The Scoopies 2012

It's that time of year again. And what a year it's been. The best of times, the worst of times. But always the beeriest of times.

I promised myself I wouldn't drink myself into a situation where I'd have to award the How Long Have We Been In This Pub? award this year. Sadly, I went to the Thorn Tree in Waingroves with a bunch of muppets. We drank Steel City and Buxton. There was Smurf face painting, crude pubic hair jokes and kissing of brewers. I made a small child cry. There was six-ish hours of beer-addled relaxed mayhem. And there was Mike James from Buxton Brewery infiltrating a puppet show:

This year's Top Referral Source To My Site Of Readers Who Really Ought To Know Better goes to the Grauniad who referenced a post from last year about ten-sided beer glasses. Which means I can now stop blogging and live off the hits from that for years to come.

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

- 4 letter word for beer
- cartoon hairy bollocks
- budweiser bottle tits
- big massive coffee tables
- amber notts porn video holly howard
- contour ploughing in India
- is phil lowry the english brewer married?
- is it normal to have all kinds of shit in the bottom of a straffe hendrik
- playmobil cow
- reluctant to strip in a bar
- wet rubber apron
- sue holderness cleavage photos
- beer bullshitter

Good to see Sue Holderness's cleavage making the top thirteen for two years in a row. For the record, it looks like this:

The Worst Beer Photo Taken When Drunk award goes to this. No explanation needed:

Best Beer Photo had stiff competition this year. The double-merkin action of me and Brewdog Becca was good...

... as was Jen's super clown ginger muff at The Bimble That Went Wrong:

But this year there could be only one. Step forward Richard Chamberlin, the departing Brewster's brewer, painted up in a death metal stylee. Holding a rubber chicken. And two inches away from fellating a priceless stuffed squirrel at Brewdog Nottingham.

The inaugural Pricking About With Photoshop award would have gone to one of those My Name Is badges that are far too offensive to show again. Especially that one about Matt Wickham.

So it has to be this. Apparently I have irrevocably scarred several people's fond memories of their cartoon childhood.

Good to find several brewers vying it out for the Shit Me, Where Did That Brewery Come From? award this year. In the end it was a dead heat between Tiny Rebel and Beavertown. Both excelled with a robust beer range, smart marketing and consistent quality.

Here's a few self-congratulatory awards for my own posts.

The Shits And Giggles Award for the Post I Enjoyed Writing And You Lot Seemed to Have Enjoyed Reading Too goes to The Craft Beer Manifesto. Awesome!

The Cashing In On An Internet Fad To Post A Cheap Joke With Sexual Innuendo Award goes to Fifty Shades Of IPA.

The Pretentious Sixth-Form Poet Twat Award for Most Affected Blog Post With Over-Ambitious Literary Ambitions goes to any of the dozen posts still sat in draft, written around 2am after a long drinking day. You've no idea how close you came to having that guff inflicted upon you.

New for 2012, the Bribery Will Get You Anywhere award goes to Gazza Prescott from Steel City Brewing and soon-to-be-brewing Hop Craft, bringing you awesome beer from the heart of Ponyclub Pontyclun. Cheers for buying me that beer last night, Gazza!

The City That Put A Self-Satisfied Smile On My Face Award goes, maybe surprisingly, to Derby. Pubs started to do the simple things well: The Furnace Inn offered interesting beer from breweries never seen in the city before (like Magic Rock, Tiny Rebel). The Alexandra Hotel kept delivering superb beer, a great atmosphere, humongous cheese cobs and a pub rabbit. And the Exeter Arms just kept getting it right: beautiful cask by Dancing Duck and guests, quality keg in the shape of Chiron by Thornbridge, superb food (the British Tapas board in particular), open fires, leather sofas under cover outside, a nineteenth-century cottage you can drink in...

Beery Person Of The Year? Simple. You knew her as Mrs Scoop. She's Bec Emerald on Twitter. She's the demon behind the wheel of the Little Orange Beer Taxi. And she's bloody lovely.

And that's all that's fit to blog. Many, many, many thanks to the brewers and licensees and writers and academics and louchebags and barflys and mates and total numpties who've answered my questions, put the world to rights, inspired me, reviled me and picked me up when the pavement swallowed me.

And I got through this whole post without mentioning cask versus keg.


Have a merry New Year. See you on the other side at the bar.


Golden Pints 2012. Probably

I struggle with the concept of 'best'. Ever since I drank a pint of 'best' bitter that was 'best' only if the definition of 'best' was 'baby vomit after one too many Farley's Rusks'.

So, here's my Golden Pints. But substituting the qualifier 'best' with 'I remember that this was a rather interesting...'

UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer

Thornbridge Chiron. Keg. Because when I saw it on a bar, I drank it. Ditto for Oakham Green Devil. Cask.(1)

UK Bottled or Canned Beer

Adnams Ghost Ship. Because I drank it on a train near Ely and was thankful for a decent, hoppy beer in a can. And, let's face it. Everyone likes it in the can (2)

Overseas Draught Beer

I've had nothing this year that's excited me madly. I can't believe I've just typed that.(3)

Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

Orval. Surprise? Pucker up, buttercup.(4)

Overall Beer

Orval. Obviously.(5)

Pumpclip or Label(6)

UK Brewery(7)

Three stood out for me.

