Tap me up, tie me down

Two articles caught me eye today. Acorn Brewery have re-opened a former Enterprise Inns pun, Old No. 7 in Barnsley, as their 'brewery tap'.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Public Policy Research has released a report that calls for reform to the tied-lease model of pub company operations.

It's great to see breweries investing in a pub, whether it's buying outright or entering a deal such as Everards' Project William. Is this something that more microbrewers ought to take more seriously? After all, what better way is there of showcasing their beers?

With the tied-lease model under increasing pressure, is there room in the future for brewers to approach pubcos and explore shared-lease options? For pubcos to actively court microbrewers with an eye towards such shared ventures? How about pubcos identifying premises that may even be suitable for micro/nano brewing?

By themselves, such initiatives won't square the ever-decreasing circle of tied-pub profitability. But it may well be the model that encourages ever more entreprenueral approaches to managing the tie in the future. Because, for some licensees, there doesn't seem to be that much of a future left anymore.


A London Miscellany: In The City

When you finally emerge from Bank underground station, possibly from the exit you intended, you become part of a human stream. I suspect the shoes worn by the gent on my right cost more than I earn in a month. I also suspect the stocking tops of the woman to my left were either a not-too-subliminal advert for the nearby Agent Provocateur or that she gets her kicks by raising the blood pressure of fat bankers on a Monday morning.

The flow was broken at Gracechurch Street. The majority had hedges to fund. I had a Spoons breakfast on my mind. I wasn't in The City for the fun of it - the pubs open early here and I was ready to cram in a few choicer establishments early doors. Albeit not as early as I'd hoped for. I could have sworn the Crosse Keys opened at 8am; the website says 9am, it opened at some point between the two. No matter. It's the grandest breakfast venue I've been to. A island bar surrounded by marble pillars, more marble on the walls, the occasional Oriental sculpture to remind you this was once the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. In one corner, a smattering of suits with lattes & sausage cobs. Keen, attentive staff. And the best Spoons breakfast I've ever eaten.

So what happens if you take the best features of the Crosse Keys and slim them down somewhat? You get The Knights Templar on Chancery Lane. Slimmer marble columns (black, not green), seemingly more space even though it's much smaller (the large windows / high ceiling combo helps), more relaxing and personal than the Crosse Keys. Just the clatter of forks and spoons from the three other breakfasters. Some may find the near-silence off-putting. After four days in London, I found it preciously attractive. A large orange juice and half a crossword later, I was relaxed and refreshed. Not something I usually experience after a morning of two Spoons.

The next stop was a fortuitous indulgence. I've always wanted to visit a Fleet Street pub and the Punch Tavern happened to be open. Plenty of tourists gawping through the door, no-one at the bar. There was an air of gloomy late-Victoriana about the place, dark oak stained over more than a century, low light from the vaulted ceiling, large mirrors reflecting back little but occasional echoes of when the place was more charivari. After the morning's grandeur Punch felt subdued, slightly shabby, tired and emotional. I loved it. I wanted not to; I wanted the colours to be vibrant and the dining tables to be cleared away and the bar area to be thick with smoke and pissed old hacks baffled by new technology. But the first beer of the day - Sharp's Doom Bar - was perfect, service was courteous and if you closed your eyes you could still smell the nicotine and hear the invective.

As so many of my London ramblings begin at the Betjamin Sculpture, it was fitting for this one to end at a pub with eclectic sculptures that the Poet Laureate was instrumental in saving. The Blackfriar is a wedge-shaped riot of Art Nouveau excess; mosaic and sculpture in alabaster and marble, onyx and lapis lazuli, copper and gilt. I could write a book about the interior, although this one has it pretty much covered. I'd have taken some photos but, frankly, photos cannot do justice to the place. You need to be there early doors, buy a pint (more Doom Bar for me), and poke your nose around. If the barman can be persuaded to turn the music down, even better. Then go and sit in the Small Saloon Bar at the back and marvel at work by Henry Poole, one of England's finest sculptors; sup your pint and revel in the ceiling reliefs that read "Silence Is Golden. Wisdom Is Rare. Seize Occasion. Industry Is All. Haste Is Slow. Finery Is Foolery".

