Wishlist #21; More Artisinal Cider and Perry

The mention of cider evokes various images. Industrial grot, laced with additives, necked by teenagers. Horse-piss scrumpy, twigs floating in it, stripping enamel from your teeth.

So here's a positive image - artisanal producers of quality cider and perry. I love how producers such as West County in the US take pride in being artisans; "an enterprise small enough so that the farmer or craftsman is the guiding and working force behind what is grown and made". I love the passion for quality and standards shown by the likes of Tom Oliver, the force behind the Guild Of Craft Cider and Perry Producer's Charter.

I love good cider and perry. I love a product that's made with care and passion, that's taken time to mature, skill to blend. I'm glad that I can't walk into a supermarket and buy stuff from Olivers/Burrow Hill/Whin Hill/Gwatkins. I want to search it out and treasure it, I want it to be made only in small batches, I want it to be positioned as a premium product and I want producers and consumers to take pride in it.

Un-mucked-about-with cider and perry could be the UK's finest contribution to the world's premium quality alcoholic products. The quiet revolution is underway; perhaps it's time to cherish it a little more.


Wishlist #20; A National Museum of Brewing

We have some great national museums; maritime, science, railway. Er, computing. Um, customs and excise... so where's the National Museum of Brewing? After all, it's an industry revolutionised by transportation, embodied by science. Enhanced by computing? Often shafted by HMRC...

The closest we've had was the Bass Museum in Burton-on-Trent. MolsonCoors closed that down in 2008 and it has to be said that it was looking rather tired and emotional at the end of its days. That may be the result of under-investment; it has to be said that allowing free entry for CAMRA members - surely a key visitor market - didn't seem to be the most commonsense business model.

We may well yet see that collection rehoused. But a brewing museum is too great a concept to be entrusted to a single brewing concern. As an industry which has shaped the rural and urban landscape of this country; that has played a pivotal role in economic and social history; that reveals something about the very core of our national identity... we deserve a National Museum of Brewing.

Something that's dynamic and interactive. Where machines work. Where shires tramp around. Where aromas and flavours can be found. Where brewery archives - not just Bass's - can be bequeathed. Where universities develop formal partnerships for research into brewing science and social history. Where a microbrewery brews - in those historic styles I've mentioned a few weeks ago.

Not a visitor centre, an exhibition, a stultified archive. But a living, breathing, respiring, fermenting place.

There are a few sites in a certain East Staffordshire town that would be suitable. Political will, brewer's desire and popular support could combine to give us the museum that all topers deserve.


Wishlist #19: English Gueuze

Let's go for broke. English gueuze. Let's have it. Simply because it can't exist.

Let's start with A Gueuze 101. It tastes like fizzy piss and smells like barnyard piss. If it actually looks like your piss, you need to get back on the tablets.

Let's try that again. It's an acidic beer featuring spontaneous fermentation - the wort ferments after natural inoculation by wild yeasts present in the air. It's made by blending old and young beers (lambics) which allows the younger beer to continue fermentation. And it's ruddy gorgeous.

To be lambic, the beer must be brewed in the Brussels-Lembeek area. Where the wild yeasts are. I'm guessing here, but I don't think there's a heap of Brettanomyces bruxellensis in the air around Kidderminster. Or Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Or Cocks.

And if we found it, and brewed with it, it still wouldn't be lambic/gueuze. Belgium has an outfit called HORAL, the High Council for Artisanal Lambik style beers. They promote the style and protect it via legislation. So we can't actually have gueuze here.

But I still reckon that England could have a wild-fermented sour ale. A little bit of brett could be out there. Somewhere. If you have a beer, if no other yeast can help, and if you can find brett, maybe you can brew... Wild Harvested Or Reseeded Superlative English Sour. WHORSES ;-)


Wishlist #18; More Decent Filtered Bottles

Bottle conditioned beers can be a thing of wonder. Living yeast allows further conditioning and/or fermentation and so preserves the beer and possibly adds to its complexity of flavour and aroma. Indeed, some bottles won’t reveal their intended characteristics until after a lengthy ageing period.

But that doesn’t mean that non-conditioned bottles should be written off. Yes, they’re too often the last resting place of poor beers that have had the last vestige of life pasteurised out of them, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Beer can be filtered instead, perhaps even centrifuged, to remove yeast rather than having it burnt out. The challenge lies in maximising the flavour and aroma, making sure that volatile hop nuances aren’t lost in the process.

