Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Point Of CAMRA

I've been wondering about this for some time.

RedNev writes here that beer festivals, and especially CAMRA ones, are entering a new age of commerciality what with their charging a £7 entry fee and going to online ticket selling.  While this begs the question what the funds raised by this, and more to the point any surplus after venue fees and beer cost, go towards, I've been asking myself recently : What is CAMRA FOR in 2013.

The 1970s battle has been won.  Real Ale has been saved, and there are now hundred of breweries in the UK making it; <checks watch> possibly even thousands by now.  Though certain CAMRA branches (mine included) still believe big brewers want to rip out all the handpumps and make us all drink Watney's Red Barrel again, I don't think this will happen somehow.

In my experience, there is a certain suspicion amongst licensees about CAMRA's members' motives.  In another town (and another branch), one landlord said to me "Oh, you're in CAMRA, are you?",  and tried to get me to vote for his pub at the next committee meeting.  "The bastards only vote for <pub name removed>, as they give them the biggest discount.", he complained.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that even if I did have any influence with the Beard Club, I certainly didn't have any round here.  I was told similar things by other landlords in the same town, such as "They whinge about pub closing, but all they want is money off their next pint."

It could be that, for the vast majority of members, the discount is the main reason for joining CAMRA. What percentage of the membership is involved in actual "campaigning", rather than thinking of it as a money-off club with a free quarterly magazine?  My guess is in single figures.  CAMRA publicity material flaunts its 150,000 strong cohort, but usually only uses it as a tool to gain influence.  "Look at how many of us there are supporting real ale", it seems to say, despite the fact that few of them do more than simply buying it.

Maybe CAMRA should change its emphasis to supporting the suffering pub trade, or providing a voice against the increasing demonisation of public alcohol consumption.  If it doesn't find a distinct role, it could become an increasing irrelevance, populated by a silent membership whose sole reason for joining is the Wetherspoons tokens.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Roaming Through Mudgie Land

No, I've not been to Stockport, amazing tourist-haven it no doubt is.  But prompted by the Pub Curmudgeon's post on The Beer Bubble, I made a decision last week.  "Well, I suppose I could," I thought "sit here in my usual seat at the local Crafty bar, begging Jeremy the Manager to order that Rhubarb Porter or Limoncello-cask IPA I've read about on Twitter.  But no, I will go and visit these family brewery owned pubs Mudgie likes so much.  Yes, Surely Mudgie would approve".

And so I left my pint of Great Heck Black Jesus and headed off to the bus stop, where the Number 41 to Preston was boarded and soon (well, later - all things are relative in Wyresdale) dropped me off at Garstang.
Royal Oak, Garstang
Somewhat surprisingly (to me, anyway) the Royal Oak was packed, despite the fact the only cask on was Robinsons.  I ordered a pint of Unicorn and pondered why there were so many people in here when Garstang has eight other pubs. Then I remembered that this is indeed Garstang, and the 4000 people who live there have precious little else to do.   Everyone must have been fairly well oiled, as my paisley shirt attracted no comment, and judging by the average age of the clientele, I doubt the brewery considered this as one of their sites to launch Trooper a few months back. Though I am probably related to most of them as half my family are buried in a nearby churchyard.

I woke up the following day, still with the taste of Robbie's yeast in my mouth.  I decided to forget about Lancashire for day and travel to Southport.
Imperial Hotel, Southport
Amusingly, the bus passed a few pubs to save me looking.  I spied the Imperial Hotel and decided to have to look.  Now, this is a Holt's pub, from the makers of the cheapest beer outside Tadcaster, so I was expecting a dubious, time-forgotten dump like many Northern Sam Smith's houses.  Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be bright, airy and spacious.  The staff were identically turned out in half-done-up red ties.  I guessed this was one of those "food-led" places.  I ordered a pint of Holt's IPA, which may have even seen a hop sometime during its brewing, but of that I'm uncertain.   Despite Joey's tightwad reputation, this was a place that Peter Kershaw's old rackets partner Colin Cowdrey would not be ashamed to be seen in.  Shame about the beer, but you can't have everything.  I consoled myself with some silly craft beer bought at The Inn Beer Shop.

After waking up tired and thirsty from the unwisely-purchased Delirium Tremens, I decided to console myself with familiarity.  Lancaster it was.  So, off again up the A6 to the city of the one-way road.  I ignored all the Thwaites pubs, as watching Wainwright dominate the world is getting depressing.  Thankfully, there's a Hydes pub towards the railway station.
Robert Gillow, Lancaster
I went into the Robert Gillow, and when my pupils had opened wide enough for me to be able to see, I discerned the pump for Hydes Original and ordered one.  Hydes beer always makes me think there's only one strain of yeast in Manchester that all the breweries use to make sure all the bitter tastes the same so as not to scare people.  I somewhat doubted that the Hydes was the reason people came here, as the fridges were full of the beers the Crafties love.  I had also arrived smack in the middle of a music festival for which it had acquired a 24-hour licence.  Someone was trying to set up a theremin in the corner.  Well, full marks for novelty at least, I thought.  Though whether the players sense of pitch would have been good after the Laphroaig I saw them drinking was another thing.  I ordered a Quarter Cask in sympathy, and downed it and left before they finally got the bloody thing working.

So, in the end, I ended up back at the local craft bar, drinking again Black Jesus.  And as the comforting darkness of both the beer and rapidly impending intoxication seeped into my brain, I cogitated on what I learned from my adventures.  For one thing, just because a pub is owned by a family brewery, it does not mean that it's necessarily a traditional pub.   And a lot of Manchester regional brewed beer is not really to my taste.  But the journey is always more important than the destination.

And Jeremy, when are you getting that Rhubarb Porter?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Session #80 - Is Craft Beer A Bubble?

