Wednesday 31 December 2014

Lawrenson's 2014 Year in Review

I had thought about doing the Golden Pints thing, but as I don't lead what I believe is called the "typical beer blogger recreational drinking lifestyle" (Beer and Pubs - A Personal History), I couldn't see how I'd be able to fill in the requisite categories. So, this is my attempt at an assessment on the year's beer related activities as seen and done by me.

To me, actual beer hasn't progressed that much this year. Not living in a hipster enclave, I haven't drunk many fashionably weird beers this year. Preston's new beer place, The Moorbrook is possibly the only outlet for such things around here, but even there lager and Thwaites Original outnumber the sales of crafty stuff. The spectacle of seeing them unable to shift Mad Hatter Manchester Tart would not be seen much, I trust, south of Wigan. (Jaipur £3.30 a Pint)

One hitherto craft place to was reduced to installing Peroni on the fonts to drum up sales. And despite being vastly overpriced for what you get, it's at least the 3rd best selling beer there. I did question this at the time, saying that while it won't necessarily bring in the "wrong sort", Peroni will encourage them to linger longer than they otherwise would have done. (Regression to the Mean)

In the absence of decent Craft in many towns, drinkers now at least have a better selection at the local Wetherspoons. There's the Sixpoint in cans, the Lagunitas, the Adnams Red Rye IPA. In fact, in many places the Spoons will be the best place to go for decent beer. And then there's ridiculously-named BrewDog This. Is. Lager, which is a decent enough pint of fizz for £3.30. Though how BrewDog can now claim to be making Beer For Punks while shifting pallets of stuff at Timbo's and Tesco's is a moot point (Interview with Baron Dickie of Ellon).

As for me, well there's been good times and bad. I had an immense 16-hour drinking session in Edinburgh in October, which is possible now the whole of Scotland's capital has gone Craft (I Wish I Was in Crafty Hipster Land), but that's pretty much the only ludicrous thing I've done this year. There have been, unfortunately, a few too many incidents where I've ended up a mess (both mentally and physically) on the bus and afterward due to unwise drink choices.  But as I'm still unaware of how that happens, I'll have to live with it for the time being. Or, as I often did, switch to Fentiman's if I'm feeling delicate.

On to 2015, then. Towards my 40th birthday in 49 weeks.


Sunday 28 December 2014

News in Brief #8

Police Crack Down on Alcohol-Fuelled Disorder

Drink-related riot, yesterday
Police across the country have braced themselves for Christmas drinking misbehaviour this December.  Statistics from the Institute of Spurious Reasoning have predicted that alcohol related disorder will increase 500% year-on-year due to life being generally more shit than last year.

Town centre night copper PC Dave Fakestatement said "I spotted an office worker going into a public house and observed him ordering a half of lager. I waited outside for 30 minutes until he exited and questioned him about his intentions."

"He said 'What's all this about?'. So, naturally I arrested him for being drunk and disorderly and for resisting arrest."

"The streets will be safe tonight thanks to the sterling efforts of HM Constabulary"

Local Brewery Abandon Best Bitter

The drink of dinosaurs
Local manufacturers of flavour-shy liquid Lehybison's Brewery today announced that from April, they will be ending production of their 4.2% Best Bitter due to 'declining demand'.

Explaining the decision, Chairman Colonel Lehybison-Smythe told us "Best Bitter is last century's product. Our image consultants said it doesn't fit in with our expensive refurbishments of local pubs.  Let's face it, all the codgers who drink it will be dead soon anyway."

"Of course, we'll be bringing it back in September with a Crafty makeover. We'll call it 'Colonel Lee's American Brown Ale' or something."

Crafties Starve Due to Food Pairing Fail

The ideal match is a 10% Imperial IPA. Quelle surprise
Hipsters across the land went without their Christmas dinner due to lack of a suitable food-matching beer to go with turkey and sprouts.

Flat cap and flannel shirt denizen Joe Fairtrade complained "I sat down expectedly but found I only had a choice between Staropramen and Adnams Tally Ho. As everyone surely knows, Staropramen is too cutting and carbonated to complement roast turkey and Tally Ho is an old ale - far too sweet and thick for sprouts and parsnips."

"I didn't get anything at all to eat that day. Still, it'll help me fit into to 16-inch waisted jeans I unwrapped in the morning."

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Amateur Season

Not the people described in this post, but thank you anyway Google Images
Yes.  It's December. It's cold.  It's wet.  It's Noddy Holder and Roy Wood's biggest earning time of the year.  Frankly, I'm sick of it.  I was sick of it by 4pm on 1/12, to be honest.  I'd go down the pub to avoid this crap, but by Orders Of The Pub Company they have to put up 'decorations' and have a 'Christmas Playlist'.  Sadly, they don't seem to realise that this, like Peroni on draught, attracts the wrong sort.

My heart sank upon walking through the door.  Eight blokes in Christmas jumpers swigging the aforementioned Italian Premium Lager.  It was Four-Thirty, and they were hammered. It's ok, I said.  They're circuit drinkers.  One pint and on to the next one.  I decided to brave it out rather than go to the Spoons where I can hide easier.

Greg also had the misfortune to be in that day.  Greg works at the museum.  He's an affable, if sartorially eccentric chap (half blond, half black hair; silver rings on every finger; large chain around his right pockets).  He was probably reckoned by the Peroni and Jumper types as an easier target for off-key Meatloaf songs and questions about his gender,

I'd've just walked out, doubting both my verbal and physical abilities against eight pissheads.  But Greg had had a bad day.  Both the F and the C words were used towards them. And then came the immortal comeback from the fattest and most pissed of the lot :

"It's just banter, mate. Where's your Christmas Spirit?"

