The Scoopies 2011

It's New Year's Eve. The awkward time in between supper and Hootenanny. Let's get pished and award the Scoopies.

The 'How Long Have We Been In This Pub?' Award - Sheffield Tap. Some say there was a grinding inevitability to this and that it had to happen one day. Well, indeed, it did. Instead of visiting the CAMRA AGM, I spent the thick end of eight hours in the Tap. The result was always going to be messy:

Thornbridge grabs a couple of Scoopies; the Most Often Read Post On This Website If You Believe Google Analytics award for the posts the attracted the most traffic, this one on their Sheffield pubs and this one on the opening of DAda bar. And DAda itself gets an award of it own for the Coolest Photography On A Table In A Bar:

This year's Top Referral Source To My Site Of Readers Who Really Ought To Know Better is once again Zak Avery at Are You Taking The Pith? Still not sure why. Perhaps he attracts people looking for good beer info and they then click through to me for a cheap knob gag or two.

The Googlefail Awards for the thirteen most obscure search terms that resulted in a visit to my site were:

- abba jansson filter
- brampton restaurants with humpty dumpty painting on the wall
- christmas cock party
- ginger merkin site:uk
- hire a keg of carling for xmas
- ilkeston slags
- is pvpp (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone) suitable for vegans
- pizza playmobil
- reluctant her first swingers party
- sue holderness cleavage
- true road racing circuits in the england
- ugly blonde train
- what is the location of the lord admiral nelson pub in the uncle bens sweet and sour advert.

Nice try by Kristy McCready of Molson Coors for number 5 on that list.

The Worst Beer Photo Taken When Drunk award was a shoo-in for the 'arty' pics of Brooklyn Lager I attempted late one evening after a day on the piss with Alcofrolic Chap and Rich from Brewsters:

As for Best Beer Photo... I'd quite like it to be this:

... but it's got to be this, in honour of all those who donned the Ginger Merkin at GBBF:

This year's beer and food award is a little different. The inaugural Respecting and Disrespecting Beer And Food award goes to Adnams Solebay; drank out of a champagne flute after a stunning meal at the Crown Hotel in the company of Fergus Fitzgerald, the head brewer at Adnams. And also drank straight from the bottle, bought for £2.50, with a cheeseburger at the Brewing Industry International Awards in the company of Stoph McBride, as pictured below:

The How To Avoid Drinking Beer In A Great Pub But Do Something Else Instead award goes to the Rutland Arms in Sheffield for putting up with me staggering in late on, buying two chocolate brownies and then sodding off again. Bonus points for the time they called round to the Sheffield Tap with some because I couldn't be arsed to get up and fetch them myself.

The Shit Me, Where Did That Brewery Come From? award has to go to Magic Rock. It's been a pleasure watching these guys take the UK beer scene by storm this year. High Wire has become one of my favourite cask beers, Dark Arts is one of the finest dark beers I've ever drank - especially on keg. Stu and Rich, pictured below, are genuinely good guys in a business that has its fair share of shitheels. And Magic Rock Scott makes a damn good sandwich, propelling the brewery to my coveted Best Hospitality During A Brewday award. Although the glasses of Bearded Lady helped too.

The Sitting Up Straight On The Back Of The Bus award goes to the European Summer Gathering. Breakfast at The Kernel. When I say breakfast, I mean outstanding Italian meats alongside kegged and bottled pale ale that made grown men weep. And then catching this beauty up to the King William IV in Leyton. On the way back, we drank Brodies beers from the bottle (Seven Hop was sublime) and sang 'The Wheels On The Bus'. Only in England...

Winners of the Scoopers Award For Exporting Beer From The People's Republic of South Yorkshire are the hopheaded dynamic duo Gazza and Dave Unpronounceable at Steel City. That I can pop up the road to the Old Oak at Horsely Woodhouse and drink the likes of Dark Funeral, DILLIGAF and Escafeld always tickles me.

The Blindsiding Beer Of The Year award goes to Vieille Brune by Brasserie Thiriez. Bought from a beer festival at a Derbyshire pub. Because Pete Hounsell, brewer at Amber Ales, fancied putting on something unusual at the Talbot Taphouse festival alongside his own beers. He'd picked up cases from Thieiez, including the fantastically floral Etoile Du Nord, but this stuff blew me away. People like Pete who put in the effort to source beers like this ought to be applauded by beer lovers.

Beery Person of the Year? It could be many. Brewers who grew their business in the face of straitened times and egregious taxation. Licensees who revitalised pubs and found that if you invest in the community, they pay you back in spades. Writers who have broadened my horizons. Editors who have published my work. The mad followers on Twitter who have been around to share a laugh, a cry, a joke and a bucketful of pisstaking.

But there can be only one. Mrs Scoop has been my rock, my muse and my little blue beer taxi. And so much more. Cheers me dears!

And to you rattlebag as well. Thanks for reading, for sharing a beer with me and for not setting fire to my merkin. 2011: done. 2012: come on!


The Golden Pints Award 2011

It's wetting it down outside, I'm inside with a bottle or five, Mrs Scoop is playing Virtua Tennis. So I may as well knock out my contribution to the Golden Pints.

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer - Dark Arts, Magic Rock. Drank copiously on cask at the General Havelock, Ilkeston and on keg at the Sheffield Tap. Yep, it's so good that I'm happy to take it both ways. Here's an award that Magic Rock won for the beer, displayed proudly in the toilets at the brewery:

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer - Punk IPA, Brewdog. Just because I was able to take it to the cricket. Look:

Best Overseas Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer - Struise Black Damnation VI: Messy. At Craft Beer Co, Laaaaaaandon Town. With some of my favourite beery people to be with. Let's face it, who doesn't want to drink from a jug of 39% ABV chocolate liquorice smoky whisky goodness? Even if Angelo has has his chops around it already?

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned BeerBrasserie Thiriez Vieille Brune. A French sour that's better than many Belgians, bought in a Derbyshire pub. Much more about this tomorrow.

Best Overall Beer - Orval. Because it just is. Here's my current order awaiting shipment:

Best Pumpclip or Label - The Kernel. Instantly recognisable. Lets the beer speak for itself.

Beer Festival of the Year - Nottingham CAMRA. Already great, even better this year. A thousand beers in 2012, maybe?

Supermarket of the Year - Marks and Spencer. Interesting variety sourced from interesting breweries. And eye-catching designs by Brandhouse:

Best Beer Book or Magazine - Let Me Tell You About Beer / Oxford Companion to Beer. Both important books; former for being so accessible, latter for drawing a line in the sand which begs to be crossed.

Best Beer Blog or Website - Boak and Bailey. Clarity brought to a world of beery nonsense.

Best Beer Twitterer - me, obviously. Let's have a recount, just to make sure. Nope, still me...

... although as @stevyncolgan is tweet-tastic and may occasionally do so when drinking beer, I'll give him an honourable mention

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year - Pork pie with Brooklyn Local 2. Served by Garret Oliver. Who almost convinced me that this food and beer malarkey isn't really a load of pretentious twaddle. And, let's face it, if anyone's going to convince me, it's got to be him.

In 2012 I’d Most Like To - solve the deep-seated world economic crisis, stabilise the global environment, eradicate hunger and stop lying in end-of-year questionnaires.

Open Category: Person Most Likely To Get A Job Working In A Beer-Related Career In 2012:  I'm hoping that's going to be me. Drop me a line if you;re a brewer / pub group / distributor etc who needs extra brain capacity.

I haven't entered an answer for every question; for some I have no answer to give. But there will be a whole heap of nonsensical awards tomorrow when I present the Scoopies 2011. Until then, beer up me hearties!


Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town

Peak District. February 2011.