Thornbridge are looking to introduce a range of beers, carbonated in the tank, that will be centrifuged to as low a yeast count as possible before topping up carbonation as a "bright beer" before bottling. They’re likely to do that for beers best drank fresh, those with lower ABVs and highly hopped beers. Brewdog are investing in light-filtration techniques that will preserve the intense flavours and aromas found in their beers.

I want to see UK brewers learn from continental and US production methods and develop innovative ways of bottling beers with a decent shelf life that's still chock full of tasty goodness.


Sainsbury's Beer Challenge: Williams Bros

In the last few years, UK supermarkets have been undergoing a quiet revolution when it comes to stocking quality beer. Rather than get all dewy-eyed about the demise of Safeway and their foreign beer list, the chainstore-shopping toper can be excited about initiatives that bring world class UK beers to a wider market. 'Beer challenges' have proved popular; a range of beers are trialled with the fastest/highest volume seller gaining an ongoing national listing.

Which brings us to Sainsbury's. Their 2009 challenge sees fifteen beers promoted from ten brewers, almost half of the beers being Scottish. Yes, Brewdog's distinctive bottles are in there but it's fellow countrymen Williams Brothers who lead the way with four entries showcasing differing styles. I took a few bottles out and about with me to see how they fared, as well as handing some out to colleagues for their impressions.

One thing that the Silverstone circuit lacks is decent beer. It's thirsty work being sat on your backside watching a few million quids worth of GT cars speed past, so I took two of the Williams beers with me on a recent jaunt to the Northamptonshire circuit.

Fighting my way into the crowded stands, Ceilidh was first up. Billed as a lager, it's got some latent sweetness but there's simply bags of crispy malt in there. A little citric licks around, some fresh flower petals. A very smooth mouthfeel makes for an enjoyable botle; not a quencher, more golden ale than lagery, still worth taking a punt on.

Next on the schedule was the IPA. Lager malted again to give that lilt of sweetness and smooth texture. Was it well-hopped? Well, there's a whiff of Amarillo here but the Bramling Cross mix makes for a balanced hop feel. In fact, it's so well balanced as to be almost understated; perhaps lifted by a tinge of cinnamon-topped apple pie in there? Certainly another fair whack of sweeter malts. It's all fairly smooth, but I prefer a few rough edges with my IPAs.

The other two beers were reserved for post-lawnmowing on Sunday. Birds and Bees was the intriguing one; Belgian pale malt, hopped with Cascade and Bobek hops and infused with elderflowers and lemon zest. It was smooth enough, with the now-customary clean-sweet malts bolstered by a wheaty backbone. Fruity enough, with some plump juicy fruits to the fore. Zesty? Not really. Elderflower? Barely. Which was disappointing at the time as I'm keen on such flavours when they're full-on. But on reflection, Birds and Bees struck a similar balance to the other Williams beers and was probably better for it.

Which leaves the 80/- til last. To be honest I wasn't expecting much from this, which is why it was sat at the back of the fridge and behind the others in the pecking order. And so it's great to be blindsided. Gorgeous cool toffee (anyone else love toffee out the fridge?) with a biscuity crunch. Hedgerow fruitiness that bursts as you work it round your mouth. Bits of bonfire toffee lurking too. Yet it's still really soft, the combination of calm carbonation and clean malts seems to have become a trademark of these Williams beers.

So what does that leave us with? A lager that isn't, but is golden; a golden ale that is golden but isn't elderflower; an IPA that's flowery but not that fruity and a fruity bitter that's above all expectation. With liquid toffee-dunked Digestives.

And because I'm a generous chap, I shared some bottles around at work. Birds and Bees was classed as "yummy", Ceilidh had "burnt malt and hints of citrus". And 80/- was "pleasantly enjoyable". I'd second that emotion.

These beers are (hopefully) on the shelves of a Sainsbury's near you. If, indeed, you have a Sainsbury's near you. You can probably buy them online. Possibly. If you can't see them in store, try the aisle where they hide the seasonal stuff.

And at four for the price of three, you can treat yourself to the full Williams set for (I think) £5.97.

Thanks to Williams Brothers for the samples


Wishlist #17: Decent UK Lager

Keg lager nearly killed cask bitter. When I were a lad, lager was cool - advertised incessantly and drunk by the bucketload. It may have tasted of bubblegum and chilled your teeth to the roots but at least it wasn't what your Dad drank - bitter or mild, the stuff that had twigs in and made him fart.

