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...