Then go and see London through rejuvenated eyes. Start looking up towards corbels and pediments. See the detail, the craftsmanship, the moments in history fixed into great buildings.

In half a day, it's possible to gain a valuable insight into London's economic and social history through its architecture. And buy a pint or four along the way. I'll drink to that.

A plaque on the wall outside the Blackfriar. Couldn't resist...


A London Miscellany: Leyton on RM40

Every summer, the European contingent of ratebeer.com meet up for a beery bash one weekend. We're an eclectic bunch; some hardcore Scandinavian raters with laptops, more than a few Brits full of banter and the occasional mad ex-pat Welshman working in Japan. After breakfast beers at Kernel, our itinerary took us up east for lunch in Leyton.

The King William IV is a rambling pile of gables and flower baskets on the High Road. Inside, it's a boozer. In the finest sense of the word. There are Saturday shoppers, wrinkled regulars, pre-match lads. And they are all here to drink beer.

And what beer there is. Brewed on-site - this is the Brodies brewery tap - in such an array of styles as to make tickers and beer geeks cry into their notebooks. Definitive English bitters.  A slew of New World citrics such as Amarilla, Kiwi and Californian. Darker delights like Superior London Porter. There was even a 13.3% tripel. The price? £1.99 a pint, squire. Any pint. Now, that's an enlightened pricing policy.

From the front door onwards, the pub expands as if it's let its belt out a couple of notches and relaxed. A large bar gives way to a larger maroon room at the back, all crammed with etched mirrors and stag's heads and a petrol pump. Like you do. In other places, it would look identikit kitsch; here it works. The St George's flags are a clear declaration - of pride. English pubs are too often backwards at coming forwards and celebrating their heritage. The King William IV has no such reservations.

Out the back, there's a few toper traps and the brewery. I sat out there with a few others in the occasional rain, supping Californian and watching a spitroast lamb wind its way to greatness. Later, with pints drained, the lamb singed slowly until its leg dislocated and swung around like a macabre charred clock hand.

Before I knew it, it was time to go. A bottle of Brodies' bought - you don't need to ask the price. Our bus was waiting- personal service as we'd hired a 1959 Routemaster for the day. When we roll, we roll in retro-style.

Everyone was thoroughly refreshed. Up on the top deck, the Scandinavian contingent started singing something melancholy. Which would never do. Us Brits had to respond.

So that's how I came to be sitting on the back seat of a red double-decker, in a traffic jam, drinking Brodies Seven Hop from the bottle, singing "The Wheels On The Bus".


A London Miscellany: From Langdon Close To Druid Street

My usual London life is governed by the wormholes. I appear into St Pancras and do what no other of my fellow passengers do - wander down to the Betjeman sculpture and take five minutes to revel in the glory of Barlow & Ordish's shed. Then descend into the undercroft, once home to so many barrels of Burton beers, before disappearing into a sweaty, sclerotic concrete artery to be farted out the other side into London, baby.

But not this day.

In town for a long beery weekend, staying in the very agreeble Frances Gardener House, Saturday morning demanded an early start. Because London was my lobster. And I got to do something I'd promised myself I'd do in the capital one day. Walk to the river.

The Grays' Inn Road was quiet. Even ITN looked sleepy. Holborn twitched like an itchy hooker. One dark car, travelling too fast. St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe was magnificent; a sumptuous pile of under-rated redbrick. And then the Millennium Bridge, deserted but for three photographers. Why?

Because we all wanted to take a snap like this. And half-six in the morning seems to be the right time to do it.

An occasionally-cobbled South Bank gave way to Borough Market as it lurched into life. Great to chat with fishmongers; boxes of ice lugged up on a sack truck, knives the size of your arm spilling fishguts over old marble, reminding me of precious summers in Brixham where every quay-side mug of black coffee was laced with whisky. Early doors at Monmouth for The Best Damn Coffee In All Of London Town (Part One). A proper bacon cob at Roast - when I say bacon cob, I mean the best smokiest, crispiest bacon ever delivered into bread. Banter with the Mrs King's Pork Pie guy - always good to see a Notts pie in the Big Smoke.