"Don't talk to me about Christmas Spirit," he replied "You come into a fucking pub you've never fucking been in and take the piss out of someone you've never fucking met, you fucking bunch of pricks,"

You could take issue with Greg's language, but not his assessment of the character of these people. The barmaid had seen everything.  She told them that this was a nice pub and they should drink up and leave.  Fatty was ushered out of the door by a slightly less pissed mate, threatening complaints to the Pub Company, and saying that none of them would fucking come here again.  Greg was given a free pint for his trouble.

We all agreed afterwards that, while it would be difficult, the place would somehow muddle through without them.

The biggest laugh of the day, however, was gained when we saw them staggering towards the pub around the corner.  This, hilariously, is a somewhat, shall we say, a more down-to-earth establishment.

I'd be surprised if they were ever heard of again.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

M.Lawrenson - Drinks Branding Consultant

Alcoholic beverage producers!  Want to revitalise your tired brands and endeavor to appeal to newer and younger audiences?  Then send an email to me with your requests, and I shall work my branding magic for you!  Shown below are examples of my most recent successful product relaunches :

All fees negotiable when paid up front.  Disclaimer : M.Lawrenson is not responsible for outbreaks of hilarity, mockery and incredulity on the the internet.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Craft Beer Bar Award Nominees Announced

On January 2nd this year, the winner of the Bermondsey Reclamation Yard UK Craft Beer Bar Award will be announced. Out of an exceptional field, three nominees have been chosen.

Are you Craft enough to come in here?
The Perambulating Marmoset, Camden : This exquisitely decorated hipster palace features a bar constructed from five Edwardian 4-panel doors thrown away by Barry Bucknell in 1962, balanced on recovered pieces of the Euston Arch.   All male staff are required to remain unshaven for the duration of their employment, with measurements carried out weekly. 

No beer information is displayed on the premises. This helps customer interaction as no beer can be served until the patron proves themselves hip enough to guess which beer is cool enough this week to be served here. Prices start at £8 a third.

We mix up the dregs in a big jug at the end of the night
The Optic Row, Didsbury : Despite their presence in this shortlist, this bar only serves a couple of Evil Kegs. The Optic is mostly known for it's enormous lineup of obscure craft spirits and liqueurs.  The biggest draw is random night, where five ingredients are chosen at random and everyone present has to drink it. The Galliano/Campari/Cointreau/Chartreuse/Fernet Branca night was a particular winner, especially for the bucket and detergent merchants of Manchester.

The toilets in particular are renowned, shaped as they are like a giant Martini glass. The olive shaped urinal cake on a giant cocktail stick is a special touch.  All bar staff are attractive slim young women. Any mixology failures are rarely complained about for some reason.l
No fucking way, dude
The Tap Bar, Coventry : A traditional pub that serves decent beer at reasonable prices in comfortable surroundings. How they got on this list is anyone's fucking guess.

Friday 28 November 2014

Beer and Pubs - A Personal History

I’ve never claimed to be the typical beer blogger.  It’d be odd of me to do so, as I know I’ve never been the typical human being.

Reading many blogposts about the apparent formative years of your average beer blogger, it’s always struck me “Was life really like that for other people?”.

Most seem to have been introduced to alcohol by their parents, then progressed to the furtive world of underage drinking in parks or simply robbing the drinks cabinet while their parents were out.  Another typical story is being introduced to Real Ale (or its equivalent) at University, and progressing along the Crafty Route with their College Friend fellow travellers.  Then they find they need to share their thoughts with like-minded people.  And the way that’s done these days is via The Blog.
The Beer Bloggers of Tomorrow. Possibly
My life was never like that.  But then my life was never like anyone else’s.

I almost never drank as a teenager.  Certainly not with friends.  I never had any.  I lived in my bedroom, typing various fanzine (remember them?) articles and letters (remember them also?) out while consuming coffee and Pepsi Max in an effort to stave off impending depression and imminent academic failure.  No, I first started my drinking career in earnest back in 1997, when I left home.  Just to show exactly how long ago this was, I bought my own home on a supermarket night shift worker’s wage.  My tipple of choice then was Lambrusco or Bulgarian Chardonnay.  They were cheap at Asda.

Lacking the typical formative drinking experiences, I never got the taste of beer.  It took concerted effort at the age of 24 to even drink Stella or Staropramen.  As a great man once said, by diligent application, I learned to like it.

The pub was an alien world to me.  I went a few times as a child, or more to the point sat outside or in my grandad’s Ford Granada Estate which he used to crawl around the pubs of rural North Lancashire. One presumes the Police were not on the lookout for that sort of thing in the mid 1980s.  I was never taken to them by my parents, as they thought such places were not the places children should.  Or maybe they just wanted to get away from us.  But even then I was aware of the power alcohol had over people.  When my father had one of his infrequent pub excursions with friends or workmates, my mother always warned me not to irritate him after he came home.  Which was odd, as he always seemed to find me less annoying when he was drunk.
Unsecured kids in the back while driving drunk. Entirely safe in 1984
When I was in my 20s, I tried the pub experience by myself to see what all the fuss was about.  My local was just up the road from my house, The Oxford Arms in May Bank, Newcastle Under Lyme.  It was a Bass pub back then, and was shabbily decorated with a “Sports” theme.  I went in once on a Monday afternoon.  It was deserted (despite what the likes of Mudgie will say, pubs were never that busy on Mondays back in 1999).  I read the paper while drinking 5 pints of Stella, followed by a JD chaser.  As I recall, there was only one other drinker there, so there were few people to take exception to my seemingly odd behaviour.  Counting my money afterwards, I realised it was cheaper to drink at home.

