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.


Single hopped beer surprise

Single-hopped beers delight and annoy me in equal measure. They can showcase complex flavours wihin a varietal that may otherwise be muddied in a multi-hop sorbet. And yet they can be overpowering reminders of why some hops shouldn't be allowed out by themelseves.

The doyens of artisinal brewing such as Mikkeller and Brewdog have embraced the single-hop concept. So, too, have brewers such as Adnams and Acorn; maybe not obvious candidates for such experimentation but both have now had beers listed by the Nicholson's chain (Green Bullet and Sorachi Ace respectively).

If you'd told me even three years ago that I'd be drinking a Sorachi-Ace-single-hopped beer in an English pub chain, I'd have thought you were barking.

Which is why I shouldn't really have been too surprised to find another brewer is about to dabble in the single-hopped market. With one every month through 2012. Including varieties such as Kohatu and Wai-iti, New Zealand hops that I've yet to try in any beer.

I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Because the brewer is Marston's.

You know; strait-laced, dependable, Marston's. Purveyors of Pedi. Which I still drink often - I live and work in the heart of Pedi country here in the East Midlands.

I'm genuinley excited by this. When a brewery with the size and scale of Marston's develops a year-long single-hop guest beer programme, I get the feeling that it's no longer just a bunch of geeks who are asking for more than brown session bitter. With Wai-iti due into trade on January 1st, I'm looking forward to a new year of new (and old) single-varietal hopped beers. In pubs where I wouldn't normally expect to find them.


We Need to Talk About Kevin

Dear Franklin,

To be honest, in our heart of hearts, we've always known that Kevin is a glass short of a tasting flight. In retrospect, the signs were always there. Trainspotting. Body odour. A predilection towards chunky cable-knit cardigans.

Remember that time he came home late, smelling of crystal malt? We should have said something.

And now, it's happened. He's been to a... craft beer bar. Some poor bastards spontaneously combusted at the very sight of him.

We know he'd break. Walking into a world-class beer establishment then demanding shite-weak brown bitter. The punters in there never stood a chance. Reports say he stood at the bar, brandished his CAMRA card and yelled "DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM!!! MY KIND ARE YOUR FUCKING SAVIOURS!!!".

The end was bloody, abrupt but at least no extraneous carbon dioxide was used. Which is what he would have wanted.

He TwitPic'd me beforehand. I just hope the sniper didn't take his bobble off...

Massive loves and huggles to @lupulucy for turning me into a big, fat, living Knitted Character. And a thousand apologies to Lionel Shriver for taking the phizzle just a little bit.


For the love of Jever

By rights, this should be a Reluctant Scooper write-up about my Leeds bimble.

But who cares about pre-Leeds drinkies of Thornbridge/Kernel collaboration beer in the Sheffield Tap? About tip-top Jaipur in the Victoria, a pub so Victorian you expect consumptive chimney sweeps to con a penny from you? About oak-aged, Bowmore-laced, Summer Wine Cossack stout in Mr Foleys?

Because North Bar serve Jever. Pints of Jever. In ten-sided glasses that make you feel so manly that you're in danger of growing another cock as you drink it.

(Or, if you're a lady, you could possibly grow another lady cock. Potentially. No guarantees).

So, here's my Top Seven Reasons To Visit North Bar

1) Pints of Jever

2) More pints of Jever

3) Even more pints of... seriously, did you not see where this was going?

4) Great staff

5) Great music played underneath the level of conversation

6) Free Wifi and and they let me recharge my phone

7) Jever. Natch.

Jever Jever Jever! Oi! Oi! Oi!

For the record at North Bar: Schneider Weisse X  Nelson Sauvin had promise but failed to deliver. Just like a blousy divorcee. Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout is tasty, but not £5.50-a-half tasty. Not when the Sheffield Tap is selling Magic Rock Dark Arts for about four quid a pint - the best damn kegged dark beer you can buy in this country.


Beer Blogging For Dummies?

Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer posted today about the forthcoming Food Blogging For Dummies book.

My ghast was well and truly flabbered.

Is this shark-jumping of the highest order? Is it an unintentional indictment of how commercialised food blogging has become, particularly in the US?

