Sunday 27 July 2014

Damn and be Published

Back in the 1980s, there was this paper called Today. A left-leaning tabloid, Alistair Campbell cut his overly pointy teeth on it. Many people were surprised to learn it was owned by News International, publishers of The Times, The Sun and The News of the World. I myself couldn't figure out what was more sinister - blanket bombing the newspaper stands with ill-thought out, right-wing nonsense, or a publisher making an individual paper for all points on the political spectrum.

Yesterday, I received my copies of the CAMRA paper and magazine. And yet again was bemused about the breadth of member they were appealing to. As far as I can tell, What's Brewing appeals to the type of person with views depicted below.

The magazine, however, deals with the 'craft' issue by mentioning it as little as possible. Despite it being designed by the same people, Beer seems to have at least entered the 21st century. Or at least the sub-Liechtenstein mid-20th century.  It can seem a bit confused, though. An article about the pros and cons of dimple mugs has a man from BrewDog (those fine purveyors of traditional ales) speaking against them . You can almost hear the winking as he writes "Any aroma from the beer is lost due to the large open top, as is any carbonation (v, of course)".
Comic artist ripped off unknown

In many ways, this epitomises the divide in CAMRA as present, that between the hardcore casketeers and the casual Spoons Voucher Brigade. They each have their own separate periodical that appeals to them. Though it does make you wonder exactly to whom CAMRA is appealing. Could be that soon the Beardy end will die off and be "replaced" by the casuals.

Beer seems to be the "acceptable face" that CAMRA wants to present to the world, whereas What's Brewing is what the activists use to keep the organisation going. How long this will last is another matter entirely.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

So, No Hammond Organ Then

Many months ago when I started this blog, I did a series on old beer ads. Pretty much without exception, I found them ridiculous, and mercilessly took the piss out of them. There is of course a reason why beer commercials are ridiculous. It's called the Advertising Standards Agency.

This is possibly slightly unfair. The ASA is basically there to make sure advertisers don't make dubious or blatantly untrue claims about their products. But with alcoholic beverages, the rules are somewhat different. They're not allowed to tell the truth
You cannot say drinking alcohol will make you more popular. You cannot say alcohol will increase your chances of sexual success. You cannot even say alcohol gets you drunk. If you even imply any of this, your ad will be banned.

Such a phenomenon has just happened to Captain Morgan.  Apparently, the ASA Youth think that you shouldn't encourage young people to go out in the middle of the week with their friends where they may, the horror, consume intoxicating drinks. I mean, what? Are these youngsters children of diehard Salvation Army types? Do they have any idea what real young people do to relax in 2014? Even twenty years ago, I can tell you a lot more happened than a quiet chat over a couple of Single Morgans Spiced & Cokes.

With the well-documented fall in alcohol consumption by the under-25s, the likes of Diageo are probably justified in trying anything to increase business, but is that ad really such a grave threat to the Youth Of Today? Whatever happened to allowing people to make mistakes and to learn from them?

I'll be surprised if today's young people ever manage to grow up at all.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Keswick - Why Bother?

I've never got the appeal of the Lake District, myself.  Get a bowl of water, some rocks, and spray half of it green. That's the Lake District, but smaller.  It could be ok, I suppose, but unfortunately there are tourists.

I had a few days off recently, and bought a bus ticket that gave me unlimited travel around the North West for £26.70. "Where," I wondered "is the furthest place I can go without changing buses?".  I like to get my money's worth, so I looked it up.  Keswick, Number 555 from Lancaster, three hours.  So that was that.  There's bound to be something there, I imagined.

So, I eventually got there around 1230, the bus stopping and starting every so often to disgorge and consume the hordes of elderly trippers.  I went to the local Booths to see what they had on different from mine back in Preston.  After that, and realising I had 45 minutes until the bus back turned up, I decided to go for a pint.

I had heard that Lakes towns are a decent beer desert.  Despite the county having more microbreweries than any other, 80% of the pubs are owned by Marstons (and branded as Jennings, of course). The locals are apparently happy with enough Jennings Bitter and Cumberland to fill Derwent Water, and the tourists really don't know any different.  Walking up the high street (eventually, as it appeared to be market day), I counted 7 Jennings pubs, 1 Robinsons and a "Free House" that was blaring music through open windows.  "Christ, I'm glad I don't live here. What with all this tourist tat and crap beer, I'd've gone on some kind of rampage within weeks."

But things, apparently, are about to change in Keswick's dismal on-trade closed shop.  Yes, Timbo Martin has been on the move again, and he's bought the recently closed police station to turn it into a Wetherspoons.  I don't often say this, but Keswick is a place which can only be improved by adding a Spoons to it.  Even if the beer turns out to to be crap, at least it won't be Jennings and won't be £3.70 a pint.

Certain sections of the community do not approve of these happenings.  The usual complaints.  Noise.  Disruption.  Drunks in the streets.  All completely specious of course.  Seeing as the populace of  Keswick appears to be little more than codgers on walking holidays, and those that service their wants and needs, I would reckon that the potential for alcohol-fuelled disorder is limited.  I'm guessing what they most fear is Timbo's Discount Bandwagon exposing the fact that the hostelries and eateries of Keswick have been fleecing tourists with high prices for years.