Thornbridge for continued innovation. And Buxton.

Tiny Rebel for being a brewery that excited others and made me excited enough to want to find their beers. And then drink them like I stole them when I found them.

Beavertown for brewing "America Fuck Yeah", a spiced pumpkin ale. A pumpkin ale. With spice. That wasn't a clusterfuck. And, as my first beer by them, was one fuck-yeah of an introduction.

Lovibonds kept subverting expectation. Brodies too. And Moor are massively under-rated and all the better for it.

And that's not three. So sue me.

Overseas Brewery(8)

Orval. Get with the program.

Pub/Bar of the Year(9)

If only there was somewhere that sold decent stout and kegged hoppy stuff and had an eighteenth century cottage as a drinking den. And made hot Scotch eggs. And had deep leather sofas outside. And Mrs Scoop could recover me from a nearby car park. Oh, wait. There is.

Exeter Arms, Derby

Beer Festival of the Year

IndyManBeerCon. You were great. A whole bunch of brewers and rare beers with enthusiastic punters to serve them to - I even worked behind the bar on my night off.

But.. you still weren't as great as Nottingham. Because you didn't have a castle.

Supermarket of the Year

Sainsburys.  For bombers of Punk. And when they ran out, Meantime London Pale, 3 for £5.

Independent Retailer of the Year

Not telling. OK, I'll say. Liquid Treasure in Belper. Only because there's only four people I know who will go there. And you already go there. And you don't buy all the Cantillon.

Online Retailer of the Year

Beermerchants. Yes, there's the rare shizzle. But there's also all the usual suspects lined up in a row.

Beer Book or Magazine

IPA. Hands and feet and other organs above anything else I've seen this year(10).

Beer Blog or Website

It's me. I demanded a recount. It was me again.

But this old bugger was close.

Best Beer Twitterer

Gunmakers. The vicarious pleasure of reading their menu, seeing their locals and being privy to Jeff have a good old rant reminded me of the good old days...

Online Brewery presence

Not sure I understand this. But if it's the overall way in which a brewery uses and abuses social media, it's got to be Magic Rock. For the dodgy webcam, their elegant website and Stu's tweets about pizza.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Every time I remembered to pair food and beer. Because when I didn't, having a surfeit of the latter and little of the former, I fell over.

In 2013 I’d Most Like To…

Drink in Germany. If only to drink kolsch in Koln. And rauch in Bamberg.

Open Category: You Choose

For everyone who has an attitude about beer in the UK to do this: look back five years. The beers you drank, the styles they were, the brewers that brewed them. Look what's happening NOW. Imagine what could be in another five years time.

Be positive or negative?

You choose.

Scoopies tomorrow. Peace and love xx

(1) It has to be about the beer that I would buy without hesitation or deviation. But definitely with repetition.

(2) You may need to have listened to the Session to get this joke.

(3)  Don't get me wrong. I've enjoyed a shit-ton of foreign beer this year. But nothing grabs me knackers as I write this. Which speaks volumes. Hopefully.

(4)  Still can't find where I know the line 'pucker up, buttercup" from. I suspect it's from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Can't be arsed to check.

(5)  I refer the honourable visitor to a blog I blogged some moments ago

(6)  Just looking at that tickles my willy in a special way

(7)  Exclusion is not a slap in the face. Difficult to nominate the best of the best of the best. It just turns into a circlejerk if we're not careful.

(8)  Once again, for the record

(9)  I'd award this to the Grove in Huddersfield. But with that slow train back, I need to piss into a bottle. Not easy with Orval's narrow neck. And an audience.

(10)  Why Beer Matters by Evan Rail came within a gnat's chuff


Pints D'Or 2012

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer

None. I only like Orval

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

Which part of the above answer did you not understand?

Best Overseas Draught Beer


Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

Orval. Like, duh!

Best Overall Beer

Greene King IPA Orval

Best Pumpclip or Label

Best UK Brewery

Ones that try to make something like Orval. Which is none. Even in their wildest dreams

Best Overseas Brewery


Pub/Bar of the Year

Any that sell Orval. Like this one

Beer Festival of the Year

Uh, any that sold Orval.

Supermarket of the Year

None, coz the one's round here don't sell Orval

Independent Retailer of the Year

Ones that sell Orval (should have been Bellini's but they'd sold out today. Grrr.)

Online Retailer of the Year They sell Orval. Except when they're out of stock

Best Beer Book or Magazine

Ones with Orval in it. Like this one

Best Beer Blog or Website

Ones about Orval. There hasn't been a better one since this

Best Beer Twitterer

Orval aren't on Twitter, fool

Best Online Brewery presence


Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Orval and chips

In 2013 I’d Most Like To…

Drink more Orval

Open Category: You Choose

I choose to drink more Orval

With slight apologies to the Golden Pints Awards 2012. A semi-serious blog about it tomorrow.



Beery book review roundup

It's Boxing Day*. You've got a platter full of cold turkey sandwiches, a hangover that would scare a pig and a stack of vouchers to spend. You like beer. You like beer books. If you're rabidbarfly you like beer books with big pictures in that you can point to and grunt.

