Minimum price, maximum bullshit

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol has twisted people's knickers again today.

Plenty of choice quotes have been bandied about about minimum pricing, both today and for what seems to be time immemorial.

Let's look at a few. Starting with the Home Office's Alcohol Pricing home page

"We will introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol".

And this from a European Commission technical report:

"Minimum pricing practices have tended to be seen as trade-distorting by the European courts (as setting an artificial price floor amounts to resale price maintenance, limiting and distorting price competition)"

Emily Robinson from Alcohol Concern chipped in with this in a video released to media:

"The University of Sheffield has done some analysis looking at what we might be able to save if we have the unit price implemented and we had a unit price of 50p per unit we could see over time three thousand lives saved every year"

She's got an even better quote here (emphases are mine):

"Evidence shows the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol of at least 50p per unit would be effective in saving over 3,000 lives."

I can't be sure which analysis she's referring to, as she doesn't specify and the University of Sheffield has carried out quite a bit, so instead I'll quote at random from this one: 'Model-based appraisal of alcohol minimum pricing and off-licensed trade discount bans in Scotland using the Sheffield alcohol policy model (v 2)':

"Information on the frequency and volumes involved in (heavy episodic drinking) is somewhat restricted" (p96)

"The potential implication of the (2011 rise in VAT) is that minimum price policies may be less effective because less cheaper alcohol is available" (p97)

"At this time, it was not possible to model the potential impact of the exact form of quantity-based discount ban implemented in Scotland from the data available" (p98-9)

"There is much uncertainty in the construction of a quantitative relationship between alcohol consumption and volumes of crime" (p100)

But let's end with my favourite. From the Guardian, it's by J D Wetherspoon's chairman Tim Martin

"(Minimum pricing) is a placebo that won't have any effect on the underlying problem. It's utter bollocks, basically. If you want people to pay more for their beer, there is one solution: get them to go to pubs. The problem with Cameron and Osborne is they haven't worked in a fucking pub."


Not pernicious: a celebration of English hops

Hop celebration has been firmly on the English beer calendar of late. Single hopped series, green hopped specials and uber-geek experiments have seen lupulin love come to the fore.

But what about English hops themselves? Some brewers actively disdain them. Others are held in their thrall. Maybe there's two sides to the story: an industry with tradition and heritage to be proud of whilst developing apace to match the needs of contemporary trends. A recent event in Yorkshire gave me the chance to find out more straight from the, uh, merchant's mouth.

Ossett Brewery held a green hop festival at their Sheffield bar, which is cunningly named The Hop. But there was more to it than just the beer. On the Saturday afternoon, representatives from hop merchants Charles Faram and hop farmers Stocks Farm gave presentations on the state of the English hop industry, its challenges and its attractions. There was a stillage of green hopped beers bedecked in hop bines, which you can almost see in this inexpertly-framed-after-five-pints photo:

Samples of several green hopped beers were served in those rather natty third-pint samplers served in wooden paddles. Which, amazingly, no-one leant onto and so no glasses were sent hurtling across the bar like an alcohol-fuelled trebuchet.

The audience drank as Ossett's Head Brewer Paul Spencer talked us through a variety of green hopped beers on offer. They included those made with newer varieties such as Sovereign and Boedicea alongside the more traditional Fuggles and Goldings brews. Eighteen brewers were represented over the four-day festival with a range of ABVs and styles, including a pale 2.8% bitter, a 4.5% porter, and a 7.0% IPA.

Paul Corbett from Charles Faram gave a great presentation that covered a brief biology of the hop plant, world hop producton figures, UK developments and a (literal) insight into the industrial processes of hop production and processing with some interesting video clips. I've never visited a hop farm so I've never seen the machinery in action - it's certainly something I'd like to go and see for myself in 2013.

If you've ever heard her on the radio, you'll know how passionate Ali Capper is about British hops. Her session was no exception, detailing the work that she and her husband are doing at Stocks Farm to introduce new varieties alongside their established tall and hedgerow hops. At the end of the talks the audience got the chance to get up close and sticky with some samples, as All BEER's Alex Barlow graciously demonstrates. It was a crucial part of the day, to experience new varieties such as Endeavour by feeling the oils between your fingers, to take in the raw aroma, to judge its potential in giving an English ale an aroma and flavour profile that may otherwise require continental hops.