After that, I restricted my out-of-home drinking to a couple of drinks in the Hogshead (Whitbread’s 1990s attempt at a JD Wetherspoon), after buying a couple of books at Webberley’s in Hanley.  I sat there.  I read and I drank.  I never spoke to anyone who I wasn’t ordering a drink from.

Your twenties, so I’m told, are meant to be the best time of your life for socialising.  It never happened for me.  Looking back at a distance of fifteen years or so, I probably missed out on what most people would consider a “normal” social life.  It didn’t seem that way at the time, though.  I was doing what I could cope with.  I would have been terrified if anyone had tried to engage me in conversation at the Oxford Arms or the Hanley Hogshead.  The beer, such as it was, was a means to an end, simply there to make me feel less anxious  about being outside in daylight. The few times I ever went out with other people usually ended badly.  I always found the places I was taken too loud and crowded.  This tended to culminate in embarrassing incidents, such as the time at my parents’ Silver Wedding where a taxi had to be called for me when I was found outside staring at the floor.  I don’t like noise and massed people now, but back then I was completely unable to cope.
Clue - no longer there
I lost my job on the supermarket night shift when I was 30.  I couldn’t afford the mortgage, so I sold up and moved back home.  I’ve often asked myself whether the good that came from it has outweighed the harrowing times I endured while going through it.  Sadly, it’s one of the few questions that I genuinely cannot answer.

At first, I lived the same life I had as a teenager.  Though at least there was now the internet to make things a little less tedious.  I got up, I went to work, I bought wine, I came home, I drank it while surfing and then went to bed.  Usually later than I should have, but such things have always been a problem for me.  I had to give up wine in the end.  The sulphites were starting to give me heartburn.
A couple of friends used to take me out around my birthday around this time.  I was unsure of the reasons, but it got me out of the house.  In 2010, this happened to be a beer festival on the Flag Market in Preston town centre.  It was the 21st of December and minus 2 celsius.  You had to drink to keep the cold out.  I tried a few beers, despite it being about 95% Real Ale.  I eventually got to the strong stuff.  Captain Smith’s from Titanic Brewery, 5.2%.  Well, I thought, I’ll pay tribute to Stoke here if nothing else.  I was surprised when I enjoyed it too.
Sadly, Captain Smith’s was a rare sight in Preston.  Whenever I had to go back to Stoke to see family, I made sure I spent more time in Titanic pubs than with my actual relatives. Far more tolerable, and far less awkward, I thought.  Drinking my way through Titanic’s range (Steerage, Anchor, Iceberg, White Star etc.), even I eventually realised that Real Ale, despite being the stereotypical drink of fat, bearded, middle-aged men, had far more diversity of flavour than the mass-market lager I usually drank.
"Captain, you can either go down with the ship, or go back home to Stoke"
It was after one of these “holidays” where, after work, I bought my usual bottles of Krombacher, chilled them in the fridge for an hour and poured them out.  They now had no flavour.  None whatsoever.  I realised I would have to start drinking something else.


But where to get decent beer in Preston?  Not having grown up here, or knowing much about beer, I had no clue what was good or bad.  One day, though, my father brought home a copy of the town’s greatest comedy publication – the local CAMRA magazine “Ale Cry”.  Once my eyes got used to the garish colours and appalling layout, I perused the articles.  One was about The Black Horse, a historic pub in the town centre.  It had just undergone a £400,000 refurbishment and was now stocking, yes, Titanic beers alongside the usual Robinsons range. Yes, I thought, this would be a good place to start.

So, the following week, I went along to the Horse.  And there was Titanic Iceberg behind the bar.  I ordered a pint, but it ran out three-quarters of the way down.  At least I got it for free.  Still, plenty more where that came from.  Or that’s what I thought.  Because in the following weeks, whenever I went into the Black Horse, Titanic was only noticeable by its absence  (I later heard that Robbies had pulled it off the bar because it was outselling their own beer 3-to-1).  Having paid for the bus, I usually stayed and drank something else.  Usually the mild, as it was the weakest and I could drink more.
I'm in this pic. See if you can spot me.
I believe this is the kind of thing every serious beer drinker should do.  Just as you cannot appreciate happiness unless you have known misery, you cannot appreciate flavoursome beer unless you have drunk a standard regional brewery mild.  I’ve always been grateful to Robinsons Brewery for this, because I now know that however weird, disconcerting and sometimes downright awful some craft beers can be, they will at least be more interesting than Robinsons Mild.


And so, where I am I now?

I’m not young any more.  In fact, I’ll be 39 a week on Monday.  As a result, it’s quite anomalous for me to drink in pubs now, as pretty much everyone I know in them is under 25.  Being studenty places, Preston and Lancaster tend to aim for this market quite a bit.  I’m often quite conscious of my age and lack of education, but it’s usually surmountable, even if the young’uns and I do get irritated with each other sometimes.  I’m not yet quite old enough to join the Best Bitter drinking curmudgeons in the dark pub corners saying how everything was better in my day.
Old man with a pint of best, yesterday

I’m better at conversation than I used to be.  If nothing else I’ve learned to use my naturally inappropriate personality for humorous effect.  Drinking good beer helps.  That and discussing the activities of the various other patrons and barstaff gives me something to do.  Even though I still have some rough times (not helped, I’m unhappy to relate, by drinking more than I should sometimes), the rough and the smooth are usually in equal proportion these days.