Or has April 1st come around and I've been in a Rip van Winkle state?

Can we really expect a similar tome for beer blogging? Well, I found this advance proof of the cover art. Be afraid. Be very afraid...


Through a glass: Westmalle

The last of my Belgian Trinity. I bought glasses from Straffe Hendrik and Duvel because I loved the beers. I bought this one from Westmalle because it looks stunning.

See that pattern cut into the glass near the stem? I have no idea what it is, but the lozenge-shaped indents are just big enough to take your thumb and index finger. So it sits in your hand with great balance. And looks stunning.

It gets used for every Belgian and Belgique beer I drink. Ones where you want to savour the aroma by shoving your face in. Ones where you take a long, slow sip and have that "aaaaaahhhh! Beer!" moment. And you look down at the glass you're cradling and think: that looks stunning.

Thanks to beermerchants for the bottle of Tripel that went into that stunning glass tonight


Pumpclips: smut or smart?

For the last issue of CAMRA's quarterly magazine BEER, the 'Head to Head' column featured myself and Bailey from Boak and Bailey's Beer Blog debating the issue of punning pumpclips. I'm roundly in favour of them; Bailey saw otherwise.

CAMRA members can read the article on page 54 of the Winter edition - but of course, you've already read it and sent the editor a green-inked spittle-riddled letter, haven't you?

For everybody else, here's my original article:


George Orwell once wrote of a certain British comic tradition that he found to be “overpoweringly vulgar”. He was appalled by the “hideousness of the colours” and the “ever-present obscenity” on show. It wasn’t pumpclips, but who knows what he’d have thought about some of the offerings around today?

I’d like to think he’d have seen the funny side. Many brewers choose humour when it comes to naming beers and designing pumpclips and, by doing so, seek to maintain British comedic traits that are ingrained in our character. The double entendre allows brewers to mine a rich seam of comedy, particularly when rugby tournaments are on with their profusion of flankers, hookers and odd-shaped balls.

A well-crafted Spoonerism is, for many, the epitome of British humour; when combined with satire (‘Weary Banker’) it becomes a thing of beauty. Word play and pumpclips were made for each other – it’s difficult to resist shoe-horning the word ‘ale’ into a name like Eng-ale-land, Ale-pril, Ale Mary. You may have seen it many times before but, as they say, there’s many a good tune played on an old fiddle.

So why are certain brewers so fond of a cheeky one-liner, a cartoon clip and possibly a dollop of smut on the side? It sells beer, pure and simple. The overwhelming majority of cask ale drinkers in my experience aren’t overly bothered by provenance, hop variety or contemporary design on a pumpclip.

They’re out to be sociable and have a laugh, so if that starts with ordering a Drew Peacock the all the better. The brewers, fighting for space on a crowded bar, get their product noticed. And given that a number of brewers have been using comedic names for many years and are commercially successful, it would seem that a little bit of what you fancy does them good.

What may be smutty to one person can be offensive to another. But that’s the nature of humour. It was the seaside postcard art of Donald MacGill that Orwell found “overpoweringly vulgar” but at the same time admitted “I for one should be sorry to see them vanish”. There should always be room at the bar for a laugh. And, after a long day’s fly fishing, a few pints of Dognobbler.

Reproduced with thanks to CAMRA


A beer with... Garrett Oliver

Burton is swathed in several shades of grey. It seems to carry the look really well.. and often. The taxi driver isn't sure about taking me to the National Brewery Centre until I say the magic word: museum. "You mean the Bass Museum?", he mumbles. Clearly, some things are slow to change in Beer Town.

At the Bass Museum Coors Visitor Centre National Brewery Centre, Brooklyn Brewery's Garrett Oliver is patiently awaiting the start of a tasting in support of the Oxford Companion to Beer. He's the very definition of dapper and happy to have an chat about his editorship of the book. The preface suggests that he wasn't madly keen on taking on that responsibility. Was the thought of it really that daunting?

