Think of a colour

Word association time. I'm going to give you a beer description; I want you to think of a colour.


Here we go...


Thought of a colour? Was it...

auburn or beige or bistre or bronze

or camel or chestnut or coffee or copper

or fallow or khaki or ochre or russet

or sandy or tawny or tan or umber

or... BROWN?

I started thinking about this at a beer festival recently; the Holly Bush at Makeney had this key for its beers:

And then found this on Marston's website to describe their beer range:

(interesting amber = pale suggestion there).

And I've seen beer boards give scales of 1-5 to indicate colour from light to dark, like this at Derby's Furnace Inn:

Is brown boring? It is stock full of connotations; Manns and Newcastle and Nut Brown? Is it beyond post-ironic; Indian Brown and Hazel Brown?

Does brown = twiggy? Pale = hoppy?

Is brown beer the jazz equivalent of trad? If so, does that make pale the equivalent of bebop? White stout the equivalent of acid jazz?

Too many questions? Let's stop with one more.

If brown beer didn't exist, would you want to invent it?


Sh!t beer geeks say

There's an \m/ awesome \m/ video doing the rounds in promotion of Good Beer Week in Melbourne, Australia. Like all the best satire, it's funny because it has more than a grain of truth to it.


Put a few beery scamps together and there's often attempts at nailing jelly to the table - I mean, describing flavour and aroma to an nth degree: "rotten fruit, peat moss, marzipan or almond"... yeah, I've been there.

And, yes, we can be a tad overexuberant: "WOW! SNIFF THAT!"

But the ones that really made me wince are those that combine arrogance with ignorance and end up sounding embarrassing; hands up if you've ever wanted to slap someone when they say:

"That's hideously infected - unless it's a lambic, in which case it's awesome!"

"This brewery's really gone downhill since they added the extra capacity"

and my all-time fave,

"That definitely could be hoppier".

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Try and make it an informed one.

Understand how off-flavours and taints differ in their cause and effect.

Understand that changes to capacity can make you think differently about a brewer but the actual physical taste differs rarely. If you want to think big is bad, your taste perception will change.

Understand that a brewer brews a beer to their specification. For their market. If it's not hoppy enough for you, drink different.

Don't criticise a beer for not being what it doesn't set out to be - that's like moaning about white chocolate not being bitter enough.

Anyway. Grab a beer and watch this: more of the same but different from Two Girls One Pint:


Derby City Bimble, Saturday 18th May

It's bimble time.

Saturday 18th of May. Meet at the Alexandra, Derby from 11am. Wander upriver via several pubs (Smithfield, Exeter Arms, maybe the Peacock, maybe the Little Chester Ale House). End up at the Furnace Inn for their Shiny beers, hopefully some new keg stuff, possibly some bottles, maybe a game of darts. Or human Jenga.

Facepaint not mandatory but certainly encouraged.

If you have any of the following, bring them along;

- ukulele
- pantomime horse costume
- inflatable surfboard
- Inigo Montoya wig
- Border Morris troupe
- My Little Pony helium balloon

Prizes will be awarded for Most Outlandish Shirt and Best Use Of The Word 'Wibble'.

Bonus points if anyone orders a pint of mild.

See you at the Alex. if you haven't met me before, I'll be the chap standing at the bar with an inflatable surfboard. Saying "Wibble".


Boris drinks Bass in Burton

"Evening, Boris!"

It had been a long, long afternoon. Taking a hangover to the cricket seemed the decent thing to do. Derbyshire v Notts developed slower than a Pinter play. I slept the sleep that only county cricket fans know;  inevitable yet dangerous, as a thud through point peppered the seats nearby.

But I'd promised to go to Burton that evening. To be fair, Beer Town has very few reasons to make even the most beeriest of beer fans go there. But the Coopers Tavern is one of them. And the Honourable Order of Bass Drinkers is another.

Formed in 1967 by sports writers on the Manchester Evening News, the HOBD still gather and revel in their love of draught Bass. Every year they journey to Burton to tour the brewery (now at Marston's) and drink at the Coopers Tavern. And I took up their invitation to join them.

For those readers unfortunate enough to have never met me in person, I am blessed with a corpulent mien and a hairdo that resembles an exploding hay bale. Not dissimilar to a certain journalist-cum-politician with whom I share a surname. And a love of bangers and mash.