I’ve not had the typical beer blogger journey towards expressing my thoughts online to the world that cares to read them.  I’d like to think this makes me more interesting, or at least a bit different.

For once, I’ll admit, it’s not for me to say.

Monday 24 November 2014

News In Brief #7

Beer Wins Award

Important, unique and totally above board

In a beer judging competition somewhere, some beer or other has won some kind of award.

Up against several other beers, this beer was deemed the best.  All the judges agreed this beer was the finest one in that particular competition. True to it's style, whatever that was, it was deemed to be one of the greatest beers ever produced by it's country. Wherever that was.

The beer's brewer said after receiving the award "My beer winning this award proves that all is well with brewing. As long as all beers win awards it means all beers are award-winning."

Convenience Store Planned Closure

Soon to be a home for beards of all descriptions

Residents of Offerton near Stockport are up in arms about the proposed conversion of their Sainsburys Local into a Public House.

Local entrepreneur Bob Flybynight said "What with the new beer tie and rent law and everything I've worked out it's actually financially viable to run a pub now. It is, isn't it? Right?"

Protesting housewife Jane Downton-Abbey begged to differ "This decision is absolutely horrifying. I meet all my friends at the bakery section in Sainsburys. It's too ghastly to think this space will be taken up with beer drinkers."

Local pub blogger Curmudgeon was asked to comment and told us "It's what the market wants. So that's OK, then."

Sparkler Spotted In London

Proper Southern pint, that knows

On a trip to Bermondsey last week, visiting Northerner Albert Heckmondwikethwaite ordered a pint of Ilkley Pale in The Dangling Frog and was shocked when he received it.

"I looked at it and knew summat wasn't right. Then I realised. It had a bloody head on it. I mean, bloody hell, I travel all this way to get a flat, foam free London pint and they bloody well give me this. It's not on."

Dangling Frog barman Hector Usedvinyl said "It's a Northern beer and he's a Northerner. I thought they did that sort of thing there?"

Sparkler Evangelist Tandleman announced "Och, the reason why nobody has any sparklers in London is because I own them all. I NEED them."

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Art Beer

I've described how I regularly go to The Moorbrook here, I'm sure.  The manager has a definite liking for beer from Blackjack.  And who wouldn't have?  I'm also an Untappd user (it helps me keep track the progress of my recreational liver destruction if nothing else), and when I have a different beer, I always check it in.

The problem with doing this for breweries like Blackjack is that they seem to make a different beer every time?  I buy a pint of an IPA and enter it in the search box.  But which of the 30 Blackjack IPAs is it?  I scroll up and down the screen, looking for the exact hop varieties and ABV.  And even sometimes the date.  Even after that, I'm often still not that confident I've got it right.

After doing this a few times, it got me thinking (always a dangerous thing). What if Blackjack, and other breweries who make beer in a similar fashion, are not Craft Brewers?  Are they Art Brewers?

The basic definition of "craft" is a process practiced by a skilled artisan leading to a high-quality and consistently repeatable result. And whatever you say about Boring Brown Bitter, or even Thornbridge, its brewers are certainly consistent.

Art is a different matter.  The goal is to create a singular personal vision, the quality of which will only be apparent afterwards.  Sometimes a masterpiece will result, sometimes something bog-standard but ok, and maybe even something awful that's best not shown in public.  But it's all about ambition and creation, rather than knocking out the same thing again and again.

So, is a lot of s0-called "Craft Beer" really "Art Beer"?  If the brewers are not aiming to make a consistent product again and again for people who know what they like, and rather want to make something stunning that will be approved by their intended audience, I would say yes.

Maybe Craft is dead after all.  And Art has taken its place.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

News In Brief #6

There is? Really?

Healthier than the average pub meal
A purchaser of a single chocolate bar fell victim to the latest viral beer publicity campaign yesterday.  Ron Casual, 43, entered his local newsagent to purchase a Mars Bar. "I know it's not the healthiest option," he explained "but I was feeling a bit peckish."

However, the unexpected happened as he left the shop. "I suddenly heard this, like, voice or something. 'There's A Beer For That' it kept saying.". The voice compelled him to go to a local crafty pub and buy a 6% Chocolate and Caramel porter.

"Ever since, I've not been able to even look at food without hearing 'There's A Beer For That'." Casual complained "It's almost as if you're not allowed to consume beer and food separately any more."

Booze maven Pete Brown, operating for some reason in a giant microwave satellite dish thing, was unavailable for comment.

Greene King Will Make Your Pub Craft

Patrons of the Fox & Duck in Walsham le Willows have been staging a sit in at the pub since a week last Tuesday, over it's owners Greene King's plans for the place.

Habitual home-fleer and protest leader Dave Complacent explains "I was sat there with my pint of IPA Smooth, and suddenly people from the brewery started ripping out all the carpets and seats, replacing them with girders and high stools."

It didn't stop there. "They whipped off the pumpclips for Ruddles and Abbot, and replaced them with weird things. What is a 'Kernel' anyway." he continued "Why can't things stay the same for always?"

"It's almost like Greene King are trying to get rid of us."

JD Wetherspoon Proclaims Motorway Pub "Successful"

"10% of every pint of Abbot goes to the Mark Reckless Campaign"
Despite media reports that the apparently notorious roadside pub, The Hope and Champion in Beaconsfield is failing, Wetherspoons Chairman Timbo Martin, surprisingly, disagrees with this assessment.