To be honest, it wasn't a particularly inspiring view from the trig point. Bracken, back end of a quarry, a permafrost path down to the village that still slept under a slate-grey day.

The general store reminded me of those from my youth. Vesta curry. Tizer. A shop owner wearing a pink tabard. No music. I picked up a bottle of water and - unexpectedly - two bottles of beer by a local microbrewer.

She must have been in her seventies. I approached the till; she smiled.

"It smells cold out there today!".


"It smells cold. You can smell the cold-ness on you. Does it feel fresh up top?"

I said.. well, yes. Yes it does.

"Good, " she said. "And let those bottles settle. They'll need a day or so".

I spend a fair wedge of my days reading reviews and descriptors. This year, I ran my first aroma recognition session. I've taken part in sensory science testing. But nothing blindsided me more than an elderly lady behind the counter in a small, um, village. Who taught me how to smell the cold.

Hearts and thoughts...



Some of my first drafts revolve around an irritant. Something annoying, exasperating, WTF?ing. Most of them don't make it to a second draft. Typing the thoughts out and then hitting delete is catharsis enough.

This year, I've been fostering ever-greater indifference towards those irritants. Life's too short to be pissed off. I'd rather be critical and constructive.

So, I now have an Indifference List. For those events and things which lie outside my control. And no amount of blogging, invective or reasoning will change. So I won't bother.

- those Twitter conversations between followers about where and when they're going to the pub. Fascinating. (And, yes, I've been guilty of that one).

- people who check into Foursquare every twenty minutes and insist on sharing the fact, even though we don't care where you are drinking or picking up your dry cleaning. Or which GUM clinic you use.

- brewers that retweet pubs when said pub puts on one of their beers.

- anyone that asks for a RT

- individuals who crash into Twitter / Facebook conversations to blag beer from brewers for review.

- individuals who think every new beer by a new brewery / every collaboration beer / every rare beer is AWESOME!!!

- individuals who think signing an e-petition will ever make a difference (armchair resistance; the English disease)

- individuals who measure themselves by hit count and follower numbers and other social media stats

- Google Plus (tumbleweed of the internet)

- Wikio / ebuzzing / whatever the 'seeded media company' of the month is

- Black IPA

- Craft Beer

- Keg v Cask

- beer and food

- theoretical IBUs

- video beer reviews

- comments on blogs that are longer than the original post

- comments on blogs that start "I've said very much the same thing on my blog, here's a link..."

- comments on blogs that are of the spit-flecked, green-inked, why-o-why-o-why type

- Brewdog deliveries

... and, breathe out. And, just for once, press Publish.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog, my advice to you is to start drinking heavily. It's only beer.

"I won't change direction / and I won't change my mind"



Life Wasted

"You're always saying that there's something wrong"

Their beer is shit. They can't brew for shit. I've never rated their beers. He can't keep a beer. She never orders in the good stuff. When I ordered beers for the festival I made sure we got the good stuff.

The smoking ban killed it. You can't get a seat unless you eat. There's no point in going since they stopped opening in the afternoons. He won't do cellar runs. His ego's longer than his coat.

"You're warm with negativity... But why let the sad song play?"

There are many beery people who, in real life or digital, can do nothing but moan. Who cannot be happy.

Unless they're bitter.

Screw bad vibes. Go watch PJ rip up Letterman.


The Fixer

"When something's dark / lemme shed a little light on it"

If you have gen, you share gen. Then we all have gen.

"When somethings cold / lemme put a little fire on it"

Sometimes, you post for the shits and giggles. Or to be the red-hot poker.

"If something's old / I wanna put a bit of shining on it"

Google Books can unearth gems. They just need re-setting.

"When something's gone / I wanna fight to get it back again"

When humour / perspective / objectivity is lost from an argument, I'm happy to re-introduce it.

"When something's broke / I wanna put a little fixing on it"

Because you can carp. Or you can contribute

"If something's bored I wanna put a little exciting on it"

Old arguments have worn grooves. Don't change the track; change the record

"When something's low I wanna put a little high on it"

For every stuck mash, bastard customer and missed deadline there's an aced brewday, placid pub and well-filed copy. I love to remind my friends of that fact.

"When something's lost I wanna fight to get it back again"

Because you can go with the AWESOME!!! flow. Or you can keep kicking against the pricks.

"When signals cross I wanna put a little straight on it"

You scamps. From the right hand of Jobs to the digital naughty step. Still trying to improve that S/N ratio beerwise.

"If there’s no love I’m gonna try to love again"

Because... sometime's we're all too busy loving the beer in front of us to remember how it got there. It didn't arrive overnight.

(If it was ordered from Brewdog, you're lucky that it arrived at all).

Because we have such a great beery heritage, it's sometimes hard not to take it for granted.

Because if we're all enjoying the best long drink in the world, it doesn't actually matter a damn what brand it is.

Because... it's beer. Bloody brilliant stuff, isn't it?

Almost as brilliant as watching a band that don't do promo videos do a promo video that rocks your socks off.


Let Me Sleep

I'm not really here.

I'm drinking Thornbridge Bracia, eating bacon and egg cobs, wrapping my wife's pressies and listening to "Rocking Around The Christmas Tree".

When Rebecca gets back from church, we'll go to her parents and have a lazy afternoon of random food at random times. Then an evening at home with present opening, cheesy music and finger food. And That Bottle Of Beer.

You know the one. Every beer bugger has That Bottle. The one that gets lionised and bubble-wrapped and treasured and swaddled and kept in a box wrapped in duck tape so that you don't drink it by 'accident'.

Give yourselves a present today. Open That Bottle. After all, it was brewed to be drank. And adored.

I'd have nothing to write about if it wasn't for the brewers, publicans, writers, friends and strangers who fuel my fire and hop my desire.

To you all: have a merry, messy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Now, Let Me Sleep



"Put me in a vacuum"


On Hangovers

Hangovers are not Nature's way of reminding you that you had too much to drink the night before. They are Nature's way of chiding you for a) not drinking a pint of water before you went to bed and b) not staying in bed until the feeling of being rank blancmange passes.


"I feel like a pig shat in my head".

- Withnail, 'Withnail and I'


My Top Five Things Not To Do When I Have A Hangover

Pretend that a good walk in the country will improve my constitution. It doesn't. It turns me into a ranting, sweaty mess. I ooze raw ethanol and a strange dusty spice from the bhaji I don't even remember buying, never mind eating.

Go into the office. Staring into two PC screens, I swear that Excel starts to blur before rushing past my eyes in a Matrix-ish fashion. Then flashes subliminal messages at me, like "go sleep in the post room" and "you are liver pâté in human form".

Go to the pub. A pint would be good. But the attendant misery of Other People, especially Happy Other People, Happy Other People Who Don't Feel Like Shit Warmed Up, takes the shine right off.

Housework. It should feel like putting a big tick in the positive column of my Life Ledger. Instead, it leads to broken glasses, the contents of my wallet being sucked up the vacuum and ten minutes of running water as I try to wash the Flash polish out of my eyes.

Sudoku. A way of kick-starting my brain into cogent thought? No. It just takes the piss that, in this febrile state, I can't even write numbers in boxes.


"Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning.

The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police.

He felt bad".

- 'Lucky Jim', Kingsley Amis


My Favourite Hangover

Stafford, late 1980's. The walk into town from my polytechnic digs - a condemned tower block - was a four mile ramble. The local Spar sold Thunderbird wine. The bottle had to be finished before we got to the Student Union. Where beer was cheap, but pints of snakebite, vodka and black was the melt-the-plastic-glass drink of choice.

There were bottles of Dog at the Bird In Hand whilst we played pool. More Dog and a few Burtons at the Railway. Plus port & brandy.

And then...

