Comfortably Numb

Marginalia are a wonderous thing. By the side of failed crosswords, boring books, faded magazines and jaded op-ed pieces I have acquired a wealth of random scribblings. Often libellous, sometimes legible, always nearly related to beer.

Before throwing away newspapers, I check to see if I’ve folded over a page-corner – my indicator-to-self that there’s an interesting article there. Or some random beer scribbling that may be worth developing. Or a picture of Kelly Brook in the buff. Here’s one such preserved slurred musing I’ve just found; “Comfortably Numb – 1980 beer names”. As in, potential beer names taken from hits in 1980. It ran down the margin, over the Sudoku and into an advert for some cock’s V8 droptop. As I honestly have nothing better to do, I’ll share them with you. If you brew a beer and give it one of these names, let me know. I’ll even help you come and drink it.

Ace of Spades – must be a dark beer. 5.2% ABV
Atmosphere – dark, brooding, unsettling. NOT MILD.
Back In Black – does what it says on the tin.
Chemical Warfare – stupidly hopped something.
Comfortably Numb – barley wine, natch
Crazy Train – Nutty. and fruity.
Decades – uses ten hops
Enola Gay – huge dry-hopped hop-bomb of a hoppy IPA
Geno – Washington State hops used
I can't stand up for falling down – a light ale
I wanna be sedated – a milky imperial weiss
To Cut A Long Story Short – an IPA brewed to an old recipe
Tattooed Love Boys – black beer with blueberries
Stereotype – Crystal malt, Fuggles/Golding hopped. But good
Special Brew – legal problems with this?
Rocket From A Bottle – self explanatory


Tasting Beers Live: Lessons Learned Part Three

#4: Good lager is where you find it

You’ve just walked from one end of the National Exhibition Centre to the other, both halves seemingly in different postcodes. You’ve got a throat dryer than the Atacama. You’ve free access to a fridge chock full of beers – Trappist ales, Belgian bruins, double IPAs. What do you satiate that itching thirst with?

Lager, of course.

Nothing – and I do mean nothing – is as refreshing as a cold lager on a parched palate. Those flavours you’d usually savour in a hoppy beer would be too sticky. Maltiness would just clag the gap left where your tonsils were whipped out. You need something crisp, something cold.

We were pouring samples of two great lagers. Moritz is a clean, soft Spanish pils sprinkled with Saaz. Rothaus Tannenzäpfle is a South German pils with echoes of pine needles; there’s a herbal edge to its sweet malt base. I loved them both and drank them deeply all day.

There’s an awful lot of shit lager in the world. But there’s some well made, carefully crafted, thoroughly enjoyable examples out there too.

Remember – pils is not a four-letter word.


Tasting Beers Live: Lessons Learned Part Two

#3) Never underestimate the popularity of fruit beer

Not everyone likes a double IPA. Not everyone likes a traditional bitter. But I reckon you’d be hard pushed to find someone who doesn’t like some sort of fruit beer. I lost count of the times people said to me “I don’t usually like beer/fruit, but that was lovely”. Often it was the ladies who hadn’t been keen on beer (as it was ‘bitter’ or ‘pongy’) and the gents who weren’t sure about fruit (as it was ‘girly, like Bacardi Breezers’).

Putting a decent fruit beer in their hands changed all that. “Does the banana beer taste of banana?”, asked someone. Hell crikey, yes. Mongozo Banana smells and tastes of sweet, Fair Trade bananas. And Mongozo Coconut smells and tastes of coconut milk, as do you when yet another bottle spurts everywhere. Indeed, Mongozo Snozberry would indubitably smell and taste of snozberry.

People were surprised that the beers didn’t taste tacky. That you could recognise the aroma and flavours as those of the fruit in question. Soon, the ladies were supping their beers and joining the back of the sampling queue for more. Four barrel-chested, shovel-handed guys weren’t interested in lagers, they just wanted more coconut beer.