Nowadays, lager is still chucked down necks regularly although UK on-sales seem to be suffering. Erstwhile premium brands are watering down to reposition themselves in a market hung over with lager-lout and wife-beater connotations.

So now's the time to reclaim lager as a decent, tasty pint. There's been a quiet revolution going on for some time; Freedom have had a lager-only brewery in England for fourteen years; Moravka have been producing unpasturised (and even unfiltered) lagers in Derbyshire since 1997. In Scotland, Williams and Brewdog both bottle lagers. Outfits such as Meantime and Zerodegrees offer home-brewed keg lagers. The likes of Cains, Oakleaf and Harviestoun have all been knocking out cask or keg lager to appreciative customers. And it's not just the pale stuff; bocks, dunkels and schwartz have made their ways, kicking and screaming, onto UK bars in recent years.

The step change for me will be decent keg lager with national distribution. Good lager is out there - it's time to reclaim the style from the supermarket tinny-hoards and show that it can be as good in the UK as it is in Central Europe. I'd like to see Wetherspoons encourage lager brewers by offering one in each region a bar font for a UK Lager promotion. The mass market is nothing to be ashamed of and I think lager drinkers deserve better than the current fizzy swill.


Wishlist #16; More UK brewpubs

Let's keep this one simple. More pubs should brew beer on the premises. Enough to satisfy the demands of their customers. Only served at the pub itself so, if it's good, you've got to travel their to try it. If pubs are looking for a unique selling point, home-brewed beer exclusive to the establishment is as exclusive as they come.

Perhaps publicans with the capacity to set up a backyard brewery could approach a microbrewer who's looking to move out of their garage/shed; the pub gains a house beer, the brewer gains a market.

My real wish? Several brewpubs in the same village/town/city centre all brewing their own beers and then joining together for collaborative brews and festivals. Think of the buzz that could be generated.


Wishlist #15; Food & Beer menus done properly

Pairing food and beer in a bar/restaurant successfully is often so woeful in the UK as to be almost insulting. In some places I've visited where there's a formal approach (i.e. beer option listed against dish on the menu) it's ranged from the half-hearted (IPA with fish & chips... but they only sold Deuchars) to the downright bizzare (Anchor Steam with burger and chips. Because they're both American. Gah.)

Sometimes, if I'm feeling in a particularly cruel mood, when a day of pulling legs off spiders and deleting random files on the work server still hasn't satiated my evil streak, I like to go and bait barstaff. I'll go for a meal in a pub that offers a fair range of cask & bottled beer, order something like liver and onions, then ask the waiting staff, "Which beer would you recommend with this"? The results tend not to be good.

Either pair them well or not at all. There's such an opportunity to be successful with beer/food matching. It's also way too easy to make a complete horlicks of it. I'm all for dishes cooked and served with the same beer, or having a few well-paired dishes with high-quality bottles. Just don't feel that every tuna jacket potato or lamb bhuna needs a beer pairing.

Just a couple of places that do it well would be appreciated. Not every city can have a Den Dyver. But I can dream...


Wishlist #14; Good Beer Guide Online

CAMRA's Good Beer Guide (GBG) is a decent publication. Yes, it's not all-inclusive. Yes, some entries defy rational explanation. But it's still the most comprehensive papery-thing-tied-up-with-string beer guide that I know of for the UK.

And the papery-thing bit is the problem. I visited Norfolk last month; the GBG travelled on the back seat of the car and signposted us to outstanding places like the Ugly Bug at Colton that we wouldn't have known about otherwise. But the problem with a printed guide is that it's old gen as soon as it's printed. Pubs close, opening hours change. So, how about getting the GBG online - and updated frequently.

The GBG must be a revenue-generator for CAMRA; I've misplaced my set of last year's accounts, so I don't know the figure. The argument proffered against producing an online version in the past has been that fewer people would buy the book, thus less cash enters CAMRA's coffers. But perhaps they ought to think of the bigger picture; what if some other online pub guide adds a 'Good Beer Guide' flag to their listings? As pubs already advertise the fact that they're in the Guide, is it fair to say that the listing info is already in the public domain?