... the knee-high mud on my trousers suggested that we tried the short-cut home across Doxey Marshes. The crate of Dog suggested that Kelvin at the Railway had sold us more beer than we could drink. The empties in the crate suggested that we'd tried to lighten the load. It was six o'clock and dark. So I went back to sleep. When I woke up, it was six o'clock and dark. What I first thought was morning had been evening.  What I now thought was evening was actually morning. I'd slept for twenty-seven hours.

On standing, I marvelled how my sense of balance had a two-second time lag over movement. And you know the impossible-to-scratchy-itch feeling you get when a major wound is healing? That. In every damn cell of my body.

I did what any right-minded individual would do. Drink gin and go back to bed for another day.


“The telephone blasted. Peter Fallow awake inside an egg with the shell peeled away and only the membranous sac holding it intact. Ah! The membranous sac was his head, and the right side of his head was on the pillow, and the yolk was as heavy as mercury, and it rolled like mercury, and it was pressing down on his right temple… If he tried to get up to answer the telephone, the yolk, the mercury, the poisoned mass, would shift and roll and rupture the sac, and his brains would fall out.”

'The Bonfire Of The Vanities', Tom Wolfe


Breakfasting With A Hangover

- avoid frying pans, naked flames, hot oil / fats etc. Immolation is likely to put a futher downer on an already grim day.

- avoid coffee. You'll still feel like shit. You'll just be wide awake and feeling like shit.

- Mars bar into freezer. Bread into toaster. Eggs into bowl with milk, butter, chives. Microwave the eggs. Toast the bread. Apply eggs to bread. Repeat until you feel sick. If you are sick, do not attempt to microwave it. Trust me, the smell takes months to scrub away.

- drink milk. It tastes good, feels good, does you good. Unless you are lactose-intolerant. In which case, you're screwed. Milk also tastes better out of the bottle. Bonus points if you nick one off the float or the doorstep of that grumpy old bag three doors up the road. The last two sentences may, however, may require you to travel back to the seventies as I can't remember the last time I saw a milk float.

- remember that Mars bar? Take it out the freezer. By now, you should be able to trust yourself with a knife. Cut it into thumb-thick slices. Do not, however, use your own thumb as a guide. You're still a little pissed. Place slice on tongue. Feel the cold sugar rush. Repeat.

If you can't trust yourself with a knife, put the Mars bar down. ON NO ACCOUNT SHOULD YOU:

- attempt to eat it whole (choke hazard)

- attempt to take a bite (dental bill)

- attempt to use it as a sex toy (laundry bill / awkward form-filling at the hospital)


I can offer no more than these words by Christopher Hitchens, a man who the world doesn't yet fully realise how much they're going to miss:

"Here are some simple pieces of advice for the young.

Don't drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food.

Don't drink if you have the blues: it's a junk cure.

Drink when you are in a good mood.

Cheap booze is a false economy.

It's not true that you shouldn't drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.

Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can't properly remember last night. (If you really don't remember, that's an even worse sign.)

Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed—as are the grape and the grain—to enliven company.

Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won't be easily available.

Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop.

It's much worse to see a woman drunk than a man: I don't know quite why this is true but it just is.

Don't ever be responsible for it.”


Merry Christmas, folks. If you feel hungover, click here and turn the volume up


I'm Open

You may have noticed that I'm quite keen on Pearl Jam. There's a certain something about more than just the music which has always appealed. I don't know if it's the attitude, the activism, the actions that define them as being a unit that wil not be bound or moulded by anyone except themselves.

I don't expect other people to like them. When I find fellow fans, it's always cool to chat about your favourite hour-long encore or lost dog. But I know plenty of people don't - or won't - get on with the band. That's cool too.

Given the choice of listening to one band for the rest of my natural days, it'd be Pearl Jam. Every mix tape I've made for others since the early nineties (what do you call mixtapes now they're mp3 playlists?) has had a PJ track segued into it. I want people to be taken by surprise, to say "Wow! That was.... well, I'm not sure what it was but I know I like it".

What if they don't like it? Cool. I won't preach to people on what music they should love. I don't judge people by the music they listen to - I've eclectic tastes and I've discovered amazing music from all around the world by keeping my ears open, mouth shut and mind open.

Ditto for beer.

When did you last win an argument about music by saying "the band's you like are shit; the one's I like are better. In fact, they're AWESOME!!!".

There is no enlightened path to beer nirvana that starts out with cooking lager and progresses inexorably towards giddily dry-hopped heights.

If you love a beer, tell people why you love it. Not why you hate another.

No-one is a lesser drinker for loving the beer they do to the exclusion of others. No-one should be criticised for enjoying a beer that's been part of their life for longer than they care to remember, even if tired blogging eyes see such beers as off-trend.

I'm off now to uncork a bottle of a beer first brewed in Belgium for Christmas in 1926. And I know, dear reader, you won't judge me for it. Will you?

It's short and sweet. Go enjoy it



"I don't brew to style! I'm brewing a lager, but... it's BLACK!"

"You're brewing a schwarzbier, then..."

So goes the opening of an episode from the Brewing Network's Sunday Session. Style has nearly always been around the block before. Some are direct descendants. Others are distant country cousins. A few are the product of drunken incest and ought to have been strangled at birth.

The question of style has bugged me for years. From way back when I used to add new brews into the ratebeer database; is it bitter or premium bitter? I didn't care for the differentiation then, I'm even less inclined now. IPA? Applied to everything from 3.6% dishwater to 10% bitter-riddled kettle juice. As for  Black IPA... annoyingly oxymoronic.

Yet I've learned to love the misinterpretation and  misuse. But the one conundrum remaining for me is this:

United States brewers are at the forefront of experimentation in beer - old styles revived and respun, trends dissected and restitched, envelopes pushed out of shape into Möbius strip territory. And what happens when they get a brew that dares to be different?

It's codified and parameterised and straight jacketed so it can be judged in the future. 

Born in the land of the free: shackled by BJCP. Don't brew to style. More importantly, don't make up the guidelines. Be free to brew what you wanna brew. Get loaded and have a good time...

and for the version of Black that still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, click here


Even Flow

The problem with my pub visits is that they are all too often fleeting. A quick one after work. Two pints squeezed in towards the end of a country walk. Urban crawls that find me heading out the door almost as soon as I arrive. Sometimes, I make the time to spend more time in once place. And it pays dividends.

A long afternoon in the Sheffield Tap. Tickers pass through, holidaymakers hit the Bernard before the Manchester Airport train, football fans with their team shirts threatening to poke out of tightly-buttoned jackets. Rowdy student rendevous. A couple's last drinks dallied over, a whispered goodbye, a faint tear.

Lunchtime in the Harlequin, Sheffield, sees the office workers drift reluctantly back to desks. A woman in a too-tight skirt is reapplying her lippy, having left most of it on her glass. Three guys with Identi-kit pale blue shirts and sandy side partings are toying with the idea of another pint. Maybe just off the early shift, a man with the thousand yard stare takes up his rightful place at the bar and makes a pint of blonde last an hour.

Sun blazes in stripes across the beer garden of the Royal Oak, Ockbrook. Estate cars drop off knots of seniors who amble their way slowly to the front door. Tired parents suggest to their bored children that running off to the swings and back wil do them some good. Tweedy dog walkers, florescent ramblers and between-course smokers fill the trestles. As lunch ends, so estate cars clog the car park again; dogs pull on leads; boots are re-laced; one last drag can be had.

Up the pointy end of the Brunswick, Derby, there's just me in a Chesterfield. But I can see out into the corridor; groups stagger past on their way to the bar. A dozen forty-something blokes straight from a hotel after some sort of training day; too much cheap aftershave and office gossip. Some of the old boy regulars who've refreshed themselves by two pints more than their usual. Beards talk trains and enthuse about the pubs they'll be visiting later. A gaggle of carefully-dressed students look confused but are soon subsumed into the pints and banter by the dartboard.