There was plenty of chance to drink afterwards too. Beer of the session for me was Green Goddess by Ilkley, brewed with the help of beer writer Melissa Cole. Saisonny with orange peel and peppercorn, flowery hops cutting across the spun sugar, it showed green hopped beers can be sassy rather than grassy.

One of the most telling moments of the day, and quite sad in its own way, was when Paul was talking about the development of new varieties. Those that have the bold flavour and aroma profiles of American and New Zealand hops so beloved by the new wave of British contemporary brewers. Because such hops, it seems, were part of this country's development programme once... but regional and national brewers had no desire for them.

Thankfully, losing the world-class hop resource of Wye College has not meant that such experimental varieties are lost too. The British Hop Association is committed to introducing disease-resistant strains with complex aromas. Seven new varieties have been introduced in the last twelve years alone. With over eight hundred plants in the national collection, it seems that Britain has every right to be hopeful for a bright hop future.

Just in case you haven't come across these before, here's a rattlebag of resources about British hops.

As linked to above, there's plenty of info available on the websites of hop merchant Charles Faram, hop farmers Stocks Farm and the British Hop Association.

There's some great audio interviews and features too; Ali Capper on local radio, these interviews about about urban hops and a feature on the BBC's Food Programme.

The British Hopfather himself, Dr Pete Darby, has two great essays available, this one on British hop growing development abd this one on the history of hop breeding and development.

Thanks to Ossett and Alex Barlow from ALLbeer for the invite.


What you do for beer

Wait for a bus that turns up late as the rain starts to build and get off near a pub where you sharp-elbow your way into the bar then retreat to a candlelit table to savour some keg Thornbridge Chiron and half a crossword before moving off and getting lashed by the deluge as you steer towards the pub that has expectedly an Oakham beer/unexpectedly it's Green Devil and you drip in a corner by a dank dog and his whiffy owner whilst devouring a cheese and tomato half-baguette then leave and skirt a puddle that doesn't look like a puddle but you know it's a puddle when it's right up to the fucking middle of your fucking shin so you shake it off on the pavement and dive into a place that plays the Beatles and knows it's ploughing a better furrow that the rest and serves a beer that probably isn't named after a Muppet nor a film about free diving but it's still called Big Blue and it still enthralls you and annoys you that it's tinged with sweetness and would benefit from being drier and actually Be Really Fucking Great If It Was On Keg.

That's what I do for beer. What do you do?


When You Go To Nottingham

What you need to do is get off the bus at the Queen's Medical Centre (1971-75, Building Design Partnership). Go up Middleton Boulevard, turn into Lime Tree Avenue and bisect the golf course until you reach a stack of stone that is recognised as "among the most important Elizabethan houses in England".

Wollaton Hall (1580-8, Robert Syythson). Not Wayne Manor.

As you drop down past the camellia house, the twelfth tee is on your left. You may spot a plaid-strewn golfer. You may spot a stag.

Yes. There really are deer on the golf course. Take fifteen minutes to catch that photo, then carry onward.

Over Derby Road and onto Beeston Lane, you'll enter the University of Nottingham's campus. You'll pass by some staggeringly average buildings. As the road dips round and downhill you'll also pass by the timber gabled house where I was taught about the finer points of Bretton Woods.

When you hang a left round the back of the Trent Building (1922-8, P. Morley Horder) you dip down to the lake and meet knots of toddlers and lazy magpies and recalcitrant moorhens. And then you get to look back up at the Trent Building and realise that once, someone stood where you are with a vision. And made it happen.

Then you get on a bus. Alight at Canning Circus and go drink Ape Ale on keg at the Organ Grinder, with a damn good pork pie & mustard alongside. You'll then walk downhill to Slab Square then uphill along Low Pavement before turning into Lace Market and - if you're smart enough - you'll call into Keans Head and drink a pint of stout. And eat whitebait. You'll dip the first dozen into mayonnaise and the last six into the stout. You'll drop one in your pint. You'll drink it down anyhow.

