Friday, 25 May 2018

News In Brief #60

Pontifex = Font effects

CAMRA Pope Grants Indulgences


Due to the current sunny weather, beer drinkers have been found drinking icy cold lager in beer gardens around the country.  Not so the unfortunate members of the Campaign For Real Ale, who have been forced to traipse around provincial town centres looking for brown, weak and flavour-shy beer as part of an ill-advised "Mild Month of May".

Thankfully for these poor people, help is at hand from the top of the organisation itself.  "Let's face it," proclaimed CAMRA Pope Nonextraneous XII "nobody actually likes mild.  Why spend an hour grinding through a pint of watery piss when you could be doing the whole Ice Cold In Alex thing with a pilsner?  Though although we cannot approve the consumption of non-real beer, we at the top of the CAMRA hierarchy have arrived on a solution."

"Simply pay the small sum of two pounds to the local branch treasurer, and he will issue you with a permission slip, signed by me, allowing the member to drink one pint of lager.  If you're seen in a pub supping yellow fizz by other members and chastised for it, simply show them this bit of paper saying that your sin has been noted, but indulged."

Continued His Holiness "Due to this enlightened policy of Indulgences, this heatwave has nearly wiped out last year's budget deficit in our accounts.  Long may it continue!"

Knowing the facts so you don't have to

Craft Brewery Starts News Agency


After a fortnight of rumour-based unpleasantness, London-based brewery Random Brick has decided to take control of its news generations.  "After I read all those tweets and blog posts saying we're gearing up to be taken over by ABInBev, I was incensed!" ranted CEO Damien Fixedgear  "How dare these people have opinions contrary to what we think they should have!"

"So, to counteract this ill-informed nonsense, I've decided to set up the Random Brick News Agency, the funding source for which I will reveal soon.  Using this, we as a company will supply all the bloggers and internet commentators with the real story on what we're doing, which they will publish without amendment."

"And if they deviate from this," shouted Fixedgear "I'll send them a 'Cease & Desist' letter saying they're inviting legal action by potentially harming our business.  That'll teach them to just drink our beer and keep quiet."

Alleged Beer News Site editor and promulgator of stories Curt Mattis of Bud Gear Hunting was nonplussed "We'll go along with this.  As our, like, funding comes from similiar sources, we wouldn't want to jeapordise anything, dudes."

"WARNING - Excessive drinking causes high contrast pictures"


Beer Not Linked To Mental Health Problems, Say Drinkers


In the light of criticism from the inside of the Brewing Industy for it's lack of concern about the potential downsides of alcohol use, habitual pissheads have taken to the internet to say that drinking large amounts of beer in no way has any negative effects on mental health

Bowl food eater and Teku glass slurper Luke Lumberjack-Shirt was indignant about such suggestions "It's not true, man.  I do four or five bar openings and tasting events every day and as a result drink about 50 schooners of 7% craft beer a week.  And I'm, like, absolutely fine.  Those late night tweets about me hating myself and hangover induced apathy the following mornings are entirely normal among people in my sector of the industry,"

Meanwhile, rubicund-complexioned near-permanent tavern resident Bob Barfly also cast doubt on these reports "I've been coming to this pub for years for my daily 4 hour session of 6 pints of bitter.  It's part of my class's culture to socialise here.  In no way am I trying to avoid the emptiness of my home life and distance from my family by self-medicating with intoxicants that result in oblivion.  These so-called researchers know nothing, obviously.  Oh god, that's my wife ringing me now."

Campaigner and general drink-apologist Mudgie Mudgington was shown these reports and muttered something about needing more evidence before coming to conclusions before saying "Oh, look! A kitty!" and running off.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

He Who Plays With Fire

Like most adults my age, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, some with more serious consequences than others.  One mistake I seem to keep making is accidently winding people up on social media.  It could be said that Twitter these days is little but shouting, abuse, trolling and agenda-pushing.  I try and avoid all that, but whereas those things seem to be de rigeur, one thing that seemingly is not allowed is my main mode of operation - irreverence.