There's something encouraging about the even flow of a pub's custom over a few hours. You get a feel for its community, whether that's regular or transient. You see character and anonimity. You get to meet people who are nothing like you yet are actually just like you in one vital respect - they too are lovers of the simple pleasure offered by a pint of beer in a good pub.

You want to see more Pearl Jam? Of course you do...



So I was drinking a beer that would never be seen again. The last cask from a gyle by a brewer committed to never repeating a recipe. And it was a great tasty beer. And it made me ask two questions of myself.

Was I sad in knowing that once it was gone, it was gone forever?

If I'd known this was the last cask in existence, would I have travelled here especially to taste it?

The answers; no. And no.

In the moment, the beer was great. I'd never taste it again, but I'd always remember how I savoured every last drop. And hope that the next one-off they brew betters even this one. So I can experience yet another great moment.

The beer's uniqueness was supplemental to, not responsible for, the moment's greatness. When beer gets to the level of "One cask only! Don't miss out!" or "Bottles only on sale today!", scarcity and hype are in danger of outweighing aroma and flavour as sales drivers.

Now go listen to Pearl Jam



"What the fuck is this world running to?"

It's the most wonderful time of the year, when desperate bloggers trot out top-tens and best-ofs in an often-pathetic attempt to justify the freebies and junkets that have kept them in copy all the live-long, drink-long day.

Not me. That's what New Year's Eve was invented for.

Meantime, I have a stack of frenetic, splenetic first drafts that need tidying up or having the bomb dropped on them. So let's give them an airing.

Pearl Jam has been on heavy rotation at Scoop Towers. Expect tangential references to them over the Chrimble period.

From tomorrow: ten posts. No prisoners.

"Escape is never the safest path"

If you're wondering about the pic, start your Pearl Jam 101 here.


Ticking the tickers

Sheffield. The Valley of Beer. Always home to a ticker or two. Except for yesterday. When you couldn't move in most pubs for the blighters.

Why? It's been called the Tickers Ball, the Scooper's Social. It is, of course, a city-wide piss-up for the guys and gals who hunt beer with the voracity of a predator coming off a starvation diet. There were beers, pubs, banter, pork pies, Bernards and pratfalls. Here's a hurried summary.

Sheffield Tap, 10am. Arbor Ales 500 Minute IPA, 10.7%. The first few mouthfuls were overly-intense but it settled into hoppy tripel territory. Needed a cheeseboard accompaniment. Or a bacon butty. Bar full of tickers in faded waterproofs. I sat round the corner reading Orwell.

Rutland Arms, 11am. Steel City Top Of The Hops, 5%ish. Restrained for a Steel City brew and dare I say all the better for it? I don't think I mentioned this to the brewers, Gazza and Dave, at the time. But Dave was busy finding a late hop addition and Gazza had just spontaneously combusted after being asked how much crystal malt he uses. Tickers - plenty, though I spent most of my time with these two apeths.

DAda, 12.15pm, Thormbridge Chiron, 5%. The faded waterproof brigade were already in attendance which is why it took me five minutes to get served. Satiated my carbonic bite urge with the feisty Chiron, sat at the Jaipur table.

Shakespeares, 1.15pm, Revolutions something or other (can't remember) and Steel City A Slight Case of Overhopping 7. And a turkey & cranberry roll. And a cheese and tomato roll. 60p for a roll? Cheaper than chips. More banter with the Steel City crew, the ever-hoptastic Tara Mallinson and Brian 'The Champ' Moore.

Harlequin, 2.10pm, The Brew Company Silly Billy Chilli Stout and Golden Valley Legend. A much-needed phone charge and two cracking beers. The slow-slow chilli burn in the stout, the spritzy Belgique baked lemon prickle of the Orval-yeasted Legend. And I spotted the Vicar of Rotherham. Bonus.

Fat Cat, 3.45pm, Blue Monkey Winter Woolly. Absolutely rammed inside, retreated to the almost-empty bitterly-cold beer garden. First disappointing beer of the day, all rather muddied and lost. Plant feed. On the upside, the pork pie is as epic as ever with its shrapnel pastry and just-so-seasoned meat.

Kelham Island Tavern, 4.00pm Acorn Gorlovka. Stood outside with Neil MacGowan and Graeme Wood. Now at the stage of the afternoon where conversations are tangential and beers become circumstantial.

Wellington, 4.30pm, Little Ale Cart Something that had Herkules in it and cost £2.10 a pint. At that price, I'm not fussy about names. By now, the Cask and Welly is the very ebb and flow of the ticker's A-Z. Gazza said hops were "rubbish", we all agreed that beer blogging was "AWESOME!!!" and everyone stood still long enough for me to take a pic. "Beige" Phil Booton and Brian "The Champ" Moore? I am not worthy...

An impromptu tour of Steel City / Little Ale Cart brewery followed. Some beer was drunk. Some hops were sniffed (and I refused to play along with the guess-the-variety game. Childish Twunt could be my middle name).

Which left just enough time for me to fall off a trickily-curved tram platform and shag my left patella, buy some chocolate brownies from the Rutland, down a bottle of Steel City DILLIGAF on the train home and be grateful for this fact: Sheffield is full of great beer, great pubs, great brewers and decent pork pies.

In a word: awesome. Right, Gazza ;-)


Almost drinking brown beer with Santa

There's no space at the bar. The pub's only just opened but the locals have already crowded out the place. Ribald jokes and thirsty dogs are the order of the day. Three pumps of brown beer are being pulled through.

There's a couple in the snug who are best left alone. I retreat into the tap room; benches have that material last seen in Seventies caravans, the lightbulbs are eco and take five minutes to brighten, a cluster of Christmas cards are sat on the mantle waiting for regulars to pick them up.

There's several crossword clues that evade me. Worthington Winter Shield has the dusty bitterness that is just so for a night like this. A Cottage seasonal special? Can't believe it's not butter. A tweeter drops by. We talk Belgium and Buxton.

There's a pervading aroma of fish & chips. I'm joined by my wife, my mother-in-law and Santa Claus. Their Rainbows Christmas Party is over and Santa has given out presents and played the piano-accordion for excitable under-sevens.  He's now relaxing with a whisky and ginger; it would be brown beer but he's had a dicky tummy.

There's a gaggle of darts players. The rug is rolled back, the oche mat is rolled out. They're all glammed up for their Christmas bash but finding some arrow time first. The Vintage Motorcycle Club are flocking to the function room for their annual beano, everyone carrying platters for the buffet.

There's a community loving their pub. And I'm glad to be part of it.


Book review: Let Me Tell You About Beer

I really enjoy writing book reviews. I've been writing them for ages, both personally and professionally, and I never tire of the challenge. To be laudatory without sucking up. To be castigating without resorting to personal attacks ( "Did the author present the first draft in phlegm-speckled green crayon?" has always, to date, been edited out of my offerings).

The truth is: reader, I love reading and talking about what I've read. Ever since the day I pulled Suzy Watkins' pigtails until she promised to read 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" because I'd decided it was The Bestest Book In The World. Nowadays my nagging consists usually of a blogged taut summary, a few witty observations and a quote that's ideally phrased (but rarely used) for inclusion on the back cover of the paperback version.

Today, it's simply this: 'Let Me Tell You About Beer' is the best book about beer since Michael Jackson's 'Great Beer Guide'. And then some.