Brushing his mullet with his official UKIP comb, Timbo pontificated "Yes, it's true alcohol sales are less than other people would think. But it's not because people don't want to be caught swigging next to a major thoroughfare."

He dubiously continued "No, it's because patrons who want a pint are queueing up behind people who only want a coffee and a meal. That and the queue for the toilets is so long the parking terms and conditions expire before they can get a drink."

"So, pretty much like all the other pubs I run, really."

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Normal Service Resumed Tomorrow

I'm not the most social of bunnies, I'll admit. I was asked recently if if Craft Beer helped relieve the rollercoaster that my up and down moods consist of. I said no, I just like drinking and talking about it.

"We can tell." they said.

It's just something I have to live with. I usually go to the Lancaster Tap House quiz night on Monday. Sadly, I'd had two "episodes" that week, so I thought best to restrict my consumption. I believe I broke the record for Dandelion & Burdock drinking that day.

I know alcohol is a depressant. Sadly, so do the people on my Facebook feed when I have a meltdown when pissed. I know something bad has happened the next day when they ask me if I want to meet up for a coffee to talk about things. I'm grateful. I really am. But I'd rather not put myself and other people through it.

It's very hard work, being surrounded in a pub by people laughing and having fun, and all you want to do is crawl into bed and die. You headed out with the best of intentions and it all went wrong. It's nobody's fault, you just have to watch out and do what's necessary to stay safe.

Winston Churchill said "I have taken more out of drink than drink has taken out of me". I wish I could say the same. Alcohol has been good to me, but also it's been not so good sometimes.

I keep on going. It's all I can do.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

I've Got a Bonneville in Bits, But I'm Gonna Sort It Out

I want Dave the Barman to refer me to the blackboard
My CAMRA membership renewed itself by Direct Debit this week.  After two years, I've progressed far up the hierarchy.  They've finally given me a membership card which you can't scratch the letters off.  Is this official policy?  It seems so.

A lot of my readers here will be asking "Why are you still in the Beard Club? Don't you slag them off and take the piss out of them on a regular basis?"  Well, yes I do.  But I do that with everyone.  Leaving aside the Spoons tokens, the discounts and the magazine, the membership fee is worth the comedy value of What's Brewing alone.  The letters page and Keg Buster are almost Daliesque in their absurdity.

I am however awaiting one thing.  The people that run CAMRA Central Lancs said a while back that they'd be contacting every member in the branch to see if they want to contribute anything  (or as they put it in a somewhat dystopian way, 'activate' them).  I did email them myself in August offering my services  as "Ale Cry" cartoonist, but have yet to be contacted for either of these. I can only assume they've read my unflattering depictions of their views and activities on this blog.
You don't say.  You DON'T say.
One person who defended CAMRA to me last year, when I asked what the point of them was these days, has since cancelled his membership, saying he can't stomach giving money to such a backward and sexist organisation any more.  He even tweeted to me  "You're just a number to them , Mr. 416490".  I wouldn't go that far, and I think it's just about worth what I have to put in as a member.  You'll never see me at the Committee Meeting down at the Stanley Arms on Lancaster Road or going on the minibus with the Branch Social to a pub crawl in Accrington, but being a member does as least say you're interested in half-decent beer.  Not being a stereotypical CAMRA Man helps deflect any of the jokes.  I knew there was something good about being an inappropriate paisley-shirted wanker.

CAMRA isn't perfect.  Nothing is.  Not even 'progressive' Evil Keg brewers.  People should be, in such an essentially trivial thing as beer fandom, able to get what they want out of it and discard the rest.

It's only beer, after all

Monday 27 October 2014

When I'm Breaking Windows

Not closed pub. Surprising in Preston, I know
I was in the pub last Wednesday night. Surprising I know, but as I've said before the Moorbrook is the premier outlet for Evil Keg in Preston. I was dared to drink a whole pint of Mad Hatter's Manchester Tart. I took them up and finished it with ease. It wasn't even the sourest beer I'd that week.

I went home as usual at 11pm and left the place in full working order (apart from the Evil Keg sour beer that nobody else likes). Imagine my surprise the following morning when the pub's owners posted this photo on Facebook.
Mudgie declares entire pub as "outside" and smoker friendly
Yes, Preston is dangerous even at 4am. Apparently the knob population was staggering back from the town centre and spied the casks piled up beside the Moorbrook. Lots of road rolling fun there, they thought.

Rich, the manager, lives on the premises and heard this, and naturally went out to remonstrate. Sadly, one of the aforementioned knobs took exception and went fist-first through the window (a good measure of how drunk he was, because he could have just lobbed an empty cask at it).

So, Preston is now one 150-year-old frosted glass pub window down, but it's gained an utter cock with a badly sliced up arm. Yes, you can imagine the sympathy pouring in for him from all quarters.  I'm guessing they'll be some kind of fundraising thing to pay for a replica window. My guess is for the thick end of £2000.

The Moorbrook now has one boarded up window. Hope people don't think it's shut again. I'll have to ask Mudgie if anyone's submitted it to Closed Pubs yet.