Then the slow stagger eastwards. Under Tower Bridge, past HMS Belfast - awesome is a cruelly over-used term, but apposite for battleships and cathedrals when seen at close range - and on towards more railway arches. Meeting Nate en route, dipping into Monmouth for The Best Damn Coffee In All Of London Town (Part Two). And then,


An archway, shared with (above) the railway network stretching southeast and (inside) The Ham & Cheese Company. Outside, trestles and any other damn kind of seating that can be mustered lined The Ropewalk. Beers appear; from the cooler, such delights as an IPA with Amarillo, Nelson & Riwaka. Then, a keg of Saison. A table groans with bottles to takeaway.

There's a fleeting moment. A little sun, fresh mozzarella & bresaola on the table, perfectly-hopped sunshine in a glass, the laughter of friends and strangers... you could be in many places, until the lurching rattle of the 0957 to Brighton reminds you that you're in Bermondsey.

And I wouldn't swap it for anywhere else in the world. I've enjoyed many glorious mornings. But to walk the capital as it's nudged from its slumber and toast it with the best bottled beer London has to offer...  that's special.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it".


A London Miscellany: Borough

A South Bank ganglion. Tourists crawl out of London Bridge station, suits shuttle over the river, Jeremy and Jocasta clutter up the market. Beer lovers seek history at the George, ticks at the Market Porter, a damn fine pint of Harvey's Best at the Royal Oak. And a slice of madness at The Rake.

It still seems improbable. An ex-greasy spoon café at the back-end of a mostly-weekend market riddled with railway arches. More space out on the terrace than inside the bar. But there could be three reasons why this place attracts a better class of barfly, beer ticker and boorish toper.

It could be the beers; cask from the cream of contemporary British brewing: Thornbridge, Summer Wine, Otley, Harviestoun, Fyne. Or kegs by the likes of Stone, Ommegang, Chimay, Brewdog. Bottles from all points of the compass.

Or maybe it's the ebullient manager, Glyn 'Womble' Roberts. Runs a tight ship, knows how to keep a good beer and has a banter bank permanently in credit.

Perhaps it's the atmosphere which, just for once, is part-written on the walls. The far side of the bar has been signed by passing brewers and reads like an A-Z of brewing. And so there's always a chance that you'll bump into a Sharpie-wielding brewer or two. Like this:

Or this:

One thing is for certain. If you're in Borough and think you're having a normal day, go to The Rake. Your sense of world-class abnormality will be swiftly restored.

Props to Summer Wine Andy who's signing the wall and to Summer Wine James & Glyn 'Womble' Roberts for donning the ginger merkin. Especially as you know where it's been...


A London Miscellany: Clerkenwell

Out of Farringdon station's spaghetti, you seem to have two choices. Un-nervingly, both seem to end up at the choicer end of Hatton Garden. Where there really are fat men with battered suitcases shuttling about. Bet the stones are in belts well hidden beneath those years of gefilte-riddled fat.

Onto Leather Lane and a market. A proper market. A rolls-of-material, odd-hardware-bits, cheap-art-magazines market. Old men with the world under their stubby fingernails drink coffee, sat on squat stools outside their shops. You walk past S & M Tools (honest) in search of a world-class bar. It's here. Really. If you get to the King of Falafal, you've gone too far.

Somewhere with the quality of The Craft Beer Co has no right to be on a market street on the wrong side of Diamond Row. But then, its big sister (CASK Pub & Kitchen) has no right to be shoehorned into a shithole pile of Pimlico flats either. Yet both are game-changing places.

Early doors at Craft there's a half-dozen geeks and a few randoms. In a relaxed, calm, stupendously glass-ceiling-with-ostentatious-chandeliered atmosphere. Tall & squeaky banquettes surround a bar that was designed for beergeek worship. Many casks. Many keg fonts. To some, the number and choice is obscene. I didn't count. Because good beer is where you find it. A half of house lager - brewed by Mikkeller, ffs - followed by a swift Giradin Faro made for two of the finest, refreshing beers I could ever hope for.