"I simply couldn't imagine how anybody, especially someone who has a job already, could possibly do this", says Oliver, "and I also knew that a book takes over your life". That work, The Brewmaster's Table, re-inforced his position not only as an authority on beer and food matching but as a effusive writer who could render technical detail with panache. Eventually, he came around to the idea of editing the Oxford Companion to Beer as a positive experience: "I would come out of the process being a stronger brewer and simply knowing a lot more than I used to".

Not that the role was straightforward. "It's a weird brief that the editor has", he explained, "because you're basically a conveyor of information, much of it from other people. But you have to be able to understand all of it... if you have no technical brewing background you couldn't edit things on organic chemistry, for instance".

A matter of perspective was something else that he brought to the book. "You also have to have a broad world view; for example on a piece about Berliner Weisse you get great information from a German writer (Fritz Briem) but then you would also be able to add in that it is widely brewed now by small breweries in the US and a few in Italy and Japan, having been there and had those beers."

When I asked him who he thought the book was aimed at and he answered, "the broad enthusiast, the amateur brewer, a resource for the professional brewer", you can begin to understand why it touches upon a such a variety of topics. Which is something that Oliver feels has been lacking in the past: "It's quite surprising what is not out there already... go and find a book readily accessible to the public that gives you more than two sentences on, say, dry hopping. You will find, to your surprise, there is almost nothing".

Not that there's everything you ever wanted to know about beer but were afraid to ask a hundred experts, though. "Across such a broad range of disciplines it has to be comprehensive," he reasons, "but I'm not sure definitive exists. Maybe it will at some point in the future but I don't think anyone can do that yet". And it's the exclusions and different interpretations that have had certain beer blogs buzzing since the book's release. Was he prepared for such criticism?

"The comments I've seen are not, by and large, errata.," he explained. "I certainly expected criticism but I thought it would be more philosophical, someone arguing for example that cask breather is anathema or someone arguing about sparklers or swan necks.. what I didn't expect was somebody quibbling about matters of history that are highly disputed. I don't understand the tone and I don't understand the lack of balance".

Oliver is happy to carry on talking about why fewer breweries made the final cut, or how some articles needed "more humanity breathing into them", but eventually I have to ask the obvious question and then make my confession. When a man world-renowned for beer and food matching comes to England, what pairing does he most look forward to?

"At it's very best.. I had a pint of Adnams - many pints of Adnams - sitting at the seaside. And when you get someone who actually knows how to make fish and chips - when you have it done perfectly - boy! It's particularly awesome!" So then I don't feel too bad that I'm slightly sceptical about this matching malarkey. "With beer you have the element of surprise", he says. And with that, he tries to convert me...

There's now a dozen or so writers, retailers and beer enthusiasts around the table and he takes us all through a selection of Brooklyn beers paired with straightforward English snacking food. The dry, lemonish Local 1 tastes fine with smoked salmon. To be honest, I'd say it worked fine with any damn dish that it wanted to dance with. But what happened next was a step change.

It's simple enough. Local 2 - robust Belgian slightly spicy stuff- with a thumb-thick slab of pork pie. Both really tasty. And then he starts to explain. How the caramalisation of the pie crust latches onto the fruitiness in the beer. How there's a contrast between the saltiness of the pie and the sweetness of Local 2's dark Belgian sugars. In thirty seconds flat, I'd gone from knowing that I liked a beer & food combo to understanding, in terms of taste, *why* I liked it.

After that, things started falling into place rapidly. The never-usually-bottled-IPA, Blast, felt soft yet spritzy, maybe some minerality taking the edges off the 70-ish IBU count. With prickling vegetable samosas, Blast was calm like a bomb. Black Chocolate Stout and Stilton has become one of Oliver's iconic pairings and it's easy to understand why; fudge. The beer has the taste of it; the cheese has the consistency of it. Blue funk and chocolate kisses. Wow.

The final beer on the table, Black Ops, doesn't actually exist of course. So there was nothing to pair it with. Because we never tasted it. Right?

Two things struck me about Garrett Oliver. He'll never tire of talking to people about beer, even in the Midlands on a wet Wednesday, because he's driven by a passion. And he's the perfect man to take on an impossible job.

After all, if he can make me look at pork pie and beer in a different light, the editorship of the Oxford Companion to beer must have been a walk in the park.

