Sunday, 31 May 2009

Mild Mail

Even though the idiosyncratic approach of the Daily Mail to daily life is rather off-putting, one cannot but applaud the approach of the Mail on Sunday’s Live Magazine to beer: today there’s a quarter page on mild to celebrate the month of Mild (once again May as the month of mild seems to me to be equally idiosyncratic but there you go). Given the constant gnashing of teeth over here in the UK about the coverage of beer, especially in the left-leaning qualities (Guardian, Indie, er that’s it), it seems that the Devil has the best — beery — tunes at the moment.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Wet brewery

What a great term. I heard it for the first time the other week when being shown around Hall and Woodhouse (right) in Dorset by head brewer Toby Heasden, who said they weren’t one. A ‘wet brewery’ used to be one where there was a barrel of beer (usually the weakest in the range) set up for staff to enjoy — though I don’t know if that was all day or on a special day. Probably not all of them, especially the lorry drivers and fork-lift operatives, but it was one of those perks that are slowly disappearing (one of the bigger breweries used to give their workers a ration of cans). When I went round Palmers in 2001 (I think) there was a barrel of their now defunct ‘Boys’ Bitter’ Bridport PA set up in one area — that’s no longer the case. Meanwhile, the old Wandsworth Young’s brewery had a tasting room where the brewery’s pensioners used to go for a pint or two, and sometimes be joined by the head brewer (the last Wandsworth head brewer Ken Don showed me the place on a visit in about 2001) and probably Sir John Young. And over in the Czech Republic do Skoda car workers still have non-alcoholic beer available, as was related to me in 2005? There are obviously issues about your staff on the sauce all day, but disappearance of the ‘wet brewery’ is yet another sign of the decline of beer at the centre of people’s lives, along with the changing nature of the pub and the marginalisation of mild (btw: which genius thought up May as the ‘month of mild’ — it’s sunny out there and the last thing I want is a mild).

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Product placement or not?

Off to see the latest Star Trek movie (not a Trekkie, it’s half term) and there’s a scene in a bar towards the start where the future Captain Kirk gets in a brawl. Prior to that he’s pestering the future Lieutenant Uhura, who has just ordered a round of drinks including one called Budweiser Classic (probably brewed in a plant somewhere on Alpha Centuri, cheaper labour costs etc). Unashamed product placement or a favour returned? A Bud plant in California (Earth) apparently stood in for the engineering bit on the Enterprise, so you have to make your own mind up. Mind you, I would have thought Kirk’s favourite tipple would have been anything from Rogue.

It’s a bit sad when one starts noting these things in a movie; I remembering trying to see what was the name of the Peruvian beer James Bond was drinking in a Lima bar in Casino Royale, but to no avail.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Feet washing

A delicious glass or three of Jaipur accompanies this gorgeous summer day as I hide from the thrum and thump of the Morris men whose drums singe the air; Dulverton folk festival draws in a caravan of Bohemians and bandits who spam the town with their guitars. A strum here and a strum there; the Bridge Inn draws them in with a mini beer festival that features RCH’s luscious East Street Cream, Orkney’s steadfast Dark and the Carmen Miranda of an ale Jaipur, plus several others. Meanwhile at the top of town the Rock Inn features Black Cat, Pitchfork and a couple of others. Men with hats that feature daisies as a halo sip and sing their way through these ales, while the locals turn their nostrils up at various delights. Try a real ale says someone at the bar to one of the town’s cricketers who shows off his yellowing bruise from the previous weekend (he bowled me there we are told and once again I reiterate that cricket is more dangerous than rugby); I would rather wash my feet in it comes the reply, filthy stuff; and he orders a Guinness. I start to think about going on about that all good beer is good beer, but lose the will to live (I don’t want to be known as a real ale radical, all good beer is my universe). It’s wasted on me says Herbie as he savours his Carlsberg, twisting the knife in the wound, but when he turns up at my house after taking James to the pub across the road for a game of pool with Jack, I offer him a swig of Prima Pils from Victory. No thanks he says, not really interested, oh alright he says, and tries it — that’s not bad is it, he says, face bemused. Can I have some more? Not really I say, but try this bottle of Bel Pils. He enjoys it. Result! Now for the feet washing man.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Wednesday afternoon drinking

To the Oxford Brookes Library for a meeting of the British Guild of Beer Writers committee; the Library has a special brewing (and gastronomic) section. Michael Jackson’s archives are stored there (as it seems are those of one of my favourite food writers Jane Grigson) and they take up a lot of space. It’s informative and also poignant; I remember being awed when seated next to Michael at the 2000 Wheat Beer Awards and he said that he had never been able to successfully identify a beer during a blind tasting, I think he might have been having me on. On the other hand there are rows and rows of brewing and beer and pub books racked up there — this is a vertible brewing wonderland and I think you can view it (contact to book an appointment). Onto Oxford pubs then — I lived in Cambridge for six years and have (and still do) always thought that Cambridge is a superior beer town: the Free Press, Cambridge Blue, Live and Let Live, I rest my case. On the other hand, I was taken to the Turf, down a little alley, overlooked by a section of the old town walls — a beer garden in which it was a Proustian pleasure of sorts to enjoy an ale or two in the afternoon (we all sat there and swapped predictably boring anecdotes of boozy days from long ago). ‘It’s fantastic having a beer when people are working,’ said one smugoid on the next table. I concur, though this is not something I do much these days (apart from Sunday), but there is something absurdly wonderful about one (or two) on a Wednesday afternoon. As for the beers, at the King’s Arms the Young’s Ordinary still had that sprightly hoppy edge that I have always loved, while at the Turf Otley became a new friend with their use of American hops (it was also good to see Cotswold Lager Company’s Wheat Beer on tap — message to brewery, get your glasses out into circulation, the beer looks horrible in a nonic pint glass) and the Bear’s ESB was a big multi-coloured glass of fruit, esters, barley and love. This trio of Oxford pubs I visited might make me re-evaluate things so I think it’s time I went back out east and contemplated Cambridge’s beer credentials as well.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