The hit-garnering antics of the The Session continue with the latest entry - Is Craft Beer A Bubble?

While this does conjure up some amusing images, I presume they mean the possibility that 'craft beer' is, at the moment, fashionable but may not be so forever.

At the moment, it seems that every man and his ironically-bearded dog are starting their own craft brewery, while pubs are disappearing from the UK like Rolf Harris's future career.  The question is, at what point in the future will these events meet in the middle?  Will there one day even be more breweries than actual pubs?

Craft beer is, of course, a growing industry.  To whom it is growing to is another thing. A look at the list of BrewDog's bars is a good indicator as any where it's most popular at the moment.  In the main, these are urban enclaves with a reasonably large amount of fashion-conscious and wealthy young people. And Nottingham.  I went to BrewDog Camden myself a couple of months back, and it was certainly busy for a Sunday evening.  I was probably also one of the oldest people there.  I am 37.
The Craft Beer Bubble claims another victim
Craft Beer, at the moment, is aimed and priced at a certain type of consumer.  Presumably the rest prefer or are seen to prefer swigging their Boring Brown Beer or CorporoCarbonated lager-type beverages.  You will struggle to find Craft in any town that isn't fashionable.  I doubt there will ever be a BrewDog Stoke or a BrewDog Barnsley.  Even Lancaster, a city with a major university, only has two places that can reasonably be described as "Craft Beer Bars".

What happens to Craft Beer after this is anyone's guess.  Apparently, Wetherspoon's are starting to stock Craft.  This is an interesting move, and we'll have to wait and see if it expands.  It could be that regular drinkers are desperate for something better than John Smith's or Becks.  Or, on the other hand, they could be quite content with their regular drinks and see Craft Beer as poncy and pretentious.

As Zhou Enlai said about the consequences of The French Revolution, it is too early to tell.  I can't see a major brewery elimination disaster, as surely the crappy economy of the UK would have finished a lot off already had things been that bad.  Beer volumes are of course declining, but perhaps the profitability of what beer is sold is increasing?  Who knows.

The Crafties will always have their Craft.  It remains to be seen if anyone else wants it.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Solving the Pub Crisis

Average Preston student pub, yesterday

Reading the latest issue of the local CAMRA magazine this week, it seems they have a new columnist.  Well, I thought, at least it'll mean less words devoted to the evils of "Zombeers".  When I actually read it, though, it was by a "Former Leisure Industry Consultant" giving his views on how to turn the ever-declining pub industry around.  One pub in Warrington, apparently, has opened its doors as a drop-in centre for young mothers and their children.  I imagined one well-known blogger choking on his pint of Unicorn if that ever happened in Stockport.

My own personal plan, as is ever the case with me, is idiosyncratic.  I came up with it after reading about the tribulations of Freshers' Week, an event where millions of young people leave their homes and move to another part of the country to live with strangers and gain a degree.

But I say, bollocks to all that.  If we want to save the pubs, I recommend a different course.  Instead of loaning 18-year-olds £5000 a year for course fees and accommodation just so they can "study" to get a lower second in Klingon Studies or Applied Playground Management, I say give them a bedsit and £5000 in state-issued pub vouchers, redeemable at any building with a premises license for on-site consumption.

Imagine - the pubs would be full of young people enjoying themselves during the day, rather than empty but for a couple of miserable old codgers quoting the Daily Mail.  Not only that, but the kids themselves would be socialising freely instead of pretending to read and underline passages in textbooks about the literary history of Faerie.  Which would at least be honest.

I say get rid of the pretence of education, and have more drinking and socialising.  It really would be the "best time of your life" then.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Plebs Cannot Be Trusted

An average working class house yesterday
Alcohol brands pervade football broadcasts, apparently, according to a new study.  Booze companies, sponsor tournaments, put signs up by the pitch, even get the commentators to mention their brands.  This increases acceptability of alcohol and creates costly problems as people buy lager and get drunk on it.  Children will even be tempted to try it.  The horror.  So researchers have revealed at the British Science Festival, anyway.

Notwithstanding the picture on the website with children messing with tomato ketchup - surely that would make such a high-sugar, high-salt food acceptable to kiddy palates- you only have to look at the list of sponsors to doubt their motives.  General Electric - a major polluter and designer of the infamous reactors involves in the Fukashima Disaster; AzkoNobel, just your average toxic chemical manufacturer; and Saudi Aramco, a state-owned oil company. Nothing untoward, of course, being made normal and acceptable here.

The attack on Beer Sponsorship by these researchers is, as always, the result of middle class snobbery.  The working man will see Man United or Chelsea in an FA Cup game on TV, and will go out and buy cases of the promoted product (in this case Budweiser), proceed to get hammered and beat up his wife and kids.  This is because he is stupid, and does not know any better.   Nice middle class people do not drink lager.  They have a single glass of wine with their dinner and of course never have any problems with alcohol whatsoever.  There is always the assumption that the uneducated will see a single beer advert, and become alcoholics as a result.

(Advertisers see it much the same way.  Macrolager sponsors Football, the most watched sport in the country.  More middle class sports are given cash by financial companies offering esoteric services to the rich.  Had you heard of Investec before the 2013 Ashes series? I hadn't.)

The Portman Group were actually quoted in the BBC article as saying "National trends around alcohol consumption are encouraging. Government figures show that fewer and fewer children are even trying alcohol and the number of adults that drink to harmful levels is also falling."  The evidence suggests this is, in fact, true.  But the paper's authors insist "We believe a similar restriction to that imposed on tobacco products may be justified."

I will be blunt here.  Even taking away the whole personal responsibility angle, there is a difference between alcohol and tobacco.  Tobacco, when used typically, shortens life and impacts health.  Alcohol, when used typically, does not.   So, why treat them the same?  Simply because the upper and middle classes do not like the workers enjoying themselves when they could be being more productive - ie. serving the economic interests of their betters.  All that time and money spent in the pub or on Carling slabs could be spent working or saving.