So, if you're sat on your sofa in just your pants, turkey in your navel, muttering to yourself "I wonder if there's a handy and impartial internet guide to buying the kind of books that I wished I'd asked for so I would have ended up with better presents than novelty socks and some out-of-date Toblerone?" then

a) you really need clinical help, but

b) here's a round-up of some books wot people wrote about beer this year. Ish.

IPA: brewing techniques, recipes and the evolution of India Pale Ale - Mitch Steele

Let's cut to the chase: buy this book. If you haven't any vouchers, sell other stuff so you can buy this book. Diligently-researched history, fascinatingly-detailed recipes, insightful prose, clearly illustrated. Destined to be the cornerstone reference work on IPA.

Beer, food and flavour - Schuyler Schultz

A classic example of how to make one not-great book out of four potentially good ones. There's very little about flavour; what there is hints at the importance of sensory elements but seems to lose itself before it's started. Forty pages of fine dining menus and recipes start to get rather repetitive. The beer and cheese chapter is OK - although I don't need eleven pages of cheese photos, I know what it looks like. But then a third of the book is no more than a guide of US breweries along with regular features about Alesmith. An opportunity lost.

Shakespeare's Local - Pete Brown

I visited the subject of Pete's book - the George Inn in Southwark - a couple of weeks ago. It was difficult to conjure up an imagine of how this galleried pub would have hustled and bustled over the last six centuries. Mainly because I was looking out over a courtyard of skinny hipsters drinking pinot grigio. But this book does the trick. Pete has a canny knack for engaging narrative and so the tales and tribulations of the George seep from the pages. It's not a straight-up historical tome; put it this way, if you don't think references to the Sugababes and Trigger from Only Fools And Horses are suitable for a beer book, take your vouchers elsewhere. And maybe buy a sense of humour.

Let me tell you about beer - Melissa Cole

Yes, I know it was published last year but it's still the most cogent and entertaining book about beer on the market. One that I buy for others. And read myself. Just for fun. Like you should.

Beer & Philosophy - ed. Steven Hales

Yes, I know it was published in 2007. But I only found it this year. A collection of fifteen papers by a brewer or two and a fair few philosophy professors. Oh, and a Canadian attorney. I sat under the leaf-dappled sun by the walls of Nottingham Castle reading this during this year's CAMRA beer festival. After reading Peter Machamer's piece on beer evaluation, vocabulary and context I put the book back in my bag, drained my glass and did nothing but think about what I'd just read for a good twenty minutes. Particularly about the last line, in relation to offering others your evaluation of beer:

"We all like to play Pygmalion. We just have to learn when to stop".

Thanks to the Brewers Association and Skyhorse Publishing for review copies of the first two books. Thanks to Derbyshire Libraries for running a sterling reserve-and-collect service and for stocking brand new books like Shakespeare's Local in the face of egregious cost-cutting.

* this may or not be the case. Like beer itself, this blog is context-dependent


Have a merry, messy Christmas

If auto-update works and you're reading this on December 25th, congratulations. I am either drinking Cantillon for brunch or I'm trapped in the nuclear heat of an in-law's Christmas lunch.

Now switch off your phone/tablet/monitor and go do something else. It's Christmas.

Have a merry, messy, happy, laughing one.


Oh, I don't know. Something about beer, Nottingham and Derby

I've forgotten what I wanted to write about.

It may have been about the baked-lemon, slightly-cereal Navigation Pale in the Cross Keys, a place that's become one of my favourite pubs in Nottingham.

It certainly could have been about Ilkley Siberia, a rhubarb saison brewed in collaboration with the grande dame of beer blogging, Melissa Cole. Or the warm Scotch egg I had with it. Every other pub with craft semi-credentials seems to make one nowadays; I'm not saying the Keans Head make the best, but I'd put it in my top one.

Maybe it was the rather-meh pint of Punk in Brewdog Nottingham. Perhaps it was actually the pint of Alice Porter that followed; a beer so good I had to double-take and make sure I'd been served what I asked for. Don't get me wrong; Alice Porter is gooood, this was so gooood it was off down the bottom of the garden to dance with the pixies.

Was it drinking Magic Rock High Wire? On keg? In Derby?

Ah... I remember. It was the fact that I can stumble around the cities on either end of the Brian Clough Way and drink world-class beer. Which, twelve months ago, I wouldn't have expected.

Which is nice.


Postcards from London

The Craft Beer Co., Clerkenwell

Somewhere to drip-dry on a relentlessly damp afternoon. The bar buzzing with ticker types, beautiful people, New Money Geezers and lost tourists. A snatched chat with the boss fellah, the ever-effusive Tom 'The Cad' Cadden. The house cask beer, Pale by Kent, does what you need it to for a first capital pint: drink easy, drink quickly, be refreshing, be moreish.

Gunmakers, Clerkenwell

Room at the bar. Christmas lunch parties all around. Jeff beamingly happy as one party service segues into the next with no hassle. Alessio telling me that no-one apart from me has ordered a whole pint of Windsor & Eton Conqueror 1075. Never mind two. At the table behind me, Secret Santa between courses: comedy boxers, a clown horn and, uh, this. Which is Not Safe For Work. In fact, it's Not Safe For Many Places. Apart from maybe a brothel or a gynecologists's leaving party.