Many thanks to Garrett Oliver for his time, the Oxford University Press for the lunch and Chris 'Stoph' McBride for the photo.


Book review: The Economics of Beer

It's too easy to get dewy-eyed about beer. The breathless romanticism of the world's best long drink. Lest we forget - beer is a business. Whether it's the artisan in a converted barn or the multinational that can shape policy and culture, beer is a commodity. The result of an industrial process that is produced to be sold for profit.

The economic context of beer is often lacking in contemporary discussion. Maybe a new book by Oxford University Press will rekindle debate and inform opinion. The Economics of Beer stems from papers presented at the first Beeronomics conference at Leuven in 2009, addressing a shortfall compared to the study of wine economics. A wide range of academics have contributed eighteen articles, ranging from trade history through industrial organisation to analysis of newly emergent beer markets.

As with many academic works, the tone of each article is individualistic. John Nye provides a cogent history of how war and taxes helped shape the direction of the British brewing industry in the nineteenth century. The 'emerging markets' chapters are easy-reading but insightful, particularly from a quality versus quantity perspective. Some articles make for heavy going, though, for the non-academic; the growth of TV and the decline of local beer in the US is certainly interesting once you can get your head around the empirical evidence section. The chapter on beer consumption in a recession, however, tested by fairly-robust statistical knowledge to breaking point.

Which is maybe the issue with academic works such as this. Is it a work only destined for the university library shelf? I'd say not. There's plenty here to appeal to many beer enthusiasts from both a historical and contemporary perspective, plus detailed pieces on the esoterica that deserves formal academic analysis. The Economics of Beer deserves to be a staple addition to the bookshelf of anyone with a love and interest as to what makes beer sell.

Judge for yourself. The opening chapter, 'A Brief Economic History Of Beer', can be downloaded as a PDF. If you want to find out more, the book can be bought from Amazon.

The Economics Of Beer is published in hardback by the Oxford University Press. Many thanks to them for the review copy.


A Sheffield bimble

The inner geek in me likes to organise my drinking time. Train timetables, optimal walking routes between pubs, gen on what beers and breweries can be found where and when. As I've said before: sometimes it's the thrill of the chase, sometimes it's for the kill.

Which is why sometimes it's fun to just kick back, relax and end up where your beer trousers take you.

To be honest, the day started at the Sheffield Tap as the result of gen. Their Twitter feed mentioned a new Thornbridge beer on keg being available - Mechelen, one of the last beers brewed by departing head brewer Stefano Cossi - so that seemed like a sensible place to start. Let's face it; a 7.4% Belgique blonde before noon has 'sensible' written all over it. Plenty of lemon curd versus a box that once held spiced Christmas biscuits.

What to do next? Drink more Thornbridge. Crux was an interesting one; light-chestnut brown, bright-white drumskin-tight head and Southern hemisphere hops - something earthier and spicier than the usual Sauvin suspects? I'll have to find out.

Then, an amble down to the Don. Past the magnificent Brutalist Park Hill flats, over Lady's Bridge, around what's left of the Tennant's Brewery. Along the river where there may be the iridescent flash of a kingfisher. And to the Harlequin.

I'll tell you why I really love this pub. It makes me feel... comfy. Top-notch beer from Brew Company as well as further-flung guests. Proper pub-cooked food. Cool music in the background. People enjoying themselves - be they curmudgeonly tickers, out-of-towners, raucous darts players... several pints of Summer Wine Covenant and Dark Star Smoked Porter and a cracking chat with Brew Company supremo Pete Roberts makes for a grand afternoon.

Uphill afterwards for Dada. As I hadn't been back since the opening night, I wanted to see how this art-bar was shaping up. Not too shabby is the answer. James Broad is an effusive host, looking forward to a Saturday night onslaught. Thornbridge Halcyon and Chiron were full of freshly kegged magnificence. And when you've got brewers like Thornbridge's Matt Clark and Magic Rock's Stuart Ross drinking there, you know the beers are more than all right.

No rushing around. No feeling I need to be everywhere. Just doing what I ought to do more of; bimble around and let the day develop. After all, good beer is where you find it.


Whither the schooner?

The swift helles, some smoky stout, an aggressive IPA.