Hence the bellowed welcome.

After that? Well, what happens at the Coopers stays at the Coopers. Suffice to say that the chairman ensures that glasses never remain empty, a swift nod to the treasurer leads to more and evermore Bass arriving at table. Banter is redefined by a bunch of blokes who have been taking the piss out of each other for a long time. Grown men cry with laughter.

And all because there's a beer called Bass, one that some drinkers felt was worth fighting to find, one that they pride themselves on draining nowadays wherever available. From before CAMRA was founded, a mission undiluted, a motto pure and simple - "Never do things by halves".

The next time I meet up with them, I promise I'll actually ask them some questions. Like, was Bass really better back in the day - whenever that day was. Like, what draws you towards drinking Bass to the practical exclusion of other beers?

Like, what do I need to do to be voted in as a full member and be awarded one of those ties?


Pubs & me & Gin & It

Quarterly journals are growing in popularity. Strong on content and low on adverts, they provide a platform upon which feature writing can shine.

Some of my favourite cricket and football writers are featured in The Blizzard and The Nightwatchman; publications characterised by high-quality production values and engaging journalism.

If only there was something like that for thinking drinkers...

(drum roll / cymbal crash)

Gin & It is an elegantly illustrated journal crammed full of quality writing on a whole host of drink-fuelled shenanigans. The current issue romps across twenty-four topics such as accidental cocktails, notes from a helixophile and the art of bespoke gin making. 

And I write about being down the pub and drinking alone but not being alone. Sort of.

I'm proud to be part of this. It goes to show that the printed word isn't ready to shuffle off for last orders just yet.

You can subscribe to Gin & It via their website or buy single issues from Foyles and Magma in London. If I find out anything more about distribution elsewhere, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, you can follow Gin & It on Twitter  (@ginanditmag).


I wish to make a complaint

My old mate Hugh has sent me a letter. He can't quite remember which establishment provoked his splenetic outburst, so he's asked me to post it here in the vain hope that some licencee will recognise themselves.

"I wish to make a complaint. Last night I was SHOCKED and APPALLED to find you retailing beer at SEVEN POUNDS A PINT. It said it was beer; however it appears to have been some of that so-called 'craft' NONSENSE with a stupid name that I couldn't understand. I was even offered a taster. I proudly refused. That's how CRACK PUSHERS get people 'hooked'.

Now I was - of course - actually drinking my usual, Throxheard's Old Unobtainable, which was was perfectly cask-conditioned AND very reasonably priced at THREE POUNDS STERLING a pint EVEN THOUGH you still persist in NOT OFFERING A DISCOUNT based on your flimsy logic that it's brewed next door to the pub and so couldn't possibly be sold any cheaper.

Just because this so-called craft-so-called-beer has high production costs due to the high quality of ingredients used and has then been shipped half way around the world and been subject to punitive taxation and import charges and is best appreciated by the half-pint with food DOES NOT GIVE YOU THE RIGHT to charge SEVEN POUNDS for a 'beer' that is TOO COLD and NOT BROWN.

My wife agrees, of course, although she is, of course, a wine drinker. By the way, she says that she is happy with the very reasonably priced house white wine of yours. 

And that she was more that happy to pay twice its price for a glass of that limited-release from the small vineyard that you got in. She said it offered great levels of depth and complexity and was unusual to see such a wine on offer in a UK bar.

In fact, she's even happy to have the occasional glass of that cold, fizzy wine that costs four times the price of the house white. On occasion. 

Whereas I am still VERY ANGRY INDEED that you deign to charge TWICE THE PRICE OF MY USUAL PINT AT LEAST for some beers, if they are indeed beer. I know EVERYTHING about beer- I went on a brewery tour in 1983 AND SPOKE TO A BREWER.

If you persist in this DISCRIMINATORY PRICING and offer SO-CALLED CRAFT - which nobody wants and nobody can afford and is basically more offensive that HITLER SHITTING ON MY GRANDMOTHER'S BED - I shall take my custom to the local Wetherspoons. Or I would, except the Daily Mail once ran a story that said their SO-CALLED CUSTOMERS are actually all immigrant ex-bankers with COMMUNICABLE DISEASES.