With those flavours licking round their lips, it was time for a gentle segue into kriek and framboise. The pop of the cork, the steady carbonation, the assertive flavours. Here, people found beers to accompany dessert courses, to offer sparkle at a party, to savour out on the decking. Meanwhile, the strawberries-and-cream dream that is Fruli was evaporating from the bar next door.

But *you* still don’t like fruit beer, you say? I bet you just haven’t found the right one…


Tasting Beers Live: Lessons Learned Part One

#1) It’s a challenge to educate people with beer samples.

With four beers to sample, and a queue of thirsty punters, I reckon I had about thirty seconds to describe the beer styles on offer, push for a decision and pour a beer whilst giving just a sliver of its backstory. Then it was on to the next customer. And repeat for the best part of five hours. You want the customer to try a great beer and understand why it’s great, you want them to remember the beer’s name and – let’s be honest – you want them to buy some either today or on-line at some time. It’s a huge ask in thirty seconds.

#2) Some people say the most obvious things. I had to avoid the obvious answers.

“I don’t like beer, but I like this one”.

Congratulations, that’s because you’ve just tasted your first well-crafted beer made with quality ingredients.

“What’s the strongest beer you’ve got?”

Well, how about forgetting what gets you pissed quickest and try a beer with strong flavours instead? Here’s a chance to redefine your drinking parameters; seize it.

“I don’t like Belgian beer”.

Yeah, that bucket of Jupiler you tried on that stag trip to Brugge was obviously representative of the country’s rich and varied beer heritage.

“Have you got any bitter?”.

Do we have bitter-tasting beer? Yes, some of the world’s finest. But if you mean four-percentish brown slurry, then the answer is no. A sensory descriptor should not define a beer style; both become devalued as a result.

Tongue bitten, objectivity restored, potential future customer identified.

It was actually refreshing to be in a position where I could challenge someone’s beer assumptions. Open their eyes to perceiving beer in a way they’d never done before.. I actually got a kick out of putting a good beer in someone’s hands and seeing a flicker in their eye, a smile on their face, the inkling of a beer epiphany taking place.

More tomorrow.


Tasting Beers at the Good Food Show

I’m a thirsty kind of guy. Not just for the old malt-and-hop-wash, but for beer knowledge. I’m trying to cram in experience at all ends of the industry; one thing I’d never done was work the counter of a trade stand at an exhibition. So when the BBC Good Food Show and 'Tasting Beers Live' rolled into the National Exhibition Centre, with my good friends at beermerchants in attendance, I jumped at the chance to be a bar monkey for the weekend.

The ‘Tasting Beers Live’ side of the show took place in its own area, right at the arse end of the arena. I was sceptical that many would stumble across it, or that it would end up becoming a ‘man-creche’ of blokes desperate to escape from their wife’s wisteria habit. But business was brisk; when we ran tastings the queues soon formed, at other times there was always someone who wanted to stop and chat about the beers.

On the upside, it was great to put good beer into people’s hands and see them get a real kick of tasting something that was new to them – which was a darn site tastier to many they’d tried before. The range of beers by Viven, the truly-fruity Mongozo beers, classic European lagers and pils, all were gratefully received and sampled eagerly.

The only downside was a perception, re-inforced by physical segregation, that beer tasting had to be separate from good food. Yes, there was a beer-and-food stand. Yes, Richard Fox did a sterling job using his beers (and ours) in cooking a range of stunning dishes. But because the sampling stalls were roped off from the main event, perhaps partly driven by licensing restrictions, perhaps to channel customers into paying £7 for a glass and tokens, it seemed like beer was taking itself too seriously and consciously setting itself apart from the rest of the show. For all the exhibitors in there, nothing could have been further from the truth.

I went there for the experience and, boy, there was plenty to be had.. I’ll share some of those with you throughout this week.. In the meantime, huge thanks to beermerchants for letting me loose on the unsuspecting public and props to Sean for not getting too hacked off when I sprayed Mongozo Coconut over him. For the third time. At least we smelt like we’d been on a spa trip, not a beer exhibition ;-)


Thursday gueuzedays

There's something about a splash of sunshine that makes me want to bring on the gueuze.