A CAMRA-endorsed web-based directory site, with members-only access, could add value to the Good Beer Guide rather than threaten it. At the very least, let's have a more comprehensive GBG 'updates' section on the CAMRA site... perhaps one that branches/members can update themselves?


Wishlist #13; The Brewing Process Explained Clearly

There's no substitute for having the brewing process explained to you by a brewer whilst he/she brew. But I'd like to see a clear, informative guide somewhere on the internet.

Wikipedia is too wordy, stuff like this is (literally) too Flash. Brewers such as Thornbridge and Broughton have explained the process in great detail, but I'd like to see something that strikes a happy medium between accessibility and academia.

One that gives a simple overview, with illustrations/animations. Which then has the scientific detail of each process available if you want to dig down further (a bit like how the Broughton site works). And has a full hyperlinked glossary of brewing terms. And an appreciation of how much cleaning and disinfecting goes on!

Perhaps there's such a site out there already. Let me know if you have a favourite.

If not, who's going to take on the challenge of building one?


Wishlist #12; Better UK/NZ beer distribution

The problem with wanting to try craft beers from half way round the world is that they're, uh, half way round the world. To import them, they're probably going to travel on a slow boat at a high unit cost. Which is a bugger when you live in England and are keen on drinking beer brewed in New Zealand.

It's all the fault of Luke Nicholas. I met the award-winning Kiwi brewer from Epic Beer a couple of months ago when he was over in the UK, promoting a UK-brewed version of Epic Pale at the Wetherspoons festival. He's a really passionate and engaging guy and I'd like to try more of his beers (particularly Armageddon IPA). I'm sure thousands of others would like to, too.

The key would be a cheaper distribution route - I don't suppose an outfit like Epic can cover the costs of an exclusive shipment half way across the world. Short of discovering a pan-Atlantic/Pacific wormhole, I don't have any bright ideas. Apart from... there must be shipments from NZ-USA, USA-UK and back again; if you or anyone you know works in international shipping frieght, let me know and we'll see if we can work something out. If only for a case of Armageddon that's been tucked under the bunks; I'll glady come and collect it from any UK port ;-)


Wishlist #11; Fewer Anonymous Beers

Most brewers have a core range of beers. Many produce specials, perhaps on a seasonal basis. And some brew endless variants of the same beer; malts bills and hop varieties tweaked, ABVs hovering around 4.2%. There's a light one and a brown one.
And a browner one and a darker one. And they're all brewed to be ticker-friendly. And they all taste just the same.

Why churn out what is ostensibly the same beer (and not always a good one to start with) and continually rename it? Is it pure marketing - to attract customers into buying a 'new' beer? Only to be told, on asking what it tastes like, "er... it's rather like the other ones that they do". Is it lack of consistency in the brewing process; they cannot reproduce a given recipe so each run becomes a 'special'? Is it to bait tickers? Is it to sell over-designed pumpclips to tickers at festivals?

I'm all for experimentation in brewing. But incessant tinkering and renaming of bland bitters does the UK beer scene a massive dis-service. Let's have fewer 'anonymous' bitters and more that a brewer is proud to brand under just one name.


Wishlist #10; Regional CAMRA festivals

I'm guessing that most branches of CAMRA run a beer festival. As branches vary in size, tradition and ambition, so do the venues and scale of those festivals. I've drank in a Melton cattle shed, the Town Hall in Burton and marquees on the castle lawn in Nottingham. Larger venues can offer more choice; more punters mean more footfall, more beer sold, more stalls and food outlets etc.

So why not have regional CAMRA festivals? I'd like to see festivals that could manage the expense of stocking more US/continental bottled/cask beers. More festivals offering a variety of food, seating areas, entertainment. Festivals where the emphasis is on beer but the venue isn't just a long bar with a burger stand on the end. Areas for tutored tastings, demonstrations, presentations...

I'm not suggesting that every CAMRA 'region' hosts an uber-fest; the size differential of those regions is too great. And a regional event shouldn't be at the expense of smaller branch fests. But I think there's potential for a couple of 'festival+' gatherings through the year, perhaps each point midway between National Winter and GBBF. The potential economy of scale delivered by large festivals could enable them to be innovative and still profitable for the region... and maybe even help to subsidise those branch fests...


Wishlist #9; More pubs and brewers on Twitter

What if you could subscribe to a service where your favourite brewers kept you informed of their latest brews and news? Where your favourite pubs told you what beers were on that night? Where you didn't have to trawl websites and forums and scoopgen and blog upon blog for updated gen?