Recently, a new beer blogger was asking for advice on how to go about their pastime.  "Beer blogging?" I thought "Do people actually still want to do that these days?  I thought it was all about meeting fellow dudes in awesome places and taking selfies to put on Instagram."  But it appears at least one person still thinks it's a viable thing to do these days.  Of course, I made my usual mistake and gave the facetious advice "Don't do what I did".  You'd think that saying not to piss people off all the time by making fun of them would be sensible advice.  But no.

Well, that was me told.  Maybe it's an autistic thing, but I simply do not get how people read stuff like this into what I say.  Enjoy being what I view as the voice of dissent?  I thought I just wrote what I thought and let people judge me on the basis of that, but the clue here is in the use of word "being".  It implies I'm "acting a role" here, that I've created a persona that allows me to annoy people by being deliberately contrarian.  As anyone who's ever met me will tell you, I express exactly the same opinions in real life as I do online, and in pretty much the same way too.  I don't possess the social wherewithall or energy to pretend to be someone I'm not.

And belittling the careers of her friends?  Well, I'm not exactly sure who said "friends" she refers to are, but I can take a good guess - the Awesome Dude Blog Brigade whom I regularly make fun of.  They're an easy target, admittedly, what with their view that anyone saying something in the beer world is less than rosy is being treasonous by "doing the industry down", and their marked preference for pressing emotional buttons over reporting facts.  But "belittling"?  They seem to be doing quite well to me, and I assume their blogs get far more hits than this farrago of nonsense does.  If the ADBB feel threatened by anything I say here, it says more about them than me.

After all, this isn't really about blogging in the old sense.  Eighteen years ago, when I started, everything in the blogosphere was metaphorically all fields.  People started them because they were interested in stuff and wanted to share their views and connect with other people.  But now, it's all become very careerist - the thing on display isn't the blog's subject or even the views expressed therein.  No, the product is the blogger themselves.  "Look at me! I can both network and compose coherent sentences! Hire me for paid gigs!".

And that's why they don't like irreverence.  People's futures are being "risked" by a subject being seen to be less than serious.  Anyone who doesn't take things seriously must be dismissed out of hand lest they say something other than the accepted truth of the hive mind.  And that's why I end up upsetting people, usually by accident.

I think I may have finally learned the lesson here - Do Not Engage The Awesome.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Gary Come Home

GARY!
As someone who is well known for working for a supermarket, I'm often called upon (not exactly "called upon", but that never stops me sticking in my oar on these matters) to explain and elucidate decisions made by the industry.  Whether it's the regular lack of 1 pint semi-skimmed at Stockport Morrisons on a Sunday, or the reasons why minimum-wage shop floor staff aren't trained up to be Awesome Beer Sommeliers, I generally can explain why.  It always amuses me how many people have strange ideas about how a supermarket works, or how their knowledge of retail process is stuck in the 20th Century.

Now that craft beer is expanding into domains where it was previously unknown, beer geeks are finding that sometimes, they will get a can or bottle that tastes past its best.  It could have been sent in short dated and not picked up; it could have been poorly stored in the distribution chain; or it could even been a duff batch to begin with.  Either way, the shop takes the blame, and standard practice is to refund and replace.  That usually satisfies the majority of customers.  But now there's Social Media, and every dodgy can or bottle can be indignantly exposed for the attention of the like-minded.

A few days ago, one tweeter decided to take Big Retail to task about why beer should be refrigerated in the distribution cold chain and at point of sale. Somewhat unwisely, a Sainsbury's social media dude replied to them.

Oh dear.  Had Gary known anything about beer fandom on social media, there's no way he'd have said this.  Throughout the day, enraged beer types dogpiled the Sainsbury's Twitter account.  As often observed, one of the less attractive aspects of Craft Beer Types is their tendency to berate and insult people who disagree with them on a point of principle.  I wonder what the discussions were like that day within the Sainsbury's social media team? Poor Gary.

Amidst this unedifying spectacle, it was pointed out by several people (me included), that Gary (if he even exists at all, and isn't a product of personalisation software used by an outsourced PR company) is unlikely to be a beer geek and is probably unaware of the benefits that refrigeration provides for craft beer.  It's behaviour like this that gives fans of all things a bad name.