The phhht of the cork from the bottle. The itchng fizz of effervescence in a champagne glass. The sour tang, the makes-your-tabs-laugh tartness, perhaps a funky feel, maybe a lemon twist... truely the drink that keeps on giving. And as for kriek - I can't think of a finer fruit beer than a cherry-blessed, slightly chilled glass of sheer gorgeousness.

I've made gueuze and kriek my summer Thursday beers of choice this year. Partly because they're great beers to sip in the sun, sat in the garden, lawns mown the day before. Also because I knock together a light tea for myself on a Thursday whilst Mrs Scooper is out herding cats - I mean, running a Rainbow Guide unit. So I've been playing around with a host of dishes that complement and contrast the flavours of the beers.

Muusels and fries was a given. Hackneyed, perhaps, but there's that certain something in the way that gueuze cuts across the buttery sauce. Salmon quiche worked surprisingly well. Duck legs steeped in kriek and mustard were fantastic - a jagged-tooth palate-snagger of heat and fruit, sour and nutty. Goat's cheese salad with a few slippery beets was superb.

I'm building myself up to try the Sean Paxton-inspired  venison crusted with coriander and orange peel. Tonight, it's duck on toast; a robust pâté trowelled thickly onto thick slices of toasted Hovis. Alongside, a sublime kriek from Moriau that's been gathering dust for years but still tastes and looks lithe and sparkly. The other beers so far this summer haven't disappointed either, such as a feisty Hanssens kriek and a dashingly dry Grand Cru from Cantillon. And there's plenty more waiting in the wings, Saint Lamvinus and Iris from Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Girardin, Boon Mariage Parfait... it's going to be a long, goozey-boozy summer.

Many thanks to Imperial Commander, Gold Cup jockey Paddy Brennan and owner Nigel Twiston-Davies for expanding my tenner at 7-1 into a case of gueuze from beermerchants.


For the love of thirty-six oranges

Have you heard the one about the Dutch brewery with the German-sounding name that used leggy South Africans to get up the noses of a global brewer famous for its American and Belgian brands? No? Have you been comatose for the last 24 hours?

Hats off to Bavaria, the Dutch brewers, who pulled off yet another guerrilla marketing wheeze by having thirty-six women ditch their Danish shirts and reveal their almost-wholly-unbranded 'Dutch Dresses'. And thanks to Robbie "Mr. Naive" Earle for allegedly dipping into his own pocket to the sum of almost four grand to buy the face-value tickets that somehow found their way into the hands of the orange-clad lovelies.

There are, of course, many questions left unanswered. Why did Robbie Earle buy so many tickets and, allegedly, aim to buy many more for future games? How can FIFA claim that the orange dresses, with no discernible logo, are "recognisable items associated directly with the brewery in question"? What have Bavaria got against AB Bev, given that they've pulled this kind of stunt before in 2006? Surely not the brewery equivalent of sour grapes after InBev squealed over the 2007 Dutch beer price-fixing scandal, resulting in InBev walking and Bavaria being fined? Why didn't FIFA just eject the 'advertising mules', as one English newspaper called them, given that they shouldn't have been using the tickets? Is it because of the dangerous precedent it would set? What would Jack Warner, the FIFA vice-president previously embroiled in a ticket sales scandal, make of it all?

Somewhere in here, there's a point to be made about beer marketing.I think it's this; exclusivity deals are bound to make a brewery look like an arse at some point. Whether it's the beer you can buy in a stadium or a sponsorship deal for an event, the bigger and more obnoxious the deal, the harder and funnier they can be made to prat-fall. If only by three dozen attractive women in tight dresses.