Queen's Head, King's Cross

Sign on the door says they'll be closing at three for a private party. It's quarter-to. I want a beer here. A swift Camden Pale, an appreciation of taps along a long bar, a hankering after pies & cheese, a love of studded Chesterfields, chunky tiling and slender barstools. A promise to return.

Brew Wharf, Borough Market

Knots of drinkers seem unsure as whether to have another; jaded diners toy with their last course. Meantime fonts shine brightly before bored staff. The place seems caught between a hectic lunch and an expected onslaught. London Pale suffices; Angelo arrives and we QC a few of his latest brews. There's an awkward moment when, staring up at the blackboards above the bar, I realise this brewpub is pushing discount Budweiser.

The Rake, Borough Market

As small as it ever was. Glyn being as Womble as he ever was. Chilly hipsters outside, ragtag boozers inside. I probably had a beer but beer here is somehow less important than having a good time with friends.

Crown and Anchor, Brixton

Nuclear heat blowing from heaters not needed. Flabby Camden Ink, underwhelming Kernel Porter. And no other memory apart from the puddle-cum-pothole that swallowed my right ankle and put me down on my knees. Brixton owned me.

The Falcon, Clapham Junction

Doing what Nicholson's pubs do so well; plenty of brass, smidgens of stained glass & interesting tiles, a comfortable buzz about the place. Tip-top Bitter Californian by Bristol Beer Factory. And a picture window to gawp out of, where gospel choirs sing on street corners, where jets heading for Gatwick turn and fly straight toward you, where you can still see the scarred shops that last year's rioters ravaged past.

Euston Tap, Euston

A warmed table outside; a corner snagged inside. Comings and goings of occasional Tweeters. Applause for the couple emerging from the unisex cubicle. Over-extended criticism of Ian Bell's Test record. For a small small bar there seemed to be fewer and fewer drinkers as the night wore on. And then there was Moor's Amoor. More and more of it.

Barrowboy & Banker, London Bridge

Sat on a stool by the door facing the bar affords the greatest view of all; parties of six looking disconsolate that there are no tables available. At lunchtime. In a pub by the Thames. On a Sunday. Half a dozen old boys at the far end of the bar ignore everyone else; I drain Bengal Lancer slowly and savour the sweeping staircase, the narrow columns climbing to an adorned ceiling, the curve of a bar suggesting Rubenesque curves.

The George Inn, Borough

I tried. Really, I tried. To imagine Shakespeare sat next to me, quill a-quivering. Dickens peering through the window. A place maybe "wide enough and antiquated enough to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories". But, sat inside, there was just a fright of Jocasta's on the Grigio and a view of old dogs on string sat in a cobbled yard squared off by drab offices. Maybe someone ought to write a book about the place and help me change my mind.


The pub: not just for Christmas

"I thought the Sarries were going to get run over..."

Ummm... pardon?

The old guy with a camouflage jacket, half an Oakham JHB and a beard you could lose a gassed badger in points at my t-shirt.

It's this one.

"Yesterday... did you not see? The way Munster muscled up... but fair play to Farrell, he kept the score ticking over".

I didn't see Saracens beat Munster in the Heineken Cup on Sunday. I was too busy drinking beer / falling asleep / wash / rinse / repeat on a train straight outta St Pancras. In fact, I was reading through the results as the hirsute chap began to talk at me.

I drank deep from my pint of Oakham Green Devil. We started discussing problems with modern-day scrummage (the phases still allow the front row to hit a retreating brick wall), the inflexibility of most second-row forwards, favourite playing positions back in the day (me: hooker, because due to playing volleyball I could chuck a ball and due to my lack of height I could dangle enough to actually hook the ball. him: wing, he could run fast within a one-yard corridor from the touchline and could pass to A.N. Nobody and then jump if anyone came near him).

We talked of our rugger heroes (me: Bill Beaumont, Wade Dooley, Brian Moore. him: Barry John). We talked about the stupidity of boxers who return to the ring and risk death for the sake of funding a lifestyle they've become addicted to. We talked of how too many professional footballers have too much time, too much money and too little sensible support to save themselves from becoming chronic gamblers and/or gak hooverers.

We loved the tale of how a local drunk driver had been given his license back even though found guilty. Because if he re-offended, he'd get a life ban.

We talked and drank and laughed. Because I wore a certain t-shirt in a certain pub at a certain time.

You just don't get that on Twitter or Facebook.

You get that down the pub.

Sometimes, I need to remind myself of that.

It's a grand place to be. After all, pubs aren't just for Christmas...


Thundercats! Is that right?

I like to pride myself that I usually have my thumb on the digital pulse. It's more echoey that way.

Today, CAMRA held a mass rally to take their protest over the duty escalator to Parliament and also carried out a Twitter Thunderclap. Apparently. I guess the tweeps I follow were too busy drinking down the pub to take part.

Anyoldhow, I misread Thunderclap for Thundercats. Which conjured up a vaguely disturbing image:

Now I'm going to be careful here. Some of my friends were in the rally today; brewers, publicans, writers, opinionaters. Passionate people with a vested interest in sustaining the industry. But from what I did see across my Twitter feed, there was also an outstanding amount of hyperbole and backslapping about 'saving the pub'.