Melissa Cole is so passionate about beers that I've drank a hundred times already that I want to drink them again - the piece on Kelham Island Pale Rider has already been photocopied and pinned to my noticeboard as the finest beer review I've ever encountered. Her informal and engaging style sets this book apart from all other contemporaries. She puts a spin on the hackneyed 'theory + style' approach that is genuinely engaging. And it's so beautifully put together; great artwork, not the usual stock photos, plenty of warp and weft to it.

It's beery perfection. As an introduction to the wide, wild world of beer. And as a reminder to those who know enough to be dangerous... this is what honest-to-goodness beer writing is all about.

I'll finish by saying these three things about the book.

"...I want to give you clear, easily understandable descriptions of beers that reference familiar smells, flavours and sensations. Not because I think you're a bit simple, but because I feel my job is to tell you more about beer using markers you already understand". Best. Introduction. Ever.

The "If you like this.. try this" section that converts wine styles over to beer styles is that slap-the-forehead moment where you can't believe someone hasn't already written one with such aplomb.

It's subtitled "A beginner's guide to all things brewed". Ignore that. This deserves a place on every beer lover's shelf, casual or geeky. You may know little or think you know it all. I guarantee you, Melissa Cole will make you think different.

Let Me Tell You About Beer is published by Anova Books. Many thanks to them for the review copy.


St. Stefanus: an anagram of Augustijn?

On occasion, I get invited to various junkets - I mean, media opportunities. Usually in London, with 48 hours notice. Which means the original invitee either has gastric flu or a better offer elsewhere. So when I'm invited over to Ghent, Belgium on an all-expenses-paid jaunt for the launch of St Stefanus, I think straight away - who's taking the piss?

As it happens, this time, it was genuine. Which made it even more baffling. Why would I, a snot-nosed blathering blogger be invited along? Given that I don't buy into how bloggers are a PR's wet dream? Well, it seems what it took in this case was this: follow the brand on Twitter (but make no other contact with them), get an invite to Ghent by e-mail less than half an hour later.

To which I had to politely decline. Another event already booked in on that day, which I didn't even make it to by virtue of picking up a bug that gave me both-way evacuation-action for two solid - well, mainly liquid - days. But St Stefanus were kind enough to send me this box beforehand:

It looks good. Sturdy package, a booklet printed on heavyweight paper, attractive beer mats, a chalice glass and a couple of well-presented bottles. So I settled down to to read their, ahem, "brand story".

Sint Stefanus dates back to 1295. The Van Steenberge brewery dates back to 1784. The idea of brewing this beer dates back to, um, 1978, using a monastery yeast strain at the brewery. And then there are several attractive pages introducing the St Stefanus range.

So, what's been occurring for the last thirty-three years?

Well, it's been brewed. And it's been called Augustijn.

You may have drank Augustijn. The Blonde is one of those inoffensive, straightforward Belgian ales. The Dark has been around for a couple of years and, in the words to the Van Steenberge website, "ensures that the range of Augustijn-beers reflects a delicious spectrum of tastes within the rich Belgian beerculture".

So, are there a few pages missing from my "brand story"? After all, the Van Steenberge website is up front about the beer's heritage: "The brewery, which specialises in brewing refermentation beers, remains independent and will continue to produce and distribute in the local market under the original brand name of Augustijn. SABMiller has acquired the right to distribute the beer under the name of St Stefanus globally".

Which is not surprising. After all, AB-InBev has Leffe. Heineken has Grimbergen. What's a global brewer like SABMiller to do without an abbey brand? When I say 'abbey', I don't mean one designated by the Union of Belgian Brewers; I can't find any reference to Augustijn on the certified list. Whereas Leffe and Grimbergen are.

An average beer in expensive packaging with a mahoosive PR budget behind it. Buy why so coy about the Augustijn angle? I bet one of the Brit beer writers on the Ghent trip must have asked the question. I won't hold my breath for the answer, though...


Book review: The Craft of Stone Brewing

For some, arrogance is a sin. For Stone Brewing Company, it's a badge of honour and a business plan.

In 'The Craft Of Stone Brewing', Greg Koch and Steve Wagner serve up a book of three and a half halves. The ever-obligatory "what is beer" section is handled with typical Stone panache and offers some genuinely useful info on differing malts, hops and water salts. A potted history of how the brewery came to be is genuinely interesting, with the lowdown on the trials and tribulations of Arrogant Bastard's difficult birth and how their passion for 'signature' beers led them to similar heights at their World Bistro.

There's a rundown of Stone's regular, special and collaboration beers although it doesn't approach the detail given on their excellent website. And for the DIY enthusiasts, there are recipes for both homebrew versions for a range of Stone beers alongside some of the popular Bistro dishes, paired with and cooked with the beers themselves.

It has that indelible Greg Koch footprint all over it - arrogance and passion - yet allows a step back for others to fill in the shadows or offer a differing viewpoint. As a primer on all that is Stone Brewing, the book is educational. As an illustration of how forward-thinking the brewery is - particularly in comparison to the pale imitators we've seen mouthing off in the UK - it's invaluable.

The Craft Of Stone Brewing is published by Ten Speed Press. Many thanks to them for the review copy.


The Right not to Write

Back in the day when I sat at a desk to write, on the corkboard front and centre was an extract from "Comme un roman", an essay by Daniel Pennac. Later translated as 'The Rights Of The Reader', it taught me many valuable lessons. Foremost, the right to not read and the right to be silent.

I'm thinking of working up the Rights of the Blogger. The right to not comment. The right to not read blogrolls. The right to not post.

Can you tell it's almost time for my New Year break? There's a winter high tide of beery bullshit on the web again.

And because one of Pennac's original rights was 'The right to sample and steal', the above sumptuous illustration was acquired from Walker Books.


Not Christmas Shopping with Nutbrook Brewery

It was cold. So cold that the Salvation Army band turned steel-blue and were accompanied by the Brass Monkey Eunuch Choir. I was supposed to be shopping for lunch, or tea, or supper, or presents. But as the photo belies, I was in a man-crèche.

The Derby Christmas Market is a fairly low-key affair. Someone nicked the festive lights and we've been left with the last-turkey-in-the-shop ones that even a third-rate shopping centre would turn down. The stalls are heavy on hats and light on anything else. But at least we had beer and pork.

Local brewers Nutbrook had what can only be described as a chalet, installed by the Useless Fountain in the Market Place. With these features in no particular order; a bar serving cask beer, a fan heater, a seat near the fan heater. And they were next door to fellow Oakfield Farm dwellers, um, Oakfield Farm who were selling big fat roast pork cobs with apple sauce and stuffing. And pizzas. Freshly made pizzas. Like chocolate pizza.

I've popped in a few times this week and today managed to lose two hours whilst slowly supping Nutbrook's sublime stout, Midnight. The Sally's brass section whipped through familiar Christmas favourites, head brewer Chris whisked up a brisk trade in gift packs and a succession of hen-pecked husbands gave me dagger-like stares as I read the paper and had another pint whilst they were corralled away into another consumer hellhole.

Not Christmas Shopping is a long-held tradition of mine. Rarely has it been as enjoyable as this, mind.


Man walks into a cellar...

... orders a pint of Jaipur, buys a chunk of Stilton and sits on a stool by a barrel to enjoy his beer and cheese.

And he's not dreaming.

The General Havelock in Ilkeston is remarkable in many ways. A range of beers that appeal to a wide audience - Mansfield Smooth to Marble Little Jim, for instance. The Art Deco-meets-Minimalist decor, extending out to a water garden that wouldn't look out of place in the foyer of a seven-star hotel. But sitting in a pub cellar and being served Jaipur straight from the cask, with a damn fine creamy piece of Stilton alongside, is as close to beery perfection as I can imagine.

There's more to be written about this astounding pub. I'll have to fire up the Big Camera, get some decent pics and report back.