I can't see Prohibition coming (history shows it doesn't really work), but I can see an awful lot of people's pleasures being curtailed

Thursday, 5 September 2013

What No Evil Keg Bitter?

A thought occurred to me while engaging in my latest heavy drinking session at The Tap House.  It's the age of Craft Beer, right?  That much we know.  We have it all, it seems.  Craft keg IPAs, craft keg pale ales, craft keg stouts etc. etc.

But there's one thing we don't seem to have.  Craft keg session bitter.

There does seem to be a few reasons for this.  A big one is the defeated spectre of Watney's Red Barrel, the infamous keg bitter from the 60s and 70s.  A drink so vile, that the legendary Jimmy Anstruther put it on the same level as crypto-Trotskyists, papist rapists and Chinese restaurants.

There is also the antipathy of the Crafties towards the "boring brown bitter" that the Beards drink.  Seen as having no discernable flavour, the Kernels and Partizans of this world would be extremely wary in making a beer that their hipster clientele is unlikely to even try, never mind consume in any quantity.

So, since the two major tribes of BeerWorld will never try a keg bitter, that must be the reason one has never been made.  Or, at least, not one that I have ever seen.

But I say - Why not?  Surely if these innovative, cutting-edge Craft Beer brewers are as skilled as they claim, then could they not make a palatable keg bitter?  Would this not be the supreme test of beer making skill, since apparently any idiot can chuck in kilos of hops and chill it down to 4 degrees Celsius?

Come on you Crafties - take up my challenge.  I will be first person at the font to try it should you do so...

Monday, 2 September 2013

Everything Ends Eventually

"Oh, you haven't heard? Mick's died."

To be honest, it wasn't a great surprise. Mick was 30 stone and could barely walk from the bus stops next to his two favoured pubs.  He heaved himself in, drank 2 pints of Bomber, hauled himself to the pub up the road, then came back, had another two pints of Bomber, paid off his tab and went home. Mick did this every night. If he was ever later than expected, his fellow regulars wondered aloud if he'd died.

Then one day it happened. Found in his bed, apparently. Nobody inquired about the cause of death.


There are many things people believe about pubs that, if they were ever true, are no longer. One of the major myths is that of the local pub, where a man has his first ever drink bought by his dad or grandad, where he spends his beer career, and where they eventually toast him over his coffin at his funeral wake.

It probably persists due to the depiction of pubs in soap operas. Walford and Weatherfield seem only to have one real pub, to which everyone goes. This isn't a reflection of reality, just a device to get certain characters into a place together that the narrative wouldn't generally have them. In reality, a twenty something would never drink in the same place as Emily Bishop or Norris Cole.

Nothing is forever these days. Pubs close, get revamped, licences and policies change. Pub companies change a pub to a new 'format' to attract the 'more affluent customer'. A few places will have the same landlord and decor for decades (I'm looking at one of those across the road from me as I type), but they are few and far between.

I myself have had several 'locals', none of which I stayed at for over a year.


I looked at my pint of Kirkby Lonsdale Ruskin's. It looked right. But I'd had it before and knew it didn't taste like balsamic vinegar previously. I returned it, and the barman agreed with me and gave me a free pint of York Guzzler. He didn't turn the pumpclip around. Orders of the management. Had to get rid of the previous regime's beer, you see. I thought, if that's your policy, I don't need to come here again. Miles out of my way anyway, even if the pool table was really cheap.

My sister was barred after expressing her views about the place within the landlady's earshot. She was a fat cow anyway and her husband was a knob. Apparently.


I tried the local where I lived. Newcastle Under Lyme had plenty of pubs. There were five within five minutes walk of my house, but this was the nearest. It was a Bass pub, though I can't remember if they served Bass.

I had a day off. I went in and ordered a Stella. I had about 5 in the end. Followed with a double JD which I downed in one. Hell, if pubs had more customers like me, they wouldn't close. Not that my dubious alcohol consumption did this place any good.

I moved from Newcastle Under Lyme in 2007. I went back to visit my brother 4 years later. "Ah," I thought as I approached the area on the bus "I wonder how that old pub is doing?".

The bus passed, and I couldn't see it. For good reason, as it had been demolished. Punch Taverns reckoned it didn't pay it's way. I went by it recently, and nothing had been built upon the vacant land. Such is the way of pub companies.


We have a listed pub in Preston. Apparently unchanged since it opened as a hotel in the 1890s, it has one of only 17 original semicircular ceramic bar counters in the country. As someone once said, there are good pubs and there is good beer, but they very rarely coexist in the same place. This pub was a Robinson's.

I drank 1892 Mild and Unicorn until it poured from my ears. I even tried the Old Tom. The barman told me the record was eight pints before the drinker stopped being served. Me, I tried a pint of it and felt ill about two-thirds of the way down.

I tried my best with them. I even removed a dead rat from their storeroom when all the staff were to squeamish to do so. In retrospect, I never really fitted in there.

It came to a head one night when I went on Preston pub crawl with them all. It all ended in a misunderstanding and hurt feelings all round.
I see no reason to go back.


The thing is about pubs, and indeed life in general, is that nothing lasts forever. Death, of course, is the real finality. A pub may not be just for Christmas but it's generally not for long. Things change, as do people.  My present haunt, I suspect, is about to go through one of these changes. But, sad and disappointing it will no doubt be, I will carry on and find somewhere to drink and blow my money.

Until the day they ban alcohol and close all the pubs, that is.

Thursday, 29 August 2013


Well, possibly true...

There is a pub in Lancaster. It has a sign outside proclaiming a "Warm Welcome".  From what I've heard, the only warmth you'll get there is if you upset the clientele there, say by looking funny at their pint, and they set you on fire.  If anyone from Drinkaware wanted to prove the link between lager and fighting, this is the place they would go to.  It is "under new management".  Nothing has changed.