I'll say this again, for the record: I'd rather people stood up and marched and spoke for what they believe in rather than be an armchair warrior.

But, and I'll say this again too and keep saying it until I turn a peculiar shade of something: sign what you want to sign. March where you want to march. Tweet what you want to thunderclaptweet.

Just... please... if someone can explain to me how pubs will benefit more from a beer duty reduction than the supermarkets will, I'll buy you a pint and you can tell me all about it.

Then I'll buy you a pint and talk to you about cutting the VAT rate for the hospitality industry. You remember, the tax break that already has an EU precedent and would make a demonstrable financial difference to pubs and bars from day one of implementation.

And argue that Cheetara would totally rip the face off Pumrya. Probably.


Vintage stuff

Every now and again, the UK chapter / collective / members of take part in a virtual tasting of a beer that's widely available - usually but not exclusively from supermarkets.

I'm no longer an active rater and only an ocasional lurker on the forum nowadays so sometimes the announcements for the tastings pass me by. As would have today's if Craig Garvie hadn't tweeted about it.

Thankfully, I saw his tweet just in time. Thankfully I had a bottle of the subject beer, Fuller's Vintage Ale, stashed away. So - here's my verbatim review.

"1999 bottle no. 13286. Starts with an aged aunt's oloroso sherry breath, in turns salty and almond-sweet. Lifts into that alcohol oxidation that bypasses most of your nose and waits behind your eyeballs for you to blink. First tangs of warm toffee touched up by Airfix kit glue.

Body on the orange side of ochre. First mouthful stuns me with a caramel lifted by a heathery honey. Burlesque body; suggests plenty, offers up less than expected, still impressed by the final throes.

I keep putting the glass down, come back to it after five minutes and damn me it gets better every time. Maybe it's the temperature, maybe the remaining carbonation is dissipating and teasing out warm leather and dusty cocoa and that bit of fig that gets stuck in the bottom of the pudding bowl.

Overall score: eleventy"

If you ever feel like joining in the madness one month, take a look at what we got up to this time around and keep an eye on the UK forum for future announcements (registration required for participation).



Yes, there's photos of faded diesels and random nameplates. There's signs from station doors on the doors you're not supposed to enter.

In places there are odd pieces; German carriage notices, panels stripped from a loco with its number on.

But there was always the capacity for more gricer porn.

So it's great to see that Ralph at the Alexandra in Derby has gone totally hatstand and installed a platform clock in the bar. It helped me time my consumption of Dark Star Revelation.

(as in: drink a pint, drink the next quicker. And repeat)


The Session 70: Don't Believe The Hype

This month's Session on the topic of "Don't Believe The Hype" is curated by David J Bascombe at Good Morning...

As always, no apologies for length. But many apologies to Hans Christian Andersen.

Many, many years ago lived a beer blogger who thought so much of new beers that he spent all his money in order to obtain them; his only ambition was to be always the top blogger. He did not care for his fellow topers and the pubs did not amuse him; the only thing, in fact, he thought anything of was to go on the internet and blog about a new bottle of beer. He had a bottle for every hour of the day; and as one would say of a king “He is in his cabinet,” so one could say of him, “The blogger is in his blogging-room.”

The great website where he resided was very SEOd; every day many strangers from all parts of the internets arrived. One day two swindlers came to his hovel; they made people believe that they were brewers and declared they could brew the finest beer to be imagined. Their malt and hops they said, were not only exceptionally awesome, but the beer made of these materials possessed the wonderful quality of tasting like piss to any man who was unfit to read beer blogs or was unpardonably stupid.

“That must be wonderful beer,” thought the blogger. “If I were to blog of this beer I should be able to find out which visitors to my site were unfit for their places, and I could distinguish the clever from the stupid. I must have this beer brewed for me without delay.” And he gave a large sum of money to the brewers, in advance, that they should set to brew without any loss of time.

They set up two buckets, and pretended to be very hard at work, but they did nothing whatever in the buckets apart from piss into them. They asked for the finest malt and the most precious hops; all they got they did away with on eBay, and pissed into the empty buckets till late at night.

“I should very much like to know how they are getting on with the brew,” thought the blogger. But he felt rather uneasy when he remembered that he who was not fit for his blog would think it tasted of piss. Personally, he was of opinion that he had nothing to fear, yet he thought it advisable to send somebody else first to see how matters stood. Every visitor to his site knew what a remarkable quality the beer possessed, and all were anxious to see how bad or stupid their neighbours were.

“I shall send my honest young acolyte to the brewers,” thought the blogger. “He can judge best how the stuff looks, for he is intelligent, and nobody understands his office better than he.” The good young acolyte went into the room where the brewers sat before the piss-filled buckets.

“Heaven preserve us!” he thought, and opened his eyes wide, “I cannot see anything at all, apart from lukewarm piss” but he did not say so. Both brewers requested him to come near, and asked him if he did not admire the exquisite flavour and the beautiful aroma, pointing to the piss-filled buckets. The poor young acolyte tried his very best, but he could taste nothing but piss, for there was nothing but piss to be tasted.

“Oh dear,” he thought, “can I be so stupid? I should never have thought so, and nobody must know it! Is it possible that I am not fit for my office? No, no, I cannot say that I was unable to taste anything but piss.”