A literal sixty seconds away, Gunmakers. For a quick couple of beers, a chat with Des de Moor about his outstanding London pub guide and the sheer theatre of Jeff Bell in full effect. There are few places I encounter where mine host is front and centre; Jeff owns the floor and all points west. And - let's be honest - I wouldn't be stumbling around on t'internet writing this tosh if it wasn't for the likes of Mr Bell blazing that early trail.

Gunmakers is full of hard floors, walls and echoes. Several tables by the bar for topers. A tardis dining room out back. And Meantime Helles on tap which, to be frank, I could drink all the live-long day.

The return to Craft was a blur; next day, many many many beers and hours later. But I know this much is true. There was a jug of Struise Pannepot on the table early on. There were many of the finest people I know in the place that night. There was a jug of Struise Black Damnation VI on the table late on. And we know why it's called Messy. It's a Ronseal kinda name.

In these pictures, you'll find: three of the greatest guys I've met:- Paul Melia, Chris Owen, Tom Cadden;  a huge feck-off chandelier; Angelo "The Machine" Scarnera. If you go to Craft, who knows who'll you'll meet?


Beer is not a four letter word

Imagine this. One of the foremost beer writers of the day is presenting a television series about the world beer scene. He's not a 'celebrity', he doesn't have an ex-comedian in tow. Although he does own a few choicely patterned shirts.
He's already established himself in the national press with regular feature articles about beer, brewing, travel and tastings. Those articles are read widely, particularly by those who remember an iconoclastic column about beer that appeared in another national newspaper some years before.

The future of beer journalism? No. It's the past.

In the early nineties Michael Jackson was re-visioning the syntax of beer appreciation whilst fronting a Channel 4 show and writing for the Independent. Richard Boston had already established a regular column in the Guardian, "Boston on Beer", almost twenty years before. That led to the book 'Beer and Skittles', possibly the most under-rated and over-looked beer book ever published.

So why, with the UK beer scene at its most vibrant and experimental, is current media coverage so apologetic?

Two cases in point. The recent Guardian article on 'real lagers' was curate's egg reporting - worthy comments kneecapped by inaccurate PR whilst lazy journalism looked the other way. It was practically an admission that they want to be positive about beer but can't really be arsed to get the facts right. It's only beer, after all. The geeks can go get excited over at Word of Mouth.

Jay Rayner is a different kettle of bouillabaisse. I've got a pancake-stack of respect for him as a food writer and restaurant critic. But he seemed uneasy talking about beer and food on The One Show, making it clear several times that he's usually a wine drinker. Although if he thinks his shirts must mark him out as a flowery vine-lover, he's never met Ashover brewer Roy Shorrock.

To be honest, I'd be uneasy if I offered Jane Asher a beer on live TV and then realised it wasn't the one I was talking about. He twisted the bottle of Doom Bar around desperately as if to transmogrify it into the already-mentioned Chalky's Bite. The whole piece withered on the bine as Chris Evans pledged his troth to lager, Asher was cut off from asking again why her wheat beer was brown and Alex Jones tried not to gag on a double chocolate overdose.

The One Show could have done the decent thing and let Des De Moor run the tasting rather than being a mere talking head behind the Brodies' bar. But Rayner let slip the prejudice that holds back objective, entertaining and factual beer coverage in mainstream media when he dismissively used the phrase "beer obsessives". Like being beer-obsessive is a bad thing.

Put it this way. When I read the weekend papers, I want the motoring column to be written by a petrolhead. I want the gardening pages to be written by someone so green-fingered they could be mistaken for an alien. I want the food features to be written by those who are obsessive, passionate, knowledgeable and witty when it comes to all things gastronomic.

Why should beer be treated any different?

I don't want the beer commentator to be whoever has it listed as third-choice on their interests list. Nor someone who can barely transcribe a press release.

Good journalism can educate, entertain and inform. Obsessive characters who can manipulate their chosen subject and make it accessible to a wider audience make some of the finest journalists. Michael Jackson exemplified that. He knew - and, more importantly, persuaded others - that beer is not a four letter word.


