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...

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Beeching The Pub

I've been on numerous long journeys this week, and to while away the time/drown out screaming brats or people arguing with train staff about tickets, I bought Last Trains : Doctor Beeching And The Death Of Rural England.  I'm sure you all know the basic story - Beeching was paid by the government in 1960 to report on the viability of Britain's rail network, with the result that he recommended that a third of the railways and half the stations were closed.  Looking at the figures, this seemed to be mostly justfied, on cost grounds at least.

To me, it seems like Britain's pub population by the early years of this century was a lot like the pre-Beeching railways.  A large, unwieldy estate of buildings and infrastructure, built decades ago for a level of custom that no longer existed due to technological and social changes.  Given that, it's probably inevitable that there would be mass closures of pubs, as there was no longer the money in them to justify them still being open.  There will be the Preservation Societies, whether for the rural branch line with eight passengers a day, or the between-the-wars estate pub empty but for Friday and Saturday nights. But if there's not enough people using them, there's little point in having them, even if closing them does greatly upset the remaining half-dozen regulars.

It's quite possible that we still have too many pubs.  The regular tales of licencees struggles to break even give a certain indication of that.  The question is - how many pubs will have to go before only the ones that make a reasonable profit are left?