“Now, have you got nothing to say?” said one of the brewers, while he pretended to be busily brewing. But was actually on Facebook.“Oh, it is very awesome, totally craft!" replied the young acolyte looking through his sunglasses. “What a beautiful flavour, what brilliant aroma! I shall tell the blogger that I like the beer very much.”

“We are pleased to hear that,” said the two brewers, and described to him the aroma and explained the curious flavour. The young acolyte listened attentively, that he might relate to the blogger what they said; and so he did.

Now the brewers asked for more money, hops and some purple steam, which they required for brewing. They kept everything for themselves, and not a cone came near the buckets, but they continued, as hitherto, to piss into the buckets.

Soon afterwards the blogger sent another honest toady to the brewers to see how they were getting on, and if the beer was nearly finished. Like the young acolyte, he sniffed and sipped but could taste nothing but piss, as there was nothing but piss to be seen.

“Is it not a beautiful beer?” asked the two brewers, describing and explaining the magnificent flavour, which, however, did not exist. “I am not stupid,” said the man. “It is therefore my good appointment for which I am not fit. It is very strange, but I must not let any one know it;” and he praised the beer, which he could not taste, and expressed his joy at the beautiful aroma and the fine flavour. “It is very awesomeballs,” he said to the blogger.

Everybody in the whole interweb talked about the precious beer. At last the blogger wished to taste it himself, while it was still in the buckets. With a number of toadys, including the two who had already been there, he went to the two finagling brewers, who now brewed as hard as they could, but without using any malt or hops.

“Is it not magnificent?” said the two suck-ups who had been there before. “You must admire the flavours and the aroma.” And then they pointed to the piss-filled buckets, for they imagined the others could see the beer.

“What is this?” thought the blogger, “I do not see any beer at all. Just cold piss. That is terrible! Am I stupid? Am I unfit to be a blogger? That would indeed be the most dreadful thing that could happen to me.”

“Really,” he said, turning to the brewers, “your beer has my most gracious approval;” and nodding contentedly he looked at the piss-filled buckets, for he did not like to say that he saw nothing but widdle. All his acolytes, who were with him, looked and looked, and although they could not see anything more than the others, they said, like the blogger, “It is very craft.”

And all advised him to drink the new magnificent beer at a great festival which was soon to take place. “It is awesome, amazeballs, mahoosive,” one heard them say; everybody seemed to be delighted, and the blogger appointed the two swindlers “Officially Craftmungous Brewers.”

The whole night previous to the day on which the festival was to take place, the brewers pretended to work, and burned more than sixteen joints. People should see that they were busy to finish the blogger’s new beer. They pretended to take the beer from the bucket, and worked about with ornate bottles, and randalled with filters without hops, and said at last: “The blogger’s new beer is ready now.”

The blogger and all his followers then came to the hall; the brewers held their arms up as if the ornate bottle held something not piss-related in their hands and said: “This is the shizzle!" “This is the future of craft brewing!” and “The revolution starts here!” and so on, ad nauesum. “It is as light as a helles, and one must feel as if there is nothing at all in the body; but that is just the awesomeness of the beer.”

“Indeed!” said all the followers; but they could not see anything but piss, for there was nothing else to be seen. “Does it please your Bloggerness now to graciously pour the beer,” said the brewers, “that we may assist your Bloggerness in pouring the new beer in this large tasting-glass?”

The blogger poured, and the brewers pretended to flatter him; and the blogger looked at the liquid in the glass from every side. “How great it looks! How well it shines!” said all. “What a beautiful flavour! What fine aroma! That is a magnificent beer!”

The master of the ceremonies announced that the bearers of the ornate bottle which was to be served at the festival were ready. “I am ready,” said the blogger. “Does not my beer suit me marvellously?” Then he turned once more to the tasting glass, that people should think he admired his beer.

The followers, who were to carry the ornate bottle, stretched their hands to the ground as if they lifted up a precious thing, and pretended to hold something in their hands that was borne of skill and precision and experience; they did not like people to know that they could not see anything but old piss.

The blogger marched in the procession by the ornate bottle, and all who saw him in the street and out of the windows were given a sample and then exclaimed: “Indeed, the blogger’s new beer is incomparable! What a long barnyard finish it has! How well it suits him!” Nobody wished to let others know they tasted nothing but piss, for then they would have been unfit for their office or too stupid. Never a blogger’s beer was more admired.

“But it has no beer in at all,” said a rookie tweeter at last. "It tastes of piss".

“Good heavens! Listen to the voice of that grumpy twat,” said a hipster wearing glasses with no glass in them, and one whispered to the other what the tweeter had said.

“But it has no beer in at all,” cried at last the whole people. "We're just drinking manky old piss out of a fancy bottle!"

That made a deep impression upon the blogger, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the followers walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the beer which did not exist.


How can you belong...

Interesting that I've had (privately received) criticism for negativity in my review of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide yesterday.

So, let's clarify.

I'm a member of a campaigning organisation. I don't attend branch meetings. Yet I do attend meetings with government ministers. I do criticise policy. This is not 'being in the tent, talking to no-one and pissing out'. This is doing what I can do in my own way.