I'm closer to the shop floor realities of retail than Gary is, and I can explain why supermarkets don't, as a rule, chill their entire beer supply and display chain.  As stated above, this might be a revelation to those who don't work in my industry.

Let's look at the basic requirements, the fridges themselves.  A quick Google will give you some prices.  Here's a basic overview of the category.  If I took the shop I work in, just to buy the display fridges for our craft beer alone would cost in the region of £4000.  We'd also need additional chiller space in the warehouse to store the back stock.  Then we'd have to get them connected up, probably to somewhere where the pipes and wires aren't located (so more money spent there) requiring an overnight team of engineers for several days.  That's the fixed costs done, we'll say £12,000 as a conservative estimate, guv.  More stuff would mean more fees paid to our maintenance contractors.  And that's not even counting the electricity and gas required to keep the fridges running 24-7, 365 days a year.  Multiply that by how ever many stores you think a supermarket chain has and you get the idea of the spend required.

At the logistics level, the 200 lines of craft beer we do would have to be moved to our Fresh Food department, possibly requiring another unit to be built, but certainly more chillers would be needed to keep them cold.  For the deliveries from distributors who sell us both craft and "regular" beer, someone would have to separate them out by category and have the craft transported up the road to Fresh, where it would have be unloaded into its requisite picking slots.  Then the staff would have to be trained on handling beer and its dating idiosyncrasies.  This would likely cost in low six figures to achieve this.

And that would be for a small chain such as mine.  Can you imagine doing it for Sainsbury's with more lines, more stock and multiple distribution centres.  It would cost millions of pounds. And all to keep a few thousand internet beer geeks happy that their DIPA has been kept at 5 celsius from producer to display.   Have you read the headlines about retail performance recently?  Do you honestly think a supermarket chain would pony up that amount of cash to benefit such a small customer segment.  Do you?

In a way, the nerds are right.  Many beers would benefit from cold chain refrigeration.  But don't expect it to happen unless they're willing to pay an extra 50p a unit for their supermarket craft.  Well, they've been saying for years that beer is too cheap, right?





Wednesday, 21 March 2018

That's A Can Do?


As many of you know, when I'm not pissing people off on Twitter or rapidly depleting Preston's supply of beer, I work in a shop.  You may or may not have heard of it, but it's reasonably well known in "beer circles" for its above-average range of beer (though I recall signing a bit of paper a few years back promising I wouldn't reveal online who they are).

Among my many duties, I'm the person responsible for my branch's range compliance, which (if nothing else) means I get to see what the shop will be stocking in the near future before the public does.  Over the last few years, this has consisted to me trying to fit in yet another line of beer that the Buyers have deemed we have to stock and rearranging the shelves as result (brewers - do you have to put your cans in cases of 24?).

Since Christmas it seems to have changed a bit.  Somebody somewhere has decided that 150 lines of craft beer is too many to justify, given the sales of 75% of the range isn't the best.  I already knew this, as I'm in charge of the date checking, and with a lot of them we only managed to sell about half the case before we had to mark them down.  Not helped, of course, by getting stuff with only 6 weeks shelf life on them.  Yes, I'm looking at you Camden and Five Points.  So, over the space of a fortnight, a quarter of the Craft range was discontinued.

Eighteen months ago, "Craft Cans" were a big thing, and any old stuff seemed to sell if it was packaged in aluminium.  But from what I can see, apart from the "usual suspects" (BrewDog, Beavertown, Magic Rock), they don't seem to be doing anywhere near as well as they used to.

Part of this is due to peculiar ranging decisions.  I'm sure the people behind US Breweries such as Crazy Mountain and Two Roads are Awesome Dudes, and Camden's beers are just as "good" as they were before AB-Inbev took them over, but are they really what today's forward-looking and novelty-hungry craft consumer is looking for?

Far too many Craft Breweries seem to do a very similar range of packaged beers.  Our buyer's tactic was to list the IPA, the Pale Ale and the Pilsner from each as we got them.  And, yes, if you tasted them back-to-back, you could probably discern some differences.  But what of the customers who have heard of "craft beer" and merely want to to try it?  What do they think when faced with 10 shelves of seemingly similar products?  Probably something along the lines of  - "Well, at least I've heard of BrewDog.  Punk IPA it is."