Yes, more alcohol will probably be sold.  Let's face it, how much 3.5% Jennings would you drink if you were charged Keswick prices?  The alcohol sales would be to people such as I, who are in town for the day and want a decent pint for a reasonable price.  And if a few pubs have to close, well, sorry for the job losses and all, but that's the price of complacency.  If you run a town as a pub fiefdom, expect interlopers to come and undercut you eventually.

I doubt I'll be going back to Keswick any time soon.  It's crowded with tourist nonsense and there's very little else.  But it's good to know that it's dire beer situation will soon be improving.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Stranger in Town

I'm sure everyone who reads this is, shall we say, experienced in the ways of drinking and pubbery. You know what's good, and where to get it. But what happens when you're in a town you've never been to before and want a drink. What do you do then? There is always Spoons as a safe option, but what happens if you don't like Timbo and all that is associated with him? Pete Brown had problems with this recently.

There is a very simple way to tell the quality of any pub you go into. Do not go by what the signs say outside. These will either be complete bullshit, or have been put up in the last century so are now inapplicable, but the owners cannot be bothered to pay for a screwdriver to take them down.

No, all you have to do is walk through the door and get close enough to see exactly what they have on draught. It's that simple. This can be divided into 6 types :

Type 1 - Nothing but keg fonts. They will be serving Fosters, Stella, Kronenbourg, John Smiths or some other smooth, and Guinness. The patrons will be either tattooed and shaven headed, or have makeup applied with a muck spreader. Your best bet is to leave. Quickly. Before the death stares kill you. 

(Ironically, a couple of my acquaintance went to a place like this. They'd left the pub I recommended to them and naïvely went to next nearest. Bearing in mind this is a female same-sex couple. Astonishingly, nothing bad happened to them. I can only assume the 'interesting' clientele were so shocked they were paralysed into inaction).

Type 2 - As Type 1, but has one or two handpulls. Usually something like Wells Bombardier or Greene King IPA. Probably best to leave this place also. The lager and smooth is likely to be the only drinks that sell here, and the cask is likely to be cloudy vinegar soup.

Type 3 - Possibly the most awkward type of pub. They have 4, 5 or maybe even 6 handpulls. Often half with the local favourites, half with semi-obscure stuff that the pub company have picked up cheap somewhere.  The important thing here is see what the other patrons are drinking. If it's cask, then you're probably safe. But if it's lager, then, well, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Type 4 - If you're fed up of uncertainty the you can go the family-owned brewery pub. Variety is not the forte of such places. In fact, you'll probably have a choice of five different bitters between 3.6% and 4.8%. It will be boring, but safe. See also Robinson's, Thwaites, Marston's etc.

Type 5 - This is the pub which tries to cater to both the Crafties and the Beards. Microbrewed cask ale and Craft Keg on the fonts. You're usually safe here.  The only problem could possibly be untrained student staff who know nothing about beer as they've been hired for cheapness and looks. If that's the case, then order a bottle from the fridge. It's good.

Type 6 - I hesistate to call this the BrewDog type, but that is the most typical and famous of the breed. If you like good tasting beer, and are not put off by low temperatures and carbon dioxide then it'll be wonderful. Probably best also to bear in mind that if you are over 35 you will likely be the oldest person in the building. If you're averse to facial hair and flannel shirts then do not, I repeat do not go to these places. You will be scared.

There are probably more types, but these are the most common. You could just use Untappd or a simply Google the reviews. But that would be too simple. Where's your sense of adventure, man?

Sunday 6 July 2014

Silence Is Golden

"Yay! Now let's get these casks back to Burton. Oops. Did I say Burton. I meant Blackburn. Yes, Blackburn."

If Boak & Bailey liked The Bermondsey Beer Mile, they should come to Preston. Yes, here you can do The Wainwright Mile. Yes, if you start at The Adelphi and work your way down Friargate's "real" pubs, you can have a pint of Thwaites Wainwright in pretty much every single one.  Lamb & Packet, The Sun, Dog & Partridge, hell - even the Spoons has it on.  By the time you get to the end at The Black Horse, you'll be relieved to drink Robinson's. Not a sentence I ever thought I'd write, I'm sure you'll agree.

Yes, Wainwright has pretty much taken over pretty much everywhere in Lancashire west of Blackburn. But when is this so? What exactly is so special about this somewhat inoffensive 4.1% golden ale? Well, there's the uncompromising Northern name, taken from the famous walking guide writer from these parts. If nothing else, ordering it in a pub tells people nearby "I'm from Lanky, and I'm not to be mistaken for those Theakstons-drinking Yorkshire bastards.". And for that, I'm grateful if for nothing else about it.

It helps that it has a don't-scare-the-horses flavour. A cruel person (why, what do you take me for?) would describe it as bland.  If you have a dislike for the cold and fizzy, but don't want your taste buds to deal with the unexpected, then the golden ale option of Wainwright is for you.  Neither the Crafties nor the Beards will sneer, and looks just enough like lager that some of our more interesting friends won't threaten to lamp you upon seeing you sup it.
Possibly didn't like pissheads

Let's face it, if Thwaites didn't market test this beer for perfect pitching to their target audience, you wouldn't have been able to tell. It ticks more boxes for the real ale drinker than a CAMRA online survey. Cask - check. Bitter but not too bitter - check. Quaint name of local figure - check. Available and safe - check.
Of course, the irony is that Alfred Wainwright grew up in poverty due his father's alcoholism, so what he would think of a beer bearing his name is anyone's guess. But if it helps Thwaites afford that new brewery they've been wanting, then it's all well and good.