I drink both Alesmith Speedway Stout and Stella Artois. But never with the same people in the same places. It doesn't make my beer choice catholic, eclectic or confused. It is what it is - drinking the beers I like with the people I like in the places I like. All of which happen to be different on occasion.

I write about beer but don't have to write about beer. I'm not a member of a Guild but I appreciate how some people want to be. I'm friends with some brewers but not beholden to them.

I'm comfy with the beer skin I'm in.

Like the Labour Party, soft cheese and pubic hair, beer is one of those things that I've learned to love. Not necessarily all the time, not necessarily in line with current fashion, but there's a seismic, shifting relationship there.

I'd be disappointed in myself if I was unflinchingly positive about everything all the time. For then I'd be working in PR.

The antitheses of belonging and championing are not denying and decrying.

Criticism isn't negativity.

Beer is a wider horizon. If you can't see that, you need to ditch the Fuggles-tinted shades.


Book review: Good Beer Guide 2013

A thousand uncles on Christmas Day look up from their stocking and say: "Oooh, nice! The Good Beer Guide!" Because someone knows he's partial to the occasional brown bitter. And if he's really unlucky, nephews and nieces will also have bought him bottles of something hilariously labelled like Old Git.

Many copies of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide will be given as presents. Many will be bought for people who don't want to / haven't got access to the interwebs or a smartphone. So for this years review, I've tried to take my beer geek hat off and judge just how useful it is as a papery thing that will live on the parcel shelf of a Skoda Fabia*.

Test #1: find a country pub for lunch that I hadn't been to before. 

The county map for Derbyshire showed up a pub in a village nearby. The postcode and Ordnance Survey references given would have been useful if I'd being GPSing; as it was, Main Street in Milton is easy to find (there aren't really many other streets)**. The Swan Inn was open when it said it would be; it served meals (what used to be the lounge is now a cafe, an interesting diversification), it did have a car park and it did serve Marston's Pedigree. Although I had the 'guest beer' which was Kalika by the vastly-improved Tollgate Brewery.

Wheelchair access? Problematic. Level on the inside, but both entrances we tried had steps. Now, I can shove Mrs Scoop in her chair up and down a fair bit but steps don't equate to 'easy access' as noted in the Guide.

Overall? The review was good and the gen was accurate. And Roger the landlord was a wonderfully bearded happy chappy. So that's a qualified pass.

Test two: find a city pub I've been to before and see how it matches up.

'Award-winning restoration'? Check - there's plaques on the wall.

'Usually four beers from the Thornbridge range'? Check - has been every time I've visited.

Near train, tram and bus? Check times three. Tram stops less than a quarter of a mile away. Bus station is as close. Platform 1b of Sheffield station is right outside.

'Up to six guest beers'. Well, yes. And no. Because there's no mention of the 100+ bottles and twelve keg beers on offer at the Sheffield Tap. Even though some of those world-class bottles are bottle-conditioned. And, dare I suggest, some of the keg beer has more life in in than some brewers' suspiciously bright casks served elsewhere.

Yes, I know the Guide is driven by promoting cask. But to wholly ignore the other methods of dispense that helped establish the Tap as a world-class beer bar? That's airbrushing that Stalin would have been proud of.

Overall? An incomplete truth.

Test three: does it work as a well-thumbed reference book?

Well, I've been using it for three months. It's been in the bottom of a rucksack, it's been used as a tray and it hasn't fallen to bits. The slightly-shiny pages are still OK to read in bright light. The spine is starting to crack, though, mainly from me pulling the front inside cover back to read the symbol key. The two-hundred-plus pages of brewery info obviously omits some developments - always the bugbear of a printed reference source. But as a way of checking a brewery's postcode or phone number when in a 3G dead-zone? Invaluable.

Overall? Useful if occasionally dated.

Test four: does it work as a diverting read?

There's a couple of features that prove to be interesting. Good to see campaigning issues at the forefront of the Guide. Featuring a pub crawl around Norwich - the city which will host CAMRA's Member's Weekend in 2013 - is a good touch albeit let down by a few inaccuracies. There's a decent potted overview of the brewing process courtesy of Pitfield Brewery.

But some other sections seem rather jaded. Shoehorning a Michael Jackson article from 1989 feels awkwardly outdated when it talks of independent brewers whom have now been absorbed by multinationals. A section on beer appreciation is perplexing; I'd love to know which 'leading British artisan brewer' calls hops 'the grapes of beer' and I can categorically prove that it is not the case that "even the strongest beer has 93% water in its make-up".

Overall? Diverting, just not necessarily for the right reasons.

It's a book I loved to learn from when I was first getting to know more about beer. Nowadays I've learned to love it and hate it in equal measures. For a big papery thing it's not bad. It just seems that although it's got 2013 on the cover, it's got 1989 on its mind.

You can buy the Good Beer Guide direct from CAMRA. Thanks to them for the review copy.

* no Skoda Fabia's were harmed in the making of this review

** edited for clarity - thanks to Mudge in the comments below


Tideswell: a toper goes to Brew School

I'd never been to Tidewell before. I'd thought of going there in the height of summer on a slow bus that trundles from Buxton, to stand in the sun-dappled graveyard of St John The Baptist Church - the 'Cathedral of the Peak' - where Late Gothic meets pinnacled Perpendicular.