A London Miscellany: Introduction

Time to play catch-up with a rattle-bag of notes, Tweets and blurry photos from my recent London trip. Empty bridges, a rowdy Routemaster, many sausage rolls, sharing beers with a brewer or five. But first, some observations.

I've been to sixteen London pubs for the first time this year. About half of those have only been trading since last year.

The number of breweries in London has almost doubled in the last five years to thirteen; nine more are under development and due to open during the next six months.

London is no longer under the lock-down of regional brewers and pubcos. Maybe it hasn't been for some time. Maybe it took time for entrepreneurs to work that out.

Every time I return to to the capital, I have another couple of pubs and a new brewery on my radar. When a toper is tired of London, he is tired of beer...


Saturday pub: inviolate

You can take away the cheeky bottle of Punk IPA that I drink whilst cooking Friday's dinner. You can take away my workday bacon. You can take away the leftover buffet from other colleagues' meetings.

But you can never take away my Saturday pub lunch.

Three hours of scurrilous rumours, slightly-doggy-smelling cushions, little-finger-thick cheese with local tomatoes in a just-so-buttered cob. And... beer.

Thornbridge. Dark Star. Oakham. Blue Monkey. Potbelly. Leadmill. Bottle Brook.

The new lifestyle is all about give and take. Take away the crap calories I consume Monday-Friday. Give me the indulgence, the satiation, the normalcy of a Saturday pub lunch. I promise to be a good boy through the week.

Honest ;-)

As a concession, I didn't have my customary slice of pork pie today. That's how serious this diet is.


The 50lb challenge

You know all those blokes you see at beer festivals who seem to drink buckets all day, hardly eat a thing, yet still look ten stone wet-through and would blow away in a mild breeze?

I'm not one of them.

I remember being a svelte teenage, all gymnasting and badmintoning and cross-country-running-ing. A gallon of cider at the weekend, burn it off through the week. I remember student days of Guinness and chips, slowly worn away by the eight-mile round trip to lectures.

Now I'm the wrong side of forty. Drinking some of the best beers in the world. Every night. Having been stuck behind a desk all day. And so it's all gone south.

It's at times like this that I remember the advice given by Dean Wormer to Kent Dorfman:

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son".

Nothing much I can do about the last two. But the belly's gotta go.

So - here's the challenge. I'm going to shed fifty pounds. For every pound avoirdupois I lose, a pound Sterling goes into a pint pot. When there are fifty nuggets in there, they get given to the Stroke Association.

And I'd like you to help me. I'm going to need some exercise. So... brewers, need a brew-bitch for the day? Publicans, want someone up and down the cellar steps fetching mixers? I'm all yours. All I ask is a generous pledge towards the donation pot.

You can mail me at the address here, leave your details below or Tweet me @simonhjohnson.

I'm not going to stop drinking beer, of course. But from now on, less is more.


Burger. Lager. Simple

The bun must be toasted. The beef must be medium. The gherkins must be crispy.

The salad must be on the side. The cheese must be stringy. The fries must be crispy.

Bacon, tomato, mayonnaise: optional.

And the beer - has to be lager.

I usually give little thought to beer & food matching - drink what you like, they are no rules - except for the Cardinal Rule of beer & food matching. Burgers taste better with lager.

No over-sickly malts to get stuck in your clack. No over-powering hops that nuke your palate.

Just a long, tall pint of something slightly flavoured and slightly fizzy. That makes you burp gherkin all over your nearest & dearest.

This week's burgering about has been accompanied by Beck's (at home, from Co-op, as it was the cheapest palatable lager on offer) and Stella (at the golf club, as it was, er, what I've been drinking there for seventeen years). In the past it's been Brooklyn or Meantime or Jever but I'm convinced the brand is not important. The sheer slightness of lager, the just-so flavour and steady carbonation, is what turns even an average burger into the breakfast of champions.

I would have included a picture of the world's biggest handburger but it made me gag just looking at it. So, instead, I mercilessly ripped off a picture of White Castle fries that, as any Beastie Boys fan knows, only come in one size. But I still wonder why...