Thursday 23 October 2014

News in Brief #5

Close Relatives Planning To Buy You Terrible Beer Gift

Jumpers don't seem that bad now

As the Christmas Season approaches (from a long way away), entire families are plotting to purchase bad quality and massively overpriced ale-related presents to give to a relative who "likes beer"

Edith Poorchoice, 82, of Market Harborough wondered aloud "Eeeh, I know my nephew's in Camera, or whatever it's called.  But I can't seem to choose between this Doom Bar and Glass Gift Set for £10, or this half pint tankard with his name on it for £12.  I know he'd love both, but it's so tricky deciding"

Edith's nephew, Brian Hapless, 43, whinged to us "Every year it's the fucking same.  Last year it was a 'yard of lager' gift set from Asda.  The year before it was "Craft Ale" box from Tesco consisting of 250ml bottles of Greene King Yardbird,  Whitstable Bay and Marston's Oyster Stout.  I'd rather she bought me Boak & Bailey's book, even though I have 2 copies already. " "

"Or even nothing at all.  The loft is getting full now."

Global Warming Blamed On Craft Beer


In a stunning "rant" article in his local CAMRA magazine, East Grizedale Branch Treasurer Greg Steakbake claimed that Climate Change has been caused by the rise in consumption of "Craft Keg".

"When you order one of these so called beers, what do you see?  Carbon Dioxide!  And with every bubble bursting and even the gas used to pump the stuff out increases the Carbon Footprint load of every person drinking it.".

"And," he continued with no scientific evidence whatsoever "is it any coincidence that the world started warming up in the 1960s and 70s.  Yes - when Watney's were making all that Red Barrel!"

Steakbake concluded his article on this downbeat note "It would be a massive tragedy if 'Craft Keg' were to dominate the pubs on Britain, producing all that CO2.  The world as we know it may end, but frankly it wouldn't be worth living anyway if I couldn't get my pint of Black Sheep Bitter."

Brewer Planning Seasonal Beer

Cliche-free zone here, honest
Lehybisons Brewery announced in a press release today to somebody or other about it's new releases which will be seen in it's pubs in the next couple of weeks.

"As you know, we at Lehybisons have gained a great reputation for originality and standing out from the crowd as far as our beers go.  Not for nothing are we known as great innovators, avoiding the cliches that other Regional Brewers use towards the end of Autumn.  It is with great pride we announce our seasonal ales for late Oct ober and early November.

Available from 25th October is Lehybison's Jack'O Lantern Ale, a 3.9% amber ale flavoured with, yes, Pumpkin!  And following on from that a week later will be Guy's Plotters' Porter, a 4.1% dark ale made with brown malt and flavoured with treacle.

I hope everyone will be as excited by these beers as we've been by brewing them!"

We asked Richard Gluedtobar, a lone pub barnacle in his local Lehybison's pub what he thought of the news.

"Jesus fucking Christ" he said.

Sunday 19 October 2014

I Wish I Was In Crafty Hipster Land

Tourist idiots, Yesterday. And pretty much every day.
It's always some sort of experience going back to a place where you've not been for several years.  Oh, THAT's not there anymore, oh THAT'S become a Starbucks, oh THAT'S been demolished for city regeneration. I remember experiencing this with Stoke, where very little from my childhood remain (some would say this is a good thing).

So, having a week off, I went to Edinburgh for a couple of days. I've stayed several times, but most recently in March 2010 (where I spent most of the time arguing with my ex, but that's another story).

Most of all I went for the drink, of which there is no shortage in Edinburgh. I availed myself of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society members rooms to try and get my £59 a year's worth and avoided places that advertised they had Belhaven Best and Deuchars IPA (you'd think they'd want to keep it quiet).

Most of all, I discovered that Edinburgh has been slowly taken over by Craft. The aforementioned places that used to be there are more often than not now trendy bars full of Evil Keg and hipsters.  Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing exactly, and it's much preferable to dark pubs of 80 Shilling, but it is disconcerting when you didn't expect it.

Whereas it's fashionable on this blog to blame BrewDog for everything (I was reassured at the Edinburgh branch when a massively bearded barman was finally spotted), there are actually places that are even CRAFTIER than BrewDog.
I can't be bothered putting enough all the A's in "Craft" for this
So, eventually I reached The Hanging Bat on Lothian Street, after walking around for 90 minutes looking (I probably needed the exercise after the dubious drinking binges of the previous two days). I knew the place was Craft, but nothing prepared me for HOW Craft. It was like playing hipster bar bingo :

1. No pumpclips or keg font displays. Blackboard instead. Check.
2. Entirely decorated in weathered wood and reclaimed bricks. Check.
3. Bar staff either thin, bearded young men or very thin young women. Check.
4. All beers served in 2/3 measures. Check.
5. Onsite brewery on display out the back. Check
6. Urinals made from sawn-off beer barrels. Check
7.  (and this is the clincher) The taps in the Gents were keg fonts. Check.

Yes. It was the craftiest place I've ever been to. And that's saying something. Mark my words, every pub will be like this in 10 years.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

News In Brief #4

If it's keg, it must be 'craft', right?
BrewDog Stocking New Beer

Irony merchants and publicity generators BrewDog today announced that all their Craft Bars in the UK will be stocking John Smith's Extra Smooth from November 1st.  Bullshit-spouting hat-wearer James Watt shouted from a big platform in Edinburgh "The time has come for us to embrace nitrokeg bitter. Such concepts as 'flavour' and 'quality ingredients' are outdated old tat.  We will be selling the tasteless brown muck for £4.50 a pint, and £6 in London. To be enjoyed in an ironic fashion, of course."

Meanwhile, in Watford Wetherspoons boss Timbo Martin was reported to be quaking in his boots. Or perhaps not.