If this teaches us anything, it's always to be wary of pubs that have "Warm Welcome" displayed on the exterior.  If it's something they actually have to say, then it's doubtful it has ever existed.

And why do pub websites always proclaim things like "excellent home-cooked food" and "friendly service"?  In the majority of pubs, I've found, such things are barely true, if not downright lies. In fact, I would prefer it if some places were honest and said "reheated processed stuff from Brakes" and "surly and grudging service" :

CUSTOMER : "A pint of Mudgington's Old Perigrinator, Please"

<BARMAN grumbles and fiddles with sparkler, while dispensing froth that cascades over the glass>

BARMAN : <thumps down pint glass to dislodge inch of head> "Two ninety, and if you don't want another you can bugger off to the Bluebottle And Botulism down the road"

May not get the best reviews in Tripadvisor, but it would make a change if nothing else.

Some people say that British pubs would do better if they went the "table service and tips" way of the United States.  No doubt casual diners and drinkers would like it, but the average UK pub denizen is a miserable bastard who, if he's not putting the world to drunken rights with his mate or random fellow barfly, just wants to be left alone with his pint.  He doesn't want to be asked "Is everything ok?" every 20 minutes, because he knows damn well things aren't ok and never will be.
Would you prefer the pub equivalent of the left or the right?

I'm afraid if you change pubs too much too soon, they will end up with Dandy Syndrome where every "improvement" halves sales at a stroke.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Pub Seating Etiquette

Normally, I don't have to worry about such things.  I go to the pub mainly on Sunday and Monday afternoons.  But on the few times I've actually been to a place with actual people in, this is what I've worked out about finding your own personal drinking spot.

(1) If you are a lone drinker, try to find the table/spot with the fewest seats.  While it's rare for anything to be said, you may get a lot of sideways glances if you're occupying the only table-for-four when two couples come in together.

(2) If all seats are taken, then you can stand up at the bar (or pull up a chair if one is available).  Though it's best not to engage the staff in too much conversation if you don't know them.  Best not to be seen as an inappropriate bore in a strange pub.

(3) And if you do sit at the bar, don't order food and eat it there.  Nobody wants to hear someone chomping away while waiting for their pint to be pulled.

(4) If there is an empty seat at your table, try not to dump your stuff on it.  Someone may require it (see above).

(5) If in a large group, try not to disrupt the pub's seating plan too much by moving tables together and purloining nearby chairs.  It will not look good, especially if you all are only in there for one drink.

(6) If no seats are available and the bar is full, it's best to leave.  Or have a swift half. and then leave.

I'm sure there are many others I've not yet experienced.  As in many things with human interaction, you only figure out something when you see it being done wrong.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Old Beer Ads #13 - San Miguel (2000s)

Of all the "continental" lagers, none get on my tits more than San Miguel.  Whatever you say about Peroni, it is at least brewed in Italy.  It may not have taste, but it does have history.

In an attempt to give San Miguel it's desired image, here Scottish & Newcastle had that old beer ad standby - a sexy woman performing for a man's approval.  It's a good job I'm a beer blogger and not a feminist blogger.  You'd have to read paragraph upon paragraph of criticism of this one.

But for me, the most implausible part is the fact the dancer pours water on her feet, then drinks the beer.  In my experience, vice versa would have been better.  Water is more refreshing than SM and SM is generally served far colder.

Still, I'm grateful for Carlsberg UK's (the current owners of San Miguel) endless pushing of the stuff.  It gives me a chance to point out that this exotic, sun-kissed lager is made in the tropical climes of....Northampton.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Pubs for Crafty Beards

The BBC published this today, about the rise of the smoke-filled beer garden since the implementation of the public smoking ban.  Though Rod Liddle, for one, assumes they will ban it eventually.  Even more ominously, New South Wales will ban smoking in outdoor dining areas in 2015, and New Zealand promises to follow suit three years later.  "Bloody hell," I thought "Mudgie will be up in arms about that.  And quite probably legs and other appendages too."

I'm sure it's a known fact that pub drinkers are more likely, on average, to be smokers than the general population.  Like their cigarette habit, they know the risks but don't particularly care about it. And if the smokers go completely, where will the pubs be then?

As I've said before, it's becoming much less socially acceptable to go to the pub for the sole purposes of drinking.  More and more people are staying in with their bottles and cans than going out for a few pints or glasses.  The effect this has on the population's sociability is a debate for another time, but many pubs are deserted apart from weekend evenings.

The way things are going, there will soon be only enough demand for one or two pubs in every town.  These will solely supply craft beers and real ales for beer connoisseurs, namely Beards and Crafties who will be only people who would dare to be seen out in public drinking.  And for the taste, you understand, not to get pissed.  The pub will effectively become the liquid equivalent of the tiny-portion gourmet restaurant.  With prices to match.

I ask this : Can you see any way to get people away from their computers, TVs, Chardonnay and Carling and back into the pub with others?  Personally, I'm having difficulty doing so.  Society in the past 35 years has become much more individualistic and, dare I say it, misanthropic.  "I will do what I want, and anyone else can just sod off."

 The world appears to be changing, and sadly, we'll probably have to change with it.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Guest Post - Johnny Whitepebble of Beer Traveller.

Owing to an unfortunate lack of material here at Seeing The Lizards (possibly due to the resident blogger being always in the pub and/or too drunk to type) we have done the fashionable thing and engaged the services of a Guest Blogger - Johnny Whitepebble of Beer Traveller, the famed local blogger who travels the North West from pub to pub at the taxpayers' expense. We reckoned he should have something to say, anyway. Here's Johnny!
Bus, yesterday
"I got up bright and early this morning. I had to take some photos of a pub 20 miles away because my readers are fascinated by buildings with signs on.