That's Twitter, that is. Whereas blogs and sites take time out of a busy publican's/brewer's day to maintain, Twitter is updated as quick as a text message. And those updates are going out to people who choose to be informed - people who want to hand over their hard-earned cash for a product they're interested in. And who will re-tweet the news to likeminded friends.

Twitter is a marketing dream for the industry. Brewers, publicans - make yourself heard on there sooner rather than later and make the most of a promotional channel that money couldn't buy.


Wishlist #8: CAMRA branch website templates

Of all the websites that ought to be good for updated brewery news / pub opening times / crawl ideas / festival info, local CAMRA branches should be at the forefront. But not every branch will have a technical maestro who's able to give up the significant time it takes to keep a website up-to-date and looking fresh. And it's frustrating when one branch offers excellent gen in an accessible way, yet others seem to bury news or are slow to refresh the content.

So how about CAMRA developing a website template that all branches could take advantage of? So branches can concentrate on content? Where core info could be found regardless of branch? With an emphasis on collaborative working? For instance; group-authored blogs, Twitter updates on branch meetings and socials, Facebook pages featuring 'Pub Of The Year' pics and reports?

It seems a shame to have a brand like CAMRA that's then diluted at local level. Let's not heap misery onto the shoulders of one put-upon 'webmaster'; share the joy, give all the sites consistency and let members Tweet updates about good beer whilst they're down the pub.


Wishlist #7: One pub in every city that's as good as the Grove

Eighteen cask beers, including one continental. Two ciders/perrys. Ten draught lager/weiss/fruit beers. 200+ bottles from around the world. Pork pies. Pickled duck eggs. Rabbit jerky. Bar and lounge and taproom. T-shirts and glasses illustrated by famous cartoonist. Hard working bar staff. Beer geeks and locals sharing drinks. Close to the railway and bus stations.

No, not another attempt at my Moon Under Water. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Grove Inn, Huddersfield. Not Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham... Huddersfield. If the UK's 39th largest urban area can host such an excellent pub, why can't others? The custom must be there. Where's the vision and passion required to do likewise across the UK? Indeed, where else in the UK is there a pub that offers anything remotely similar to the Grove? Answers on a beermat, please...


Wishlist #6; Compulsory Morris Dancing at beer festivals

OK - sit back and relax. I'm going to say something and I want you to say the first thing that pops into your head. Ready.....?

Morris Dancers.

Hands up if you said any of the following;

- hankie wavers
- annoying
- pewter tankards
- really annoying
- ruddy fecking bells
- If you don't stop prancing about and get out of my way I'll be forced to reverse over you

If you answered yes to all seven, congratulations! You are Gazza. Now off you go and enjoy a refreshing tankard of Phoenix Strawberry.

If you agreed with any of those sentiments, it's my job to convince you why morris dancing is something to be revelled in and should indeed be compulsory at beer festivals.

- Morris dancing is a treasured aspect of English folklore. Practiced since the fifteenth century, it's something to be proud of and kept alive. Unlike badger baiting.

- It's not just fat man waving hankies. Some of the most athletic and disciplined dancers I've ever seen - including ballet - have been in morris teams; the all-women's Pecsaetan Morris are a prime example.

- In fact, it's not just hankies. That's Cotswold morris. How about Long Sword morris (three guesses what they use). Molly dance morris often include brooms. And my favourite, Border morris, with its full-on black-faced stick-smacking big-band approach.

- it's actually fun to watch at a fest. Most bands at fests are woeful, at least morris dancers entertain and are often more than happy to share a beer with you. They may even let you have a try-out. They may even try to recruit you. You're in my team now, Dave....

- they have a party where teams dance for the fun of it with plenty of food and drink. And that's called an 'ale'.

Every beer fest should have them.

If you still need convincing, watch Black Pig in action here or visit their website


Wishlist #5; More brewers' collectives

OK - you're a microbrewer. You may have another bod to help with cask cleaning/deliveries. You may have someone who you've cajoled into sorting out the admin and finances. But chances are, for most of the grunt work you're all on your lonesome. You've got to brew, market, sell, distribute, promote, research....
If there are a dozen microbrewers in your area, you could treat them all as competitors. You could all struggle with the same issues. And then you could watch yourself and others go bust. Or you could accept that there's strength in numbers.