Happens all the time, apparently

CAMRA 'not sexist'

In their latest haphazard and ill-advised move, The Campaign for Real Ale Executive Committee have denied claims that they are a bunch of sexist dinosaurs who imagine they're living in an 80s episode of The Benny Hill Show.

Colin Valentine today signed off a press release saying "We don't know where people get these ideas. Just because we put out leaflets depicting scantily-clad girls being leered at by men doesn't mean we're a load of middle-aged misogynists."

"CAMRA fully supports all women working in the brewing and pub industry, whether they're barmaids, cleaners or hospitality samplers at Brewery events. These criticisms are entirely unfounded."

"Even my PA is female, you know. Who's the dinosaur now, eh?"

"You have to be old enough grow a huge beard, but young enough not to remember 4 channel TV"

Over 35-year-old spotted at IndyManBeerCon

Evil keg drinkers at the yearly crafty hipster fest were shocked last Saturday when a man close to middle age gained entrance and proceeded to ask about beer - "This is a beer festival, right? Got any best bitters? Butcombe? Bathams? Moorhouses?", he was reported to have said to terrified volunteer, skinny-jeans wearing WG Grace lookalike Jason Hirsute.

"It was horrible" Hirsute cried "I had no idea anyone would like beer under 8%"

Festival organisers gently escorted the man from the building and took him to the nearest Hyde's pub, leaving him with enough change for a pint of mild.

"I know it sounds awful, but we thought it was the kindest thing to do."

Monday 13 October 2014

Beard Club Misogyny Shocker

I'm sure many people reading this know that CAMRA as an organisation do not have the best reputation as being progressive about depictions of gender. But the shit has hit the fan today with the release of the above leaflet.

Apparently, this is CAMRA's young members' wing trying to appeal to the student youth of today. Notwithstanding the blatant sexism that even I, a man pushing 40, can pick up, I dread to think what will happen if and when this leaflet hits universities. Those places are stuffed with Gender Studies students on the lookout for things like this.

It makes me wonder who actually wrote and laid it out. My suspicions are that it was a middle aged man in CAMRA's publicity department who thought this is what da kidz were like these days. The Young Members department have insisted they didn't approve the content before printing. But it seems to have gone ahead nonetheless.  A strange lack of oversight to say the least.

#majorfail , as the young people are no doubt saying on their "social internets" now. You can sign a petition or something here.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Festival Non-report

EvilKegFest, yesterday

Just an average day. End of August. At work, on my break, playing about with my phone. Feel it buzz. Odd. An unfamiliar icon appears in the top left corner. Twitter private message. Don't get many of those.

"Hi, Matthew. Would you like free trade tickets to IndyManBeerCon?", it said. Am even more peculiarly, it was authentic. IndyManBeerCon WERE offering me free stuff. Thank you, I replied.

And so, Friday arrived. Inconsiderately, they'd scheduled the even for Retail Christmas Merchandising Week. Seen all that stuff appearing in your local shop, which you probably moan about saying " Bloody hell, it's only October". Well, someone has to put it out, usually staying until 3:30am to make the morning deadline.

That's what I'd been doing for the previous few days. And yes I was knackered. I woke up at 11 on the day and thought "I can't face this." You know you're in trouble when you're still tired after 8 hours sleep.  So I stayed in bed for the whole day. Reader, I was so out of it, I didn't even drink.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm not really a social bunny. I usually find beer festivals hard work, as I'm on my own and there's little else to do but drink. And one of the bitter ironies of alcohol is that it impairs your judgement at the times you need it the most.  I've got lost and confused numerous times. It makes life more interesting than it really should be.

So, you can imagine how I felt when waking up exhausted.  Spending 4 hours in an empty swimming pool in Manchester, drinking Evil Keg with crafty hipsters would not have been the best thing for me that day. People plus strong beer plus unfamiliar surroundings was too much to contemplate.

Maybe next year.

Monday 22 September 2014

News in Brief #3

Tightwad Landlord Day 2014

Good Northern pint, tha knows

Beer lovers across the nation will be packing into their locals this Wednesday, as it will be this year's Tightwad Landlord day, a celebration of chiselling industry practices designed to increase the profit margins of pub owners.

"We've prepared well in advance this year" opined stereotypical Yorkshire miser landlord Barry Shortmeasure "I've ordered the extra-thick 'pint' glasses that only hold 500ml and I've refilled the empty Talisker, Grey Goose and Hendricks bottles with Asda SmartPrice spirits. I've removed the drip-trays from the pumps as an incentive to staff not to overfill. I've even given extensive training to make sure they say past-their-best real ales are 'meant to taste like that'

We'll be rolling in it by Thursday"

Hapless untrained student Muppet barman Mal E. Bew was asked to comment but apparently he'd knocked himself unconscious after slipping on the floor.

Blonde Ambition

Golden Alezzzzzzzzzzz...

Implausibly pseudononymous bloggers/journalists/authors/freebie imbibers Bake and Bowley have declared a Golden ale taste-off on their website. "We had a bottle of Robinsons Dizzy Blonde and, to be quite frank, we were bored senseless." said Bake (female) "So we decided to order a whole case of blondes so we could see exactly how boring and dismal the whole Golden Ale scene is."

"Unfortunately," Bowley (male) carried on, as if in one mind with his partner "We found that every single one we bought tasted the same. Mild hops, mild malt, completely nondescript. Wainwright, Summer Lightning, Lakeland Gold, Bitter & Twisted, the lot. I think we even fell asleep halfway through. I don't think we ever got the post finished"

"We're off to an old pub to read an old book," said Bake "I'm sure we can get a blog out of that."