My first call of the day was the local Wetherspoon's. As ever the beer selection was appalling. Ruddles, Abbot, Greene King IPA. Do they have some agreement with them or something? We need to be told.  I couldn't get anything out of the bar staff, so I shall be writing to Tim Martin tomorrow. Eventually I chose Lancaster Blonde. Always drinkable.
Wetherspoons, yesterday
After leaving quickly as suggested, I traversed the main road to the local brewery owned pub.  Perusing the pumps, I noted there was only a bitter, a stout and a mild.  Whatever happened to choice in this town? I told the manager the selection was slipping and bought a bottle of Lancaster Blonde. Always OK.
Saisons, yesterday.
Swiftly moving on, I walked across town to the town's Craft beer bar.  Sadly, I was to be disappointed as the selection was 4 IPAs, an Imperial Stout and bottles of various 'saisons', whatever they are. I asked if they had any Lancaster Blonde and they laughed at me.  I left immediately and have sent an email of complaint to their parent company.
Lancaster Blonde, every single day
I finally arrived home after an eventful day very late at 2:30pm. I uploaded my photos and went to bed. It's good to have a hobby you enjoy, don't you think?"

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Euston Tapping and Evil Keg Paradise

I've been on holiday.  You may have noticed the lack of posts here.  Or maybe you were grateful for my lack of snide remarks about Crafties and Beards. Anyway, when I wasn't being shouted at in Wales, making bizarrely incoherent whisky-laden speeches, or throwing up in my £125-per-night hotel room toilet, I was trundling around London visiting some local beer places.

The first place I went to was the Euston Tap, helpfully just round the corner from the aforementioned hotel room.  Just to prove I was not desperate for refreshment I waited a whole ten minutes after opening time before going in.  I bought a pint of the Finest Cask and, if any reminder were needed, it told me I was not in the North any more.
I sipped my headless pint slowly, as my other hotel in Islington wasn't due to be checked into until 2pm.  I sat there and watched the intermittent rain and Swedish tourists while listening to the 60s girl group music playing over the speakers. Sadly, the barstaff were about 20 and had to ask me who the "mad producer who shot someone" was.  Given the playlist, I said Phil Spector.  They seemed satisfied, probably as they didn't know the Dixie Cups tracks playing were modern re-recordings.

After finding the Northern Line closed, I walked to my hotel, dumped the suitcase and headed off to BrewDog Camden.  This took me half an hour.  Still, it wasn't raining by now.   I found it easily enough.  It's not like you could miss the place.

I looked at the price list and was pleasantly surprised.  I had heard all kinds of horrible things about beer prices in London and the cost of BrewDog, and was expecting Punk IPA to be £6 a pint.   I went up to the compulsorily-bearded barman and ordered a half to settle my nerves.  I sat at an industrial themed table (concrete and girders) and looked around.  "It's not often," I thought "that I'm the oldest person in a pub."
Glancing through their characteristically restrained and subtle literature, I began to get the place's ethos.  Basically, if the Scientologists were to run a brewery and craft beer bar chain, this is what it would be like.  The proselytising about the one true way of craft.  The stinging denunciations of other brewers, depicted as both evil and banal.  The proclamations that Messrs. Watt and Dickie will save us all with their selection of hop and malt based beverages.  I have to say the beer was good, though.

I wondered who would be more offended - CAMRA, for one of their members entering the Den of Evil Keg, or BrewDog themselves for being infiltrated by a late-thirtysomething Beard.  The staff weren't complaining though.  Especially when I spent £27 on bottles to take back home to the craft-free land of Thwaites Wainwright.

Still, there was plenty of fun to be had.  Mainly by taunting my local craft beer barman friends with pictures of BrewDog Camden's tube-based beer/hop infusion device.  "You wouldn't like this place." I texted as I sipped my half of 7.2% Jackhammer.
I would go again to BrewDog, despite my reservations.  Just maybe at a less crowded and noisy time.  And maybe fewer hipsters.  A vain hope, probably, in Camden.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Future of CAMRA

No, this is not a post about The Campaign For Real Ale's acceptance/dismissal of the alleged Craft Keg Revolution.  You can go practically anywhere in Beerblogland for that.  This is a post about CAMRAs activities at local level, what's happening to it, and what may have to happen in the future.

CAMRA has been around for over 40 years.  The members who do the Branch Meetings, local mags, GBG reviews and socials have been around almost as long.  They typically joined back in the 1970s when they were in their 20s or 30s.  All fine and dandy.  The 1970s were a time of upheaval and social change, and it's nice to be part of something you believe in.  But these active members are are still there, nearly 40 years later.  And they're in their 60s and 70s now.

RedNev recently posted about taking over his local CAMRA magazine.  One by one, his associates dropped out due to not wanting the hassle at their advanced ages, until he was the only person left running it.  And now, he too has to give it up.  From what I can gather, such things are true in many branches - the active stalwarts running things are aging and possibly may not be around for much longer.  And who will run things locally then?

As to why the younger members are not replacing them, well, there are the usual reasons.  Busy lives, lack of time, work pressures, fewer incentives to campaign about things in the 21st Century.  But I believe the main reasons are this :

(1) I joined CAMRA last year.  I read the local magazine which exhorted for more active local members (only 15 out of nearly 1000 in my branch).  I also looked at the numerous pictures.  Let's face it - I work evenings, and I don't really want to spend my 2 days off a week hanging around with men older than my father.  And if, at 37, I think that, what does any prospective member fifteen years younger than I think? 

(2) Related to that, CAMRA activities seem to be a mixture of 70s style politicking and OAPs' day tripping.  Sit in on a Committee, visit a local brewery, watch a Pub-of-the-month award being presented.  These things are not going to be considered particularly diverting to many people under the age of 45.