Next, you may well end up in a warehouse (1912-13, John Howitt). You may not notice the stone keystones and voussoirs but the beers are bound to leave an impression.

There will have been beer. But beforehand there will have been one of the finest urban-country walks you could wish for.

Quote and architectural notes courtesy of the Pevsner City Guide to Nottingham. I love this series; any book that can teach me something new about my old stomping ground is well worth the money.


Ship in a can. On a train

The 0934 from Nottingham to Norwich departs from Platform 3b and calls at Grantham, Peterborough, Ely and Thetford, arriving into Norwich at 1213. A scooper's packup of ham & mustard cobs, pork pie and Adnams Ghost Ship is available at seat 28a.

Just outside Ely, as the train waits to pull into the station close to the towering cathedral, I declare it to be beer o'clock. The can of Ghost Ship came out my fridge and into my rucksack a little over three hours ago but it's still cool. Citric prickle in the aroma is enhanced by the can's carbonation. A spot of toffee, a strong bitter finish.

Lurching in and back out of of Ely and the can is gone. Having done what a can of beer should do. Appear where and when it's needed and satiate the drinker whether it's on a beach, up a mountain, by a lake or on a train.

I'd have taken it up a mountain. But there aren't any mountains in Norfolk. Although there's quite a tricky hill just outside West Runton. Apparently.

Ghost Ship in cans can be bought online from the Adnams shop. Thanks to the brewery for the review samples.


Small pours and the self-reinforcing circle

Extracted from Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Quoting Carol Dollard, ex-new product development for Pepsi, on the problems inherent in central location tests (where small samples of drinks are analysed at a venue):

"... consumers might taste three or four different products in a row, taking a sip or a couple of sips of each. A sip is very different from sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own. Sometimes a sip tastes good and a whole bottle doesn't. That's why home-use tests give you the best information.

Dollard says, for instance, that one of the biases in a sip test is towards sweetness: "if you only test in a sip test, consumers will like the sweeter product. But when they have to drink a whole bottle or can, that sweetness can get really overpowering or cloying."

Quads and imperial stouts are some of the highest-rated beers on and With many ratings garnered from festivals and shared bottles.


Albeit maybe not here. I may neither moderate nor comment. I'm the shits-and-giggles guy, remember...


In green fields

Just outside Little Eaton, the Derwent Valley Heritage Way crosses a turf farm. Even in November there are swathes of almost-too-bright green, the saturation level turned way up in the bleeding-away light of a grand afternoon.

I've been bimbling down the valley, enjoying pints and pies in various pubs. Being in the middle of a field resembling a football pitch makes me stop. And look back over my shoulder.

For the first time today, there's big sky. Palate-knifed sky in blue and grey. A smear of pan-flat turf underneath.

For the first time today, I catch my breath and remember what it's like to go on a long, lazy country pub crawl.

Not for the first time today, I thank my grandfathers who I never got to know. Who didn't die in World War Two but never really survived it.

I thank them for what they did. For giving me the chance to bugger around and clog my boot cleats with mud and enjoy a pint or four. I wish it could have been with them.

I don't wear a poppy. Because I carry something with me every day to remind me.

I've been accused of disrespect. Told that medals should be kept in cabinets.

But every day when I lock my front door, every time I open a bottle of beer, every time it pricks me in the arse, I remember.

I'm here because amazing gentlemen lived through a life that's unimaginable to me.


Reluctant Scooper regrets that...

Reluctant Scooper regrets that it is impossible for him to:

- read your blog just because you tweeted me to do so in BLOCK CAPITALS

- write 500 words for free in the next two hours for your magazine because the writer you usually pay to do it has got delayed at an airport with no wifi / is face-down in a vat of custard / has caught VD

- recycle your press release into an "innovative yet commanding" blogpost

- do any kind of RT / Like / +1. Even if you say 'please'. Even if you didn't ask in Comic Sans. Because you asked for it

- attend your bar opening which is three hundred miles away. On a Tuesday night. With 24 hours notice. Because all the proper beer journos have got gastroenteritis. Or a better offer.