All beers that I'd enjoy in a two-thirds measure.

So, where are these new glasses? Anyone seen them? Anyone asked for them?

Do they actually exist, even if only for international lagers?

I've looking forward to feisty words between drinkers, publicans, brewers and suppliers about the measures' suitability, sustainability and profitability. But to date the debate has been the sound of one hand clapping.


Busy, busy, busy

There's an interview with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, more book reviews, classic glasses, meditation from the Marble Arch, shenanigans from the Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers and a bottle or five to write about.

But not tonight.

I've just drank a bottle of each of Summer Wine's Teleporter and Barista - a complex porter and an espresso stout - and they're two of the best British dark beers I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. No excessive carbonation, plenty of depth in flavour.

Excuse me whilst I go get me some more...


You go to Manchester

You travel on the kind of train where stitching recalcitrant children into their seats ought to be mandatory.

You drink in a studenty bar, Font. You're twenty years older and five stone fatter than anyone else but nobody's bothered. You down Brodie's Citra at a rate that suggests imminent Armageddon can only be avoided by your capacity and voracity for drinking. You pair a salt beef bagel with a bottle of Brooklyn East India Pale Ale and find the combination of gherkins and Centennial to be mildy erotic.

You sit in the Marble Arch with a pint of, um, Pint. You take your glasses off, ignore your phone and spend several hours blundering through a crossword with occasional interruptions for Dark Star Saison and Marble Ginger. You are surprised to see Dave Bailey from Hardknott. You check Twitter and find that he messaged you three hours ago. Asking you to look out for an American brewer he was meeting. Said brewer has been sat opposite you for several hours. You buy a bottle of Old Manchester, the Fuller's / Marble collaboration beer. You promise to yourself not to drink it on the train.

You walk into the Unicorn Hotel and meet the Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers. What happens upstairs in the Unicorn stays upstairs in the Unicorn. Suffice to say you laugh hard, eat excellent pork pie and drink far too much delectable, nutty, spritzy-bitterish Bass.

You forget to check the time. You break your cardinal rule about not catching a train later than the 2020 off Picadilly. You try not to fall asleep on the train. You're glad that the Derby-bound train terminates at Derby so you don't miss your stop. You feel like an arse for making your wife come pick you up from the station at gone midnight.

You wake up the next day and think: Manchester. Bloody hell!


Adnams; an eye for the retail market

When visiting Norfolk and Suffolk earlier in the year, I was really impressed by the Adnam's Cellar & Kitchen stores. There's more to Adnams than beer, of course;  they're wine importers, distil their own spirits and I'm a sucker for their kitchen and barware.

So I was interested to see that they've now secured a concession stand inside House of Fraser in Norwich. Adnams have had a unit in the Chapelfields centre before; perhaps this is a way of securing a foothold without the prohibitive expense of running a full retail unit.

It's a canny move in my eyes. Placing your product - premium beer, spirits and wines -right under the noses of consumers who are squarely in your demographic. Encouraging that cross-over purchase; not just a random box of stuff covered in Christmas tack but a clearly-branded, locally-renowned product.

I hope it's a success and one that can be rolled out to other stores. I hope that the concession isn't just a couple of shelves but has Cellar & Kitchen staff running it - I've found them to be excellent. And I'm trying to think of other brewers who may benefit from this retailing model.... but I'm not sure there's many who could.

Given Adnams' diverse offering, I reckon they could become the key alcohol concession retailer in the UK. Shopping centres, railway stations, airports... I can see the Beer From The Coast working its way across the country. I'll drink to that.


Sunday lunch of champions

Amazingly, I'm not one for a traditional Sunday lunch. Not for lack of an appetite, obviously. But I'm often out walking and tend to not want a hefty chunk of roast bloating me out over the latter half of my yomp.

Which is why today I was at outside the pub in the cold with the smokers and dog walkers - an altogether better class of customers than the nesh diners inside - enjoying what for me is the finest Sunday lunch: a pint of properly brown bitter and a creamy Stilton cob

It's not about the interplay of flavours and textures. It's all about the fact that they're both bloody tasty.