So, what will happen when the stalwarts die off, move away or simply cannot cope with running things at 70+?  Personally, I think the concept of the local branch will die.  The whole activity will run via web-polls and forums, Good Beer Guide ratings, the lot. There are so many breweries now, you can probably ask to look around if you ring up and say you want to visit, rather having the local CAMRA branch organise things for you.  There will be a local website for Pub information, but that will be it for grassroots activity.  It's easier to do a website than a magazine, after all.

The Campaign For Real Ale is not really an organisation that a twentysomething in 2013 would boast about being a member (CAMRA obviously know this, as they have a concessionary membership for the under 26s).  Even if they join, the average activities of a local branch are unlikely to interest them.  The way forward is the internet, as ever, and it should be used to connect members who may not want to sit in a upstairs pub room with a pint of mild, an Agenda and a risk of being asked to take the Minutes.  Who knows?  They may meet up in a pub and drink some beer, but it will be informal.  Informality is everything.

As I said at the start of this blog.  Beer and pubs should be fun.  When it starts becoming work and a chore to get through, it's time to take a step back.  CAMRA should take note, and maybe think that their current structure is leaving them behind.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Copperplate Gothic

I go to Lancaster quite regularly. The beer is better there than Preston, where people have drowned in the ocean of Thwaites Wainwright that washes around there.  If I can't be arsed with the Stagecoach #41 Bus Of Evil, I go on the train.  This is the window of the second nearest pub to to Lancaster Train Station :
They do a decent pint of Hydes Original (no small feat), and have a fridge full of BrewDog.  But why have they a windowful of 400-point Copperplate Gothic?  I presume they have used the same graphic designer as this geographically wide spread of pumpclips :
Is there something I'm missing here?  Is is about to become legally compulsory that to operate as a licenced premises, you have to have all signage in Copperplate Gothic?  I suppose it's better than the Helvetica we had back in the 1980s, or the Willow or Exocet we suffered back in 2000, but there are few things more scary than living in a one-typeface world.

There are thousands of decent fonts in the world.  Surely breweries can insist on using another one of them occasionally?

Thankfully, The Tap House in Lancaster is a haven of Palatino.  My advice is to never learn about typefaces.  It will only cause you irritation in the end...

Friday, 5 July 2013

Session #77: What’s the Big Deal With IPAs?

In an attempt to boost flagging traffic, I've decided to take part in this month's Session. :

  • [What] makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular… why all the hype? What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild?
From what I understand, IPAs first became the "fashionable" thing with the American craft brewers.  Fed up with tasteless macroswill like Bud, Miller, Coors etc. they latched on to the India Pale Ale style as one where they could chuck in a load of hops to make beer that was, at least, different from the pumpage from Anheuser-Busch. 

Those brewers did it for love, presumably.  But there had to be more buyers than other beer fanatics for beers rammed full of Cascade and Amarillo.  This is where the Crafties came in.  Like the much documented phenomenon of the "Foodie", these drinkers are constantly seeking new sensory experiences beyond that of slaking thirst and sating hunger.  The taste and smell are the thing.  And you certainly get that with a New World Hopped IPA.  Everyone wins here - the brewers feel happy they're making better stuff than the megafizz merchants, and the Crafties feel superior to those drinkers who consume the products of Big Beer.

This does make me wonder, however, how far the Hop Revolution can go.  A big thing in the whisky world a few years ago was Peat.  Sales of stuff like Ardbeg rocketed when even 20 years previously it couldn't be shifted with monster trucks (Ardbeg was even closed down at one point).  Up and up the peating levels of new whiskies went.  60, 70, 80, 90 parts-per-million they went, eventually reaching things like this.  Then tests found out that most people couldn't taste any more peat above about 120ppm, not to mention the absolute limit of peat smoke that could stick to a grain of malted barley.

So, how hoppy can an IPA get? What's the IBU limit that a beer would become undrinkable to even the Hipsters who buy £4 330ml bottles of Kernel?  Will there be a beer that's little more than hop juice, made by putting a load of cones in a smoothie machine and filtering out the green bits?  I have a feeling we will find out soon.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Old Beer Ads #12 -Tennent's (1990)

Ah, Scotland.  Been there many times.  Sampled many fine malt whiskies, and drank dozens of Harviestoun Bitter & Twisteds.  And what, perchance, are the most popular locally-produced beverages of choice with the Scots?  Well...Glen's Vodka and Tennent's Lager.  More of the decent stuff for me, I suppose.  But really.

In this somewhat peculiar commercial (unlikely events depicted in ads to promote beer?  Who'd'a thought it?), an expatriate Scot ditches his London business life to go back to Edinburgh, simply because people are all bastards and he misses drinking Tennent's with his mates.  I presume he took the train, as he's seen walking down Princes Street.  Possibly he even started before he got off, like the eight Scots I shared a train with in 2009 who were also drinking Tennents, if I remember correctly.  I thanked my bottle of Glenfiddich 18 for getting me through the 2 hour discussion of their sex lives.

What will happen to Mr. Jock Repatriated after this is not recorded.  Perhaps, as he no longer has any means of income,  he will start on the other famous product of the Wellpark Brewery and end up with a Purple Court Appearance...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Let There Be Beer?

Ah, those wonderful multinational macrobrewers.  They're worried about us Brits.  Well, actually, I doubt they give a toss about us.  But they're certainly worried about us not drinking enough beer.  Caught between the pincer of "Evil Binge Drink Britain" bad publicity and lack of disposable income, we're simply drinking less.  So, like a group otherwise warring feudal Lords, they have marshalled their efforts to confront the greater threat.  And the result - the new beer promotion campaign "Let There Be Beer".

Oh dear.  Where to start?