But I ended up there in December. In the mist. Too early on a Saturday morning. To brew a beer with this man.

Alex Barlow has been a head brewer in the UK and Europe for some of the biggest beer names around and now runs ALLBeer, geared to educating consumers and retailers about the delights of beer. He's also taken up occasional residence at the Tideswell School Of Food, where he teaches the Brewing and Tasting Skills course I'd signed up for. It's very much hands-on, as you can see from fellow attendees Chris and Andrew here.

We'd all had a chat before getting our hands dirty and decided to brew a Belgian-ish strong blonde. Just without Belgian yeast. Malt was hand milled (yes, I did my stint), we mashed in and then retired to the classroom for a session on beer style. Oh, and a bacon cob and a bottle of pils.

What really impressed me was the simplicity of the process. Three donated kegs become hot liqour tank, mash tun and, uh, 'copper'. You're up close and personal with the brewkit. It's not a brewday that happens inside closed tanks and opaque pipes. It happens right in front of you. You connect.

And digging out the mash tun becomes gloving-up the blogger to dump grain into a bin liner.

And run-off becomes a game of switch-the-jug.

And given that the last hop addition I was involved with required hacking a bale of Galaxy with a blunt screwdriver, caressing a few ounces of Cascade between my fingertips was rather therapeutic.

I feel duty-bound to point out at this stage that the beer-drinking in between mash / boil etc was in no way gratuitous. No siree. It was purely educational. Alex talked through beer traditions and styles with pointers to the science and the artisanship behind crafting a beer. Those tasters chosen weren't random: they encompassed fermentation methods (cold, warm, spontaneous) to highlight how yeast plays the vital role in brewing beer. Hence Pilsner Urquell earlier. And Timmerman's Kriek. Which I forgot to take a photo of.

And Buxton's Imperial Black, which I did take a photo of. And which was a fitting beer on which to finish. Something to savour whilst we mulled over the oxymoronic nature of contemporary beer styles. And then pretended to understand the nuances of lag-phase fermentation as Alex drew convincing graphs on the brewhouse whiteboard. And then cleaned up after us.

Done and dusted within four hours, it'd had been a great morning of brewing literally brought to life in the way that a brewery tour can never really achieve. Those who want more science and less beer tasting can opt for the Introduction To Brewing course instead but I thought this balance of theory, practice and imbibing worked wonders. It's ideal for the homebrew-curious but not so geeky that the casual beer lover would get turned off by the content. With no more than six on any course, everyone gets the chance to gets hands-on and be part of the conversation.

And then, of course, there's the beer. Whilst a big bucket full of hoppy water and yeast having sex is sat on a table in Tideswell, someone is keeping an eye on it. When it's ready, bottles get mailed out to you. After all, when you've milled the malt and sparged the wort and weighed the hops and juggled the jugs and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned, you want to taste the result. 

Brewed on December 1st, 'Advent Adventure' is fermenting away as we speak. And I know how it's doing well because they tweet to let me know.

Bloggers usually enjoy brewdays because they get to drink great beer and take photos. I enjoyed this one because a) I learned things b) I had a laugh whilst doing so and c)... for the first time, it felt like I actually really helped brewed a beer. And I could actually see myself with a brewkit in the garage. Shit. There goes my quiet weekends...

You can find out more about the Tideswell School of Food on their website. Courses run throughout the year and you can buy vouchers as presents to cover some or all of the cost. Many thanks to Alex from ALLBeer for the invite (and look out for his revamped website in early 2013).


Only connect

The culture of denial.

That festers on the underside of a ticking, scooping, scoring life.

That I don't need to chase.

That I don't need to demand.

That I don't need to seek.

That I don't need to.

That I don't need to brew.

But what if you do?

What if you actually get on your knees and grind the malt, finger out the spent mashtun, weigh out hops on a scale that's good for measuring cocaine?

What if you look at three hacked kegs that are piped together and the contents are poured into a plastic bucket for yeast to have sex in?

What if you realise half-way through this blogpost that you've been listening to the Brewing Network Sunday Session for years for the shits and giggles but have secretly harboured that hard-on for Brewing Your Own?

What if you turfed out the garage tomorrow and found someone who can weld and could place an all-grain brewkit into the corner by which you'd have a kegerator and a cheeseboard and a dartboard and a skittle alley?

What if that fingerful of sweet, sweet wort actually turned you into a home brewer?

I went brewing today. Not standing around taking photos. OK, I took loads of photos.

But I got something more.

I felt something else.

I cared.

I've brewed with bigger boys before.

But this is different.

I wish I could be there every day, checking and peeking and just being close.

It sits in Tideswell.

I perch thirty miles away, uneasy.

I've waxed lyrical before about being part of the process. About tasting and smelling and tweeting and spilling hot malt on your thin hipster Cons.

Today was different.

Today... scared me.

Today scared me in a good way.

Today I actually found myself saying to strangers... I want to do this.

Tomorrow, you can remind me. That there's a whole world of pain residing behind such an idea.

Right here, right now? It makes me itch in my special places.

Dear reader, I've 'brewed' before in a host of places and abused a host of brewers.

Today, 'it' actually happened.

I connected.

Me and a fingerful of wort.