What with the well-reported news this week, it's probably dawning on people that are there are too many breweries turning out too much of the same stuff over and over.  What with only being able to tell a lot of them apart by their graphic design choices, it's easy to get get left behind when new stuff comes along, all Beer-Communicated and Social-Media'd.

Me? I've pretty much given up trying to follow it all.  Mine's an Oakham Green Devil, thanks.


Friday, 9 February 2018

When Did It Stop Being Fun?


Prompted by the tweets above, the last few days I've been pondering, well, what the bloody hell happened to the online beer world while I was "away" (he typed euphemistically).  They're right.  It isn't as much fun as it used to be.  This has been a common theme on this blog for many years - I originally started it up nearly 5 years ago because I thought everything was too serious. 

Sadly, despite my (and a few others) best efforts, the Serious Business of the online beer world rumbles slowly uphill.  A major reason is the increased Professionalism on social media.  Whereas once my Twitter feed would be dominated by people having a joke and a laugh about various beers, the brewers, the pubs and the other people online, now it's about Promotion.  There's THIS event going on somewhere; there will be SOMEONE there and there will be a PARTICULAR beer to drink there. 

This, of course, is SERIOUS stuff.  This is someone's livelihood here, and social media is a way to get the word and the personal brand out.  That's all well and good - everyone needs money to live.  But for those who go onto social media to unwind and be irreverent, the constant in-your-face plugs can be wearing.  

I'm even seeing the odd "blue tick" on the more famous Beer People's accounts.  For those who don't know, a blue tick is displayed by holders of "authorised" accounts.  And for those who have one, they can use Twitter to simply not display anything from "non-authorised" accounts, thus becoming an echo-chamber of the Awesome to which the plebs are not admitted.

Such things divide the once relatively easy-going world of Online Beer into tribes.  THERE are the Brewers, THERE are the Beer Communicators and Authors, THERE are the Pub Bloggers and THERE, god help them, are the drinkers.  The occasional flaming arrow will be fired from one camp to another when someone gets irritated or upset, but mostly the tribes keep to themselves.

It's sad.  But it's a testament to the fact that social media has done far more to divide people than it's done to bring them together.

Friday, 12 January 2018

On Autism & People (Part 2 of 2)

(Part 1 here)

So, if my life and experiences are as I described in Part 1, then why do I do what I do?  Or, more specifically, the way I do it?

Blogging and Twitter are easy, and as such I've been doing them a long time. I sit alone and type. Easy, right?  Whereas sometimes the consequences of what I've written can be difficult, the actual act of getting the stuff out there isn't.  This is a way for me to put my point of view across, and if it wasn't there I doubt I would be able to do it.  This is where the stereotype of the "angry autistic" comes from - the inability to get what you think and feel across to other people. It builds and builds until it gets to the point where you explode in rage.  Even though I'm diagnosed as being more "high-functioning" (as the literature puts it), this does happen to me on occasion, though I usually try my best to remove myself from the situation before it becomes noticeable.  But in the main, I do very well at this, even though it may not come across that way.

Beer-related events I do fewer than I used to, mainly due to the energy required to do so.  Whereas most people, when put into a noisy and crowded situation with no obvious direction, can simply filter out the "unwanted" stuff and concentrate on the matter at hand, I can't do that.  I have to manually process everything around me, try to push the "unwanted" stuff to the back of my mind (where it still is, trying to get out), and work out what I'm supposed to do.  It's sometimes taken me half-an-hour just to get inside a building where an event is taking place. And once I'm inside, the whole process has to start again.

I know that some of you have seen me and introduced yourselves to me at various Beer Fests over the years (and let's face it, with how I usually dress I'm easy enough to spot).  Many people have seemed nonplussed when I look startled as they introduce themselves to me. This is because I'm still in the "processing" stage of trying to orient myself to the surroundings and I've just been given something unexpected to deal with in addition to this.  My conversational skills are not great in the most ideal of circumstances, so it's unlikely anyone's going to get a great deal from me.  I've been told that people are wary of me due to my "beer blogging's greatest monster" reputation and are surprised when I'm more anxious and less obnoxious than they've been lead to believe. All I can say is that, usually, things are rarely what people expect them to be.