Beauty, mutton chops and mild

"The first injunction we lay upon you is, that you must rise at six o'clock every morning, or at five if you please, but not sooner. Before breakfast you must walk in the open air from half a mile to three miles, according to your strength, at a quick pace.

If you have perspired so as to damp your clothes, or if you have wetted your feet, you must change and have all dry before breakfast and it is also indispensable to have your skin, particularly over the stomach, well rubbed with a soft cotton cloth, or a flesh brush, for ten or fifteen minutes before breakfast, and to wash your hands and face in cold soft water.

The breakfast itself - not later than eight o'clock - ought, in rigid training, to consist of plain biscuit (not bread), broiled beef steaks or mutton chops, under-done, without any fat, and half a pint of mild bottled ale, - the genuine Scotch ale is the best. Our fair readers will not demur to this, when they are told that this was the regular breakfast of Queen Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey.

If tea or coffee is taken, the half pint of ale is to be used three hours after breakfast with a biscuit, on returning from your second walk, which must be as long as the first.

The forenoon must be spent in walking, or any other active amusement out of doors, such as gardening, nutting, romping, etc".

from "The Art Of Beauty" 1825

Frankly, if it's good enough for ladies wot leisured in the early nineteenth C, it's good enough for me.

Picture from some place that had a Gillray pic. Thinking of making it my Christmas card this year


Well, it was my birthday...

Last Friday I turned forty-smuffummuhhhh and was lucky enough to spend the day being driven around Derbyshire by Mrs Scoop in George, our little blue beer taxi. Early doors at Thornbridge to pick up a case of Tzara, their kolsch-ish beer that continues the lagery experimentations of Italia and Steelmaker.

Monsal Head saw the sun shine. And no tourists. Not surprising - it was November and chuffing freezing. But there was a bonus - the hotel's Stable bar was open for a cheeky pint of Buxton Moor Top. Paler than maiden's water with just enough pithy grapefruit for an almost-breakfast beer.

Luncheon was taken at the Packhorse Inn at Little Longstone. An open fire belching smoke across the bar every time the kitchen door opened and drew a breeze through the room. Lashings of Thornbridge Jaipur. And wild boar sausage - fattened on the Thornbridge estate just down the road from the pub.

A mad dash to Buxton Brewery to finally meet up with the owner, Geoff Quinn, and a quick looksie at how the place is developing at a rapid rate of knots. And then... an afternoon and evening that segued into major beerage. You know that feeling when you put good beer in the hands of good people and they do the double-take? When they have the 'ohh-whoh!" moment and you know you've just won another brother over to the cause of Drinking Great Beer? That :-)

I don't think my recycle bin has ever looked finer...

Many thanks to Summer Wine and Magic Rock for their superb beers and speedy delivery. And mucho thanko to Alex from Thornbridge, Geoff & JK from Buxton and Nate & Evin from The Kernel for their kind gifts that kept the party well-lubricated.


Scrooged: or A Cautionary Tale Of How Beer Got Fecked

The Session this month, on the topic of 'A Christmas Carol' , is brought to you by Phil at Beersay.

No apologies for length. It's been a long day and I find rambling writing marvellously carthartic. If you have five minutes to spare and hold out for a laugh ot two, grab yourself a beer and carry on reading...

Scrooge was ready to settle in for Christmas Eve. Newly imported naughty parchments, a ceramic pot of Mrs Arbuthnott's Self-Enhancement Embrocation and a case of Throxheards Old Unobtainable. So why the Dickens was there a ghost at the end of his bed?

"Why is there a ghost at the end of my bed?" said Scrooge in a far-too-obvious way.

"SCROOGE! I am the ghost of Jacob..." Scrooge let out a sheet-ripper of Krakatoan proportions, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the volcano wouldn't erupt for another forty years.

"Ooh, that's better," Scrooge declared. "This stuff goes through me quicker than a ticker round Sheffield. What did you say your name was? Jacob... Barley? Whatever. Get on with it. This embrocation cost me a groat and it's starting to wear off already. What do you want?"

Barley (as we shall name the Ghost for mediocre comedic effect) drew himself up to his full height. "SCROOGE! Self-pleasuring yourself alongside bottle-conditioned beer is no way to spend Christmas Eve. We all know that's what you should do on Boxing Day morning. You will be visited by three Ghosts who will help you change your ways..."

And as if by magic, Barley was gone. And Scrooge had barely turned the corner of his favourite parchment before another spectral thingy appeared.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past", it said. For, indeed, it was he. "I am going to take you back to your youth".

Scrooge looked horrified. "NO! Not tank-tops and brown corduroy!" In the Formica-clad bar, a fug of smoke parted occasionally. Scrooge peered around the drinkers within. "Look!" he cried, "there's me with a pint of cask-pulled Osbourne's Extra Bitter! There's Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego drinking keg mild. Old Mother Cudlipp with a bottle of Nursing Mother's Barely Wine. The rugger buggers on rounds of Lort XXXX. And everyone's having a great time..."

"Ah, yes, they were the days, " the GOCP sighed. "Everyone went down the pub, drank what they fancied, didn't analyse it and had a good time. Including you. Look. You're so mesmerised by the barmaid's meringues that you bought a round". "True," said Scrooge. "And what we drank wasn't as important as the fact that we all drank together..."

And as if by magic, the GOCP was gone.

Scrooge had a wistful look in his rheumy eye when, as if by magic, the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared. "Put that away and get a move on," said the GOCP (the Narrator, at this stage, recognises the fatal flaw of lazy acronyms but has come this far and can't be arsed to rewrite). "I'm taking you to places that you've never seen before".

A supermarket full of happy topers buying own-brand beers, bargain regional offerings, esoteric craft brews and continental oddities. "They all look so happy," mused Scrooge, "everyone finding something that they love to drink and being inspired to try something new".

An ex-miner's cottage, now home to migrant farmworkers enjoying fecking great platters of meat and cheese along with crates of everyone's favourite European lagers: Blinky, Plop and Sod. "Look how they've sourced tasty food and beer from a discount supermarket that I wouldn't normally be seen dead in, even though it's damn cheap, "said Scrooge.

A pub where, albeit after a fair bit of quality pre-loading, those home drinkers had come together to have random conversations and tell amazingly-still-funny jokes about the landlord's baubles.

And then to a lighthouse, where a lone worker was enjoying a 75cl bottle of whisky-barrel-aged stout in clear contravention of both health & safety and maritime law. "He's all alone on Christmas Eve," opined Scrooge, "and despite the inflated postage costs of mail order beer to the outlying island zones of the British Isles, he's really happy. Look, he's beaming at a parchment...."

"Whoah.. time to go!" said the GOCP. And, as if by magic, they did.

By now, Scrooge's head was in a spin. And not just from the bottle of poppers he kept stashed under the bed for, ahem, special evenings. But there was no rest for the grumpy. The Ghost of Christmas Future hoved into view.

He took Scrooge to a room set out in several shades of grey. One tap dripped a viscous liquid into cups crusted with the detritus of previous customers. There was no music, no conversation. A shoebox containing a dead hamster would have more atmosphere.

Scrooge was confused. "What's happening here?", he enquired. "Why do these sad sacks sit around sipping stuff from sad schooners?"

The GOCF ignored Scrooge's superfluous alliteration. "This is what happened after the Beer Wars. Craft beer priced itself out of the market, the international brewers offered premium branded beer at discount prices and the vast majority of drinkers realised that they could drink somewhere that was warm, comfy and convenient with a huge 3D telly. Their living room. When the beercos twigged that everyone else was happy to drink beer regardless of how it tastes, this became the standard on-license model. They're having a trough installed next week".