The name of this effort is an obvious allusion to the song, most famously done by Nat King Cole in 1961.  It seems the big brewers have realised beer has a somewhat unsophisticated image, and are trying to get people to associate with smooth, relaxed surroundings, possibly with jazz playing in the background.  Try and imagine this in your head - a sharp-suited, clean-shaven urban gentleman, and he's posing artfully with one arm resting against the bar, slighty smiling with his eyes half-closed.  And he's holding a pint of Peroni.  Yes, imagine that.  And does it work?

Pete Brown has numerous things to say about "Let There Be Beer".  As a former adwanker, his views are not to be taken lightly.  But his amusing take is that, as the campaign is run by corporo-lager makers, they've come together to simply make a larger scale version of the bloody lager ads we've been seeing for 35 years.  Why not promote the hip crafty end of the beer world - the one that's seen the most sector growth in the last decade?

I can see why they haven't.  It's all very well giving attention to microbrewed cask ale and craft keg IPAs, but where is the "average" consumer going to find this stuff?  Spoons will do a few, but most large towns have pubs that subsist (as always) on the local favourites.  How many "average" pubs have Oakham Citra or DarkStar Espresso on the pumps?  And even if your bewildered "average" beer drinker comes across, say, Thornbridge/Sierra Nevada Twin Peaks on a keg font, what is he or she going to think when the barman tells them it's £3 a half?  

No, the macros are going to push what they've been pushing at us for years, simply because it's easiest and has the most brand recognition.  As an aside, any long-term denizen of craft beer places will know what happens when an "average" drinker accidently wanders into one in search of refreshment - they will look up and down the bar, look horribly confused and say "Haven't you got any Smooth/Guinness/Fosters?".  The barstaff will try to suppress their hilarity as they try and sell the customer a selection of (to them) completely unfamiliar beers.

It's quite possible that beer itself is going through the process of "category realignment".  As the mainstream drinker deserts it for wine or gin or whatever, the beer market will be left to beardy casketeers and flat-cap and flannel shirt IPA hipsters.  Mass produced beer, such as it exists, will be an indistinguishable means to an end.

Beer, if not dying, is moving.  And no amount of efforts by the macrobrewers to set it in concrete will change that.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Friday, 21 June 2013

Heritage Theme Park Pub

Further to my post on Beeching The Pub, I had another idea about this.  After the Government shut a load of lines based on Beeching's findings, several of them were opened as "Heritage Railways", where for a premium price, rail enthusiasts could experience Britain's inefficient transport past as they chugged along at 30mph on a steamer from an obscure place to nowhere in particular.

What with all these old pubs closing, surely some could be acquired at a knockdown price by a Pub Preservation Society and run as tourist attractions?  Yes, we too could see how our forefathers drank and all the attendant inconveniences and discomforts that went with it.  You could exchange your oh-so-soulless modern money for replicas of old British coinage for a truly authentic experience of hostelry history.

Pub #1 - Working class shebeen (1860)

Exchange rate : 50 new pence for one heavy old penny.

With polished brass, but a filthy carpet, this tavern would give an experience recognisable to a worker from the mid-Victorian period.  The ale choice would consist of Porter and Pale Ale, Porter being half the price of PA.  You would be surrounded by actors playing the parts of ladies of questionable virtue and shabby men in the final stages of consumption.  All would be heavily drunk, though on the spirits rather than the ale.  Great acting would be required as the whisky would be made from cold tea, creosote and surgical spirit.  For an additional fee, the customer could be robbed and left for dead after an unwise drinking session.

Pub #2 - Between-wars-boozer (1934)

Exchange rate : 1 pound coin for a thin George V penny

Bare floorboards, and lots of mirrors.  Echoey, but better than sobriety.  There's a depression on, you know.  Two handpumps will be on.  They will be marked "Bitter" and "Mild".  Mild will be a penny cheaper.  If you are a woman and you enter this place, the actors (all male) are trained to stare at you long and hard before directing you to the "Ladies Suite" where you can nurse a gin & bitter lemon until your man is suitably sozzled.  Hats and jackets to be worn in the Lounge Bar at all times, but in the public bar you can be in your underpants as long as you keep drinking and paying.  And you most probably will be if you try the Bitter. Any questions about food will get the response "Pickled eggs are a ha'penny".

Pub #3 - Big Six Bar (1972)

Exchange rate : 1 pound coin for three post-decimalization 10 new pence coins (or 2 shilling pieces if they're short)

Shag pile carpet, flock wallpaper and fluffy bar towels make this a furry paradise.  The barman will be happy enough though, as he's been sampling the pub's wares for most of the day.  Only one beer will be on draught - Whitney's Red Trophy, a keg "bitter" of uncertain quality.  No matter, because if your stomach expands too much from the carbon dioxide, the place will have a large selection of small bottles of ale.  The exact age and alcohol content of these will not be mentioned as it makes the whole experience more interesting.  Customers are advised to wear eye protection as the 70s fashions worn by the actors are dazzling.  Other entertainments provided are an insecurely-fixed  dartboard surrounded by holes, and a pool table with a missing black and one intact cue.

Anyone know where to find suitable pubs and funding?   I'm sure I could be onto a winner here...

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Old Beer Ads #11 - Busch (1960s)

One of the lesser known things about Hanna-Barbera was, as well as churning out barely-animated Saturday morning cartoon fodder, they also did contract commercials for various companies. One presumes Mel Blanc and Daws Butler did not come cheap.  In this shocking clip from around 1967,  Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble reveal they are drinkers as well as smokers.

Fred and Barney have been given the boot from their gravel pit jobs by cantankerous Mr. Slate, and have decided to run a bar.  Remarkably, considering the only thing they serve is Busch (an Anheuser-Busch brand that's positioned lower than Budweiser), they are overrun by custom and end up exhausted and wishing for a life of rockbreaking again.  Thankfully, Mr. Slate, despite being apparently rich, enters Fred and Barney's bar for a mug of economy filth.  Due to the intoxicating properties of Busch (or the hallucinogenic effects of the chemicals AB put in the stuff), Slate rehires them.