It has to be said, I'm quite partial to a sausage. So the thought of a beer & sausage festival today was enough to persuade my darling wife to point the little blue beer taxi in the direction of the Three Tuns in Dronfield.

An impressive pub - open plan, wrapped around a central bar, raised dining area, chunky chairs and smart sofas. The staff were fantastic - attentive, chatty, clued-up. The beers were spot-on; twelve from Spire on the bar - it's their pub - plus sixteen festival beers available on cellar runs.

But it was the sausages that stole the show. The Championship Plate, pictured above, had six pork sausages from different local butchers. And, boy, they were different. Density, depth of flavour, skin thickness... what a fantastic opportunity to compare and contrast.

I had to try a few more, of course. The 'Forest' Plate combined the earthy, slightly nutty Wild Boar & Sage from Farmhouse Pantry, a really rich Game sausage by Gaunt's and the pungent Cranberry, Apple & Chutney of Price & Fretwell.

And I had to make space for the 'Farmhouse' Plate too; a magnificently robust lamb & mint by Meadowfresh, the deep deep deep flavour in the buffalo from Farmhouse Pantry and my favourite of the day by them again: sweet chilli chicken. Never had a chicken sausage before; this was properly meaty, not too heavy and just-so on the chilliometer.

The beers weren't too shabby either. Spire's Coal Porter and Sergeant Pepper Stout were everything I want in dark beers; licks of licorice, ashen kisses, gorgeous engorged malts. A couple of IPAs by Barlow - Full Monty and Three Valleys - had that Fullers-like spicy marmalade feel that I love.

It was a cracking afternoon. The place was busy - as it damn well ought to be on a Saturday afternoon with beer and food of this quality. A brass band were playing which gave rise to the sight of someone walking out of the kitchen with a trombone to perform a number and then go serve beer. The only downside was that they ran out of chilli & chocolate sausage as I was ready to pair it with Spire's imperial stout, Prince Igor.

I'll certainly be going back to the Three Tuns - I can feel a Dronfield mini-crawl coming on - and I hope they put a sausage platter on their main menu. I just wish more pubs put this much thought into their festivals. Mahoosive amounts of beers are a bit meh; something such as sausages presented in this fashion turns a beer festival into a far more enjoyable event.


The Session #57: Beery Confessions

I have no beery secrets.

A combination of bloghorrea and louche insouciance hads led to my crusty bloomers being aired regularly in public since I started this rattlebag.

Let's recap.

I once drank Shipstone's Mild until I was sick. Albeit it only took me one pint. And I had been chewing a hedge beforehand. And that's not a euphamism.

Sat outside a horrendously-expensive Brugge cafe, I once poured the dregs of seven elegantly presented Belgian beers into a glass, mixed it together with my finger and drank the resultant sludge for a bet.

Despite assisting on several brewdays, I spent the best part of a year nodding along when conversation turned to attenuation even though I hadn't got a damn clue as to what the term actually meant.

I have been known to drink Orval straight from the bottle. In front of Orval's commercial director.

I drink Stella.

And that's it.

Well, almost.

When you spend significant time with brewers, publicans, writers and rakes, you get to know where the bodies are buried. You get to watch those whom you respect and trust make absolute drunken tits of themselves. The tales a toper could tell... and the tales that could be told by others of this toper.

So, schhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.....

"Secrets, secrets, secrets are for keeping, keeping, keeping
And if you tell them, they lose their meaning"

This month's Session is hosted by Steve Lamond at Beer's I've Known


A handy reference for International Stout Day

Turning to page 307 of the 'Year of Social Media Beery Things' diary, I see that today is International Stout Day.

(incidentally, is this going to continue until every style has a fan-day of its own? If so, I'm looking forward to International Gose Day, celebrated by all its fans in a telephone box somewhere in Leipzig).

Now, I'm not one to buy into the hype of these 'events'. But I thought I ought to show willing.

So, here's the Reluctant Scooper Essential Guide to Stout. And Porter. Of course.