Heineken and Ethiopia

Sometimes, I spend weeks germinating an idea for a blog post. Sometimes, they sprout spontaneously. Sometimes, they write themseleves.

"Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) launched a mass vaccination Thursday against measles at a refugee camp in southern Ethiopia hosting Somalis who have fled a severe drought.

The UN refugee agency at the weekend announced a measles outbreak in the camps where the residents are especially vulnerable to communicable diseases due to congestion and immunity weakened by malnutrition.

The Dolo Ado camps host 118,400 Somali refugees, including 78,000 who arrived this year, and on the first day 3,000 children were vaccinated". (1)

"£134 would pay for a measles vaccination for 1500 children". (2)

"Heineken said that it has completed the buyouts of Bedele and Harar breweries from Ethiopia's Government. It has paid US$85m and $78m respectively for the plants. Consumption of beer and non-alcoholic malt drinks is just 4 litres per capita among Ethiopia's 85m-strong population, the Netherlands-based brewer said". (3)

"Heineken has launched the Heineken Africa Foundation to support the improvement of health for people living in Sub-Saharan African communities by financially supporting relevant health projects and health-related education". (4)

I've asked the Heineken Africa Foundation what financial support they are giving to Médecins Sans Frontières and other agencies engaged in Ethiopia. I await their reply.

1) AFP news release
2) MSF website
3) Just-drinks.com
4) Heineken Africa Foundation


Drinking with Scylla and Charybdis in Peterborough

It goes a little something like this.

Sit on a train full of stinking wet-dog tickers. That's running late. Again.

Wade across the kind of mud that you expect to see medieval soldiers buried in, arteries spurting.

Buy a beer. Sit by the bins near the stage. Wonder out loud why you ever bother coming to Peterborough beer festival.

Because the choice isn't go / don't go. The choice is; miserable journey, sit by the bins, don't get to drink the beer you wanted, get accosted by rabid ticker, wade through gloop, sit by stinking ticker on the train, go home.


miserable journey, sit by the bins, drink the beer you wanted, get accosted by rabid ticker, wade through gloop, sit by stinking ticker on the train, go home.

One year I experienced the strangest thing. Call it... fate, call it luck, call it karma. The trains ran on time and were clean. I got a seat at a table. Most of the beers were tasty. I caught a train home with a smile on my face.

But in the Venn diagram of Peterborough beer festival experiences of good times, good beer, good company, 2008 was an infinitesimally small cross-hatched patch.

Let it never be said, however, that this toper doesn't rise to the challenge.

If it doesn't piss it down, if the trains don't experience the wrong sort of bull semen on the line, if I don't the liver bored out of my by some bastard ticker who recognises me and wants to know why I have a problem with corduroy, then...

... I will be at the Peterborough CAMRA beer festival this year.


For Blue Monkey and Brewsters and Fuller's and Hopshackle and Magic Rock and Northcote and Oakham and Summer Wine and Thornbridge and everything else that a cursory glance at the beer list missed.

It's possibly the best cask beer offering at a CAMRA fest apart from Nottingham. And I want to be front and centre for it.

Besdies, there's always Cantillon, Boon, Rochefort and Orval on standby...


Infected for your pleasure: sour beer blogging, live! Updated!

It's time for The Session, the international monthly beer blogging bonanza. This month's topic thanks to Jon at The Brew Site, is sour beer.

Now, I fancy a challenge. Today I'm London and I have the technology to blog live for the first time. I'm off to find the best sour beers that the capital can throw at me. This may be ambitious but rubbish... so check back later to see what I find.

Update, 11:38. Craft Beer Company, Leather Lane. First time here; it's a beergasm with a glass ceiling. And it's got Giradin Faro on draft. And it's... amazing. Effortlessly drinkable this early in the day. Sour gums, sweet tongue. I could stay here all day - 7 Mikkellers on keg, for starters - but I need to boogie onwards.

Updated 15:20, Rake, Winchester Walk. Boon Framboise. Not sour enough? Who cares! I'm sweating like a Scouser in Dixons and, sometimes, only a fruit-based drink will do.