I love the idea of brewer's collectives. We have it here in Derbyshire. They operate a 'one-stop shop' for beer festival ordering. They collect empty casks for other members. They promote an 'ale trail' of pubs where member's beers can be bought. They meet regularly to discuss links with universities, access to laboratory services, joint marketing initiatives...

This seems such an obviously good idea that I don't know why other counties/cities/regions have adopted it. Unless they have and I haven't noticed. Either way, more brewers' collectives seem an ideal way to strengthen the hand of microbrewers in these straitened times.


Wishlist #4; Preservation of Historic Beer Styles

Twenty years ago, I drank black beer. Otherwise known as Guinness. I drank black beer because I wasn't keen on brown beer (bitter) and that pale yellow beer (lager) gave me the windy-pops. I knew nothing of beer style - all I knew was it came in different colours.

Nowadays, I'm ceaseless in my search for yet another oak-aged dry-hopped bottle-fermented triple imperial gooseberry hefeweizen. Having gained an understanding of beer styles, I want to discover more. To find those breweries that aren't afraid to experiment, playing fast and loose with new flavours or paying respect to historical recipes (come on down, Thornbridge and Brewdog).

And it's those traditions that I feel need to be preserved properly. Without those baseline styles of brewing beer, we wouldn't have the building blocks for experimentation. Individual breweries keep historic beer styles alive, but I'd like to see a concerted and co-ordinated effort. Recipes should be held in a national depository as part of a National Museum of Brewing. CAMRA could highlight a style every two months (the 'Mild in May' approach) to raise its profile and the drinking public's awareness. And my dream.... the in-house brewery bar at a National Museum of Brewing producing a sampler tray of beers brewed to historic recipes. It would be the reference sampler for British beer styles. And when you'd polished it off, you could move down the bar and try some tasty UK kegged gooseberry hefeweizens too.


Wishlist #3; Mandatory LocAle at CAMRA Festivals

LocAle is one of the most significant CAMRA campaigns they've ever run. It promotes pubs that sell locally brewed real ale, which benefits not only themselves but their customers, the local brewers, the local economy and the environment.

Every CAMRA branch ought to be supporting LocAle. And what better way of promoting the campaign than having a LocAle bar at every local CAMRA beer festival? Not just a few local beers scattered around the venue. A dedicated section of the stillage with banners and beermats covered in the logo. The distance from festival to brewery in miles advertised on the cask end. Perhaps a sampler tray placed out at set times when it's quieter.

LocAle has the potential to engage casual drinkers into CAMRA campaigns. Every CAMRA festival should make a LocAle bar a high-visibility priority. Take pride in your own campaign; promote it with vigour, shout about its success. Then licensees will be more convinced to adopt it.


Wishlist #2; Co-operative Brewplants

Rather than brew every day on a small plant, it may make logistical and financial sense for microbrewers to have one brewday on a larger plant. To then have the time for deliveries, collections, marketing etc as the weekly brew took one day rather than three or four.

But the smaller brewer can't afford the larger plant; can't afford the cost of set-up and running, can't afford to brew at the larger plant's capacity because they haven't built up enough of a market for the product.

So how about co-operative brewplants? Brewers pay a fee to use it, though they make savings due to the economy of scale at the larger plant. That fee pays for operating costs and someone to oversee the operation. Brewers could maintain their own smaller plants for experimental beers. Homebrewers could have access to commercial standard kit.

If it allows a bunch of brewers to produce beer of higher volume and greater consistency - and let them get out of the brewhouse and run their business better too - it could be a real winner.


Wishlist #1; Proper Keg Bitter

Keg bitter. There's a reason why brewers brew it, pubs stock it and punters drink it. Reliability. Cask beer can be shagged up at every turn; on too long/tapped too early in the pub, poorly stored by the distributor, infected when it left the brewer. Keg gives a drinker the confidence that their beer will taste the same every time they have it, regardless of where they buy it.

A shame, then, that most keg bitter tastes of wet cardboard. What a great opportunity going begging - a ready-made market who (hopefully) wouldn't be scared off by a slightly tastier pint than the usual smoothflow dross. A quality keg bitter from a successful cask brewer could be an entry-point into the rest of their portfolio for non-cask drinkers. I'd rather walk into a pub I don't know and have the choice of quality-keg than only potentially-dodgy casks.