"But what about microbrewers and craft beer and diversity?" wailed Scrooge. "Actually, fuck them - what happened to Throxheards Old Unobtainable?"

"Sold up", said the GOGF. "Hard to blame them, really. The family hadn't been near a mash tun in two generations. Turning the tower brewery into heritage flats and retiring to the beach to drink iced-cold buckets of Cabron was too much of a lure. There was a point when everything beery seemed so positive. But then there were fractions and fragmentation. Everyone ended up on endless blogs bemoaning everything that was actually innovative and interesting but not quite to their blinkered taste. Meanwhile, the big boys did what they do best; buy up emergent markets, lobby for tax breaks and let the niche within a niche bury itself under ever more hyperbole".

Scrooge let out a rasping breath, lifted his lidded lids to look the GOCF straight in the eye and said:

"Oh, shite".

"If you think that's bad," said the GOCF, "there's more".

The grave stood neglected and untended. Lichen on it glistened only as it had been used recently as a urinal. A name, worn away by a curt breeze, threatened to crumble when Scrooge fingered the engraving.

"Is this it?" Scrooge challenged the GOCF. "Is this how it has to end? A piss-stained relic forgotten in the corner of a churchyard where even the knell of parting day doesn't reach?"

The GOCF was impressed by Scrooge's heart-felt sentiment and unexpected command of eighteenth-century poetry. "Perhaps, perhaps.The sun is setting here. So, just maybe, what you see are the shadows of what may be..."

As if by magic, it was Christmas Day. Scrooge rubbed his tired eyes and tried to recall the enormity of the night before. Could it be? Had he really reached out and discovered the Spirit of Beer? Understood exactly what needed to be done to stop the beer lovers of the world from tearing themselves apart? How to persuade people that beer - the best long drink in the world, no matter what guise it's delivered in - is brewed for enjoyment above all other?

He threw the parchments on the fire, fetched up a bottle of Throxheards Vintage Christmas Special from the cellar and threw open the front door. Maybe he should make a steaming bowl of Smoking Bishop and offer it to the waifs in the street? On reflection, he decided to sod off to the pub.

To drink everything and nothing. To talk to everyone and no-one. And to remember that if beer isn't fun, it isn't beer anymore.


Beachy Head Christmas Jumper: the worst beer name ever?

I'm happy to defend the use of humour in beer names. I've written about it before. Humour is shaped by our character, psyche and values so that which one person finds funny, another finds offensive.

But even I struggle to understand why the Beachy Head Brewery would name a beer Christmas Jumper.

For those of you who don't know the backstory, Beachy Head cliff in Southern England notorious as a suicide spot as there's a five hundred foot drop to the beach. A chaplaincy team regularly patrol the clifftop, reaching out to those who may seek to take their own life by jumping.

And Beachy Head Brewery have been selling a beer called Christmas Jumper for the last three years.

Head Brewer Roger Green is quoted in The Argus as saying, "This started with a pump clip showing Father Christmas in a big fluffy jumper but when we produced labels that did not reproduce because we have a standard shot on our labels. It was purely a running joke on the famous woolly jumper. (The link to Beachy Head) was unintentional certainly. We know this is a very delicate subject and have the utmost respect for the job the chaplains do."

If the link to Beachy Head was 'unintentional' - by a brewery run by the Davis-Gilbert estate which also runs a pub, accomodation and farming on the Head - then it makes the brewery staggeringly naive.

I think it's the most egregious piece of beer marketing I've seen in years.

The story finds a sharp focus this year in the national press, perhaps because of a high-profile suicide last week. Given that the Davies-Gilbert family make their living out of Beachy Head, they ought to show some respect; at least re-name the beer and make a sizeable donation to the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team.

Humour can be found in the most unlikely of places. I just don't think it can be found in the grief of those who took their own lives on Beachy Head.


Sausages and beer

"If I were to offer you either tea or mild ale at this moment, which would you take?"

"Generally, I should say tea," said the poet; " but after my labours of this morning, which have made me nervous, it would be better for me to take mild ale." She gave him a shilling, and pointed to a jug. He disappeared, and presently returned with a comfortable head of foam upon the vessel. She noticed, with a quiet smile, that he neglected to give her back the change. It was a forgetful way he had.

"It was providential," he said, " quite providential, that I did not get up when I woke up first. At the very best it would have been tea and bread-and-butter with Mrs. Medlar, and now it's been sausages and beer."

from 'With Harp And Crown', Sir Walter Besant, 1875

A couple of weeks ago, Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver told me that there was no beer that couldn't be matched with sausages. Tonight, I'm proving him right by pairing Buxton High Tor (dry hopped special with Chinook and Columbus) with butchers-thumb-fat Lincolnshire porkers, stuffed with sage and served dead cold after a good baking earlier.

Seeing as how Derbyshire knocks out a great line in speciality sausage - wild boar, lamb and mint, chili and chocolate - I'm going to put Garrett's maxim to the test over the next couple of months. Gueuze that cuts through pork fat? Sounds like a challenge to be relished...


Book review: The Search for the Perfect Pub

There's a moment in most drinkers' lives where they come over all introspective and glassy-eyed. Often after their eighth pint. But sometimes it's when they think about what makes the perfect pub. Thoughts turn to an Orwellian Moon Under Water: defining the essence of that ideal watering hole. I've certainly tried to pin such thoughts down on occasion.

Paul Moody and Robin Turner have gone several steps further. And then some. Having already visited some of the nation's most idiosyncratic boozers in their book "The Rough Pub Guide", they've been on the hunt for not only what makes the perfect pub but also why places have been marginalised and monetised, how "one of our most loved institutions have become so unloved and undervalued".

Their journey takes them from Edinburgh's side streets to islands off the Devonian coast, sharing a drink with the likes of Wetherspoon supremo Tim Martin and Manics frontman James Dean Bradfield along the way. It's a book of two halves and one theme; beginning with conversations about the state of the British pub with the sector's great and good (Bridgid Simmonds, Greg Mulholland, Pete Brown) before concentrating more on time at the bar in places such as Cardiff's Vulcan, Lundy Island's Marisco Tavern and The Butchers Arms in Herne.

Like all good pub-based arguments, Moody and Turner's is passionate, rambling, repeating, sometimes over-laboured, sometimes opaque but always engaging. I like a book that I can shout at, both in agreement and decrial, particularly as I read most of it in the pub and like it when people stare back at me like I'm about to go off on one.

Do they find the perfect pub? I'll leave you to find out. It's a very entertaining journey with plenty of input from the kinds of characters I'd love to spend a pint or three with. And I highly recommend you buy a copy. It's the ideal book to make you think as you drink in that pub that you love on a wet afternoon in winter.

The Search For The Perfect Pub is published by Orion. Many thanks to them for the review copy.


Postcards from the edge of Sheffield

Sheffield Tap. Families drink coffees and 'something exotic'. Hipsters tuck into the bottled beer menu. Oldsters with a sense of fading style lounge at the bar with the Sunday papers. Two guys in wheelchairs slalom through the bar. I spend an hour-and-a-bit with Ian Harrison, supremo of the website Pubs And Beer, as he rates a few more towards his target of ten thousand beers before the Olympics start next year. Our drinking pace, like the even flow of customers, is slow and steady. There's a palpable sense of time passing; watches glanced at, smartphones asked obvious questions. Time for one more?

Greystones. Pushchairs crammed behind the front doors. A winter market on the go, amongst the tables inside and through to the Backroom, the little gig space which has made a huge impression on the city's music scene. Lots of nippers decorating gingerbread. A stained glass artist who inspires me to get my grinder out and start soldering all over again. An illustrator who makes me stop and think (more on that later). A wait for hot dogs as the cobs run out. Thornbridge Mechelen and Tzara, drank outside, looking down into the city resembling scattered Lego below a blue ceiling.