PS - for the funniest take on the whole caboodle, you need read only one article. As always, it's the Daily Mash


Bottled Up: Brewdog Abstrakt 01

Sleek-sided bottle. Bastard plastic 'cork'. Sore palms. Unavoidable yeasty swirlings. Nun's fart-splutter as it opens. Horse-piss amber on the pour. Aroma? Not really. Fine lace mesh head, tilted glass leaves a pin-head constellation smear. Aroma now? Warm fresh banana fudge. Alcohol I can feel behind my eyes, slightly. There's malt sweetness with the yeastyness. A sip smoothens exponentially; flecks of orange peel vie with a vanilla wash. Aroma now? Glue not yet set on the back of an Airfix Spitfire's wing.

Warm flesh required around the glass. Preference; toned thighs Actuality; chubby hands. Coaxing vanilla now, rewarded with drunken caramel leaking around the edges. A prickle on the tongue, kindling an almost-lost sensory memory, something randomly Belgium in a smoky Brugge cafe bar.Spots of dryness stick in the palate. An undefined essence of ester lingers.

So young. Maybe too young. Too lithe. Too subtle. It needs age. It needs weight. It sits in the glass and knows with cock-sure confidence that it could be an amazing, outstanding, stop-the-fucking-traffic beer. But not yet. Like many on the cusp of maturity, it needs a few years to sit in the dark whilst breaking hearts occasionally.

Two more bottles of Brewdog's 10.2% 'vanilla bean infused belgian quad' will now go and wallflower my cellar party til next spring. Let's see if they blossom then.

Abstrakt 01 has sold on on the official website but I dare say that some independent retailer has a bottle or five stashed away. Ask around. You may be surprised.

Somewhere in deepest darkest Laaaaandan right about now - well, OK, at the bright-and-breezy beer theatre that is Cask in Pimlico, the pre-launch party for Abstrakt 02 should be getting underway. The 16% 'Triple Dry Hopped Imperial Red Ale' goes on sale from the Abstrakt website tomorrow.

Thanks to Brewdog for the beer.


It isn't cricket; where is all the good stadium beer?

It was almost the perfect evening of cricket. Cool skies cleared to blue along the embankment. Trent Bridge was buzzing with an expectant crowd; the Hounds Road stand was bathed in sun. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire played a true Twenty-Twenty showcase with thumping sixes and mad dashes between the wickets. But as the shadows lengthened and Samit Patel brought the home side home to a comfortable victory, I realised there was one thing missing – some really great beer.

Before the match, I’d enjoyed a couple of pints of gloriously pale, hoppy beer at the Southbank bar. BG Sips from Blue Monkey shines in the glass, dances on the palate and drives hops down your throat with the same ruthlessness than Alex Hales dispatches sixes with.

Which makes the beer choice inside Trent Bridge all the more disappointing. I’m not stuck by Carling; I struggle to get past the canned sweetcorn aroma. I’d rather eat my own foot cheese than drink Worthington. Which left me desperate enough to drink Magners, a couple of pints bloating me up enough to become the unofficial Trent Bridge blimp.

Now I understand the economic practicalities at play. Refreshments may be run by a concession, that concession may be tied in to a particular partner. But I still think Trent Bridge was missing a trick by not offering at least some quality bottled beers. Thornbridge Jaipur would have been magnificent, likewise Brewdog Punk IPA. I’d have certainly enjoyed something cold and continental – Budvar or Kuppers would have been spot on. Even when poured into a plastic glass.

Would I have paid handsomely for the privilege? Probably. Given that the mark-up on the beers available seemed to be about 20% of city centre prices, I’d have been happy to savour a cool IPA or kolsch whilst Notts thrashed fantastic.

Perhaps this raises a wider question about the availability of cask and bottled beer at sporting venues. I know that Thwaites had a beer tent at Old Trafford for the Bangladesh test and I’m sure that Kent have a CAMRA-run bar open at some of the championship matches. Not quite so grand as drinking Bear Republic Racer 5 at a Giants game, mind, but it’s an improvement.

Can you get a great beer at your favourite sporting event? If not, should we be badgering the powers that be for something better with which to celebrate victory or drown our sorrows?