The Wishlist

I'm taking a break from beery things this month - recovering from GBBF and looking forward to the opening of the new Thornbridge brewery site in September.

But, fear not dear toper. A couple of book reviews will feature in the next few weeks and a frank review of Thornbridge Juliius will be here soon (once I've actually found a pub serving the damn stuff).

In the meantime, courtsey of scheduled updates, you can expect a post each day based on my Wishlist; random ideas of mine that could make the world of beer a better place. If any of them come to pass, I will claim full credit. If any are purile drunken nonsense, I'll just say I nicked it from Wikipedia.

I'll drop by every now and again just to make sure the site's behaving itself. In the meantime, I'll still be Tweeting sporadically (you can follow me there as reluctantscoop)


Ten random memories of GBBF 2009

#1: Earl's Court: Not Depressing

Walking in there for the first time and thinking: Wow. Yes, there's over twenty-three thousand square metres of concrete flooring. And Olympia has a nicer roof. But it wasn't as depressing as some people had made it out to be. Anyway, at a beer festival the atmosphere isn't painted on the walls - it's the punters that provide the colour and shape.

#2: How To Lose Your Deposit

Full marks go to Ian Harrison of PubsAndBeer.co.uk for his perfectly executed reverse sweep, resulting in the unmistakable sound of glass shattering on concrete. And it wasn't even his glass.

#3: Blood. Sweat. Tears. Menno.

A month ago, De Molen beers were a mystery to me. I've been able to try a few since then and have been hugely impressed. So it was a true highlight when I got to meet the brewer, Menno Olivier, and enjoy the ridiculously-tasty, Bruichladdich-casked smoked beer, Bloed, Zweet & Tranen. Menno has a softly-spoken passion for his beers; I suspect he's as happy to talk about them as people are to listen to him.

#4: US IPA: It's not all hops, hops, hops

Some of them were balanced and smooth; assertive and flavoursome. But, truth be told, my favourite was in-your-face, up-your-nose, down-your-throat hoppy. My first sip of Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA was heaven. How could it get better? By buying another glassful. And then another one. And another one. Although mixing it with an imperial stout wasn't the smartest move...

#5: Brewerspotting

At the table I shared with various RateBeerians, a healthy chunk of our day was spent pointing at brewers and then inviting ourselves over for a chat. To the left, a gaggle of Thornbridgers. At the bar, a greater crested Amber, resplendent with its orange plumage. Circling, a Justin Hawke. There were a few bearded tits, too.

#6: The Hop Hiccups.

Too much mash, eaten too quickly after bolting back a DIPA. Result - the hiccups with a creamy hop flavour. Which made me laugh, which made be hiccup more.... Truely, a gift that kept on giving.

#7: Making a Twitterer of myself

With a fair few people Tweeting, #gbbf became a virtual tasting table. It was great to gain feedback on beers right across the venue, in real time. And with prizes on offer for moments of sublime Tweetness, there was banter aplenty. Those charming men in the press office deemed me worthy of a couple of tokens, which I redeemed for a pint of Welsh cider. Yum.

#8: Crabs and mashed potato

No, not at the same time. I wasn't that pished. The sausage and mash stall served up enough potato to build a sandcastle with. With a moatful of gravy. And the Cromer crab I had, alongside a glass of the Captain Lawrence IPA, was one of the freshest beer/food combo's that I've tried.

#9: Shock - UK Cask Beer Not Actually That Bad

The naysayers told me that UK cask quality at GBBF was indifferent. A couple of brewers tried their own beers and found them to be OK, just not in lip-smackingly perfect condition. But the proof of the pudding is in the, er, drinking.... so I forced myself away from the foreign muck and bought some White Shield P2 (Czar's Imperial Stout). It was in fine form, all those liquid Christmas pudding notes were there. I'd have tried more, this being the Great BRITISH Beer Festival, but the lure of those US DIPAs was too strong...

#10: The Joy of an Early Train Home

My last beery trip to London ended with a mad taxi dash to the station and a missed train. This time, the plan was masterful. A relaxed Tube journey across London (yes, you did read that correctly), plenty of time at the station to take photos (as St Pancras is one of the architectural wonders of the world) and onto the train early. I'd bought a few bottled beers from the festival and thought I'd treat myself to one to round out the day.

As we set off, the steward approached. "Would you like a coffee, Sir? Or are you happy with your beer"? My beer was Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. I was, indeed, hoppily happy with my beer.