Hugh Jarse
Little Dribblington,

PS - if I win the meat raffle, can you fix it for me to have the sausages? Venison gives me heartburn"


Drinking About Life

Get my hair cut, go meet an old mate in the town where we grew up, go to Nottingham for a gig, drink beer.

It's good to have a plan.

As the day involved walking into some pubs I hadn't drank in for over twenty years, I'd no idea what beers I'd find. So maybe looking into what I drank, where I drank it and why would give me clues as to why this scooper is getting ever more Reluctant.

Babington Arms, Derby. Good George Pacific Pearl (cask). Because the barber's was shut and I fancied a pint. And I was glad of the opportunity to try the beer (which was lovely: hints at coffee, treacle, grapefruit, marmalade)

Standing Order, Derby. Vasileostrovsky Siberian Red (cask). Because the barber's up the road was shut too. And a few people had mentioned that this beer was one of the more impressive ones in the Wetherspoon's festival (which is was; strawberry on leather)

Exeter Arms, Derby. Thornbridge Chiron (keg). Because I was waiting for a bus and had twenty minutes to spare. And I bloody love Chiron (which was born to be kegged and let no cask evangelist tell you otherwise)

Sun Inn, Eastwood. Stella Artois (keg). Because I fancied a lager. And this pub, birthplace of the Midland Railway and mentioned in the works of D.H.Lawrence, is where I began as a largar drinker. Good to be back.

Old Wine Vaults, Eastwood. Blue Monkey Infinity (cask). Because I drank nothing but Guinness or cider in this pub when I warra youff. Because the cask beer were Shipstone's. And it was shit. So I fancied trying a decent cask beer here. And it wa.

Wellington, Eastwood. Greene King IPA Chilled (keg). In a branded handle glass. Because I'd never drank Greene King IPA Chilled. In a branded handle glass. And now I have. Verdict: not hemlock.

Hayloft, Giltbrook. Stella Artois (keg). Because I drank nothing but Guinness or cider in this pub when I warra youff. And I can't remember what the lager used to be. So I fancied trying a Stella here. And it wa.

Brewdog, Nottingham. Punk IPA (keg). Because I like it. Because I like the bar. Because I was with friends who'd never been and I wanted them to try Punk in a Brewdog bar. They liked it too. We liked the black pudding pork pie even more.

Spanky Van Dykes, Nottingham. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (keg). Because the Tap And Tumbler nearby was busy and looked shit. Because I've never been to a place billed as an "eatery / funhouse" before. Because it was just round the corner from the gig we were going to. Because I was about to order a pint of Aspalls cider and then saw the SNPA.

Rock City, Nottingham. Red Stripe (can). Because I was there to see The Wildhearts. And cans don't smash and lacerate people. And if you're going to a gig that celebrates an album's twentieth anniversary, you may as well drink the same beer that you drank when you first saw them.

So, what does this reveal about my drinking habits?

I guess I'm happy to go with the flow. I guess I'm well past the snob-point of passing on a pint just because I don't think it'll rock my world. I know that beers with friends in places old and new are the canvas onto which you daub your day; they're not the masterpiece to stand back and admire.

And it reveals that ten venues for beer plus a hot, heaving, sweaty, air-punching, pogo-jumping, bruise-inducing, ear-pounding, fuck-yeah gig leave you gagging for nowt more than a pint of iced water when you make it up the hill to the Organ Grinder. Sorry guys, I'll drink twice as much there next time.

That's me, three rows from the front. Credit to the band's manager, Gav McCaughey, for the pic.

"It's my body, and if I choose to abuse it with my lifestyle and my music, what the fuck! I can't lose! It's my life..."


Meat Raffle and the Albert Tatlock Negotiators

"Would you like a ticket for Meat Raffle?"

Good Friday of the Easter Bank Holiday festival at one of my almost-locals, the Holly Bush Inn in Makeney. I'd been drinking steadily for several hours. Thornbridge's imperial IPA, Halcyon, was being spliced into Thornbridge's black IPA, Wild Raven. A cask and keg shotgun marriage.

"Um... pardon?"

"Would you like a ticket for Meat Raffle?"

Meat Raffle? A resurgent grindcore band playing at the pub later on? Or a play maybe, satirising the recent horse-in-food-chain debacle?

"It's a raffle. For meat".

Now, that makes sense.