Harlequin. Here for several reasons, starting with the promise of a vanilla stout. A warm smile from the landlady, an acknowledging nod from the brewer sat at the bar. Eclectic music ticks over in the background. A bunch of fairly refreshed gents in the foreground; even if it had been whispered, the word 'cunt' still cuts through a pub like a cankered switchblade. It's entertainment, but it makes you wince for the audience that he'll inflict himself upon later.

Rutland Arms. One room, disparate groups. Eight round a table around the corner from me, their bets unseen: "yeah, but can you do this..?". "Eeuurrgh!". Two guys with expensive haircuts and knowingly-cheap shirts talk of everything and nothing as an obvious precursor to greater things later on. Opposite me, a one-sided conversation from an over-animated chap against an ever-more desperate quiet man: "sales isn't a career but it pays the bills... so, what are your hobbies?... I like just having chats with strangers like you". I'm on the last chapter of "In Search of the Perfect Pub"; the Quiet Man makes good his escape and Mr Over-Animation appears over my shoulder. "So, what are you reading, then?" "A book", I reply. "No shit" he says, muttering "sod you, then" as he gropes for the door. My Acorn Gorlovka is drained, chocolate brownies procured, and time found between delayed trains to think on this:

Ian Harrison told me how he felt Yorkshire's geography and geology rejects humanity. That the reason why there are so many breweries through the Ridings round is that people need a drink to cope with the hills lashed with rain and more rain. I think he's wrong.

I feel the Tykes survive and thrive because of their geography, not in spite of it. You know those stubborn buggers of single-celled stuff that live in the mouths of volcanoes and the trenches of oceans? Because nothing else seems stupid enough to bother? Got to be born in Yorkshire.

All around the edge of the city, people drink beer and carry on. In the bleeding gauze of the railway station, on the top of one of their seven hills, by the river on the road to nowhere in particular, down a backstreet where no-one knows your name but wants to know what you're reading. Under blue skies and fine concrete. At Greystones, I saw this print by Johnathan Wilkinson: hope he doesn't mind me reproducing it here. I'll be in touch soon to buy one. Because it embodies Sheffield for me: ugly beauty. A city of oxymorons. It bloody well is what it bloody well is. And that's why I love it.


An aside: Goodbye, Business Link

Today is the last day of Business Link as we know it. Formed in 1993, this government-funded scheme in England helped millions of small businesses and entrepreneurs. To start a business, to make it profitable, to help it survive. To employ people. To bid for contracts. To recover from flooding. To fight the recession.

I've been involved with Business Link for the last four years, working for the organisation that delivered the contract in the East Midlands. I'm fiercely proud of what we helped local businesses achieve.

The vast majority of my colleagues have now moved on or been made redundant as the service becomes a national call centre without specialist advisers to meet business people face-to-face.

Amongst the smorgasbord of businesses we helped, there were a fair few breweries and pubs. I rarely mention my professional work when I'm out on the beer, but on the odd occasion when I've let it slip I've been genuinely amazed by the reaction of brewers and publicans. I will always remember one saying to me: "See all this stainless? All these people working? That's the difference your support made".

To everyone who ever worked for Business Link, to our millions of clients, to every nervous person who walked into a 'starting a business' seminar and became a confident and successful entrepreneur: thank you.

It's been a privilege working with you. My next beer's for you.


Tasting notes. Sort of

A rare pleasure today. Beers with Ian Harrison; half the brains behind, upstanding member of, 2006 winner of the Best Bloke To Share Mead With In A Reading Travelodge Award and possessor of one of the keenest palates I know.

Who found a German pils to be like "licking walnut shells on the outside".

Who nailed "strawberry cherry" as a malt descriptor.

Who brings out the best and worst in me. And our shared tasting notes.

Mr Grundy's Lord Kitchener wasn't just toffee and banana. It was, specifically, banana-flavoured Toffo.

Derby Malt Teaser was 'malt water'.

Poretti didn't just taste of cardboard. It was 'enough cardboard to build the homeless a mansion. But enough lemon to reset your palate'.

Which led us to this epic conclusion:

Poretti is the Control-Alt-Delete of beer.

Malt Teaser is the Blue Screen Of Death.

You know, tasting notes are all bollocks. But in that moment, the fuggy beery moment when you blurt them out loud, it's like you've finally comprehended constellations as alien code. In the moment, they make absolute sense.

Which is why, looking back through notes of old, you wonder how you know a beer has the aroma of  "a pair of pants pissed in and abandoned in the dank corner of a poorly ventilated stable".

Ah, they were the days...


Not beer and food

Out for a meal tonight with colleagues past and present. An excellent meal at Derby's Le Bistrot Pierre; warm beetroot salad with goat's cheese, sous-vide pork with black pudding, caramelised lemon tart.

And no beer.

I could have had Meteor, Stella, Vedett, Leffe. Even a Derby-brewed bottled bitter. None of which would have added anything to the meal.

A Viognier, however,  played gainfully with the pork and its creamy sauce. An iced water complemented the sweet beets and salty goat. Lemon tart was perfect with, uh, nothing else at all.

I'm now at home enjoying a wonderfully roasted, liquorish-licked, smoky-plum-dropped digestif: Magic Rock Dark Arts. Paired perfectly with, uh, nothing at all.

I will not pretend that a Belgian beer brand with an ersatz Gallic advert campaign that's actually brewed in the UK is the perfect accompaniment to French bistro-style food. I will not pretend that I ought to support local brewers at every given opportunity.

I will not drink beer for the sake of it. I will drink what I think works best for my enjoyment.

Sometimes, not beer and food is the right combination.


Book review: The Story of Brewing in Burton On Trent

Burton: beer town. It's difficult to over-estimate just how important a role the town has played in the history of English brewing. The story of Burton is the story of pale ale, of industrial complex, of international trade, domestic economy and the changing face of brewing through the centuries. It's one hell of a story to tell. And that's what Roger Protz sets out to do in his latest book.

From brewing at the Benedictine abbey, through to the Baltic and India export eras and the economic politics of British brewery mergers, Protz guides a familiar course past the recognised markers of Burton's beery history. The rise of Bass and Worthington are handled with aplomb, likewise the indelible effect that the town had on the growth of pale ale and the seemingly-hard-to-pin-down style of Burton ale itself.

After a first read-through, though, I found myself wanting to know more. More about the town and how being riven by brewing shaped Burton's development. More about the characters and the coopers. There are plenty of good-quality plates with excellent photographic reproductions, but the book cries out for at least one map to put the scale of the enterprise into perspective (something that "Brewery Railways of Burton on Trent" managed to do so well some fifteen years ago).

Maybe the problem is that Burton's history is so intertwined with that of English brewing that it's difficult to tell the tale without constant reference to the bigger picture. The problem then is that whole chapters seem tangential to the town. The Babington Plot makes for good history, but the fact that a Burton brewer was involved makes it feel more like filler than thriller in this context. And some content sits uneasily; towards the end of the book there's a number of chapters that are re-writes of articles that the author has already published on his website. I was hoping for a reflective ending that brought together the town's rich and diverse history. Instead, the book ebbs away.

I have a feeling that there's two great books yet to be written about Burton and beer; one which captures the complexity of the economic history hinted at by Gourvish & Wilson, another that emphasises the importance of personality as well as water chemistry to the rise and fall of Burton's brewing. The Story of Brewing in Burton On Trent hints at a few panels in the town's rich tapestry; it will be future work that revels in the overall splendour and/or reveal the fine detail.

The Story of Brewing In Burton On Trent is published by The History Press. Many thanks to them for the review copy.