First Picobar Opens

Average small London bar, yesterday

After the alleged roaring success of the microbar and nanobar movement, a London entrepreneur has launched his new Picobar concept onto an unsuspecting city.

Gordon Pieinsky, a burnt-out finance refugee expounded sweatily to us yesterday "What with property prices being so high in this part of the city, I couldn't afford even an old newspaper stand to sell beer from, so I bought this."

Sitting on his sole keg of Meantime Pale on Kilburn High Road, Pieinsky dispensed us a pint. "Customers today aren't bothered about thing like comfort, seating, and room temperature. They just want fine craft beers at under £6 a pint." he vaguely presumed while fiddling with the CO2 settings.

"I hope Allied Bakeries don't come and take those bread trays away, though. I'll be exposed to traffic, then."

Sunday 14 September 2014



There is an unending debate about what is and is not Craft Beer. It will never be solved. For one very good reason.

"Craft Beer" does not exist.

There is, basically, excellent beer, good beer, ok beer, mediocre beer, crap beer and awful beer. The size and ownership of the brewery in question has little impact on the quality of the product.  "Craft" as it stands today is just a tick-box list of the things a certain sector of beer consumers like and expect to see. 
Microbreweries in London and elsewhere (but mainly London) are tripping over themselves to be the beardiest, distressed-fontiest and railway-archiest brewery around.  They proclaim about being wild and crazy dudes chucking hops and stuff into a bucket and somehow (somehow!) coming out with amazing beer at the end. The fact that brewing is an exacting and careful process, and the people behind the breweries are often refugees from IT,  Commerce and Academia is not mentioned. Because that wouldn't be "Craft".
Since the whole "Craft" ethos has been distilled down to a basic formula of "Craft" signifiers, it's no surprise the big brewers have taken them and made their own "Craft" beers. In most cases these are no better or worse than so-called "authentic craft". But the fact it's happening shows how easily done it is.

So, enjoy your beer. Macro or micro. Craft keg or cask. But remember that nothing is free of marketing and associated bullshit. Otherwise, stay inside and drink your homebrew.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Boak & Bailey's New Book?

Since Boak & Bailey have discovered the apparent Holy Grail of Beer History - the recipe for Watney's Red - will they be writing another book soon?  Here's a little something to inspire them :

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Humphty Dumpty had a Great Fall

Humphrey Richard Woolcombe Smith
If you're in a pub and see the man above,  do not approach him. Do not get into a debate about cask ales and NEVER a debate about being served a full pint.

My personal acquaintance with the Samuel Smith Brewery has been limited.  I once went on a day trip to Chester and did a tour of the city centre pubs.  Eventually, I chanced upon The Falcon on Lower Bridge Street.  Walking inside, I was bemused to see the kind of pub decor I'd not seen since the few times I was allowed inside licenced premises back in the early 1980s.  Looking along the bar, I failed to see anything I'd heard of.  "Hmm.  Well.  I'll havea pint of the Old Brewery Bitter" I thought "How bad can it be?".  I took out three pound coins in order to complete the transaction.

"One pound fifty", said the barmaid.
The Falcon, Chester

I'm glad I hadn't started drinking at that point, otherwise I'd've sprayed the entire bar area with brown Yorkshire bitter.  I had never paid so little for a pint, not even back in the last century when I started drinking.  I even checked the pump dispenser to see if I'd ordered a non-alcoholic beer by mistake.

It certainly wasn't the best beer I'd ever had, but I reasoned you get what you pay for.  Looking round, I realised there was not one single recognisable brand of drink, snack or anything else - a deeply unsettling experience in the 21st century.  I finished my pint and left for the Bear and Billet down the road, which turned out to be less unnerving despite being packed with Welsh Rugby fans.

Being me, on my way home, I had to find out exactly why these events happened.  I got out my laptop and looked it all up on the train home.  Yes, the Falcon was a Samuel Smith Old Brewery Pub and I found an independent forum that deals with the issues surrounding them.  To say the brewery owner is not positively depicted therein would be an understatement.

The most tactful way of describing Humphrey Smith is that he's a traditionalist.  He's inherited his family's brewery and runs it the way he wants to, as is his right.  Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to appreciate the difference between respecting the traditions of the 19th Century, and living in them.  Tales of him treating his pub managers like serfs, his pubs like a landed estate and technology like the sign of the apocolypse are many.  And woe betide you if you want any more beer in your glass than he's prepared to give you.

Humphrey will be 70 in December.  Rumours of his retirement abound, but it never seems to happen.  In fact, he's been taking more and more responsibilities at the brewery over the last few years, leading to many unsatisfactory practices, as described here in a flabbergasting article by one of his erstwhile relief managers.   .
Ye Olde Blue Bell, Preston

In so many ways, this situation is a shame.  Apparently (I've not been in the Preston Sam's, The Ye Olde Blue Bell), Smith's pubs are a throwback to the days when they were all places of cheery banter, gossip and cheap beer.  Or so Mudgie says, and he'd know.  The SSOB bottled beers have been recently lauded by Boak & Bailey of all people (though they admit "Sam Smith's is not a trendy brewery. Nor even likeable")

The main hope of many of Sam's slowly dwindling group of fans is that HRW Smith goes before the company does.  His son, Samuel is apparently being groomed to take over, but is only 26.  I say, as many commentators do, that it's sad to see a company of such potential being slowly squandered by one man's intransigence.