-  accept your offer of free glassware / beer bottles / weekends away / 'guaranteed prizes' if by return I have to sell my soul and be part of some social media payola

- contribute to your 'edgy and exciting open source multi media beer experience' (translated: poorly coded WordPress page that no-one reads)

- supply an opinion on Italian restaurants / cocktail bars / marzipan. I have opinions on them all. But not on a beer blog

I actually do have stuff I really want to write about. Stuff that matters to me. Stuff that excites me. Stuff about beery times with good friends, about great beery trips, about interesting beery books.

I don't do this for the money (what money?) I don't do it for the 'exposure'. I don't do it for the 'opportunity'. I do this for the fun of it.

The fun of it.

Isn't that why bloggers blog?

If it isn't for shits & giggles, what to we do it for?

This is my truth. Tell me yours...

today's inspiration: a scribbled note to remind me of this card which Edmund Wilson sent in response to all enquiries:



I need to write about my time in Norwich last week. About a great beer fest made exponentially better by the great people I shared beers with.

In the meantime:


I know it's become shorthand for something of quality / of excellence / of the moment / on trend / of something marketed desperately.

I know I'm maybe guilty of using the word. Maybe. The bitch of living in a digital world? Google shines a light into the recesses where you forgot you posted.

I know this much. Beer is excitingly infuriating. You slip yourself into its Möbius strip and it captivates you. It blindsides you and turns tricks and appals you and disgusts you and delights you and excites you and makes you feel all warm and tingly.

But battling with a hangover, when needing space and separation, walking into somewhere that offers solace, finding a quiet place and looking up at craftmanship that is almost inconceivable in its intricacy...

Beer is beer.

But cathedrals? They are awesome.

They are the very definition.

Go and stare at a ceiling in one. Try to do nothing but stare for maybe ten minutes.

Think of how men had the skills and audacity and faith to make it work.

Think how it felt to be there maybe five hundred years ago. Think harder.

Think about building those walls. Assembling the stained glass. Having such vision.


Beer is beer.

It's many things.

But it isn't awesome.

Pictures don't really do the place justice. You know if there's a cathedral near you? Go. Eschew the tour. Just find a place to sit and... look up. Breathe out. It feels good. Trust me...


The Session #69: The Perfect Beer World?

This month's Session on the topic of 'The Perfect Beer World' is brought to us by Jorge at Brew Beer And Drink It.

Where would the world of beer blogging be without the wishlists, the if-only posts, the "if I ruled the world" attitudes? The world of beer put to rights on the back of an envelope? Like this one:

But it's a lot simpler than that. A perfect beer world is a pipedream. Yet, maybe....

... if we stopped the endless circular arguments about how to define craft beer / Black IPA, if we realised that denigrating other breweries / methods of dispense / styles of beer can only result in pyrrhic victories, if we wasted less time chasing the next great imperial gooseberry hefeweizen aged in café marron barrels just because someone tweeted that it's AWESOME!...

... if we enjoyed beer, enjoyed the fact that the next person enjoys their beer too even though it's not the beer we enjoy...

... if we enjoyed beer. If we truly believed that beer is brewed to be enjoyed. That when we lose sight of that, we lose beer's soul.

Nobody's perfect. But I'd drink to that.


Movember. Again. Sorry.

Some of you have seen me with a beard & 'tache.

No, not that one.

And really, really not that one.

Well, it's all about the 'tache for the next thirty days.

It's Movember.

What's great about it is that so many peeps that I know are taking part. So the cash gets splashed around thinner this year but maybe - just maybe - we can still all raise more than ever.

I will, of course, be mixing inadequate facial hair growth with my usual mix of outrageous facepaint and idiot drinking shenanigans. But only if you give me some money.

So you can donate here:

And you may notice that I'm part of a team - literally. Younger but balder guys at Derby County Football Club are 'taching it up too. They will look like Mexican porn stars. I'll look like a fat sixth-former who's been orally pleasuring a sparrow.

Come on, people. The cash you were about to spend on that pint? Chuck it in my virtual bucket.

I'll give you a kiss if you do. After I've shaved on December 1st, natch...