This would not be allowed on TV today for so many reasons.  Characters with kid appeal promoting alcoholic beverages.  Implying that consuming beer will reduce inhibitions.  Saying Busch is "Bavarian" when it was actually made in St. Louis.  But lies and hideous lack of ethics aside, this is reasonable for 60s advertising, as it does make an attempt to entertain along with the shilling of commodity lager.

Maybe they should do this nowadays.  I'm sure SpongeBob would go on TV extolling the virtues of Goose Island IPA for enough snail food to keep Gary going.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Beardy Bastard

Your friendly local CAMRA newsletter for Northwestcentral Lancashire.

Spring/Summer/Autumn 2013


Membership news

Not much happening as far as membership goes in this issue.  Still only 3 active members in our branch.  Come on you bastards, and get to the next committee meeting at the Cask & Condition next month.  I’m finding it increasingly hard to get my dog and cat to come each time to make the quorum.  Not to mention getting them to drink a pint of Scruttock’s Old Todger.

New Pub Report

It appears a new hostelry has opened in our area since I updated the last pub list.  It’s called The Clown’s Revenge Bar.  I went there to rate the ales and found they were selling their pints 2% under measure and 0.5 degrees too warm.  Needless to say, I have reported them to Cask Marque and am noting it here so our members don’t have to put up with such shoddiness.  I hope the place closes down, the twats.

Keg Is Evil

Reading the beer blogs recently, I see there have been arguments about a new category of beer called “craft keg”.  I’ve been a branch secretary for 35 years and have never heard the like.  I remember the days of Worthington E and Watney’s Red Barrel and don’t want to go back.  Apparently, these beers are of so-called “higher quality” than old keg.  But I say they are WORSE.  They are PRETENDING to be good beer which makes them WORSE than the tasteless fizzy keg of the 70s. If these new “craft beers” become popular, what’s to stop Big Brewers from marketing their smooth mild as “craft beer brewed with highest quality ingredients”?  Repeat after me - KEG IS EVIL AND MUST BE KILLED OFF LIKE THE DEAD BEER IT IS!  Do it NOW!   You’ll be sorry when in future there’s NO real ale, and you have to pay £8 for a pint of John Smiths.

Pub Closures

Several pubs have closed recently in our branch area.  I would name them but they were only student and chav pubs selling lager to louts and idiots.  Some would say that any pub closing and people losing their jobs is a tragedy, but I disagree.  Any so-called pub that sells chemical filth to morons deserves to close in my opinion. As long as MY favourite pubs which cater for decent people like CAMRA members stay open, then that’s fine and dandy.  Only real ale drinkers deserve to drink in public.  The rest of the bastards can sit at home in front of the football with their supermarket slab of Carling.

(the above is a cruel parody of the worst sort of CAMRA activism and should not be taken as representative of my views of CAMRA as a whole)

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Glossy Magazine and Advert in the Tube

Apparently, there have been mutterings at the latest meeting of the Beer Writer's Guild.   Why is there no national, newsagent-distributed magazine about beer, they have been asking?  Well, I can see quite a few reasons.  But I think I can explain the main one here.

Any widely available magazine lives and dies on its advertising sales.  While the beer geek would be interested in long articles about say, the history of Meux's Brewery or an interview with the bloke behind Kernel, it would not help Shepherd Neame shift more bottles of Spitfire.  Mags tailor their content to attract advertisers, which is why a beer periodical would do tasting notes and puff pieces on breweries.  And would the blogging, tweeting, IPA sipping beer hipster crowd buy that for long?  Would anybody? 

Case in point : there's a motor sport mag called, well, MotorSport and they do a large section on road car reviews despite the majority of it's readers being somewhat uninterested in the handling characteristics of the latest Audi A8.  The advertisers love it, apparently, as they can tie it in with their product much better than they could an article about how many cars Vittorio Brambilla wrecked in the mid-70s.

There is actually a Whisky Magazine on sale, but the advertising model holds here too.  99% of whiskies are produced by big companies or their subsiduaries.  It's not really a crowded marketplace, and there is plenty of ad-spend to go round.  Anyway, whisky is positioned as a "luxury" rather than everyday product, so the stuff in Whisky Mag tends to be aspirational rather than informative. Advertisers love "aspirational".

The rumour at the moment is that Future Publishing will be doing a beer mag soon.  Well, I've not bought any of their esteemed publications since they cancelled Cult TV 15 years ago.  But I did buy their computer mags for nearly a decade.  Apparently, some poor souls even believed their numerical ratings were based on the actual quality of the product...

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Old Beer Ads #10 - Marston's Pedigree (1994)

Apologies for not posting the ad directly this time (couldn't find it on it's own on YouTube) - it starts on this video at 2:08.

I remember loving this ad at the time.  I was only 18 and wouldn't even have thought of drinking Pedigree at the time.  I'm just a sucker for cod-Victorian humour (as my purchase of this, this and this would suggest).  The animation and song style is nicked from the Oscar-winning short Great by Bob Godfrey, which I only realised when I saw it on Channel 4 a year later.  Much worse things to steal from, and it's the only beer commercial from the time I can still remember all the words to.

Marston's is not as well regarded in beer circles as it was 20 years ago,.  Whether for Fast Cask or "Gobbyhobbitgate" is moot point, but apparently Pedigree is not as good as it was even it's still Brewed The Burton Union Way (and, unlike many things since then, really still is Up Until The Present Day).  They still seem to be building new pubs, though, like this one near me.  Though it's doubtful they're the type of pub beer fans would really want to venture to.

Remember, it could be worse.  They could be like Greene King.  Good old John Marston...