I remember meat raffles in pubs but hadn't come across one for years. I thought they had gone the same way as the bloke selling cockles late on a Saturday or the Sally Army lady selling War Cry. Although I suspect that they still do the rounds of pubs somewhere.

Do I want a ticket? Hell yeah! The Holly Bush has its meat supplied by Owen Taylor, a quality local butcher.

"It's two pounds a strip. Write your name and phone number on the back. We'll call you if you win".

That's when my five-pint lack of logic kicks in.

"Don't I need a ticket? 

The reply was surprisingly patient.

"No... because you write your name on the back of this one. We keep the ticket, draw a winner and then call you".

IPA clearly leads me into fuzzy logic.

"So how do I know if I've won?"

She's deadpan.

"We call you. You write your phone number on the ticket. Then we can call you".

It finally makes sense to my IPA brain. I buy a strip of tickets and get back to cod-mixology.

And a week later I get a call to say I've won a pack of sirloin steaks. Which made for a cracking Sunday supper.

Apologies to whoever has a phone number similar to mine and took a call about winning a meat raffle. Apparently I didn't write my number down very clearly. After an afternoon of mixing IPA. Funny, that.

As for the Albert Tatlock Negotiators, they're not really relevant to this post but will have at least some tangential bearing to the next one. I just wanted to give them a mention today because I like their name.


In Sainsburys

I shop at Sainsburys. Mainly because it's on my way home. And I'm quite partial to their beer range. Very partial, actually.

It's where I started buying bottled beer in the early nineties - Hobgoblin, Fiddler's Elbow. It's where my lager experimentation phases began - Czech, maybe German, definitely those Taste The Difference four-packs by Meantime (remember those)?

And it's where there are gems that find their way into my fridge today. I'm partial to beers by Fuller's and Adnams so am happy to pick up Bengal Lancer or Broadside. There's the smaller brewers who've won over shelf space thanks to the store's Great British Beer Hunt.

And then there was Brewdog. First listed thanks to the Beer Hunt in 2009 - when Chaos Theory was probably the best bottled beer to ever be sold in a British supermarket - they've gone on to promote Punk as a regular beer, albeit one that gets moved around the shelving. When bombers of Punk (well, 66cl bottles) came into stock, I had me a new fridge beer.

But no longer. And it's the price point that's done it for me. Prices have nudged up. When that 66cl bottle sold for £2.50, it felt competitive. When it was two bottles for £4, it was a steal. Now with that bottle at £2.99 and a 33cl bottle at £1.80 - and no multibuy offers - it feels like a raw deal.

Why? In part, because so many of the other beers appear on the 'three for a fiver' deal. And one of those beer is Goose Island IPA.

I like Goose Island IPA. And the three bottles I picked up tonight are fresh and hoppy and oily and zippy and prickly and, and, and... everything I'd expect a US import on a UK supermarket shelf not to be.

And it's three bottles for a fiver. And it tastes more exciting than Punk.

The bottom shelf of the fridge at Scoop Towers has a new resident beer.


Stella Artois to be cask conditioned

In a bold move to subvert the nascent craft beer market in the UK, Stella Artois is to be relaunched as a cask beer.

Brewed to its original 5.2% ABV and with less maize for fuller flavour, Stella Tonneau will be matured for almost twelve months in casks made from wooden panels ripped out of medieval houses. At least three brewers with ironic facial hair - including one brewster - will be responsible for controlling the maturation process. They will be chained to the casks which are to be buried somewhere underneath a motorway in the Brabant region of Brussels. Or Preston.

An extensive social media campaign, including Facebook, Twitter and direct neural implantation, will begin in late 2013. Entitled "Giving You The Horn", it will involve plenty of slow-motion footage of barley fields. Mainly because slow-motion footage of maize fields isn't quite as interesting.

Spokeswomen Avril Tromper said  "These so-called craft beers just don't have the heritage and upscalability on the forward-sales margins that Stella has. Plus they all taste perfectly adequate but are ultimately bland. According to a focus group we ran in Wandsworth".

The key difference between Stella Tonneau and every other lager relaunch will be the maturation and dispense methods employed. Avril explained. "We have used farms of interns to innovate what we call "Cask Utilising NeoLagering Technology Solutions". We'll license this technology. In future, when you hear of C.U.N.T.S, I hope you'll think of us!"

Stella Tonneau is scheduled for release on April 1st next year.