When in Sheffield...

.. So there I was, walking along, minding my own business, watching a digger knacker the crap out of what used to be Williams Fasteners on Green Lane (makers of "bolts, nuts, studs, screws, washers, nails, hinges, rivets, sockets". That's a lot of fastening) when two blokes stopped me. And said;

"Is there a pub 'round 'ere?".

"Several", I said, "any one in particular?"

"Yeah", said the big fella, "the one that's won all the awards".

"No problem" I said. "Just walk up the road and bear left. Or right."

Left takes you to the Fat Cat.  Right puts you in the Kelham Island Tavern.

I never saw the big fella and his mate again anywhere around the Valley of Beer. But, truth be told, there's plenty of places to stumble into. I hope they got to drink some of the best beer that Sheffield had to offer on a gray Thursday. I know I did.

What beers were they, you say? Ah, that's another story...



As a kid, I loved the I-Spy books. The family holiday in Devon gave me a chance to spy those ‘exotic’ car registrations. I’d even buy a clean copy of ‘I-Spy On The Motorway’ to see if I could complete it on the run between Birmingham and Exeter. When I heard that Adrian Tierney-Jones had brought out the Real Ale Record Book, the pitch for which was ‘I-Spy for grown-ups’, I had a shiver of excitement not experienced since spying a flashing overhead sign warning of impending lane closures around the Almondsbury interchange.

The Real Ale Record Book is, quite literally, a cask ale ticker’s book. Which is great but there’s an opportunity going begging, methinks. ‘I-Spy Down The Pub’ is just asking to be written; perhaps it’d look something like this…

Pub names:

Red Lion – 10 points

Wheatsheaf – 20 points

The Cock and Cougar – 50 points


Greene King IPA – 10 points

Thornbridge Jaipur – 20 points

Throxheard’s Oak-Aged Double Imperial Goozeberry Hefeweizen – 50 points.


Salted peanuts – 10 points. Minus 5 points if the backing card reveals a ‘hilarious’ picture of a semi-naked woman

Pork scratchings – 20 points. Bonus 5 points if the eyelashes are intact and are longer than the barmaid’s

Rabbit jerky – 50 points


Vase of flowers / half-melted candles in fireplace – 10 points

Huge Bass mirror – 20 points. Bonus 10 points if the pub ever actually served Bass

Wood panelled snug with a service bell, Burne-Jones stained glass, Minton tiling and ex-warship-timber roof beams – 50 points


Overflowing cigarette bin by the back door – 10 points

Non-wobbly picnic table – 20 points

White dogshit by the kiddie’s swing – 50 points


The one who asks for a pint of Guinness after ordering the rest of the round – 10 points

The one who drinks WKD and has an ankle tattoo – 20 points. Bonus 10 points if it’s a woman. Minus 20 points if she’s in a Wetherspoons

The Reluctant Scooper – 50 points. As long as you buy me a pint first ;-)

PS - Michelin have taken over the I-Spy mantle. Perhaps I ought to drop their Big Chief I-Spy a line...


Hoppy Birthday Jaipur!

Five years ago today, at a fledgling Derbyshire brewery, a beer legend was born.

It took an Englishman, a Scotsman, an Italian, a heap of hops and a far-sighted vision to bring the beer to market. It took first place in the Sheffield CAMRA beer of the festival award in 2005. Over sixty awards later, it's still taking the beer world by storm.

In some pubs, it sells out as soon as it goes on. In bottles, it now graces the fridges of the world's best beer bars. In short; Warrior, Chinook, Centennial, Ahtanum, Maris Otter, Vienna, lots of love and attention.

It's been almost five years since I first tasted a beer that would have a profound effect on my big fat beery life. Tonight, I'll raise a glass in celebration of its official birthday.

A beer that makes grown men cry when it runs out. That lifts the spirits of weary topers wherever it's found. That has given rise to a whole new set of adjectives.

A very hoppy birthday to Thornbridge Jaipur. Cheers!