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.

Friday, 22 December 2017

The Lizards Year In Review

Shady's Back 
Yes, I know it seems peculiar to review 2017 in a blog that has only had three posts this year. But bear with me. I know this blog was on "hiatus" between January and December, but as those who know me know, I've not exactly been completely inactive.

After several bad experiences last year with beer blogging types, all of whom proclaim themselves as 'good people', I took them to task by bashing this post out in under an hour. I wasn't exactly 'shaking with rage' (as one infamous blogger would put it), but I was certainly pissed off.  I left it up for a few days without saying anything, just to check with a few people that I wasn't being oversensitive or just deeply unfair.  They reassured me I wasn't.  So I posted the link on Twitter.

Well, 1200 page views in under two hours indicated to me that it got a reaction.  I had to turn my phone to silent, as the people at work wondered why it was making so many "alert" sounds.  Most amusing were the replies insinuating the people whose unedifying behaviour I was criticising would be taking me to court for libel. 10 months on, legal action has yet to emerge.

After that, I laid low for a few weeks. Even the beer world's "top satirist" and evil monster needs a rest from opprobrium for a while.  I dabbled a bit with a new blog, Drinkin' The Evil Keg, a sort of A-Z of beer, pubs and what goes on in them. It petered out over the summer, due to my usual interesting times that happen during that season. Maybe I'll go back to it one day. Who knows?

More significant for me was EvilKegText.  The story behind this was unusual, even for me.  I'd discovered the blog of former Teletext-type and current kids TV writer Paul Rose, and thought  "Why not do a Beer blog in the style of Digitiser, with fake ads, silly characters and other nonsense?".

I duly found a Windows Teletext editor and set about doing so. Luckily, I'd already been trained to create Teletext pages at school, albeit 26 years ago, so I knew what the medium could and could not do. It made for quick and easy updating, anyway. Apart the from the graphics, where you have to personally select every pixel.
No pinnipeds were harmed, but not sure about Craft Brewers 

Again, this ground to a halt. Personally, I blame the lack of news to make fun of in the Autumn. But it was obvious that some people weren't fans of me because of it. One brewery director took to her business Twitter account to call me a "fucking prick" because I mocked one of her friends.  Another prominent beer blogger gave me grief on Twitter, saying I should be grateful one of my targets was understanding enough not to sue me. Yawn. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Guess who

Naturally, I immediately did pages mocking them.  I may not do the fights and arguments that a lot people spend time engaging in on Twitter.   But don't expect me to keep quiet and simply take whatever's thrown at me.

Eventually, the tide of idiocy and smug, self-regarding narcissistic nonsense in Beer fandom proved to much for even this semi-retired piss-taker to endure. So, one day, I sat down in the pub and wrote my 59th "News In Brief".  I mean, I had to.  If you'd seen the same as I had, you'd do the same. Wouldn't you?

As the song goes -

Guess who's back
Back again 
Shady's Back
Tell a friend

Saturday, 9 December 2017

News in Brief #59

Gunboat diplomacy? BEERMAT diplomacy is 21st Century

Spoons Boss Enters Brexit Negotiations

Representatives from the European Union were suprised this week when, sitting down to the table for discussions on the UK's imminent departure, they were confronted not by David Davis and Theresa May, but by Wetherspoons CEO and mullet-projector Timbo Martin. "As a major employer, who is better qualified than me to conduct these talks?"

"They wanted to open preliminaries on the Northern Irish border," yelled Timbo  "but I showed them I meant business by simply putting a big pile of my beer mats in front of them. Read these,  I told him, and said I wasn't budging on any of my positions."

"I told them I wanted the flow of cheap food and cheap workers to continue, but I want no interference on anything else.  I could tell by the shocked looks on their faces that they knew I was right. That's how to do it, I told the politicians. I learned how do that dealing with local councils."

Chief EU negotiator Michael Barnier said "We listened to Mr. Martin and will consider his suggestions with all the seriousness they deserve."

The talks continue.
Money well spent

CAMRA Circles Reveal All

After the recent financial embarrassments at The Campaign for Real Ale, we have asked the ultimate insiders for their views on these matters - the CAMRA branding circles.

"We've heard a few things, yeah." said Large Circle "But we have been rather busy what with having to appear on the Good Beer Guide, the local mags and 190,000 membership cards."

Small Circle chimed in "We're quite well remunerated as we appear everywhere with CAMRA these days. Some within the organisation have questioned why we were needed for a major rebranding when they're struggling for money. But, hey, we keep being paid."

"The most important thing about CAMRA now is the logos and the constant reorganisation," continued Big Circle "Real Ale can look after itself, we're sure."

CAMRA head Colin Valentine was unavailable for comment as he was busy packing up his desk toys.

Acceptable methods, dudes

Bud Gear Hunting Reveal Journalistic  Methods

Much-maligned beer website and certainly-not-paid-for-by-big-beer thing Bud Gear Hunting has told a rapt audience how it goes about it's business.  "Lots of people think we just wibble on about how awesome beer is and all that," retorted BGH UK editor Curt Mattis to a packed conference hall "but there's far more to it than that."

"For example, one of my duties as UK editor is to scour the news sites and see if any journo is, like, going 'off-message' about all the stuff we're promoting."

"Say someone at the Morning Advertiser implies he brought up the problem of Sexism in the Beer industry first," explained Curty "when it was, like, us, obviously.  Then we make sure we get all our Twitter fans to dogpile him, force him into an apology and hound him off social media. These things are IMPORTANT, dude."

Asked if this could be construed as bullying by the people concerned,  Mattis replied "No. Bullying isn't a problem in the beer world."

"Beer people are, as I always say, GOOD PEOPLE."

Friday, 27 January 2017


Average sexist pumpclip, yesterday

What with Donald Trump being elected US President, sexism is in the news. Apparently,  Mr. Trump is not as progressive on consent issues as most people would like him to be. In fact, he's been quoted as saying that you can "grab some pussy", and "they'll let you do it if you're famous." As Victor Lewis-Smith would say, oh dear.

Over the last few days, the searingly honest Mark Johnson of Beer Compurgation has written a couple of blog posts about Sexism in the Beer World and how it's implicitly condoned by lack of contrary comment by a lot of the people involved. He's angry, and he has every right to be given his recent experiences. Whether calling out those responsible will change anything is another matter altogether. 

Sexism is problem in society in general, not just in the beer world. The Beer World (unfortunately) is a "boys club" and casual sexism, such as dodgy names and pumpclips, is allowed through without demur as the people in question don't see the problem. You can pretty much write off the generation that grew up in the 60s/70s/80s as they're products of a much more openly sexist age. The best you can hope for is to shame them into not behaving badly in public (this is probably what happened to Johnson at MBCF - people with sexist views considering a Beer Festival a "safe" place to say what they like and do as they please).

You can educate the younger generation of men not to do this by reasoning, but the problem with them is they grew in a time where porn (which demands women are treated as objects) is all too easily accessed by young minds incapable of dealing with it critically. Alas, again all you can really hope for is they don't express sexist views or behaviour in public.

So, no, I don't hold out a great deal of hope for the XY-chromosoned section of humanity changing any time soon, but I wish Mr. Johnson every success in his attempts.