CAMRA newsletters

Here’s something to put the cat amongst the pigeons. CAMRA newsletters are quite useful sometimes. Yes, they feature articles that speak of ‘a good time was had by all’ and reports of visits to beer festivals are pretty good in the middle of the night when sleep won’t come. However, looking back through the ones I have saved over the past few years, they are pretty invaluable when it comes to cataloguing the changing nature of the way CAMRA people look at beer (they’re not bad for looking at local brewery history at the ground level). For a start I must declare an interest: I used to edit the Somerset one and amongst submissions on bus timetables (honest), there were reports on visits to the US, Australia, the Czech republic and lambic breweries. Looking back through them, this was the raw stuff of history, evidence of changing views towards beer. I had reports on Aussie micros, Singaporean micros and even a beer festival in the Galapagos or somewhere like that; on the other hand I remember some right stinkers: one chap said he had a report on the Boston beer scene and would I like to print it. Along came 2000 words of closely typed nonsense, which I managed to cut to 50 words; another time I printed two letters about the same pub in the beer desert that was (and presumably still is) Bridgwater. One lauded its recent beer festival, the other complained about its (unfair) pricing policy at the same festival. The pub made a fuss, kicked out its real ale pumps and closed some time ago. Yes of course the newsletters laud CAMRA, but they wouldn’t do otherwise — it would be like a copy of Radio Times telling everyone not to watch the TV (what a good idea); they are provincial, again so what. As someone who collects all sorts of beer memorabilia rubbish, I still find myself — guilt free — slipping one into my pocket when I find them in a pub somewhere out in the wilds and off they go on the second shelf right in the picture.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

German porter

Just ploughing my way through Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks and come across a reference to the head of the eponymous family enjoying his porter while the Bavarian hop merchant who has been squiring his daughter sings the praises of Bavarian beer (presumably golden). It’s set in the 1860s in a North German port that approximates to Lubeck, while Mann was writing this towards the end of the 19th century — this suggests that German porter was still common enough to be noted. Presume that the unification of Germany in 1871 was the beginning of the Reinheitsgebot being rolled out through the whole of the Second Reich. This is not exactly breaking news, I know, but also makes me think about other great works of literature that feature beer. Flann O’Brien and porter are synonymous (whether in At Swim Two Birds or other works I know not), I seem to recall Bass’ No 1 barley wine being mentioned in the evening section of Joyce’s Ulysses, while a bit more closer to our time, Graham Swift’s Waterland featured a town brewery that produced an extra strong ale for some local event (possibly the end of WW1), mass consumption of which caused the brewery to be burnt down. Swift also wrote Last Orders, though for me one of the best books about pub life is JM O’Neill’s Duffy Is Dead — if you ever spent time in Hackney’s Irish pubs in the 1980s then this is a glorious if bleak evocation of time ill spent.
(by the way that’s not a glass of German porter, it’s actually an Alt from a brewpub outside Dusseldorf and I’m not making comparisons with various forms of fermentation either, I just thought it a nice picture)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Taking the Mickey

This there here is a picture of the bar at the ‘English pub’ in Disneyland, Florida, where my wife was recently on a press trip (you can read about it here) — if you lived in the bubble that seems to be Disney then these hideous looking artefacts are presumably seen as the height of drinking style over here. It’s like a vision of an alternative history of UK pub life, a steampunk version of what would have happened if craft brewers in the UK (and in the US) hadn’t decided that they wanted a bit of variety in their drinking lives — and, of course, we drinkers also decided to give them a chance. Given Disney’s concern with wholesomeness (one of my wife’s fellow trippers wanted the name of her blog — Dulwich Divorcee — on a Disney t-shirt and was told that Disney didn’t like to be associated with such a word as divorce), then does it know it is selling wife-beater? When you come to think of it, it is slightly sinister to think of a mouse in trousers and a duck wearing a hat. It’s Dr Moreau gone mad.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Women get it

Do you want another drink, I’m asked. Just a half I say, which provokes groans from the men around the table. You can’t have a half says one. I can I say and a half of draught Budvar is duly delivered. The men still grimace, but their wives like the look of the glass and ask what the problem is. The glass is elegant and shapely and the half of Budvar glistens in the sunshine. A bit of elementary beer education, which shows that when it comes to beer glassware women seem to get it more than men.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

As it should be

Down by the river in one of my two locals and we’re talking about what people drink. Herbie likes his Carlsberg and Rick is on the Addlestone’s (as are various WAGs) — lager makes me feel gassy and real ale gives me a head says Rick, while the prospect of a forthcoming beer festival in the pub we are drinking in and featuring the likes of East Street Cream and Orkney Dark gets Herbie saying it will be wasted on him. I’m on Otter Ale, then draught Budvar and feel like a wine snob (though the prospect of a beer festival where I can drink ESC and Ork Dark 400 metres from my door excites me no end) — we’re all having a good time, as are quite a few people around us. Thoughts about beer wars, campaigns, cask ale weeks, god knows how many beers you have to drink before you keel over and whatever are off on in the ether — we’re just enjoying good pub time. As it should be.