the way beer has in turn influenced the development of society. The beers on the menu are a symbolic, rather than literal, representation of key styles over time, starting from the present day and moving back in time. Here's the menu in full:

A History of Britain According to Beer
The Old Brewery Beer and Food Night Menu

Meantime London Pilsner
Timothy Taylor Landlord

Smoked eel, carrot and beetroot salad, horseradish cream
Hobson’s Mild

Beef Wellington, Welsh potato cakes, ale gravy
Redchurch Great Eastern IPA

Apple pie with custard & vanilla ice cream
Meantime London Porter

A selection of British cheese with beer chutney & crackers
St Bernardus Pater C
To finish
Kernel Export Stout

Full details and ticket booking are available at the Meantime Old Brewery website.

The 'Glastonbury of Food Festivals' (copyright: the entire foodie media) has become a bit of a regular fixture for me and every year it's so good I decide that I'm emigrating to Wales before subsequently sobering up. This year Bill Bradshaw and I will be talking about World's Best Cider and sampling a few different ciders from around the world. 

Tickets for this event have already sold out! Returns may be available. But the next day, Bill will be interviewing one of my favourite cider makers - Simon Day from Once Upon A Tree. Simon's ciders are quite unlike anything you might imagine, recalling the seventeenth century tradition of Herefordshire fine cyder. I'll be in the front row holding my glass up. Tickets are available here.

The book hits the shelves! We'll be doing various events around the country. Details will go up here when confirmed.