Update, August 12th. That didn't work too well, did it? Fell asleep on the Tube, didn't drink any more sours that night. I'll revisit sours later on next week...


Auntie Hilda's Supermarket IPA Challenge

Everyone has, or had, an Auntie Hilda. Even if she wasn't really your auntie. And wasn't called Hilda. And had an Adam's apple. Auntie Hilda was the relation or friend who, on hearing it was your birthday and knowing you liked a beer, went to the supermarket and pciked out some interesting bottles for your pressie.

Which is why, if Hilda was alive in the UK in the 1980's, you ended up drinking Hobgoblin or Fiddler's Elbow.

But what if Hilda's shaky grasp on reality extended far enough to remember you liked beers called 'IPA'? If she went shopping today and plonked three beers into her trolley, what are your chances of getting a decent beer?

There's only one way to find out.

We sent someone - for argument's sake, let's call them Hilda - to a large supermarket close to where they live. The only stipulation was to buy the first three beers with the words that featured 'IPA' on the label.

How well did Hilda do?

Beer number one was Greene King IPA. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth (mine, not Hilda's. Not with the state of her dentures). But, here's the thing - it wasn't bad. It wasn't game-changing, but market leading food and drink products rarely are. That's why they're popular. It wasn't vile, it wasn't fermented from dead babies injected with botulism. It was a mildy hoppy, reasonably carbonic, inoffensive bottle of beer. I would never have dreamed of buying it myself. Not even in one of those technicolour dreams I have after eating too much cheese. But I've drank worse. And would go so far as saying, if I were offered it again at a barbeque, I wouldn't adopt that face that suggests the host has just asked you to have sex with a horse.

Next up - Brewdog Punk IPA. With its Equity for Punks collar. Bringing share ownership to the supermarket masses. Jello Biafra must be shitting himself that he didn't think of that one.My relationship with Punk and Brewdog is like that I have with the pair of collared doves that perch on my garden fence. Most of the time, I love them; predictable, content, reassuring. Sometimes, I wish they'd shut the fuck up. Sometimes, I wish a passing hawk would rip their innards out and arrange it across next door's lawn to spell out 'LOL'.But I'm on an upward slope with Punk at the moment. This bottle was two-weeks fresh, nasally orgasmic and relentlessly fruity. Hilda did good.

And last - but by no means first - was Meantime IPA. So either her Irish national lottery numbers coughed up last week or she was hitting the value gin on her way around the aisles. Not the cheapest bottle on offer, but it is 7% and a 75cl job. And it was strangely un-nerving. I've known it to be dusty and lemony but this was all rather meh. Orange marmalade with a slightly metallic tang. Wet twigs. Old Cointreau. Obvious alcohol and a smear of green apple.

So, in summary: surprised that Greene King wasn't bad; not surprised Brewdog was so good, surprised Meantime wasn't better. And for Christmas, Hilda would be better off spending her heating allowance on Punk.

This post was brought to you in the spirit of supporting IPA Day. Because anything that gets brewers and consumers and writers excited about beer is a good thing, yes? You don't have to buy into the the bullshit of IPA being the "pinnacle of brewing innovation". You may feel that the individuals and organisations behind it are self-publicists who see it as no more than free publicity.

Do me a favour. Grab a beer, drink it down and take it easy. IPA Day is what you want it to be.

Because: IPA isn't a style. It's a declaration of intent. Whether the intent is to say: we're traditional, we're bleeding-edge.

Drink IPA. Don't drink IPA. But do keep an open mind.


IPA lies

With cap doffed in the direction of Zythophile, tongue firmly in cheek and old garbage from previous posts recycled, here's a few IPA lies that may have passed you by:

1) The name Hodgson chose originally for his export ale was Pale Indian Strong Session. It proved to be a disaster; a fortuitous game of Scrabble with Michael Bass inspired him to rename the beer.

2) East Kent Goldings hops were used in IPA not only for their preservative qualities in stopping the beer from spoiling on the long voyage but also because they stopped the beer drinker from contracting syphilis.

3) Traditional English IPAs actually contained either few hops or none at all, a style that many modern-day English brewers have now successfully recreated.