I will never be able to be part of a "gang" or a "scene" or group of beer people charming their way into recognition and "fame" (such as it is in the beer world).  Networking isn't something I'm able to do, and this has probably hindered any progress I've made over the last 5 years or so.  I have to work with what I have.  And what I do have is the ability to see things in a different way to most people.

My autistic brain has no time for what it sees as "irrelevant" social details.  Whereas this can make me appear clumsy and rude, I can usually size people up fairly quickly, if for no other reason than they can't use their "preprogrammed" social interactions on me.  This, as you'd expect, has led me to feel a certain degree of cynicism about the human race. More specifically, about the massive gap between what people say they want and do, and what they do in reality.  Such is the mindset of the chronic piss-taker, and as such explains 80% of this blog.

Whereas I don't like arguments and conflict, I have no problem speaking my mind.  As someone who had great trouble communicating as a child and teenager, I now have a way to do it.  I would never wish my early life on anybody, but it has given me a certain set of skills in dealing with life.  Even if they seem bizarre or baffling to anyone else.

So, this is what being autistic is like for me.  I wouldn't dream of speaking for anyone else as all experiences are unique. But for all those who think I'm a "nutter", a "flake" or a "complete prick", this is why.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

On Autism & People (Part 1 of 2)


In my initial preparation for this post, I asked around on Twitter about what people's perception of Autism Spectrum Disorders was.  Based on the answers I got, it seems to be either Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, or cute little kids lining up coloured objects on the floor.  Not exactly accurate depictions, but at least people seem to have moved on from the whole Rain Man stereotype.

I'd say it's reasonably common knowledge to those who know me online that I've been diagnosed with an ASD (fairly late in my case, at 32 back in 2008).  Some have even sought to ascribe my alleged "dick" behaviour on it.  I'm not aware of having made such claims for myself - I may say and do things that others may not like, but I've never sought to "blame" it on Autism.

But obviously having an ASD does affect my life in some ways - so what are they?

I do prefer to spend a lot of my time alone. Dealing with people is awkward for me.  I'm better at it than I was twenty years ago, but there's an awful lot I'm still unable to understand.  It's not easy having to slowly and painfully work out the rules of social interaction as an adult that most people have completely mastered by the age of nine.  And I still get a lot wrong even now.

I learned long ago that saying the first thing you think of in reply to someone is usually a bad idea.  And having had many bad reactions from people having done this, I've learned a full range of facial expressions that (hopefully) are less likely to annoy and upset people.  I'm aware that this can make conversation with me unsatisfying, but believe me it's far easier than the alternative.

The pub is the ideal place to interact with people for me.  I barely know most of the people in them, and as such they have few expectations of me.  I've always found that if you get too close, people start telling you things about them that you'd rather not know.  One major characteristic of ASDs is an inability to deal with emotions in a "typical" way, and, although I know I should be expressing something emotional, I'm very rarely able to do it.  This presents more awkwardness as people think I'm ignorant or cold when I don't react in the way they expect me to.  So I avoid these things where ever possible. "Don't get involved" is my axiom.

Of course, contrary to popular perception, those with ASDs do have emotions.  We may not be able to deal with them "properly", but we do have them.  As a child, these mostly manifested themselves for me as temper tantrums, which got me a certain reputation at school and at home.  Looking back, a lot of these things were classic autistic behaviour, but children were rarely tested for ASDs in the 1980s.  I have a better handle on emotions now (as I should at 42), but there are still things that set me off.  The main one for me is being ignored, or unjustly accused of things.  I always react badly to that, which, after much thought on the matter, stems from my childhood where such things happened all to frequently.  That's caused me a lot of grief in the past, and has led me to falling out with people and refusing to go to places that have "wronged" me in some way.

If only I could handle stuff better, I often think to myself, these things wouldn't happen.  But, unfortunately, that's not the brain I've been given.  As many people with ASDs will say, Autism itself is not the problem - it's how the world reacts to it that's difficult.  In a social milieu that expects demonstrable empathy, expected reactions and mutual acknowledgement, being autistic is always going to be difficult.  But not blaming those with an ASD for not reacting in "expected" ways would be a start.