Porter - See STOUT

Porter, Fellowship & Ticket - See ZYTHOPHILE

Porter, Market - see 9 Stoney Street, Borough, London, SE1 9AA

Stout - see PORTER

Porter, Stout - See STOUT PORTER

Stout, Breakfast - see MIKKEL BORG BJERSØ

Stout, Dry - Don't see GUINNESS

Stout, Imperial - see ZYTHOPHILE AGAIN

Stoute, Michael - see SHERGAR

Stout, Oatmeal - see READY BREK

Stout, Oyster - see MICHAEL JACKSON


I'll be cracking open a bottle or two of Harvey's Imperial Extra Double Stout later on. Rude not to, etc...


Book review: The Brewer's Apprentice

I don't usually review homebrew books. Because, uh, I'm not a homebrewer, never have homebrewed and have no inkling to do so. But there was something about The Brewer's Apprentice that beckoned to me.

The cover, for a start. Bold, contemporary, eye-catching. With Stone Brewing's Greg Koch's name on the cover, there's a fair bet that the text will be feisty. And by the time I'd finished the introduction, I was won over. Why?

Imagine books are people. Most homebrew books are the slightly fusty, check-shirted dork who's just over your shoulder, the one who's memorised all the tables and temps. This book is a lounge full of truly expert brewers, chewing the fat and sharing a beer, happy to chat about whatever's on your mind.

It's a devilishly simple but effective approach. The eighteen chapters start with the basics - mashing, hopping, water chemistry - before moving onto styles - English ales, lambics, wheat - and ending up with what may be called advanced or even adventurous topics such as barrel ageing and hop growing. There's essential technical information, put across in a clear and cogent fashion. Hop blends, water salt profiles, yeast tolerance... this book makes such things look good even to the casual reader.

But what makes it for me are the interviews that accompany each chapter. Greg Koch has talked to the best in the business and the results are both insightful and entertaining. Want to know about hop bittering? Vinnie Cilurzo, inventor of the double IPA, tells all. Ever wondered why yeast strains are vital to English ale character? John Keeling of Fuller's explains why it's akin to riding a horse. Is lambic brewing mystery or mastery? All is revealed by the man from Cantillon who says he's not a brewer, Jean van Roy.

This is a book that delivers on its introductory promises. Perfect to have on the coffee table, to dip in and out of. Effortless in covering the "technical, diverse and spectacular". And here's the rub; the interviews are so engaging that it makes me want to read the detailed stuff. The detailed stuff is so clearly presented that I actually get it. And because I actually get it now...

... I think I want to brew beer.

If that's the case, Greg Koch and Matt Allyn will have a great deal to answer for in the future.

The Brewer's Apprentice by Greg Koch and Matt Allyn is published by Quarry Books. Thanks to Quarto for the review copy.


Through a glass: Duvel

The Martin's Hotel in Brugge has a lot to answer for. It's where I first drank Straffe Hendrik and Duvel. I enjoyed the former and was captivated by the latter: for the rest of the long weekend I ordered Duvel wherever I went and became entranced by the glass. A bonnie-bottomed tulip with outrageous head-space, all designed to make the beer shine.

It became the second ever beer glass that I bought. And it still gets used; I couldn't think of drinking Duvel out of anything else. Every time I drink from it, I'm transported back to Brugge and my 2005 beer epiphany. Romanticism combines with memory every time; the smell of mayo on salty frites, the dry warmth of patio heaters, the silent service where a tilted head was signal enough for another round to be brought over.

But can you improve an iconic design? What if the glass became canvas? Since 2010, Duvel have been inviting artists to make their mark. The Duvel Collection has already involved the likes of Parra and Denis Meyers producing eclectic works; this year sees more limited edition pieces released. Sculptor Arne Quinze designed the one in the rear of the picture below; by far and away my favourite though is the stunner in red and black typography by Stefan Glerum.

(and if you only follow one hyperlink on this page, go take a look at Stefan's seven deadly sins).

Think you can do better? Then give it a go. Duvel are running a competition to find a design that will be added to the collection. The design kit and full competition details can be found on the collection's website. Closing date is 31st December 2011 and you need to be an adult resident in the UK, Belgium, France or the Netherlands to enter.

I'm off to sharpen my crayons...

Many thanks to Duvel Moortgat for the Duvel Collection glassware and Beermerchants for the beers.