4) An over-conditioned shipment of IPA erupted en route to India in 1876 resulting in the The Carlsberg Ridge Incident, still the second-largest man-made explosion on Earth.

5) At the height of the IPA trade, Burton’s coopers made enough barrels in one year to stretch from Shobnall to Calcutta nearly three-and-a-half times over.

6) So prized was Burton water that Bass shipped it direct to India where, between 1859 and 1894, it commanded a higher price than the beer itself.

7) The first hop variety grown specifically for IPA brewing was East India Excess Isohumulene Ordinary developed in the village of Hadder by the ninety-year-old farmer Jeremiah McDonald. Brewing ledgers from the mid nineteenth century stipulate the use of “Old Mcdonald Hadda Farm E.I.E.I.O”

8) With pale malt attracting a premium price, some London brewers tried to brew IPA with dark malts instead. The export market, however, was non-existent as no-one was dumb enough to buy a beer called Black IPA.

9) IPA first arrived in the USA in 1899 when, following the shipwreck of the HMS Chlamydia, Petty Officer Dick Fitztightly rowed on top of a partially-full hogshead and made landfall at Montmorency Creek, New Hampshire

10) Hodgson invented IPA in 1744 when he had a dream about exporting a pale ale. Sadly, he forgot the dream and had to wait many years for severe déjà vu to take hold before he could remember the recipe.

11) IPA is illegal in sixteen US states under “misuse of trade description” legislation. Such beers have to be sold instead as “hoppy pale ales originally brewed for, but not exclusively supplied to, the area of South Asia now known as the federal constitutional republic of India”.

12) It is widely believed that IPA is responsible for 95% of all the beer misinformation on the interweb, with stout/porter and cask/keg responsible for the other 1539%

These IPA lies of mine were first made up for my 12 days of IPA. If you really have nothing better to do today, you can find them in the archive here.


The things you can do with a ginger merkin

... because they're aren't enough beards at GBBF already, it's handy to have one in your pocket to share around.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a bunch of brewers, licensees, writers, geeks and other randoms who all have two things in common. A love of great beer. And a love of the 'Ginger Merkin'.


The best thing about trade day at GBBF?

Maybe it's the good-natured queue. Even when you've been kicked off the steps outside Earls Court ("this is private property").

Maybe it's the stellar volunteers. Every man jack, but props to Craig "Craigie" Garvie and Yan "Blame Pivovar Yan" Pilkington. You kept the beers flowing and your recommendations were spot-on.

Maybe it's the food. Any day that takes in crayfish tails, pork scratchings and curried boar ain't too shabby in my book.

Maybe - just maybe - it's the beer. Draught Girardin. Stone So Cal Hop Salute Imperial Black IPA. Pivovar Broumov Opat Kvasničák Coriander. Greene King Very Specially Full Of Peardrops and U-HU 'IPA'.


It's the people.

Way too many to name, but I know this much is true: spending the day bumping into everyone for giggles and ginger-merkin wearing was a big firkin of fun.

Good beer is where you find it. Today, I found it by the pint-load at GBBF. Lest we forget, we wouldn't have been there without CAMRA. 'Nuff respect.

1)  I thought of doing the big fat namedrop in the style of Joseph's Coat but I knew I'd miss someone. Gawd bless you all.

2) The ginger merkin photomontage will appear later. When I can be arsed to Photoshop. Which means when I have to be slumped in front of the work keyboard in about eight hours. TTFN


Twas the night before GBBF

And in this toper's house, no-one is stirring.

No late planning, no highlighted-lists, no arch strategy-making.

Tomorrow is all about boozing, schmoozing.

And ginger wig wearing.

I want to get as many people as possible wearing it. Not at the same time, of course.

I'll take photos. I'll post them here. And there will be a prize of some sort.

Bonus points can be had if wig-wearing makes you look like Nursie from Blackadder. Or Brian Blessed.

Yes, it had been washed. No, it wasn't coconut conditioner. It was last washed in Mongozo and it smells well lush.

If you're around GBBF tomorrow, come say hello. Or run away screaming up Warwick Road. Just buy me a beer first.